When it comes to the emotion — or the heightened emotion — of being a coach in the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry, the second-year Wolverines coach won’t perk up at the mention of the upcoming game.
His voice doesn’t take on a higher octave.
Instead, his jaw stays firm.
For a coach from Ohio, who is about to face the program he calls “Ohio,” Hoke isn’t giving much away when it comes to his excitement — if there is any — for playing in one of the nation’s more storied rivalries.
Or, as quarterback Devin Gardner labeled the yearly Ohio State-Michigan showdown, “the greatest rivalry in sports.”
At first glance, Hoke seems unmoved by the prospect of facing Ohio State for the second time as a UM coach. And the native of Kettering, Ohio, seems unmoved by the fact that his team, ranked 20th in the Associated Press, will face an undefeated Buckeyes squad.
“We’re playing for a championship, still,” Hoke said, referring to Michigan’s pursuit of a Big Ten title. “If you need anything to get amped up more, or whatever, for this football game, then you don’t know college football. And you don’t understand the importance of this great rivalry.”
In two seasons of playing under Hoke, offensive guard Patrick Omameh spoke to Hoke’s fervor as a coach and in relation to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
“He’s an intense guy,” said Omameh, a fifth-year senior from Columbus. “Always focused on the task at hand, whoever the opponent may be. He’s also a guy who’s from Ohio, who understands this rivalry and what it means. You can tell that it’s something that’s important to him — as it is to everybody else associated with this program.”
In nearly 30 years of coaching, Hoke has spent 10 seasons at Michigan. Of all the games that Hoke has been involved in against Ohio State, one game sticks out the most — and not last year’s 40-34 win over the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. Nor the few games he watched growing up in southwestern Ohio. Because in a football-heavy Hoke family, who had time to sit down and watch when there were games to be coached and played?
Hoke was an associate head coach who oversaw the defensive line at Michigan under Lloyd Carr in 2002, when Michigan lost 14-9 after a come-from-behind effort by Ohio State — and Hoke recalled details from that game.
But, he added quickly, “I can’t speak to winning down there or losing down there, because I’ve done both.”
Yet when he came to Michigan in 2011, Hoke made it a point to make a few wholesale changes in the program. Including an obvious change in the program’s lexicon.
Players said Hoke forbade anybody associated with the program to call Ohio State by its proper title, instead referring to the school as simply, and maybe even derisively, “Ohio.”
“And,” Gardner said, “that’s just how it is.”
Yet before he ended his Monday media availability, Hoke gave an inch, maybe two, when it came to his feelings on the rivalry week.
“It’s just such a great game,” Hoke said. “From the standpoint of the rivalry, and the excitement about it. I wouldn’t say it either way. It’s a fun week.”
TOUSSAINT UPDATE: Hoke said running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was expected to be released from the hospital Monday, two days after undergoing surgery on his left leg following a gruesome injury he sustained during the win over Iowa.
“It went well,” Hoke said of the surgery. “He should have a full recovery. We’ll move forward, and he’ll move forward.”
Hoke did not elaborate on Toussaint’s injury or the subsequent surgery, but he said he expects the redshirt junior to return for the 2013 season.
BIG TEN HONORS: The Big Ten named Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner its co-offensive player of the week, sharing the honors with Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin. Gardner accounted for six touchdowns (three rushing, three passing) and passed for 314 yards in Saturday’s 42-17 win over Iowa.
Michigan linebacker James Ross was named the Big Ten freshman player of the week. Ross led Michigan with 12 tackles.
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