Michigan has been just a bit slow out of the gate all year long. By the time the Wolverines were 8-0, this concern was merited. Against Big Ten opponents up to that point, Michigan never had more than a possession gap over its foe entering the locker room. But in the second half, it had outscored its opponents by 49 in the first three games of Big Ten play.
And as The Game loomed, those concerns continued to grow. Pundits and media members imagined a possibility where the Wolverines dug themselves into an early hole against Ohio State that would prove to be inescapable.
For the first drive in Columbus, it seemed like just that was about to happen, as quarterback CJ Stroud led the Buckeyes to a touchdown drive that linebacker Junior Colson called ‘too easy.’
But Michigan stayed close, buoyed by two explosive catches from wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, and was within three at the break.
In the second half, the Wolverines did what they had all season.
The defense clamped down yet again, holding the best offense they had seen up to that point to a singular field goal. And the offense adjusted, scoring 28 points, punctuated by two breakthroughs by Donovan Edwards to put the game entirely out of reach.
It was a culmination of an identity, albeit accidental, that Michigan had cultivated all season. Offensive lineman Trevor Keegan claimed that the Wolverine’s slow starts came down to the opponents' anti-run game plans, which took time to figure out and adjust to.
Quarterback JJ McCarthy echoed that sentiment.
“At this level, the defenses we go against, they have so much volume,” McCarthy said. “Coverage wise, blitz wise, kinda seeing throughout the whole first quarter seeing what they are doing to attack, it's been huge, because now we can counterattack it.”
The entirety of the coaching staff has been excellent at this all season. Both sides of the ball improve over the course of a game, allowing Michigan to reach its first 12-0 season since its 1997 championship run.
“All these teams,” McCarthy said. “They do the first fifteen plays, the openers we like to call them, and we adjust from there.”
There’s no doubt that Purdue will be scheming to stop the Wolverine’s run game, although The Game proved that the Boilermakers will also have to be concerned about McCarthey gashing them over the top.
And they, like many teams before, might have some early success.
But at some point early in the second half, the defense will inevitably adjust. The clamps will tighten, and that will be it.
It's been proven against the best competition in the conference that Michigan is a second half team, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Because so far, it's been a recipe for success.