By Ashley Dunkak
As Michigan prepares to travel to Penn State this week, the Wolverines got ready for the raucous stadium clamor that could hamper their communication Saturday by pumping crowd noise into practice. One day, though, they practiced in quiet.
Instead of having to scream at each other, players had to zero in on quarterback Devin Gardner as he whispered to his teammates in the huddle. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said the technique is one the Wolverines have done for a while.
“It has that effect that you really have to do a great job of listening and making sure the guys in the huddle – sometimes they take it for granted that they’re going to hear the quarterback,” Hoke said. “You’ve really got to focus. You’ve really got to concentrate.”
As Gardner tries to become a better player – he made great improvement against Minnesota in the form of no turnovers after four the previous game – for the offense, one of the defense’s stalwarts appears to be nearing a return from injury.
Hoke said the team had not decided if linebacker Jake Ryan could come back Saturday from the ACL injury he suffered in March, but it sounds like Ryan’s return is drawing near.
“We evaluate him daily, how he feels, we talk to our trainers, and all that kind of stuff,” Hoke said. “He’s made every trip with us. We’ll see how he feels this afternoon. It really will come down to how he feels. He’s done more and more each day, but we’re just not at the point where we know what we’re going to do yet.”
Penn State lost 44-24 to Indiana last week, but Hoke hardly thinks it will be an easy game for the Wolverines. He does not discount the Hoosiers, first of all, and he also mentioned a unique series of events that squared the game for Indiana.
“[New Penn State coach] Bill [O’Brien]’s done a great job at Penn State,” Hoke said. “When you look at that Indiana game, number one you’ve got to give Indiana credit. Their offense has been scoring a lot of points, and doing a nice job, but there was about a 30-second turn in that game. Indiana scored, they kicked off, Penn State fumbled, Indiana scored, and then the next series there’s a safety, so you had 16 points in about 35 seconds and really was the difference in the football game.”
O’Brien’s tenure, of course, began under a cloud, in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and investigations as to whether the athletic department and university covered it up. As a result, Penn State vacated wins from 1998 to 2011, were ordered to pay a $60 million fine and were declared ineligible for the postseason through 2015. The Nittany Lions were also docked scholarships, but the NCAA reversed course on that part of the punishment recently.
Hoke said that while he did not know enough about the whole situation to want to say too much, he indicated he feels it is wrong that current players and staff are having to deal with the fallout of another administration.
“From a personal standpoint, as a coach, to me, those kids and that staff, I don’t know where this figures in the sanctions that they were levied,” Hoke said. “This was more of a criminal matter than it was anything else. Whether who knew, who didn’t, obviously we’re not in the room and we don’t know, and you don’t like commenting on those kinds of things, but I know one thing, Bill O’Brien or the kids on that team had nothing to do with it.”