ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team’s running backs have a code name for their team meetings: “Las Vegas.”
Because, as senior De’Veon Smith says, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
Michigan’s running backs shedded a layer of secrecy Tuesday, when Smith divulged some of what goes on in the position meetings.
The latest chatter centered on the running game’s lack of production, particularly its paltry output of 2.9 yards per carry Sept. 10 in Michigan’s 51-14 win over Central Florida.
“We were frustrated by it because our running backs don’t want to be known around the country as, ‘Oh, we only average 2.9 yards a carry,’ ” Smith said. “We’re too competitive and we don’t want to get looked down upon.”
After a 306-yard day in a 63-3 win Sept. 3 against Hawaii — highlighted by Chris Evans’ 112 yards — Michigan has appeared to level off in the running game over the past two games.
The Wolverines (3-0), who face Penn State (2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, had 119 rushing yards against UCF and 168 last weekend against Colorado. The numbers have sparked some debate in the room that the running backs liken to Sin City, only without the low-stakes blackjack tables and Elvis Presley impersonators.
“We always have the argument as running backs, that we have to get into the rhythm and go,” Smith said. “But as you can see, (running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley) knows exactly what he’s talking about. Yeah, we argue with him about that, but it’s coming from coach Wheatley. He’s done things we want to do. All we have to do is take it as advice, and run with it.
“He doesn’t mind arguing with us. Our running back room is a very open group. We enjoy each other’s company. We joke around in there. It’s all fun, but it’s serious at the same time.”
Smith agreed with the assessment that it’s a “spirited debate’ among the running backs and Wheatley.
“We’re all on each others’ side,” Smith said. “He’s the one saying, ‘no, no no.’ We all agree with each other, and he disagrees.”
Smith, however, was tempered in his assessment of his team’s running game.
“Our run game’s decent, but it could be better,” said Smith, who has 152 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. “It’s just being patient. Everybody has room to improve.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made the media rounds Tuesday morning following the debut of his commercial for Fairlife Milk, which stars himself and his wife, Sarah, whose birthday was Tuesday.
Harbaugh appeared on The Dan Patrick Show on NBC Sports, The Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio, Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio and The Rich Eisen Show on NFL Network, where he discussed everything from the game-worn khaki pants he gave to Dan Patrick, to telling Dan Le Batard what song he would dance to. (Go to about the 53-minute mark of this podcast.) Harbaugh prefers Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which is sometimes played during pregame warmups at Michigan Stadium.
What song should Harbaugh dance to?
— Rachel Lenzi (@RLenziCMG) September 20, 2016
He did it while many of his players were in class, so they didn’t get a chance to tune into the radio hits.
“I didn’t get to see it. I’ve got to see it when I get home,” cornerback Channing Stribling said. “The commercial kind of surprised me. You think of NFL coaches doing commercials. I see him here all the time, not on commercials.”
Michigan running back Ty Isaac didn’t listen to any of the radio spots, but he and Smith watched the Fairlife Milk commercial.
“I’m just as surprised as you guys, when I hear some of the stuff,” Isaac said. “I like it. He’s got a personality. I thought (the commercial) was funny. We were watching it in the training room. The only reason we thought it was funny was because it was very genuine. If it wasn’t scripted, I would believe it.”
Isaac said he hasn’t tried Fairlife Milk yet, but adheres to one of Harbaugh’s calcium intake rules.
DP Show: "Urban drinks one percent by the way."
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: "We refuse to drink the candy-ass skim milk." pic.twitter.com/gBUu79s5KJ
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) September 20, 2016
“I don’t drink skim milk, so I know I’m on his good side,” Isaac said.
Harbaugh squeezed in 10 minutes on the Big Ten football coaches teleconference Tuesday afternoon, which wasn’t as animated as his national radio appearances.
Getting used to it
Freshman linebacker Devin Bush said that enrolling in January at Michigan, as opposed to enrolling over the summer, helped him acclimate to college life.
But his biggest adjustment to moving from South Florida to southeast Michigan was the most obvious one: the weather. On one of his first days of classes during January, Bush went to class wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but turned around and returned to his dorm room to change into heavier clothing.
“I got here and it was snowing,” Bush said. “It was cold. But that winter really helped, a lot. It was just getting comfortable with the place.”