NCF Nation: Bump Elliott
But we're looking for 2010 games that have a little something extra. Think Texas-Nebraska this fall at Memorial Stadium. There's bad blood there, especially after recent events. In Lincoln, they're already getting ready for the Longhorns.
Maybe the Big Ten is too damn civil these days, but the key figures in this league seem to like each other too much. We need a good coaching spat -- the Danny Hope-Rich Rodriguez exchange last season was entertaining, albeit not overly memorable -- or some trash talk between players. Could we get a coach running up the score on a rival, please? The SEC and Big 12 can't have all the fun.
One game this season certain to have some added fuel pairs Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 9 at the Big(ger) House. The in-state rivalry always has some juice, but this year's matchup brings a little extra. Since Mike Hart's "little brother" comment after Michigan's 2007 win at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State has grown up a bit on the field.
The Spartans have won back-to-back games against Michigan for the first time since winning three straight from 1965 to 67. They claimed last year's contest in dramatic fashion, prevailing in overtime after squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in all too familiar fashion.
Suddenly, Michigan State is the team that has gone bowling in each of the last three seasons, while Michigan has spent back-to-back winters at home after making 33 consecutive bowl appearances. Spartans seniors like Greg Jones can finish their careers 3-1 against Michigan with a win this fall.
Like any in-state rivalry, Michigan-Michigan State affects the local recruiting scene. By any measure, Michigan State has upgraded its in-state recruiting efforts under Mark Dantonio, landing prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas (2011 verbal). There's a perception held by some that the Spartans have surpassed Michigan in local recruiting, although Michigan has focused much of its efforts on other areas while still bringing in elite local prospects like William Campbell, Devin Gardner and Brennen Beyer (2011 verbal).
But to be considered the state's elite program, Michigan can't keep losing to the Spartans. Rodriguez needs to win this fall to keep his job, and this is the type of game that can build some much-needed goodwill from the Michigan brass. He doesn't want to be the first coach to drop consecutive home games to Michigan State since Bump Elliott in 1965 and 1967. Michigan's small senior class doesn't want to finish with a losing record against the Spartans.
Bottom line: there's plenty at stake Oct. 9. Regardless of the temperature, things will be hot inside the Big House. This game doesn't need trash talk or billboards, although I wouldn't be opposed to either.
Paging Mike Hart ...
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A buzz went through the crowd on the first offensive play of the Rich Rodriguez era, as Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan deftly shuffled the ball to Martavious Odoms cutting across the field.
As the fans howled, Odoms gained three yards. No cloud of dust could be spotted from the press box, but it might as well have been there.
As far as creativity went, the first play was about as good as it got for Michigan on Saturday. So were the results.
To call the Wolverines' offense vanilla would be an insult to the term. Rodriguez came to Michigan as an offensive innovator, but his playbook might as well as been a pamphlet against Utah.
"We ran three different run schemes, that's it," Rodriguez said, "and then run maybe eight or nine different route patterns. We had to keep it simple. We don't want to confuse the young guys. We're probably as simple as we could ever be right now. At some point, we've got to add more."
Minimalism nearly helped Michigan rally past Utah, but ultimately an offense that needed to play beyond its means fell short. Hands on knees, Rodriguez watched the clock expire as Utah celebrated a 25-23 win and Michigan dropped back-to-back season openers for the first time since 1989-90.
The margin of defeat was the same and the second-half rally vaguely resembled last year's surge against Appalachian State. But there was no sense of shock on Saturday. Utah came in loaded with experience and eyeing a BCS bowl run. Many envisioned a Utes win, including the guys wearing red and white.
"You can't come in here to lose," quarterback Brian Johnson said.
Neither did Michigan, but its coaches entered the game with more curiosity than confidence.
As previously indicated, Rodriguez played two quarterbacks, substituting redshirt freshman Steven Threet for struggling starting Nick Sheridan early in the third quarter. Running back Carlos Brown, who played quarterback in high school, also took a snap. Rodriguez played four running backs and rotated plenty of wide receivers. But the glut of personnel didn't translate into production.
Odoms led Michigan with five catches -- for seven yards. Freshman running back Sam McGuffie led Michigan with eight carries -- for eight yards.
"When we released the depth charts with 'OR's' by a lot of [positions], that was for a reason," offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "We didn't just to keep you guys wondering. There's really some 'OR's,' and that's going to play itself out."
Rodriguez declined to speculate on his quarterback situation for next week, but Threet made a decent case for starting consideration. The Georgia Tech transfer, making his first collegiate appearance, tossed two touchdown passes, including a 33-yarder to Junior Hemmingway with 8:42 left.
Threet didn't force many throws and converted two Utah miscues into touchdowns, though he didn't dazzle on a day when Michigan needed a little more pizzazz.
"He was seeing the field pretty well," Rodriguez said. "There's always things every player could take back, but he seemed pretty confident for the first time out there."
Sheridan's performance in the final few preseason scrimmages earned him the starting nod, but the former walk-on struggled to get on track. He executed short, safe routes but forced too many throws and was pulled after the offense committed two turnovers.
"Every loss is very disappointing here at Michigan," Sheridan said. "You're expected to win 'em all, and that will never change. So we've got to get better."
More than 108,000 people entered a construction site Saturday as steel beams towered above the east and west sides of Michigan Stadium, but the most building might take place on the field. Rodriguez publicly had taken a pardon-our-dust position with his offense, recognizing the personnel losses and the novices coming in.
But even the coach was surprised by the multitude of mistakes, particularly in the middle two quarters, as hopelessness began to set in. Michigan racked up just 102 first-half yards and failed to record a first down on its first three possessions of the second half.
This wasn't quite Notre Dame of 2007, but for a while, Michigan didn't seem too far off.
"I was hoping it would be less [mistakes)," said Rodriguez, the first Michigan coach to drop his home opener since Bump Elliott in 1959. "There was more than I was hoping, more made in the game than in recent practices, but I guess you should expect that. Those guys over there aren't going to make it easy on us."
Those "guys" dominated the first half at both ends and should have been up much more than 12 points at the break. Utah senior quarterback Brian Johnson ripped apart Michigan's secondary for 253 passing yards, and the defense held the Wolverines to four net rushing yards in the half.
All-American specialist Louie Sakoda had a busy day, kicking four field goals and launching several booming punts. He also had a punt and an extra-point attempt blocked but never lost his composure.
"The special teams' game has proven more and more vital over the years," Sakoda said. "Coaches are going out, recruiting more heavily now and I'm glad I could come in here and prove myself."
Running back Matt Asiata admitted panic set in as Michigan rallied behind a revitalized defense, which recorded six sacks and shut down Johnson after halftime. But the experience differential loomed large down the stretch.
"We worked so hard since January," Asiata said. "It's a dream come true, winning in the Big House. I'm just speechless."
Michigan still plans to have a say this season, and the defense certainly looked promising after a poor start. But how fast can the offense catch up?
"You have to put enough in to have a chance against certain defenses and yet not confuse the young guys," Rodriguez said.
"There's ways to expand it," Threet said. "When the game plan calls for it, that's what we'll do."
Moments later, Threet left the Crisler Arena interview room, draped a white towel over his head and alone, unnoticed, away from the stadium. It was an ordinary exit, seemingly too ordinary for a Michigan quarterback.
But for now, ordinary will have to suffice at Michigan.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Two-a-days are in full swing, and I'm beat.
- Illinois defensive end Will Davis shined in Monday night's scrimmage, and tackle Xavier Fulton hurt his leg but should be fine, Bob Asmussen writs in The [Champaign] News-Gazette. The Decatur Herald-Review's Mark Tupper thinks theIllini receiving corps is much more than just Rejus Benn.
- Former quarterback Mitchell Evans practiced at wide receiver during Indiana's practice Monday, and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dan Rutigliano quit the team, the Bloomington Herald Times' Doug Wilson writes in his blog.
- Some good stories here from former Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott, courtesy of the Des Moines Register.
- Obi Ezeh can help Michigan at linebacker this fall. It's just a matter of which spot he occupies, Chris Burke writes in The Diag. Wolverines running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are big fans of the new offense, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- The defense is usually ahead of the offense in preseason practice, but not at Michigan State, where quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins led the way in a scrimmage win, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Freshmen wideouts Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith continue to draw high praise, Shannon Shelton writes in The Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota defensive back Kyle Theret has heard the criticisms of the Gophers and wants to "shut everyone up" this fall, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. The Gophers' young receivers might take time to click, but when they do, look out.
- Northwestern's new coordinators are stressing broad concepts in hopes of getting specific results this fall, Skip Myslenski writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Terrelle Pryor's passing has been a pleasant surprise for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, but the freshman still has a lot to learn, George Thomas writes in the Akron Beacon Journal. Transferring from Ohio State doesn't automatically equal a starting job, as former Buckeyes quarterbacks Antonio Henton and Rob Schoenhoft are finding out, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog.
- Quarterback Pat Devlin could be the quiet front man Penn State sorely needs, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Offensive linemen Stefan Wisniewski is continuing the family tradition at Penn State, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports in the Redshirt Diaries blog.
- Purdue's Brandon King is moving back to cornerback from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Wisconsin's Peter Konz is on the move to offensive line, while third-string running back John Clay sat out Monday's practice with a sprained ankle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.The Badgers are getting used to bowl games in central Florida, and they wouldn't mind a more choice destination like Pasadena, Dave Curtis writes in The Sporting News.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I had hoped to post this earlier in the week during my trek through the state of Michigan but got bogged down with practices, interviews, tours and the like.
E-mailer Steven from Phoenix brings up an interesting note about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.
Hi Adam: I read your predictions on the Big Ten Rival football games this fall. As a Wolverine fan, I hope you're right on the Michigan/Michigan State game because there's an interesting historical note to this series. First year coaches don't typically win in this series. The last coach to win in his first try was Nick Saban for MSU in 1995. But something had to give because he was going up against first year coach Lloyd Carr in the game. Saban is the first coach to win in his first try in at least the last ten MSU coaches. At Michigan, the last coach to win in his first try against MSU was Bennie Oosterbaan in 1948. Bump Elliott, Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr all failed in their first attempt at beating Michigan State. On another note, first year Michigan coaches are nearly perfect against Ohio State in their first try. Just a couple of notes I thought I'd pass along for future use in case you're interested. You can check out the records to see what I mean. Keep up the good work. Steve
Let's check out the history of first-year coaches in the series since the first rookie coach faced the opposing team in 1911:
The history obviously doesn't bode well for Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who gets his first taste of the rivalry Oct. 25 at Michigan Stadium. Then again, more first-year Michigan coaches have won their first games in the series than their Michigan State counterparts. And it was interesting to see that even though Schembechler and Moeller lost their first games against State, both coaches guided Michigan to Big Ten championships those seasons.
The best debut? Oosterbaan, whose team beat Michigan State in the season opener before running the table and winning the 1948 national title. A quick note: Michigan coach Fielding Yost didn't face Michigan State in his first season of 1901 even though the series began in 1898.
As for first-year coaches in the Michigan-Ohio State series, the last six Wolverines first-year coaches have won their initial matchup with the Buckeyes. In contrast, four of the last six Ohio State first-year coaches dropped their first game against Michigan.