For the first time in recent memory, the Michigan punt return unit made a major contribution, returning five punts for 93 yards against Washington.
Junior Julius Curry returned four of those punts for 78 yards, and was a shoe-string tackle away from turning one 32-yard return into a touchdown.
“We”ve done a tremendous job with that team,” football coach Lloyd Carr said. “(Coaches) Bobby Morrison and Brady Hoke have done a tremendous job in terms of creating enthusiasm for that type of team. It started somewhere last season before Ronald Bellamy got banged up at the end of the year. This year, that performance on Saturday was as good a punt return team since I”ve been in coaching. Julius did a great job.”
Michigan has had great return performances before Charles Woodson, Amani Toomer and Derrick Alexander all come to mind but many of their best returns were individual plays, where they forced opposing players to miss tackles.
While Curry”s returns where impressive, they were set up by the entire punt return unit applying pressure on the punter and opening holes for Curry.
“There are a lot of young guys up there playing hard,” Carr said. “The guys who jam our wide receivers Marlin Jackson, Markus Curry, Zia Combs did an excellent job. Brandon Williams came off the corner, Marquise Walker made a great strong move to block the punt. We”ve got some guys who take great pride in what they do.”
Curry also credited his performance to his teammates.
“The thing about a good punt returner is getting a good rush,” he said. “Some teams are man on one side and zone on another. If we get a team that is zone on both sides we”ll be good. Markus Curry, Marlin Jackson and Zia Combs did a good job on their gunners.”
When asked why the Wolverines suddenly turned it up a notch both on defense and special teams Curry pointed out that the Wolverines play better in bigger games than they do when playing unranked teams.
“Our intensity went to another level knowing we were going against Washington, one of the top schools in the country,” Curry said. “We knew we had to bring it 10-times harder.”
Curry made three tackles as well.
The Washington game was also the first time that the Wolverines have ever played a game on field turf an artificial grass which is softer than astroturf though Oosterbaan field, the indoor practice facility, uses the surface.
“I like the turf, actually” Curry said. “Our field indoors is good. I liked theirs too, it was softer, it felt more like real grass. It”s always good to have it a bit softer, for harder grasses when you stomp on it, you might get your cleats caught.”