Re-energized Wolverines regain confidence with 'something to prove'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — So maybe they took a tip from Motivation 101, thumbed through a few pages of the textbook, and went with the all-to-familiar “chip on the shoulder” technique.

That has worked time and again and is good for any sport at any level.

It was really the only approach Michigan could take in practice this past week after the demoralizing loss in the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin. If the Wolverines were paying attention to the outside noise, which is pretty hard to avoid these days, the players heard criticism from former players, fans and national and local media.

Michigan running back Christian Turner runs the ball in the second quarter.

There was plenty of that to go around and no one was insulated, including Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who shortly after the loss shouldered the blame by saying the team was outplayed, outcoached and out-prepared.

But there was a twist for the Wolverines on this chip notion.

“We felt like the chip was from us,” said running back Christian Turner, who had 11 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown. “We expected more out of ourselves regardless of what anybody else thought. We knew what we need to do. We know what we can do. It was just executing and getting the job done.”

It didn’t hurt that Michigan was playing perennial Big Ten East punching bag, Rutgers. The Wolverines scored their first shutout, 52-0, on Saturday since trouncing Rutgers, 78-0, three years ago.

Still, there is something to be said for beating up an opponent you should beat up, and that was a step Michigan needed to take to re-establish confidence following the loss at Wisconsin.

“After last week, we had a sour taste in our mouth,” quarterback Shea Patterson said. “We trust in ourselves, we trust in everybody in that building. No matter what we go through, we’re going to approach each game the same way. I feel like today we came out with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

Harbaugh was defeated last weekend and not just because the Wolverines were, well, defeated. He knew his team, even with an extra week to prepare, was beaten badly in every phase. This was a gut-check week for the team — players and coaches — after taking such a collective gut-punch.

“When you’re down and your back is against the wall, you’ve got to come out and fight,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to sustain, you’ve got to work harder. You’ve got to work smarter. You’ve got to be tougher mentally and physically. That’s the only way to do it, and they really set themselves to doing that. That’s one week and now you go about doing it another week.”

The players used terms like “locked in” and “focused on details” and “keeping our energy.” That was a big one for them, maintaining a high level of energy throughout the game.

“It was just about keeping our energy,” Turner said. “We know what we can do.”

To another question, Turner answered: “I feel we had more energy this week. I feel like we just had something to prove.”

The two biggest things this week, Turner said, were “energy and execution.”

You're getting the picture. Even he laughed when he fielded yet another question and responded with a familiar answer.

“I’ll keep saying energy,” he said, smiling. “Y’all are going to get bored with me for saying that.”

There’s no doubt the players heard some of the chatter after the Wisconsin loss. There’s no way they could have avoided all of it. Maybe that’s not why they had a chip on their shoulders heading into this game, but that noise certainly played a role.

“The result of that was us just being locked in and only paying attention to ourselves, not paying attention to the outside noise,” Turner said. “If people chose to listen to the outside noise, they used it as fuel. Us collectively, we know we’re relying on each other. Regardless what people are saying about us, it doesn’t have anything to do with how we performed.

“We know what we’re capable of doing. We just had to execute. Today, everybody did a great job executing, doing their assignments and playing with energy. That’s all we were trying to prove. We’re not trying to prove anything to anybody else, we’re just trying to show ourselves we’re capable of being great.”

Twitter: @chengelis