Lessons prepare Michigan for what's ahead
October, 6, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like most fifth-year seniors, Michigan's Mark Ortmann and Jason Olesnavage have pretty much seen it all.
They've been to the Rose Bowl and lost to Appalachian State. They've handed Florida its only postseason loss under Urban Meyer and endured the worst season in team history last fall. They've experienced a coaching change and been a part of the biggest game in recent Big Ten history at Ohio State in 2006.
|Leon Halip/Getty Images|
|The Wolverines need Tate Forcier to bounce back from Saturday's loss to Michigan State.|
"We’ve been through everything," said Olesnavage, the Wolverines starting kicker. "So from our perspective, I don’t think one loss is going to send us in a downward spiral."
Michigan's old guard isn't the only faction of the team with an inventory of experiences. The Wolverines' freshmen have only five games under their belts and only a few months on a college campus, but arguably no other group of young players in the country has been through more in such little time.
They have dealt with the preseason allegations of NCAA violations against head coach Rich Rodriguez and his assistants, which put Michigan's program under the national microscope leading up to the opener. They have dealt with adversity in games against Notre Dame and Indiana, only to rally back behind their fearless freshman leader, quarterback Tate Forcier. And now they've experienced their first defeat, to a rival no less, as they fell 26-20 in overtime to Michigan State last Saturday.
It was another lesson learned, which Wolverines players hope will pay off as they move on to Saturday night's road showdown against No. 12 Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
"We work hard and we deserve what we get," said Ortmann, the Wolverines' starting left tackle. "We didn’t deserve to win on Saturday. Michigan State brought the fight to us, and we weren’t prepared for it. But as tough as it was and as bad as we played as an offense, we still had a chance to win. It gives an inspiration to the rest of the team that we are capable of coming back at any time, if needed, to win a game.
"I think people will go into Iowa with their heads up.”
The big question is how Forcier bounces back after his first brush with failure in college. For the third time in five games, Forcier delivered fourth-quarter magic, leading two touchdown drives in the final five minutes to tie the score.
But his interception in overtime opened the door for Michigan State, which sealed the win with a Larry Caper touchdown run.
"He’s putting a lot of the blame on himself, which he can't do," Ortmann said. "The offense, as a collective unit, we just didn’t execute and play to our potential. It’s understood that the game was essentially lost because we couldn’t run the ball, and because you can’t run the ball, you’ve got to put that on the offensive line.
"I take the blame for the game, and I don't think we’re going to let that happen ever again."
Ortmann isn't concerned about Forcier's mindset heading into the Iowa game. If Forcier and the other freshmen have shown anything so far, it's that they don't buckle under pressure.
Olesnavage knew what the football complex would be like after a loss, but he arrived Sunday with a greater degree of curiosity.
"Up until Saturday, all of our freshmen were undefeated in college," he said. "It would be interesting to see how they bounce back. From what I saw, being around the building in meetings, we’re going to be ready to bounce back and put it behind us. All year we’ve been excited and been into the game and into the opponent. But obviously, this is a night game, national television, Iowa’s ranked, they’re undefeated.
"I’m sure it’ll be a blast for our young guys."
At the very least, it will provide another lesson for a young team.