Sunday, Dec 11, 2016
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Wolverines eager to convert doubters

Ask Ryan Autullo your University of Michigan football questions every Tuesday at noon on ToledoBlade.com in the UT/UM football Web chat.

ANN ARBOR — In the past month, critics of the Michigan football program kept quiet. But they were still lurking, says defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, ready to reappear at the first sign of trouble.

“They're always going to be looking for something to say,” Van Bergen said. “When you're 5-0, it's really hard to find something.”

No longer is UM unbeaten, following a 34-17 clobbering administered by Michigan State at the Big House on Saturday. Consequently, those people Van Bergen referenced are beginning to share concerns that the Wolverines may soon be heading down a path similar to 2009 when they lost seven of their final eight games after a 4-0 start.

“They're going to come back out and start doubting everything we've done and players at all the positions,” Van Bergen said. “We're prepared for that. Everyone who has been here has been through that.”

Those viewpoints will intensify, or dampen, depending on the outcome of Saturday's home game against No. 15 Iowa. The Hawkeyes, who sat idle this past weekend, have been dominant all year with the exception of a 34-27 loss at Arizona last month. Iowa won last year's meeting 30-28, intercepting Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson late in the fourth quarter to preserve the win.

Should UM (5-1, 1-1) prevail Saturday, it would qualify for a bowl game with its sixth win and exceed its league win total of last year. A win would also go a long way to rebuild any morale that is missing following a third straight loss to the Spartans.

UM wasted scoring opportunities with three interceptions, including two in the end zone, and on defense was prone to allowing big plays.

“We lost to Michigan State, what, you want to take me and hang me off the building now,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “There might be a few people that want to do that, but it's the same people that wanted to do that after the first five games, and they just weren't saying it publicly.”

After the game, an unlikely voice was heard addressing his teammates in the home lockerroom. It was that of Robinson, a sophomore who generally takes a back seat and leaves motivational speaking to the upperclassmen. Receiver Kelvin Grady said Robinson “got a lot of respect” for his encouraging words.

Robinson threw three interceptions in the game and was unable to get untracked as a runner, averaging an uncharacteristic 4.1 yards per carry.

“I've never heard him speak out the way he did,” receiver Kelvin Grady said. “I don't think a lot of guys have.”

ODOMS OUT: Receiver Martavious Odoms suffered a broken foot in Saturday's game and will miss “extended time” — if not the entire season. Rodriguez was unsure at what point of the game the injury occurred. Odoms, a junior, is tied with Darryl Stonum for second most catches on the team with 15.

In other injury news, Rodriguez said David Molk and Mike Martin each sprained an ankle Saturday but that the center and nose guard, respectively, will be fine for Iowa. Cornerback James Rogers, who left the game with cramps, is fine, but reserve running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (shoulder) is expected to miss his third straight game Saturday.

MSU RUNS: In the first half Saturday, MSU amassed 110 rushing yards. All but eight of them came on touchdown runs by Edwin Baker (61 yards) and Le'Veon Bell (41) who slashed and diced their way through the UM linebackers and secondary. The Wolverines were prepared for that specific play, says Van Bergen, but were burnt on it twice.

“If we had to break down their top three plays, that was one that we practiced,” Van Bergen said. “We knew they were good at it.”

Where did things go wrong? Van Bergen said guys did not attend to their respective gaps.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.

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