Commentary

Wolverines pass first road test

Michigan wins first road game of year, has tougher one next week

Updated: October 9, 2011, 1:34 AM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Mike Martin stopped, a smile on his face. Michigan's players had been told mid-question to wrap up their postgame interviews, and the timing couldn't have been better for the senior defensive tackle.

He was being asked who he was playing next.

So Martin, who rarely has nothing to say, knew the answer. But he was given an out and chose to stay silent.

Instead, he smiled. He may not have wanted to say, but he knew. Martin is an in-state kid. He has grown up around Michigan and knows all about what is coming.

Jordan Kovacs
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireSafety Jordan Kovacs played well in run support, not so well against the pass against Northwestern.
Michigan State.

After No. 12 Michigan's 42-24 win over Northwestern on Saturday night, the focus easily could have shifted to something more important. In six days, the Wolverines will face their in-state rival, the Spartans.

The winner will, for the time being, have control of the Big Ten Legends Division. But Michigan knew that before it could start worrying about Michigan State, it had to take care of its first road opponent.

After a squirrelly first half, in which Michigan struggled on offense and defense, it put Northwestern away and answered at least two questions that still lingered about this team -- how would Michigan respond to playing on the road, and could it win away from Michigan Stadium?

Despite a crowd that was more representative of a neutral site -- there was as much maize and blue in the stands as purple -- it did win away from Michigan Stadium. Which is a starting point for this team.

"It's different, you know," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But it's not Michigan Stadium, so it's a lot different."

Different environment? Yes. Same result? Yeah, that too. Michigan has been a second-half team all season and being away from home was no different. Michigan coach Brady Hoke essentially concluded as much, too, saying his team didn't respond to the road well in the first half, but he was happy with how they remained focused and deemed the Wolverines' performance "OK."

"OK" is probably a good way to grade how Michigan played. At times, Michigan's offense and defense struggled. At times, it looked dominant.

Hoke likely also knows Michigan will need to do better than "OK" next week. The Wolverines will have to play their best game to beat Michigan State.

First, Spartan Stadium won't be nearly as friendly as Ryan Field. Second, Michigan State's defense will be tougher than Northwestern's. The Spartans will be the second opponent on the schedule that has faced Denard Robinson before.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireDenard Robinson accounted for four touchdowns, but needs to take better care of the ball next week against Michigan State.
And now, midway through the season and a road test successfully completed, there is more film on Michigan's tendencies. Michigan State also has two weeks to prepare for what it considers its biggest game every season.

So while one test was completed, a much bigger one follows. One with a lot more at stake.

So would Hoke immediately start focusing on Michigan State? He said no. He instead wanted to savor the first road win in his Michigan career on Saturday night. Or at least that's what he said.

"Tomorrow's Sunday," Hoke asked, rhetorically. "Right?"

Yes, it is. It also is six days away from Michigan's -- and Hoke's -- biggest game to date.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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