When asked if senior cornerback Channing Stribling has displayed more confidence lately following his career game against Wisconsin, secondary coach Mike Zordich couldn’t help but imitate a strut.
“He’s got the little ‘Strib’ thing going,” Zordich said. “He’s got a little bounce in his step, for sure.”
In the Michigan football team’s 14-7 victory over then-No. 8 Wisconsin, Stribling recorded two pass breakups and two interceptions at crucial points in the game. Though Stribling had one interception and three pass breakups going into the weekend, the boost from a breakout game was noticeable.
And the timing for his emergence could not be better. After fifth-year senior cornerback Jeremy Clark tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Penn State two weeks ago, it is vital for Michigan that both Stribling and senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis remain healthy competitors.
“I think the more he’s playing this way, the more confidence he’s getting and starting to see the light,” Zordich said. “Not that he hasn’t, but confidence can go a long way in this game.”
He wasn’t the only member of the secondary to make heads turn, though. Lewis saved the day on Wisconsin’s last drive of the game with a leaping one-handed interception that stopped a potential touchdown pass.
Though Lewis missed the first three games of the season due to injury, it didn’t look like he missed a beat, especially when he made that pick.
“It’s insane,” Zordich said. “I haven’t seen anything like that from a defensive player. I’ve seen a few guys offensively do it, but nothing like that defensively. It was a hell of a play.”
While both players are standouts that contributed significantly in Michigan’s win, more fans seem to notice the latter. But Zordich said it’s not that way within the team.
“I don’t think (Stribling is overlooked), I really don’t,” Zordich said. “He may be out here with most folks, but not in (Schembechler Hall). If you watch a game, if you’re at practice and you see Strib make a play, Jourdan make a play, it’s the same kind of enthusiasm. I don’t think so.
“In here, I think everyone understands that Strib’s pretty damn good.”
Right behind Stribling and Lewis are three players who are waiting for the chance to show their worth. With Clark out for the rest of the season, Zordich has three contenders who are competing for the extra playing time.
“Brandon Watson has had a hell of a camp, really since spring,” Zordich said. “He played well in the spring, played well all camp and he’s going in and filling in just fine. Lavert Hill, extremely talented young man. Really talented. He’s just got to grow and mature, he’s young. David Long, same way.”
While Hill and Long are just freshmen, redshirt sophomore Watson may have the best chance at maintaining a consistent backup role. Watson has seen the field in all five games this season, and against Wisconsin, he recorded two tackles.
If Saturday’s game at Rutgers proves to be the blowout it’s projected to be, then fans will likely get a better look at both Hill and Long as well. Zordich wants them to fill in and play when needed, because down the road, it may be vital that the duo is experienced.
“I think they realize in practice and their reps increasing in practice time that it’s real now and that the chances of them playing are a lot,” Zordich said. “(The chances) are out there. It’s there for sure.”