After starting the season 7-0, the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines had their bye this past weekend. After a huge statement win last week against now No. 16 Penn State, the Wolverines return to action at home against the Michigan State Spartans next weekend.
There have been plenty of big moments for the Wolverines so far this season, but I think there are two defining moments that have altered the trajectory of the season.
For me, I fully grasped how elite this team was in Week 5 against Iowa. It was J.J. McCarthy’s first start on the road, and Kinnick held a legend that haunted elite Michigan/ranked teams. McCarthy had already earned my respect during his starting debut, but now I needed the reassurance this would carry on and through Big Ten play.
How would he fare against a team that knows how to play defense? How would he handle a tough road atmosphere? There were a lot of questions heading into this game and luckily, Michigan had all the answers.
While Iowa isn’t balanced in the slightest and its offensive woes have only gotten worse, there was still a moment of tenseness when the Hawkeyes tried to actually move the ball late on Michigan. The Wolverines didn’t let that impact them in the slightest, ripping off a late rushing touchdown themselves to defeat Iowa, 27-14.
Still to date, Iowa has been the best defense Michigan has gone against. To watch the Wolverines emerge with this win sold me that even though this team had lost some key players in the offseason, the ones that stood up in their place are good, too. So the turning point for me, a Michigan fan and alum, came in Michigan’s first road game of the season.
But as far as the national perspective goes, there was a different turning point.
Even after earning their second road win in a row against Indiana and beating the Hoosiers by 21, the Wolverines were jumped in the AP Poll by Clemson and entered Penn State week ranked No. 5. I think many Michigan fans and the majority of us here agreed that didn’t matter — just beat Penn State handedly and they’ll be right back.
Hence why last week’s win against the Nittany Lions can’t be ignored as a turning point this season. That garnered the national attention of those saying Michigan was being carried by the schedule. I think that game was the moment everyone else realized this Michigan team is legit and could arguably be better than a year ago.
The Wolverines are well known for their rush heavy offense, and seeing that offense decimate all seven opponents is hard to ignore. Seeing this offense square off with two defenses in Iowa and Penn State and blow past those respective teams’ previous season lows has made me and the country realize this team is a contender.
On the defensive side, Michigan toted a highly respected edge tandem last year. When they left for the NFL, it was tough for a lot of fans to think with how this year’s defense would fare. Now entering the last weekend of October, the Wolverines lead the Big Ten in sacks with 24, outpacing that same highly regarded defense from a year ago.
The growth this team has taken from a year ago to now should continue on as Michigan gears up to close its final five games undefeated. I fully believe the Wolverines are on pace to be well above last year’s Big Ten championship team. The thought of that sounds unfathomable still, yet time and time again so far this season, they have proven it.