Several Wolverines raised one finger in the air as they jogged off the field toward the locker room on Saturday, fresh off their 11th straight win.
Some were pointing to the crowd, thanking the maize-and-blue-clad fans who had essentially taken over Memorial Stadium.
Others held their finger straight in the air, reminding those around them of the one challenge standing between them and the National Championship game.
And maybe, just maybe, a few of the players were foreshadowing where Michigan will stand within the college football world this time next week.
If Saturday’s 34-3 drubbing of Indiana was any indication, the latter may end up being a fulfilled prophecy.
Finally, after weeks of prognosticating, over-analyzing and excessive hyping, there’s no need to wonder what will happen, or if it will even happen.
Dress rehearsal has officially ended
The real test is in sight. The Game. Ohio State versus Michigan. No. 1 against No. 2.
Now, the one thing on Michigan players’ minds is that matchup.
After Saturday’s game, the Wolverines, who were under strict instructions to avoid any Ohio State talk all season, finally received free rein to talk about their upcoming foe.
Steve Breaston, David Harris, Leon Hall, Chad Henne and LaMarr Woodley: Please enter the press room in a single-file line. Keep your arms and legs in the car at all times, and enjoy the ride.
With the now famous Michigan gag order no longer in place, the players could now be candid.
One by one, each player maintained what the Wolverines have said all year long: They actually took the season one game at a time.
In the training room, in the library, in between classes – thoughts of Ohio State really didn’t creep into their minds.
Don’t want to take their word? Just re-watch Saturday’s game.
The offense dominated early on. Two drives, two scores. On the ground and through the air, Michigan was determined to get its offense back on track. And it did. If the Wolverines could have invented a new way to move the ball to show the Buckeyes they were ready, they’d have done that, too.
The defense? Yeah, Michigan got that bad taste from the Ball State game out of its mouth. The Wolverine defense allowed just three points against an Indiana team whose high-powered offense gives it the ability to put up a lot of points.
No, Kellen Lewis isn’t Troy Smith. But it’s a good omen when Michigan completely shuts down an offense with a mobile quarterback that tried spreading out the Wolverines like the Buckeyes will do in five days.
Oh, and don’t forget special teams. Do you guys remember Steve Breaston? No, not the Steve Breaston who seemed to be content as a third option in Michigan’s passing attack this season. I’m talking about the Rose Bowl-record setting Steve Breaston. You know, the one who ran circles around Texas two years ago in Pasadena. He returned a punt for 83 yards and a score to go along with his 100-plus yards receiving on Saturday.
Yeah, that guy. It might be good to get him fired up for the Ohio State game. Think he heard about Ohio State alum Kirk Herbstreit calling him “worthless” leading up to The Game?
Well, maybe thoughts of the Buckeyes seeped a little bit into the players’ minds. But why not prepare for Ohio State in the process, as long as you’re not overlooking the Hoosiers while doing it.
Finally, with the game in hand, one person cracked – kind of.
“Of course, you think about it – ‘I can’t wait ’til next week,’ ” said junior running back Mike Hart, who also hinted that the team might have looked past Ball State last week. “Probably when the game got to when we were up by 28 points, I knew it was over. You’re just happy on the sideline. I wasn’t sitting there talking about O-State, but you’re happy thinking about it.
“I guess you could say you were thinking about it. You just know that you got through this game, and you were undefeated. I wasn’t thinking about game plan and stuff like that. It was just like, ‘We’re 11-0, they’re 11-0.’ “
Mike, I think we’ll let that one slide.
Funny enough, the person who let his guard down the most was the head of the program: Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who I’m guessing had his hand in planning the gag order in the first place.
“I don’t think I’d talk about that if it happened,” Carr joked when asked if he thought about Ohio State during the game.
That charade didn’t last long. The coach of Michigan’s last national title team (1997) went on to say that the Buckeyes were admittedly in the back of his mind on Saturday – though he tried getting rid of them.
But guess what? The ridiculous circus regarding The Game is finally upon us. There are five more days of talk ahead. But come Saturday, nothing that’s happened so far this season matters.
No 26-point wins against Notre Dame can help the Wolverines slow down Troy Smith. Will the fact that Michigan’s defense knocked out two Nittany Lion quarterbacks in Happy Valley mean anything in Columbus? I don’t think so.
Now Michigan, which still sits comfortably at the No. 2 spot in all major college football polls, doesn’t have to worry about making it to The Game unblemished.
The one thing left for the Wolverines is to close the door on the team that has ruled from atop the college football world all season.
Just one more hurdle to climb to complete the Revenge 2006 tour. Less than one week away. And one game to prove that Michigan is just that: No. 1.
– Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org