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Published: Tuesday, 9/2/2008

UM needs to be more physical, Rodriguez says

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - After critiquing the film of his first game as Michigan's coach - a loss on Saturday to Utah - Rich Rodriguez yesterday offered a frank assessment of his team.

"We're not good enough to play bad and win, I don't care who it is we play," Rodriguez said. "If we play bad, we ain't gonna win. That's where we are right now. We are what you see."

According to Rodriguez, the Wolverines played poorly on both sides of the ball in their 25-23 setback. The coach also said he was disappointed in his team's tempo, with too many of his younger players sacrificing aggressiveness to think through assignments.

Fifteen Wolverines made their college debuts Saturday, and the entire team was executing the Rodriguez administration's offensive (spread-option) and defensive schemes for the first time against an opponent.

"I didn't think we played very physical," Rodriguez said. "I thought we played tentative at times, thinking a little too much. Whether that was because of inexperience or because of unsureness on certain plays, we addressed that quite a bit [Sunday] with the team, about playing more physical and not thinking as much.

"If they won't play faster, won't play more physical, they won't be playing."

For the second consecutive week, UM does not have a definitive starter at quarterback. But, based on Rodriguez's comments, Steven Threet is the favorite to start over Nick Sheridan this Saturday against Miami (Ohio).

Threet and Sheridan each threw touchdown passes against Utah, but Sheridan was also intercepted once and could've been picked off at least three other times.

Sheridan, however, did have more completions (11) and yards (98) than Threet (8, 69) and is listed ahead of him on the depth chart with an "or" separating their names - an indication that a starter hasn't been chosen.

"Steve probably had a [few] more positive things," Rodriguez said. "They both did some good things, and they both did some bad things. Whereas Nick had a little bit of an edge coming into the last game, this game, based on the way they played, Steve kind of equaled those things up."

Rodriguez said Sheridan took most of the practice reps with the starters last week, but Threet will get equal or more reps with the first team this week. The coach also said he could choose a starter much earlier than he did last week. He told Sheridan and Threet last Thursday that Sheridan would start.

Rodriguez said the offensive line - which includes only one returning starter in right tackle Stephen Schilling - played "below average." UM rushed for just 36 yards on 25 carries, and its quarterbacks were sacked three times.

The Wolverines' defense was burned in the first half for 22 points and 313 yards of total offense but rebounded nicely with four sacks, two turnovers, and just 28 yards after halftime.

Cornerback Donovan Warren said the kind of defense UM played in the second half is how it expects to play the rest of this season.

"I know what we're capable of after seeing the second half on film and things like that," Warren said.

Warren said he took Saturday night and Sunday to overcome the frustrations of the Wolverines' close loss - which might've gone the other way had they converted on a game-tying, two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

"It was a game we should've won and could've won," he said. "Definitely, talent-wise we have it. Mentally we have to put it together and come together as a team right now, not six, seven weeks from now."

EZEH HONORED: UM sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the week.

Ezeh led the Wolverines with a career-high 15 tackles and contributed an interception, a pass breakup, and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. The last UM defender to receive the conference's weekly honor was Shawn Crable on Oct. 1.

"I'm happy I had success early, but it's kind of tainted. so I really don't want to dwell on it that much," Ezeh said.

NO HUDDLE: Linebacker Jonas Mouton is listed as a starter on the weak side. Marell Evans started there last week but is being considered on the strong side, where he'll compete with last week's starter Austin Panter. Rodriguez said Ezeh and defensive tackle Will Johnson were UM's players of the week. Johnson had three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. On the injury front, it sounds like running back Carlos Brown (shoulder), receiver Greg Mathews (ankle), receiver Junior Hemingway (shoulder), safety Brandon Harrison (groin), and defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (ankle) all will or could play against Miami. Freshman quarterback Justin Feagin, who at one point was predicted by some to split time with Threet this year, will redshirt. "He's not ready," Rodriguez said. Of the freshmen who didn't play Saturday, Rodriguez said Whitmer grad and tight end Kevin Koger and receiver Roy Roundtree have a chance to play rather than be redshirted this year. Running back Kevin Grady (drunken driving) may have his game suspension lifted this week, Rodriguez said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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