There are tropes that should naturally come along with this week, narratives pre-constructed to fill a certain template.
The week after… The week before… Trap game in between…
In the aftermath of a 44-10 drubbing of in-state rival Michigan State and less than two weeks from The Game, there is a propensity to look past Indiana — the foe sandwiched in between.
That’s also, in some ways, become an expired cliché.
In the four times the Wolverines have played the Hoosiers in the Jim Harbaugh era, two of those matchups have ended in overtime. The other two were close games in which the host pulled away late.
At Monday’s press availability, reporters thus lined up to ask how Michigan would avoid looking past its opponent. What was lacking was the natural follow-up: Is it really a trap game if the players and coaches pretty clearly see the bait?
“I don’t think it’s difficult to look past this week at all,” said fifth-year senior left tackle Jon Runyan. “Indiana was ranked in the AP Poll last week, they were down by three to Penn State with, I think, nine minutes to go. … They’re a good offense, kind of similar to what we do. It’ll be fun to see how they match up with our defense, but definitely can’t look past this Indiana team. Last few times we’ve been to Bloomington and gone to overtime.
“There’s just something about them that they kind of always get the best of us.”
This year, in particular, few in and around Schembechler Hall are under any illusions about the challenge of going to Indiana. The Hoosiers boast the top passing offense in the Big Ten, now led by senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who has completed over 72 percent of his passes and tossed 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions in five games this year.
Indiana has totaled at least 27 points in each of its last six games. The Hoosiers will be one of the most difficult offenses — schematically and talent-wise — Michigan faces all year.
That’s the only real trap here.
“Sometimes, the Indiana offenses have been a little bit of a departure from what we’ve played throughout the year — the potential of hurry-up, the threat of that,” said fifth-year senior linebacker Jordan Glasgow. “Obviously spacing you out as much as they can. We need to prepare for that.”
Added Harbaugh: “I think it’s challenging as any offense in the Big Ten. Receivers that are dynamic and can make plays down the field. Fast. Catch the ball and run with it.”
For now, the Wolverines are riding high, undoubtedly playing their best football of the season. Saturday’s win marked the high point for an offense that had slowly grown from its early season mishaps.
In an honest moment, players would admit the rest of this season boils down to the outcome of the Ohio State game. As that allure draws closer — the chance to re-configure narratives and dynamics — it’s mere human nature to prepare. That’s accentuated in a year where the self-assigned “game-by-game” mentality is cheapened by a lack of viable postseason aspirations.
Asked whether suppressing that foresight needs to be expressed verbally, Harbaugh did not even entertain the premise.
“Yeah, I mean, we come off a big game against Michigan State,” he said, “and you come back to work, regroup, refit, retool, get ready for your next opponent.”
It just so turns out that the next opponent comes with a set of challenges all its own. A game that could sneakily make the case for most impressive road win of the Harbaugh era, were it to come to fruition.
“They kind of have this momentum carrying them, having a good season,” Runyan said. “I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of fans come out, more than usual. I haven’t watched too much film on them yet, but I know there’s something really special going on over there.”
Which is to say, if anyone’s peering down the track past Saturday, they sure seem cognizant of the hurdle waiting in between.