Michigan players vow to 'keep swinging' after getting punched in the mouth
Ann Arbor — The boxing analogies were the go-to Tuesday night after practice among defensive players, which means that’s probably something their coaches stressed at what was, from their accounts, a hard-hitting practice.
Michigan faces lowly Rutgers on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, quite possibly the perfect rebound game after the Wolverines looked listless and void of answers in a 35-14 shellacking at Wisconsin last Saturday. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said repeatedly the Wolverines were outplayed, out-prepared and out-coached, former Michigan players have weighed in and expressed embarrassment and disappointment and now the players want to move on and show the college football world they are not what they put on display in the Big Ten opener.
"You’ve got to respond to adversity, man,” Josh Uche said after Tuesday's practice. “I mean, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, like Mike Tyson said. We got punched in the mouth, what are we going to do about it? Am I going to lay down? Hell no. I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna keep fightin', keep swingin'. That’s what this team is gonna do.”
The defense took plenty of punches from a brawny Wisconsin offense that dominated and dictated the game and allowed running back Jonathan Taylor to rush for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The junior, who left the game to get treatment for leg cramps returned to the game and became the first Wisconsin back to rush for at least 200 yards against the Wolverines.
Mike Danna, a graduate-transfer defensive end from Central Michigan, said he understands why Michigan fans are upset and angry after the loss and having witnessed how outplayed the Wolverines were in every phase.
“I get that, but we have high expectations,” Danna said. “We don’t ever want to go out like that or play below our standards so that’s kinda why everybody was down and bitter. It’s adversity. We got hit in the mouth. It’s how we bounce back.”
Hit in the mouth. Bounce back. They had a similar refrain after the beatdown at Ohio State at the end of last season, but that was last year, and this is a new season with new issues.
Uche used the word “execute” numerous times during his interview session.
“Gotta execute,” he said. “As player we’ve got to execute our jobs, execute our assignments at high levels and come together.”
That starts in practice, and Uche and Danna said the Wolverines had an extra oomph in their hitting.
“It was amped up,” Uche said. “We were ready to go, ready to hit somebody. Had nine on seven, got real physical today. Let some steam off, hit each other. Had a great practice. All our practices are physical, but today we made it an emphasis to come out and make this one of our really good practices.”
The payoff for the added emotion in practice is playing well and getting a win. It was noted that Uche seems eager to face the Scarlet Knights on Saturday.
“Hell yeah,” he said. “Winning cures everything. Coach Harbaugh just said, ‘Winning’s killed more illnesses than penicillin.’ ”
Danna said the players can’t wait to get back on the field to try to erase the emotion of last week.
“We were all devastated,” Danna said. “We didn’t want to go out like that. We didn’t want to put that on national TV. We didn’t want that on our record or on our label, because that’s not our identity and that’s not how we play football. It’s all about bouncing back. It was that adversity. It hit us in the mouth, so it’s how we respond now. You’re either going to lay down or you’re going to get up and respond.”
The Wolverines remain confident they can rebound, not just against Rutgers but as they move through their demanding schedule.
“I’ve been with these guys since the whole of summer,” Danna said. “I’ve seen everybody put in work this summer. We went through a whole fall camp together. Every guy got after it. Every guy was putting in work. There’s not a doubt in my mind we can get after it. We’ve got high expectations, no matter what the outcome was last Saturday. We have high expectations and we have a lot of ball to play.”
The players after the game said both offensively and defensively they need to find their identities. Danna said the defense knows what it is.
“I think we’re a physical, hard-nosed defense,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. We just got to put it on tape now. Everybody’s questioning us, we just got to prove it, but we know who we are.”