After Michigan players fumbled two kick returns against Notre Dame, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said the kick returning position was wide open. Five days before the Wolverines played Wisconsin, he named six players as possible candidates.
But the shuffling didn’t seem to work — Rodriguez called the return game “atrocious” yesterday. The Wolverines had another fumble on a kickoff return against Wisconsin, this one by fifth-year senior cornerback Morgan Trent in the second quarter. The fumble gave the Badgers the ball at the Michigan 27-yard line and set up a field goal that put Wisconsin ahead 16-0. The drive before Trent’s fumble, junior wide receiver Greg Mathews also fumbled a punt return that the Badgers recovered.
The kick returners listed on the depth chart at this morning’s press conference were freshman Martavious Odoms, redshirt freshman Avery Horn, sophomore James Rogers and senior Brandon Harrison. Freshmen Boubacar Cissoko and Michael Shaw, who both bobbled kickoffs against Notre Dame, did not play against Wisconsin.
This is the first week Horn and Rogers have been listed on the depth chart for kick returns. Harrison is the team’s leading returner this season, with six returns for 111 yards. Against Wisconsin, Odoms returned three kickoffs for 61 yards.
“Until we get guys who can hold onto the ball and hit it up in there, it’s a revolving door,” Rodriguez said. “You shouldn’t have to do that four games in. But I mean, it’s pretty obvious to us. We got to get somebody who can catch it first.”
Overall, the Wolverines lost three fumbles in the first half against Wisconsin, just one game after Michigan lost four fumbles against Notre Dame. Rodriguez said some of the fumbles can be attributed to a “lack of discipline” when players carried the ball in the wrong hand or didn’t secure the ball tightly before being hit by the defense.
“I don’t want them walking on eggshells, or worrying about playing so tight … that they can’t run fast,” Rodriguez said. “If they continue to have turnovers and drop the ball, we can’t put the ball in their hands.”
Offensive line shift: After redshirt junior Mark Ortmann came back from his elbow injury Saturday and with redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein now healthy, the coaching staff will try to move players around this week to find the Wolverines’ top five offensive linemen.
Rodriguez said Dorrestein will play at left tackle and Ortmann may move to left guard this week.
When asked if the offensive line noticeably improved with Ortmann’s return Saturday, redshirt sophomore Stephen Schilling talked about the line’s depth, especially Dorrestein’s strong play against Notre Dame.
“I don’t really know if (Ortmann returning) had any difference,” he said. “Everybody practices at different positions, just because you want to be prepared for more than one position on the offensive line.”
Evaluating the offensive line’s performance against Wisconsin, Rodriguez said redshirt sophomore John Ferrara played “okay” in his first start at left guard and said redshirt junior right guard David Moosman had his strongest game to date.
Koger in, Butler out: Freshman Kevin Koger has officially gone from almost redshirting to becoming the team’s second tight end. Rodriguez said he originally expected Koger to sit out this season, but Koger came in to score Michigan’s first touchdown on a 26-yard reception in the third quarter. He is now listed behind fifth-year senior Mike Massey, nudging out junior Carson Butler for the second spot. Rodriguez confirmed Massey and Koger will be on the two-deep roster for Illinois.
Rodriguez said the choice to move Koger ahead Butler was a “coaches’ decision. (It’s) what we think is best for us right now.”
Fresh, but not fast: Repeating his comments after Saturday’s game, Rodriguez said Michigan’s freshness in the second half against Wisconsin could be attributed to the Wolverines’ strong strength and conditioning program. He said he thought his team looked strong enough to play well in overtime against the Badgers, if needed.
But though the players didn’t look tired, Rodriguez stressed that the Wolverines still aren’t quick enough to run the system as well as he would like.
“We’re not playing as fast as we need to be,” he said. “Not even close. That’s the most frustrating thing.”
Injury update: Rodriguez said running back Michael Shaw saw limited game action against Wisconsin because of injury, but the freshman is “close to 100 percent” and will definitely play more against Illinois.
Rodriguez also said junior running back Carlos Brown, who was limping on the field after the win, suffered a foot sprain and will be evaluated during practice this week.
Notes: Rodriguez said freshman quarterback Justin Feagin, who is on the scout team, will imitate Illinois quarterback Juice Williams in practice this week as the Wolverines simulate the Fighting Illini offense. … Junior defensive end Brandon Graham was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after he posted three sacks and two forced fumbles in Saturday’s win. He leads the defensive line in tackles this season with 19.