U-M focuses on itself as impatience grows

According to Brady Hoke, Michigan-Ohio State is the greatest rivalry in all of sport.

And for the low, low price of $65 on an assortment of ticket websites, fans can take in that rivalry this weekend in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines have lost four of their last six games, have been out of the running for the Big Ten title for a few weeks now and enter Saturday’s game as a two-touchdown underdog to Ohio State.

So it should come as no surprise that hoards of Michigan ticket holders would rather sell their tickets than be in Michigan Stadium on Saturday to take in what could be a rather lopsided game. And it should come as no surprise that some or many of those tickets could be picked up by Buckeye fans eager to experience a win in their rival’s stadium.

Hoke said he’d be disappointed when asked about the probability of Buckeye fans being out in force this weekend.

But would he be surprised?

“People are fickle, that’s just the way it is,” Hoke said. “That’s the world we live in.”

“You can’t focus on the big crowd, who’s in the crowd, is there more red in the crowd,” left tackle Taylor Lewan added. “It doesn’t matter. We’re playing a football game.”

And that’s kind of the attitude Michigan is going with.

As much as the Wolverines might try to avoid it, they have heard or seen or experienced the disappointment surrounding this team this season. So they will keep it insular, keep it all about the team and the coaches.

They haven’t talked about snapping Ohio State’s win streak. They haven’t focused on spoiling OSU’s season.

They’ve looked at what Michigan needs to do to play Michigan’s best.

Hoke said that for the Wolverines to do that, there are two areas they need to greatly improve in the next six days.

Offensively, Michigan needs to limit its negative plays.

“Negative plays are always going to be a problem,” Lewan said. “Any team, any program, whether its Pop Warner or the NFL, you can’t have negative plays.”

The Wolverines have struggled moving the ball on first and second downs, which have put them in tough positions on third downs. They lead the country in rushes for zero or negative yardage (160) and it’s not even close. The two nearest teams are Idaho and Florida International, which both hold records of 1-10 and have 138 and 135 rushes for zero or negative yards, respectively.

Defensively, the Wolverines need to find a way to contain the Buckeyes’ rush.

Ohio State has the fifth-best rushing attack in the nation with 315 yards per game. The Buckeyes are second only to Navy in rushes for 10-plus yards (115) and have accounted for 36 rushing touchdowns, a mark good enough for eighth nationally.

Michigan has struggled in that area. The Wolverines have allowed 43 rushes of 10 or more yards this season. But Hoke is sure his team can improve in these two areas.

“I’m very confident it can happen, or we wouldn’t play,” Hoke said. “I’d call down there to Columbus and say, ‘We won’t do it.’ ”

That’s obviously something Hoke would never do. But the fans? They can.

They might prefer the warmth of their couches for a game that might provide little to be excited about.

But again, the Wolverines are keeping it inside the building. Whether those fans show up or not, they will play the game. Whether those fans boo or not, Michigan will play Michigan’s game.

Hoke isn’t listening to that chatter. Which is fine. It’s not his job to listen to those kinds of things. It’s his job to coach the team that plays in front of them on Saturdays.

But on this Saturday, the noises he might hear, especially as those ticket prices continue to drop, are the cheers from large sections of scarlet and grey from inside his stadium.