Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ohio State 42, Michigan 28

Devin Gardner wishes good luck to J.T. Barrett after the Ohio State quarterback suffered a season-ending injury
(image via BR)
That was better than I expected. For the second year in a row, Michigan came into The Game with fans and analysts having low expectations. And for the second year in a row, Michigan made a game of it. I expected the Wolverines to keep it close in the first half, only to have the wheels come off late. The wheels certainly came off, but Michigan led the game for roughly half of the second quarter and they were tied until just over a minute remaining in the third quarter. Offensively, Devin Gardner turned it up a notch, Drake Johnson solidified himself as the best back available, and Doug Nussmeier unleashed some creative play calling that we had not seen for most of the year.

Drake Johnson is #1*. Of the runners available at the end of the season, I don't think there's any doubt that Johnson is the best option going forward. I hope De'Veon Smith got enough chances for fans and coaches to realize that he just doesn't have the speed to get the job done, and he's not the bulldozer that so many people thought he would be. Justice Hayes is a decent complementary or third down back, but Johnson (15 carries, 74 yards, 2 touchdowns) is quicker than the others and displayed some power on Saturday that might hint that he's learning how to run the ball in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, Johnson crumpled up on the ground when he scored his second touchdown, and it looked likely to be a torn ACL; Johnson also tore his ACL in the 2013 season opener, so it would be sad to see him have to go through the same rehab again. He ends the year with 60 carries for 361 yards (6.0 yards/carry) and 4 touchdowns. Out of those totals, 57 carries, 333 of those yards, and all 4 touchdowns came in the final five games against Big Ten opponents. He didn't have the chance to rack up huge amounts of yardage against Appalachian State and Miami, although he did have the advantage of running behind an offensive line that improved throughout the year.

I'm going to miss Devin Gardner. Gardner turned out not to be the best quarterback. He showed signs of improvement in the second half of 2013, and then he regressed this year. You can blame it on Brady Hoke, Doug Nussmeier, Al Borges, the receivers, the offensive line, playing wide receiver in 2012, Gardner himself, etc. There are any number of directions you can point. There are two big things about Gardner that I will miss. Much like Denard Robinson, I will miss Gardner's attitude and leadership. He was not the most vocal guy, but the kid took a beating behind Michigan's offensive line and never pointed fingers or complained about the guys in front of him. He also showed some sportsmanship when Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle, with Gardner coming out on the field to wish him well before he was carted off. The second big thing I'll miss about Gardner is his athleticism. The guy was one of the best athletes to play quarterback at Michigan, perhaps second-best behind his predecessor, Robinson. Gardner could run through tackles, juke defenders, outrun defenders, throw the ball deep, put touch on his passes, and make the game of football a beautiful thing to watch at times. I kept waiting for this guy to break out, but for all the reasons mentioned above, I'll always be left to wonder what could have been.

Clock management failure #1. At the end of the first half, Michigan's drive stalled with over two minutes remaining. The punt team was summoned. Rather than allowing the play/game clock to wind down under two minutes, Michigan snapped the ball with about 20 seconds on the play clock and 2:20 left on the game clock. Ohio State got the ball and calmly waltzed down the field to score with :07 seconds remaining. If you're Brady Hoke, what can you possible be thinking at that point? We know by now that Hoke's plan was not to get a stop, get the ball back, and run a hurry-up drive to score. Hoke isn't that aggressive. If Michigan did get the ball back, they would have run the ball until halftime. The only possible explanation is that Hoke wasn't paying attention or thinking that far forward, which is a pretty damning trait.

Clock management failure #2. Even with three minutes left and down three touchdowns in the final game of the year, Michigan still couldn't run a halfway decent hurry-up. They were huddling at times, they didn't know how to line up, etc. while the clock was ticking down. They had no urgency whatsoever. Gardner did lead a successful drive that culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Freddy Canteen, but it left just 1:15 on the clock to get an onside kick, score, get another onside kick, and score again. I am usually a person who thinks that the game isn't over until the clock says 0:00, but Hoke managed to suck that out of me this year. Just like we know Hoke can't use his timeouts or manage the end of a half properly, we also know that running an offense with any kind of tempo is out of the question. More so than a lack of player development, these issues with game management (the clock, the timeouts, having the right personnel on the field, etc.) are the ones most damning if he wanted to make a case to keep his job going forward.

The lack of personnel development. As I mentioned above, the lack of anyone stepping up throughout the year is almost amazing. You can point to a few individuals who got better from 2013 to 2014 (Jourdan Lewis, Derrick Green, Joe Bolden) or who improved throughout the season (Jake Ryan, Drake Johnson), but the only unit to improve was the offensive line. No other position group seemed to take steps forward, except perhaps the running backs, whose performance is tied to the OL.

Holy cow, there has been a lack of takeaways. Michigan ends the 2014 season with 5 interceptions, their lowest total in at least 20 years. I looked at stats from 1995 onward, and I only stopped because I can't find a reliable source of information any earlier than that. Michigan got picks from Lewis (2), defensive tackle Willie Henry, defensive tackle Matt Godin, and linebacker Jake Ryan. The Wolverines are tied for 120th in interceptions and might end up lower after a couple teams play in bowl games. Michigan is #123 in turnover margin with -1.33 per game. In fact, it's almost amazing that Michigan is #10 in total defense and #28 in scoring defense with the inability to create turnovers and an offense that can't sustain drives. The lack of takeaways is obviously a negative for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, but it says something that his scheming and Michigan's solid tackling have helped to prevent a total team breakdown.

I'm sad the season is done. This was one of those years where you see a bunch of talent on the field and expect big things, but big things don't happen. Michigan had a record-setting quarterback, a wide receiver who looked like a potential first rounder, a very good tight end, a 5-star running back, a solid kicker, a former All-Big Ten punter, and loads of talent on the defensive side of the ball. All that gets boiled down to a 5-7 season and a career for some of these seniors that ends with a thud.

I'm sad this is how it went down for Brady Hoke. I was not a fan of Michigan's hiring of Brady Hoke in 2011. He hadn't proven enough at a high enough level, and it showed that he was in over his head. However, I did hope that he would have success at Michigan. Not only because I'm a fan of the Wolverines, but because Hoke seems like a good guy, I wanted him to win and win big. There aren't enough decent guys winning national championships out there. Instead, there are people like Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. Now it appears that Hoke's head coaching career is over at Michigan. Wherever he ends up in the future, I hope he can find success.

I still have high hopes for next year. Regardless of who the coach is, Michigan has a lot coming back in 2015. Devin Gardner is the only senior on offense to start, and Devin Funchess might declare for the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Michigan has lost its best two players on defense (Jake Ryan and Frank Clark, the latter of which was kicked off the team, anyway), cornerback Raymon Taylor, senior kicker Matt Wile, and senior punter Will Hagerup. There are capable replacements for most of those guys, with the kicking job as the biggest question mark. This was a young team that should improve going into 2015.


  1. I think they made a reach with Hoke, But let's look at the reality, JIM HARBAUGH AND LES MILES WILL NOT BE COACHING AT MICHIGAN. Harbaugh's ego is to big for Michigan and Miles will just use it to get a raise at LSU (like in the past). So let's be careful what we wish for!!!!!!! Thou I am not completely happy with "Hoke" or "Choke". But I do think he is should get one more year, Because he will have only his on the team and if he falls flat on his face this next year, I will lead the mob to remove him from his seat of power.

    1. Has Miles ever been actually offered the job?

    2. There's no way Hoke gets another year. Cero. Zip. Nada. Nobody whose record gets worse every year for 4 straight years deserve to keep the job. To do that would be absolutely dumb and would put the program back even further.

      And I don't care about Les Miles -- I don't think he is that great given the amazing talent LSU gets every year. Louisiana is a major football state, and it only has one major football school. Populous and talent-rich eastern Texas (esp. metro Houston and Dallas) is right next to Louisiana. The state of Alabama is right there. LSU almost automatically gets top-tier talent, and that's something a few other schools can rival.

      I am hoping for a Harbaugh.

    3. "Harbaugh's ego is TO big for Michigan and Miles will just use it to get a raise at LSU..." You didn't finish your simile...I believe you mean to say, "Harbaugh's ego is to big, as Miles is to small."

  2. Give me a way to early record for next season, please! I could maybe find 7-8'wins....maybe!

    Thanks, Magnus!

    1. I see 7 games Michigan should win, in my opinion. That's based on Michigan's talent and my personal opinion that some of these kids will take steps forward next year. Obviously, a lot depends on the coach.

  3. I wish it were possible for Gardner to get picked up by an NFL team that would take 3 years to try to develop him. Let him work with a competent QB coach and offensive coordinator for a few years and see if he can get the mental aspect of the position down. I think he's too far gone for a team to take that risk but I want him to have that shot for everything he's gone through at Michigan.

    1. Gardner could possibly play QB in Canada but I think he'll play in the NFL, just not at QB.

    2. I hope Funchess hangs around for his senior year as I think attempting to step up to the NFL next year would be a colossal mistake on his part.

      Truthfully, based on his performance this year, I'd probably have to take Gardner over Funchess if i was a NFL GM looking for a Wide Receiver to take late and develop.

    3. Gardner should switch to WR. He has the size and athleticism. He'd be worth a FA flyer.

    4. Funch def. needs another year and cut down on the drops significantly. NFL won't put up with him dropping critical balls all over the place. If he's smart, he would stay another year.

      I love Gardner for the guy that he is, as Thunder mentioned, but he just isn't going to make it in the NFL as a QB. His reads aren't fast enough, and the kind of turnovers would destroy any NFL team. I don't think any NFL team would invest years into him.

    5. Nobody will draft Gardner but he might get a flyer as an undrafted free agent. He will be out of the league in a couple years no matter what.
      As for FUnchess, whoever takes him will be making a giant mistake. He'll look like the best NFL receiver on one play and the biggest boob dropping a sure TD pass on the next. He should return to make amends but he'll go pro because that is how stupid college players are now.

    6. Is there another example of a tall QB succeeding as an NFL WR? The last one I can think of is Kordell Stewart. That was a) a long time ago b) a limited view of 'success' and c) Kordell was a special athlete a la Denard.

      People seem to think you can just throw any athlete at WR. This strikes me as very disrespectful to the position. You look at how hard a guy like Jerry Rice worked and you see how many years of WR experience the vast majority of NFL WRs have and I find it a little ridiculous to suggest a solid but not spectacular athlete like Gardner can play WR with next to no experience.

    7. Kordell Stewart wasn't particularly tall. He was 6'1". Josh Cribbs is also 6'1". I can't really think of a tall WR succeeding in the NFL, although Matt Jones was a 1st round pick for the Jaguars when he converted.

      Regardless, I don't think it prevents Gardner from having a chance to play WR. He did play the position for half of a season as a redshirt sophomore, and he had some success. He wouldn't be a guy to start off as a high pick or surefire starter, but he could develop as a team's practice squad or end-of-the-bench player.

    8. Well, Gardner would have a better chance at playing in the league as a WR though. Just like Denard, Devin must make a position switch and try to impress the scouts as a WR. Or he will have to look outside of pro football or somewhere in Canada.

    9. It's not his height it's his lack of skills and experience.

      I was very unimpressed with Gardner as a WR. Have argued this several times before but the guy never made a single impressive individual play as a WR. He caught a few balls, but he never caught balls in traffic and his catch rate (% of balls caught) was very low. I just don't see it. He's tall, he's sorta fast -- that's not NEARLY enough. Why anyone thinks he's a WR is beyond me. He tried it for a few months then went back to what he's always been - a QB.

      I don't really expect him to be an NFL player either way, but his chances are better at QB than WR, IMO. At least he knows how to play that position and brings something to the table (running ability).

      I don't see Denard as a comparison at all. Denard always looked like a RB and he played like one too. His rushing stats supported his NFL position. People questioned his build (though it was never a problem). It's basically the opposite of Denard beyond the most superficial common element - that they both played QB at Michigan.

    10. I've argued this plenty before, too. The kid averaged 16.4 yards/catch and had 4 touchdown receptions in his short time at wide receiver. I'd say his catch and run touchdown against Air Force was pretty impressive, if not a couple other plays. You also have to consider that he had Denard Robinson throwing to him, a guy who completed just 53.3% of his passes that year.

      I'm not expecting Gardner to be a huge success if he switches to WR, but he at least has a chance, and you're knocking him unfairly, in my opinion.

    11. I don't see it as knocking Gardner as much as respecting the craft of the position and the skills needed to succeed at it in the NFL. I don't see any precedent for what you guys are proposing.

      I said the same thing when people wanted Denard to be a WR, as if all it took was being fast. Gardner doesn't even have that really. He's fast FOR A QB. He's not fast for a WR. Said same thing about Funchess as a TE vs Funchess as a WR. These guys are fast enough to play the position in college, but that is not sufficient to make them an NFL player anymore than it was enough to make Teric Jones an NFL WR.

      You have to actually be good at being a WR to be a WR. Otherwise tons of failed DBs, small school QBs, and RBs would be WRs otherwise.

  4. Magnus - I wanted to run a theory by you that my brother and I have discussed since it was along the lines of what you mentioned about Hoke. Is he TOO NICE to be a successful head coach at the top level? It seems that EVERYONE likes him - the media, the players, recruits, the staff, etc. He's a great guy by all accounts. He represents the program well.....when not asked to handle PR. But is that part of the problem?

    Is it possible to get the maximum performance out of some players without some tough love? Think of it like a parent - you can't be "good cop" all the time. Considering Mattison's age and Borges' hands-off approach to coaching I'm wondering if they need a tougher personality. Even Bo and Carr were known as surly jerks a lot of the time. I love that Hoke doesn't throw his players under the bus, but the ONLY name I cam up with for a top coach who seemed loved by all was Pete Carroll, and he was recruiting at a level that would even surpass Alabama's current success.

    I would be fine with either Harbaugh. After that, I'm not sure who's even out there as a good option. I like Stoops, but he doesn't seem realistic. Mullen? I'm looking forward to your on-going coaching search posts. But I bet most of the guys on the list are known for being hard-asses, not nice-guys.


    1. WE WON'T GET EITHER HARBAUGH!!!!!! So we will be stuck with a second rate coach that everyone will be calling for his head fours years from now. We have nothing to lose by giving Hoke one more year.

    2. I do think that he isn't much of a disciplinarian, hence the sloppy plays, penalties, clock management issues all over the place. Players HAVE to fear their coach to a certain degree. The new coach is going to have to put in some discipline into these kids and manage the game more closely.

    3. I think you CAN be too nice, but I'm not sure that's what's going on here. From what I've read and heard, Hoke is different on game days than he is in practice. His theory is supposedly that the players need to be coached hard during the week, but they need to keep their heads up on game days.

      @ suduri xusai 6:02 p.m.

      I disagree about Hoke not being a disciplinarian. Michigan has not had a ton of trouble with discipline issues, and the trouble players have found themselves in has been dealt with quickly. Undisciplined players are often yanked off the field, with the possible exception of Taylor Lewan.

      I think there are lapses in concentration, but that's not necessarily the same thing.

  5. Wow,,,,
    Lets see...with hoke, he had 4 years... He NEVER beat a ranked team on the road.... Got shut-out for the first time in over 25 years, lost the attendance record to OSU, had a recruiting class fall to pieces, got less out of more in college football history " when u look at recruiting class/wins" had both the biggest odds margins vs MSU and OSU.... Lost to both newcomers rutgers and Maryland....and always makes the "youth" excuse.... I'm tired of it but am kinda of the mindset of "who cares"... The best thing about Brady hike is he makes richrod look like an allstar!!
    Who is 10-2 with less talent in a harder conf and in shorter time!
    Sign up hoke for another 5 years and watch sparty and buckeye nation cheer!

  6. Why does MI take so long to fire the coach? I get it, Hoke is nice and loved by his players and maybe the school feels they owe him some send off. But what gives? Nebraska fired Pelini and while I don't care about them, I think firing Hoke sends a message to every other coach that MI is officially open. Maybe I'm being to impatient but what are they waiting for? I don't think we get either Harbaugh and with that in mind there is no reason to wait or delay (because we don't care about the longer NFL season presumably) and cutting ties now allows us to get in the hunt for current coaches and not getting stuck with the last one avaliable. Thoughts?

    1. Hoke is gone this week. Hoke knows it, but he wants to be fired rather than resigning to collect the $3 mil buyout.

    2. You may not think we'll get either Harbaugh, but Michigan's administration may have a different idea.

      Regardless, it hasn't been a long time. The game ended at about 3:30 on Saturday. It's not even Monday yet. I don't think firing him on Sunday vs. Monday or Tuesday is anything significant. If they wait to fire him in January - which they did with Rodriguez - then I'll be concerned.

      Michigan's top choices likely include Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, both of whom have games left to play. If they have received any kind of inclination that one of those guys will take the job, there's no real need to fire Hoke immediately. Then you'll be left without a coaching staff for a month or more while waiting for LSU to play their bowl game and/or Harbaugh to finish his NFL season.

  7. I believe the team will be better next year. Ty Isaac will be eligible, Green and Peppers will be healthy, O-line will be deep and experienced. Defense has good depth and experience, though no real playmakers (maybe Peppers). The biggest issue will be QB - not a believer in S. Morris and I believe Speight or Malzone are too young yet.

  8. This is a really good write-up and season retrospective. Well done.

    I disagree with the notion that we are well set-up for next year. I disagree that this is a young team. But those are arguments for another time.

    1. It is, in fact, a young team. There's really nothing to argue. Michigan graduates one senior on offense (Gardner) and three seniors on defense (Beyer, Ryan, Taylor). If everyone comes back on offense (and Funchess probably won't), you're looking at just four seniors on offense (Glasgow, Miller, Funchess, Kerridge). So in the span of two years, you're talking about playing just five seniors. The guys on the field aren't 18-year-old freshmen for the most part, but many of them were young and/or inexperienced coming into this season.

      Next year will be a slightly different story, because even some of the non-seniors will be three-year starters by then (Butt, Glasgow, Kalis, etc.), the safeties will be more experienced, and all three linebackers will probably be seniors.

    2. Next year, this team will be very deep in about every position with upperclassmen. The 2012 and 2013 recruits will grow into their positions. All we need is a good coach and good assistants to coach them up.

    3. That's an opinion. And there's plenty to argue.

      Nobody starts all seniors and very few teams start a majority of them. MOST fans say their teams are young. Very few teams say they are old or 'veteran'. I'd like to see some data or statistics to prove the 'fact' compared to other teams. The closest I've seen is this:

      which was made in June but shows Michigan 75 out of 128, barely 'younger' than average, and more experienced than OSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

      Glasgow, Kerridge, and Miller are seniors, they just red-shirted. There are tons of 3rd year players (i.e., upperclassmen) on both sides of the ball. Very few freshman played. There are a few places young players (like Cole) are starting by default -- because none of the older players are good enough. Jourdan Lewis is the only guy who is really outplaying quality vets.

      The reality is that Michigan returned a ton of starters from last year, so even if you buy into the 'young' argument, they were experienced and had very few holes to fill at the start of the year.

    4. That link won't open for me, so I'm not sure what it says there.

      You're not really going to sit here and say that redshirt juniors are seniors, are you? Are you going to change the whole way we talk about college football? Even if you do, we'll have to count every other team's redshirt juniors as seniors. Anyway, I'm going to call redshirt juniors "juniors" and redshirt seniors "seniors" since that's the way the country talks about football.

      Regardless, Michigan had 1 senior on offense and 4 on defense (3 after Clark was booted).

      Notre Dame has 6 on offense and 3 on defense.
      Ohio State has 3 on offense (plus their leading receiver, Devin Smith) and 4 on defense.
      Penn State has 1 on offense and 4 on defense, the same as Michigan.
      Nebraska has 6 on offense and 3 on defense.
      Arizona has 5 on offense and 5 on defense.
      Wisconsin has 4 on offense and 4 on defense.

      The only comparable team is Penn State, who had a good coach last year (Bill O'Brien, who was good enough to earn an NFL job) and have a pretty good coach now (James Franklin, who turned around Vanderbilt). We beat Penn State, and while they have a 6-6 record, they also had an easier schedule (their non-conference games were UCF, Temple, Akron, and UMass, while Michigan's included a couple patsies plus Utah and Notre Dame).

      Yes, Michigan returned a lot of starters, but a lot of them were freshmen and sophomores in 2013.

    5. Are we going to pretend kids from the same class are older based on if they red-shirted over two years ago or not? Miller, Taylor, Clark, and Glasgow are from the same class. Miller didn't get younger when he red-shirted. Taylor didn't get older when he played special teams in 2011. You're talking about eligibility, not age or experience.

      Regardless of semantics, Michigan's level of experience is far from atypical. It is firmly in the middle of NCAA D1 (i.e., normal). (google phil steele experience rankings)

      Michigan is light on seniors but also underclassmen. Michigan has a tons of 3rd and 4th year players with experience, so they have to rely very little on youth (players in their first or second year).

      Michigan started only two underclassmen (Butt and Cole) on O and one on D (Lewis). Everybody else was in their 3rd, 4th or 5th year of college (i.e., they are upperclassmen who have been around the block and have been getting coached by the same staff for many years.) Penn State started twice as many underclassmen. Ohio State starts 10!

      There's this idea that we are young on the OL but we have a bunch of 3rd and 4th year players there. Nobody thinks AJ Williams is young, but he's in the same class as Braden, Magnuson, Kalis, and Bars. Nobody makes age excuses at OSU or Notre Dame. At Michigan we say it every year.

      The era of starting a bunch of seniors was normal ended a long time ago. Now it's extraordinary (e.g., Wisconsin's OL). Calling us young is wearing maize-colored glasses and/or being a Hoke-apologist.


    6. I think you really underestimate game experience. A redshirt sophomore is not the same thing as a junior. The speed and intensity of a game against Ohio State or Michigan State is not equal to that of a midweek practice. There's no way that can be replicated in practice.

      Players do not peak as redshirt sophomores. Kyle Kalis had half a season of starting coming into this year. I do not expect him to be awesome. He improved this year, and if he's not pretty good by 2015, then I think that's a red flag. But there's a reason that experience is so valued at certain positions (QB, OL, DL, etc.). Freshman running backs, wide receivers, cornerbacks, etc. can be highly successful because those positions are largely based on athleticism, but other positions are based on experience, recognition, functional strength, etc. Just because Nick Chubb comes in and runs for 1,000 yards doesn't mean that a freshman offensive guard can come in and be equally successful. I guess it might happen (rarely), but that should not be the expectation.

      I'm not saying that Michigan's development has been great. In fact, I said the opposite. But there's a happy medium somewhere between you ("They should be awesome by the time they're sophomores") and whatever you think I'm saying ("They all need to be fifth year seniors before we can expect them to be even above average").

      And yes, I know I exaggerated.