- Max Collins/Daily
BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 16, 2010
Michigan has been down both paths before. On Saturday either the expected or the unthinkable could happen. The Wolverines host Massachusetts — an Football Championship Subdivision opponent — on Saturday and Michigan fans have seen firsthand what the underdog can accomplish in the Big House.
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Two years ago it was Toledo — a non-power conference Division-I school — who beat the Wolverines. In Lloyd Carr’s last season it was Appalachian State, the cream of the crop of FCS competition.
Sure, the Wolverines handled Delaware State in 2009, but the FCS threat is building all around the country.
James Madison knocked off then-No. 13 Virginia Tech just a week ago. Five Division I teams have already lost to FCS schools. It wasn’t just Akron and Ball State that fell victim to the trap. Minnesota lost to South Dakota, 41-38, and North Dakota State topped Kansas, 6-3.
“There's players everywhere,” Rodriguez said on Monday. “It's not like you're playing 18 -and-19 year-old kids against 14-year-olds. We are playing, it's the same kids, same age, and in some respects, it's different. And the difference is, in the FCS level, the good teams, the Top 25, 30 teams, are really, really good and really competitive.”
Massachusetts could pose a problem for Michigan if the Wolverines are quick to dismiss the Minutemen as a real threat. Massachusetts is in the top 20 in both of the FCS polls and upset a then-No. 4 William & Mary team to start the season.
At key playmaking positions, the Minutemen could pose problems for the Wolverine defense. Massachusetts averaged more than 220 yards rushing during the first two games of the season, and senior wide receiver Anthony Nelson has 13 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown already.
The Minutemen have players who can make Michigan pay for its mistakes, but Rodriguez said that he liked his team’s attitude during practice this week.
“(At Tuesday’s) practice, the focus was really good and they seem to be into it,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve talked about since August camp started of having unshakeable focus. And I reminded them of that again yesterday. I was pleased with that and their attention to detail.”
That attention to detail might not have been at the forefront after the Wolverines’ dramatic win over Notre Dame. Michigan overcame eight penalties for 99 yards against the Fighting Irish after the Wolverines had a pretty clean opening week against Connecticut. Even though Michigan hasn’t turned the ball over in the first two weeks, Rodriguez knows his team can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot.
“We are still not good enough to play poorly and win,” Rodriguez said. “We are not deep enough yet. We are not experienced enough yet, and I don't want to test that out.”
Speculation has already started around how long sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson will even see the field against Massachusetts. Sophomore quarterback Tate Forcier, who started every game last year, played just one drive against Delaware St. But he was recovering from a concussion suffered the previous week.
Michigan won that game 63-6 and set a team record with 727 total yards in the win. Robinson completed three-of-four passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns on the day in relief of Forcier.
When questioned about Robinson's role on Saturday, Rodriguez maintained that the coaches will do whatever it takes to win the game.
The quarterback has made an impact in his first career starts, but experience is invaluable. The reps Robinson takes against the Minutemen could pay dividends down the road for the Wolverines.
“(It’s) the same we expect out of him every day in practice,” Rodriguez said. “To continue to progress as far as the knowledge of what we want to do as far as our concepts are concerned. How we’re going to attack a particular defense. UMass will provide different challenges for what they do with their defense and their coverages. So he’ll have to be sharp.
"Every game is like a test for him, both mentally and physically. He’s passed those tests for the most part, but there’s still things we’ve got to get better at.”