ATLANTA — Two weeks ago, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh sat in the Crisler Center media room and called the previous day’s practice the best he had ever seen to start off bowl season.
“It was better than any I can remember where there was a break,” Harbaugh said at the time. “Two weeks where the team came back sharp and good, so I was really pleased, as were the other coaches who embarked, had the same feeling and watching the tape, I really felt the guys were crisp and sharp.”
To the reporters perched in front of him, the comment elicited surprise and perhaps an element of skepticism on the back of a soul-crushing defeat at the hands of Ohio State. But on Thursday in Atlanta — two days before the Wolverines take the field against Florida in the Peach Bowl — defensive coordinator Don Brown replicated Harbaugh’s confidence in Michigan’s preparation.
“For the first couple of days, I was kinda curious how we would respond when we got here,” Brown said. “And, our response was fantastic.”
The Wolverines have had experience bouncing back from a crushing defeat already this year, winning 10 straight after their season-opening loss to Notre Dame. But this — having their title hopes dashed by their biggest rival for the second time in three years — is different.
Quarterback Shea Patterson cited the bitter taste left by that afternoon in Columbus as the biggest motivating factor in his decision to return for his senior season. The five-week break before the bowl game added to the difficulty of erasing that loss from memory, presenting a mental hurdle that didn’t exist after the Notre Dame loss.
“I think it’s a little harder after this last game too since we don’t have a game immediately the next week so you’re kinda thinking about it a little more,” said redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry, who hasn’t yet announced whether the Peach Bowl will be his last game at Michigan.
Added Brown: “There were some day one mistakes that I’m still puzzled by (against Ohio State). But you gotta be accountable for it, and the buck stops with me.”
Now — five weeks and 500 miles removed from their loss to Ohio State — the Wolverines are back to platitudes when discussing Saturday’s game.
“We have a high level of focus,” Gentry says. “Everything’s in the past now, and we’re just focused on beating Florida.”
“Move on, prepare, and get ready for the next football game,” adds Brown.
Harbaugh’s press conference tomorrow will surely deliver more of the same, with any questions about the Buckeyes discarded to the past.
And that, as much as anything, is a sign that everything is back to normal.