By halftime on Saturday against Massachusetts, about half of the Michigan football student section had already cleared out of the Big House. With the Wolverines up 42-13, the game was under control, and the crowd got bored.
It appeared that the fans were already looking ahead to this week, with a primetime matchup at Notre Dame looming.
“It’s exciting,” said redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan. “Michigan’s big three rivalries — Michigan State, Ohio State and, of course, Notre Dame — you look forward to games like this. You do extra reps in the weight room because of this.
“There’s a reason why you come to Michigan — it’s to be on big stages like this, and I’m excited.”
Each of the past three meetings between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish has produced an instant classic, with Michigan coming from behind in the final moments each time.
In 2009, former Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier marched the Wolverines down the field in the fourth quarter and hit wide receiver Greg Matthews on the goal line with 11 seconds on the clock for a 38-34 victory at the Big House.
The next season, then-sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson had taken over the reigns of the offense, and he accounted for 502 of Michigan’s 532 yards of total offense in a downright legendary performance. With 27 seconds remaining, he rushed into the end zone from two yards out, and the Wolverines left South Bend, Ind. victorious, 28-24.
Despite the miraculous nature of those two finishes, they don’t hold a candle to last season’s meeting in Michigan Stadium’s first-ever night game. Michigan was down 24-7 entering the fourth quarter. But Robinson fought back, and with just over 30 seconds on the clock and the length of the field to go, he led the Wolverines down the field and hit wide receiver Roy Roundtree on the right edge of the end zone with two seconds left in the game.
Michigan won the game, 35-31, and fans and players celebrated in the Big House for the next hour. But some of the players remember other aspects of that game.
“The first three quarters of last year, we played awful,” Lewan said. “We can’t come out like that — this is a different team, we’re a different team. So I’m really focused on this game right now. I’m hoping to make some new memories from this game.”
Of course, they still remember some of the positive aspects of the game, but at Monday’s press conference, they stayed relatively reserved.
“I would say just how our team on the sideline was great throughout the game — communicating, believing in each other, all those things,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
But still, he remembers the bad a bit more vividly.
“Well, you know, they obviously have some answers (for Robinson),” Hoke said. “They had some answers the first three quarters of last year because we didn’t do anything, if you will remember, offensively, and didn’t play really great defense.”
One year removed from the “Under the Lights” game, some new players will be able to play in the rivalry game and add new wrinkles to the series. Junior Devin Gardner, who has recently made the move from quarterback to wide receiver, will likely play a significant role in the series for the first time.
He’s more excited than he his nervous for the big stage.
“We’re getting prepared this week, going to be a lot of crowd noise in practice,” Gardner said. “I’m sure Coach Hoke is going to dial that up. I just can’t wait to get prepared for these guys and get a chance to play.”