Michigan will be an underdog against Michigan State for the first time since – well, tough to remember. But the Wolverines aren't approaching it as such, Lloyd Carr said Monday. At least he isn't. The Wolverines are at a crossroads and need a win to realistically stay in the Big Ten race
"Underdog?" Carr questioned when asked about the role. "If you're talking about point spreads … I know this: I don't ever in my life remember going into any game feeling like I was an underdog. And I've certainly never experienced that at Michigan."
In short, U-M goes into East Lansing Saturday expecting to win, the same mindset the Wolverines usually take. Mike Hart will return to practice Tuesday … if he's good to go, his presence could give the struggling Michigan offense a shot in the arm.
"Mike Hart is the complete football player," said Carr. "If you believe it's important to play the game from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet with all your heart and might and soul, that's what Mike Hart is. He's a great football player."
Carr didn't want to think about possibility of a Hart redshirt.
"God forbid. I don't want to redshirt Hart. I don't want him back here five years," he quipped. "Technically, yes [we could]. But that's certainly not going to happen. I don't see that happening."
On the Wisconsin game: "We left too many points on the board in the first half. We missed two passes to [Jason] Avant that were big plays. We dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, and we came up short on a fourth-and-one. We left a lot of points there.
"We had great field position in the first half. We just weren't able to take advantage of it. In the second half, the field position changed. Wisconsin's punter did a tremendous job.
"It was our inability in the second half on offense … our first five possessions, we didn't do anything with them. We had a couple of turnovers, which left our defense at the short end of the field. Of course, the one turnover, after a personal foul penalty, gave them a first down at the 12 and they converted for a touchdown.
"I thought we played very hard. It was a very physical football game. The effort and the intensity were good enough to win. We just weren't able to capitalize on the opportunities we had.
"Penalties hurt us. In the second half, [Steve] Breaston brought the ball back to midfield, but that was negated by a block in the back, so that took the ball back inside our own 10. Then we misplayed a kickoff and we ended up with poor field position."
On positives from the game: "The good things were, I think LaMarr Woodley played the best game since he's been at Michigan. I thought he was outstanding. He's having a great year, and he's on his way to being the player we expected him to be.
"Alan Branch had his best game. David Harris was outstanding, and Willis Barringer had a good game.
"We did some good things. Our inability to stop them there at the end … we had a couple of chances and we just didn't get it done. The main thing is, we were on the field too long. You can't expect a defense, in a 30-minute half, to be on the field for almost 21 minutes and expect much more than we gave."
On whether Mike Hart will play against Michigan State: "I hope – I hope he plays. Mike Hart has done everything. There is nobody that wants to play more than he does. The truth is, we're not going to know until he gets out there. He will practice tomorrow [Sept. 27]. We'll just have to see where he is."
On Michigan responding to present adversity: "Well, I expect them to respond like the people they are. They are people of character. They are people who want very desperately to be as good as they can be. I don't worry about their attitude, their work ethic, or their spirit.
"They are good people. They understand that when life isn't going the way you want it to, you have to meet it. You have to life it, and do the things you're capable of to the best of your ability."
On what Michigan teams have done in the past to rally from struggles: "The measure of any team is how it responds when things don't go the way they want them to. Certainly, we're just trying to, on a daily basis, do the things that will enable us to get better.
"We have a lot of young guys on this football team, and we're a better team than we were a month ago. Kevin Grady did some very good things in there. Max Martin did some very good things in there. Mario Manningham made some big plays, and he made two great plays without the football – great blocks that he delivered.
"We've got some young guys who are gaining with their experience. We're just trying to improve on a daily basis – that's what any season is about."
On Gabe Watson and Alan Branch playing side by side: "We've got some depth in there. It's always an advantage when you can rotate people in there. That's part of not only trying to develop depth, but trying to keep people fresh."
On whether Watson delivered what was expected: "I thought Gabe did much better on Saturday."
On whether Steve Breaston is pressing: "We've got some guys who are pressing, because they are not playing like they want to play on every occasion. I think sometimes that happens. I think Steve may be pressing a little bit.
"He's a guy that has such high expectations. But if you look at the film, you'll see that Steve Breaston played extremely hard. He played extremely well without the football. But when you're not playing your very best, sometimes you press.
"In all those cases, you have to persevere. You have to continue to fight and get yourself out of it."
On helping players regain confidence: "Confidence is something that is an interesting part of anybody's makeup, in any endeavor. Sometimes it is better than others. More than anything else, if you have the ability to do the things you want to do, which Steve has, then you have to focus in and not let all of the pressure get to you.
"The more you press, the worse it gets. He knows that his coaches and teammates have great confidence in him. I don't have any question that he'll come out of this."
On turning things around in general: "The key is to have people who are very passionate about what they do. I think we have that. It's important for the seniors, the guys who have been around, to make sure they set the tempo and they set the expectations, in terms of the roles people have to play.
"We've always had that here. We have good people in this program. They will respond positively."
On whether his team has played tentatively or tightly at times: "Our biggest problem has been, offensively, getting the ball in the end zone. We've had ample opportunities in the red zone that would have impacted all those games, and we have just not been able to execute the things we need to do.
"There were such high expectations, and as I alluded to earlier, sometimes you press, rather than letting things come to you. I see a team that has got a lot of parts to it that have changed on a weekly basis, and sometimes that impacts your performance.
"In the meantime, we've got a lot of guys gaining experience. We just have to put it together."
On whether the game plans have been toned down, given the inexperienced players being used: "No, I don't think you do that at all. All we have to do to be a very good football team is do the things we're capable of doing.
"Nobody is being asked to do anything extraordinary. We just have to play better together and stop making the mistakes. It begins with turnovers and penalties. Those types of things, in the big picture, when you really look at a game … we've lost the turnover battle in both of our defeats. We certainly had too many penalties on Saturday.
"Both those things have a way of really impacting the game, sometimes in a way that is not so obvious."
On any considerations of playing Matt Gutierrez instead of Chad Henne: "I don't think I can make this any more clear. I have great confidence in Chad Henne."
On the switch from facing Wisconsin's run-heavy offense to taking on Michigan State's spread: "I think it's the nature of defensive football today. No matter who you are, you're going to have to reorient yourself to a new scheme.
"If you compare the offenses that we faced last week and we face this week, they're about as different as they can be, and yet both of them are based on being able to run the football. But that's really the end of it. They are very different.
"It's very difficult, because the formations are different. The type of running plays you're going to see are much different. Of course, this week you've got a guy who can really throw it, you're got guys who can catch it, and you've got outstanding backs in the backfield, and a big, strong, powerful offensive line.
"I don't think we're going to play a better offensive football team this year. I think their defense is a defense that has a very good scheme. They're big, strong, powerful guys in front and at linebacker. They're a great challenge."
On playing a ranked MSU squad: "Any time you're playing an outstanding football team, you're motivated. That's the bottom line."
On what goes into making a quarterback change in-season: "That's not part of my thinking."
On whether Henne is one of those pressing: "No, I don't think he's pressing."
On whether Henne is playing well: "I think he's doing a lot of good things. There are plays that he made in there that are excellent plays. He made some great throws.
"The timing on some of our routes … a lot of times, when you study it from your standpoint, it's very different from what I see. When a crossing receiver is delayed – he gets jammed by a linebacker or hung up in there – then the timing is disrupted.
"I'm not saying he's throwing the football, right now, as well as he's capable, because he isn't. But there are some things we can do to help him from a mechanical standpoint.
"I don't think he's the problem. I think he's part of the problem. We're all part of the problem. I'm part of the problem."
On Scott McClintock's reduced playing time: "Chris Graham and Prescott Burgess and David Harris are all playing very well."
On what they do to maintain confidence: "You have to win this week. You have to work hard on a daily basis, maintain a positive attitude. What I know is we have good people, and to me I don't care what you're doing, that's where it all starts. We have people who care, are passionate about the game.
"When I looked at the tape of that [Wisconsin] game … you show me somebody who wasn't playing hard. You show me somebody who wasn't physical. Because I don't see that. As long as a football team is improving … but in this game, there's a very fine margin between winning and losing. You have to be able to do the most important things. In this particular game, the most important thing in the game outside of paying hard and doing the things you're supposed to do is taking care of the football."
On Jeremy Van Alstyne and Mike Kolodziej's injuries: "I don't expect either one of them back this week. I want to make this clear. Jeremy, the reason he didn't play … is he's fought a hamstring injury all fall. It had nothing to do with his effort. That wasn't part of his deal. Mike Kolodziej, there are some tests being taken, and we just have to wait and hope things will work out so he can come back."
On his comment that the running backs had played well: "I said they've improved."
On Mike Hart and what he means to the team: "Mike Hart is the complete football player. If you believe it's important to play the game from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet with all your heart and might and soul, that's what Mike Hart is. He's a great football player."
On not worrying about outside distractions or what's already happened: "This is what we have this week, and it's a great test for us because they have an outstanding football team. What we want to do is come out and play our best game. Let's play our best game."
On having Tim Massaquoi back: Massaquoi is one of those guys you really appreciate as a coach because he's so tough, so competitive, unselfish. He's such an outstanding leader that it's great to have him even when he's not at full strength. He's a special guy. Massaquoi can catch the football whether he's got a broken hand or not."
On MSU quarterback Drew Stanton: "Obviously he's a talented guy, he's surrounded by talented people. He's in a scheme that gives him an opportunity to do a lot of things."
On whether Mike Hart could have played against Wisconsin: "He could have willed himself to play, but there's more than one game. The injury he has, it's one of those things. Mass is playing with a screw in his bone. Rueben Riley is playing with casts on both thumbs. There are some injuries you can play relatively effectively if you can endure the discomfort that comes with it. There are other injuries that if you play, you make them worse. The key is to make sure he's healthy when he comes back."
On whether they're the same team without him: "We are who we are. Who is on that field – there are 11 guys out there who want to win. You can't worry about who you don't have. What you concetnrte on is playing the game together and playi9gn as hard as you can, not worry about all the other things that aren't controllable.
On why Garrett Rivas handled one kickoff vs. Wisconsin: "When you kick the ball off the goal is to get the ball between the hash marks and the sidelines We didn't do that. Garrett has really improved his kickoffs, but then he put his in the middle of the field. That didn't make Coach [Mike] DeBord happy. Ross [Ryan] gets his kicks high, and that gives you an opportunity to get down and pin 'em in there. We didn't do that."
On Steve Breaston's play coming out of the end zone on a kickoff: "He just made a mistake. I've made a few myself. It's very understandable."
On bouncing back like other Michigan teams have: "It's hard for me to remember last week. If you've been around here, you can go back and talk to the guys on the '97 team, the '98 team, the '99 team. I don't care what year you're talking about, there's something that goes wrong. It may be injury, whatever. The most important thing is the way you respond.
"We're just trying to deal with today."
On mistakes he's made: "What I'm trying to do is stay focused on today and this week. It doesn't matter what role you're playing in any organization, there's a time to look back and a time to get ready for the next one. There are always lessons to be learned. That's the wonderful, incredible thing about this game. There are things that happen in every game, things that come up from a coaching standpoint in the way you do things that you know when you make a mistake.
"You try to learn from your mistakes. I don't know of anything anybody does that doesn't have challenges and learning opportunities, and that's really the fun part of living your life. If we could go back, we wouldn't choose to be 2-2. But we are. Let's deal with it, let's meet it, and let's live it. Let's enjoy it. Let's fight. That's the deal.
"We've got a lot of guys who are growing and a lot of guys playing hard. It's about belief, will and desire. And we have those things. I have every confidence."
On whether anybody else is working on kick returns: "We've got a lot of guys we've worked at return. Steve's done a good job on the return. He hasn't had a lot of help there. A week ago he had a big return where he had some help. Kick return … when you're playing a guy with Steve's ability, that motivates the other team. You have to give them credit. As far as what he's done in the return game, he's been fine. He made a mistake there, which he'll learn from."
On whether he's surprised by Mario Manningham's quick progress: "I really expected him to go fast. It was very obvious from the first practice, and during the summertime when he was here, our players were all talking about what he could do. I saw him play basketball in high school, I saw the film. What he's done and what he will do, I don't think any of it will surprise me.
"I didn't expect Adrian Arrington to get hurt. Certainly, his opportunities have increased because of injury. He's done a wonderful job with those."
On whether U-M's defense is better prepared to face MSU's spread offense: "Our front seven, I think we're much, much better than we were a year ago. We'll have to see, because this test is a great test for us. We're excited about that. It's not just the defense, it's about field position, what you do offensively. You can't go into it thinking everything rests on the defense, because it doesn't. It's a team game."
On Doug Dutch's health: "He's back and ready to go."
On whether he expects Zoltan Mesko to redshirt: "Yes."
On Jake Long's status: "Day to day. He's more than day to day, but he's working at it."