ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The old adage “you play like you practice” had never hit so close to home for Michigan.
And it’s the answer to why the Wolverines looked so out of place against Akron, a team that had lost 27 consecutive road games.
You play like you practice -- simple, old-school, Pop Warner football knowledge. There's nothing groundbreaking there.
So it should surprise no one that when Michigan practices and prepares poorly, that’s the product that’s put on the field.
“We knew we didn’t give our best effort throughout the week, and we knew that everything that happened during that game, we deserved it because we didn’t give it all we had,” sophomore linebacker James Ross said. “Everybody, the whole team, it just wasn’t a good vibe.”
Was it a letdown from the previous weekend, when all the pomp and circumstance was brought in for the last Michigan-Notre Dame game in Michigan Stadium? Yes.
Did it become a wake-up call for the Wolverines? Yes. From the moment the game ended, the renewed sense of urgency was obvious among every player.
Is it a sign of something more troubling for Michigan? Absolutely. After all, technique and fundamentals are teachable. Attitude and effort are not.
Sometimes, fundamentals and technique trump attitude and effort. Chances are that Alabama or Oregon could’ve prepared poorly for a team like Akron and still won handily. They have an experience factor.
The Wolverines don't. They’re young across the board. And they’re especially young at some very crucial spots.
Their defensive line combines for 29 career starts. At times, coach Brady Hoke admitted, there was a lack of communication on the line. There were missed assignments and, because of it, wide-open gaps.
Without the pressure up front, Akron QB Kyle Pohl had time inside (and outside) the pocket. The Zips outgained Michigan in the passing game, 311 yards to 248 yards. On the ground, they rushed for 107 yards -- 11 more yards than the Fighting Irish gained against Michigan the previous week.
That goes back to game-week prep.
Michigan’s interior offensive line combines for nine starts. And that inexperience seemed evident as Akron packed the box with eight defenders on many plays, making it impossible to create double-teams on the interior line. It forced the Wolverines' young tight ends to block more, and as a result it put more pressure on quarterback Devin Gardner.
The Zips dared Michigan to beat them in the air, and Michigan didn’t. It couldn’t.
That goes back to game-week prep.
The Wolverines aren’t good enough to wing it. Yet they spent last week acting as if they could, apparently.
“We had a really bad week of practice, too, and it all just kind of played in together,” senior right tackle Michael Schofield said. “People kept saying, ‘Oh, you guys should beat them by 50. You guys should only play one half,’ and everything. We kind of let that get to our head.”
One reporter followed up: So you bought in to that?
“Yes,” Schofield said.
They bought into it even though one of the Wolverines’ goals is to get better every day.
Last week, Hoke had said he didn’t like the way his team practiced on Tuesday as he began installing game specifics for Akron. He didn’t think his team improved that day.
By 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, Michigan had defeated Akron 28-24. Even with the win, it was another day Michigan didn’t improve, according to Hoke.
By 4:07 p.m., Hoke had decided to call a Sunday practice in full pads, something he has rarely done at Michigan.
“We needed that,” senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “This team needed that. I think we were a tough, hard-nosed football team, and then we kind of got away from that this week. I think that was coach Hoke giving us a reality check.”
There were bright spots -- though few and far between -- in the win over Akron. When the Wolverines needed to score, they marched down the field and got Fitzgerald Toussaint into the end zone. And when Michigan needed a goal-line stand to win the game, the defensive line and linebackers Desmond Morgan and Brennen Beyer came up big.
Maybe that goes back to the two-minute drills the Wolverines practice. Those, perhaps, went well last week. And Hoke said he’ll implement an additional one of those in this week’s practices.
He and the rest of the Wolverines are working to get better each day this week, so they’re prepared when they take the field against UConn on Saturday night.
It’s another team that Michigan should beat. But the Wolverines know that doesn’t mean too much.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that this team understands what happened Saturday, that they know it’s not acceptable,” Lewan said. “They’re focused. And we’re going to prepare like no other team has ever prepared before.”
Week 4? It’s about time.