Wednesday, September 5, 2012
On the rebound: Michigan, PSU, Wisconsin
By Adam Rittenberg
Michigan and Penn State aren't used to this.
The Wolverines and Nittany Lions entered Saturday's games with a combined record of 201-39-5 in season openers. Penn State hadn't dropped its first game since 2001, and while Michigan had a few recent missteps, most notably a 34-32 loss to FCS Appalachian State in 2007, the Maize and Blue typically start seasons with relatively easy wins.
Michigan has never experienced an opening loss worse than the 27-point setback it endured at the hands of then-No. 2 Alabama on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas. Few expected Michigan to knock off the defending national champ, but most thought the Wolverines would hang around longer than a quarter.
Although Penn State was far more competitive in its loss to Ohio, a talented team with a good quarterback (Tyler Tettleton) and a proven coach (Frank Solich), the perception of falling to a MAC team at home stings a team that had dealt with so much transition and turmoil during the offseason. There's a reason the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries published a post Tuesday headlined: "Five Penn State losses worse than Ohio."
Both Michigan and Penn State find themselves in the unfamiliar position of needing to rebound in Week 2. And while Wisconsin survived its opener against FCS Northern Iowa, the Badgers are in the club as well, looking for a better performance as they hit the road for Oregon State.
"You've got to get over it," said Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw two interceptions, one returned for an Alabama touchdown, in the loss. "You can't let them beat us twice. It's time to move forward."
Penn State players echoed the same message this week as they get ready for a road test at Virginia. The Lions couldn't wait to get back on the field after a nightmarish offseason and channeled their emotion to take a 14-3 halftime lead on Ohio.
But when the momentum shifted in the third quarter on a likely Penn State interception-turned Ohio touchdown, Beaver Stadium seemed to deflate, and so did the Lions. Although Bill O'Brien attributed his team's second-half swoon more to Ohio's playmaking ability, players acknowledged a letup.
"As a football player, you have to have a short memory because there are wins and losses," senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "We've got to stay pumped up and not lose our energy. We lost some of our energy in the second half. We have to keep that up the whole game."
O'Brien stressed the need to move forward immediately after Saturday's game, and while there are schematic and personnel adjustments to be made to yield better results at Virginia, the coach has had to be more Stuart Smalley than Bill Belichick for his potentially fragile team.
"We've got to talk to our guys all the time about making sure they know how we feel about them," O'Brien said. "These are good football players who are playing in new systems. There are a lot of guys playing really for the first time in college football, who have bright futures. … I really feel good about our football team. Nobody wanted it to go that way on Saturday, but if you're sitting there with me watching the tape with our staff, there's a lot to build on."
Both O'Brien and Brady Hoke praised their teams' response in the first practices following the opening losses. Hoke is leaning on Michigan's senior class to ensure the team turns the page from Alabama to an always tricky Air Force squad, which visits Ann Arbor this week.
"We'll learn a little bit more about our leadership," Hoke said. "I've liked it to this point. This week we'll learn a little bit more on how motivated they are. I think when you only have 11 guaranteed opportunities left and you're Michigan, I think you'll be very motivated."
Bret Bielema expects the same from his Wisconsin team after a major scare at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers nearly squandered leads of 19-0 and 26-7 and needed a late defensive stand to hold off Northern Iowa 26-21. Wisconsin had won its previous seven nonconference home games by an average of 32.7 points.
Wisconsin typically hands out MVP awards (offense, defense, special teams, scout team) after wins, but Bielema withheld them after the Northern Iowa game, saying he "didn't really feel we're at that level yet."
Bielema called the close call a valuable teaching tool for his team.
"For us to face the adversity we had to to win that game, on offense, defense and special teams, you'd much rather have that after a win than a loss," he said.
Michigan and Penn State don't have that luxury, but like Wisconsin, the Wolverines and Lions are looking for bounce-back performances this week against dangerous foes. As both O'Brien and Hoke preached this week, it's a long season.
Then again, it'll feel a lot longer at 0-2.
"I know that we have to move on," Hill said, "and move forward."