I did not make this headline up
I've been looking at quite a few candidates for 2015 HC the past few weeks as it had become increasingly clear the Hoke is not the answer; something I think the masses have finally agreed upon after Saturday. I will post a few profiles this week in diaries on what I have found on candidates outside the normal cabal regurgitated over and over. These profiles are at a 'superficial' level and how many I post are depending on time - it is one thing to read up on someone but another to distill the information back out in a cogent form. Some candidates I have done a ton of work on - some I have done less on. All are current head coaches as I don't belive we can take a chance on someone who does not have HC experience at the NCAA level unless their name is John Harbaugh.
Normal caveats apply:
- I am not an AD nor do I have a full time staff to focus on one of of the most important decisions over the next decade. These are superficial reports based on raw data. If I were an AD I'd be doing a lot of on the ground work on each of these people's backgrounds starting from their playing days on forward to every coaching stop.
- Past results do not guarantee a damn thing. But that is all we can go on.
- These are not necessarily my top candidates (read: Jim Harbaugh) but people we could get and are interesting and not "Sumlin, Shaw, Gundy redux"
- I believe an elite level coach gets results within 2-3 years, by results I don't mean 11-2 but improving a bad program or maintaining a good program
- W/L record is not the be all and end all - what Gary Barnett did for Northwestern is more impressive than what a lot of coaches have done at USC or Bama or Texas over the years. Spurrier went and won at Duke for example early in his career. Or just see John Beilein.
- Adjust everything for conference, level of competition, and ability to get recruits
- I don't care about systems - a good coach will coach up players. It's about the Jimmy and Joes not the X's and O's.
First up.... Dave Doeren, age: 42
Summary: Doeren is currently coach of NC State which ironically is in the news this week for giving FSU a major upset scare. That has nothing to do with my analysis of him which was actually done last week but made me more bullish obviously. This analysis is probably 1-1.5 years too early as I'd be more interested in Doeren after seeing what he does this year and in 2015 with the Wolfpack as they are a rebuild situation right now. That said since I did some homework on him I will toss him out here and watch him the rest of this year and if he has a good year and a good 2015 I believe he will be one of the hottest candidates out there at THAT point. He is the opposite side of Chryst who a few people have mentioned as a candidate who is now the HC of Pitt; he was the OC for a while in Big Bert's system in Wisconsin - while Doeren was the DC for some of those years.
Recent (10 years) coaching background
- 2005: Kansas co-DC, LB coach, recruiting coordinator. As a 33 year old
- 2006-2007: Same roles as 2005 but at Wisconsin, as a 34-35 year old
- 2008-2010: DC at Wisconsin in his mid to later 30s
- 2011-2012: HC at Northern Illinois
- 2013-2014: HC at NC State
Analysis: A lot of responsibility at a very young age in Big 5 conferences both as a DC and now as a HC. HC at a non Big 5 conf by age of 40. Tons of experience in the Big 10 footprint. Aside from coaching experience was also a recruiting coordinator for 6 years.
Caveat for results ----> (a) nothing exists in a vacuum (b) as a coordinator you can benefit or be penalized if your HC is good or bad or average (c) injuries or graduation can change your results dramatically in any 1 year. This is the type of stuff you'd research as an AD staff on every potential candidate.
I will break down his results at 3 time frames - DC at Wisconsin, HC at Northern Illinois and HC at NC State.
(1) DC at Wisconsin
These were some great years for the Badgers. He co-coordinated for Big Bert's first 2 years at Wisconsin, then was sole DC in years 3-5. These teams were 7-6, 10-3, 11-2. Being Big 10 brothers we know how Wisconsin is - a stout if not overly athletic defense.
Total defense ranking
- 2008: 37
- 2009: 17
- 2010: 20
Please adjust that ranking for the fact it was facing Big 10 offenses. I penalize any Big 10 defense about 8-10 spots in ranking due to facing a lot of bad QBs and not good offenses - meanwhile I'd do the opposite for a Pac 12/Big 12 defense which faces an array off air raid type offenses. So these were nationally good but not great defenses. However Wisconsin usually recruits in the late 20s to early 40s in terms of rank so they are not working with OSU/ND/UM type athletes by and large.
(2) HC at Northern Illinois
Whomever the AD is at Northern Illinois is someone I'd trust a lot more than David Brandon to pick a coach. Doeren came in after Jerry Kill and staff moved on to Minnesota. Kill had a very good 2010 team (11-3 W/L). What I like to see in this situation is a David Shaw taking over for John Harbaugh situation - a coach who can maintain status quo without a major dropoff. Doeren did that. Below are Jerry Kill's last season in terms of W/L, total offense and total defense compared to Doeren's 2011 and 2012.
The defense fell off in 2011 but came back in 2012, while the offense maintained excellence.
2011's 3 losses were 45-42 to Kansas, 49-7 to Wisconsin, and 48-41 to CMU. CMU and UK were bad teams. All 3 of these losses happened in Doeren's first 5 games. It was ironic (my version of ironic) in that Doeren had the 2 teams he cut his teeth on (Kansas, Wisconsin) on his schedule. N, Ill won the MAC at 7-1.
2012 was a magical year where NIU went from "MAC good" to "damn good" - they were ranked and went up against Florida State in a bowl game. They did lose 31-10 but cmon, its NIU! Their only losses that year were FSU and Iowa 18-17 to open the season. Caveat - they did have the services of one Jordan Lynch, he if 3K yards in the air and nearly 2K on the ground (breaking Denard Robinson's single season record) - an incredible season. On the other hand it is not like he was inherited; 2012 was his FIRST year starting. Lynch went on to have another ridiculous year in 2013.
(3) HC at North Carolina State
Coming off a magical 2012 Doeren did what most good coaches do - struck when the iron is hot. I dont know why people get upset about this - Urban Meyer left Utah and Bowling Green after 2 seasons each. Saban left Toledo after 1 year to go to the NFL. So unlike some folks on MGoBlog I dont blame coaches for hopping around until they get to an elite program. If Doeren suceeds at NC State I expect him not to last more than 3 years there. /off of soapbox
After a 7-5 campaign, Tom O'Brian was fired after 6 seasons at NC State. Reasons cited (per wikipedia)
AD Debbie Yow cited several reasons. She was concerned over lagging season-ticket sales, as well as his approach to recruiting. O'Brien's recruiting classes were frequently in the bottom half of the nation, and Yow wanted a coach who could bring top 25-type talent to Raleigh.
Considering recruiting success (or lack thereof) O'Brian did halfway decent at NC State with a lot of just over .500 type of teams. But it looks like they wanted more.
Doeren came in and had a pretty rotten season with NC State at 3-9 down from 7-5. So at that point you are definitely in a wait and see situation. Not being a NC State expert I don't know if there were injuries or a bad transition or what not. The team did lose as expected to Clemson, FSU, and Duke (which was actually good last year). Those are ok. But losses also piled up at Wake Forest, Syracuse, North Carolina etc.
Here are one of the few 'summary reviews' I can find on the season:
Doeren's debut was a bit of train wreck, as the record suggests. Three wins, one against Richmond. Nine losses, including all eight against ACC competition. But to say the Wolfpack were entirely overmatched would be incorrect. Of those eight ACC games, only two were out of hand in the second half – Florida State, of course, and Maryland. The rest? N.C. State was either ahead or behind by no more than eight points at some point during the second half against its remaining six league foes; the Wolfpack were either tied or ahead of Duke and Syracuse in the fourth quarter. What this says is simple: one, depth was terrible, and two, the depth was really terrible. Yeah, Doeren's reputation lost some luster, but don't throw all the blame on his plate.
Moving ahead to 2014, until the FSU game things were unremarkable because the opponents were unremarkable. The Wolfpack already have more wins in their first 4 weeks than they did all last year - but it was the baby seal variety. Of course the 56-41 loss to FSU might go down as an excellent loss especially for the first real game in year 2 of a regime. NC State faces another tough game with Clemson next week, then returns to more normal fare like BC, Louisville, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech. Assuming 2 losses out of the gate to FSU and Clemson a 4-2 or 3-3 versus other 6 in conf challengers would be "not bad" for NC State. Especially in light of their recruiting which really lags.
Fun fact - Darian Roseboro was at the NC State - FSU game.
So right now it is wait and see on Doeren- this is an interesting and potentially exciting candidate who probably will determine his long term path in the next 3 to 27 months. If he has a rousing 2014 ACC season he might immediately be seen as both a guy who can continue success at NIU and then do a major turnaround quickly at NC State. Same if it happens in 2015. If there is a lack of success by 2016 he could be "just a guy". But one to keep an eye on as his age, experience, Big 10 country footprint, pedigree, and relative success.
Relative to Michigan it is not a guy who I see as a guy in the mix unless he goes something like 6-2 or 5-3 in the ACC. If he does that combined with a competitive Clemson loss next week and the big scare to FSU it would be a massive 1 year turnaround with a coach that could already be on the hot list of some darn good programs. A 3-5, or 4-4 ACC season would still be a positive, and a 2015 season that is more like 6-2 and an overall 9-3 type of record for NCS would probably push him into the pantheon of "hottest young coaching candidates" nationally. And someone who could be the face of a top end program for 20 years at his age. Of course, he could also bust in the next 2 years.
I've heard someone else mention the Georgia defensive coordinator. I'd also love to see him become the coach. He's probably right below Smart and Narduzzi in my mind and he's a young guy. Secondary coach at Alabama for two national championships, Florida State's defensive coordinator for their championship win, and now the coordinator for a good SEC team. I think he'd command a big salary, because I guarantee there are some southern teams wanting him.
He's only 40 and he has familiarity with Nuss. I think he'd keep Nuss on board, which I'd like to see. Bring in a new RB coach(steal Georgia's coach please), a new o-line coach, a new defensive coodinator, and he would run a similar style to Michigans.
The only problem I have at all with hiring him is in 5 years, when he's been successful, I could easily see him leaving for an SEC or successful southern school. Saban will begin looking at retiring by then and who knows how long people in Georgia are going to put up with Richt. I think Michigan has the money and resources to keep him though. If he is successful, I think he will want to stick with the program he has helped rebuild. Especially since Michigan can offer him the resources and money that anyone else could.
Pruitt makes a lot of sense to me. I'd rather Michigan take Pruitt and keep Nuss since they have worked together. If I'm Michigan, I offer Pruitt a 5 year, 25-30 million deal. Money isn't an issue and it seems like Pruitt is fine with moving around. He should at least be good at recruiting with all his championships, Peppers would love him, he's familiar with Nuss, and he has a load of southern ties. He is also young and someone is going to get a fantastic coach in him.
After a game where just so incredibly many things went wrong, it is a bit of a tall order to sit down and write something coherent about the student experience. The student experience, after all, isn’t so fundamentally different than the experience of most of the rest of the stadium, except perhaps that the viewing angle is increased ever so slightly. Oh and louder, definitely louder. The articles and write-ups note the students growing increasingly upset and starting to chant “Fire Brandon” (not “Brady” as some have noted; at least not from the student section) in the third quarter. This misses something markedly different from this game. In the previous games the students, like the rest of the fans, held their fire until some opportune moment. Last week it was attendance numbers that no one believed. The first notable “boos” came after timeout and clock mismanagement. This week, the students didn’t waste any time. Before the game even started, before anything had actually gone wrong, before we ran out of tires to throw on what little remains of the dumpster/tire hybrid fire, the students started chanting to fire Brandon. It reminds me of the scene from “Network”:
The students, the current
20,000 12,000 member block, and future 89,901 75,000 member block of the stadium are as mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. With the “Fire Brandon” chants audible over TV, never mind to everyone in attendance at the game, and, by the third quarter, continuing every time the band stopped playing, it seemed hard to see how this once proud, once great, and once principled program could sink any deeper. But then it did.
For the last two weeks the student section has had the perspective to see the more frightening aspects of the game. Last week, many in my row were convinced we had just watched Utah’s starting quarterback die, or at least become paralyzed, about 20 yards in front of us. It was so shocking that the students immediately stopped celebrating the stop and became deathly silent, at least those close enough to see clearly what had happened. This week we again were witness to one of the more frightening, more horrifying, moments of the game. The students could see immediately after the leg injury that Shane was in no position to continue. We watched, aghast, as he nevertheless did. Then came the late hit and we watched Shane stumble into a lineman, and we watched in horror as a clearly concussed Morris remained on the field. We yelled; we booed; we screamed for him to come out, trying desperately to get someone to hear us and make the only sensible decision. It didn’t work. To leave Shane in like that was reprehensible, irresponsible, and showed such wanton disregard for player safety that it left many of the students angry, confused, and sickened. Whether or not Hoke was being honest when he said that he did not know that Shane looked wobbly is entirely irrelevant. As the head coach, it is his responsibility to know. If he doesn’t or if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Michigan has always been about the players, developing them into young men of class and character, and, if we’re lucky, perhaps some noteworthy football talent as well. What happened today was inexcusable for any team, let alone one that prides itself on what it does for the players.
The game then wound down. The anger and frustration of the last 10 minutes still palpable, but no longer being viscerally screamed at anyone on the field who might hear. Gardner’s solid playing in his time in the game, while helping reduce the ire at the outcome, did nothing to change the conviction that had been burned into those watching. To make matters worse, toward the end of the game two things happened on the sidelines near the student section:
- A dramatic increase in police and event staff presence.
- A rope being held along the sideline and end zone, presumably to prevent a field rush (??).
Did either of these things directly impact my, or really any other students’ lives? Not really. Nevertheless, the symbolism remains. One needs look little further than this to get a good grasp on why the students are so upset with the athletic department. Is the department so distrustful of the students that they want to keep them in line by show of force? Are they so delusional to think that the students would rush the field after a loss? After even a win over Minnesota? over Utah? over literally any home game this season? They’ve taken our water bottles so that they can sell water for $5; they’ve prohibited numerous innocuous items from entering the stadium; three separate event staff members tried to tell me I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a cowbell into the stadium; you can’t bring bags; you can’t bring food. And yet after all of this, they expect us to keep paying such exorbitant prices for tickets? To keep showing up? Don’t get me wrong, I love Michigan Football, I love the Michigan Stadium experience; it’s just that, under Dave Brandon I have yet to really experience either at the Big House.
Hubris. A simple word. It’s a word that’s taken down empires, multiple Reichs, and thousands of companies. Hubris is what leads one to believe they are “above it all”, when they are simply on the verge of being a footnote in history. Why else would the Germans try to go to Russia for a second time? Why else would Hewlett-Packard think the combination with Compaq was a match made in heaven? And why else would a team, a school, a coach, and an athletic director think “belief“ is the answer to all their woe?
Hubris is why Rich Rodriguez had to go. Blind to his own inability to build a defense without his first choice of coordinator and his commitment to a defensive alignment he didn’t understand, his progressive offense couldn’t win the doubters. And his lack of understanding of what being head coach at Michigan entails – it’s not some place you get to coach football, it’s a CEO position that requires significantly more than Xs and Os – added to his undoing along with his un-Michigan Man-ness.
Seven years later, we’re at the proverbial cross roads - again. With a team too young to reasonably be considered a legitimate competitor, even in the weakest of the Power 5 conferences, but still loaded with talent that any school in ‘Murica would love to have, our Wolverines appear lost. When the winds turned against them, the team looked defeated. In today’s fog, the only moment of offensive clarity seemed to come with Gardner in the game, arriving far too late to make the difference needed. Over time, the faults of Carr manifested in the Rodriguez era and the faults of Rodriguez have led to an offensive line of freshmen and sophomores.
Hubris is the reason Brandon must go. Improvements across the rest of the athletic department aside, this department, and it’s brand, is connected to its football program. In the first athletic season of the year, the fall, football is the only sport that gets attention so nothing else can draw attention away from this unmitigated disaster. College football is defined by its ritual, its blaring brass instruments, and its on field excitement. Brandon has seen to it that all of the above are no longer relevant. From rawk music to de-emphasizing the band to seemingly playing Jerry Jones to Hoke’s [insert Cowboy coach here], the flagship entity is in a tailspin. He has successfully given us New Coke, when, in fact, the world doesn’t want it, except for the alien universes of Columbus and East Lansing.
Hubris is now the reason Hoke must go. His “belief” in this team, that they will compete for a conference championship, is clouding his judgment, to the point where he’s putting the health of young men at risk. Put the state of the program aside – having Shane Morris take ANY snaps after the helmet shot to his chin is borderline negligent. I’m no doctor, and I don’t know whether Morris was concussed on the play, but the fact he’d already been limping for nearly a quarter suggests a coach desperate to change something or to send a message. Neither resonated. He’s disconnected from the realities of his team’s capabilities and its health. No doubt recruits will take note. As much as I believe that players love Hoke and would run through walls for him and that he cultivates the greatest of family atmospheres, they will take note. (And none of us need to pile on. DO NOT TALK TO HIGH SCHOOLERS)
Regardless, as an executive, I understand that my team’s performance is nobody’s responsibility but mine. As the chief executive, Hoke owns this. Whether it’s player and coach one-on-ones, changing the culture through action, or finding a better balance between what he owns vs. delegates, maybe it’s already no longer his, or Brandon’s, to fix.
Side note…Coaching young people is among the toughest things to do, though there are clearly a number of people that can capably do it. There are the days youngsters think they know more than you, and the days they are ‘uninspired’ (both of which may describe Gardner today prior to entering the game). The young men on this team have come to us with a passion to be part of a family. They deserve our support for choosing this family. And the young men that have chosen to be part of this family in the future deserve to feel that same passion for this family. And they deserve a cohesive family.
“When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing”
― Bo Schembechler
Bo, we’re behind these players.
Michigan started the season with some wins and a few bad losses. Up next was their old rival, the Minnesota Gophers. Leading up to the game, the head coach was dealing with some legitimately injured players. "There was also a bunch of guys who were hurt - a little bruised and banged up, but not injured, where practicing can make it worse." There were other issues the head coach was dealing with, so he made some changes to the starting lineup. That Michigan team "couldn't do anything in the first half against the Gophers, and returned to the locker room down 9-7." One of the players looked the coach straight in the eye and said, "Coach, I'm going to play." As the story goes, the players "left that locker room jacked!" That team went out there and just ripped the Gophers. That team scored 28 points, shut down the Gophers and won 35-9. That was Bo Schembechler's first Michigan Team. The contrast to Brady Hoke's fourth Michigan team can't be more stark.*
If you look in the boxscore, you'll notice that it doesn't explicity state what the objective of the game is. It's understood by all, one would think, that the goal is to score more points than the opposition. Indeed, the first section of the boxscore is the "Scoring Summary." The boxscore also lists players names and their contributions to the game. One would think that if one wanted to score more of these "points" than the other squad, one might want to play their best players. I'm left scratching my head wondering what Brady Hoke was trying to do in this game. In Schembechler's account of his first game against Minnesota, he admits this:
Let me tell you the God's honest truth: Even if we got beat up there in Minnesota, I would still have felt better about taking the squad I took than I would have if we'd won that game with a bunch of guys who hadn't practiced all week, guys who let their teammates down, guys who didn't take my word seriously.
So it's obvious Schembechler had a larger goal in mind; it was a "lose the battle but win the war" mentality. Oh to be a fly on the wall in Schembechler Hall so that I might understand what Brady Hoke was trying to prove with this stunt. He sat a 5th year quarterback with significant playing experience, a player so distinguished, with so much ability, talent, and skills that he was given the honor of wearing the Tom Harmon Legends jersey, for a 2nd year quarterback with one start under his belt in college. I thought maybe, just maybe, Gardner was injured. That's the only way this makes sense to me, if the objective was to win the football game. However, when Russell Bellomy couldn't find his helmet to sub in for a play, the truth was revealed. Gardner was not injured, for if he was, Bellomy would have practiced all week and would have the slightest clue where his helmet was. No, Gardner was sat to teach some sort of lesson. I suppose it may have been about ball control, but then, why replace him with someone who has shown even less competency in this area than Gardner? Was this lesson really so much more important than giving the Team the best opportunity to win? To even explore this line of thinking casts aspersions on Gardner, and I would rather not go there. So why, Coach Hoke, why did you find it necessary to start Morris, and then further compound your error by letting him return to the huddle to start the second half? If, in fact, the object of the game is to win the game?
* first paragraph obviously borrowed heavily from Bo's lasting lessons. I think I'm going to stop doing this as Bo shouldn't be associated with whatever Brady is trying to do.
Boxscore link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/092714aaa.html
Burst of Impetus
* Toward the end of the first half, Michigan punted to Minnesota and actually had something good happen as we were able to down the ball at the 1 yard line. Minnesota had 2 minutes and 17 seconds to drive the length of the field or at least get in field goal range. Not likely, right, 'cause they are Minnesota. Ha ha, what a joke of a team, right? They only completed one pass last week. I mean, their coach looks like a gopher. Ha ha, right? So Minnesota ran for a yard. Then they ran for four more, and Michigan called time-out, leaving Minnesota 1 minute and 31 seconds left. Everyone will tell you that was the right call, and it was; however, the defense has to make a play. On the next play, Mitch Leidner passed to Lincoln Plsek for 21 yards and all of a sudden, Minnesota had the momentum. They never gave it up. The next thing they took was our gameplan, and then our composure, and then our spirit, and then our health. And finally, they took our jug.
* Imagine the boos if Brady had let the clock run out on that 3rd and 5 play. Let's consider the alternative. Let's just say the defense made a stop, or the much derided Mitch Leidner floated a pass and Minnesota had to punt. We'd get the ball back with a minute left at midfield with no timeouts and a QB making his first start in the Big House. A QB who had shown nothing so far, having thrown for 41 yards on 10 attempts for a 4.1 YPA average. I read this blog a lot. I mean, A LOT. I've learned that 4.1 YPA is not very good. So is that a situation that instills any confidence in you? I'm afraid the correct call in this very strange situation would have been to let Minnesota run the clock out and go into half at 7-7. The next correct call would have been to thank Shane for his efforts, but to let Gardner start the 2nd half.
"What kind of throw was that?"
* Shane finished 7 for 19 for 49 yards with one interception. I guess that's about what you'd expect from a QB that entered the game 7 for 20. Yet Coach Hoke thought Morris gave the team the best opportunity to win, or something else, whatever that might be.
"I thought he was good."
* One thing that my son's teacher is trying to teach him is to use descriptive language when he writes. Saying, "I thought he was good," is somewhat vague. At this point, I don't know if Gardner is still good, (I know he is not "legendary") but I can say that he is better than Morris right now. Gardner was only 3 for 6 and had some dangerous looking throws, but he did average 6.5 YPA, and that at least isn't bad.
"That doesn't help at all."
* De'Veon Smith led Michigan with 57 yards rushing on 9 carries and had a touchdown. He carried once in the second half for 2 yards. The whole point of toughness-manball-toughness is that you wear down your opposition and make hay in the 2nd half. Giving your one back who showed anything in the first half only one second half carry, "doesn't help at all."
* Derrick Green had 4 first half carries for 10 yards. He was given two 2nd half carries and lost 2 yards. Everybody say it with me, "that doesn't help at all."
* Michigan received the kick to start the second half. We were hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and began the drive at the 12.5 yard line (half way to the goal from the 25.) The boxscore shows 2 penalties for 23 yards, so it appears they round up. I've always wondered about that.
* So the big halftime adjustment was to give the ball to Green, the guy who wasn't gaining yards in the first half, and then throw to Darboh, the guy who wasn't getting open in the first half. Hurray for haltime adjustments.
* One of Michigan's few experienced offensive linemen, Erik Magnuson, didn't play. I didn't hear why.
* Net punting yardage was pretty even at 38.2 for Minnesota and 39.2 for Michigan. So even though I'm tempted to complain about the punting strategy, I'll let that one slide this week.
"I could run better than that. He just stops."
* See above.
* Minnesota did have 6 TFLs. I noticed on at least two of them, the play design asks the offensive tackle to downblock a guy 1.5 gaps away from him. I don't see how this is supposed to work.
* Another quote from Bo's lasting lessons:
We took every opponent seriously, and even if we were heavy favorites-and we usually were-our goal was to get better every game.
Does that sound like a Brady Hoke-coached team? How are we taking the Gophers seriously if we think we can win with our backup quarterback and his one career start?
"Another huddle? Really?"
* The blog has complained about the offense and special teams, but generally feels satisfied with the defense. There's a common refrain that goes, well, they played well for awhile but just wore down as the offense couldn't get anything going. The defense was on the field for 70 plays. That's not that many more than normal, thanks to the slow tempo. The defense was actually stout when Ryan Glasgow was in the game. Whenever he came out, Cobb gashed us.
* The defense gave up 23 of the 30 points. Only 10 points were scored on drives that covered more than 40 yards, so I'll concede that the offense and special teams put the defense in some pretty tough situations. But on the flip side, the defense didn't force any turnovers and didn't put our offense in very good positions either.
* The defense gave up 20 first downs and 5.3 yards per play to Minnesota. Michigan was held to 12 first downs (three coming via Minnesota penalty) and 3.2 yards per play. At least the boxscore and the final score make sense this week.
* In a game where Minnesota's lead running back, David Cobb, carried the ball 32 times, Jake Ryan recorded 5 tackles. Read that again. Let it sink in. If, oh I don't know, someone like Chris Spielman was playing linebacker and the opponent's running back had 32 carries, I'd expect Spielman to make 15-20 tackles. I guess what I'm saying is we really missed Desmond Morgan in this game.
* Let's give some credit to Minnesota's line for identifying Michigan's defensive leader and taking him out of the game. Their line played like Epping Campions.
* Will Hagerup made a tackle. I guess under the circumstances that's better than not making a tackle.
"What is facilitating the comfort level?"
* Hurray, I finally have a section heading for inane announcer comments.
* Jineene Edwards (?) asked this of Jerry Kill before halftime. His answer was direct and to the point, "He is gettin' comfortable." So gettin' comfortable facilitates the comfort level. A ha, I'll have to remember that for our next game.
* Shane Morris is from Hazel Park, Michigan, not Minnesota, as Mike Patrick incorrectly stated. This only matters to me since ST1 moved from Pennsylvania to Hazel Park many years ago because of Grandma's hazel eyes. At least that's what he used to tell us. And it's for that reason that I'm a Michigan fan instead of say, the Pitt Panthers, or - shudders - Penn State.
* I thought Ed Cunningham did a fine job. Mike Patrick was horrible, unless you think it's acceptable to mix up Berkley Edwards (5' 9", 190 lbs) with Blutarsky Wolitarsky (6' 3", 226 lbs.)
* Ryan Glasgow, JourDON Lewis, and RayMONE Taylor facilitate my comfort level. (Those last two are thanks to Mike Patrick.) Starting Shane Morris does not facilitate my comfort level. Looking at Brady Hoke on the sidelines does not bring me any comfort.
This is going to be a little shorter than normal for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I have better things to do than rehash another ass-kicking, but also because I have a half-marathon on Sunday that I decided would be a good idea not training for and I want to enjoy my last couple of hours with functioning calves.
Worst: Caring is Creepy
I want to care. I really do. I want to look at barely 100 yards of total offense against Minnesota through 3 quarters, giving up 30 straight points, the pick-six, the continued dumb punting, everything and care. And the fact I'm going to write over 3,000 words about it probably means I still do in some way. But right now, man, I just don't know why I keep watching this team. I get that Brian and co. need to because this site pays the bills, but what's in it for fans like me who are supposed to derive pleasure from watching their alma mater line up every Saturday? As I've mentioned before, I have a young daughter, a beautiful wife, good health, and enough hobbies to keep me busy most weekends. And yet, even after Notre Dame. Even after Utah. Even after the last x number of years of watching Michigan football screw it up more times than not, in ever-more-agonizing fashion, I keep coming back.
I don't know anymore. I might keep writing these columns out of force of habit, but I don't know why it matters. Michigan is poofarting its way toward its 4th coach in 7 years, another 2 months of talk radio complaining, former players calling out the current administration, anonymous sources reporting Dave Brandon is out, is getting a raise, is wandering around Meijers at 2 in the morning trying to Synergize with valued consumers about their love for Michigan and Dr. Pepper.
This season is 5 games in and it feels like it's been going on 40 years, the saddest carousel just spinning around and around while little kids are bored and everyone just wants to get off and get on some other ride. Somebody commented in my last post that they wish I showed more emotion in these posts, that I write them about passion but don't display it. Well, this is what ennui looks and writes like. It's a broken guy who is looking at the screen and looking forward to apple picking next weekend with his family over watching his favorite team in the whole f'ing world get worked over by a commuter school in NJ because it means Cablevision might carry the B1G Network on its basic package instead of the extra "sports" one I pay for.
Worst: Compounded Stupidity
Shane Morris is trying his best out there, so I want it to be clear that I am not questioning him. But there is no reason in the world why he should have started this game if Gardner was even remotely healthy, and nothing in this game dispelled the notion for all of his failings, Gardner is the better QB for this particular team right now. Morris threw one pick-6 that was a combination of poor blocking and staring down a receiver as soon as they broke the huddle, but he also threw 2-3 more passes that probably should have been picked off. He also fumbled a ball for no particular reason, and after being injured early in the 3rd quarter was clearly moving in pain. Morris may be the answer, but certainly not to the questions surrounding this putrid offense.
(I'll leave claims of Morris possibly being concussed and still on the field for those with more information, because I wasn't there and we've seen many players take shots and bounce back up. Not to play devil's advocate, but it looked as much like Morris had the wind knocked out of him by that hit than he was concussed, and the fact he was taken out 2 plays later felt like a coaching staff realizing something more was up than a hit. Putting him in a couple of plays later for that handoff is obviously bad, and his fumbling with a response in the postgame didn't help anything. [EDIT] That said, Brady Hoke is many things, but it takes a pretty extreme jump in logic [admittedly, one that a certain subset of the fanbase is dying to make] to claim that he would knowingly endanger the health of one of his players in a game. But as more information comes out, that could obviously change the story. I'm just wary of the reactionary tone that took over immediately following the game, especially by [mostly] uninvolved third parties).
And yet, Hoke just kept running him out there, giving him the "game experience" of having 300 pound men land on his injured leg and forcing bad throws into bad coverage while the line crumbles around him. Mercifully he was pulled late in the 4th quarter, his ankle clearly ravaged and immediately bound up in bags of ice, and then Gardner was sent in to, I don't know, try to move the offense after being put so far behind the 8-ball that he was basically playing Snooker. After the first sustained scoring drive of the day gave the fans a slight bit of hope, the offense again became bogged down after poor field position and that was the game.
Sadly, this is becoming a running theme with Hoke. Like his QBs after one too many sacks, he locks onto a single target and just won't let go even when it is clearly futile. In his mind, Shane Morris starting was the decision Brady Hoke, the head coach of Michigan, made, and come hell, high water, or complete scuttling of the offense he was going to play every down possible goddamnit. As with the continued stupidity surrounding the punting formation (which cost them another 66 yards after last week's debacle) and his clear preference for a slowed-down, huddling offense, Hoke seems unwilling or unable to look at the current situation and reassess his options; like the mark at a Poker table, he can't read the table one bit and just keeps raising on his 2-7 because there's the possibility he'll hit a flush. All coaches have their blind spots (RR was vilified for not changing his offense when he arrived at UM given the talent available, and the less we talk about GERG the better) but Hoke's seem so wide that we should probably just take his keys away.
Worst: Tough Enough
One of the hottest of #HOTTAKES going on these past couple of weeks has been the railing against the "toughness" of the players the coaching staff. Everywhere you go, you hear and read people questioning the heart and desire of this team, about its willingness to do "what is necessary" to win, to be great, and every other insipid sports cliche uttered by screenlight coaches and players. Amplifying this mentality has been former players calling out the program and players, questioning their abilities and lobbying for the removal of the coaches and Dave Brandon. The general sentiment on the always-reliable internet is that the program is rudderless and that the players have given up as a result, or at the very least aren't able to put the effort forth necessary to win.
I know last week I described the death of my optimism about this season, so this might sound a bit hypocritical to then attack others for voicing their own displeasure, but I am profoundly, mind-numbingly tired of people questioning the desire of college players and the people who have dedicated their lives to making them better. Now, I'm not defending the results so far on the scoreboard, nor am I saying that I believe guys like Hoke, Funk, Ferrigno, etc. are the best choices for the jobs the currently inhabit. I still believe that Hoke should be gone, as the number of boneheaded decisions (the punting formation fiasco and the lack of anything resembling tempo or urgency on offense being prime examples) has only increased since he's been at the helm. But I absolutely believe that he cares about Michigan football and is trying his best to make it a winner, just like everyone else involved with the program; to question the effort and desire put forth by the players and coaches is asinine.
But caring about results is only part of the equation; you need to be able to perform well to achieve them, and obviously that is where the team has fallen short. And some of that is maybe due to "mental toughness", though I guess I read that as more to do with lagging preparation and compounded mistakes than the idea that the players are too "dumb"/easily manipulated by bad circumstances and just mentally check out. Nobody is happy with the season thus far in toto, but the reductiveness displayed by a portion of the fanbase that conflates this objective outcome with subjective interpretations of how much college-aged kids care about their performance is even worse.
It highlights the disconnect and, frankly, the gladiatorial "are you not entertained"-ness of how fans view most athletes, but it is especially disheartening when we treat college athletes, many of whom are juggling lives far more complicated and strained compared to their peers, as pawns for our entertainment. When they succeed, we tend to imprint those successes on ourselves, taking pride in accomplishments we have no connection to beyond the fact that we root for the name on their jersies. And when they inevitably fail to meet our expectations, we bristle at the equally-absurd insinuation that this reflects poorly on ourselves and our passion, resulting in questions of manhood and effort being put forth by people who are, with few exceptions, infinitely better at the sport they play than anyone reading about them is, was, or ever will be at it.
So as a fanbase, I would love nothing more than the bulk of people (because there are going to be mouthbreathers who stopped reading this post at the hashtag and will continue to perpetuate this behavior) stopped wondering about whether or not kids and coaches who represent Michigan care about putting forth the best effort possible (they do) and instead focus on how to support them while also fixing the MANY institutional and administrative issues that have lingered with this team through its various permutations.
Or, to put more succinctly, stop shitting on college kids because you don't like your team losing and need to rationalize that sad feeling in your stomach away by questioning the character of other people.
Best: Fire Brandon
That's it. Oh, you want something more?
Okay, Fire Everyone.
I'm fine with the fans chanting. Might as well direct it toward something reasonable. While I am loathe to believe it matters much to the people in control, the complete clusterf*ck that has been the athletic department these past couple of weeks might as well be highlighted by the brave souls who actually watched the game this week in person.
Best: Former Players Having Opinions
Worst: Needing to Share Those Opinions Every Chance They Get
On one hand, I absolutely believe that fans of this team should voice their opinions, and that former players and others involved in the program have a unique perspective on how the team is being run and what should be its future. I'm just a guy who sits on his couch 13 times a year watching Michigan football and remembers how it felt sitting in the stands over a decade ago watching them play under Lloyd Carr. Like the overwhelming majority of fans, my involvement with the team began and ended when I paid for tickets, and even as an alum I don't feel any great connection to the program beyond the unhealthy obsession fostered by this site and the internet more generally. So guys who bled for this team, who sat through the two-a-days, the tough losses, the long trips and the late-night study tables, and performed admirably for my entertainment should absolutely be allowed to hold their own opinions and, in certain contexts, feel free to voice them much in the same way I do here.
That said, there is a fine line between voicing your displeasure and piling on, and when you step over that line you are simply providing even more distractions for a program that doesn't need them. When someone like me writes a couple thousand words bitching about the team, nobody puts a microphone in front of me or plasters it on the front page of the sports section, and that's probably for the best because I'm kind of an idiot. But former players aren't nameless, faceless goobers; they are "important people" who "speak for the fans", and so their words are given extra meaning when they are probably based on the same raw emotions and frayed nerves that swell in most UM fans' hearts right now. They aren't pointing out something new or unknown; to continue my analogy from last week regarding the Titanic, everyone's seen the f'ing iceberg and the ship ain't getting out of the way.
Brady Hoke should be gone; full stop. The likelihood of him surviving has moved from the nearly-impossible (beat OSU and/or MSU and win a bowl game) to non-existent; even with two upsets over the rivals I can't see the toxicity surrounding him to dissipate enough. Wins will be treated as blind squirrels finding long-forgotten nuts; the core problems people have with him aren't going to change and, frankly, they would only become more calcified if Hoke could pull off a couple of wins to validate them.
It may be counter-intuitive, but I think far volumes would be spoken by former players simply remaining silent through this whole process. Brady Hoke isn't a bad guy (sure he's ornery with the press but that's the nature of any antagonistic relationship) and his love for the University is true and, sadly, unrequited right now. But we've already seen with RR how a toxic environment, fostered in part by former players speaking out against him in the press with nothing more than poorly-thought-out rants and references to a fabricated "way we used to do things", can submarine a program when it is already floundering, and both for this team as well the next coach coming in, it would be a positive for everyone if the vitriol was dialed down. I don't expect that to happen, but it would definitely help.
That's the number of plays Minnesota ran against Michigan, including 40 in the first half. For comparison, Michigan ran 53 plays all game. I thought the defense held up reasonably well in the first half despite UM having only 1 drive in that first half that lasted more than about 2 minutes and change. It felt a bit like watching the MSU game from last year, where the defense tried to hold the fort against a bruising team while the offense sputtered pretty spectacularly. Even Smith's TD was mostly a short-field drive helped by a single long-ish run. There was no sustained offensive playcalling, and it left the defense facing a rush-first team going downhill at halftime, especially after Minnesota worked their way down the field for a FG to end the half. After stoning Minnesota on the first drive of the second half and holding them to a long FG after a bad punt gave the Gophers great field position, you had a sense that the defense desperately needed the offense to do something, anything to keep the floodgates from opening. Of course, Morris then threw his pick-six and the game was effectively over.
I know it is popular to complain about every completion or positive run as if the defense is falling apart, but at some point you can't expect a defense to shut down a competent offense for 4 quarters. Minnesota's offense isn't amazing by any stretch, but it knows what it's good at and when Mitch Leidner is hitting Maxxxxxxx Williams down the sideline for one-handed grabs, there's not much else you can do. The corners, especially without Peppers and a still-slow Taylor, didn't look great, and the front seven played well but failed the dominate the line of scrimmage, which was going to be necessary to keep the game close. Yet despite the offense's ineptitude, this was a game late into the 3rd quarter, and in another world with a different offense Michigan still could have pulled this game out. I don't believe the defense is dominant, but it wasn't "exposed" here any more than most defenses are "exposed" when they are left out there far too long and without any real hope.
Worst: The Offensive Line, Again
After a couple-game reprieve to start the year, the offensive line has been downright porous the last two weeks. It's clearly a young unit trying to figure it out on the fly, and that obviously isn't conducive to keeping everyone healthy and upright. That said, Minnesota was credited with 6 TFLs, but it felt like double, and this a week after Utah recorded double-digit TFLs and seemed to be living in the backfield. The running game seemed marginally better with Smith in there, but outside of that one TD drive the rushing attack never got on track. That, plus the mounting point differential, let Minnesota pin its ears back even more. Tight end blocking remains a major issue, as Morris's near-safety in the endzone was only "saved" by Williams starting his hold outside of the endzone. Neither side of the line seemed particularly sturdy, though with Morris as a lefty it will be interesting to see if that adversely affected blocking a bit more than usual.
As people have said, competency is the shining beacon at the top of the hill for this year, and right now that feels like it is miles away.
Worst: Gotta (Get) Some Separation
I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago against Miami, but without Devin Funchess at full speed it doesn't feel like any of the other WRs can get consistent separation from opposing corners and open up the types of windows a QB needs to hit. Given how bad Funchess has looked in the weeks since he picked up the most important 4 yards in the history of UM football against Notre Dame (hear those echoes), someone else in the receiving core needs to step up and provide an open target, and in this game it rarely seemed like anyone was doing that downfield. True, Morris didn't help the matter by consistently throwing behind, ahead, around, etc. his receivers, but when your QB's long completion is 14 yards and it's to the guy with a gimpy ankle, you are in trouble. It does feel like the team might be overflowing with possession receivers, which is great if you have other options but deadly when the defense can sit on them without fear of being burned deep. Minnesota does have a good secondary and Morris was, again, pretty erratic, but if this team has any hope of moving the ball going forward somebody is going to have to start catching the ball downfield.
Worst: Next Week
I keep saying it couldn't be worse but it still does. Rutgers should be a very winnable game, but who the heck knows anymore. I presume Gardner will get the start so that will help, and Gary Nova may just be inept enough that Michigan can pull out a win. But I'm finally ready to accept that Michigan is going to probably blow this game, and it might get ugly at the end. I hope I'm proven wrong, but I'm definitely not going to worry about it either way.