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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2001

Defense, special teams carried UM

The surprise is not that opponents found out Michigan's football team can't run the ball. The surprise is that it took so long.

Anthony Thomas, the A-Train as he's known, plays for the Chicago Bears now. Jeff Backus is blocking for the Detroit Lions. Fellow lineman Steve Hutchinson is a Seattle Seahawk.

It has been that way since the start of the season, but it wasn't until the seventh game, when the Wolverines began running into big and physical defensive fronts, that the rushing game dried up like a maize-and-blue prune.

With the exception of a game earlier this month against a Minnesota team that is not noted for run defense, UM has struggled to move the ball on the ground, with 63 yards against Iowa, 121 against Michigan State, 105 vs. Wisconsin and, in last Saturday's 26-20 loss to Ohio State, 117 yards, of which only 23 were realized during what proved to be a decisive first half.

That allows teams to tee off on the quarterback and, in the case of Michigan's passing game, it should be pointed out that there are some notable absences there too. David Terrell is a Bears receiver now, a teammate of the A-Train, and quarterback Drew Henson also bailed early, trading in his completion percentage for a far lower batting average.

“You've got to remember, almost our whole offense is new,” said quarterback John Navarre, who gritted his teeth as the home folks booed his efforts mightily during much of the Ohio State game. “I'm proud of this team. Nobody expected us to come this far.”

The Wolverines got as far as they did thanks to decent defense and superb special- teams play. But it wasn't enough for a Big Ten title or a BCS bowl game.

This is by no means one of Michigan's better teams. An 8-3 record seems about right and, realistically, UM supporters should not have expected better.

Maybe when the pain of losing to the hated Buckeyes - especially a so-so Ohio State team and more especially at Michigan Stadium - wears off, Wolverine fans will recognize that eight wins and a holiday bowl trip to the sunny south is a pretty good season after all.

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Coach-speak is always entertaining.

From Toledo's Tom Amstutz, who orders his eggs sunnyside up, there was this response to the question of whether he expects any mental fallout from last week's 56-21 loss at Bowling Green as the Rockets prepare for Friday's MAC championship game against Marshall:

“The first thing, all our players are back healthy. Tavares Bolden is going to play this week. I thought we'd have to spend time getting our confidence back, but at practice (Sunday) when Tavares stepped into the huddle you could see all the eyes sparkling. The confidence was back. We had that old feeling again. We'll be ready to go.”

Then there is Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora, who orders hard-boiled eggs and scorched bacon, assessing his team's turnover-plagued loss to the 49ers on Sunday:

“That was a disgraceful performance. ... We gave it away. We gave them the game. In my opinion that sucked. ... We've thrown five interceptions returned for touchdowns. That might be a league record. And we've still got six games left. ... It's absolutely pitiful to play like that. Horrible. Just horrible.”

But the best part of Mora's post-game press conference following a third straight loss came when he was asked about his team's playoff hopes. “Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win another game.”

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Grandstand-ing with five questions and even a couple answers:

  • Anybody ready to admit the Bears are for real?

  • Why are the Steelers 8-2? In large part because they've been guilty of seven turnovers in the last nine games. Cincinnati had that many Sunday at Cleveland.

  • You know what's wrong with pro golf? The money has become so meaningless that Greg Norman, who has won nothing in recent memory, makes a $1 million putt to cap a Skins Game and not only shows no emotion but barely manages a smile.

  • Does the “C “ in BCS stand for choke?

  • What does Marty Mornhinweg have to lose by handing the Lions' quarterbacking job to Mike McMahon? They're 0-10, for goodness sake, and Charlie Batch is obviously not going to be a part of the team's future. Why not find out over a pressure-free, extended period of time if McMahon might be? Oops, that's a sixth question.

    Dave Hackenberg is a Blade sports writer.



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