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Published: 10/9/2009

Night road game challenge for UM

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Mark Ortmann plans to roll out of bed tomorrow morning, grab some breakfast, and then decide whether he wants to spend the day watching football on TV, going for a walk with a few teammates, or eating again.

Or maybe he won't choose between the activities, as he'll have time for all.

Ortmann, University of Michigan's left tackle, is leery of playing a night road game because "you can easily lose your focus" lounging around the hotel all morning and afternoon.

"It's difficult, and as great as some of the younger guys have been this year dealing with pressure, I think it will add a little more this week," Ortmann said. "It's hard to keep your focus. I think we'll have to help them with that this week."

Growing antsy is one obstacle the Wolverines will face this weekend in Iowa City. The other is the undefeated and 12th-ranked Hawkeyes, winners of nine straight after beginning last year 5-4. UM, which dropped out of this week's polls after losing to Michigan State, has won eight of 10 over the Hawkeyes and is an impressive 15-4-1 at Kinnick Stadium. The teams last played in 2006 with UM claiming a 20-6 home win.

Because UM's Big House and its nearby parking lots are void of adequate lighting, games in Ann Arbor typically are played in the noon or 3:30 p.m. slots. The Wolverines have not played at night since Penn State a year ago, and none of the current team members were around the last time UM played at Iowa in 2005.

Ortmann said he hoped the team's roommate arrangement, which generally calls for players to bunk with others of their position, would be adjusted so younger players won't stay with each other. He planned to phone some former teammates to collect information on the atmosphere at Kinnick and the famous pink lockerroom for visitors that's designed to pacify Hawkeye opponents.

"I'm excited for the night game," defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "I know it's going to be really hype just because I think everybody likes to play under the lights - high school, college, pros, whatever."

Count UM coach Rich Rodriguez among those not in favor of his team participating in the day's final tier of games.

Rodriguez and his staff plan to fill time throughout the day by watching other games on TV and conducting walk-through team practices in the hotel ballroom, yet still, "It's a long day."

"I think the anxiety builds for the players and the coaches," Rodriguez said.

Night games serve a purpose for many mid-level programs, unlike tradition-rich UM, seeking national exposure. As a former coach and player at West Virginia, Rodriguez is familiar with the evening setup as the Big East routinely signs contracts to play its games on Thursday nights in front of an ESPN audience. Describing the intensity of a night game crowd, Rodriguez laughed at his own pun that the Hawkeye fan base might be "more juiced" for this game than most.

"I think the crowd sometimes gets into it [because of] whatever they did the six or seven hours before the game," Rodriguez said. "They seem to be more prepared for the game at night than they do for a noon kickoff, if you know what I mean."

INJURY REPORT: Running back Carlos Brown, who did not practice Wednesday because of an apparent injury, was not listed on the team's injury report issued last night. Brown wore a red "noncontact" jersey Wednesday but Rodriguez did not specify why. Zac Johnson (shoulder) and David Molk (foot) are out.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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