Ty Isaac doesn’t dwell on the past, but he will say this: The seeds for October and November are sowed in January and February. And last January and February, there were times where the Michigan Wolverines looked nothing like the Maize and Blue from the previous winter.
“I think we took it seriously,” Isaac, the former Wolverines tailback, told Land of 10 recently. “But I think that — I don’t know, it’s hard to call it. It was so much different with the young guys that we had as opposed to the year before, when it was a senior-heavy team … [when] we knew what the expectations were and we knew how to handle business.
“It was almost a new regime with all these young guys. And obviously, we expect to win more than eight games a season, but it’s not like it was a bad team.”
But the 8-5 Wolverines, the third edition of the Jim Harbaugh Era, was a young team, with inexperience showing as much as the talent. And a roster that felt a hole left by 11 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft — the most of any single class in modern Michigan history — more than anybody thought it might.
“You look back, and a lot of games, we were there, the majority of the time,” said Isaac, who’s been rehabbing and preparing for the 2018 NFL Draft at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. “And that’s part of the growth — having a whole offseason to prepare and spring ball and summer workouts. That’s where you make it to the end of those games.”
‘There’s a bunch of stuff that could’ve went differently’
The Wolverines were outscored 33-7 in the fourth quarter over their last five contests of the 2017 season and 57-35 in the fourth quarter over their last 10. Michigan sports a 2-5 record in its last seven games decided by 8 points or fewer dating back to the start of the 2016 campaign.
Flip that number to, say, 5-2 and the outlook — and mood of the fan base — at the end of January 2018 is probably a different beast.
“To be honest, the way I’ve always looked at it, [there’s] not much you can do,” said Isaac, whose senior season was marred by an injury to his right leg after a torrid start that saw him run for 336 yards in the Wolverines’ first three contests. “All I can do is play the game, and whatever play is imagined, I’m going to run the play. I don’t go much deeper because that’s not really my place, if that makes sense.
“So I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff that could’ve went differently or we could’ve done differently. For me, that’s really the biggest thing. Whatever play we’re going to call in the huddle, I’m going to run it to the best of my abilities.”
‘I think Brandon Peters is going to do really well … even when he first got there, you kind of knew he could spin it. He’s calm under pressure. I think everybody’s got high hopes for him.’
— Former Michigan tailback Ty Isaac
As those close games — Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State spring immediately to mind — got away, did the players, especially the offensive players, start to crank up the pressure internally?
“Personally, I don’t think so,” said Issac, who ran for 548 yards (6.2 per carry) over eight tilts last fall but didn’t tote the rock after Oct. 28. “It was just one of those things where, obviously, you want to be great. Unfortunately, we lost a couple of close games, a couple games we wanted back. But at this point, there’s nothing you can do but move forward. Again, I don’t think too many guys were putting pressure on themselves. You have to execute. And at the end of the day, if you execute, you win games.
“I look back and, obviously, I wish I’d played a lot more and we did some different things. But I’m not really going to dwell on it. I had a little bit of success here and there. I just want to continue building on that. And, obviously, the ultimate goal is to play at the next level and to just get better. And have fun with it.”
‘Man, I want to run’
Since Jan. 8, the Chicago native has been working out in Southern California in advance of Michigan’s pro day on March 23. With a 6-foot-3, 228-pound frame, Issac, when he’s right, is a horse between the tackles. The trick has been getting back in the saddle again after dinging that right leg during a rout of Rutgers late last October.
“I banged up my right leg a little bit, but it wasn’t anything super serious,” said Isaac, who’d gashed the Knights for 109 yards before the injury. “I didn’t need surgery or anything super serious.
“Every day I would come in the facility like, ‘Man, I want to run. I want to do this.’ And I understand, it takes time … but I’m so happy to be close to 100 percent now.”
‘It’s this thing where Michigan is so big anymore, anyone can care about it. To see it all the time, the love-hate [debate] right now, it doesn’t even bother them.’
— Former Michigan tailback Ty Isaac on Michigan’s coaches and their response to fan criticism
He tried to come back earlier, to push up the timetable, and wound up re-aggravating the leg at Wisconsin on Nov. 18. While there was some hope of getting things right in time for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, all sides agreed in late December that the cautionary road was the wiser path.
“We were doing rehab in Michigan and kind of feeling out to see where we were and right there, in that last week of bowl preparation, we probably agreed that it wasn’t going to be the right move for me,” Isaac recalled. “I tried to push back and play in the Wisconsin game, because it was a huge conference opponent and a big game. And I give credit to that Michigan training staff. They took care of me and didn’t think [playing] was the best idea. And I understood where they were coming from.
“I’ve been able to run and do stuff [in California]. It’s just that there’s a difference between 75-80 percent and 100 percent. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”
He thinks the alma mater is going to get there, too. Eventually.
“To be honest with you, I can imagine that [the Michigan coaches] are not going to be concerned about [the criticism] at all,” Issac said. “It’s not different [from] when a player has a bad game and the fans go crazy and say all sorts of stuff that’s out of line. It’s this thing where Michigan is so big anymore, anyone can care about it. To see it all the time, the love-hate [debate] right now, it doesn’t even bother them.
“They’re going to be really good-looking in the backfield. To start out with, you’ve got Karan [Higdon] coming back, Chris [Evans] coming back. I think Brandon Peters is going to do really well … even when he first got there, you kind of knew he could spin it. He’s calm under pressure. I think everybody’s got high hopes for him. And obviously, wide receivers along with them, those guys are weapons. Defensive [coordinator] Don Brown is going to have some really good players.
“I’m excited for them. And I think if they take this offseason seriously, which I think they will, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the fall.”