Sam Webb: What Michigan team do you guys think we’re going to see the rest of the season? I ask that question for this reason… we’ve seen this team this year in the most meaningful games struggle with adversity. Adversity compounds for them. Even the slightest set back derails them. They get derailed on drives and that adds up to derailing them in games. Now you add to that track record for not dealing with adversity well the additional adversity from the microscope that Michigan is under right now. I’m curious of what you guys think in the aftermath of all this what team you think we’re going to see heading to Rutgers this weekend?
Steve Clarke: “I’d like to be real positive about it, but at times of adversity you look at somebody to get you through that. When everybody is down, who is the playmaker either on offense or defense that is going to put you over the top and then garner the confidence in the rest of your teammates? I’m not sure who that is. I think in times of trouble a few years ago it was Denard Robinson. If it was third and two, he was the one always getting it instead of a tailback, he would find a way to get a first down. Two years ago, they were 50% from third down fourth and less and it was leading the nation and it was always because of Denard. I kept wondering who is going to be the guy to replace that. We haven’t seen a playmaker yet that can replace that ability and I’m still looking for it. How about you Marcus?”
Marcus Ray: “My thing is, Rutgers, as I watch them, they’re not the same animal that Minnesota was up front. I think Minnesota gave Michigan a lot of problems in the blocking scheme. I think when David Cobb is the best player on the field, that doesn’t speak to all of this talent that we keep hearing about that Michigan has. Cobb is a good back, but I don’t think Rutgers can run the ball the same way. What I’m expecting…out of chaos comes order and I think it is always darkest before the dawn. What Michigan football has realized is, it’s Michigan against the world. No they’re not a great team, but they can play better. They can play better than they did last week and good enough to beat Rutgers. The only thing that Rutgers scares you with is their front four. They have Kemoko Turay, Hamilton. They will get after the quarterback. Michigan has to coach their way out of this one. What you do by coaching your way out of this one is you put your 5th year gangster quarterback back there and just let him play football.”
Sam Webb: I think even if there was a choice, which I do not think there will be because I don’t think Shane Morris is available… if there was a choice, I think with the way things went down in that game everyone can see now that Devin gives them the best chance to win. Marcus said it best, Minnesota is a team he knows. He knows Minnesota, so there is a comfort that you can see in him on the football field. Do you think that late game comfort and late game success, albeit in a loss, can translate into this contest versus Rutgers?
Steve Clarke: “I think when you go back to the first five games, Michigan could move the ball but then they would shoot themselves in the foot with a penalty or a sack or a turnover. Michigan can move the ball down the field, but when they got to the other side, especially on the plus side of the 50, they would run into mistakes. Now it is back to where it was and can the offense find a way to learn and continue to get better. The problem for Michigan’s offense at the moment against Rutgers is that you’re looking at a team that is tied for sixth in the nation in sacks, averaging a little more than four per game. Darius Hamilton and David Milewski combine for six and a half sacks on the line and Kemoko Turay he comes off the bench to the lead the Big Ten with five sacks and he only has 11 tackles overall. This guy is a pure pass rusher who gets the job done in third and long situations, which is what we’re going to see. He’s also blocked a couple of kicks. You’ve got a guy in Steve Longa, who was a preseason All-Conference linebacker. There is some news out of the secondary where safety Jonathan Aiken is going to miss the first half for targeting in the second half of last week’s game against Tulane. Aiken is normally a backup for starter Delon Stephenson who couldn’t play last week because of injury. If Stephenson can’t return than it is walk on time for Andre Hunt in this one. Rutgers has some strength and they certainly have some weaknesses on the defensive side.”
Sam Webb: I know you saw the Rutgers/Penn State game. Rutgers lost that game Penn State because they threw five interceptions. Their defense had Christian Hackenberg diagnosed pretty well. Now give Hackenberg credit, when they needed him at the end of that game he made it happen. The Rutgers defense gave him fits throughout that game.
Steve Clarke: “Absolutely. That game was taken away from them because Hackenberg now how to play in the fourth quarter and Rutgers shoots themselves in their own foot. When you look at the key players on offense, quarterback Gary Nova broke a school record for touchdowns last week. He has a history of a high rate of interceptions though, which has cost his team in the past. Nova’s rating right now as a quarterback is 171 despite those seven picks. Now in contrast, Devin is at 130, Shane is at 48. Nova has 7600 career passing yards and they like to call him Super Nova, but sometimes he is like a Chevy Nova (laughter). Running back, Paul James, he certainly was in the upper echelon in terms of running backs, but he tore his ACL in the Navy game a couple of weeks ago and he was a real receiving threat, as well as being a running threat. He was averaging nearly six yards a rush before the injury in game four and had a number of touchdowns. Now you’ve got running back by committee, Justin Goodwin, who actually started as a defensive back in game one at Washington State, is now a tailback, along with Desmond Peoples. Those two will share the load. One had 83 yards last week and the other had 82. Receiving threats, you’ve got Tyler Kroft at tight end who is going to be closer to 100% for the first time this week. He was a first team All-Conference player last season. He led the team in receiving and is a valuable weapon. The guy who has stood out this year is Leonta Carroo.”
Sam Webb: I asked you about him prior to the season Steve. He was a highly rated prospect coming out of high school.
Steve Clarke: “Yep I remember you asking me about that and he wasn’t doing anything until this point. Right now, he is 14th nationally in receiving and third in the Big Ten with 475 receiving yards. As I said, he is doing well and he has got five touchdowns going for him so far at this point. The O-line returns everyone from last year. That adds up to 124 starts, which means their running game could be somewhat as potent even without James, but I have to agree with Marcus. When you lose a guy like Paul James, it is going to be kind of difficult to recover from. One of the guys they are relying on is a guy who started in the secondary on week one.”