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It was nothing, really. It had no meaning behind it whatsoever, in all likelihood.
But it happened.
When he was asked if Saturday’s game against the University of Massachusetts presented his team an opportunity to improve on both sides of the football, Michigan coach Brady Hoke scratched his head, searching for the right response.
“I think they do,” Hoke said. “I think from an offensive and defensive perspective.”
Above all else, he said, it will be about how his team prepares.
“I think us manufacturing this week against each other has to be part of it,” he said. “What we do in one-on-one, what we do competing-wise, I think that’s all a big part of it.”
Any threat the Minutemen posed was almost a footnote.
“They run a lot of the spread,” said Hoke. “But there are a lot of things within that that can help us.”
The reality is that, for Michigan, this isn’t the kind of heavyweight fight it had in its season-opening 41-14 loss to Alabama.
The fight isn’t even as fair as the one Michigan had in last week’s 31-25 win over Air Force, picked to fifth in the Mountain West preseason poll.
Michigan, which is currently ranked 17th but started the season at No. 8, will go into this game against UMass favored to win by six touchdowns and a field goal.
But the Wolverines say they’re preparing the same way they would for anyone else on their schedule.
“We go into every game like we did for Alabama,” said defensive lineman William Campbell. “We are going into this game trying to practice hard every day. We don’t see it as a team that we are going to blow out.
“Any team can win — it’s football. There are a lot of upsets that can happen and we’re just going to practice every day like it is any other game in the season.”
It wasn’t much different when UMass came to the Big House two years ago. The Minutemen were a Division 1-AA team at the time, and they were 29-point underdogs.
The Wolverines got more than they bargained for.
UMass jumped ahead, 17-7, in the first quarter before Michigan scored 28 straight points. But the Minutemen wouldn’t lie down. They scored 20 points in the fourth quarter but swallowed a 42-37 loss.
It’s clear to the Minutemen what they can get out of this game.
“Any time that you played in games like that, somewhere along the way those games add up,” said first-year UMass coach Charley Molnar. “Those accumulated reps against those kinds of players have to make you a better player, especially in pressure situations.”
But the Wolverines are, in fact, a team looking to improve.
What buried them against Alabama was turnovers, with Denard Robinson throwing three interceptions and the Crimson Tide capitalizing on all of them.
Last week against Air Force, the mission offensively was to crank the engine on Robinson, who carried the ball 20 times for 218 yards and two touchdowns. His force-of-nature performance got Michigan its first win.
But afterward, offensive coordinator Al Borges said, “Now we’ve just got to do the same things with our tailbacks.”
The Wolverines’ only other rusher, Fitzgerald Toussaint, ended up with fewer yards (7) than carries (8).
Lighting the pilot on the running game outside of Robinson is something they want to work out against the Minutemen.
“We’d like some consistency on being able to run the ball not just with Denard but with the running back,” Hoke said. “That part is so critical for us as a team, getting in a little bit of a flow. I think that’s important.”
The profile of the matchup isn’t as high, but the goals are still the same.
“I think we’ve done a nice job of taking them one at a time,” Hoke said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s about us and how we prepare and how we improve and how we practice.
“Every week, the discussion starts with us and what we need to do as a football team. We’ve got high expectations and high goals, and if we don’t get better every week, we’re not going to be the football team we want to be.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.