ANN ARBOR, MICH. - The first two weeks of Michigan’s season were a walkover.
Saturday against Colorado was a fight.
After it was over and the No. 5 Wolverines pocketed the 45-28 win over the Buffaloes at Michigan Stadium, they appreciated being tested.
“We weren’t worried,” co-captain Jake Butt said. “We actually talked about it as a team. We knew the first two games we were never really punched in the face. Everything was going so smoothly. It’s not going to be a fairly tale the entire season. There was going to be a time we were going to get punched in the face, get backed in the corner. Playing with these guys, I’m so proud of the way we bounced back.
“We stuck together and rode that wave and were strong enough to get it done.”
That resiliency taught the players something about what this team can be.
They were pushed in the off-season and expected a payoff. It just came earlier in the season than they expected.
Michigan (3-0) hit the betting line almost exactly, winning by 17 points, but getting there frayed more than a few nerves.
Three times the Wolverines trailed. Their first lead more for than a touchdown came with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. There were even boos directed toward quarterback Wilton Speight after an early three-and-out.
Only after Jabrill Peppers sealed the game with 11 1/2 minutes left, returning a punt 54 yards for a touchdown, could the 110,042 in the Big House exhale. Because this was a Michigan performance early that they hadn’t seen.
“I was just trying to go up to guys and (say), ‘Look, all it takes is one play, we need a spark.’ ” Butt said.
Trailing, 14-0, they got it when Michael Jocz blocked a punt and Grant Perry scooped it up, racing into the end zone.
It took U-M’s defense another series to find its footing, but the fire was lit.
U-M's report card: Some good, bad vs. Colorado
Even trailing 21-7 after the first quarter, they were confident.
The much-praised defense had been burned for 195 yards and two offensive touchdowns in the first quarter. After that, it buckled down, not allowing a drive longer than five plays and only one touchdown in the final three quarters — a one-play, 70-yard aberration to speedy receiver Shay Fields.
The shutdown defense was there when it mattered all day, pitching a third-down shutout as Colorado (2-1) was 0-for-12 with the starting defense in the game.
Once they knocked out Colorado’s biggest threat, QB Sefo Liufau, in the second half with an ankle injury, the Buffaloes were cooked.
“The best thing that we learned today was we have a tenacious team that’s never going to give up,” nose tackle Ryan Glasgow said. “When we started getting three-and-outs, we got them into third down and we got off the field, that was the biggest thing. The dialogue we had with the offense was great today: ‘If you stop ’em, we’ll score. If you score, we’ll stop ’em.’ We started having that attitude, we started with each other, feeding off each other, the tides started to turn.”
The signs for the slow start were there earlier in the week.
Butt said it wasn’t a great week of practice, and coach Jim Harbaugh conceded that, pointing to the second week of classes taking their mental toll on players.
But the Wolverines survived, looking back on their intense off-season for confidence.
Having Peppers helped a bit as he played all three phases, and Harbaugh pointed to him as the difference.
So it was only fitting that his first special-teams score was the game’s final one.