Looking ahead to this point on the schedule, the Wolverines wanted to make certain that their bowl trip was secure, their coach's job was secure, and their future was beginning to look more secure. After a couple of very difficult losing seasons, it was critical that the page be turned.
After Rich Rodriguez arrived at Michigan three years ago, it was evident he would put his stamp on the program, and things would change. He had built his coaching reputation on a dynamic spread offense while at West Virginia, and he planned to introduce that spread in Ann Arbor, showing it off around the Big Ten.
It has been a rough couple of seasons getting to this point, but with seven wins in hand this year and the nation's most explosive quarterback running his offense, Rodriguez should be safe to coach the Wolverines at least another year.
What Michigan and Rodriguez will find out over the final two weeks of the season is just how far they have to go to get back to the top of the Big Ten. With once-beaten Wisconsin and once-beaten Ohio State remaining to be played, Michigan will get the stiffest of tests.
The Badgers come in after scoring 83 points in last week's obliteration of Indiana, and they are positioning themselves to snag the Big Ten's top BCS bid. The Buckeyes are entertaining the same notions, as well as eyeing a seventh straight win over Michigan.
The assignment for the Wolverines is to be competitive, push the limits and demonstrate that they can play on the same plane with the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State. What Michigan cannot do is falter badly and make many forget the work it took to pile up those seven wins.
--QB Denard Robinson needs just 78 yards to set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Robinson is second in the nation in total offense with 340.7 yards per game.
--DB James Rogers had two interceptions in last week's win at Purdue.
--DB Cameron Gordon had two fumble recoveries against Purdue, and he returned one of them 58 yards for a touchdown.
--The Wolverines have players from 22 different states and Canada on this year's roster.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 49-13-1 (last meeting 2009, 45-24 Wisconsin).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines like what they are seeing from RB Vincent Smith, who had a long road back to health after tearing his ACL against Ohio State last year. "He's looking faster, and he's getting that burst back," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said about Smith. A reliable option in the backfield takes some of the pressure off QB Denard Robinson, who has been getting banged up while carrying too much of the offensive load.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After taking the brunt of the criticism when this team has struggled, the Michigan defense had a performance to brag about last week against Purdue when it did not allow an offensive touchdown. Wisconsin will flex its rushing muscle, and the Wolverines will have to throw a few roadblocks in the Badgers' path if they want to be competitive in this game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope we're getting a little confidence, but with a young team, every week is a new experience. With the young guys, we can't make them bigger, stronger, faster, but you can get more experience." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, on his team's growing pains.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Wisconsin at Michigan, Nov. 20 -- The Wolverines (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) face a team that scored 83 points last weekend, without its best offensive player, RB John Clay. Michigan has an explosive nature, too -- will the Wolverines get into a shootout with the Badgers?
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wolverines will need to rein in Wisconsin's explosive offense, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep the Michigan offense on the field a little more, moving the chains and eating at least a little of the clock. The Wolverines have struggled on defense against good teams, so they don't want to see that unit put under duress again.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Denard Robinson -- Early in the 10th game of the year, Robinson set the Michigan single-season record for total offense. He has 3,407 yards of offense this season, breaking John Navarre's old mark of 3,240 yards, set in 2003.
WR Roy Roundtree -- With his 246 receiving yards against Illinois, Roundtree broke the oldest single-game record in school history, the 1966 mark of 197 receiving yards set by Jack Clancy against Oregon State.
QB Tate Forcier -- Last year's starter, Forcier has settled into the backup role behind Denard Robinson. Forcier's best work came in the triple-overtime win against Illinois when he completed 12 of 19 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns and also ran seven times for 33 yards.
DE Craig Roh -- After starting the first eight games of the season at the hybrid linebacker position, Roh was moved to defensive end for the past two games. He is tied for third on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.
--OL Taylor Lewan made his Michigan debut in a goal-line situation against Notre Dame, then won the left tackle job in late September. He has started there every game since, but has some concussion-like symptoms this week.
--LB Jonas Mouton missed the Purdue game with a chest injury.
--DT Mike Martin missed last week's game at Purdue with injuries to both ankles.
--QB Denard Robinson left the recent triple-overtime game against Illinois in the fou
rth quarter with concussion-like symptoms, but he returned last week to start the game against Purdue.
--OL Perry Dorrestein, who started the first seven games of the season at right tackle, then missed the Penn State and Illinois games due to injuries, returned to the lineup last week against Purdue.
--OL John Ferrara missed four games in the first half of the season with a hand injury, but he is back playing on the field-goal and extra-point protection units.
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