ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan opens its 2017 Big Ten Conference schedule at 4 p.m. ET Saturday at Purdue, and faces a glaring shortcoming: red-zone offense.
Michigan has scored 1 touchdown in the red zone in three games, which is last in the Big Ten. Purdue, meanwhile, is tied for second in the conference with 10 red-zone touchdowns.
In addition to discussing how they plan to better execute inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, several Michigan players discussed transitioning from playing defense to playing offense, Grant Perry’s return from a suspension, and how freshman wide receiver Tarik Black’s foot injury could change the complexion of Michigan’s passing game.
Here’s a sampling of what Michigan players had to say Tuesday:
TE Ian Bunting
On Michigan’s red-zone woes:
“We need to be more focused. We have to have the mentality that we’re not going to be denied. It comes from everyone, from us doing our job, whether it’s protecting or running a route, and that’s something we’ve got to pick up on and something we will.
“If you do your job, do it correctly and do it right, good things are going to happen.”
On the growth of tight ends Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks:
“They’ve improved leaps and bounds in the pass game as well as in blocking. Nick, especially, has come a long way in the blocking game.
“Sean’s really become a complete player. Over the summer he was working a lot on his route-running and his pass-catching, and he’s a great blocker, too. All the guys in the room recognized that.”
WR Grant Perry
On what he learned from his suspension, and if he thought he wouldn’t be back at Michigan:
“That’s in the past. I’m focused on football now, but I’m very happy to be here.
“I definitely learned lessons. Just taking things for granted, and I appreciate that. But I’m focused on football now, the football aspect of it, and school.”
On how his role at wide receiver will be affected after Tarik Black’s foot injury:
“That’s a really tough loss. Prayers up for Tarik. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it. Whether that’s taking more reps for him. Whatever their plan is, I’m ready for it.
“He’s handled [the injury] really well. I saw him in the training room yesterday and he was all smiles. It was good, seeing him staying up. He’s a freshman and he may have been getting down on himself, but he was smiling and that was good to see.”
CB David Long
On going from being a wide receiver to a cornerback:
“When I first got here, I was in here a lot with Jourdan Lewis and he helped me a lot, as far as technical stuff. But playing receiver did help me. I was able to pick up schemes and stuff. So as far as the book stuff of football, I was able to break that stuff down really quick, as far as coverages and everything.”
On getting tips on playing cornerback from Jourdan Lewis:
“Jourdan’s a really great guy. He helped me a lot when I got here. Just relaxing, just playing and just keeping a level head out there. As a corner, you’re out there on an island. You can’t get worked up. You have to stay calm and stay out there, and everything else will work itself out.”
TE Sean McKeon
On Michigan’s red-zone woes:
“[Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno] and [passing game coordinator Pep] Hamilton have a good plan for us. It’s on us to execute in the red zone and not make any mistakes down there. We just have to execute their plan.
“Just missing the little things. We’re really close. We’re right there. Missing a blitz pickup, or maybe a fumble here and there. We’re going to get it cleaned up and fix it, and definitely score some more points.”
On handling outside criticism of his team:
“We don’t really pay attention. Coach [Jim] Harbaugh says we don’t really need to listen to anyone outside of our offensive room. We know what we need to do. We don’t need to listen to anyone else.”