Michigan isn't flinching en route to 5-0 start, road trip to Nebraska

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan is undefeated, pocketed a win at Wisconsin, and now goes on the road for a night game at Nebraska.

Sitting at 5-0 after a 38-17 victory over the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Michigan showed a more balanced offense with some aggressive play-calling, and its defense was swarming, coming up with six sacks and an interception. The Wolverines didn’t allow a second-half score until the final 32 seconds.

Michigan's David Ojabo, left, sacks Wisconsin's Graham Mertz during the first half on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

A week earlier, the Wolverines allowed Rutgers to threaten, but the defense forced a fumble and sealed the game. The Badgers shifted momentum late in the first half after the Wolverines had built a 13-3 lead, but the Michigan defense, which had held the Badgers to four-straight three-and-outs to start the game, stiffened and became more aggressive in the second half.

“This group’s different,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They don’t flinch.”

Harbaugh said when he and the team arrived Saturday morning at Camp Randall, where Michigan had lost its previous five meetings, he liked the players’ collective demeanor.

“The vibe was they weren’t gonna flinch when the punches were thrown,” Harbaugh said.

A year ago, during Michigan’s 2-4 season, the Wolverines flinched. They also collapsed and deflated.

But what’s different now? Certainly, winning, but even before chalking up a fifth win, Harbaugh and the players said this was a different team. The players got to the enough-is-enough point, according to junior safety Dax Hill.

“I feel like the last few years, we’ve done enough flinching,” Hill said. “I feel like it’s about time we don’t want to feel that way anymore. We just have to come in, do whatever we have to do to win and stop their entire team, and that’s what we did.”

Quarterback Cade McNamara, who hasn’t turned over the ball this season, said the change has come from within the player group.

“Overall, this team has been through a lot,” McNamara said. “There’s a lot of guys that were young two years ago that gained a lot of experience not even playing. We’ve taken control this year. We made the change that we want to be different. We know that it’s not going to be easy to be different.

“So far, what you’re seeing right now is a reflection of everything that we’ve preached, everything we’ve tried to make a difference for in the offseason.”

Michigan made starting fast a focus in the offseason. This was a team that dug big holes early in games last season, but this fall the Wolverines haven’t trailed. They also had not turned the ball over until late against Wisconsin when third-string quarterback Alan Bowman was picked off.

Wisconsin clearly is down this season, and has had a major issue with turnovers, but the Badgers provided a test for the Wolverines because of their defense. They were the nation’s top-ranked rush defense and third in overall. What Michigan did was deliver a well-rounded performance.

“Tough, physical team,” Harbaugh said of the Badgers, “and I thought our team was really physical and matched it every bit.” 

This is by no means a perfect team, nor is it a finished product. The Wolverines go on the road to face Nebraska, which is now 3-3 and showing improvement. The Cornhuskers walloped Northwestern (2-3), 56-7, last Saturday night. For Michigan, which opened the season with four straight at home, this will be a second-consecutive road game and the second game this fall in prime time.

Since the season-opening win, the Wolverines have repeatedly said they haven’t done anything yet, and they’ve embraced that mantra. David Ojabo, who had 2.5 sacks against the Badgers, said they don’t worry about the opponent and focus on themselves and staying unified.

“We have big goals,” Ojabo said. “You can’t come one game and get all complacent, because we have, what, six, seven more (games) left. It’s day-by-day, week-by-week. We can’t be high-fiving each other thinking that we won a championship. We haven’t done nothing yet.”

But they also haven’t flinched.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis