The Big Ten Conference’s ego was bruised when Washington clobbered Michigan State in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day.
Much has been made of the Spartans’ no-frills approach before that game, which seems to correspond to Michigan’s business-like preparations for its Rose Bowl assignment with loosey-goosey Washington State.
The Wolverines insist the similarities end there.
“Michigan State, unfortunately, didn’t have as good of a showing as everyone would have liked them to have,” Michigan sophomore defensive tackle Rob Renes said. “We definitely feel a sense of obligation to the Big Ten and moreover to the University of Michigan.”
The Wolverines say they’re enjoying the moment, even if nobody’s around to verify it since their practices are closed. Likewise, they say no-nonsense coach Lloyd Carr has a lighter side, but senior defensive end Glen Steele didn’t want to reveal it.
“He does a lot of things to keep us loose. I’m not going to (tell what Carr does) because I don’t want to deal with him later,” said Steele, breaking into a grin.
“At times he’ll look at you and you’ll think you are in trouble. Then he’ll turn around and crack a smile just to see what kind of mood you’re in.”
The Wolverines are trying to balance focus and frolic.
“We have evenings off,” defensive tackle Josh Williams said. “We go out to a restaurant, walk around town. Our curfews sometimes were a little bit later. Practice is fun for us.” Besides, safety Marcus Ray said, the game’s the thing.
“Coach Carr doesn’t want anybody let into practice, especially this week because we don’t have time for that,” Ray said. “Autograph signing and everything else is over with. We can do that after we win. That’s how we’re going about this game. We’ve been getting pats on the back for a month now and we haven’t even played a game. We still have another game to play.”
Put me in coach
The cover of Michigan’s Rose Bowl media guide features the obligatory shot of someone being carried off the field following the victory over Ohio State.
Carr? Nope. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson? Nope. Try Eric Mayes, the team’s emotional leader, who didn’t play a down against the Buckeyes. The senior inside linebacker tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Michigan’s 37-0 win over Indiana on Oct. 4. He hasn’t practiced since, but has been trying to coax Carr into letting him play one down in the Rose Bowl - if circumstances allow. “It’d be an added plus,” Mayes said.
Despite missing most of the season, the co-captain remains upbeat.
“There are so many ifs, wouldas and couldas,” he said. “If not for one play, maybe I would be here. If not for two or three plays, maybe my team wouldn’t be here. I don’t want to distract from what the team is doing out here.”
Ryan Leaf, Michael Black, the Fab Five, the Fat Five, tight end Love Jefferson: WSU’s offensive arsenal has Michigan’s attention.
“Initially I was really impressed with Leaf’s arm and how accurate he was having that much power behind his throws,” Renes said. “But as I watched more film, I saw his scrambling ability. If he doesn’t find a receiver he’ll tuck the ball and get 10, 15 yards running straight ahead because he’s such a big guy.” Pressuring Leaf appears to be Michigan’s priority.
“If the quarterback has to keep moving his feet and run out of the pocket, it doesn’t give him a chance to look at the receivers,” Steele said. “You can see his mobility, but as far as his mental state, you have to do that on the field. He’s a pretty big man, so it’s probably going to take a lot to rattle him.”
“When you go to the Rose Bowl once in 67 years, sure the majority of the population is going to be rooting for underdog. But this is the only Rose Bowl I’ve been to, and I hope a lot of people are rooting for me, too.” - Michigan defensive tackle Rob Renes.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.