NCF Nation: Brady Hoke

Early Offer: Why MSU going big in 2015 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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What happens when you have a large senior class about to graduate? You target a large recruiting class like Mississippi State is in 2015. Michigan’s recruiting remains in chaos, as another Wolverine commit is having second thoughts.

Auburn hasn’t been given too much of a chance to land coveted receiver Christian Kirk, but the Tigers’ chances are better than most think. Plus, Michigan lost a key defensive recruit, and don’t be surprised if more are to follow.


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At his core, Brady Hoke is a defensive line coach. Looks like one. Talks like one. Acts like one.

Ask him about defensive line play, or watch him work with the defensive tackles at Michigan, as I have, and you can feel the enthusiasm he has for the job. He's in his happy place, his comfort zone.

At times during Hoke's Michigan tenure, particularly in recent weeks, he has looked a lot less comfortable being the CEO of a big-deal program. We knew Monday's news conference would be a difficult one for Hoke, as the Shane Morris incident in Saturday's loss to Minnesota had gained national traction, not just in the sports media but on "Good Morning America" and "Today."

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsThe pressure is mounting on Michigan coach Brady Hoke after getting routed at home by Minnesota.
So the D-line coach played defense, responding to criticism that the sophomore QB should have been removed from the game immediately after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Hoke did not see the hit, but after reviewing it, he believes it to be targeting and submitted the play to the Big Ten for review.

Hoke said he would never compromise a player's health, especially when the player had potential head trauma. He said Michigan's medical staff is the only group that determines whether a player can re-enter a game, as Morris did. He said that Morris was not concussed, and the only health issue that hampered the quarterback was a high ankle sprain.

"There should be some criticism when we talk about the performance, and that's me and coaching and I understand that," Hoke said. "But when your integrity and character is attacked, I think that is really unwarranted."

Hoke's character shouldn't be attacked here. Anyone who knows the coach -- inside or outside Schembechler Hall -- will vouch for him. He loves his players. He loves Michigan. None of that should be in doubt.

But his performance, not only with wins and losses but with an ability to oversee a high-profile program and all that comes with it, including handling a crisis, should be scrutinized. Several folks around the college football world I corresponded with Monday said the same thing about Hoke: good coach, great guy, tough guy, but the Michigan job might be too big for him.

Every FBS head coach must project an image of complete control, but it's even more important to do so at programs like Michigan that are constantly under the microscope. It takes a certain personality, usually a flashy one and an unflappable one, to handle the toughest of situations. Hoke doesn't exactly fit the profile.

It's fine that Hoke was watching the ball during the play in question, but someone on Michigan's sideline should have seen the hit and Morris' subsequent stumble. Even if it was just the ankle giving out, someone needed to intervene and ensure Morris didn't take the next snap.

Hoke said those people are there and would step in if they saw a problem.

"I would assume yes," he said, "because they do every other time."

Well, this time they didn't. That's a problem.

That brings us to the headset question. You knew it was coming on Monday.

Unlike most head coaches, Hoke doesn't wear a headset for the majority of games. He's often mocked for it, as some say he's not fully plugged in. Hoke thinks it's just the opposite; he can teach more and be more engaged without a headset.

But he was asked Monday if he would wear a headset in the future to be more clued-in about potential injuries.

"No, thank you," he said, clearly annoyed.

Whether the headset matters or not, the image does. So does the image of Morris stumbling into offensive lineman Ben Braden after taking a blow to the head. And so does the image of Hoke going on the defensive with the media.

All these images form a bigger picture and a question: Should Hoke be the face of Michigan football?

If things don't improve quickly, it's hard to see him moving forward as CEO.

This happens in college football. Some coaches are better-suited to different roles. Charlie Weis, twice fired as a head coach at major programs, surely will have opportunities as an offensive playcaller. If Will Muschamp doesn't make it at Florida, he'll likely have his pick of defensive coordinator jobs.

It could be the same thing with Hoke.

There were a million things he'd rather be doing Monday than responding to reporters' questions under the glare of the national spotlight.

Like coaching defensive linemen.
Welcome to the Big Ten time machine. Watch your step and hop aboard. Sorry, Mr. Slive, no standby today. Every seat is taken.

Passenger Delany in seat 1A, please stop ringing your call button. I told you we can't go back to Nov. 18, 2006. Yes, yes, I realize that is when the Big Ten sat atop the college football world with its two most recognizable programs ranked 1 and 2. I know you would give it all up -- the money, BTN's success, the expansion moves -- to relive that magical day in Columbus. Not happening, pal. Here is another bag of peanuts.

Our destination is the more recent past, although for some it feels like a long time ago. We are rewinding exactly one year to Sept. 29, 2013. Here we go!

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke, Mark Dantonio
AP Photo/Paul SancyaMichigan coach Brady Hoke, left, and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio have seen their programs head in different directions since last September.
Meet the Michigan State Spartans. They are 3-1 and unranked after a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame. The defeat reaffirmed that the offense, which sputtered throughout 2012, isn't getting better. Quarterback Connor Cook, replaced late in the Notre Dame game, tells reporters, "I would have wished that the coaches had faith in me to keep me in there." The Spartans are preparing for their Big Ten opener at Iowa, and few expect much to change with the quarterback situation or the passing game.

Now meet the Michigan Wolverines. They are 4-0 and ranked No. 19. They have just had two shaky wins against inferior opponents (Akron and Connecticut), but they previously beat Notre Dame 41-30 behind quarterback Devin Gardner, who put up the ninth-best single-game yards total (376) in team history. They are a rising program under third-year coach Brady Hoke with tremendous momentum on the recruiting trail. The growing feeling is that the Big Ten soon will revert to the Big Two (Ohio State and Michigan) and everyone else.

Speaking of those Buckeyes, they have yet to lose a game under second-year coach Urban Meyer. Yesterday, quarterback Braxton Miller returned from injury to spark Ohio State to a 31-24 win against Wisconsin. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes are loaded at quarterback with Miller and beloved backup Kenny Guiton. Their first Big Ten title since 2009 seems likely, and they could be headed for the BCS title game.

And here we have Maryland and Rutgers. They are still nine months away from becoming official Big Ten members, but most Big Ten fans wish their arrival date could be pushed to, you know, never. Maryland is 4-0 and ranked No. 25 and Rutgers is 3-1 after a win against Bret Bielema's Arkansas Razorbacks, but few expect either team to truly boost the Big Ten. Legends and Leaders had a stronger approval rating than these two.

OK, now we're heading back to the present. Aaaand ... we're back.

It's only been a year, but the Big Ten landscape has dramatically shifted, particularly in the state of Michigan.

Since Sept. 29, 2013, Michigan State is 13-1 with a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl championship. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 497-223. Cook has thrown 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions. MSU's lone loss came in a place (Oregon's Autzen Stadium) where most suffer the same fate. Mark Dantonio is considered one of the nation's premier coaches, and his team remains alive for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Fifty miles away, the Michigan program is in utter disarray. The Wolverines are 2-3. They ended the Notre Dame series by suffering their first shutout since 1984. They failed to score an offensive touchdown against Utah. They suffered their largest home loss to Minnesota (30-14) since 1962. Hoke has lost eight of his past 11 games but said after the Minnesota game that he still thinks Michigan can win the Big Ten. Um ...

(Just a reminder: there's no smoking of anything in the Big Ten time machine.)

If losing isn't bad enough, Hoke faces more heat for leaving quarterback Shane Morris in the game despite Morris wobbling after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit. Perhaps the only Michigan employee less popular than Hoke right now is his boss, athletic director Dave Brandon, whose department was mocked following last week's Coca-Cola/free tickets fiasco.

Things aren't nearly as bleak in Columbus, but Ohio State isn't the juggernaut it was a year ago. The Buckeyes haven't beaten a Power 5 team since Michigan in The Game last November. Miller is out for the season with a shoulder injury. The secondary remains vulnerable. Young quarterback J.T. Barrett is improving, but struggled against the only top-90 defense he has faced so far (Virginia Tech).

Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, are a combined 8-2, each with a 3-point loss as the lone setback. The Terrapins lead the East Division, and Rutgers looks much improved on both sides of the ball. The Big Ten hasn't had many bright spots this season, but Maryland and Rutgers are two of them.

"College football," Dantonio said, "is such a changing landscape."

Expect the unexpected, especially in the Big Ten. The past year in this league shows that the only guarantee is that the future won't resemble the present.

Perhaps there is hope for Michigan. Michigan State, meanwhile, can't get complacent. No one knows what the coming weeks will bring.

"We still have things to prove," Dantonio said. "Our reputation right now is built off of last year's success. It starts here.

"We have to play in the present."
Michigan’s efforts on the recruiting trail aren’t going anywhere until something changes. Plus, whoever ends up getting the Kansas job must do whatever he can to keep quarterback Ryan Willis on board.


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Big Ten bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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How far will Michigan fall?

We'll find out during the next two months, but for now, the Wolverines have fallen out of the bowl projections. Brady Hoke's team sits at 2-3, and the offense has shown no signs of a turnaround. It's hard to envision Michigan winning one Big Ten game right now, much less the four it will need in its final seven to qualify for a bowl berth.

Indiana also falls out of the projections after a 37-15 home loss to Maryland. After seemingly turning a corner the week before at Missouri, the Hoosiers struggled to build on the victory as a normally potent offense did next to nothing against the Terrapins. Kevin Wilson's team has the talent to go bowling but must show it can handle success better going forward.

Penn State tumbles a bit in the projections after being exposed in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern. We're not quite ready to put Northwestern back in the projections, but another big win would change that.

Nebraska and Maryland are among this week's risers. We still have both Michigan State and Ohio State heading to top bowls. Minnesota is another team to watch as the Gophers try to build on a strong performance at the Big House.

Without further ado ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
Outback: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Maryland
San Francisco: Penn State
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Indiana
Five lessons from an interesting Saturday in the Big Ten:

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook and Michigan State's offense rolled again in a win over Wyoming on Saturday.
1. Offenses surging in East Lansing and Columbus: OK, so the opposing defenses haven't exactly been stout. Still, it's hard not to notice the huge offensive numbers Michigan State and Ohio State are putting up. The Spartans scored 56 points in a win against Wyoming on Saturday, a week after posting 73 against Eastern Michigan. They're averaging 50.3 points per game for the season, which is ridiculous when you consider the state of the MSU offense a year ago. Connor Cook is in complete command of the game plan, and Jeremy Langford had his first 100-yard day of the season. "We have never exploded like this out of the gate with our offense," head coach Mark Dantonio said. Meanwhile, Ohio State has bounced back nicely after predictably struggling early with a new quarterback and revamped offensive line. The Buckeyes briefly set a school record for total yards against Cincinnati before losing 20 yards on the penultimate play; still, they finished with 710 yards and a school record 45 (!) first downs in a 50-28 victory. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, is growing up quickly, and Ezekiel Elliott shows signs of becoming a star tailback. That's 116 points in the past two weeks for Urban Meyer's team. The competition will improve very soon, but both teams could pull away from the pack in the East Division if their offenses build off these performances.

2. Defenses carrying Wisconsin, Iowa: Things are going the other way in Madison and Iowa City. Other than the past week's shredding of Bowling Green, Wisconsin has yet to play an impressive, full game offensively. The Badgers had only three points at halftime against South Florida before they finally got on track in the second half of a 27-10 win. But Wisconsin's defense has been stout all season. Gary Andersen's team is the only FBS squad yet to give up a red zone touchdown this season, and the defense forced two turnovers against the Bulls. Iowa fans found out Saturday that C.J. Beathard isn't going to single-handedly transform an at times frustrating offense. But the Hawkeyes' D held Purdue without an offensive touchdown and allowed only 156 total yards -- and only 82 in the final three quarters -- in a 24-10 road win. If the offenses ever get revved up, both Wisconsin and Iowa will be very dangerous. Right now, at least, both are winning with defense.

3. Minnesota and Maryland are stealth contenders: Neither the Gophers nor the Terrapins generated much buzz this preseason as possible division contenders -- understandably so, given their recent histories. But both will at the very least be factors in the race to Indianapolis. Maryland is a play or two against West Virginia from being 5-0 and has shown explosive playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. Even with quarterback C.J. Brown injured in the first half at Indiana, Randy Edsall's team kept rolling behind Caleb Rowe in an easy 37-15 win -- the Terps' second straight, double-digit road victory. Minnesota thoroughly dominated Michigan in the Big House 30-14 and -- in a refreshing change -- displayed at least some competency in the running game. With their defense and the running of David Cobb, the Gophers can make some noise in the West despite a challenging final four games (Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin). Meanwhile, Maryland could have a big say in the East as division powers Michigan State and Ohio State (next week) have to go to College Park.

4. Bill comes due for Penn State's issues: It's never been any secret the Nittany Lions had serious deficiencies on their offensive line and, consequently, in the running game. James Franklin and his staff did a great job covering those in the first four games, all Penn State wins. But it's hard to win with those weaknesses in Big Ten play, and Northwestern -- despite its own problems of late -- exploited them in a big way during Saturday's stunning 29-6 win at Beaver Stadium. Penn State ran for only 50 total yards, and Christian Hackenberg was sacked four times while being pressured all game. Hackenberg had one of the worst games of his short career, but it was unreasonable to expect him to carry the entire offense the entire season. The Nittany Lions' problems aren't easy to fix, but at least they have a bye week coming up to search for answers.

5. Ameer Abdullah deserves to be a leading Heisman contender: Nebraska's senior running back is putting together a potential season for the ages. Against Illinois, he ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns while barely playing in the second half of a 45-14 win. That's the third 200-plus yard game for Abdullah this season, and he's on pace for 2,000 yards. The Cornhuskers are the lone remaining unbeaten Big Ten team, and they wouldn't be if not for their leader. Abdullah gets a spotlight opportunity next week at Michigan State, but he deserves all the Heisman love you can throw at him right now.

Meltdown continues at Michigan

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
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The change at quarterback didn’t work for Michigan, so what’s next?

For the first time in Brady Hoke’s tenure with the Wolverines he made a change at quarterback for non-injury reasons Saturday afternoon. But Hoke’s attempt to defibrillate his lifeless offense fell flat. Shane Morris completed seven of his 19 passes for 49 yards and threw an interception in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota at the Big House. When Devin Gardner, last week’s starter, relieved the battered sophomore midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan had managed only 109 total yards.

A woeful offensive performance did nothing to slow Hoke’s fast-fading job security amid a disastrous start to the season for his team, which fell to 2-3 with the loss. The Wolverines have come up short in all three of their games against Power 5 conference opponents this season, getting outscored 87-24 in the process.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Brady Hoke
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsWith another embarrassing loss, it looks more and more likely that Brady Hoke's days at Michigan are numbered.
“We’re disappointed in how we played football today,” Hoke said. “When you look at different aspects of our game, I don’t think we played as well as we can. I don’t think we executed as well. That always comes back to me first as a coach.”

After a 31-0 loss at Notre Dame, it was Gardner who shouldered most of the blame from the Michigan faithful. Hoke’s turn to face the ire came after the 26-10 rain-soaked loss to Utah two weeks later. Now, with a losing record for the first time in Hoke’s four seasons, the Michigan faithful that remain are cocking back farther and launching their verbal rotten tomatoes one tier higher.

The calls for athletic director Dave Brandon's resignation started midway through the third quarter, shortly after Minnesota linebacker De'Vondre Campbell intercepted a Morris pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. That play was followed shortly thereafter by a fumble from Morris, which the Gophers also converted into seven points. A close, physical game deteriorated into an embarrassing loss and the attention turned from the field to the sidelines.

The “Fire Brady” and “Fire Brandon” chorus was accompanied by the third straight week of booing at the Big House. Fans booed Morris and his teammates. Fans booed Hoke and his staff. Fans even booed themselves when the public address system announced an attendance of 102,926. The Michigan Stadium crowd has flirted with ending its streak of 255 consecutive games with more than 100,000 spectators in attendance several times already this season.

That record might have fallen Saturday if not for a botched promotion earlier in the week. On Monday, campus convenience stores gave away a pair of free tickets to the game with the purchase of two Coca-Cola products -- a $150 value for three bucks. The athletic department pulled the deal that night saying it never gave the go-ahead to Coke, but not before tickets sold out.

Add that botched play to a growing list of recent criticized missteps for Brandon’s athletic department, which has tried several ways to build excitement around a team that is failing to provide it on the field. Former football players ripped the athletic director in the media this week for what they see as disrespectful tactics. The suggestion box outside of Brandon’s office is overflowing with complaints about his attempted commercialization of a program that, at this point, can only take pride in its rich tradition.

Of course, those problems are exacerbated by the product Brandon is trying to sell. What would be innovative and generous if attached to a 5-0 football team is cheap and gimmicky for a group that is 2-3. It gets less likely each week that Hoke can survive beyond the 2014 season unless he turns things around in a hurry. The coach said he still believes he has a team that is capable of winning a Big Ten championship this season, but his answers for how it gets to that point haven’t changed despite the past few weeks of repeated problems.

“We continue to go about our business and [maintain] how positive the guys are with each other about what’s going on,” he said. “Believe me, there are guys in there who are taking responsibility for what we’ve done. I’m talking about players, coaches, everybody. When you look at what’s ahead of us we’ve got to get back to work and get better.”

Hoke’s players are still emotional in their defense of their head coach. Junior linebacker Joe Bolden choked up after Saturday’s game while trying to shift the blame to himself and his teammates.

“It’s lack of execution on our part. If we’re not executing the game plan it’s our fault,” Bolden said. “You’ve been coached. You’ve been taught the right way. You just need to simply execute.”

Michigan’s players universally tried to protect Hoke throughout the week, but after the loss Hoke was asked about his own ability to protect those players. The coach decided to keep Morris in the game after a big hit early in the fourth quarter that left the quarterback visibly wobbly on television.

Hoke said afterward that he didn’t see any symptoms of an injury from his vantage point on the sideline. A few plays later, Morris limped off the field and Gardner took over. The quarterback battle between those two will continue next week. Neither player has seized his opportunity to take the job, and Michigan’s search for a spark from that position failed this week.

The Wolverines return to the drawing board this week with a 4-1 Rutgers team waiting for them in Piscataway, New Jersey. The prospect of a Big Ten title in Ann Arbor is bleak, if not downright delusional, one game into league play. As October approaches, the most compelling race left to follow for Michigan might be who can survive longer: Hoke or Brandon.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
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After a banner Saturday a week ago, what does the Big Ten have planned for an encore? It can't win as many games as it did last week since conference play is set to kick off with five matchups inside the league. But there are still a handful of opportunities on the table that can bolster the Big Ten reputation -- and, in one case, a chance to right the ship after a disastrous performance last week.

The fun is set to really begin now. Here's the full rundown of the day (all times Eastern):

Noon games

South Florida (2-2) at No. 19 Wisconsin (2-1), ESPNU: The Badgers and star running back Melvin Gordon roared to life last week, and they've got a chance to continue building momentum heading into Big Ten play. If Gordon keeps up the eye-popping yards per carry he posted in the win over Bowling Green, he could be right back in the Heisman Trophy conversation after a slow start.

Tulane (1-3) at Rutgers (3-1), ESPNEWS: The Scarlet Knights have a chance to run the table outside of the Big Ten, which would be pretty useful in helping them qualify for a bowl game in their first year in the league. The loss of running back Paul James to a season-ending injury is a big blow, but he probably won't be missed against the Green Wave.

Iowa (3-1) at Purdue (2-2), BTN: The Hawkeyes might not technically have a quarterback controversy, but they were clearly energized last week when C.J. Beathard came in to relieve an injured Jake Rudock. If Rudock is healthy, Iowa might play both of them against the Boilermakers, who haven't won a conference game since the last week of the 2012 regular season.

Wyoming (3-1) at No. 9 Michigan State (2-1), ESPN2: The Cowboys have been impressive under new coach Craig Bohl, even trading a few early punches with Oregon before getting blown out. Michigan State stood toe-to-toe into the second half with the Ducks and look like the most talented team in the Big Ten, which is clearly a significant advantage over the Pokes.

Northwestern (1-2) at Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), BTN: After struggling in a pair of losses before a bye week, the Wildcats didn't look much better in an ugly win over Western Illinois. That doesn't bode well for a trip to Penn State, which is brimming with confidence and in position to build on its fast start in the East Division.

Maryland (3-1) at Indiana (2-1), 1:30 p.m., BTN: Despite a loss for each team, both the Terrapins and Hoosiers have been pleasant surprises during the season's first month. Indiana bounced back with an impressive defensive outing to upset Missouri on the road, and that unit will be put to the test by a Maryland attack loaded with playmakers.

Mid-afternoon game

Minnesota (3-1) at Michigan (2-2), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke's seat is warm enough as it is, but it would be scorching if the Gophers come into the Big House and leave with the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota's defense is capable of making Michigan's turnover woes worse, and no matter who plays quarterback for the Gophers, the running game is a handful.

Night games

Cincinnati (2-0) at No. 22 Ohio State (2-1), 6 p.m., BTN: The Buckeyes used their bye week to gear up for Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel and his lethal receiving corps, which will provide the first real test for a revamped secondary. After already dropping one game outside of the Big Ten, Ohio State can't afford to lose a second if it's going to climb back into the playoff picture.

Illinois (3-1) at No. 21 Nebraska (4-0), 9 p.m., BTN: For whatever it's worth, the pollsters still aren't showing much love to the Huskers. But as long as they keep winning, they're going to be tough for the selection committee to ignore. Wes Lunt and a high-flying Illinois offense are entertaining to watch, and with Ameer Abdullah lining up against a suspect defense, this prime-time matchup should feature plenty of fireworks.

Required reading

Week 5 predictions

Tracking our B1G fantasy teams

Take Two: Is Michigan or Florida in better shape for a turnaround?

"Wow moments" arriving for Ohio State's Michael Thomas

Indiana defense more confident than ever

C.J. Beathard ready when the call comes

Uncertainty not an issue for Minnesota QBs

The Miracle at Michigan: 20 years later

Cincinnati knows Ohio State game is huge

Big Ten awards race tracker

B1G 1/4 season review: Bold Predictions | Surprise player | Surprise team

For Tanner McEvoy, actions louder than words

True test coming for revamped Ohio State defense

B1G running backs deserve place in Heisman race

Planning for success: Indiana

No easy fix coming for Michigan offense

Take Two: B1G's best receiving tandem

Penn State, Northwestern very far apart

No quarterback decision at Michigan yet

September, 23, 2014
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Michigan coach Brady Hoke planned to name a starting quarterback Tuesday for this weekend’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota, but he decided to wait until later in the week to go a particular direction.

Redshirt senior incumbent Devin Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris will continue to compete for the starting job. Hoke said Monday that he wanted to let one or the other take over the first-team snaps by Tuesday. But he reversed course during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches conference call.

“We’ve got some ideas with what we want to do, but we’re still going to evaluate it,” Hoke said. “…We’ll still have both guys take reps. We feel good about both guys.”

Hoke didn’t give an exact date, other than Saturday afternoon, for when he expects to have his depth chart locked in place.

Gardner has started the past 16 regular-season games for Michigan, but he was removed during the fourth quarter of last weekend’s 26-10 loss to Utah. The veteran has thrown six interceptions and five touchdown passes so far this season. Morris threw an interception and fumbled once in relief work during the fourth quarter against the Utes.

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said his team was preparing for Gardner to take the first snaps against his team. He said he expects Gardner to get touches at wide receiver (where he played earlier in his Michigan career) if he doesn’t play at quarterback.

“You can’t prepare for a ghost,” Kill said in reference to game-planning for a backup quarterback. “Right now Devin Gardner has been their quarterback, and he’s an explosive athlete. That’s what we have to prepare for.”

Hoke said more personnel changes may be coming later in the week for Michigan on offense and defense. The Wolverines failed to score an offensive touchdown in both of their losses this season. When asked specifically about mixing up an inexperienced offensive line, Hoke didn’t specify if any of the potential changes in mind were from that group.

“Any personnel decisions that we make this week, we want to make sure we're right and we don't want to mislead [reporters] at all. We want to make sure we're doing it the right way,” Hoke said.

The last scheduled opportunity for Hoke to announce any changes to his starting lineup this week will be Wednesday at noon. That's when he regularly meets with local media.

No easy fix coming for Michigan offense

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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The problems with Michigan’s offense are clear. The solutions, for a group that needs to get itself turned around in a hurry if coach Brady Hoke is going to keep his job after the 2014 season, are not.

The easiest symptom to diagnose for the Wolverines (2-2) through four games is their turnover margin, which is the worst in the nation at minus-10. Senior quarterback Devin Gardner has played at least some role in seven of the 12 times the offense has coughed up the ball. His second interception in Saturday’s 26-10 loss to Utah cost him a chance to finish the fourth quarter. It might end up costing him his starting job. Hoke said he’ll decide Tuesday whether Gardner or sophomore Shane Morris will start this weekend.

Cutting down on turnovers won’t be as simple as changing the quarterback, though. Morris has struggled in that department, too. He has been at the root of three turnovers in limited time as a backup this season. In his three drives of relief work against the Utes, he threw one interception, fumbled once and narrowly avoided a safety on the game's final series.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsProtecting quarterback Devin Gardner has been a major issue for Michigan this season.
“I think they both know what they need to do better, and they will,” Hoke said Monday. “I think both competed and made some good decisions, also.”

Gardner isn’t the only player in jeopardy of losing playing time Saturday when Michigan opens its Big Ten schedule at home vs. Minnesota. Hoke said all 11 starters on offense will be evaluated this week during practice, and the Wolverines might rethink the personnel groups they are using in order to get the best possible combinations on the field.

Inexperience throughout the offense, and particularly on the offensive line, has led to an inconsistent attack. Against Utah, Michigan’s offense moved the ball regularly on its own half of the field but appeared to run into a brick wall as soon as it crossed the 50-yard line.

The Wolverines reached Utah territory seven times. On four of those drives, the offense went backward the play after it crossed midfield. In all, Michigan ran 24 plays on Utah’s half of the field and gained 44 yards, 25 of which came on one passing play that was immediately followed by Gardner's first interception of the day.

“It’s been a reoccurring thing,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “Consistency in performance is where we’ve got to improve. Coaches and players, we’re all in this together, and it’s all of us getting it corrected.”

Drive-killing plays -- turnovers, sacks and penalties -- kept Michigan from establishing an offensive rhythm Saturday and two weeks earlier in its 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. That doesn’t appear to be an easier fix than the turnover woes.

Hoke and Nussmeier talked about continuing to harp on technique and fundamentals. When asked what needed to change on offense, Nussmeier talked about the overall youth and needing a better look from the scout team. Hoke didn’t bend from his stance that Team 135 in Ann Arbor will be a good one. When he asked what evidence he has to support that claim, though, he could cite only hard work and faith in his players.

The team, to its credit, has battled. The offense charged forward under Morris after a two-hour, 24-minute rain delay Saturday night. Then the same old problems bit them again. Morris fumbled after scrambling for 3 yards on the drive’s first play in Utah territory -- a reminder that these aren’t issues that can be willed away with grit and determination.

Michigan center Jack Miller, the lone representative of the offense to speak to the media after Saturday’s loss, said, frankly, that he didn’t have an answer for how to fix their problems. Hoke and Nussmeier took a more circuitous route Monday afternoon, but after two days of watching film they didn’t have much to add.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Big Ten can step up in key games: After two weeks of justified bashing, the Big Ten deserves some credit for bouncing back nicely in the last meaningful Saturday of nonconference play. The league went 3-0 against the ACC and recorded a huge road win against a ranked SEC opponent as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri in Columbia. Iowa finally found its swagger -- and, potentially, its new quarterback (C.J. Beathard) -- in rallying to beat Pitt. Nebraska didn't lose its composure in a chippy game against Miami and outlasted the Canes behind star back Ameer Abdullah. And all three games against MAC teams -- Michigan State-Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin-Bowling Green and Penn State-Massachusetts -- turned into routs by the Big Ten squads. Michigan remains a black eye for the league, but everyone else took a step forward and the Big Ten bolstered its record against Power 5 opponents. It doesn't erase the damage done the previous two weeks, but the Big Ten can feel a little better as league play cranks up next week.

[+] EnlargeRalston Evans
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesIndiana had plenty of reason to celebrate on Saturday after notching a signature win over No. 18 Missouri.
2. Indiana is back on track: Same old Hoosiers. That's what everyone said in Week 2 when an Indiana defense that hasn't stopped anyone for two decades let Bowling Green march downfield for the game-winning score. The loss made bowl eligibility seem unlikely and raised questions about the program's direction under fourth-year coach Kevin Wilson. And then Indiana did the most un-Indiana-like thing imaginable: beat Missouri on the road, 31-27, thanks in large part to its defense. The Hoosiers limited Missouri to one second-half touchdown, and Tevin Coleman (132 yards rushing, one touchdown) showed why he's one of the nation's best big-play backs. It added up to the biggest win of the Wilson era and the biggest in recent memory for IU. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for rebounding from the Bowling Green setback. IU has teased us before, but a win like this suggests the program is truly turning a corner under Wilson.

3. Michigan's offense is just getting worse: Brady Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to fix Michigan's offense and save his job as head coach. But Michigan's offensive woes clearly run deeper than the playcaller, as the unit has amazingly managed to backtrack this year. The Wolverines have yet to reach the red zone in 23 drives against Power 5 opponents (Notre Dame and Utah). The turnover troubles that plagued them in the past have only intensified, as four more giveaways against Utah leave Michigan with 12 on the season and a minus-10 turnover margin. There was a rock-bottom feeling about the 26-10 Utah loss, which ended at a mostly empty, waterlogged Michigan Stadium following a weather delay. Athletic director Dave Brandon repeatedly gave Hoke a vote of confidence before the season, but if the offense doesn't improve in Big Ten play, Hoke could be in serious trouble.

4. B1G's newcomers are better than expected: The Big Ten might have added Maryland and Rutgers because of their favorable locations, but the league is getting an added bonus so far this season. Both programs could be undefeated and both have won two games away from home in the first three weeks. Maryland responded from a last-second loss to West Virginia and beat Syracuse, 34-20, behind big plays in all three phases. Will Likely continued his excellent season with an 88-yard pick-six, while quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross connected on a 90-yard score on a screen pass. Rutgers beat an always-tricky Navy team, 31-24, in Annapolis, Maryland, despite losing star running back Paul James in the first half. Quarterback Gary Nova responded from his five-interception debacle with a clean performance (12-of-15 passing, no interceptions), and running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples picked up the slack with James sidelined.

5. Melvin Gordon is going to be just fine: Until Saturday, things had not gone as expected this season for the Wisconsin star. He barely saw the field in the second half of a Week 1 loss to LSU and was held to 38 rush yards on 17 carries against FCS opponent Western Illinois in Week 2. But after an early fumble against Bowling Green, Gordon could not be stopped. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards, the most by an FBS back this season, and tied the team record with five touchdowns in a 68-17 win. And he did it on only 13 carries, recording the best single-game yards-per-carry average (19.5) in team history by a wide margin (14.5 was next best). Gordon even put himself in the company of the great Glenn Davis, as he's tied with the Army star for the NCAA career yards-per-carry record (8.26). Although Gordon will face better defenses this season, he appears to be just fine for Big Ten play. "The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon ... has been incredible," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm so proud of the way that he's handled it. Today was his day."

Stormy night clouds Michigan's future

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
11:20
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The announcement at the start of the fourth quarter thundered ominously, perhaps even forebodingly, from the public address system Saturday night at Michigan Stadium.

The detached voice informed a thinning crowd that severe storms were approaching Michigan’s campus and were expected to reach the stadium within 20 minutes. The sheets of rain and lightning strikes arrived on schedule and delayed a painful day for the Wolverines an extra 144 minutes. The few hundred fans who returned to the Big House after the weather cleared witnessed the end of a 26-10 loss to visiting Utah (3-0) and, if things continue in this direction in Ann Arbor, perhaps the beginning of the end of something much larger and ominous.

Brady Hoke started his fourth season as head coach at Michigan on thin ice, and the first month of the 2014 season has done nothing to halt the melting. Hoke’s team fell to 2-2, with a 31-0 shutout loss to rival Notre Dame and a sound defeat at the hands of the Utes filling the loss column.

It’s not so much the record that created a feeling of woe following Saturday’s game. The manner in which the day unfolded left a locker room disappointed and searching for answers.

“I’m concerned about everything that we’re doing,” Hoke said. “We need to play better. We need to make sure we execute better.”

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier, Brady Hoke
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and head coach Brady Hoke are looking for ways to fix a turnover-prone offense.
The frustration of the Michigan coaching staff started to boil over before halftime, when the score was still 10-10 and Michigan’s defense looked stout enough to keep the game close. Cameras captured Hoke jawing with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison following a sideline-infraction penalty late in the second quarter.

Hoke said their “discussion” was nothing out of the ordinary for the two coaches who have worked together on and off for the past 30 years. Michigan’s players defended their coaching staff after the game and echoed Hoke’s mantra that execution and “the little things” are what continue to trip them up.

“It comes down to execution, and we didn’t execute,” said senior middle linebacker Jake Ryan, who made a team-high 13 tackles. “We have the best coaches there are. I’ve got to give all the credit in the world to them.”

Most of the flubbed execution for the Wolverines this season has come on the other side of the ball.

Michigan’s offense didn’t score after the first drive of the game Saturday. It hasn’t run a play inside the red zone in either of its two losses this season. It ran one play inside the Utah 40-yard line in the final 49 minutes Saturday, and that was a pass intercepted by Utah’s Brian Blechen.

That was the first of three interceptions thrown by Wolverines quarterbacks, which sunk the nation’s worst turnover margin to a minus-10. Senior starter Devin Gardner (14-of-26 passing for 148 yards) was responsible for two of the interceptions, with the second one coming on his final play of the day with 13 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Shane Morris replaced him and threw an interception on his first drive. He also fumbled on the next drive after play resumed.

Hoke said it was too early to assess who his starting quarterback will be when the team starts Big Ten play next Saturday against Minnesota. Turnovers have been the biggest bugaboo thus far for Michigan, but the changes the Wolverines need, if Hoke is going to survive for a fifth season in Ann Arbor, are broader than one player.

“I don’t think there has to be an overhaul. I think it’s our execution, the little things that we need to do. And again, that starts here,” Hoke said, pointing to himself.

What is certain is the Wolverines are in need of a change. Michigan has lost seven of its past 11 games and three of its past four against FBS competition at Michigan Stadium. The program has trended steadily backward since its overtime victory over Virginia Tech at the Sugar Bowl in Hoke’s first season.

Michigan scheduled this home-and-home series with Utah the summer after that BCS victory. The fact that the Wolverines offered Utah $1 million to travel to Ann Arbor, the type of carrot big-time programs typically use to lure sacrificial lambs into their stadiums, speaks volumes about how much has changed since then. Hoke’s team is 17-13 in the past three years.

“I don’t know if I have all the answers,” center Jack Miller said.

Doubt that anyone has the answers -- at least those outside the walls of Michigan’s locker room -- must be creeping in.

Hoke hasn’t lost control, or hope, yet. It’s still September, after all. He reminded his players after the game of the 1998 Michigan team he helped coach to a share of the Big Ten title after it lost its first two games.

Michigan has eight games remaining against teams from the Big Ten, a league that did a lot to bolster its reputation Saturday after two rocky weeks in nonconference play. Even an imperfect run through conference play -- perhaps capped with a win over rival Ohio State -- could be enough to inspire optimism for the future.

Hoke can still salvage the job he called his dream destination before it ever opened to him, but he’ll be fighting an uphill battle from here. Michigan has been sufficiently warned: The storm is coming.
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Michigan's offense continues to spin its wheels this season, and things aren't peaceful for the Wolverines' defense, either.

Late in the first half of Saturday's game against Utah, Michigan defensive end Frank Clark sacked Utah's Kendal Thompson for a 13-yard loss. But the big play was somewhat mitigated by a 5-yard sideline interference penalty on the Wolverines.

Apparently, Mattison was at fault as cameras caught Hoke admonishing the veteran defensive coordinator to "get off the f---ing field." Mattison didn't take kindly to the rebuke and fired back at his boss.

Fun times in Ann Arbor.

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