In order to reach past levels of success, Michigan must reestablish a few core values.
Judging by recent statements from Ann Arbor, the Wolverines aren’t only doing that, they’re excelling at it, which was evident during Week 1’s 52-14 hammering of Appalachian State.
Players had “trust” in one another.
In other words, improved dialogue and confidence in the guy next to them caused Team 135 to play as one. A repeat will be necessary Saturday if the Wolverines want to leave South Bend with a series-finalizing victory over Notre Dame.
“We’re obviously very excited about the next challenge; and I know we have a lot of things that we can get better at, and our guys will work very, very hard to do that,” said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who later added that he could “communicate better” with his team. “But we’re also very excited about some of the things we saw Saturday out there on that field.
“Now we’ve got to move on to the next one.”
Enough Trust To Go Around
Take a moment to view Devin Gardner, Devin Funchess, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith—four of the top players—through a different lens. Instead of looking at them as big-time athletes, try seeing them as a group of guys doing what they love alongside great friends.
Smith and Green have referred to each other as brothers, which, to an extent, is probably true for most of Team 135. The general feeling this season is that everyone is on the same page, and everyone agrees that the 2014 Wolverines are chemistry majors.
Of course, it takes more than just a common interest in a sport to establish the types of bonds they have. It takes something deeper across the board, something away from the huddle, screaming practices, agonizingly long film sessions and workouts.
Guys have to like each other.
During Monday’s press conference, it was plain to see that Gardner and Funchess are more than just a quarterback-receiver tandem—they’re pretty close. Their jokes—and subsequent bursts of laughter—about a failing microphone and headphones, their grinning while answering questions and their gesturing toward one another was more than enough to draw that conclusion.
It was "The Devin and Devin Show: Part II."
But on a serious note, Gardner dropped a line that caught the room’s full attention: “[Funchess could] probably be the best receiver to ever play here.”
Did he really say that?!
Yes, he did say that.
It took confidence to say that, lots of it. But it also took trust. Gardner, a fifth-year senior, doesn’t seem like the type who’d purposely mislead the public or outright lie about his opinion of Funchess, who enters his second season with a legend’s number on his back.
Gardner trusts him. And they communicate well.
Conversely, it’d be wise to assume that Funchess feels the same way about Gardner, who completed seven passes for 95 yards and three touchdowns to the 236-pound junior during the first half against Appalachian State.
The coaching staff also has to trust that Gardner and Funchess can lead the final charge against the Irish, who’ll do everything in their power to make sure that Michigan’s “new math” of “98+1=6” doesn’t add up Saturday.
“We’re playing an offense with Gardner and Funchess, a 1-2 combination that is very dynamic,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, per NBC Sports’ Keith Arnold (also of B/R). “Funchess being on the perimeter is a matchup problem, and he will be a matchup problem for everybody he plays this year. We will have to find ways obviously to slow him down, and he’s going to be difficult, and Gardner has played great against us."
Talk More, Make Less Mistakes
Had it not been for a pair of late touchdowns—an eight-yard reception by Simms McElfresh and a one-yard rush by Marcus Cox—the Wolverines defense would have blanked Appalachian State, which fell short of 100 total yards while facing starters in the first half.
However, the Mountaineers capitalized on the Wolverines’ lapses of judgment and timing in the third and fourth quarters.
That can't happen this weekend; Everett Golson just threw for 295 yards, accounting for five touchdowns (three rushing), during Notre Dame's 48-17 plowing of Rice. The Irish know how to put points on the board.
“[The App. State game] wasn't perfect, so we went over the mistakes [Sunday]," said Raymon Taylor, a senior DB. "We know this week, we really have to get our communication down. Like I said, it wasn't perfect, we missed a couple plays out there. But this week we know it's going to be a challenge.
"We have to get everything down pat. We've got to be perfect this week if we want to win."
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer via post-game/practice and weekly press conferences