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SportsMonday Column: Keep an eye on the kids

Alden Reiss/Daily
Freshman cornerback Blake Countess started against Iowa. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 6, 2011

IOWA CITY — Take your eyes away from the screen for just a minute. Stop rewinding. Junior Hemingway isn’t going to get his hands under the ball any more on the eleventy-first replay than he did live.

It was a messy weekend for Michigan’s Big Three — football, basketball and hockey.

Brady Hoke and Co. dropped (or did they?) a comeback chance in Iowa City. John Beilein’s boys narrowly escaped with a eight-point exhibition win over Division-II Wayne State. Red Berenson and the hockey team ended the program’s longest home winning streak, a span of 20 straight games in Ann Arbor.

It ended as a 2-2 weekend for the banner Michigan teams. Nothing to write home about — though plenty of grievances to Facebook or tweet — but there was plenty of silver lining on this cloudy weekend.

At Kinnick Stadium, an elevator ride changed everything.

When the Wolverines lined up to punt with four minutes left in the game, the media made its way to the elevator at the back of the press box. One Marcus Coker first down and the game was over.

By the time the elevator car descended from the fourth floor to the third — where a pair of pleased Iowa fans stood waiting — then down to ground level, the game was suddenly back in reach.

Maybe you forgot about it. Rewind a little further back, past the uncalled pass interference and the two official reviews. There it is.

Lost in the middle of the would-be heroics and officiating antics of the Wolverines’ final drive was the preceding three-and-out forced by the Michigan defense.

Ninety seconds off the clock, wasting only one Michigan timeout. Denard Robinson and the offense suddenly had new life. And they almost made it count.

Without that stop, there would have been no photo finish. What you should note, though, is that without four freshmen playing on defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s shutdown defense, there wouldn’t have been that stop.

Mattison started three freshmen — linebacker Desmond Morgan, cornerback Blake Countess and defensive end Brennan Beyer. On the final drive, he had the confidence to add linebacker Jake Ryan to that mix.

Beyer kept contain on first down, forcing Coker into a short gain. Morgan fought off a block and pulled Coker down a yard short of the marker on second down. And Ryan broke off the edge on the decisive third down and caught Coker in the backfield.

Don’t see this cup half full? Look at the 2012 recruiting class. Behold the future.

At Crisler Arena, it was Mitch-igan week.

The commitment of the nation’s No. 2 recruit, Mitch McGary, on Thursday cemented Michigan as a rising title contender next season.

For a Michigan basketball fan, anything after the McGary announcement was just a bonus.

In the exhibition against Wayne State, sophomores Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jon Horford were the first- and third-leading scorers for Michigan. They were also the leading rebounders.

The basketball team boasts a lineup so young that only one upperclassman — senior guard Zack Novak — is expected to start. The youth, some which isn’t even on campus yet, is driving this movement.

Michigan basketball isn’t selling a team, it’s selling the expectation of a long-standing program.

At Yost Ice Arena, the home winning streak is over.

But the 21-year NCAA Tournament berth streak doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. Despite losing eight seniors after last season’s run to the national title game, the Wolverines are ranked third in the nation.

Berenson replaced the departing seniors with fresh faces from places like Ontario and Las Vegas. Through 10 games, the underclassmen have scored 20 of Michigan’s 46 goals.

The dynamic trio of freshmen forwards Phil DiGiuseppe, Travis Lynch and Alex Guptill round out the team’s top-five goal scorers, combining for 13 goals. Last season, the entire seven-man freshman class scored just 17 total goals.

The point is this: At Michigan we are on campus with a Frozen Four contender, a Final Four contender and a warm-weather bowl contender. And no team is in its prime.

Michigan football will be back when it has a true quarterback — maybe De La Salle (Warren, Mich.) junior Shane Morris in 2013.

Michigan basketball will be back after consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a big-name recruit on campus in 2012.

Michigan hockey will be back when, well, they never really budge.