SOUTH BEND — Most of the Michigan football players somberly walked through the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium after Saturday’s loss to the Fighting Irish, but a few talked with each other as they turned toward the locker room.
“Anybody got something to bitch about?” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez barked at them as he jogged past.
About an hour later, Rodriguez sat in the first row of the Wolverines’ bus with his hand under his chin, leaning forward and frowning. He looked about as unhappy as could be after his team’s loss in a highly charged rivalry game.
But even though the Wolverines turned the ball over six times in the 35-17 loss to the Fighting Irish, Rodriguez may have found his quarterback and running back.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet played with poise, leading the Wolverines to 330 total yards when he was behind center. Michigan averaged just 242 total yards in its first two games.
And freshman running back Sam McGuffie had 60 percent of the Wolverines’ rushing attempts Saturday. He led the team in attempts in its first two games, but never had a majority of the attempts.
McGuffie ran successfully inside and out, but usually tried to bounce to the edge. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound back showed great vision and kept his feet moving on his runs, allowing him to break tackles and find the open field. He finished with 178 all-purpose yards — 138 yards on 25 runs and 47 yards on four catches.
By halftime, Threet had 128 passing yards. That’s more than any Michigan quarterback had in an entire game this year (the previous high was redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan’s 98 against Utah).
Rodriguez said he planned to rotate the quarterbacks as he did last week, when the former walk-on subbed for Threet late in the first half. But Sheridan didn’t play Saturday until Threet was cramping up in the fourth quarter.
“He’s been playing better than Nick,” Rodriguez said. “I thought he played pretty well today, at times.”
Threet finished 16-of-23 for 175 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He routinely hit the downfield passes he struggled with last week.
Sheridan’s performance also helped squelch the talk of using two quarterbacks. He was 3-for-5 for 54 yards, but both drives he led ended with interceptions on poorly thrown passes.
Rodriguez has maintained that McGuffie and four other backs — freshman Michael Shaw, juniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown and redshirt junior Kevin Grady — were all on equal footing when healthy. But the other four had just 10 carries for a combined 10 yards.
Threet’s lone touchdown pass came on a 40-yard screen pass to McGuffie. McGuffie leaked from the backfield to the right and took the screen. About 15 yards later, he cut toward midfield when he ran into redshirt sophomore left tackle Perry Dorrestein. McGuffie spun off the only contact he faced on the play for his only score.
“Sam did well today,” Threet said. “He ran the ball well. He ran the ball hard. You’re always going to get good effort out of him.”
If Rodriguez sees similar effort from his running back and quarterback in coming weeks, his rides home will probably be more cheerful.