"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Following Rich Rodriguez's time with the media yesterday, we also talked to TE Kevin Koger, RB Mike Shaw, LB Obi Ezeh, and DL Ryan Van Bergen.
"I think a couple people were shocked, because not a lot of people picked us to win." He was pleased with the team's performance.
Denard's performance - "I know he was doing what the coaches were coaching him to do." With his speed, if he doesn't need to stop his feet nobody will catch him. When Denard came in last year, teams knew it was a run. Now, they can't expect that. "He did take a lot of hits on Saturday, he did get hurt once."
"If it ain't broke don't fix it." The run worked well on Saturday, no need to worry about chucking the ball downfield more often. Teams have put 8 men in the box to stop the run. They might put more DBs in the box. "You really can't tell until you watch film." When they do that, you'll see more passing.
The big focus for WRs and TEs in offseason was dropped passes. They needed to work on their focus, ad it's paying off.
Everybody wants to make their blocks on every play, so it's not their guy that makes a tackle. Big play ability is always there with Michigan's team speed. Have to make your blocks "that could be the difference, so you never know." Downfield blocking "all comes down to effort. If you want to block, you block. If you don't [want to], you don't."
Kevin could notice a difference in crowd noise with the new boxes. You can hear the echoes off the boxes. "I think 113,000+ had a lot to do with it also."
Kevin traveled but didn't play a couple years ago at Notre Dame. He's ready to experience it for the first time. Players talk about "how loud it was and how tall the grass was."
"It was a good game. Coming out with a packed crowd like that, it was a lot of nerves, but we got through it and had a good showing against UConn."
"So far, so good" for Denard. "You never expect anybody to go out and have the game that he did." When he pulls the ball down, he's as good as a running back. If he stays healthy and everyone keeps blocking for him, it'll be all good. "Anybody can get a big run in this offense. It's so spread out." UConn wasn't ready for Denard's speed. Once teams key on Denard, it'll open up lanes for others. "As of September 4th, it was Denard's show." It's hard to compare Denard's command of the offense from last year. "What the coaches asked him to do, he did well - more than well."
Coaches look for stability and consistency in RBs. Shaw and Smith didn't fumble, etc. in camp, which put them ahead. There was no discussion of who was going to go in "when our numbers were called, we just went in there and did our thing." He's always hard on himself after a game. "I feel that I have a lot of room for improvement," especially in blocking and hitting creases harder.
He's talked to Roundtree, and they watched the play on which he got injured. Roundtree was thrilled to be involved in a big hit - he likes to be in on the action.
The O-line was a huge plus - even more than Denard. They've made big strides over the past couple years. They'll lead to a lot of big plays this year.
As for his academic situation in fall camp: "I am a student-athlete, and to not be eligible is not something I think the University of Michigan would stand for."
It's always a rowdy crowd at ND. Both teams have a lot to prove. "A lot of attention in the national spotlight."
The first three-and-out "that was nice" UConn's hurry-up didn't work out to start the game. "Our coaches got us really prepared for that game."
Fumble recovery - "In the right place at the right time, and kinda had my wits about me.... Kinda reminded me of the Michigan State game last year, when I had a fumble recovery and got smacked in the face."
The D-line was amazing. "A lot of people don't really hear about the efforts those guys put out." Hopes Martin knows that he appreciates the effort.
"I'm my worst critic," but Jonas played awesome. He was getting in the backfield, wreaking havoc, reading his keys, everything gelling well. "I felt comfortable out there too." Everyone makes mistakes - not perfect but a good game.
"Obviously things didn't go the way you wanted or you planned last year," and Obi used that for motivation. "I just want to win." All the seniors want to leave a legacy. There are more important things than last year.
The time of possession helped the defense. "It's fun when you don't have to play like 80-some plays a game." There will be times that Mich doesn't dominate possession, and the D is in good enough shape to handle that.
ND - Big game, big stage. Want to make a statement. "With that all being said, it's still a game, and just like last week you need to prepare, focus in, and practice hard." Everybody has a different version of the spread, so you have to prepare for ND differently. ND has explosive players at their disposal. "Our coaches are gonna come in with a gameplan obviously and we're just gonna focus in and execute to the best of our abilities."
Ryan Van Bergen
Did the team make a statement on opening day? "I think we did a pretty good job. I wouldn't say we had a performance that was perfect." There's a long season to progress, and young guys will come along during the season.
"I probably thought that in spring ball, probably first or second week" that Denard had really come along as a passer. He's accurate, which he struggled with last year. Completing passes will open up the run for him.
DL Coach Bruce Tall tries to rotate guys in and out along the line, to give the starters a rest. Even with the defense out there a long time, they can have depth and stay fresh. Mike Barwis has done a fantastic job with conditioning. Everybody on DL is leaps ahead of last year - which means a lot because they were in great shape last year too.
Position change "My role hasn't changed that much. It's a little bit nicer that I don't have to worry about a double team every play." BG gave him a lot of help.
He's "absolutely" happy to see somebody else have to chase Denard around.
Pressure on the QB. "Obviously I don't think we recorded a sack. We did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback and forcing some bad throws." UConn went heavy protect a lot of times, but they're hungry to get some sacks.
Obi - "He just really resilient. He's gonna come back just as hard if not harder if he makes a mistake." Always a leader. He and jonas both motivated. Rubs off on the rest of the d.
Secondary - "I they played well." Don't have a veteran back there who's a bigtime leader. Those guys played well, weren't deer-in-headlights. Bounced back if they gave up any big plays.