'Laying it all on the line': Wounded UM knows what's at stake this week
As Michigan prepares for its fourth game of the season, already the sense-of-urgency bells are being rung and pressure is building.
The Wolverines are 1-2, coming off back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Indiana, and now they face Wisconsin, which has not played the last two weeks because of COVID-19 issues, Saturday night at Michigan Stadium. The Badgers are 53-16 under Paul Chryst and annually the West Division’s toughest challenger.
Michigan, battling injury issues and the growing pains of a youthful roster, is struggling to keep its head above water.
“This is a must-win game of course for us,” safety Brad Hawkins said earlier this week. “We want to win this game, and we’re going into this week just laying it all on the line.”
Defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw will see more playing time with the loss of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who suffered a broken ankle in last week’s game at Indiana and will require surgery, and with the uncertainty of defensive end Kwity Paye, who left the Indiana game late in the third quarter with an injury.
Upshaw said it’s “do or die” in terms of his turn to play. But Upshaw extended that mentality to the entire team, as well.
“With every week, it’s do or die in our eyes, but especially being 1-2, you can tell there’s pressure building on us,” he said. “We have to perform the way we’re capable of performing.”
Sophomore receiver Giles Jackson this week suggested the receivers had not been “focused” during meetings and not taking enough notes and would pick that up. He also said that Thursday practices had felt less intense, and “laid back” because the team isn’t in pads. Those are corrections that can be made by adjusting their attitudes and approaches.
That is something that must carry over into Saturdays.
“We’ve got to pick it up and be more consistent in games,” Jackson said. “We have to keep our foot on the gas the whole time.”
The inexperience at corners in Gemon Green and Vincent Gray has been exposed the last two games, and Hawkins said he has tried to keep up the spirits of the young corners and players.
“Just (through) communication and just believing in each other,” Hawkins said. “Going forward and never looking back. You know it’s football, and you’re going to go through some adversity, and we just so happen to be the ones going through it right now. We’re going to keep going and keep pushing and keep playing football.”
Subscribers: Detroit News predictions: Wisconsin at Michigan
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on his radio show Monday night that he and his staff planned to incorporate “good ideas and good tweaks” this week and was “excited to put those into place.”
He wasn’t suggesting anything drastic, and said the starters have been playing well and should keep doing so, but he made clear that others, even drawing from scout teams, will get playing time.
“For those who have been playing and starting, we’re going to keep doing it,” Harbaugh said. "Also add some reps for guys that haven’t played in the games, as well. There’s guys that have been, quite frankly, a pain in the butt on scout team. Let them be a pain to the opponent.”
If a message of urgency has been sent to the players, they’ve received it.
“I say we’re determined,” Jackson said. “Our mindset is, we can’t lose.”