Wolverines' early hopes are a distant memory

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2012 - 11:21 PM

There had been talk of a big season -- even talk of a national title.

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To reach the Big Ten title game, coach Brady Hoke’s Wolverines need to finish their remaining four games with one more victory than Nebraska, which would win a tiebreaker.

Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press file

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Things haven't been as smooth for Michigan football as many had predicted before the season began.

With the team sitting at 5-3 heading into Saturday's game against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, the early national championship hopes seem distant.

After last week's loss to Nebraska -- the second consecutive game in which Michigan failed to score a touchdown -- the Wolverines are in a tie with the Cornhuskers atop the Leaders Division and no longer in control of their Big Ten title game destiny.

So, given the circumstances, does a coach have to try to regroup his squad, alter the expectations, change the perception of the team?

"No, I don't think so," coach Brady Hoke said. "We always have expectations to win Big Ten championships. We have expectations to improve every week we get on the field and to play better and play 60 minutes of football in the Michigan way.

"I think we've done some of that, and I think we've improved in certain areas, but at the same time, we've got a long way to go to be the football team we want to be."

In order to be that -- and have a shot at the conference title -- the Wolverines need to finish their remaining four games with one more victory than Nebraska, which would win a tiebreaker.

There's a chance Michigan could make that happen since Nebraska's remaining slate looks more challenging, but each game is critical for the Wolverines.

That was the expectation going into the season, albeit in a different way. Talk of a big season -- even a national title -- dominated preseason discussions after a trip to the Sugar Bowl last year appeared to be a stepping stone. But the Wolverines' season became a question mark after an early rout by Alabama and a loss to Notre Dame made them look less intimidating.

"I'm playing football to win a Big Ten championship," left tackle Taylor Lewan told the Detroit Free Press. "This week it's Minnesota. ... I want to win the [Little Brown Jug], keep it at Michigan, but I'm focused on the Big Ten championship."

To complicate matters, star quarterback Denard Robinson injured a nerve in his throwing arm last week and had to come out of the game after struggling to grip the ball. As a result, the offense collapsed in the second half and the team limped to a 23-9 loss.

Hoke said he expects Robinson to play at Minnesota -- he's got quarterback-turned-receiver Devin Gardner taking snaps during the week just in case -- but there will be more pressure than ever on the multi-faceted Robinson to carry this team.

The senior was dubbed a Heisman Trophy candidate before the season, but while he has been solid -- and the focal point of the offense -- Robinson has had his hiccups along with the rest of the team. Against Notre Dame, Robinson's passer rating dipped to 69.1, and he has failed to complete at least 55 percent of his passes four times.

"I think he's played well," Hoke said. "There's been a rough stop in there at Notre Dame, but other than that, he's ran our offense and he's done a great job running our offense. You look at his first half the other day and we were playing pretty well offensively."

Michigan lost that game. But for the remainder of the schedule, the Wolverines can't afford to look good and lose. Not if they want to keep the expectations they say still apply.

"They've got a good offensive philosophy, they do a good job of using their personnel and they do a great with Denard," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "We've got our work cut out for us, there's no question about that, and we'll have to play a very, very good game to stay in it."

  • GOPHERS VS. MICHIGAN

    11 a.m. Saturday • TCF Bank Stadium • TV: BTN (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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