Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that his youngsters would have to start drinking more whole milk. He wasn’t talking about his growing children, though.
Instead, it was his response to senior tight end Jake Butt and junior center Mason Cole, who were battling sicknesses last week. Both were still able to see the field and had a hand in defeating Michigan State, 32-23, and Cole even received high praise from Harbaugh.
“Mason Cole, there’s a guy,” Harbaugh said. “And I’ve always said this, too, but (I) experienced playing some of my best games with a temperature. There’s something that makes you focus more during a game. Mason was our offensive lineman of the week. I thought he had the best performance of our offensive line.”
Harbaugh also suggested doing more push-ups and using hand sanitizer to combat illness, though Cole’s sickness didn’t seem to have much of a negative impact on his game.
While he doesn’t necessarily agree with Harbaugh’s belief that being sick can set up for a great game, he understands where his coach is coming from.
“I can see what he’s saying,” Cole said. “When you’re not feeling right, you just focus on you. You kind of put everything else aside and you have to focus on you 100 percent to do your job.”
Nothing was going to detract from playing his in-state rival, and at no point did he anticipate being absent from the Michigan State game.
“(My illness) really wasn’t that big of a deal,” Cole said. “There’s not much that can take you away from playing in that kind of an environment. You’ve gotta go there and perform and in that rivalry game and you just gotta do what you gotta do. It wasn’t bad — it wasn’t as bad as people made it sound.”
He attributed his illness to the changing seasons and said that people everywhere are working through the same thing. Luckily for the Wolverines, Cole is back to feeling healthy. He may have been physically unavailable for practice last week, but he said that he was there mentally.
As a three-year starter, Cole’s absence would be felt immediately. After two years at left tackle, Cole switched to the center position, which is a role he feels completely comfortable in. Despite spending more time at tackle, he now likes playing at center more.
Cole held Michigan State’s star defensive lineman Malik McDowell — who leads the Spartans with seven tackles for loss on the season — to just two tackles last weekend. Cole thought he played fairly well, despite missing some practice. The rest of his team wasn’t quite there though.
Michigan’s offense was prolific in the first half, scoring 27 points, but production slowed in the second. One of the offense's most disappointing performances came during the fourth quarter, when Michigan went 2-for-7 on third down and had just 16 rushing yards.
“I think you’d like to see us go out there and see us get a few first downs and close out the game, but we didn’t,” Cole said. “But our defense came up big, our special teams came up big … they saved us, but it’s a team effort, and they covered us that time.”
Regardless of the changes that are occurring on the offensive line — with sophomore Grant Newsome out for the season and freshman Ben Bredeson earning a starting role — Cole has emerged as Michigan's rock up front.
“I mean, he’s moving people and getting his job done down after down, playing low and fast and physical,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really developing as a center, there’s no question about it. … (I) feel great that this is his position. He is an ideal, prototypical center and doing a great job. Just gotta boost his immune system.”