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Appalachian State loss motivates Michigan

8/28/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan safety Stevie Brown tries to block negativity from his life whenever he can. The problem is he also owns a TV.

When Brown flips through the channels, he's often comes across those unsightly images, the ones showing the little team with the funny name stunning the big team with the famous name. There might as well be a station called WLAS -- Wolverines lose to Appalachian State.

"It was hard to get over because every week, we saw the clips being played," Brown said. "It's still being played right now. So it's always something that stays in the back of your mind."

Does Brown relive Michigan's 34-32 loss, considered by many to be the biggest upset in college football history?

"Nah, I change the channel right then and there," he said.

Brown might want to unplug his set this week. The Wolverines enter a new era with head coach Rich Rodriguez and dramatically different schemes and personnel, but the Appalachian State loss will undoubtedly be rehashed as another season dawns Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Rodriguez and most of his assistants weren't in Ann Arbor for Michigan's historic setback last fall, and though they focused on installing new systems with mostly unproven players this summer, there have been some not-so subtle hints about the game. Brown remembers a particular conversation he had with one of Michigan's graduate assistants.

"The one thing the GA told me was, he didn't believe it and the coaching staff didn't believe it, but when they came in, they heard that No. 3 would just have mental mistakes and blow coverages every now and then," Brown said. "I didn't ask where it came from, they didn't tell me where it came from."

It doesn't take much detective work to find the likely source. Brown started the Appalachian State game, got burned on a 68-yard touchdown and several other plays, and began the second half on the bench.

Don't expect a re-run Saturday against Utah.

"I've been watching Utah film for a couple months now," said Brown, who won a starting spot at free safety. "I'm determined not to let anything happen like it did last year."

Utah is a suitable measuring stick for a Wolverines defense that likely needs to carry the team early on.

Like Appalachian State, the Utes run a spread offense with an athletic quarterback (Brian Johnson) and a star wide receiver (Brent Casteel). The Utes are deep at running back with Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata, but everything flows through Johnson, who ranked fourth nationally in total offense in 2005.

"With the misdirection going everywhere and different blocking schemes coming at you, you've got to make sure you've got good eyes so you can trigger and be able to run up there," Brown said. "If you're a step slow, that's an extra 10 yards and that's more time on the field."

Speed is also the emphasis for Michigan's offense, particularly up front, where right tackle Stephen Schilling is the lone returning starter. Recent injuries have forced some more shuffling, as John Ferrara moved over from defensive tackle and could play Saturday. Rodriguez wants a combination of eight serviceable linemen who can play multiple positions.

The coaches expect mistakes from such a new group, but anything but peak effort won't be tolerated.

"If you miss, miss hard and miss fast," Schilling said. "That's what they [the coaches] always tell us. If we're out there going as hard as we can and stay aggressive, they'll be satisfied. Tempo will help us, definitely. Defenses will get tired and hopefully, our conditioning through the summer will help stay in shape."

Offensive line isn't the only area that got a facelift during the offseason, as quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart and wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington finished their careers.

Michigan enters the game not having named definitive starters at either quarterback or running back.

"The mystery or curiosity, the unanswered questions, there is," Rodriguez said. "We try to minimize that by putting them in some pressure situations in practice, see how they respond. But at the same time, it's different in a game."

Schilling praised the practice performances of freshmen running backs Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, who are listed as co-starters on the depth chart. Junior wideout Greg Mathews had similar words for young receivers like Martavious Odoms, Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum.

"Fans are used to seeing us line up with Chad under center, handing it off to Mike, running behind Jake [Long] or throwing a pass to Mario or Adrian," Mathews said. "So it will just be different."

What also will be different is Michigan's conditioning level after players went through a rigorous offseason with new strength coach Mike Barwis.

"During the summertime, when we'll be working out, Mike says, 'Pay now, and you can make others pay in the fall,'" Brown said. "That's everybody's mind-set right now. We're just getting ready and geared up to let somebody else know what we went through."