Live updates from Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez's Monday press conference
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football team enters the week feeling good about its defense.
But don't expect a unit that didn't allow Purdue to reach the end zone in Saturday's 27-16 win to revel in its performance too long, knowing that a Wisconsin team that put up 83 points against Indiana awaits the Wolverines on Saturday (noon, ESPN).
The defensive improvement, along with contending with a Badgers' offense that averages 40 points a game were among the talking points when Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez sat down with reporters on Monday.
Saturday's home finale will present its share of challenges for Michigan's defense. Regardless of whether Wisconsin running back John Clay plays, Rodriguez said Wisconsin's offensive success starts with a run game that will force the Wolverines to get to the ball quickly.
"They're certainly a top five football team - but to score on every possession like they did," Rodriguez said of Wisconsin's offensive abilities, "They made it look easy. But the thing with one thing about a young team is that they're always up for a challenge. So we'll challenge them all week, and we'll certainly get challenged Saturday."
Michigan's defense should get a lift as nose guard Mike Martin and linebacker Jonas Mouton are expected to return this week. But coming off Saturday's performance that followed up the defensive last stand against Illinois, Rodriguez believes his unit is gaining confidence.
"I hope we're getting a little confidence, but with a young team, every week is a new experience," Rodriguez said. "With the young guys can't make them bigger, stronger, faster, but you can get more experience."
Rodriguez said overall, he has continued to be pleased with quarterback Denard Robinson's production. Although the sophomore had a rough go of it Saturday against Purdue, turning the ball over four times, Rodriguez said he saw what he needed to in the end.
"(Robinson) was having a tough day, but in the last drive, he was the difference," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the Wolverines have plenty of stake on Saturday. Not only will it be the seniors' final game at Michigan Stadium, Rodriguez said he doesn't have to do much to motivate his players heading into the final two games of the season.
The Wolverines will be underdogs Saturday and in the regular-season finale at Ohio State.
"I think they're extremely motivated, but I've been pleased with that and their focus all season," Rodriguez said. "I think their motivation was to continue to improve and to improve their bowl stake, so to speak."
Kickin' it around
Rodriguez said the kicking job will remain up for grabs after Seth Broekhuizen struggled against Purdue. Rodriguez said he will use this week of practice to see how both Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons respond this week.
Rodriguez said he didn't use punter Will Hagerup on pooch punts because in practice, the quarterbacks have done a better job in that situation. But he wasn't willing to hand out any awards after Saturday's game when Robinson nearly missed the ball on his punting attempt and Tate Forcier kicked the ball through the end zone.
"They certainly weren't going to win any punt, pass and kick competitions," Rodriguez said.
On the run
Vincent Smith has been the Wolverines' most consistent running back, gaining confidence nearly a year after he tore his ACL against Ohio State.
Smith has been asked to take on the majority of the work due to injuries to Michael Shaw and Fitz Toussaint. Rodriguez said once Toussaint is healthy, he could be a back that gives Michigan a spark.
For now, he'll look to Smith.
"He's looking faster, and he's getting that burst back," Rodriguez said. "He's getting stronger and every week, I think, he gets a little more confidence back."
Talking the talk
Asked if he thought Michigan's seven victories have lessened the pressure and taken Rodriguez off the hot seat, Rodriguez said he remains confident in his program.
He said the negativity when a team isn't playing well is "the nature of the beast" and that people probably had doubts about him from the day he was introduced as Michigan's coach.
Senior Adam Patterson made his Monday press conference debut two days after making his first career start Saturday against Purdue.
Patterson said he found out minutes before kickoff that he was going to start in the place of injured nose guard Mike Martin. He said he was nervous going in, but was thrilled for the opportunity and felt he played pretty well.
Going in, he knew there would be big shoes to fill.
"It's a lot of pressure - coming from Mike Martin - he just such a great athlete," Patterson said. "Whenever he goes down, it's going to be hard to step up for him. But I felt like it was something I really had to do."
Patterson said the Wolverines are very motivated to go out and finish the season with two wins. While motivation at Michigan is always high, he said now Michigan is bowl eligible, the incentive to play well against Wisconsin and Ohio State increases.
"The better we play, the better bowl game we go to," he said. "So we're motivated to go out and try and win the last two games."
Offensive lineman Stephen Schilling said as one of Michigan's seniors that will play their final home game, Saturday will be an emotional experience.
Saturday's home finale offers Schilling one final trip out of the tunnel and to run to midfield to touch the banner.
He said although Michigan experienced a couple of down years during his career, Schilling said he wouldn't trade anything he's gone through. He hopes that Saturday's experience will be different than last year's class, which ended their careers with a loss to Ohio State.
"It was tough for all my friends that were seniors going out the way they did," Schilling said. "We definitely want to leave the Big House with a win."