It’s time to find out if this Michigan football team has last year’s road resilience

Wolverines travel to Iowa for dangerous road test

Roman Wilson #14 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown with teammates while playing the Maryland Terrapins at Michigan Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus, 2022 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – One of the toughest games of Michigan football‘s season is on the horizon, and it’s going to reveal whether this year’s team still has the ability to grind out tough road wins.

The Wolverines head to Iowa this weekend for a battle with the 3-1 Hawkeyes. Even though kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. Central Time, the “stripe Kinnick” atmosphere should be electric.

The national obsession with Michigan’s early schedule is nauseating, but after this weekend, we’ll know whether or not Jim Harbaugh’s team is a true contender or just a bully against weaker teams. No matter what anyone says about Iowa’s offense, going into Kinnick Stadium is no easy task, especially against the No. 1 defense in the nation.

2021 road success

Last year, one of the traits that helped Michigan win a Big Ten championship and qualify for the College Football Playoff was its ability to win ugly on the road.

The first example came in a situation very similar to this one. The Wolverines were 4-0 but flirted with losing to Rutgers at home in their first Big Ten game. Sound familiar? Well, the following week, they traveled to Madison, Wisconsin -- a place where Michigan hadn’t won since 2001 -- and everything changed.

Even though the final result was a three-touchdown blowout, Michigan led by only three points to start the second half. The Badgers had just completed a 63-yard touchdown drive in 20 seconds to seize the momentum going into the break. Many Michigan fans were thinking, “Here we go again.”

But the Wolverines left no doubt in the second half, ripping off 25 straight points to put the game away. It was at that moment when most of us started to look at the team differently.

Blake Corum #2 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the football against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 38-17. (2021 Getty Images)

The following week, Michigan went into one of the most hostile environments in the sport, Memorial Stadium in Nebraska, and demonstrated a mental toughness the program had been missing since the Lloyd Carr era.

Despite leading 13-0 at halftime, Michigan allowed Nebraska to take the lead at the end of the third quarter. The Wolverines came right back with a methodical 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to re-take the lead, only to watch the Cornhuskers respond with their own go-ahead score.

Michigan didn’t flinch. In the final seven minutes, Michigan put together a game-tying field goal drive, forced a fumble, converted the go-ahead field goal, and then got one final stop to win the game.

Say what you want about Nebraska blowing games during the Scott Frost era -- it was still a major step in the right direction for the program. Cade McNamara said as much after the game, admitting that Michigan teams of the past would have been on the other side of that result.

While we’re on the topic, the Wolverines took a gut punch in East Lansing when they blew a 16-point second half lead against their in-state rival. It was the type of loss that would have derailed previous Michigan seasons, but this team bounced right back two weeks later in Happy Valley.

Michigan controlled most of the game against Penn State until a Nittany Lions strip sack set up an easy field goal to take the lead with 5:55 remaining. The Wolverines, who hadn’t scored since the opening drive of the second half, marched right down the field in six plays, capped by the iconic Erick All touchdown catch of 47 yards.

Winning on the road

The Ohio State game should be, and will always be, the most memorable highlight of the 2021 season. But the reason Michigan won the Big Ten and went to the playoff? Those road wins.

It’s what separates middle-of-the-pack teams like Penn State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and (before last season) Michigan from the behemoths of the sport: Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, and Alabama. When those top teams go on the road in tricky conference environments, they almost always find a way to win.

Look back at the most disappointing finishes of the Harbaugh era. In 2016, it was a road trip to Iowa that ultimately derailed Michigan’s playoff hopes. In 2018, losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State doomed the Wolverines once again. The 2019 team was good enough to beat almost anybody at home, but losses at Wisconsin and Penn State made it a forgettable season.

Every year there are sexy Big Ten matchups that dominate national attention, typically when Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State square off. But those games don’t matter if the teams involved can’t take care of business on the road.

What’s this Michigan team made of?

So what will it be this year: 2016 or 2021? Are we about to find out that Michigan is a conference title contender once again or will last season look like an outlier?

This is the toughest road game on the schedule outside of Columbus, so if there was ever a time for Michigan to put all the pieces together, this is it.

The country’s eyes will be glued to N.C. State-Clemson, Alabama-Arkansas, and Kentucky-Ole Miss this weekend. But no game will have a greater impact on the playoff race than the one in Iowa City.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.