ANN ARBOR - Michigan tailback Chris Perry still draws motivation from his team's painful loss to hated rival Ohio State nine months ago.
The Wolverines had a chance to upset the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale last November, but OSU free safety Will Allen intercepted John Navarre's pass near the goal line as time expired, and the Buckeyes held on for a 14-9 victory.
While the majority of Perry's UM teammates headed for the locker room in Columbus, he remained on the field to watch OSU's players and fans celebrate their Big Ten co-championship and berth in the national championship game.
“I remember the Ohio State game like it just ended minutes ago,” Perry said. “It might pop into my head during practice, or when I'm driving down the street. It is ingrained in my memory - and will be - until the season starts.
“Everywhere I'd go in the off-season, I'd see Ohio State championship T-shirts and commercials. So, of course, knowing that we had a really good chance to beat them and let it slip away, it keeps me motivated.”
Perry hopes the Wolverines are in a similar situation at the end of this season when the Buckeyes visit the Big House on Nov. 22.
“The only thing better than winning a Big Ten championship is a national championship,” he said. “We'd love to get both of them.”
Fortunately for Perry, he did gain a share of satisfaction from the Wolverines' 38-30 victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. He was named MVP after catching a career-high six passes for 108 yards and rushing for 85 more while setting a modern-day UM bowl record with four touchdowns.
“I wasn't totally disappointed with last season, but it wasn't up to my expectations,” Perry said. “I set goals for myself and I didn't reach them. When you don't reach your goals, you're not too happy.”
Although Perry rushed for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, the Wolverines uncharacteristically struggled with their running game. They finished third from the bottom in the 11-team Big Ten, averaging 148.4 yards per game.
“Last year was not great for us running the ball, but I think we'll be better this year because our line is more experienced,” Perry said. “Everybody up front knows what they're doing. I know what I'm doing. I'm better at reading defenses.
“The line is going to get the job done. The rest falls on my shoulders.”
Perry, 6-1 and 228 pounds, attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he rushed for 4,678 yards and 71 touchdowns at the high school that produced former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George.
Perry, a senior, has played in 34 games for the Wolverines, with 15 starts. He has netted 2,022 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns in his career. He backed up Anthony Thomas as a freshman and shared carries with B.J. Askew the last two years.
UM coach Lloyd Carr said Perry, a shifty and powerful runner who lacks breakaway speed, has grown up a lot in recent years. Perry needs 602 yards rushing to move into the school's career top 10, and 1,295 to reach the top five.
“I tried to get Chris to transfer [earlier in his career] because he and I didn't see eye-to-eye for a long time,” Carr said. “But this is what I love about Chris Perry. I know that every day when I go to practice, there will be one guy that is energized. He loves to practice. It's fun.
“He's got great enthusiasm and a great love for the game. He's developed into a complete football player. He's smart - he's very smart - and he's competitive. He's a big, strong guy who's got wonderful feet, and I really like him.”
Perry thinks this year's high-powered offense, which also includes quarterback Navarre and receiver Braylon Edwards, reminds him of the 2000 unit of Thomas, Drew Henson and David Terrell, in addition to several linemen who eventually moved on to the NFL.
“I think we're all poised for a big year,” Perry said. “Navarre is coming into his third year of starting. Braylon is coming off a great year, and I'm coming off an OK year. We're all ready to go out there and prove once again that we're very good players. And we complement each other.
“Navarre's passing and Braylon's catching are going to help the run, and me running well is going to help them. As long as we work together, we'll be fine.”