If the pressure of a rivalry game is supposed to seep through, the Michigan football team sure isn’t showing it.
Five players faced questions about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry during the team’s weekly press conference yesterday, and all of them appeared more relaxed than usual.
One-by-one, nearly every player had witty things to say both about Mark Dantonio’s Michigan-focused clock and about the prize the two intrastate rivals are competing for – the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
When Dantonio was hired as Michigan State’s new coach following John L. Smith’s firing, one of the first things he did was put up a clock that counted down the days to the Michigan-Michigan State game for his players. Many compared this to what Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did when he took over the Buckeye program.
Don’t expect Michigan players to line up for motivational tips from Dantonio just yet.
“You can say it’s weird, that’s cool. We know when the game is ,though, so that’s fine,” junior cornerback Morgan Trent said.
Most of Trent’s teammates had similar things to say about the clock, saying they don’t need any extra motivation for this weekend’s game.
Even Michigan coach Lloyd Carr joined in on the fun. When asked about Dantonio’s clock, he had a reply similar to that of his players’.
“I think the only clock I’m concerned with is mine,” Carr said.
The laughs weren’t just at the expense of Spartans, though.
Senior defensive tackle Will Johnson was pinpointed by all of his teammates as the person who most resembles the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
“It just looks like Will,” senior wide receiver Adrian Arrington said of the trophy. “We’ve been saying that since we were freshmen. He doesn’t think so, though.”
Carr came to his player’s defense, though.
“Will doesn’t have a beard and Paul Bunyan does,” Carr said. “Besides, Will’s a lot tougher than Paul Bunyan. Smarter, too.”
One question later, the coach jokingly backtracked from his statement.
“I shouldn’t be saying all that. I didn’t know Paul Bunyan,” Carr said.
Strike a pose?: When a reporter asked All-American offensive lineman Jake Long about the possibility of him winning the Heisman Trophy, Long brushed off the mere thought of it being anything close to reality.
“It’s a skill-position trophy,” Long said of the Heisman. “Linemen don’t get recognition for a reason, I think. I don’t think I’ve done quite enough to be put in that category.”
His teammate, Mike Hart, was a Heisman frontrunner before going down with an ankle injury two weeks ago.
Carr has a policy of usually not commenting on individual players and potential accolades for them. But even though he didn’t openly endorse a Long for Heisman campaign, the coach did give his two-year captain quite an endorsement.
“I’ll say this about Jake Long, any discussion of the best football players in this country, if it doesn’t include Jake Long, then I think there’s something missing from that discussion,” Carr said.
Depth chart update: Both Mike Hart and Chad Henne were listed as starters on this week’s depth chart. That’s good news for Michigan fans, but it also shouldn’t be taken as the gospel truth – both were listed as the starters last week, too.
Carr gave his typical guarded response when asked about the two stars’ status for the weekend.
“I have said from day one that the nature is that daily they’re getting better,” Carr said. “So everything I say is interpreted one way or the other, so I feel like it’s better I don’t say anything. I think they’re both much better than they were, and yet until we get on that practice field this week, I can’t tell you.”
Hart told The Michigan Daily after Saturday’s game he would play this weekend in East Lansing.