ANN ARBOR - In some regards, it's back to square one for University of Michigan football.
After enduring a firestorm of controversy in the weeks leading up to the season, the Wolverines enjoyed a cushy first month, entering the top 25 polls and arriving in the consciousness of national pundits. But an overtime loss to previous one-win Michigan State on Saturday has - for the time being, anyway - dropped a wet blanket on the Wolverines' good will.
Unlike last year, when expectations lowered as losses mounted, Saturday's 26-20 setback was less forgivable in the mind of UM players.
"I think the difference between last year and this year is the amount of confidence we have as a team," offensive tackle Mark Ortmann said yesterday. "I think it was a little shaken by that loss. I don't think anyone saw it coming, but it happened and we have to move on."
No longer ranked, UM (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) again faces unfavorable circumstances entering the midway point of the season. Next up on the docket is a visit to Iowa Saturday evening against the unbeaten and 12th-ranked Hawkeyes, who have won nine straight dating back to last season.
"Everybody came into workouts this morning motivated," defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "We're using the loss to boost us as a team."
Iowa (5-0, 1-0) ranks near the top of every Big Ten defensive category and has allowed a stingy high-water mark of 21 points this season. UM coach Rich Rodriguez expressed concern over Iowa's defensive front seven which has been most important to the team not allowing a rushing touchdown in its last eight games. Conversely, UM's offensive line struggled Saturday in its second game without center David Molk (foot), setting the tone for a measly 17 combined yards between backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown.
"The challenging part for us is we have to go on the road again against, I think, a top 10 team in their environment that's playing very good football," Rodriguez said. "We'll have to crank it up and play a whole lot better or it could be a tough night."
Rodriguez was clearly dissatisfied with his team's performance Saturday, evidenced in him not announcing an offensive or defensive player of the game for the first time this year. Kicker Jason Olesnavage, who made two field goals, was the special teams player of the game.
FORCIER LIMITED: Rodriguez said quarterback Tate Forcier (throwing shoulder) would be limited in the afternoon practice but should have no restrictions the remainder of the week.
"I don't think, just looking at the velocity of his throws, that he felt 100 percent," Rodriguez said. "But he never complained during the game that he was incapable of doing all the things we asked."
No serious injuries occurred Saturday, Rodriguez said.
TELLING QUOTE: Asked if the coaching staff is equipped with desirable defensive personnel, Rodriguez wasn't exactly complimentary about a unit that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense.
"I think we have the right personnel playing," he said, emphasizing the final word. "We look at it as hard as anybody. Our defensive coaches are smart enough to tweak our scheme to what our personnel can do."
Rodriguez said end Brandon Graham, linebacker Stevie Brown and cornerback Donovan Warren have displayed the most consistency among anyone in their units.
MEALER ON ESPN: ESPN's investigative show E:60 will air a segment at 7 tonight on UM freshman guard Elliott Mealer and his coping with a December, 2007, car accident that killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother paralyzed. Rodriguez called Mealer "an inspiration to everybody in our program."
"It was really neat how the players, in particular the guys Elliott came in with, reached out to him before he even stepped foot on campus. It was touching," Rodriguez said.
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