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Michigan regains footing in Big Ten

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- No one touched Gary Bush. Every Michigan defender tried to tackle him, but as the Purdue receiver crossed into the end zone with two diving Wolverines missing his feet, the familiar refrain returned.

Same old Michigan. Same old ...

Not so fast, my friend.

Michigan didn't allow another touchdown until the final seconds, by which time it led by 29 points. Almost exactly a quarter later, defensive tackle Mike Martin had a safety. Michigan's running backs and quarterback Denard Robinson combined for hundreds of yards rushing.

And that same old Michigan refrain from 2009 and 2010 officially disappeared. The Wolverines dominated Purdue on Saturday, shutting down the Boilermakers and rolling to a 36-14 win that sufficiently answered one of Michigan's lingering questions.

It could bounce back. It would not collapse.

It was a theme obliterated by Martin, who had seven tackles and two sacks, including the safety that turned what looked like a close game into a rout.

"That guy is just a physical beast and a very dominating player," defensive lineman Craig Roh said. "When you see [the safety], you're like, 'I can do that.'

"It's cool to see it because that guy is right next to me. I know he's going to beast his guy, so I have to beast my guy."

The safety gave Michigan its first lead, 9-7. It also gave the Wolverines control; they scored on five of their next six possessions, stretching into the fourth quarter.

This season, Michigan can rebound. It can play well after a loss to Michigan State.

These are no longer Rich Rodriguez's Michigan Wolverines. Not even close. Michigan had not put together a total performance like Saturday's this late in the season since 2007 -- coincidentally the last time Michigan was ranked in any poll entering November. This team's 7-1 start is the best for a Wolverines team since 2006, when Michigan started the year 11-0.

"The team knew we had to bounce back this week," quarterback Denard Robinson said. "Everybody was preparing and everybody was ready, and we did what we had to do."

Michigan (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten), in some ways, looked like the Michigan of old -- the Michigan to which Hoke so desperately wants to return. Fitzgerald Toussaint had 170 yards on 20 carries.

Six players caught a combined total of 10 passes as Robinson and Devin Gardner moved the ball around to different targets when they needed to. The offense displayed balance and moved the ball at ease against Purdue (4-4, 2-2), which flustered Illinois a week ago.

The Michigan defense, no longer the woe-is-everyone unit from the past two seasons, held Purdue to 192 yards through three quarters.

These things matter to Hoke. These are the tenets -- running the ball and playing intimidating defense -- on which he wants to build this Michigan football program, with a nod to his predecessors.

"That's what, in my mind, Michigan football is," Hoke said.

On Saturday, Michigan looked like it. The Wolverines showed resolve they didn't have in prior years. They didn't let another team push them around like Michigan State did a week ago in every way, like so many teams had done throughout the stretch of 2009 and 2010.

Michigan left its stadium Saturday with something else: a three-way tie atop the Big Ten Legends Division. While the Wolverines don't control their Big Ten championship game fate entering the final month of the season -- if Michigan State or Nebraska wins out, one of those teams would go to the Big Ten title game over the Wolverines -- they are at least in the conversation.

"November is championship football for us," Martin said.

It has been a long time since anyone around the Michigan football team has been able to say that -- and actually mean it.

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