Back-to-back losses, no Top 25 ranking, a losing conference record and a two-game streak of negative yards rushing—it's safe to say these are the times that try Michigan men's souls.
Few saw this coming for a team that was picked as co-favorites in the Legends Division this preseason. Yet, as bad as things currently seem, the worst could still be on the way for the Maize 'N Blue.
That's what happens when you end the season against two of the best defensive teams in the conference, Iowa and Ohio State, and you haven't shown much offensive firepower as of late.
Adversity has replaced expectation as the buzzword around the football program, and that's because it has begun to face a lot of it.
"There is no doubt that there is some adversity," said Michigan head coach Brady Hoke at his weekly Monday press conference. "We had some a week ago, and I like how our team responded, and I know as a staff we liked how those guys got after it. We had a very good week of preparation and practice."
"Again that adversity has hit us, and we will grind, and we will work. There's no solutions that don't take hard work, and that's where we've got to go. Part of that is every day, what we do in preparing."
Adversity comes in the form of a rushing offense that is averaging just 88 yards a game as a team in conference play.
That's a problem for Al Borges and Brady Hoke who have repeatedly said the offense needs to be predicated on a power run game and a pro-style system.
It is also a problem when you are staring at two of the top six rushing defenses in conference play to end the season.
Before Michigan gets to the end of the schedule though, it is Northwestern up this week. While the Wildcats are winless in conference play, they are also getting healthier.
That could mean a return of the dangerous offense we all expected to see out of Northwestern to begin the season.
The good news is that Michigan has dominated this game in the past, winning 22 of the last 33 meetings. The Wolverines are 8-2 in the last ten contests, as well.
Inside those numbers are some scary facts for the Wolverines though, as Northwestern owns a winning record in games decided by seven points or less (10-9-2) and three points or less (6-2-2).
A win over Northwestern in impressive fashion could be just what is needed for Michigan before it heads into a final stretch that features defenses that stack up like this:
|Opponent Big Ten Defensive Rankings|
|Team||Scoring Defense||Total Defense||Rushing Defense||Passing Defense|
|Iowa||18.7 (4th)||319.2 (4th)||130 (5th)||189.2 (2nd)|
|Ohio Sate||17 (3rd)||311.7 (3rd)||88.2 (2nd)||223.4 (6th)|
The numbers inside those numbers are equally scary. Iowa has given up just four rushing touchdowns and Ohio State just three all year.
In order for Michigan to exploit Iowa, which has given up 17 touchdowns through the air, or Ohio State, who has given up 15, the Wolverines need to find a consistent run game.
Otherwise opposing defenses will just stack up the line of scrimmage and go after an offensive line that is perceived as weak, even if Hoke doesn't see the offensive line as the problem, per se.
"Everyone points to the offensive line, but it's really all of us -- it's not just them," Hoke stated on Monday. "I don't know if that's fair. It's never one guy or one thing in anything in life, unless you're golfing. In a team sport, it's not that way. All 11 parts need to working in the same way. Offensively, defensively and then you could say all 115 parts on this football team and then the support staff and the coaches -- it's all of us. This has always been a 'we, us and ours' program, and that's how we look at it."
However, the reality is we are talking about an offensive line that has given up more sacks the past two weeks, 14, than the rest of the season combined (12).
Something needs to click in that department, whatever it is, and quick if Michigan wants to avoid a disastrous season.
Ohio State is second in the Big Ten with 26 sacks on the season and Iowa is seventh with 17.
All of it adds up to two teams that don't allow a heck of a lot of anything to good offenses, and recent results suggest Michigan's offense isn't good.
Unless the Northwestern game this weekend is a catalyst for something more, the end of the season could be an ugly one for Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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