Six games into the season, the Michigan Wolverines haven't exactly excelled the way we thought they would, but Denard Robinson has gotten back to rolling through defenses after a disappointing 13-6 loss to Notre Dame.
Michigan (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) sets its sights on rival Michigan State next, with the pain of last season's loss still resonating throughout the program.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said the following on Tuesday, via the Detroit Free Press:
Last year, if you look back, that's something that kind of sticks with us the entire year, that they took it to us. You can cut it any way you want. They lined up and they ran the football and knocked us off the football. We don't like that, we don't believe in that at Michigan, so it's going to be that kind of game. It's going to be a very physical football game.
The sign of a tough team is rising up after past disappointments and moving forward. It's what Brady Hoke hoped to bring to the program when he took over last season. It's part of the reason why the Wolverines excelled in 2011, going 11-2 and defeating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Turnovers have been the topic of conversation in Ann Arbor this season after Robinson tossed eight interceptions in his first four games, including four picks against Notre Dame.
Kyle Meinke of MLive.com talked about this a little bit on Thursday, noting that Robinson generally can succeed when there are seven men in the box, but not more. The key to stopping Robinson throughout his career has been to limit his legs and force him to air it out. As we saw against Notre Dame this season, it can lead to Robinson almost single-handedly losing games for his team.
The good news looking ahead to the Michigan State matchup on Saturday is that the Spartans don't have the defensive line they used to. They have missed Jerel Worthy to an extent and that was on full display against Braxton Miller of Ohio State. Miller torched Michigan State for 136 rushing yards in Week 5.
Head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges entered the season hoping to use one featured runner, Fitzgerald Toussaint. But after serving a one-game suspension, Toussaint hasn't gotten going and it may lead to a running-back-by-committee approach.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls had nine carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in last week's 45-0 romp over Illinois. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes received a career-high 10 carries and responded by rushing for 66 yards.
Now that the youngsters have some experience, Hoke has admitted that he's more willing to feature more backs moving forward, via MLive.com.
Of course, Michigan State's run defense will be much more of a challenge than Illinois' unit. The Spartans have allowed 3.1 yards per carry (15th in the nation) and three rushing touchdowns this season, per cfbstats.com.
But Michigan's defense isn't half-bad, either. After struggling early in the season, the Wolverines haven't allowed more than 259 total yards in their past four games and they've ceded just two touchdowns while creating nine turnovers.
Michigan has also not allowed anyone to rush for 100 yards in its past four games, which will be important against Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State this week.
Senior safety Jordan Kovacs said the following, via the Lansing State Journal:
I think we did have our struggles at the beginning of the year. I think that it was those struggles that have kind of allowed us to be the defense that we are today, and we are continuing to improve.
Sounds like a tough team to me.