ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team didn’t like the fact that within a span of four minutes, they faced a double-digit deficit. After all, the Wolverines were favored by 20 points against a Colorado team that flashed gaudy numbers but was otherwise untested prior to Saturday.
But in the wake of a 45-28 comeback win over the Buffaloes, the No. 4 Wolverines reasoned with themselves.
Michigan (3-0) needed to find out what it was like to handle adversity, after two blowout wins against mid-major opponents, and after a week of preparation that one Wolverine described as sub-par.
“It’s only going to get tougher from here,” said Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who had seven catches for 87 yards. “Honestly, this was not our best week of practice. It really wasn’t. You’re going to play how you practice and how you prepare.
“We can look back and learn from this. If we want to be one of the best teams in the country, we’ve got to practice like it. We’ve got to play like it. We’ve got to prepare like it. We’ve got to execute like it. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t our best game. It was good enough to get the job done. Thankfully, we can go back and make those corrections, knowing that we won this game.”
The Buffaloes caught the Wolverines by surprise, jumping out to a 14-0 lead a little more than three minutes into the game. Then, Colorado took a 21-7 lead with less than five minutes left in the first quarter, on spectacular pass by Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau. The secondary — already missing cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who sat out this third game with an injury — couldn’t cover Colorado’s receivers, who accrued 164 yards by the start of the second quarter.
“We weren’t shocked, but we were surprised how ready those guys were,” said Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who had 204 all-purpose yards, including 99 on punt returns and 81 on kickoff returns. “They didn’t waste any time.”
And for a few minutes, all of college football seemed to turn towards Ann Arbor, in anticipation of the upstart Buffaloes plotting an upset of Michigan.
All of college football, except for Michigan.
It wasn’t as easy as hitting a reset button. For some teams, that might have been a panic button. But not for Michigan. As linebacker Ben Gedeon noted, this team has faced worse situations than being down by 14 points. This program, in fact. Two years ago, it seemed as if Michigan was constantly facing some sort of adversity in a 5-7 season, whether it was speculation over a concussed quarterback, the constant floundering of an offensive line or the mismanagement of a once-proud football program.
On Saturday, the Wolverines simply relied on their experience, and the perspective that seniors and fifth-year seniors such as Ryan Glasgow, Chris Wormley and Matt Godin bring to the team.
“Every team goes through adverse situations like that,” said Gedeon, who led Michigan with 12 tackles. “We’ve been through it as seniors, and the older guys kind of took charge. Stay together. No one gets on each other. You’ve got to play the next play and forget about the rest.”
As he watched the Wolverines rally from a 21-7 deficit, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh learned something about his team.
“There are teams and players that are front-runners,” Harbaugh said. “The only time they can play well is when they’re out front and it’s clean and easy. There are other guys who like to get down in the mud and fight, in a football-fight type of way, and enjoy that kind of test, in that kind of competitive environment.”
Michigan earned that badge of messiness. But don’t hand the Wolverines a bottle of laundry detergent just yet. They’ll need a few stains on their maize-and-blue Jumpman uniforms when they open Big Ten Conference play next Saturday (Sept. 24) against Penn State.
The conference schedule will be a step up from blowouts against Hawaii and Central Florida. But it will bring the same challenges that Colorado brought. Again, for the Wolverines, a game like Saturday’s became a necessity for the long haul.
“Any time you go through adversity, it’s how you respond, and we responded pretty well today,” Gedeon said. “We know it’s going to happen again. We don’t know when, but now we know we have the ability to stay together. To fight back.”