ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - Michigan swept nonconference teams in the regular season for the third straight year.
The 19th-ranked Wolverines hope that translates to success in the Big Ten this year, because it sure hasn’t in the past two.
Michigan beat San Diego State 28-7 Saturday, improving to 4-0 heading into this week’s conference opener at the Big House against Minnesota.
“We haven’t had a good record in the Big Ten and it’s a big thing for us,” senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “To come out and have a strong showing, that’s a big deal to us.”
Rich Rodriguez started 4-0 in 2010 and 2009 and won the Big Ten opener in each of his three seasons, but lost 18 of the other 21 conference games. That played a part in Rodriguez getting fired and Brady Hoke being hired.
Hoke has been saying Michigan’s goal this season is to win the Big Ten title, refusing to say he and his staff need time to restore college football’s winningest program as a conference powerhouse.
They have a shot if the Wolverines improve a lot in every phase of the game _ and they know it.
“We have to play better or we won’t compete against the Big Ten,” Van Bergen said. “The Big Ten standard is higher than any other standard. In order for us to be competitive in the Big Ten the way Coach Hoke wants us to be competitive, we have to step it up. We want to be Big Ten champions.”
Michigan’s one-dimensional offense is relying heavily on Denard Robinson’s legs.
Robinson can still run around and past defenders as well as anyone. He has increased his rushing totals in each of the four games this season, going for 200 yards and three touchdowns against the Aztecs. But the speedy quarterback is struggling to find a rhythm in a new offense when he stands in the pocket out of the shotgun or when he drops back after being under center.
Hoke insisted Robinson’s inability to consistently complete passes didn’t spoil his day on the ground.
“I don’t think so, we won the game,” Hoke said.
Robinson is connecting on fewer than half of his passes and has thrown as many TDs (six) as interceptions. Last year at this point, Robinson had completed 71 percent of his passes with four TDs and only one interception and finished the season with 62.5 completion percentage, 18 TD passes and 11 interceptions.
“We’ve got things to improve on,” Robinson acknowledged. “We need to keep fighting, that’s the biggest thing. Improve, keep fighting and play all four quarters.”
Michigan started slow in the first quarter of its first three games, then finished well enough to beat Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines flipped the script against San Diego State, leading 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-0 at halftime before sputtering on offense in the second half.