It was the worst possible time for Michigan to have a couple of weeks off.
The Wolverines entered their most recent matchup against Notre Dame on Sept. 22 at 2-1. It was their biggest test since dropping the season opener to Alabama. They needed a win in order to hold on to their position in the polls, and, of course, in order to hold on to their pride.
And they lost on the road to the Fighting Irish.
Michigan's defense showed up and did its job, limiting the Irish to a single touchdown and two field goals. But its offense—led by the once-leading Heisman candidate Denard Robinson—picked the wrong day to forget to show up. The Wolverines didn't get on the board until the fourth quarter, and they didn't get into the end zone at any point.
Notre Dame came away with a 13-6 victory, and Michigan went home with a devastating loss, an end to its reign in the top 25 and two weeks to think about everything that went wrong.
Finally, next Saturday, the Wolverines have an opportunity to get back on the field and get this season back on track. Going on the road to face a hostile Big Ten rival isn't the ideal situation in which to embark on a miraculous turnaround, but they have to start somewhere, and given that the schedule doesn't get any easier from here on out, there's no time like the present.
First and foremost, Michigan has to start by dealing with the offensive woes. Robinson was atrocious against the Irish in 2012, one year after having one of the best games of his career against Notre Dame. There were no last-second, late-game heroics this time around; there were only four interceptions, a fumble and zero touchdown passes.
For the last couple of years, Michigan's opponents have always said that if you find a way to shut down Robinson, you shut down Michigan's entire attack—and Notre Dame, apparently, discovered the winning formula. That means that Robinson is going to have to find some way to get this offense going when he can't do everything himself.
Hopefully he spent the last two weeks getting very comfortable with his receivers. Hopefully he can find some way to get the ball to them rather than throwing a pick or running the ball himself every opportunity he gets. No offense can thrive when it revolves around a single player, and the Wolverines learned that first and foremost against Notre Dame.
On top of rejuvenating the offense, Michigan has to come out aggressive and score right off the bat against Purdue. It's definitely possible—the last time out, Purdue allowed 14 points to Marshall in the first half and 27 in the second.
Especially considering the fact that the Boilermakers have scored 51, 54 and 48 points in each of their three wins, keeping up offensively will be a necessity for the Wolverines. Michigan has to get on the board early and put to rest any lingering doubts about this offense's ability to get into the end zone, or else the pressure is just going to continue to build.
Keeping up with Purdue's offense is already going to be hard enough, and Michigan certainly can't wait until the fourth quarter to get on the scoreboard.
The Wolverines' defense hasn't been stellar this season, but it has shown flashes of brilliance. It hasn't looked anywhere near as bad as it did in that opening-week, 41-14 loss to Alabama, and that's a positive. Another positive is the fact that against the Fighting Irish, this defense submitted one of its best performances of the season.
It held a very good Notre Dame offense to just one trip to the end zone, and even that didn't happen until the very end of the second quarter. For the rest of the game, this unit only allowed another three points.
The Wolverines did themselves in with those six turnovers. This game could have been a slaughter; if Notre Dame made the Wolverines pay for all of those mistakes, this score would have looked far more lopsided. But the truth is, Michigan's offense submitted one of its most abominable performances of the season and still almost managed to win, on the road, at Notre Dame.
If Robinson and his cohorts can be just a little bit more careful with the ball, they have more than a fighting chance against Purdue.