Night moves: Michigan heads into a hostile environment at Iowa
Rich Rodriguez knows all about night games, good and bad.
In 2006, his West Virginia team lost its bid for a perfect season in a road thriller under the lights at Louisville. The Cardinals, as if enchanted by the moon, scored on fumble and punt returns less than three minutes apart in the third quarter to swing momentum in their favor.Two decades earlier, Rodriguez had one of his most memorable wins as a player at West Virginia, beating Penn State at night in a game for the ages. Mountaineer fans celebrated by building a bonfire in the middle of the street - just down the block from Rodriguez’s house.
“They were burning couches and chairs and tables and lawn furniture and everything,” Rodriguez said. “I saw all the smoke. That was pretty memorable."
Michigan will play its first night game since 2007 today against Iowa at rowdy Kinnick Stadium (8 p.m., ABC). The Wolverines (4-1, 1-1) are 22-10 all-time at night, winning 11 of their last 13.
While players are looking forward to the experience - “I think everyone likes to play under the lights. High school, college, pros, whatever,” Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin said - Rodriguez said it's a challenge he can do without.
“It’s a long day,” Rodriguez said. “Certainly the anxiety builds.”
With eight extra hours to kill before kickoff, Rodriguez said Michigan will move some of its regular Friday night meetings to Saturday morning.
Players will take part in a game-day walk-through in their hotel ballroom before bussing over to the stadium, and offensive tackle Mark Ortmann said many will spend the day watching games on TV, re-watching Iowa film or taking short walks to stay limber.
“Not arm-in-arm, but even on home games, Saturday mornings, a handful of us will go take a walk around campus,” Ortmann said.
Unlike home games, Michigan will play in a decidedly hostile environment for the second straight week.
The Wolverines (4-1, 1-1) played their worst first half of the season in last week’s loss at MSU, and Rodriguez said he expects just as unfriendly an atmosphere today. Along with the electricity of a night game, today is homecoming for the 5-0 Hawkeyes, one of two remaining unbeatens in the Big Ten.
“Whatever (fans do for) the six or seven hours, or nine hours before the game, they seem to be more prepared for the game at night then they do sometimes those noon kickoffs, if you know what I mean,” Rodriguez said. “So I’m sure their student section and some of their fans will be extra juiced up, if that’s the right word.”
Michigan will be plenty juiced itself.
A second straight loss would all but eliminate the Wolverines from the conference race - no team has won the Big Ten title with two losses since Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue shared the crown in 2000 - and Rodriguez said his team is eager to prove that last week’s offensive and defensive struggles were a fluke.
Michigan ran for just 28 yards on 28 carries last week, and defensively the Wolverines spent half the game on the field for the second time this year.
“That was one that we maybe could have had but we didn’t get so it moves on to the next one,” Rodriguez said. “The challenging part for us is that we got to go on the road again against I think a top-10 team in their environment that’s playing very good football. We know we’ll have to crank it up and play a lot better or it could be a tough night.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.