The bye week gave Michigan necessary rest and healing, but beyond that, for an examination of conscience inside the program. The only way for this team to demonstrate that it has made significant progress from last season will be for it to finish strong, play in a decent bowl game, and really separate itself from that group of Wolverines that started strong in 2009 and then went into a total freefall.
Michigan's five straight wins to open this season were either a solid indicator that the fortunes of this program are trending upward ... or they were another tease. Thus far the Wolverines wilted when the competition -- ranked teams from Michigan State and Iowa -- got markedly tougher.
The schedule for the rest of the season is full of challenges, but a 7-5 record definitely seems within the realm of possibilities. Penn State is up next. The Nittany Lions are not as strong as they have been in recent years, but they are certainly a capable second-tier Big Ten team, and Happy Valley is a tough place to visit.
Illinois has proven strong enough to challenge the best of the conference and unpredictable enough to struggle against the worst. The Wolverines should shred injury-depleted Purdue, but, with Wisconsin and Ohio State last on the schedule, Michigan better have its wins compiled before that final stretch.
The final record is not as important as the impression Michigan leaves with its players and fans over these final five games. No one will be convinced that a significant turnaround is underway until this team separates itself from the mediocrity of the recent past.
--QB Denard Robinson has 1,096 rushing yards and nine touchdowns after seven games. He has hit on 97 of 143 passes for 1,319 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
--The Michigan offensive line has allowed only three sacks this season -- best in the Big Ten.
--Freshman QB Devin Gardner was supposed to be an active member of the offense, so he did not redshirt, but through seven games, Gardner has seen only spot duty against UConn, Notre Dame and Bowling Green.
--With the recent addition of a neutral site game against Alabama, the 2012 season has Michigan facing four traditional powerhouses -- Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Alabama.
U-M/PSU SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Penn State 10-5 (last meeting, 2009, 35-10 Penn State)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Denard Robinson-led Wolverines lead the Big Ten in rushing, which is a credit to him and the veteran line getting the push in front of him. Lost in the gaudy rushing numbers for Robinson is the way he has dramatically improved his accuracy throwing the football. Robinson was wildly inconsistent a year ago, hovering around a 45 percent completion rate. This season he is pushing 70 percent, and that as much as anything has made the running game even more effective.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This beleaguered group has gone through extensive personnel changes and multiple tweaks of its schematic approach, and is still floundering. Outside of LB Jonas Mouton and his team-leading 63 tackles, and the work in the secondary done by former walk-on S Jordan Kovacs, the Wolverines have been vulnerable to the big play.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of people have been saying I'm not staying here, but I'm here. I love Michigan. I love everything about it. I'm not going to leave. Not a chance. I love Coach Rod. I love these fans. I love Michigan football." -- Michigan backup QB Tate Forcier, on the persistent rumors he is considering leaving the program after losing his starting job.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 30 -- The Wolverines (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) face the tough task of trying to snap a two-game Big Ten losing streak with a visit to Happy Valley. Penn State has issues of its own, but Michigan needs a win here to douse the smoldering embers of collapse.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan expects to have a healthy QB Denard Robinson after the bye week. If the Wolverines can utilize his running ability, and keep the multiple options open in the passing game, they might be able to score enough to outlast the Nittany Lions. Michigan can't depend on its defense for game-changing plays.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Denard Robinson -- After a very non-descript freshman season, Robinson bolted out of the gate into a leading role in the Heisman Trophy discussion, although he has given way in the past few weeks to even-hotter QB Cam Newton of Auburn. Robinson's average of 156.57 rushing yards per game is the second-best mark in the country.
DT Mike Martin -- On a bad defense, the best showing up front has come from the 300-pound nose tackle, who has made 18 straight starts. Teams have often doubled him, but Martin has still been disruptive.
QB Tate Forcier -- The volatile sophomore started all 12 games a year ago, then lost his job to Denard Robinson this season. Many expected him to bolt, but Forcier has hung around, and his 12-of-12 passing after Robinson got hurt in the Bowling Green game shows Forcier still has the right stuff.
--QB Denard Robinson, who had a minor knee injury earlier this season against Bowling Green, landed hard on his shoulder a couple of weeks later and was limited in his practice time before the most recent loss to Iowa. He is expected to start at Penn State.
--DL Will Campbell, who has played very little, could be moved to offensive guard, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said recently.
--LB Obi Ezeh, Michigan's active career leader in tackles, has lost his starting position to Kenny Demens.
--LB Kenny Demens made the first start of his career against Iowa and finished with eight tackles.
--WR Martavious Odoms has had surgery to repair a broken foot he suffered in the loss to Michigan State. Odoms is expected to be out for the remainder of the season.
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