Michigan pleased with practices after Wisconsin debacle

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 9:08pm

Senior left tackle Jon Runyan was disappointed in his inability to lift the level of play along the offensive line in his return.

Senior left tackle Jon Runyan was disappointed in his inability to lift the level of play along the offensive line in his return. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin

Monday afternoon, a predictably stoic Jim Harbaugh stood in front of reporters, lamenting Michigan’s physicality and hustle in Saturday’s 35-14 loss to Wisconsin.

A few minutes later, across the room, fifth-year senior left tackle Jon Runyan echoed his coach’s sentiment.

“Looking back on the film, not trying to call out anyone, but I feel like there were some plays where the effort could’ve been better,” Runyan said. “I think along with effort comes execution.”

With the root cause of Saturday’s debacle pinpointed, Harbaugh didn’t shy away from outlining his plan for this week’s practices.

“Emphasis on physicality, emphasis on toughness and emphasis on hustle,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll make that part of the practice plan more and also playing the players that are dedicated and playing physically at all times. Get those players in the ballgame.”

On the surface, it’s a striking indictment of his players. But Harbaugh wouldn’t call it that, instead looking introspectively and promising improvement from himself and the coaching staff.

That process, he said, would start with this week’s practices.

So when senior linebacker Josh Uche spoke with the media Tuesday evening, it took less than a minute for the topic of practice to come up.

“Oh, it was amped up,” Uche said. “We were ready to go, ready to hit somebody. Had some 9-on-7. Got real physical today.”

As for who brought that energy?

“Everybody,” Uche said. “Let some steam off, hit each other, man. Got real physical. Had a great practice today. … All our practices are physical, but today we made it an emphasis to come out and make this one of our really good practices.”

Of course, Uche knows that Saturday’s scar won’t be erased by practices. That part will have to wait until gamedays — specifically those against Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

But the road to getting there starts now, with an improved focus on the practice fields. So while talk throughout the bye week surrounded fixing the “little things,” it now centers on the macro — physicality, toughness, hustle.

According to fifth-year senior defensive end Michael Danna, that process of re-focusing started with the Wolverines’ senior leaders. Their weekly players’ meeting hasn’t happened yet, but the seniors have made their voices heard in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s loss.

“We were all devastated,” Danna said. “We didn’t want to go out like that. We didn’t want to put that on national TV. We didn’t want that on our record or on our label or whatever. Cause that’s not our identity and that’s not how we play football. So you know, it’s all about bouncing back when adversity hits.”

Among Michigan’s senior class, Danna is in a unique position, having transferred from Central Michigan as a graduate transfer last offseason. It gives him less experience in the Wolverines’ defense, sure, but it also gives him a wider perspective through which to view the unit’s identity.

“We’re a physical, hard-nosed defense,” Danna said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I spent all camp being here, seeing it. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re a hard-nosed defense.”

Saturday afternoon, Michigan didn’t show it. Any Wolverine you ask will tell you as much. Now, the goal is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Some things just didn’t go our way just because it didn’t, but some things were fundamental errors,” Danna said of the Wisconsin game. “But like I said, that’s what practice is for. We’re gonna correct some things and we’re gonna perfect some things.”