STATE COLLEGE — As if the Michigan football team’s back wasn’t pressed up against the wall firmly enough, junior defensive end Brandon Graham pushed it a little further.
After the Wolverines’ 46-17 loss at No. 3 Penn State, Graham guaranteed a win against rival Michigan State on Saturday.
“We gonna come out, we gonna work hard this week,” Graham said. “Because I don’t think we are going to ever lose to State. I’m feeling like we’re not gonna to lose to State because that’s just — we’re not going to lose to State. We are going to work hard. We’re gonna win.”
After getting on the bus, Graham told redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh about his comment.
“I guess I have kind of been preparing for that for the past couple of days,” Ezeh said Monday.
Graham’s prognostication after a tough loss is in line with a couple of Michigan’s other famous guarantees.
Running back Mike Hart guaranteed a win over Notre Dame last year after the Wolverines lost to Oregon and fell to 0-2. Michigan responded with a 38-0 win over the Fighting Irish.
In 1986, quarterback Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a victory over Ohio State after a loss to unranked Minnesota at home. The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes, 26-24, the next week.
For Michigan to follow through on another guarantee, Graham and his fellow defensive linemen will need to step up. For the second straight week, the defensive line was largely taken out of the game, recording just 12 tackles and none for a loss.
“We’re going to back Brandon Graham up on what he said,” senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor said. “Everybody on this team is going to practice to make that possible.”
Only a year after Hart said the Spartans were Michigan’s “little brother,” Graham’s remarks will add more fuel to the rivalry.
“I’m pretty sure (Graham) got a couple phone calls from some guys over at Michigan State afterwards, and a couple texts,” Taylor said. “But, hey, that’s what it is. And I’d be happy to go out there and help him back that up.”
Quarterback merry-go-round: Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet, who was pulled twice against the Nittany Lions because of a bruised elbow, was healthier than he was a week ago.
“He’ll play,” Rodriguez said.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan replaced Threet both times and went 3-of-9 for five yards. Although Rodriguez said earlier this season freshman Justin Feagin would redshirt, Feagin almost made his college debut on Saturday.
“We were going to put him in there,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “We had practiced him, but we thought Steve was doing okay, and we thought Nick would be okay, too. Justin, I don’t know if that’s the environment to put him into, and we’re limited with his package because he hadn’t practiced much at quarterback.”
Rodriguez said the coaches are near the point when they will decide whether Feagin redshirts this season. He has practiced at quarterback and slot receiver in recent weeks.
The decision may depend on Threet’s health. The health of a quarterback is particularly important in a spread offense, which utilizes a running quarterback.
“He ran the ball well tonight, to be honest with you,” said Smith, who pointed out Threet was hurt on a passing play. “We gave him a couple of things and tried it, and ran it, and felt comfortable. He likes doing that. So we are just going to keep on working.”
Position changes: Redshirt junior Carson Butler, who had played tight end, is now a defensive end and rush linebacker.
Butler wore No. 85 prior to this year and switched to No. 5 this season, but wore No. 85 at Penn State. Fifth-year senior strong safety Charles Stewart wears No. 5, and two players with the same number can’t be on the field at the same time.
“He ain’t playing tight end, because Kevin Koger’s the starting tight end and Mike Massey’s the backup,” said Rodriguez, who didn’t elaborate on which position Butler is playing now.
Rodriguez also said sophomore Vince Helmuth asked to move from fullback to defensive tackle. Rodriguez didn’t say whether the move would be permanent, but he said it helps Michigan’s scout team.
Line ’em up: After trying four combinations, Michigan started the same group of offensive linemen against the Nittany Lions as it did the first two games of the season.
Redshirt junior Mark Ortmann started his third game at left tackle, his fifth overall start. Redshirt junior Tim McAvoy returned to the lineup at left guard after starting there the first two games.
Rodriguez said much of the shuffling was due to injuries.
The other three linemen — redshirt freshman center David Molk, redshirt junior right guard David Moosman and redshirt sophomore right tackle Stephen Schilling — have started every game.
Saturday’s line played well, especially early on. The unit was instrumental in clearing the way for junior running back Brandon Minor, who ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“I gotta give a lot of credit to the offensive line, because they were really getting on their blocks,” Minor said.