September 28, 2005
PORTe MSigan Bal
Why can't Blue just
have a little fun
By Matt Venegoni
Daily Sports Editor
Is the glass half full or half empty?
Although the Wolverines have dropped two
of three games since the season opener against
the Huskies, Michigan's defense is playing much
stingier, even in Saturday's loss to Wisconsin.
"I thought we played very hard," coach Lloyd
Carr said. "It was a very physical football game.
I thought the effort, the intensity, all those things
were good enough to win."
Even though Badgers running back Brain Cal-
houn tore up the Wolverines' defense for 223
total yards and one touchdown, the defensive line
showed improved play, especially on the inside.
Sophomore defensive tackle Alan Branch, in
his most extensive playing time, showed that he
can be a valuable contributor off the bench.
From the start of the game, Branch showed that
he was going to be a disruptive force. On Wiscon-
sin's first drive, Branch and junior LaMarr Wood-
ley pressured Badgers quarterback John Stocco.
Branch forced the scrambling quarterback to
fumble, setting up a second-and-23 for Wiscon-
sin. Throughout the contest, Branch teamed up
with fellow Wolverines to bottle up Calhoun. By
the end of the game, the Rio Rancho, New Mexico
native had four tackles, including a hand in two
sacks, and a forced fumble.
"I thought Alan Branch had his best game," Carr
said at Monday's press conference.
Branch wasn't the only defensive lineman play-
ing better last Saturday. Much-maligned senior
Gabe Watson also improved his play.
Once again, Watson did not start, but he was
put into the game quickly. Just like Branch, Wat-
son showed that he was ready to wreak havoc. He
tackled Calhoun on Wisconsin's second drive and
consistently took up two blockers. Carr, one of
Watson's biggest critics, was impressed, saying
that he thought Watson "played much better on
But no lineman played better than Woodley. He has
been the most consistent player on the defense this
season but raised his play to an even higher in Camp
Randall. The Saginaw native was flying all over
the field, making play after play in the Badgers'
"I think LaMarr (Woodley) played the best
game since he's been at Michigan," Carr said. "I
Saturday's game at Wisconsin was
the first time I had sat in the stands
at a road game and, I
have to admit - even though
the wrong team won and on the
long drive back to Ann Arbor h
I said absolutely nothing other
than "What the hell just hap-
pened?!?!?!" every half hour or <
so - I had great time.,
Venturing into enemy territo- ?
ry is much more fun than I ever
imagined it would be. Whether
it was walking to the stadiumSH
before the game and getting M
heckled, watching the game and Mat
getting heckled or leaving the Matti
stadium and REALLY getting
heckled, I enjoyed it all. And it wasn't just
students giving us a hard time. At the gate
where we all exited, a man who had to
be at least 40 years old turned his back to
the field where the Badgers were celebrat-
ing, pointed at each and every Michigan
student, shouting "overrated" at the top
of his lungs. When I then thanked him
for sending us to the Rose Bowl last year
(Wisconsin ended last season with losses
to Michigan State and Iowa), he seemed
ready to fight me.
In a stadium of over 80,000, I was
one of maybe 200 Michigan students.
We had the worst seats in the house, in
the corner of the upper deck, but that
didn't stop us. For about four hours,
starting 30 minutes before the game we
made all the noise we possibly could
until John Stocco ran into endzone and
Chad Henne slipped to the ground.
When Mario Manningham caught that
flea-flicker to retake the lead, the entire
stadium became completely silent.
Except for section AA, that is.
Not enough students realize this, but
every April when we buy season tick-
ets, we can go to the ticket office and
order tickets as if away games. Seats
aren't guaranteed, but the last couple
years it seems for everyone has gotten
them. Keep this in mind next spring,
because the Wolverines have tough
games in 2006 at Notre Dame, Penn
State and Ohio State.
Unlike a lot of others I've talked to,
the more I think about the game, the
less upset I've gotten. After all, I'm
readily admitting I had fun at the game,
and it was a real exciting finish.
So in case I wasn't clear, I had fun at
Saturday's game. In fact, I have fun at
every game I attend, whether I've been in
the stands or the press box.
But then I thought back to
last year, when I covered the
team and got a better sense
of what it takes to play here.
And here's what I realized:
The players don't always
have that much fun.
Too often, after a game,
the players seem relieved to
have won. It's like they're
.RAD saying, We won? Big deal,
TTU now we've got to do it next
Fast week. In a way it is under-
Furious standable. Though this
Saturday the circumstances
will be drastically different, usually
when Michigan beats Michigan State
they're just taking care of business - if
the Spartans win, the Wolverines' year
is ruined. Some talented teams walk
onto the field determined to kick ass
and prove how good they are while oth-
ers are worried about the repercussions
of a loss. As long as I can remember,
Michigan has been the latter.
Why do you think we always go
through early-season struggles? OK,
OK, I hear you - coaching. That may
be, but every year, you can count on a
mid-season resurgence to follow the
early missteps. And it makes perfect
sense. When Michigan loses its first
game, it's out of the national title pic-
ture. If it's a conference game, then it's
on the outside of the conference title
picture. The pressure is off.
So this week, everyone is talking
about how the Spartans are hot and
the Wolverines are cold. Right now,
Chad Henne and Steve Breaston can't
do anything right. Mike Hart is hurt,
and his backups keep fumbling. The
defense couldn't stop Badgers running
back Brian Calhoun. They're a five-
point underdog to the Spartans. I mean,
doesn't that say it all?
So now that the Wolverines are
unranked and expected to lose, you can
expect the best they have to offer.
They can finally have a little fun.
- Sharad Mattu is looking forward
to two victories in East Lansing this
weekend (the other win is over The
State News on Friday night). He can
'be reached at email@example.com
Alan Branch had the best game of his career Saturday. The sophomore had four tackles, including a sack.
thought he was outstanding. I think he's having
a great year. He's on his way to being the player
that we expected him to be."
Woodley finished with eight tackles, including
two for loss and a sack.
With those three leading the way, the defense
looked formidable throughout the game. But as
time progressed, Wisconsin controlled the ball
for too much of the second half. With the defense
on the field for so long, the unit tired.
"I think (fatigue's) part of it," Carr said. "We
were out there too long (defensively)."
Said defensive line coach Steve Stripling: "1 think
that we went in with the objective of stopping the run.
And it felt good after the first half. We were getting
them into some longer downs. We got a couple of
sacks, and I really thought we could hold up."
But even with the good plays, the defense had
other problems besides fatigue, particularly con-
tainment on the outside. Calhoun gained 111 of his
rushing yards in the last 30 minutes of play. He used
his shifty feet and quickness to get to the outside
and exploit the Wolverines exterior defense.
"We did some things that we wanted to do, but obvi-
ously it wasn't good enough because in the end we didn't
get it done," Watson said.
To competition in CCHA for Icers
By James V. Dowd
Daily Sports Writer
DETROIT - When you have all but two play-
ers returning from a team that finished second in
its conference last year, the prospects for the new
season are exciting. Such is the case for the Ohio
State Hockey team, and the voters in the CCHA
coaches' and media preseason polls chose the Buck-
eyes as the favorites for this year's conference title
accordingly. The announcement came at yesterday's
CCHA Media Day at Joe Louis Arena.
Despite the confidence show by his colleagues, Ohio
State coach John Markell knows it will not be an easy run
for the Buckeyes.
"These polls I think are great, but I think it's based
on potential," Markell said. "And there are a lot of teams
that have the potential to be where we are. I think they
have some ifs, like we do. Some of our ifs are solved this
year. Any one of these teams is one if away from having
a tremendous year."
Both the coaches and media chose Michigan as the
runner-up, despite the uncertainty that comes with having
11 freshmen on the roster. Michigan coach Red Berenson
said that he is excited to see what his young team can do,
starting with freshman goaltender Billy Sauer, who will
compete with senior Noah Ruden for the starting job.
"The Michigan team will have a different look to it
this year with so many new faces," Berenson said. "We
graduated 10 players and lost three underclassmen to the
pros during the summer. One of those positions will be
goalie, and our freshman goalie Billy Sauer, who is 17,
will be tested early."
Both the coaches and media selected Northern Michi-
gan to finish third and Michigan State fourth.
In addition to their second place billing, the Wolver-
ines found two of their players named to preseason all-
conference teams. Junior forward T.J. Hensick - the
league's scoring champion and Michigan's lone first team
All-America honoree last season - was named to the
preseason first team. Hensick was a unanimous selection
by the committee. Junior defenseman Matt Hunwick was
named to the second team.
Along with the preseason polls, CCHA Commission-
er Tom Anastos announced changes to the conference's
playoff system. Rather than the Super 6 format that has
existed for the past four years, the league will return to a
four-team playoff at Joe Louis Arena.
All 12 schools will still participate in the playoffs, with
the fourth through eighth seeds meeting the ninth through
twelfth seeds in first round, in on-campus match-ups. The
winners of those matchups will be re-seeded and meet
the top four seeds at the top team's home arena. Finally,
the winners of those matchups will meet at Joe Louis to
decide the playoff champion and automatic NCAA tour-
In addition to the playoff changes, Anastos said the
league will continue its crackdown on rules enforcement.
After implementing this policy last year, coaches found it
opened up the game and increased the quality of play.
"With the initiative that Tom Anastos has pushed in our
league, the hockey is much improved at the college level,"
Berenson said. "It's more exciting for the fans and more
interesting and more challenging for the players. I think,
overall, we have a better product than two years ago."
With more open play and a league with much
greater parity of competition then in the past, the
coaches are looking forward to starting the season
this coming weekend.
"Each and every game is going to be tight," Michigan
State coach Rick Comley said. "It's a battle. There used
to be a day in college hockey where you could look at the
schedule and plot how your season was going to go, but
those days are long gone right now. I think it's going to be
a great season in the CCHA."
T.J. Hensick returns to lead the Wolverines, hoping to build on his All-America honor.