ANN ARBOR (AP) – Really, this year will be different.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) are saying that after having two weeks to think about their first loss this season, a humbling 28-14 setback at Michigan State, and how important it is to avoid letting that affect the rest of the season.
The previous two years, the Spartans also handed the Wolverines their first losses and those led to 7-6 and 6-6 seasons along with the firing of Rich Rodriguez and hiring of Brady Hoke.
“Last year, there might’ve been a lack of confidence,” senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “The same words were coming out, but the actual confidence and presence in the locker room and practice and the intensity wasn’t where it is now.”
The Purdue Boilermakers (4-3, 2-1) hope to push Michigan into another slide because they’ve got plans of their own.
After a potentially important win over No. 23 Illinois, the Boilermakers are two victories of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 and coach Danny Hope is giving Caleb TerBush credit for that.
“We’ve improved as a football team, I think a big part of it has to do with our quarterback,” Hope said. “I think he’s playing a lot better, a lot more sure. That’s pivotal for our football team.”
How Denard Robinson plays for Michigan is a big key, too.
Robinson had his lowest passing percentage and fewest yards rushing as a starter against the Spartans. Before Robinson was knocked out of that game with what Hoke said was a back injury, he stood on the sideline at times while Devin Gardner took snaps on the field in his place.
Hoke has been quick to praise, focusing on his athletic talents, and hesitant to criticize Robinson, whose decision-making and accuracy have come into question. But Hoke did confirm Gardner will keep getting a shot to play.
“We’ll keep doing some things with Devin,” Hoke said. “I think we’ve had some success with it.”
Likewise, Hope keeps insisting that TerBush is the team’s No. 1 QB while saying Robert Marve isn’t out of the picture.
“That’s the beauty of having Robert Marve here, he’s a great talent,” Hope said. “He has too much talent to be on the sidelines.”
Since Hoke was hired in January, he has talked about instilling toughness into a team that lost some of that necessary intangible in football as a spread team the previous three seasons under Rodriguez.
Hoke has wanted college football’s winningest program to get back to running early and often to wear teams down and work the clock, hoping a go-to player would emerge to earn the job in the backfield. But a combination of a lackluster line and inconsistent running backs have put even more pressure on Robinson to make plays with his arm and legs.
“We’ve got to get more from our running game without Denard always being the featured guy,” Hoke said.
Both Michigan and Purdue are tied for second place on their side of the Big Ten.
The Wolverines, Nebraska and Iowa trail Michigan State in the Legends Division while the Boilermakers are in a two-way tie with Wisconsin behind Penn State in the Leaders Division.
“We don’t consider ourselves out of the hunt at all,” Van Bergen said. “We still feel we control our own destiny.”
Purdue, meanwhile, isn’t getting too excited about its relatively surprising spot in the standings.
“It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win Saturday,” Hope said.
-AP Sports Writer/LARRY LAGE
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)