NCF Nation: Martavious Odoms
But the Wolverines' offensive coordinator is seeing players grasp his system better than they did in spring ball. Borges told me Wednesday night that quarterback Denard Robinson is making strides, and no particular position group is lagging behind so far in preseason camp.
"They're basically all on schedule," Borges said. "Nobody in the first couple of groups looks completely confused anymore. In the spring, we were suffering through a lot of growing pains. Now it's good play, good play, bad play; where in the spring it was good play, bad play, good play, bad play, two good plays, two bad plays. We've ironed out a few of those bad plays.
"We haven't arrived, but all the kids know more than they did in the spring, which they should."
Borges is using the first five or six practices to reinstall what he did during the 15 spring workouts. He wants the players to gain confidence in a simple package of plays before throwing anything more at them.
"The system is not ingrained yet," he said, "so you've got to be careful."
Michigan's running back competition will take time to sort out, as true freshmen Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes are competing with veterans like Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith, among others. But Borges likes what Michigan has at receiver despite the decision to redshirt starter Darryl Stonum.
"Junior [Hemingway] is a productive player when he stays healthy," Borges said. "Roy [Roundtree] caught a ton of passes a year ago. [Martavious] Odoms has got speed and is definitely a threat, whether you line him up within the slot or outside. [Kelvin] Grady is a real good athlete with good lateral quickness and good hands. Jeremy Jackson is a tall, rangy type kid.
"We're not bad out there."
QB: Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
Pryor won MVP honors in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season as he led Ohio State to a victory in the Sugar Bowl. The junior maintained his focus after the suspension controversy and recorded 222 pass yards and two touchdowns to go along with 115 rush yards on 15 carries. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase merits a mention after a strong effort in the Texas Bowl.
RB: Marcus Coker, Iowa
The true freshman rushed for an Iowa bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Coker was the team's only proven option at running back for the bowl, and he stepped up in a big way, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
The Big Ten's best running back ended his season -- and, as it turned out, his college career -- in typical fashion, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois blew out Baylor. Leshoure broke five team records and tied a sixth with his bowl performance, most notably breaking Rashard Mendenhall's single-season Illinois rushing record with 1,697 yards.
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
Sanzenbacher caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, but his biggest contribution came on the game's opening drive. After Pryor fumbled the ball near the goal line, Sanzenbacher swooped in for the recovery and his first career "rushing" touchdown. The Great Dane showed why he was voted Ohio State's team MVP.
WR: Derek Moye, Penn State
His quarterback threw too many passes to Florida defenders, but Moye did his part for Penn State with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He nearly had a second touchdown following a 44-yard reception but the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. Penn State scored on the next play to tie the score at 14-14.
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Ohio State featured its tight ends in a 28-point first half at the Sugar Bowl, and Stoneburner benefited with three receptions for 39 yards. Fellow tight end Reid Fragel added a 42-yard reception. Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks, Iowa's Allen Reisner and Michigan's Kevin Koger all merit mentions here.
OL: Josh Koeppel, Iowa
Koeppel and fellow linemen James Ferentz and Markus Zusevics got Coker going early by creating a huge hole for the freshman early in the second quarter. Coker zipped through it for a 62-yard touchdown as Iowa surged out to a 14-3 lead.
OL: Jeff Allen, Illinois
Allen helped the Illini rack up 38 points and 291 offensive yards in the rout of Baylor. He also protected Scheelhaase, who completed his first 13 pass attempts and finished the game 18-for-23 passing.
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
The Badgers didn't have the dominant offensive performance they envisioned against TCU, but they still rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Carimi, the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, did his part in his final collegiate game.
OL: Randall Hunt, Illinois
Hunt and Allen earned the highest grades from the Illini coaches after the team dominated Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Illinois mounted seven drives of 53 yards or longer, including two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that overpowered the Bears and put away the game.
C: Mike Brewster, Ohio State
Ohio State physically dominated Arkansas up front in the first half, and Brewster led the way from the center position. He helped clear the way for Herron's walk-in 9-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Ohio State racked up 28 points and 338 yards in the first half and finished with 225 rush yards against Arkansas.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Heyward delivered the best performance of his college career in his final game as a Buckeye. The senior racked up 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. He also caused a critical holding penalty by Arkansas midway through the fourth quarter.
DL: Corey Liuget, Illlinois
Liuget showed Baylor why he was the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive tackle this season. The junior recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack and caused a ton of trouble in the Bears' backfield.
DL: Dexter Larimore, Ohio State
Heyward drew most of the praise in the Sugar Bowl, but Larimore caused almost as many problems for the Arkansas offensive line. The senior recorded six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as Ohio State held Arkansas' offense in check for a good portion of the game.
DL: Devon Still, Penn State
Still set a career high with 3.5 tackles for loss in Penn State's Outback Bowl loss to Florida. He tied for second on the team with seven tackles as Penn State prevented Florida from mounting long scoring drives.
LB: James Morris, Iowa
Like Coker, Morris raised hope for the Hawkeyes' future with a strong performance in the Insight Bowl. He recorded seven tackles, including one stop for loss, and showed more aggressiveness than some of his older teammates.
LB: Quentin Davie, Northwestern
The TicketCity Bowl wasn't a banner day for Northwestern's defense, but Davie did his part with 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss. His tackles total marked a career high in his final collegiate game with the Wildcats.
LB: Martez Wilson, Illinois
Wilson was a noticeable presence in what turned out to be his final game in an Illini uniform. Tez recorded seven tackles including one for loss in the win against Baylor.
DB: Micah Hyde, Iowa
Hyde made the biggest play of the Big Ten bowl season, picking off a Blaine Gabbert pass and returning the ball 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Iowa appeared headed toward another second-half collapse before Hyde made Gabbert pay for his only bad decision of the game.
DB: D'Anton Lynn, Penn State
Lynn made a huge impact at the start of the Outback Bowl, recording an interception and recovering a fumble in the Penn State end zone in the first 10 minutes of the game. He finished the season tied with Nick Sukay for the team lead in interceptions with three.
DB: Terry Hawthorne, Illinois
The sophomore cornerback set career highs in both tackles (9) and tackles for loss (1.5) in the win against Baylor. Hawthorne made his first start of the season after battling a foot injury for much of the fall.
DB: Devon Torrence, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' secondary once again needed a boost after losing a standout player to injury, and Torrence provided it. After All-Big Ten corner Chimdi Chekwa went out with a wrist injury, Torrence picked up the slack and recorded eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
K: Derek Dimke, Illinois
Dimke showed why he's known as the Big Ten's steadiest kicker in the Texas Bowl, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts from 28, 38 and 43 yards out. He became the first Illinois player to make more than one field goal in a bowl game and connected on multiple kicks for the ninth time in the 2010 season.
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Bates provided the lone bright spot for the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl, averaging 43.4 yards on seven attempts with a long of 55 yards and two punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Honorable mentions go to Illinois' Anthony Santella, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman and Iowa's Ryan Donahue.
KR: Martavious Odoms, Michigan
The fact that Odoms played in the Gator Bowl following a broken foot was pretty incredible, and unfortunately for Michigan, he got plenty of work on returns. Odoms racked up 163 kick return yards on seven attempts with a long runback of 43 yards. Honorable mentions go to Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, Iowa's Paul Chaney Jr. and Northwestern's Venric Mark.
That's what Michigan State has done today, and so far, Robinson is beating himself.
The Michigan quarterback entered the game with only one interception in 96 pass attempts. But he already has thrown two picks, both in the red zone. Robinson has shown some flashes of magic, but for the most part it has been a day to forget for No. 16.
Right before his second pick, Robinson skipped a pass in front of a wide-open Martavious Odoms near the goal line. He just doesn't look comfortable in the pocket so far.
Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, is in the zone for Michigan State, which is running right through the Wolverines and leads 31-10.
(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)
I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.
Here's what stood out:
- Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
- Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
- The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
- Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
- Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
- James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
- Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
- Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
- Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
- True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
- Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
- Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
- Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
- Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
- Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
- Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
- Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
- Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
- Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
- Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
- Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
- Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
- Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
- After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
- Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
- The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Rich Rodriguez can breathe a bit easier. Bill Lynch looks like his head might explode.
Michigan survived a major scare from a relentless Indiana team, as Tate Forcier overcame some sloppiness to lead another clutch scoring drive in a 36-33 victory. Forcier looks like he's about 150 pounds, but he's pretty darn tough. His throwing shoulder still looked pretty sore on the final drive, but he made a great pass to Martavious Odoms for the game-winner.
Given how entertaining the game turned out to be, it would have been nice to see controversy stay out of the ending. Lynch seemed to have a legitimate beef about the simultaneous possession that resulted in a Michigan interception rather than an Indiana reception. I was surprised to see the officials rule an interception on the field because tie-ups usually go to the offensive player.
Indiana has nothing to feel bad about despite a heartbreaking loss. The Hoosiers displayed a balanced offense throughout the game, and redshirt freshman running back Darius Willis looks like the real deal (152 rush yards, 2 touchdowns). Tandon Doss emerged as a big-play threat, and Indiana repeatedly showed resolve in a tough environment. You have to think the Hoosiers will win a few more games than many had projected.
Michigan has some major repair work to do in the secondary, which looked dysfunctional for most of the game. The Wolverines missed safety Mike Williams, and cornerback Boubacar Cissoko struggled against the IU wideouts. Rodriguez has to be encouraged by Forcier's clutch play and another strong game from Carlos Brown, who might be the team's best running back, but the Wolverines clearly have some major issues on defense. David Moosman also had a tough day in replacing David Molk at center.
Michigan exceeds its wins total from 2008 with a 4-0 start, while Indiana fails to notch its first win in Ann Arbor since 1967.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After making history for all the wrong reasons last fall at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez enters spring practice with history back on his side.
As Michigan returns to the practice field Saturday, Rodriguez can fall back on a track record of producing better offenses in Year 2 than Year 1 during his various coaching stops.
|James Lang/US PRESSWIRE|
|Rich Rodriguez hopes a year of experience in his system pays off for Michigan in 2009.|
- Tulane went 7-4 in Rodriguez's first year as offensive coordinator (1997) but surged the next fall, going 12-0 behind a dynamic offense. The Green Wave was the only FBS team to average more than 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards. They finished second nationally in scoring (45.4 ppg) and fourth in total offense (507.1 ypg).
- Clemson went from 6-6 to 9-3 in Rodriguez's second season as offensive coordinator (2000), and the offense improved from 36th in total offense and 44th in rushing to 10th nationally in both categories.
- After West Virginia went 3-8 in Rodriguez's first season as head coach, the Mountaineers rallied in 2002, going 9-4. The offense improved from 80th nationally in total yards and 89th in scoring to 18th in total yards and 33rd in scoring.
Could Michigan make a similar jump in Rodriguez's second season?
"We hope," Rodriguez said, "but there's a lot of things that have to go right."
Almost nothing went right for the Wolverines and their head coach last fall.
There's no need to rehash the entire list of lows, but Rodriguez's offense finished 109th nationally in yards (290.8 ypg) and 99th in scoring (20.3 ppg). Playing with mostly novices struggling to adapt to the spread system, Michigan mustered 21 points or fewer in eight games and eclipsed 29 points only once.
But spring ball brings new hope to a unit that returns full- or part-time starters at every position. Michigan is still young, but players who looked utterly lost last season have had time to ripen.
"They'll be able to recognize things a little bit faster," Rodriguez said. "Not only from what we're doing, but also a recognition from a defensive standpoint. That, in itself, will allow them to be fundamentally better because they won't have to fake as much.
"First-time system, you're thinking a lot and you're not able to play to your capabilities because you're thinking too much. Hopefully, with some of that experience coming back, you'll be able to see [progress]."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's amazing what a first down can do for a team.
After looking totally uncompetitive for a quarter and a half, Michigan's offense finally showed life midway through the second quarter. Martavious Odoms' second effort notched Michigan's first first down, and quarterback Nick Sheridan and the offense seemed to gain confidence from there. I liked Rich Rodriguez's decisions to go for two fourth downs -- Michigan might not have many scoring chances left -- and Brandon Minor converted on fourth-and-goal to put his team on the board.
For Michigan to hang around, Minor needs to get the ball more. He has been by far the Wolverines' most consistent offensive performer this season. Michigan also appears to have survived some woeful special-teams play (muffed punt, missed field goal, shanked punt) early on.
Ohio State remains in the lead and somewhat in control, but Jim Tressel might be a little concerned about his offense. Aside from the two scoring plays -- Chris "Beanie" Wells' 59-yard run and a 53-yard pass from Terrelle Pryor to Brian Hartline -- Ohio State hasn't done much (52 total yards). After a dominant two weeks, Pryor looks a bit like the guy who took snaps in Week 5, holding the ball too long and taking three sacks.
Michigan's defensive line won't make it easy, and Ohio State needs to find ways to sustain drives. Wells likely has another big run in him today. The junior eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season and became just the sixth Ohio State back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns.
Players on both sides are definitely amped for this one. There have been several mini-skirmishes, though officials did a nice job of preventing anything at halftime. By the way, Rodriguez has five security guards surrounding him today. It's not quite the Nick Saban treatment, but pretty close.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Several first-year defensive coordinators have made a noticeable impact in the Big Ten this season. Before last week, Michigan's Scott Shafer was certainly among them.
Shafer's defense had stepped up through the first four games, keeping Michigan afloat despite numerous growing pains on the offensive side. But last Saturday, the Wolverines' veteran unit allowed 45 points -- 42 in the final three quarters -- in a deflating loss to Juice Williams and Illinois.
After head coach Rich Rodriguez called out his team earlier this week for playing "soft" against the Illini, Shafer shouldered the responsibility, telling "Inside Michigan Football" that he got outcoached in the game. The Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder includes Shafer's quote in his blog.
"When you look at the film it comes down to base fundamentals and techniques to be quite honest with you," he said. "Illinois did a nice job against us. They had some nice schemes and I got outcoached in my opinion. Then when you break it down and put it on a play to play level, their fundamentals were better than our fundamentals. They blocked us better than we shedded blocks. They ran through tackles better than we ran through making tackles. They, offensively, did a better job coaching than coach Shafer did. So we just got beat."
Sticking with the Wolverines, top wide receiver Martavious Odoms remains questionable for Saturday's game against Toledo with a shoulder injury. Odoms practiced Thursday. Wolverines freshman wideout Darryl Stonum will return after being suspended last week for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The 109,833 fans who mockingly cheered Michigan for holding onto the ball on kickoff returns now have a different reason to be excited.
Michigan's defense has completely flustered Allan Evridge, P.J. Hill and the Wisconsin offense, buying enough time for Wolverines' redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet to get going. Threet led Michigan on scoring drives of 80 and 85 yards, settling into a nice rhythm with Greg Mathews and Martavious Odoms. A more creative passing attack has opened up rushing lanes, and Brandon Minor converted for a touchdown.
If Michigan holds on, all credit goes to a defense that hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in the second half this year. John Thompson's interception return for a touchdown put Michigan in front for the first time today. Wisconsin is doing nothing right now. Where's John Clay?
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A bye week clearly didn't teach Michigan how to respect the football.
After giving away the Notre Dame game with seven turnovers, the Wolverines have fumbled six times in the first half today, losing three. Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet topped off the turnover spree by tossing two interceptions within the final two minutes. That's absolutely pathetic, especially after a two-week break in which I'm sure Rich Rodriguez and his staff stressed the importance of limiting turnovers. And it's not just young players. Senior Morgan Trent fumbled a kickoff return.
How bad has it gotten for the Maize-and-Blue faithful? They sarcastically cheered kickoff returner Martavious Odoms for simply hanging onto the ball on a short runback with five minutes left in the half. I just walked by several "Old Blues" in the press box who are saying this is the worst they've ever seen Michigan play at the Big House, and it's the 500th game.
Can Michael Phelps start taking snaps for Michigan?
And it's not like the Wolverines are doing anything when they keep the ball. Michigan finished the half with 21 total yards and minus-7 passing yards. Can you say Notre Dame of 2007?
Barring a dramatic turnaround after halftime, Michigan will find itself at the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings on Monday.
Wisconsin is doing what Wisconsin does best: dominating the line of scrimmage and capitalizing on an opponent's mistakes. The Badgers don't get much respect nationally because they aren't flashy, they don't run a spread offense and their quarterbacks are fairly anonymous. But this defense should start generating some buzz. They're laying the wood to Michigan right now on almost every play. LinebackersJonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy have been fabulous. Sam McGuffie has no room to run, and Threet is constantly under duress.
John Clay is healthy, by the way. The Badgers' third-string running back sat out several practices with back spasms but looked just fine on a 46-yard scamper that set up a P.J. Hill touchdown. Clay could be Wisconsin's most talented back, but Hill is the established starter and has another year of eligibility left. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin uses the two backs as Clay gains more experience. Nice problem to have.
Credit the Michigan defense for hanging in there. Linebacker Jonas Mouton is having a solid game, and the veteran-laden line had done its best. But when the offense gives the defense no chance, there's only so much you can expect.
All-American tight end Travis Beckum remains on the sideline, his helmet now no longer on his head. The Badgers don't need Beckum the way they're dominating this game. Save him for Ohio State next week. This one looks like it's over.
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
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm off to Rantoul, Ill., to spend the day with the Illinois Fighting Illini, one of two Big Ten teams to hold preseason practice off campus [Northwestern is the other]. I'll catch up with coach Ron Zook, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and several players, so check back later for your Illini fill.
Onto the links:
- Arrelious Benn can take hits again in practice, and the Illinois star loves it, Bob Asmussen writes in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Benn will be in the backfield more as Illinois tries to replace Rashard Mendenhall. Also, tackle Xavier Fulton returned to practice.
- After taking plenty of hard knocks last season, Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen is ready to counter this fall, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Christensen and the offense impressed in Tuesday's scrimmage.
- Indiana coach Bill Lynch addressed Mitchell Evans' move from quarterback to wide receiver and other topics at media day, Jared Poertner writes in The Hoosier Scoop.
- Nick Sheridan might be inching ahead of Steven Threet in Michigan's quarterback competition, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. The intensity was noticeable at Wolverines practice Tuesday, and young players like Michael Shaw and Martavious Odoms continue to impress, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Shaw and fellow running back Sam McGuffie are among the freshmen who will play this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State standout Greg Jones might not stay at middle linebacker after practicing there this spring. Adam Decker is getting his chance in the middle, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. Spartans freshman wideout Fred Smith came in with all the hype, but classmate Keshawn Martin continues to impress, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press [second note].
- Minnesota brought in a ton of junior-college talent, but don't forget about the Gophers' seniors, who are finally healthy, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Knee injuries are dogging the Gophers' offensive linemen, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.
- Northwestern's offensive backfield has seen plenty of production but seeks more wins this fall, Mark Stewart writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Ohio State defensive end Lawrence Wilson caught a bad break in the 2007 opener, but a talk with former Buckeyes punter Tyson Gentry put things in perspective. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May wonders whether Ohio State would be ranked No. 1 if preseason polls were taken midway through training camp, after teams like Georgia and USC suffered significant injuries. Buckeyes incoming freshman defensive lineman Willie Mobley will miss the season with a shoulder injury that could have lingered from high school, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Fans aren't the only ones anxious to see Penn State's warp-speed redshirt freshman Stephfon Green at running back this fall, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Penn State's receiving corps is stacked with seniors, but don't count out redshirt freshman Derek Moye, who is finally healthy, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Purdue fans are anxious to see Joe Tiller's final season, as season-ticket sales are on pace to increase, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Chris Maragos' college journey has taken him from Western Michigan to Wisconsin and from wide receiver to safety. Now he's in the mix as the Badgers' top nickel back, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A torn ACL was the least of Aaron Henry's worries in the last few months, as the Wisconsin cornerback dealt with the loss of three friends, including former Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.