WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For a few weeks now the Michigan football team has had the brown, camouflage-like shirts that read "133 ROAD WARRIORS." And for a few weeks now, the Wolverines have been anything but. Their 0-2 record on the road in nonconference games left them needing to back up their claims.
It wasn't just the fact the Wolverines were winless outside of the Big House, it was the fact the Wolverines' play against Alabama and Notre Dame seemed a far cry from a team that hoped to win the Big Ten title. And considering they'd eventually hit the conference schedule and need to face Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State in their stadiums, the road was shaping up to be a very steep uphill battle.
But after a convincing 44-13 road win over the Boilermakers, the Wolverines play started to match their road warrior mentality.
"This is how we want to defend the road, we want to be road warriors," senior quarterback Denard Robinson said. "That's how we look at it -- work hard every time we step on the field and every time we get on the road we have to be road warriors."
Robinson was a big part of the Wolverines' win, picking up 235 yards on the ground and 105 in the air. He led the charge from the first time he and the rest of the Wolverines stepped on the field in Ross-Ade Stadium (a 17-play drive that lasted nearly nine minutes and ended in a touchdown).
But it wasn't just the offense that showed an identity on the road. The defense stepped up with six tackles for loss, including two sacks.
Contributors could be found all over the place. Freshman safety Jarrod Wilson and sophomore cornerback Delonte Hollowell recovered fumbles. Sophomore defensive back Raymon Taylor and junior safety Thomas Gordon both had interceptions, and Taylor returned his for a touchdown. Senior cornerback J.T. Floyd broke up two passes, and junior linebacker Cam Gordon broke up another, while three of Michigan's linebackers -- senior Kenny Demens, sophomore Desmond Morgan and sophomore Jake Ryan -- all led the team with six tackles.
"[The win] was huge, just entering the Big Ten season," Ryan said. "I think it was a huge accomplishment by us and the way we played, the way we came out there, we really improved."
While it wasn't a packed stadium with a particularly hostile crowd, it was the Wolverines' first conference away game, which they knew would be difficult no matter whom it was against or where it was held. Michigan coach Brady Hoke had stressed last week that his team would need to take care of the ball, run the ball and limit big plays in order to be successful on the road. And Michigan did just that.
"We understand it's not easy, going on the road and winning ball games," Demens said. "So that's what we want to do this year."
And difficulties on the road are proving to be true for teams all over the conference. Of the five conference games on Saturday, Michigan and Michigan State were the only two teams to win on the road. In the first week of Big Ten play (when the Wolverines had a bye), Penn State and Ohio State were the only two teams to win away from home.
Now, Michigan gets to return to a welcome of 100,000-plus fans at the Big House before packing its bags again. To find itself in Indianapolis in December playing for a Big Ten title, the Wolverines will have to take care of business at home. But the road is likely where this title will be won or lost for any team this year, and with a solid win over Purdue on Saturday, the Wolverines have backed up their claim and started off well with their road warrior mentality.