Michigan sits at 5-1 (3-0) following its 42-21 win over Maryland (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday.
Not too long ago, the Wolverines lost their season opener to No. 6 Notre Dame. Subject to national criticism, it was as if the season was settled following one game.
Now, five weeks later, U-M has done exactly what it needed to after the Week 1 loss: win and go into the season’s gauntlet with momentum.
After defeating five straight unranked teams, Michigan enters arguably the country’s most difficult three-game stretch, facing No. 16 Wisconsin (home), No. 20 Michigan State (away) and No. 11 Penn State (home) consecutively.
Think of it as a season reset for Michigan. Going into the next three games, the Wolverines’ path back to national prominence is a simple recipe: win all three.
That task is anything but easy for Michigan — a team well-known for losing big games. The last time it prepared for a Top 25 bout, it lost to Notre Dame. In 2017, it lost to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State — the only ranked opponents on the schedule.
As next week’s matchup against Wisconsin approaches, it’s become, arguably, the most important week in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure and easily the most pivotal game so far this season.
Though, according to the Wolverines, it’s going to be treated like any other week.
”We keep the same attitude every week,” Michigan viper Khaleke Hudson said following Michigan’s win over Maryland. “No matter who it is, we treat every game like it’s a championship game.”
Hudson’s teammate, linebacker Devin Bush, agreed with the sentiment.
Bush, one of four team captains, was unfazed as numerous reporters asked him what it was going to be like approaching another big game — a situation this team has struggled so much with.
“Same thing every week,” the preseason All-American linebacker said. “We’re gonna get our game plan and we have to execute.”
When pressed further, both Hudson and Bush had to admit it: this game is different.
It’s not Maryland and it’s certainly not SMU or Western Michigan. It’s a ranked opponent from the Big Ten, under the lights, inside The Big House.
“Yeah, it’s a big game, at night, primetime,” Bush said. “It’s more amped up, but it’s still the same thing.”
Added Hudson: “I mean, you’re a little bit more excited, but you always want to treat every game like it’s your last. Because it could be your last. We just wanna go hard every play and do what we gotta do.”
For Michigan’s defense — which held Maryland to under 100 yards for three quarters — every game is another opportunity to dominate. In every big game, barring Penn State last season, the defense has given enough to win the game. The issue was Harbaugh’s offense and Michigan’s quarterback play.
This season, Michigan’s offense has put up more than 40 points four times in 2018 — something it didn’t do a single time in 2017. On top of that, the Wolverines finally got a quarterback, as Shea Patterson passed for over 280 yards on Saturday, along with three touchdowns.
Between its consistently strong defense and reformed, productive, offense, Michigan might have what it takes to walk out of the gauntlet as victors.
Are they ready?
“Yeah, I feel like, we ready,” Bush said. “The whole front of the schedule was for us to get ready for these games.”
A week from now, we’ll know how ready — and how good — this Michigan team is.