Sugar Bowl Preview
January 3, 2012 by staff
Coach Rich Rodriguez was still waiting for his meeting with athletic director Dave Brandon, which would lead to his firing. A weeklong coaching search would follow, ending with Brady Hoke’s hiring.
The final dagger for Rodriguez had come two days earlier when the Wolverines were pounded by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, a game that barely resonated nationally in the heaviest bowl TV window of the month.
Today that’s all a distant memory as the Wolverines will have the national spotlight alone, in the BCS’s Sugar Bowl at the Superdome. They are three-point favorites against Virginia Tech.
The striking difference in this bowl season started after the regular season’s last milestone — the win over Ohio State — when Hoke started talking about this being a business trip, a mantra embraced by the Wolverines for the past three weeks.
A year ago, it was all lip service. This year, it’s reality.
“This year we’re more focused on winning the game,” U-M captain and tight end Kevin Koger said. “Last year we hadn’t made it to a bowl game in two years, and I think we were just happy to be down there and that was good enough for us. Coach Hoke instilled in us, yes, it’s good to be down here, but we’re down here to win the game first and foremost, and I think that’s been the focus of everybody.”
That showed itself over and over again this past week. The U-M seniors used the Marriott just like Schembechler Hall, using their free time for extra film study instead of wandering the French Quarter. Hoke also has insisted that the team hit at practices and remain physical, unlike most bowl teams.
“It couldn’t be more different,” captain and center David Molk said. “The focus of the team, the directions of workouts and practice and meetings. Everything is more directed toward winning. It couldn’t be more different, and I like the way it is.”
Part of the problem last season in Jacksonville, Fla. — beyond the players just appreciating the chance to play in a bowl — was the constant distraction. Rodriguez’s job status was the subject of speculation for the month leading up to the game.
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