I’ve written and re-written this post multiple times now before posting it. I’m not sure what I expected to be able to write at this point, but frustrations are clearly coming to a head. I don’t plan on writing much about the last two football games in any real depth, mostly just discussing opinions and irritations. If that’s not what you want to read, I don’t blame you. But, let’s be honest, what is there possibly to evaluate from the past two football games? At the end of it all, this blog post turned into one big jumbled compilation of thoughts with no real defined identity or strategy; quite fitting given the topic I’m writing about.
First up, my rant on society/Twitter/etc. Skip down for actually football discussion.
I have a serious love-hate relationship with Twitter. There are a lot of stupid people saying a lot of stupid/wrong things. People saying that Brady Hoke is going to be fired/should be fired/etc. after this year fall into this category. You are flat out wrong. Your statement is ridiculous. If you honestly think that Dave Brandon is going to fire his first major hire as an Athletic Director after only three seasons you should be wearing a bike helmet at all times. How do you avoid drowning in the shower each morning? Serious question. I understand the frustrations with this team and the staff, really I do. But firing a coach after three years isn’t going to solve anything except set this program back again.
I’ve overheard people around Ann Arbor and had people tell me some of the most ridiculous statements regarding this football team. I’ve had the cashier at Chipotle tell me that Al Borges needs to be fired because he isn’t running the West Coast Offense correctly. “He’s using too much shotgun in his play calling.” I stared at the cashier dumbfounded because I honestly didn’t know what to say in return. If you’re going to criticize the staff, at least make logical statements.
At the Big House I heard people say that Hoke needs to be fired because he can’t recruit. That Devin Gardner is a bad quarterback because he doesn’t have a strong arm. That Gardner is too slow to run the read-option and that Shane Morris should be the one running it. Somehow people think that Shane Morris would do better in the offense than Gardner (Um, have you seen our offensive line?).
Do you look at recruiting classes, buddy?
Twitter really brings out the stupid in society. It’s a shame that I can’t stay off of it.
Ah, how quickly people forget about Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan.
It doesn’t stop there though. People tweeting at recruits when they don’t pick “their school” are the scum of society. I was just as unhappy as anyone that Da’Shawn Hand didn’t pick Michigan. To be honest though, I wasn’t surprised. I always questioned why “recruiting experts” thought that Hand would pick Michigan over the NFL factory/championship winning program in Alabama. Especially with the way the Michigan football team has played the last four games, it felt like landing Hand was a pipe dream. Sure, it’s frustrating to miss out on a top recruit, but that doesn’t give you the right to say brutal things to a high school kid. The same goes for the Michigan football players. No reason to tweet at them or message them nasty things, it’s counter-productive and makes the fan base look like a bunch of ass holes. Michigan fans always talk about class and tweeting garbage at people through a computer is about as classless as it gets.
On to football though.
I’m not saying that Hoke’s seat shouldn’t be warming up and that there isn’t a need for some changes, because there are. I’m just saying don’t think for a second that this coaching staff is going to undergo ground breaking changes this offseason. Don’t kid yourself. Brady Hoke has done plenty to earn at least four years and I’d prefer to give him at least five. He’s rebuilding and the team still isn’t entirely his creation. Most importantly, he has the support of former players and Dave Brandon.
Do I agree with the idea that his coaching staff should stay completely intact? No, of course not. John Beilein had a few years of struggling before making staff changes and turning the Michigan basketball program around. But, I don’t think that Brady Hoke will do the same. Hoke said in his press conference after Nebraska that he liked the play calling [facepalm]. The only way he changes the offensive coordinator is if that was a bold face lie to the media/public (aka coach speak), or if Dave Brandon forces him to fire Al Borges. Will we get a change at offensive line coach or with the strength and conditioning coach? I would like to think so, but I don’t have my hopes up. I don’t see it happening.
I’m having trouble formulating what I want to say in a constructive manner. This offense is flat out atrocious. The play calling is bad, the execution is bad, it’s all just very bad. Devin Gardner has no confidence in himself or his offensive line. It seems as though he isn’t as mentally tough as Denard Robinson and is very concerned with making mistakes, resulting in him holding onto the ball for too long. Denard was criticized vehemently for throwing interceptions, yet he kept his happy-go-lucky attitude for the most part and kept battling. You can see that Devin’s lost confidence trying to throw the ball into tight spaces. The criticism of his turnovers has clearly worn on him and he’s been playing like a deer in headlights. There were times when the offensive line actually held up, but Gardner held the ball so long it ended up resulting in a sack anyways. He’s afraid to make mistakes now and this is a problem.
The fact that the team has had back-to-back games with negative rushing yards is disgusting. Yes, the sacks were the biggest reason for this negative rushing yards, but it’s not like the running backs had amazing games. In the past two games, the running backs have combined for 25 rushes for 37 yards…utterly brutal. The fact that both games were on national television is worse. Michigan’s offense has effectively turned into a nationwide laughing stock. Against Michigan State they were bullied and they were beat up, up and down the field. The defense played very well for a portion of the game, but after Raymon Taylor had the interception and the offense went out and lost 30 yards and then punted, the defense lost all hope. MSU went down and scored two touchdowns on back-to-back drives, and gave MSU their largest margin of victory over Michigan since 1967.
(Last in the FBS? Is that good?)
Nebraska was a team that had given up 200 yards rushing (not including sacks) to every single team they played except for Purdue. This includes opponents like Wyoming and South Dakota State. Apparently Michigan’s offense is worse than South Dakota State. I’ve watched every offensive snap from the Nebraska game twice and it’s just terrible. There’s nothing productive to really say, if you’re feeling brave or bored, give it a watch. It’s not for the feint of heart.
This Michigan team may be 6-3, but it honestly feels like 4-5. At the start of the year I was worried about missing the bowl game Michigan would play in on January 1st because I was going to the Winter Classic, and right now it doesn’t look like that is going to be a problem. I had high hopes for this team. I thought they could finish 10-2, but I also knew that 8-4 is a possibility. As of right now, 8-4 is a best-case scenario for the rest of the year. I never thought that 6-6 and would be a possibility and it’s scary that the team has fallen a part so quickly this year.
(It’s a serious problem when this is a highlight of the football game for the offense.)
The offense is full of problems that are continually building up and feeding off each other. The interior offensive line can’t execute blocks, so the running backs don’t have holes. The running backs aren’t elusive enough to create their own holes/make something out of nothing, so the team loses yards. The team doesn’t have a run game, so opponents blitz like crazy and stack the box. Devin Gardner has no confidence or time, so he has regressed and now has trouble making decisions and throws the ball high because he isn’t setting his feet. The play calling continually ignores deficiencies and doesn’t adjust to put the kids in a position to succeed. One problem has caused the entire offense to spiral out of control and now nothing works. The defense has played really well for a lot of the year, but they end up spending so much time on the field since the offense can’t move the ball and eventually they break down.
The past month of the football season has been brutal, losing three of the last four games and whiffed on Da’Shawn Hand. Sure, Hand wasn’t going to resurrect the offense or be an impact player on defense as a freshman, but he would have been crucial for the future and added depth to the defensive end spot. Plus, when a prospect as good as Hand commits to your program, other recruits take notice. Top 2015 and 2016 recruits would notice and if they weren’t interested in Michigan before, maybe they might think to take a look. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. There are other targets that Michigan will go after and now Malik McDowell has turned into a must-get prospect for Hoke and Co. It’s important to remember that there’s never a guarantee that an 18-year-old high school stud will pan out at the next level. Every sport is all about long-term athlete development and that’s why so many high school superstars don’t develop in college and why so many late-round draft picks turn into superstars. Here’s a solid read on the topic from Pat Forde. Want some good news? Michigan’s program got off of probation on November 5th from the practice incident under Rich Rodriguez.
Of Michigan’s 85 scholarship players, 52 are in their first two years of eligibility. I don’t want to keep using youth as a crutch. There are plenty of freshman and redshirt freshman across the country that are contributing on a massive scale. That being said, their youth is clearly showing. The inexperience is killing them. For lineman, it is different, it takes longer to develop, especially strength wise. Technique can only take you so far when you’re an 18-year-old true freshman going up against a 21-year-old defensive tackle that has had three more years in the weight room than you. But at what point do you start to question the coaching they are getting? I think there needs to be a serious evaluation of the offensive line coach and the strength and conditioning coach. You see flashes of talent from guys like Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch, but it isn’t there on a consistent basis (obviously). Michigan had major depth issues on the offensive line after Rich Rodriguez left, hell, they had depth issues everywhere. Rich Rod’s 2010 recruiting class that had 26 players in it has only 9 players left in it. Here are those nine players: Richard Ash, Josh Furman, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Will Hagerup (suspended for year), Courtney Avery, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan and Jibreel Black. Ash, Furman, and Jackson haven’t played much at all and Dileo, Ryan, Avery and Black have all missed time because of injury. It’s not exactly an amazing crew of upperclassmen. Hoke needs time to rebuild and he needs time for his recruits to become upperclassmen. It all starts from the trenches and Michigan’s offensive and defensive lines are terrible right now. Obviously changes need to be made. When you’re 6-3 and staring 6-6 in the face, something has got to give. I don’t even want to think about what Ohio State is going to do to this team, we may lose by 60. If that happens, I’m not sure what is going to happen. I just know I don’t want to rebuild again. I want Hoke to get the job done. I want to see Michigan return to glory.
[Photo via: ESPN]