Oct. 17, 2011
By Leah Howard, MGoBlue.com
How the Michigan football team responds to its first loss of the 2011 season is on the team, according to Wolverine senior captains Kevin Koger, Mike Martin and David Molk, and that response is going to distance this team from the trend of years past.
Michigan had entered the previous two Michigan State meetings with a combined 9-0 record. After falling to the Spartans 26-20 in 2009 and 34-17 last season, U-M ended those seasons 3-13.
But on Monday, the message became clear: this season, this team, is different.
"It's time for me, along with my senior group and fellow captains, to step up and take control of the emotional level of this team and stride on," said Molk. "We can't let one loss set us back for the entire season and really make us feel like it's over just because we have one loss. That's not going to happen."
Because while the loss to the Wolverines' in-state rival stings, and while head coach Brady Hoke said following last Saturday's loss he wanted his team to "feel" it for a while, there are more games to be played. The season is not over, and the three senior captains said they will not let the season be defined by last Saturday's game alone.
"It starts with my attitude, my message, every day to the team when we address the team, and what I do in practice every day," said Martin. "I'm excited. We're 6-1. We're not 1-6. The leadership on this team is something special. This senior class has come together, and I really believe this is a pivotal point for our team and the leadership on this team to step up. I think that's when leadership is supposed to really come in. When times are good, it's easy to be a leader. When times are bad, I think that's when leaders have to step up and really show the way."
Hoke said that process begins Tuesday when the team first meets and practices during its bye week.
"I know one thing, you can't let one team beat you twice," said Hoke. "So, you've got to do a great job of pointing out the things that need to be corrected immediately and then focus on what's next. We have five more guaranteed opportunities to play football. For our seniors, they have five more times to represent Michigan. That's pretty significant."
N O T E S
Michigan players said following Saturday's loss that Michigan State was the more physical team. The Spartans rushed for 213 yards while limiting the Wolverines to 82 yards on the ground.
"We can always play tougher," said Molk. "They out-toughed us. We need to step up. It's not just a couple guys, it's our collective team. We need to be a tougher team. This is Big Ten play. The tougher team wins. And it comes from everyone."
When asked if his team needs to be more physically or mentally tough, Hoke's response was short and direct: "Both."
The Wolverines have two weeks to prepare for their next game against Purdue. The team will practice Tuesday and Thursday of this week. Both Hoke and Martin suggested the bye week would be a good opportunity for Michigan to get a little healthier.
"Football is a physical game, and guys are going to get bumped up, get sore," said Martin. "I know we have some guys that are feeling that a bit, so having the bye week is key. I think it comes at the perfect time."
Hoke said he expected quarterback Denard Robinson to be healthy and practice this week after leaving last Saturday's game in the fourth quarter.
Hoke was pleased with the performance of sophomore punter Will Hagerup, who punted for 223 yards and four times pinned the Spartans inside the 20-yard line, including three inside the 10-yard line.
"I thought Will a couple times did a really good job," said Hoke. "The biggest thing that happens in a game when you have wind is your kicking game. Your kicks have change a little bit. It's a mental thing in those specialists' mind from a snapper depending on the wind. But I thought he did a pretty nice job in there a couple times."
Hoke was asked if he would reconsider the 4th-and-short call late in the fourth quarter last Saturday if given the chance: "No. I like the play. If we execute the play, Koger is in the end zone. We don't make a block that we need to make, and it's part of it. That play has been very successful for us. It's a nice complement to the dive. We just didn't execute."