Sept. 26, 2011
By Leah Howard, MGoBlue.com
Just like the previous two seasons, the University of Michigan football team is sitting at 4-0 through the conclusion of the early-season non-conference schedule. The Wolverines know that doesn't mean much, however, and they're intent on maintaining their positive momentum through the upcoming Big Ten Conference schedule -- something they didn't do over the previous two seasons.
Michigan opens Big Ten play this Saturday (Oct. 1, noon) at home against Minnesota.
"We play for the Big Ten championship," said head coach Brady Hoke. "Obviously, this is the start of the Big Ten schedule. I don't think there's any secret that we've got to play a lot better than we have within the Big Ten.
"It's a great league and a competitive league. This is an important game because it is a league game and our expectations as a program. The other part is that Brown Jug is pretty important to us, and we'd like to keep it in Ann Arbor."
The Wolverines spoke about the trophy game last night in their team meeting.
"I was there when we won the last one in 2008," said fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, "but I didn't even really touch the trophy because I didn't feel like I had done anything to contribute. I'm really excited. I've been waiting to play this game, because it's a big part of our tradition. It's what makes Michigan what it is -- the fact that it has these little things that we've been a part of for so long. I think (1903) was when the brown jug was lost to Minnesota. It's the oldest trophy game in college football, and it's something that we have to take pride in and try to (keep)."
Michigan has dominated the all-time series against the Golden Gophers, owning a 70-24-3 record since 1892, and has won each of the last three meetings. Minnesota enters this weekend's matchup with a 1-3 record after falling, 37-24, to North Dakota State last weekend in Minneapolis. On Monday, Hoke insisted that the Gophers are not a team to take lightly.
"MarQueis Gray, their quarterback -- and they're using two quarterbacks -- I think he's averaging almost 100 (yards) rushing the football," said Hoke. "He's talented. We tried to recruit him at out at Ball State. He's a big guy who has very good feet. They move the ball; I think they're averaging 179 yards a game and almost 170 throwing the ball. They've got a lot of talent, and they play very aggressive defense."
Hoke also offered thoughts on Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, who entered a hospital on Sunday to seek treatment for seizure problems.
"Jerry and I obviously competed against each other at the MAC level. Him and his wife, Rebecca, are two of the finest people you'll ever be around. Our prayers for him and his family are there. He's a great person and a terrific coach."
N O T E S
The Wolverines are 13-for-13 this season in red-zone scoring efficiency. U-M has scored touchdowns in 12 of 13 trips to the red zone, including three last Saturday against San Diego State.
"We've done well," said fifth-year senior center David Molk. "We have a different, more powerful running game this year. (Offensive Coordinator Al) Borges is calling plays really well."
Michigan's defense has found similar success in the red zone this season, allowing just seven scores on 13 red zone attempts (54%), including five touchdowns (38%).
"I think it goes a long way to credit (Defensive Coordinator Greg) Mattison because of what he emphasized when he got here," said Van Bergen. "He kind (of has an) order of things, the number one thing was keeping people out of the end zone when they get into the red zone. He went down the list, no big plays, and we want to stop the run and obviously limit some of the yardage people are getting. But at the same time, if you are not scoring you are not going to win the game. When Coach Mattison came in, he said we are not going to let teams in the end zone. We have given up yards, but as far as a bend and don't break mentality we have been doing pretty well at it."
Freshman cornerback Blake Countess earned his first significant time against San Diego State, registering a team-leading seven tackles and a pass breakup while playing the bulk of the second half.
"I thought he did a nice job," said Hoke. "You know, I think he's a talented kid and I think he'll be a really good player for us. He's smart and understands the defense and has a good feel for it."
Hoke acknowledged that momentum, positive emotions and mental preparation probably have something to do with the Wolverines' week-to-week improvements.
"I think that's part it of defensively, offensively, kicking game," said Hoke. "This is such a mental game. It's played from the neck up. This part in the year, you've done all your heavy lifting and you've done all your conditioning. It is now time that, knowing your opponent, knowing what the game plan is, knowing your reaction, where your eyes, all those things should be. So that's a big part of it."