ANN ARBOR — Brady Hoke insists that a practice in full gear 10 days ago helped his team in preparation for its nonconference win at Connecticut.
“Without any doubt,” the Michigan football coach said Tuesday. “It was a much different team.”
As the No. 18 Wolverines begin a bye week, consider a quick breakdown of Saturday’s 24-21 win at Connecticut: They committed four turnovers and quarterback Devin Gardner had his lowest passing output in his first four games of the season. Yet they rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to earn the first road win of the season — and in Hoke’s three seasons, road wins have been at a premium.
Now the Wolverines enter a bye week in which they practiced Tuesday and will practice Thursday and Friday morning, and they aren’t making excuses for their record. Despite the turnovers. Despite the poor play of their quarterback. Despite facing a pair of near upsets against Akron and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks.
“I’m not going to apologize for being 4-0,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan, whose team opens its Big Ten schedule Oct. 5 against Minnesota.
Lewan considers himself an optimist and didn’t consider the factors that brought his team to this point. Instead he took a positive from the win at Connecticut.
“I don’t know if it was escaping anything,” Lewan said. “It was more just knowing that we fought through adversity and knowing that our team can do that. I was more proud of them than upset.”
The media, defensive tackle Jibreel Black told reporters, downplays opponents. Even considering the fact that his team’s first three opponents are a combined 5-10.
“They did it against Connecticut, and they did it against Akron, and those are two good football teams,” Black said. “Two good programs. When you have teams like that, they’re going to play at a different level.”
With the flaws that came in the course of the first month of the season, and with the Big Ten schedule approaching, is there the thought of pushing the panic button?
“It’s not like we’re abandoning ship or sinking,” Hoke said. “We’re 4-0, and there’s a lot of teams who aren’t.”
Still, like Hoke, linebacker Desmond Morgan saw a certain change in his team’s mentality in the course of preparing to face Connecticut.
“There was a lot of resilience as far as preparation and in our focus all last week, and you could see that both in film study and on the field in practice,” said Morgan, who is second on the team in tackles with 24, behind Raymon Taylor (25). “We played on the road, we’re playing in a new environment, and road games always present challenges.
But, he added, “There’s things we’ve got to clean up that we didn’t do right throughout the entire game. But a win’s a win.”
The bye week, Morgan said, falls at an opportune time.
“It’s a week where we’ve got to get back to our fundamentals and our technique and improving on that side, and it’ll be a time for guys to rest up before the Big Ten [schedule] starts," Morgan said. "You get a little bit more off time and guys get a chance to recover. In practice, you get an extra week to prepare. But the biggest thing is just that time off.”
RYAN PRACTICING: Hoke said Jake Ryan is practicing with the team, though not at full speed. Hoke all but ruled out a return for the All-Big Ten linebacker against Minnesota but said Ryan will return to the lineup in October.
Ryan tore his ACL in March and underwent surgery to repair it, but sported full pads, a knee brace, and a noncontact jersey Tuesday as Michigan left the practice field.
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