ANN ARBOR - A pair of fumbles can ruin the day for just about any football coach, or player. But the fine print and the bottom line surrounding those two fumbles allowed both Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and the guilty party - his starting free safety Willis Barringer - to throw a little levity into the mix.
Barringer, who had two interceptions and six tackles to help the Wolverines (3-2, 2-1) defeat Michigan State 34-31 in overtime last weekend, also had the distinction of being the first Michigan defensive back to have two fumbles in a game.
"Well, Willis set a Michigan record in that game," Carr quipped. "He caught two passes, and he fumbled them both."
The required footnote says Michigan retained possession both times, and the first Barringer interception thwarted a Spartan drive near the Wolverines' goal line.
"I just have to secure the ball better," said Barringer, a Scott High graduate. "I talked to the running back coach about it yesterday and he taught me how to hold the ball much better than I did in the game."
Carr, who is preparing the Wolverines for Minnesota's visit this weekend to Michigan Stadium, said he is not worried about a recurrence of the fumbling from Barringer, and he is confident the outstanding defensive play that produced the pair of interceptions, the first of Barringer's career, will continue.
"Willis Barringer has great character," Carr said. "What he has done at a position where there was a lot of question about in our secondary - I think what he has done has just been outstanding."
Barringer, who started five times for Michigan as a sophomore in 2003, was relegated to backup status last year when he worked primarily on special teams. Instead of sulking over his fall down the depth chart, Barringer pressed on, and after Ryan Mundy was unavailable due to injury, Barringer got the opportunity to move back in the lineup and he has started every game this season.
"Willis played a couple of years ago and struggled, and he didn't get a lot of playing time a year ago. But he is one of these guys that persevered, and I don't think there is a more likable guy on our team," Carr said.
"I personally couldn't be happier for the guy, because it hasn't been easy for him. But during all that time, he always stayed positive. A year ago, he was one of our very best special teams players. He kept working and he made a lot of plays in that Michigan State game, I will tell you that."
Barringer and junior Brandent Englemon have given Michigan a solid defensive curtain in the secondary, and minimized the big plays by the opposition.
Carr said their contribution was especially evident in the win over an explosive Michigan State team that had been averaging 50 points per game.
"What I liked about us defensively was that there were very, very few yards gained after the catch," Carr said. "I thought we were aggressive. I think Brandent Englemon and Willis Barringer, our two safeties, played as fine as any two safeties have played in any game since I have been at Michigan. I thought they were outstanding."
Barringer said the mentality taught from his first day with the Wolverines is that there are certain expectations that go with each position on the field, and those don't change when the lineup gets shuffled due to injury or other circumstances.
"Here at Michigan we are taught that everybody has to contribute, no matter if you are a starter or a back-up," Barringer said. "And Brandent and I are trying to work as hard as we can and go play defense the best way we know how, and that is hard and fast, and you just execute your assignments."
Barringer, who ran a 10.5 100 meters while at Scott, is part of a Michigan secondary where a premium is placed on speed.
"We have a bunch of talented guys back there, and I think we have some of the best coaches in the nation," Barringer said. "They put us in the right defenses and make the right calls throughout the game. We just go out there and execute the best way we know how. When we do that, it gives us the best chance to succeed."