Thirty miles west of Motown there is Bo-town, and, according to Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jeff Akers, once you get here, you learn one thing real quick.
"Michigan means defense. Our coaches beat that into us every day," Akers said today. "They say the only way to win the Big Ten Conference is with defense. Don't talk. Talk is cheap. Just hit."
Today, before the standard 105,282 victory-minded customers, the Michigan defense hit Maryland in a big, get-the-message-pal! way, producing a 20-0 shutout.
The victory formula was simple: swarm and tackle. Every time Maryland running backs Rick Badanjek and Tommy Neal touch the ball, hammer them high, low and often.
In fact, the Michigan defense was so pulverizing that the M plastered on the cap of Coach Bo Schembechler seemed to stand for "mean." Come at us, mean. Force five turnovers, mean. Intercept Stan Gelbaugh at the goal line, mean. Force Badanjek to lose a fumble at his own two, mean.
When a doting local newsman told Schembechler that his team had "dominated the game well," the coach shook his head and clarified, "I'd say fairly well."
Schembechler proceeded to play it coy, even though his team is 3-0, having beaten three members of college football's elite, without having yielded a touchdown: Notre Dame (20-12), South Carolina (34-3) and now Maryland.
These Wolverines finished 6-6 last season, sixth in the Big Ten, the worst placement in Bo's bountiful (148 victories) 16 seasons here.
So Schembechler did allow for some minuscule gloating today. "Everybody seemed to think we weren't good enough," he said. "People said, 'What if you go into the Big Ten (season) at 0-3?' I said, 'That's impossible.' "
The fact that Michigan's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown yet has some Midwesterners raising their brows. Today represented Michigan's first shutout against a team other than Northwestern or Michigan State since a 26-0 victory over Purdue in 1980.
Maryland converted just one of nine third-down plays and rushed for just 116 yards.
"We were really concerned about Badanjek. We saw him run over West Virginia last week," Schembechler said. Badanjek finished with 28 yards on five carries today.
As the Michigan defenders saw it, four plays meant the difference in the game. On the first series, Maryland reached its 45, before Maryland quarterback Gelbaugh was sacked twice, first by middle guard Billy Harris (loss of 10 yards) and then by defensive tackle Mark Messner (loss of 17).
Akers, a senior linebacker, said these sacks had an effect on Gelbaugh. "He seemed real rattled," Akers said.
The other two key defensive plays occurred in the third quarter. Michigan led, 10-0, and seemed headed for 17-0 midway through the quarter when, on a second-and-goal play, tailback Thomas Wilcher fumbled and Maryland recovered on its one.
On the next play, though, Badanjek fumbled and defensive tackle Mike Hammerstein recovered at the Maryland two. Michigan then scored the 17-0 game-breaker.
"That was the play," strong safety Doug Mallory said of the fumble, "that broke Maryland's back."
Late in the third quarter, Mallory made sure that Maryland wouldn't make any comeback, a la The Miami Game of 1984. After the Terrapins drove 67 yards in 10 plays to reach third and goal from the Michigan six, Gelbaugh threw into a crowd in the end zone, and Mallory intercepted.
"Yeah, but in the back of my mind," Schembechler said of Maryland, "I remember that team scoring three or four touchdowns in the last five minutes."