COLLEGE PARK — After relatively healthy spring and fall camps, the Michigan football team is beginning to fall victim to the injury bug.
Junior running back De’Veon Smith missed Saturday’s game against Maryland with an ankle injury he sustained last week against Brigham Young. He did not travel with the team. Though the Wolverines piled up 198 rushing yards, they struggled to get going early and fumbled three times, two by junior Ty Isaac.
Smith said after the BYU game that he would play this week, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday that Smith thought he was getting closer. But the team opted to hold him out of the Maryland game to avoid aggravating the injury.
“Really felt with the type of injury that he had, that it could just be a one-week injury and not turn it into a four- or five-week injury by trying to come back and play today,” Harbaugh said. “That was my decision. He was chomping at the bit to play and be here.”
Junior cornerback Channing Stribling, another starter, also missed the game with a minor injury. Harbaugh did not elaborate but said that his was, like Smith’s, mild.
The same may not be true for senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia, who could be out long-term, according to Harbaugh.
“Looks like it could be an Achilles,” Harbaugh said. “That is a hard, tough rehab. I’ve got some experience with that one — not personally, but I’ve seen it. It’s a tough injury. It’s surgery, and then you can’t do anything. Can’t try to come back from that too early.”
After surgery, Ojemudia could make a full recovery, but if it is in fact a season-ending torn Achilles, it would end his Michigan career. Senior Royce Jenkins-Stone is Ojemudia’s backup at the hybrid buck position.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Between Jim Harbaugh and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh (Jim’s son), Michigan already has two family members coaching the team. But on Saturday, the Wolverines had a third Harbaugh as a special guest: Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim’s brother.
“We got the whole package,” said junior tight end Jake Butt with a smile.
John Harbaugh’s Ravens won in Pittsburgh against the Steelers on Thursday night, so they do not play Sunday. With Michigan playing just a short drive away in College Park, John Harbaugh spent the afternoon on the sideline and then spoke to the team after the game.
“He just wanted to congratulate us, and he just said it seems like we’re playing Michigan football again,” Butt said. “He said he was just honored to be on the sideline with us, and to keep the ball rolling.”
Added redshirt sophomore Maurice Hurst Jr.: “It’s great. We always hear Coach Harbaugh’s brother speak to us. He’s just a great person to be around. He loves to win, and he’s someone you can look up to who’s coaching in the NFL currently, and just talk to and get advice from.”
The moment was also special for Jim Harbaugh and a number of his assistants, many of whom Harbaugh picked from the NFL.
“It’s an honor to be on the sideline with him,” Harbaugh said. “I think everybody felt that way. He’s longtime friends with a lot of our coaches. He gave really good input during the game. Just somebody that I love obviously and I’m very proud of, and it was great to have him here at the ballgame. And I think it’s cool for our players.”
RUNNING WILD: After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament for the second time last year, redshirt junior running back Drake Johnson has earned more or the same number of carries in every game this season. He didn’t play at Utah in the season opener, but then worked his way back with a three-yard carry against Oregon State and five in each of the next two games.
Saturday, with Smith out and junior Ty Isaac having issues with fumbles, Johnson ran the ball 13 times for 68 yards, including a one-yard touchdown. He added a 31-yard receiving score, making it his third career multi-touchdown game.
“The surgeon and the trainers are doing a great job with me, so every day is going to be a little more comfortable than the day before,” Johnson said. “I think going toward the rest of the season, it’s going to get a lot better.”