How famished were Michigan fans for signs of improvement? On the Wolverines' third offensive play of the season against Western Michigan last Saturday, true freshman quarterback
"All of us on the field just laughed," left tackle
Three series later, fellow true freshman quarterback
That's partly because, thanks to the stately new elevated concourses on the west side of the renovated Big House, it no longer hemorrhages noise. That sound now reverberates within the old bowl, significantly jacking up the inhospitality factor for opponents.
While that raucous display reflected the relief felt by Wolverine Nation, starved for success after last year's 3-9 season, it was also a show of support for second-year coach
His front-burner crisis, of course, was an allegation made in an Aug. 30
Rodriguez, for his part, delivered an emotional reply in which he insisted that "We know the rules, and we comply [with] the rules." Addressing what he called "the perception [that] sometimes we do not care as much for our players' welfare," Rodriguez tearfully insisted that "I love my players like I love my own family."
By the time I sat with Rodriguez in his office on Tuesday, the furor over the
Unable to discuss the allegations in depth, on account of the investigation, Rodriguez said, "Eventually, in a few weeks, we should talk, 'cause when all this is said and done, there's a lot to say." In the meantime, he played the role that has become a familiar one to him in his 19-month tenure in Ann Arbor: of a man deeply wronged -- "more sinned against than sinning," as a self-pitying King Lear describes himself. "I still get mad, and I will remain mad, until the day I die, about this whole thing," Rodriguez assured me. "It's not right what happened. It's not right."
His ire paled in comparison to the wrath of many thousands of Michigan fans who took exception to the
While that may be true, it doesn't leave much room on the moral high ground the Wolverines are so accustomed to occupying. This is, after all, the winningest college program, ever -- a program that's never been found guilty of major NCAA violations.
Like Notre Dame, the team it will host Saturday, Michigan is a program scratching and clawing to reclaim its place among college football's elite. Before practice on Wednesday, Rodriguez sought to downplay expectations. "We got a lot of work to do with a lot of young players," he cautioned. While a win would be nice, "I want us to play well, want us to compete. If they're gonna beat us I want it to be because they're clearly better than us. I don't want Michigan beating Michigan."
That's an understandable sentiment from a fine coach whose wounds, of late, have been self-inflicted.