Trite and true: No. 4 Michigan refusing to fall for the trap

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
“I think we do a fantastic job of preparing for every opponent as well as anybody probably in the country," says Michigan tight end Zach Gentry, left, celebrating a TD in last weekend's win over Penn State with running back Chris Evans.

Ann Arbor — Call it a cliché — because that’s what it is – but Michigan has zoned into the game-by-game approach on its way to an eight-game winning streak and a No. 4 ranking.

And, yeah, maybe that’s easier to embrace when you’re facing three-straight opponents as they just did, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, but the Wolverines channeled yet another cliché — if it ain’t broke, why fix it? — as they prepare this week to play at lowly Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are winless in the Big Ten and are just more than five-touchdown underdogs.

East Division-leading Michigan faces Rutgers and then Indiana in the final regular-season home game before traveling to face eighth-ranked Ohio State in Columbus. The two upcoming games could be considered “trap” games, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his team are not buying it.

“It doesn’t seem like a good idea to look ahead,” Harbaugh said Monday.

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The Wolverines have been unwavering in their focus. They know where they’re ranked and most will take a look at the College Football Playoff rankings when they’re released Tuesday night, but aside from that, they’re remaining, intense, confident and loose.

“It’s just one of those things, why change the way you go into each week depending on your opponent?” linebacker Devin Bush said. “We’re going into each week the same way we’ve been going into each week. You keep the same intensity, you keep the same focus. We don’t ever change for nothing.”

They Wolverines say they are not distracted by the fact Rutgers hasn’t won a Big Ten game this year. Michigan’s last shutout came against the Scarlet Knights, 78-0, in 2016.

“Every game we play now is extremely important as a one-loss team,” Jordan Glasgow said Monday. “Being on the cusp of where we are and the position we are in the Big Ten, every game is important. Striving to be the great defense that we are, I know when we come against any team, we’re excited to see what we can do.”

Glasgow said the team’s goal every game is “to make a statement.”

Last week, defensive coordinator Don Brown said his players have learned to compartmentalize. By taking that approach, no one loses sight of the goals which can fit neatly into boxes that can get checked every time something is accomplished.

“Every game is important to what we’re trying to accomplish and what our end goal is,” Glasgow said. “When you don’t look at it is as the end goal that we have, you look at every game as what we need to do to get to that point. Every game is as important as the goal we have at the end of the season.”

Tight end Zach Gentry said this is the closest the team has been.

“In a while,” Gentry said Monday. “Even before the streak and everything. We all just get along. Locker room and practice — maybe chirp at each other a little bit and have fun with it. We’re not too crazy, but we’re definitely staying focused.”

Gentry said he anticipated Harbaugh would instruct his team to maintain the routine. Game-by-game. Not a good idea to look ahead.

“We have to treat every week like every week we’ve been treating opponents,” Gentry said. “I think we do a fantastic job of preparing for every opponent as well as anybody probably in the country. So we have to continue to have that mindset the next three weeks and play every game like everything’s on the line, because it is.”

The Wolverines have exhibited a confident swagger on the field during games. They’re coming off a 42-7 rout of Penn State last Saturday.

“We have a lot of humility in general,” Gentry said. “We’re a confident group of guys and we’re playing well. It’s a little different with this team. I think even though we’re having some success, it doesn’t feel like in this building that we’re getting away from ourselves and think too far ahead. We’re right where we need to be. We’re thinking appropriately. If we continue to do that it will be fine.”

While the winning has given the Wolverines confidence, there has been no indication of over-confidence. They seem to be taking each week in stride, undoubtedly having fun, but also maintaining a serious, studious effort.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a different mentality,” fullback Ben Mason said. “As a football team, we’re going into games and we’re just trying to win and be a very physical football team. I don’t think our approach is any different as the season went on. Since the first game we’ve had the same approach throughout. We’re working on improving as a team.”

Twitter: @chengelis