ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s 2-2 open to the season has been highly criticized, and for good reason.
Brady Hoke is now into year four in his tenure as the man in charge of the program and similar mistakes continue to plague Michigan in all three phases; turnovers, negative plays, poor quarterbacking, etc.
Publicly, the message and focus moving forward has remained relatively the same, reaching back to 1998 when Michigan began the season 2-2, dealing with that pressure and eventually winning the Big Ten conference.
But this is not 1998.
Either way, Michigan and Brady Hoke have taken the approach of limiting panic and maintaining the status quo moving forward as a team that continues to go to work and improve.
While that’s fine to say and preach, inside the walls of Schembechler Hall players are frustrated and looking at one another for answers and attempting to take it upon themselves to show improvement.
“A loss is always hard to take, no matter who you are or what sport you play,” Michigan junior wide receiver Dennis Norfleet said. “We know that we’re in a point where we need to pick it up.
“So, yes I get the team fired up every which way and my goal and my role on the team is to get everybody right and that’s what I did today.”
Noticeably irritated Tuesday night in a brief session with media, Norfleet appeared to take a different approach publicly than others have.
The Detroit native isn’t looking to show more vulnerability than what currently already exists for Michigan, but at the same time he’s hearing what’s being said and written and believes more of the onus should fall on the players and their need to perform.
“It’s a big part in a way because a lot of people are putting a lot of pressure on our coaches and it’s not really about our coaches,” Norfleet said. “Our coaches do a great job coaching us, telling us what we need to do, getting us to a point where we need to know what to execute.
“It’s up to us, to the players, to execute, in our way on the field than anything else. We know what we need to do and right now we’re just not doing it. It’s our fault and right now we’re building and as we go on throughout our week we’re getting stronger and stronger.
“Right now, we’re just real frustrated about how people are trying to treat our coaches and just putting it all on our coaches when we’re the ones on the field. They can’t play for us.”
While Norfleet, who has accounted for 95 total yards of offense on 11 touches, through four games, isn’t looking to put guys down or yell and scream, he wants to see more from his teammates.
“It’s not really about getting on guys,” Norfleet said. “In a way it’s just getting guys to do what we need a little more or finish, come harder off the ball, compete more.
“Every little thing counts more. From now, right now it’s just we need to be hungry.”
To Norfleet, that fact comes down to a few key areas of concern both mentally and physically for Michigan.
“Right now, we just know we’re not executing,” he said. “We did good at the beginning of the season but now it just seemed like we got too comfortable with where we were and I feel we’re getting comfortable with losing and that’s not what we need.
“What we need is to win and we need everyone with us that’s going to be with us for us to do that.”
The criticism for Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been very prevalent and loud from the fan base, already openly campaigning to send him out of Ann Arbor.
Norfleet says he casually flipped on a show earlier this morning and couldn’t believe what the narrative was.
“I took that to heart this morning,” Norfleet said. “They were really talking down on Coach Hoke saying his time was coming. Coach Hoke did a lot for me and the team.
“There’s times where I needed to see my family at a critical time and I needed to see my daughter and he was there by my side throughout the way. So it’s more than football that everybody thinks. In life, he’s a good coach and right now the way people are talking about him, I don’t feel and the team doesn’t feel that it’s right; not at all.
“Even if we lose, if you’re a Michigan fan, you’re supposed to be by us 100-percent, to pick us up by our feet. We need our fans just as bad as we need a win. So, yes, that hurts a lot, the team and the coaches.”
Upon hearing the criticism, Norfleet said he sought out his coach Tuesday hoping to keep him in good spirits and show his support.
“Coach Hoke is a person just like us,” Norfleet said. “He has feelings just like everybody else and today I talked to him and I just told him that I care about him, that we care about him and whatever we can do as a football team to get us the win we’re going to told.
“I told him today that he can’t play. He’ll get us to the point where we know what we need to know and I don’t want him to feel in any way that he’s not doing his job and I don’t want people saying that he’s not doing his job because they don’t know. It’s the players that need to show up and we will show up.”
While murmurs of chemistry issues and leadership problems were constantly uttered a season ago, Norfleet believes he and his teammates have done a good job of sticking together.
“Our bond is always going to stay the same,” Norfleet said. “Losing is when we come together the most and that’s what we did today. We know what we need to do and that’s it.”