Nov. 7, 2011
By Leah Howard, MGoBlue.com
Rather than dwell on controversy, despite repeated questions at Monday's weekly press conference about senior receiver Junior Hemingway's late non-catch in the end zone at Iowa, the Wolverines are intent on moving on from last Saturday's 24-16 loss against Hawkeyes. According to head coach Brady Hoke, there are a number of positives that Michigan can build on.
"The thing I can tell you is I will say our guys played with great effort," said Hoke. "I thought they stayed in the game. I think they managed the game from a standpoint of the organization, the sidelines, out on the field. I thought they did a tremendous job. We've got to execute better though in opportunities. That's the one thing that sticks out, because the effort was outstanding on both sides of the ball.
"We're moving forward, obviously. Going on the road again, going down to Champaign, and playing Michigan football. We had a good day yesterday and plan to have to a great week."
The Wolverines have shown their ability to bounce back from disappointing defeat once already this season, responding to their first loss of the season at Michigan State with a workmanlike 36-14 victory over Purdue two weeks later at Michigan Stadium. But unlike the previous occasion, Michigan will not have the luxury of returning to the friendly confines of the Big House. That shouldn't matter, says Hoke.
"We can't worry about being comfortable to be honest with you," said Hoke. "If the question is, 'Do you like playing at home better than away,' I think 100 percent of the teams in the country are going to say it's always nice to play at home. But I think our kids are pretty daggone resilient, and I think they'll be in good shape."
Iowa's Kinnick Stadium has a reputation for being tough on visiting teams. The Wolverines expect to find similar challenges on the road this weekend against Illinois, which announced last week that the first five rows on the east and west sides of Memorial Stadium will be opened up to accommodate additional fans for the game.
"I know it's going to be a sellout," he said. "In fact, I think they're bringing extra bleachers in. It's Michigan. If you're Michigan, you're going to get people's best. That's just the way it is. It's a good thing, so we'll be fine."
The Fighting Illini offense, headlined by sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, has averaged 198.4 rushing yards and 204.1 passing yards per game, while its defense ranks second in the Big Ten Conference in total defense with 280.1 yards allowed per game, including just 102.9 rushing yards.
"They're very athletic as a football team overall," said Hoke. "From the offensive standpoint, I think the quarterback, [Nathan] Scheelhaase, is throwing the ball well. I think he's improved that part. [Jason] Ford is a back who can get some tough yards, plus he's got a pretty good jump, cut. I think they're a big up front offensively. [A.J.] Jenkins is the leading receiver, I believe, in the league. They've got some weapons offensively.
"Defensively, I think they're a very athletic defense. I think they're ranked up near the top in a lot of categories. They're very athletic and move well and do a lot. They've got a lot of coverage, a lot of different fronts, a lot of different zone blitzes and man blitzes. So, it'll be interesting to see. For our offensive linemen, targeting issues that you have to are a big part of it."
N O T E S
With three games remaining in the regular season, neither Hoke nor the Wolverines players were ready to count themselves out of the running for the Big Ten championship game. Last Saturday produced several surprising results, underscoring the belief that any conference school is capable of beating any other.
"I don't think anybody in here can tell you what's going to happen a minute from now," said Hoke, "let alone four weeks from now. There is a lot of football still to be played, and we're guaranteed a certain number of opportunities. Our seniors, we're going to play for them. We got three more of those opportunities guaranteed with them that we know of. You don't know what's going to happen."
"The Big Ten is a very open conference," said fifth-year senior center David Molk. "We all know what happens in the Big Ten Conference in that you cannot predict anything. But at the same time, we have to keep doing with the freshmen what we have done the entire season and motivate them and make them understand what we feel our passion is and they have to see that through us. I believe it is pretty obvious and apparent to them, so I do not think we will have any issue."
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson completed 17-of-37 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns against the Hawkeyes. Hoke was generally pleased with his performance.
"I thought Denard played a really good football game," said Hoke. "You look how he set his feet and how he threw the football, how he managed the offense, and I said it after the game -- I think he grew as a quarterback. In those environments, I think that's when you do grow."
The Michigan defense continues to rely heavily on freshman players at key positions.
"The reason they're out there is because they're the best at their position," said fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen. "We wouldn't have them out there if we didn't expect them to make that play. One thing we talk about here all the time is that there's an expectation by position, regardless of who is in there. Defensive end at Michigan is expected to play like a defensive end at Michigan plays, regardless of the year he's in, any injuries that he might have. The same expectation goes for every position. We expect our SAM, Jake Ryan, to play at the level of a SAM linebacker. We don't care that he's a freshman, and Blake [Countess], we don't care that he's a freshman. And the good thing is that they have the same mentality. I don't think either one of them considers themselves inexperienced. They take on the challenge as if they are meant to be out there, because they know they are. They wouldn't be out there if we didn't expect them to make that play."
Michigan won the coin toss against the Hawkeyes and decided to immediately take the ball. It was a decision Hoke said the coaches put a lot of thought into.
"We made a decision, because 99.9 percent of time we're going to defer when we win the toss, but we had made a decision on Thursday when there was going to be a significant wind called for," he said. "Having the wind in the fourth quarter was something that we really wanted to do. We just got lucky and won the toss, so we wanted to take the ball instead of defer, thinking that they're going to want the ball -- they got first option in the second half. They're going to want ball, and then they can dictate us having the wind in the fourth quarter if you needed a field goal. So, we thought that thing out pretty hard. "