Michigan coach Lloyd Carr alluded to former New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp in Saturday’s postgame press conference.
“You remember Wally Pipp, don’t you?” Carr asked. “Some of you don’t remember. I see those blank looks.”
Pipp, a first baseman for the New York Yankees in the early 1920s, had a good career, leading the American League in home runs twice.
But he’s most famous for being replaced by Lou Gehrig for a game in June of 1925. Gehrig went on to play 2,130 consecutive games, which stood as the all-time record for 56 years. Pipp was off the team the following year.
With six Michigan starters missing Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan, the Wolverine coaches gave some backups a chance to turn some of those starters into Pipps with winged helmets.
While it’s unlikely that any players who missed the game will be permanently replaced, some backups did impress in their increased playing time.
Wide receiver Adrian Arrington notched his first 100-yard game in the absence of No. 1 receiver Mario Manningham, who was benched for disciplinary reasons.
“It’s weird because Adrian and Mario are kind of both No. 1 (receivers),” quarterback Chad Henne said. “We’re going to go to them as much as we can because they have great talent and they do a lot of great things with the ball when they catch the ball. Adrian’s performance these last six weeks has been great.”
Freshman Junior Hemingway took advantage of the opportunity as well, catching the first pass of his career, a 23-yard gain on third down. He added two more catches later and also earned praise from Carr after the game.
Henne was usually connected with those receivers when he had time, but the quarterback was frequently under duress against the Eagles. With right guards Alex Mitchell, Jeremy Ciulla and Tim McAvoy all sitting out with injuries, right tackle Steve Schilling had to shift over to right guard, and Mark Ortmann replaced him at tackle. Schilling said after the game that even though tackle and guard are similar in terms of assignments, the pass-blocking technique for the new position was different.
“Early in the game, Chad got sacked in the red zone, and that’s because we missed a protection,” Carr said. “That’s because Steve’s playing a new position. In the second quarter, he got hit just as he let the ball loose, because, again, we got something new on the right side of the line. If you look at the first half, offensively, we had a lot of opportunities we couldn’t take advantage of, just because in my judgment, we’re playing new guys.”
The defense also blamed its struggles on the unavailability of several key starters. Linebackers Chris Graham and John Thompson missed the game with minor injuries (both say they will return next week). And defensive tackle Will Johnson sat out, too.
“That’ll hurt you a little bit,” linebackers coach Steve Szabo said. “But it was a game where we hoped that our young players had a great opportunity to play and they answered the bell.”
Freshman Obi Ezeh replaced Thompson at middle linebacker and junior Brandon Logan played for Graham. Ezeh led the team with nine tackles and also forced a fumble, and Logan finished second with seven takedowns. Logan also recovered a fumble.
“For the first time going a whole game like that for both of them, that’s big, and I just tried to help them out in as many ways as possible,” Graham said. “They don’t get the opportunity every day, so they’re going to make mistakes. But the same message we give all those guys who fit in: ‘Just play hard.’ When you play hard, good plays happen.”
With Johnson out, freshman Marques Slocum made his career debut. The talented but troubled defensive tackle had to sit out a year because he wasn’t academically eligible. And when it appeared he was finally ready to contribute, he had to deal with a Minor in Possession violation, a controversial Facebook.com interview discovered by Internet bloggers and disciplinary consequences for both.
Slocum was told in practice this week he would likely gain some reps, and he was sent on the field for his first play midway through the first quarter. He separated from the offensive lineman’s block nicely but couldn’t tackle the runner.
“I think I did all right,” Slocum said. “It was a little struggle in the beginning with the calls, being my first game in two years. As it went on, I got better with the playcalls and just the game momentum and getting back. It was a real fun experience.”
But more than just fun is counted on, no matter who the player is.
“Here at the school, the expectation is really for the position,” Englemon said. “Whoever steps in there, they’re expected to do well. That’s how we come into the game.”
Just like Gehrig did 83 years ago.