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Published: 9/30/2008

Michigan s resilience tied to conditioning

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR All of that running is paying off.

Much has been made of new Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis impact on the Wolverines with his strenuous offseason and in-season workouts. Time and again since UM scored 27 second-half points to beat Wisconsin 27-25 last weekend, its players have mentioned their physical condition as an edge that spurred their comeback.

Although not as dramatic, the Wolverines (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten) have enjoyed other successes in earlier second halves this year, blowing out opponents by a total of 46-19 after halftime.

I don t think we get very tired during games, quarterback Steven Threet said yesterday.

Conditioning, I feel like we can outlast a lot of teams, linebacker Obi Ezeh followed.

The synopsis was the same immediately after Saturday s game.

I d have to say it s the conditioning part, said Wolverines running back Brandon Minor, who broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. At the end, you could see they were tired, but we kept on going.

Barwis, who followed coach Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia to UM, puts the Wolverines through large quantities of sprints, plyometrics, and explosive lifts. Players are also constantly in motion during Rodriguez s up-tempo practices, which helps their endurance.

Rodriguez said yesterday the basic reason he has Barwis put his players through such grueling workouts is because of the conditioning it takes to run the spread-option offense, but the defense obviously benefits as well.

In UM s victory over Wisconsin on Saturday, the Wolverines allowed all but six points in the first half. Those six points a touchdown pass with 13 seconds left stand as the first second-half touchdown UM s defense has allowed this year.

I do think it s a big factor, Rodriguez said. But it s not just us, everybody stresses it. But if you wanted to list what are the five or 10 key elements of our overall program, it is practicing at a fast tempo and making conditioning a big part of what we do.

But conditioning can t be the sole explanation for the Wolverines second-half achievements. Rodriguez said he didn t think any of their opponents were out

of shape thus far, and UM has put together some horrendous first halves that couldn t have been followed by better play later in games if conditioning was the only issue.

The first half against Wisconsin was a circus of errors for the Wolverines five turnovers, one first down, negative total passing yards, and a 19-0 deficit.

We were lucky to win, Rodriguez said.

On the docket for this Saturday is Illinois, which is scoring the second-most points in the Big Ten (33.2 points per game). Unlike some of UM s other opponents, the Juice Williams-led Illini likely won t stop scoring points if the Wolverines give them away early with more turnovers.

We usually go in at halftime losing and come out with more of a sense of urgency that we should be playing with the whole game, Ezeh said. That s kind of what our aim is, to play that way the whole game, but we haven t been able to do it. Hopefully we can come out and do it against the Illini.

NO HUDDLE:

Junior defensive end Brandon Graham was named the Big Ten s defensive player of the week for his three-sack, six-tackle performance against Wisconsin. Graham, who also forced two fumbles, leads the nation with 9 tackles for loss and is third in the country with five sacks. Rodriguez said he is still tinkering with the offensive line and may play Perry Dorrestein at left tackle and move Mark Ortmann from left tackle to left guard. Dorrestein was out with a knee injury last week, and John Ferrara and Tim McAvoy both worked at left guard. Running back Carlos Brown has a sprained foot. He suffered a shoulder injury earlier this season and a broken finger during spring practice. Whitmer High alum Kevin Koger, who caught his first career touchdown pass last week, will again be among UM s top two tight ends against Illinois.

UM s Oct. 11 showdown against the Toledo Rockets is scheduled for noon and will be shown on the Big Ten Network.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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