NEW ORLEANS — The Michigan football team has had plenty of new experiences in the Big Easy.
Great food, New Orleans nightlife, a boat ride on the Mississippi River, and the list goes on.
But in practice yesterday, the Wolverines visited the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time, the place where they will take on Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Tuesday and try to become just the fifth team in Michigan history to tally 11 wins in a season.
A few things stick out about the stadium that could have an impact on the game Tuesday. The first is hard to miss. Walk into the Superdome, and it’ll take a little time for your eyes to adjust. It is bright.
Luckily for both teams, they’ve had some time to adjust to the new setting — which will be very beneficial come game day.
“The biggest thing with our guys, we’ve got to get used to getting in the Superdome,” said Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. “You have to get in the Superdome, get used to catching the ball in the lights, because that part of it is a little different. You get practicing in there and you get accustomed to it.”
For fifth-year senior center David Molk, the lights won’t play much of a factor given his position. But that’s not the case for others.
“The only difference is the guys who are gonna have to look up at the lights,” Molk said. “Instead of (the sun), there’s gonna be 300 lights.”
The lights are set up in a circular form, with four bands closing around a large Mercedes-Benz logo in the center of the roof, so that when you look up, you’re staring right at the lights. There’s no getting around it.
One of the guys who will have to deal with the lights head-on is Virginia Tech flanker and punt returner Danny Coale.
“It’s a little different,” Coale said. “Instead of the lights being on the side, they’re kind of circular and they go up. It can be tricky at times, but you have to deal with it.”
While it’s mainly the receivers and returners that will be challenged by the lights, everyone on the field will have to deal with the noise.
The Superdome may hold less people than Michigan Stadium — it seats 76,468, about 30,000 less than the Big House — but because of its structure, the noise level can become ear-splitting.
“I think it’s going to be much louder than people anticipate,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen. “We were in there yesterday and had music going and it was deafening with the speakers going. It’s going to be an interesting game once everybody piles in there and starts making noise.”
Van Bergen said Michigan has practiced silent communication using hand signals as a way to get around the noise, which the team also used for the Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska games.
“It’s not something we’re unfamiliar with,” he said. “We’re pretty comfortable with it, but it’s something you have to be cognizant of.”
The Superdome does offer some advantages, too. There will obviously be no weather issues, which could be helpful for the kickers.
Michigan redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons said he’s looking forward to kicking in the Superdome, though he doesn’t think it will affect his range. Michigan coach Brady Hoke agreed — he said that if the Wolverines are faced with a long field goal try, he will turn to freshman Matt Wile, which has been Hoke’s plan all season.
As for the actual field, the turf is the same that is used in Michigan Stadium and in the Michigan practice facility, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
And to Borges, neither should the Superdome.
“It really doesn’t matter where you play or when you play,” Borges said. “It only matters how you play.”