ANN ARBOR - Dejected after another loss, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said yesterday he was disappointed because his Wolverines "take a step forward, take a step back."
UM's 21-14 loss to Northwestern yesterday highlighted some of that back and forth.
The Wolverines were coming off a victory the previous week over Minnesota and riding two consecutive strong performances by their offense. Their offense reverted back to its old ways in defeat, getting shut out after halftime and failing to capitalize on some key opportunities.
Quarterback Nick Sheridan started for the second straight game but couldn't pick up where he left off against Minnesota. He was 8-for-29 for 61 yards and was replaced late in the third quarter by Steven Threet.
The cold, wet, windy conditions had something to do with those struggles, but Sheridan said: "We're not making any excuses for that."
Threet hadn't played since suffering a concussion late against Purdue and completed 4 of 7 passes for 22 yards, but also threw a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone that cost the Wolverines.
"I think our quarterbacks have made some strides," Rodriguez said. "I don't think we played as well at that position today as we have the last couple weeks."
UM's defense played its best game of the season last week against Minnesota, but before that had been hammered by Big Ten offenses. Though the Wolverines gave up three touchdowns - two on big pass plays - yesterday, Northwestern was handed a short field for two of its scores and UM managed to force two turnovers.
Again using a nickel package with safety Brandon Harrison at linebacker, the Wolverines limited the Wildcats' spread offense to 257 total yards.
"I never feel good after a loss," said UM defensive coordinator Scott Shafer when reminded of his defense's progress. "I feel sick to my stomach. But in the same breath, it was good to see a couple interceptions, too."
HURT AGAIN: Threet had to leave yesterday's game in the fourth quarter after sustaining what Rodriguez said were head and knee injuries.
Threet remained on the turf after rushing for three yards with 4:21 left and was replaced by Sheridan. He sustained a concussion Nov. 1 at Purdue in the fourth quarter, but played the rest of that game hurt.
"I don't know what the significance of this one is," Rodriguez said on the relationship between Threet's latest head injury and his availability to play against Ohio State. "I didn't think he got hit in the head."
UM running back Carlos Brown carried 23 times for 115 yards in place of the injured Brandon Minor (shoulder, ribs, wrist) and Sam McGuffie (knee). Michael Shaw started but sustained an unspecified injury and finished with 17 yards on seven carries.
ROUGH SEASON: Rodriguez was asked what kind of job he feels he's done as coach in light of UM's 3-8 record.
"We are what our record says we are," he said. "That's how everyone else is going to judge it. We're making progress Sunday through Friday and it ain't showing up on Saturday like we want it to."
NO HUDDLE: UM senior safety Charles Stewart and Northwestern sophomore receiver Sidney Stewart are brothers. Mike Williams' blocked punt was the Wolverines' first since Nov. 17, 2001. UM linebacker Jonas Mouton led all players with a career-high 11 tackles. Brown is the third Wolverine to rush for more than 100 yards this year. Minor and McGuffie are the others. The Michigan Stadium crowd was announced at 107,856, but the Big House was half-empty by the fourth quarter.