ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke is a big believer that you must play well on State Street, where the Wolverines' practice facilities are, to play well on Main Street, where Michigan Stadium is. It's a mantra that holds true even on the road.
And Saturday, in Michigan's 24-16 loss to Iowa, Hoke sat redshirt sophomore safety Thomas Gordon and played fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk, after Woolfolk outperformed Gordon during last week's practice.
So Woolfolk played and Gordon didn't see the field for a single snap.
"There is no 'game player' -- that's a myth," Hoke said. "If you prepare and you prepare the way that you're supposed to prepare then you're going to play well."
Gordon, who started the first eight games of the season, is second on the team in tackles (52) and leads the team in fumble recoveries (three). Against Iowa, Woolfolk recorded six tackles in just his second appearance at free safety this season.
Hoke said it was difficult taking such a big contributor off the field but that it's important to feel good about the player on the field as well.
"It all comes down to competition and where guys are," Hoke said.
The coach has harped on expectations being based on position and not on a player, and after last weekend it looks like Gordon is not fulfilling those expectations as well as Woolfolk.
Stopping the short run
One of the notable areas of improvement in the past year has been in stopping the short runs in third- and fourth-down situations.
In 2010, the Wolverines gave up 38 percent of third-down conversions and 75 percent in fourth-down conversions. This season, while it has remained constant in third-down situations, the D-line has been much better on fourth downs, allowing just 33 percent of conversions.
"Our mentality is just different than it has been in the years past," senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "Coaches kind of allow us to pin our ears back and go."
Against Iowa, a team that has capitalized on nearly half of its third-down chances this season, Michigan held the Hawkeyes to just 4-of-12. And on fourth downs, where Iowa normally converts 67 percent of its chances, the Wolverines held their ground, giving up only one of two.
Van Bergen said the line has felt more confident this year on third and fourth downs, a point of emphasis for both Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
"Third down, that's one of my favorite downs," Van Bergen said. "I love it."
Sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who didn't play on the Wolverines' final drive, was "a little banged up," according to Hoke. He is expected to play Saturday. Hoke said even without the injury Toussaint wouldn't have played on the final drive because the 2-minute package calls for Vincent Smith at running back. ... Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan left the game after the first play when he suffered a shoulder injury. Hoke described the injury as just a burner. ... Senior tight end Kevin Koger's exit in the middle of the game was due to an ankle injury that was not serious. ... Junior quarterback Denard Robinson was taken out of Saturday's game for a short period because he hit his elbow on a helmet and couldn't feel his fingers, according to Hoke. ... Junior offensive lineman Ricky Barnum will do more this week in practice, though he is not completely healthy.
Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.