Carlo Kemp rejects notion Michigan was ducking Ohio State, shifts focus to Iowa clash

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Two-time Michigan captain Carlo Kemp read and heard the comments that picked up steam last week suggesting the Wolverines were ducking archrival Ohio State.

He tried to ignore it, but after Michigan paused football activities because of a COVID-19 outbreak that forced them to cancel the last two games against Maryland and the Buckeyes, it was largely unavoidable. Michigan is 2-4 this season and is preparing this week to play at Iowa on Saturday night in the final Big Ten game of this abbreviated schedule.

Carlo Kemp

"We’ve been playing this game for over 100 years, and all of the sudden now we don’t want to play the game?” Kemp said Monday during a weekly news conference. “That’s just not the case. That would never be the case.

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"You come to Michigan to play that game. It’s the only game you really think about the entire year, just because it’s the last game and you want to keep building your entire season and use every game until you get there to just get better and better, so that by the time you play them your last game, you’re the best version of yourself, best version of your team, and hopefully be able to go out there and showcase that there on Saturday.”

Kemp said Michigan was not trying to duck Ohio State.

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“By no means was anyone not trying to play them,” he said. “We had a spike in numbers and this is peoples’ lives and this is peoples’ health, and that’s way more serious than anything compared to playing a football game on a Saturday."

Players were preparing to practice last Tuesday when the medical staff told them the game was off.

"It’s frustrating, and there’s so much that goes into it,” Kemp said. “These are the rules that are put in place by the highest-level doctors that we have in the country. This is beyond any player’s control. Players don’t vote on if we want to play games this week or if we want to play this opponent.”

Ohio State has dominated the last two decades of the rivalry having won 15 of the last 16 including the last eight. Michigan was a 30-point underdog according to Vegas oddsmakers last week.

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Still, Kemp said this is the game they all want and prepare the season to play.

“Right now, obviously I miss it a lot," Kemp said. "But I think I’ll really understand over time and as I get older how much I truly miss that game, especially not being able to play it your senior year, it’s definitely something I never really imagined. You think about everything your senior year as wanting it to be your best year in a lot of aspects, and you wanted to play your best game against them this year.

"So obviously, right now it definitely sucks a lot. It’s just painful that you don’t get the opportunity to play in that game. That’s a huge reason why you even come to Michigan, and you understand how much that game means to this program, to the people of Michigan, to the alumni, the players that have all played for Michigan.”

Time may eventually offer perspective, he said, but now this week is about getting ready to face the Hawkeyes.

"When we had to cancel that game, it was definitely just like a state of shock,” Kemp said. “But now it’s hard — you have to move past that week, and even though there’s a lot of emotions that go into it we have an opponent that we got to play this weekend. We gotta play Iowa, so you have to bottle those emotions up.”

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the team practiced Sunday and expected to practice Monday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before leaving for Iowa City that afternoon. The team will take Tuesday off because of finals.

Kemp said it felt good to get back on the field.

“Put the helmet on, put the shoulder pads on and get going again," Kemp said. "Especially when the level that we were shut down was, you couldn’t even come into the building. You weren’t even able go see each other. And we were, obviously, over these last two weeks just trying to stay away from each other and keep each other as safe as possible. So you really just spent a lot of time these last 14 days being by yourself, and that’s tough, especially when a lot of you guys are feeling the same way, you don’t get to feel that same feeling emotionally with all of your teammates.

"But yesterday, just being able to come back to the building, prepare again for a game, the last game of the season, it just felt so good to be back out there, be with the coaches again and just pick up that energy, because it definitely didn’t have it these last two weeks, sitting at home, watching games and just being by yourself."

Twitter: @chengelis