No. 19 Michigan Tries to Maintain Underdog Mentality with 3-0 Record

Despite early season success and increasing outside attention, the nineteenth-ranked Wolverines still feel themselves to be the underdogs in every game that they play.
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With his second consecutive three-touchdown game in the nineteenth-ranked Wolverines’ 63-10 thrashing of Northern Illinois bringing him to a total of seven touchdowns through three games, sophomore running back Blake Corum is on pace to break an 119 year-old Michigan football record.

Corum is on pace to rack up 28 touchdowns in twelve games this season, a total which would have him outpace Albert Herrnstein’s record from 1902 — yes, 1902 — by two touchdowns.

And despite his historically great start to the 2021 season, Corum has maintained the mentality of a player who truly believes themselves to be unproven.

“I’m still the same person I am — I haven’t done much,” Corum said. “Like I said, I’m just gonna keep my head down and keep pushing, keep grinding; work even harder now.”

Some of Corum’s ability to retain the metaphorical chip on his shoulder undoubtedly rises from it still being early in the season, and this exemplifies the attitude of his team as a whole as well.

As the Wolverines have climbed into and up the top-25 in the season’s first three weeks, more and more outsiders have been throwing expectation-raising and complacency-inducing labels onto Michigan. Specifically, the oft-repeated phrases of “this team is different” or “is this Michigan’s year?” jump immediately to the front of mind.

Perceptions of the Wolverines from outside the program are changing rapidly with every passing victory, but it seems that the players themselves haven’t gotten the memo.

Or at least that they’re ignoring it.

“We just look at it as, 'We haven’t won anything and we haven’t done anything yet,’” graduate student safety Brad Hawkins said. “Yeah, we’re 3-0, but we still haven’t done anything. So we just want to continue to play with that chip like we haven’t done anything, because we haven’t. That’s just who we are.”

To a certain extent, Hawkins is right. With Washington not proving themselves to be the test that people were expecting, Michigan has not faced much in the way of serious threats to their success through the season’s first three weeks. So, in the sense that they haven’t yet proven themselves against top-tier competition, the Wolverines really haven’t done anything.

But lack of competition doesn’t erase evidence of excellent execution. Many have been claiming that Michigan looks different this year because it really does. The Wolverines’ offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers are blocking at the line of scrimmage and down the field with a previously unseen vigor, their defense looks to have taken on the promised schematic overhaul from coordinator Mike Macdonald, and, not to be forgotten, Corum is on pace to break an 118 year-old rushing touchdowns record.

In seeing all of that evidence, explanations of Michigan’s extreme underdog attitude can seem a bit of a stretch.

“I feel like we’re underdogs against Rutgers,” junior defensive end Mike Morris said. “Everybody probably thinks we’re gonna lose that game; everybody thinks we’re probably gonna lose every game in the Big Ten right now.”

I don’t think anyone other than the Wolverines really thinks that Michigan is an underdog against Rutgers, and Vegas odds show that most don’t see Michigan as an underdog in other Big Ten Games, but, regardless of all that outside noise, it is clear that the Wolverines feel that they have everything left to prove.

In answering a question regarding what it would mean for Michigan to “do something,” Hawkins left no confusion as to what it would take for his team to shake the chip off their shoulder.

“Win the Big Ten, go to the playoffs, things like that,” Hawkins said.

As high as the external expectations for Michigan are rising, starting the season 3-0 has done nothing to change the Wolverines’ internal perspective.