The Wolverine

October 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2017 I t seemed like a simple proposi- tion. Knock off the big, bad Flor- ida Gators in the opener, then steam unabated into an undefeated, top-10 showdown with Penn State at the mid-season mark. That scenario now seems as pre- mature as sponsoring a sandcastle- building competition for a Sept. 10 showdown in Naples, Fla. It's tough to predict the winds of change. Jim Harbaugh's team faces more than a few, despite the obvious and abundant talent at his disposal. The Wolverines are gaining expe- rience, and as former head coach Lloyd Carr likes to say, experience comes with pain. The ultimate pain — a loss — hadn't been absorbed by the Wol- verines as these words hit the page. Maybe it won't for a while, and Michigan's players, coaches and fans will all be treated to a white-hot whiteout for the upper hand in the Big Ten East. But the Wolverines face no lack of concerns before they ever make that fateful trip east. For all the bravado and flashes of brilliance, it's obvious a team doesn't just change out three- quarters of its starters and not miss a beat. It's going to take some time for Michigan's offense to get up to speed versus real-life opponents. The Wolverines' defense appears fearsome in many ways once again, but not impregnable. A blocked punt and a couple of shanks in the first two games sup- plied yet another reminder that it's not simply a plug-and-play-on proposition. So here's a magnified look at Michigan's challenges, before realis- tic thoughts of a perfect half-season come into focus. The Big Ten is right around the corner, and perhaps big- ger than initially thought. • At Purdue (Sept. 23) — The Boil- ermakers' timing seems particularly poor this year. A young Michigan roster could have benefited greatly by Purdue realizing that, well, it's Purdue. The folks in West Lafayette, Ind., appear a little defiant these days, bringing in Jeff Brohm as head coach. The former Western Ken- tucky boss is making his team com- petent quicker than anyone thought he could. The Boilermakers scared Louis- ville more than a vice squad raid would Rick Pitino's basketball team in the football opener, losing to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals in a 35-28 shootout. Purdue then steamrolled Ohio 44-21, and will be laying in wait in Ross-Ade Stadium when Michigan rolls into town. • Michigan State (Oct. 7) — Yes, the Spartans went 3-9 last year, then tumbled into offseason disarray. Yes, the game is in Michigan Stadium, likely under the lights, and follows a U-M bye week. That said, the Spartans put ev- erything they have into the Michi- gan game. They still have effective running backs and a smash-mouth scheme, which they demonstrated the first two weeks of the season, matching 67 percent of their 2016 victory tally. If the Wolverines continue turn- ing the football over like they did in their first two games, and if the Spartans hang around in that one, altogether too much excitement might bubble up in Michigan Sta- dium. Harbaugh's young team will get smacked in the mouth — liter- ally — and needs to man up. • At Indiana (Oct. 14) — The Hoosiers hung with Ohio State for more than a half, then knocked off Virginia. A couple of Indiana's main components in recent success, in- cluding against Michigan, are now gone — former head coach Kevin Wilson to OSU, former offensive line coach Greg Frey to Michigan. But the early returns suggest In- diana can give people some trouble, especially if opponents are not up to speed. That's the whole point. Michigan needs to arrive there, sooner rather than later. Fifth-year senior fullback Khalid Hill knows it, and insists they will. "It's good to make mistakes early, because you can fix the mistakes now," he said. "As we get into Big Ten play, we want to keep the mis- takes from happening. It won't be as easy. We can't just depend on our defense to get us out of situations. "The plays are there. We're mak- ing plays. It's little, small mistakes that are holding us back … it's shooting yourself in the foot all the time. We're just one step from where we need to be." "We've got to start scoring in the red zone," fifth-year senior center Pat Kugler added. "It's little errors that everyone makes, myself in- cluded. If we eliminate those, we've got something special." The time for ifs and buts without consequence are quickly drawing to a close. Forget the early assump- tion overreach. The season becomes what a young team makes it, in a growing year. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Plenty Of Pitfalls On The Road To PSU Junior running back Karan Higdon and U-M figure to get Michigan State's best shot when the Spartans come to Ann Arbor Oct. 7. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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