Jan. 1, 2012
New Year's Day was day five for the University of Michigan football team in New Orleans with the 78th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl just two days away. The customary midday practice was followed by a press conference at the team hotel and then a pep rally across Canal Street. The evening featured a team-only event at Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street.
On the heels of two very busy days to end 2011, Team 132 eased into 2012 as its first activity did not begin until 11 a.m. Practice was yet again held indoors, but the New Orleans Saints-Carolina Panthers noon start in the Superdome meant the Maize and Blue had to set up a gridiron in the Marriott ballrooms. Denard Robinson's pinpoint passing ensured that nary a chandelier was disturbed. The unpadded workout was very upbeat and featured plenty of attention to detail on special teams.
The final pre-Sugar Bowl press conference for players spanned 30 minutes. After head coach Brady Hoke addressed the media, senior tri-captains David Molk, Mike Martin and Kevin Koger, plus Robinson, Ryan Van Bergen and Jordan Kovacs spent time answering questions.
Coach Hoke has been happy with the balance between enjoying the pageantry of the Sugar Bowl and preparing for Virginia Tech.
"We really have had very good practices here in New Orleans," said Hoke. "I think our guys have done a tremendous job of focusing in on what's important, playing and winning a football game. They had enough time to enjoy themselves a little bit, but overall I like the preparation. We hope to continue that and play well Tuesday night."
Van Bergen reiterated that the seniors especially have been adamant about avoiding distractions and maintaining the focus on preparation.
"I think our seniors and our coaches and even our players have done a tremendous job of balancing practice and preparation with enjoying the time in New Orleans," said Van Bergen. "This is a beautiful city. I've never been here and this is amazing. But at the same time when it's time to focus and dial in for practice guys put that aside and their mentality is to just practice and give everything to prepare. That's what has gotten us to where we are now. Our guys deserve a lot of credit for not being distracted by the things here."
The audience switched from media to fans for Michigan's official pep rally at 5 p.m. An estimated 3,000 fans packed into a block on Chartres Street, adjacent to Canal Street, to cheer on Hoke and the senior class. Koger spoke about the unmatched support of the Maize and Blue faithful and how proud they are to see so many people make their way to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
"We know the Superdome gets very loud, so when they have the football we need to be very loud together," Hoke told the crowd. "We can't thank you for all your support, home and away. We can't thank you enough down here in New Orleans. Enjoy it, but not too much. On behalf of Team 132 we want to thank you for everything you do."
"Thanks everybody for your support and staying into the games no matter what happens," said Koger. "We want to thank everyone for supporting us this whole season and Go Blue!"
At 6 p.m., Coach Hoke continued his public appearance schedule in the Marriott lobby for the Inside Michigan Football Radio Show, which was hosted by Doug Karsch. Reveling Wolverine fans populated the lounge to hear about Coach Hoke's assessment of the week in New Orleans.
Jan. 2 is the last day of game preparation for the Wolverines as they return to the Superdome for practice and a team photo.
Coach Hoke told the media that Thomas Gordon will likely start at free safety and Will Hagerup will be the punter. He also said that fifth-year senior Will Heininger probably isn't going to be ready for the game.
"It's a shame because Will has played his senior year like a senior should," said Hoke. "He's done a great job as a leader up front. The next guy has to step in at the expectation of that position."
NOTE OF THE DAY
Michigan will be making its 35th January bowl appearance and will play in a January bowl game for the 13th time in the past 15 bowl trips.
The Sugar Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game, having played its first game on Jan. 1, 1935, when Tulane defeated Temple. The oldest game is the Rose Bowl, which started in 1902.
STAT OF THE DAY
U-M is 10-0 when scoring 20+ points and 9-0 when outrushing opponent. Equally, Virginia Tech is 9-1 when outrushing its opponent and 9-0 when scoring 20+ points.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
Ryan Van Bergen on communication during the Sugar Bowl among the defense: "The only challenge that the Superdome offers is you have to learn to talk with your hands a little better because you probably won't be able to communicate. (We had to use hand signals) against Notre Dame for sure. It was a loud game. I had to use them there. Ohio was a loud game. Nebraska was pretty loud. It's not something we're unfamiliar with. We're pretty comfortable. But it's something you have to be cognizant of going into the game."
Jordan Kovacs on what sticks out to him about the 2011 season: "What's really unique about this team is our great senior leadership. I think that that is most important on any football team. Guys like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, Kevin Koger, Dave Molk -- those guys have been critical and integral to our success this season. It's been a lot of fun working with these guys and we look forward to sending them out with a victory on Tuesday."
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