<
>

Michigan musings heading into Ohio State week

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I had a chance to watch Rich Rodriguez's news conference this morning via Webcast. Some good stuff there.

The first-year Michigan head coach seemed much more philosophical than usual, perhaps realizing that this nightmare of a season is almost over and the process of building for the future will soon begin. He reflected on his first season at Michigan, where the program needs to go and reiterated that he recognizes the importance of Saturday's rivalry game at Ohio State.

Here are some notable nuggets from Rodriguez:

  • First, some housekeeping issues. Quarterback Steven Threet is doubtful for Ohio State with a shoulder injury that Rodriguez didn't know about until after last Saturday's loss to Northwestern. Expect sophomore Nick Sheridan to make his second consecutive start at quarterback. Running back Brandon Minor (ribs, shoulder, wrist) likely will return to action, while running back Sam McGuffie might miss the game because of a death in the family. McGuffie sat out last week with a shoulder injury.

  • Rodriguez spoke frankly about the mystique Michigan has lost and the importance of regaining it for future seasons.

"Coach [Bo] Schembechler, coach [Gary] Moeller, coach [Lloyd] Carr had built the program to the point where playing at home in that Big House and that winged helmet comes out, there was a certain feeling that, 'Boy, it's going to be a tough game,'" he said. "It's worth 10-14 points right there. That ain't the case anymore. That's obvious. Now I'd like to build it up to that point, and that's part of our challenge and our goal, but we're not there anymore where just putting on the winged helmet means something. We've got to deserve that.

"Everybody wants to know when we're going to win more games. When we deserve to win more games. It's as simple as that. When we deserve to win more games, we'll win more games. That's our challenge as coaches and certainly our challenge in our program in our players to get to that point. We'll get there. It's taken longer than I want, but we'll get there."

  • Rodriguez and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel have known one another for years, serving together on the American Football Coaches Association board. Ohio State offensive and defensive assistants actually visited Rodriguez only two or three years ago at West Virginia to study his offense and swap ideas. Rodriguez noticed Ohio State employing some of his schemes with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith in 2006.

"If I knew I was going to be here, that trip wouldn't have happened," Rodriguez joked. "Usually when we have those people visiting, it was a mutual exchange of ideas. We never will do that with anybody we think we'll be playing."

  • Rodriguez acknowledged the obvious differences in talent and experience between Michigan and Ohio State right now. But he also noted that last year's senior-laden team coached by Carr didn't fare too well against the Buckeyes, either.

"I'd like to go in there with four or five veteran receivers that run a 4.4 and two or three tailbacks and some experienced quarterbacks and a bunch of defensive guys that are going to be first-round picks," he said. "Do I get nervous when I watch the film? Sure I do. I watched last year's game and we've got five NFL players on offense and we get less than 100 yards against 'em. So now they're not here, and we've got to go and compete. It's a daunting challenge ... but I've got guys that can play. These guys will go in this environment and I hope compete their tails off, and who knows what happens? We're not going to go down there and forfeit."

  • Since the day Michigan hired Rodriguez, there had been major concerns about whether the two were a good fit. Rodriguez admits the feeling-out process is ongoing.

"There's always a little adaptation that has to go on," he said. "I have to find out, 'What is Michigan?' as far as the university and the traditions and all that. And then the university and our fans have to understand what we're trying to do with our program. You don't change tradition. The championships you've had here, the winged helmet, the things that are truly tradition in nature that are positive for your program, you wouldn't change.

"But now a culture, my definition of a culture is a certain mentality that you play with. If the culture at Michigan is to get a bunch of guys that try to do as well as they can on and off the field, that play with great passion on every snap, they give all they can for Michigan first before themselves, then that's the culture I want. ... If that's the culture that our fans want, then we're on the same page."