With just three games remaining on its schedule, the Michigan football team isn’t sugarcoating the challenge that lies ahead.
“The last stretch is the most important three games,” junior offensive lineman Trevor Keegan said. “We gotta lock in. Hone into our assignments, hone into film. It’s on us.”
By winning eight of their first nine games, the Wolverines have put themselves in an admirable position entering the home stretch; a Big Ten title remains within their reach. The path to Indianapolis — which some Michigan players have referred to as a new three-game season — begins with a daunting trip to State College to face No. 23 Penn State.
It’s a game that the Wolverines may not be at full strength for.
A bevy of Michigan players departed Saturday’s contest against Indiana prematurely, turning the pop-up medical tent into a popular destination.
Sophomore running back Blake Corum hobbled off in the first quarter and was later seen on the sidelines in street clothes and donning a boot. Senior cornerback Gemon Green was helped off the field before halftime. A pair of wide receivers — sophomore A.J. Henning and freshman Andrel Anthony — left in the third quarter.
Most notably, Cade McNamara spent an offensive series in the tent, with Harbaugh admitting after the game that the junior quarterback is “working through something,” which Harbaugh also said after the Oct. 30 loss to Michigan State.
And that list doesn’t even include junior tight end Erick All, who missed the game after limping off in the waning seconds of the Michigan State loss.
“I don’t have any updates on injuries at this time,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. “It’s a matter of the team working every day, grinding every day. You’re refreshing, trying to have good days. Good meetings, good practice and then go play the game.”
On the surface, the rash of injuries would seemingly pose challenges for Michigan’s offense. All is the Wolverines’ leading receiver. Corum is an integral component to the explosive 1-2 running back punch. Anthony burst onto the scene against the Spartans with an electrifying 155-yard, two-touchdown performance.
Missing any of them would presumably limit Michigan’s offensive capabilities. And yet, they’re attacking practice as if all were healthy.
“It doesn’t change,” Harbaugh said of the game plan. “It’s more of a next man-up mindset than changing a game plan.”
For the most part, that’s because Harbaugh has confidence in the reserves to help fill any voids. He specifically mentioned that the running back room is equipped to handle the potential loss of Corum and freshman Donovan Edwards, who has been out since the bye week.
“There’s really good, quality players there,” Harbaugh said. “Those guys that have been preparing, they’ve been working all season and now comes their opportunity.”
At this point, nine games into the season, hardly anyone is fully healthy. Still, the Wolverines are embracing the injury bug as part of the grind.
“It tests your manhood,” Keegan said. “If you’re a little banged up, we want to play, we want to play for each other. Coach (Harbaugh) talks about it all the time when his elbow popped out (when he was playing).”
Keegan is no stranger to playing through injury himself. He’s battled a shoulder injury throughout the year, an issue he maintains has plagued him since high school. Now, he says the ailment is on the upswing.
“It’s just getting a lot of treatment to try and get your body right,” Keegan said. “You’re gonna be up at six o’clock, 6:30 every day in the facility not leaving until nine. The biggest thing is trying to play with confidence because you know if you’re lagging with something, you’re not gonna be able to play with full confidence.”
Added Harbaugh: “It’s a quality. It’s something that a lot of football players take a lot of pride in. Pain threshold — some have it, some have a very high pain threshold. It’s a very good quality. I know a real football player prides himself on it.”
Against the Nittany Lions on Saturday, it appears as if the Wolverines will have to test how high that threshold can go.