Established in 1909, the Little Brown Jug has an enduring and proud appeal to Michigan Fans. The Wolverines lead the series 73-24-3. Possessing the jug is an obsession with the Wolverines. It is the oldest Bowl Subdivision Trophy. But Saturday there was more at stake than just a coveted trophy. In this important game, it was hoped Team 135 would finally establish the offensive identity it needed. It did not.
The University of Michigan’s Wolverine Football team began the Big Ten season against the tough and physical Minnesota Gophers Saturday with unpleasant results. The Wolverines were outplayed and out coached in all three phases of the game. Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.
Offensively, Shane Morris started the game at QB, and led Michigan to its first TD in its last four quarters in the second quarter. Good field position was established, courtesy of a good Will Hagerup punt. That enabled a short drive from the Gopher 47-yard line to pay dirt.
Shane earned an A for effort and determination but a D for contribution and execution. By the fourth quarter he was the victim of many hits and a cheap shot. He was battered and wobbly but Coach Hoke did not see this, and he played some after. He also had a limp,. Shane was 7/19 for 49-yards passing on the day, threw an interception (a tipped ball), and fumbled twice with one recovered. He netted eight negative yards rushing.
Finally, during mop up time. in the middle of the fourth quarter, Devin Gardner replaced him , and brought a spark as he engineered a drive and scored, running for Michigan’s second and last TD. Devin was three for six for 39-net yards with a long of 18-yards. He rushed 5 times for 23 net yards and a TD, with a long of 18, and no interceptions.
M Running Back De’Veon Smith toted four in a row, running impressively tough. On one run he kept it going with tacklers on his back, moving the pile. That was around the 11 minute mark of the first half. After that, it was a Gopher day as they loaded the scoreboard with 10 points before the half. Smith ended the game as M’s best running back. His nine attempts for sixty-yards and a TD were impressive. He broke tackles and dragged piles of would be tackles. Smith reminded of the tough running style of Michigan’s late Carvie Craw who played in the sixties. Craw once took detour to run through MSU’s entire bench. He was tough, very tough. So is Smith. He keeps those feet churning. In an after interview, LB Joe Bolden remarked about Smith keeping those feet digging.
At 2:17 of the half, Will Hagerup hit another nice punt. It was a 53-yarder that was collared by the Wolverines at the Minnesota one. The Gophers promptly executed a nice drive passing and running. The drive stalled at the M 24, where they hit a field goal.
Letting the Gophers turn this disadvantage into an advantage was bad omen. It was Wolverines 7 to the Gophers 10 at the half, but the momentum was all Minnesota’s. The handwriting on the wall was apparent then, as the Gophers led in about every statistical category except punting average. Michigan had 65 net rushing yards. They were two of six in third down conversions. The defense allowed the Gophers 229-yards to M’s measly 106.
Michigan received to start the second half, but went three and out. I saw little if any innovative play calling. When I can sit there and call the first down plays there is a problem. There is so little innovation and it is ever so conservative.
A first down rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a completion short of the first down marker, left the Wolverines out of possession and playing from the Minnesota 38. The M defense held, and the offense squandered another opportunity. Shane lost five yards on first down and M was again behind the sticks. Morris fumbled, recovered by M at the M two yard line. Smith and Hayes ran for 5-yards and it was Hagerup again. The Gophers hit a 48-yard field goal to make it 7-13 and I had the notion that the Wolverines were finished.
That impression seemed verified when Shane threw an interception at about the 6:00 minute mark of the third quarter. That was run back from the M 30 for six. Now it was 7-20 and it was all but over.
Shane’s and the Wolverine’s woes continued. Shane lost five yards and the football. Minnesota recovered at the M 30 and passed for a one year score. M 7-Gophers 27.
Devin Gardner got a consolation TD in the fourth quarter after the gimpy and groggy Morris was replaced at quarterback. At that moment he seemed to rejuvenate the Wolverines offense as he engineered the Wolverines last score.
Again Michigan errors, including a tipped intercepted pass, squelched the Wolverine’s ability to score. Constantly they were “behind the sticks”, had third and longs, and disadvantageous field position. Michigan’s stodgy offense could not maintain field position enough to help the cause or the defense.
The Gophers had previously shunned the benefits of a robust passing game prior to Saturday, largely because their passing QB, Mitch Leidner had been gimpy. It was rumored that he had difficulty with his right leg and foot as in strained ligaments and turf toe. He got well against the Wolverines.
The Gophers other QB, Chris Streveler, was thought the better runner, but a pedestrian passer. Leidner did not play last week but was more than ready for the Wolverines, as he was10 of 15 for 115-yards with a long of 33. He was sacked just once.
As every M fan already knows, the Wolverines came into the game with a struggling offense against the two better defenses they had faced so far this season. Now make that two three.
Also present was heavy, general fan dissatisfaction with a perceived lack of progress in this Hoke’s fourth year at the helm in general and, now added dissatisfaction with this game in particular. There were boos, and while there was much media speculation that Coach Hoke was on a hot seat before Saturday, there will be an added intensity now. The body of evidence keeps growing.
The Wolverines offensive malaise continues. Instances of what is perceived to be poor game management continue to happen. Why was Shane Morse’s wobbling not noticed by Coach Hoke?
There was lively public discussion between Coaches Mattison and Hoke in the Utah game, with each blaming the passion of the game, and singing the praises of the other afterward. This gave evidence of some football seams unraveling for the Wolverines. I did not object to that. It indicated involvement, some fire. Where was the fire Saturday?
The Wolverines offense has been as barren as the Artic Circle’s tundra in winter in three of their five games this season. Before the game the Wolverines were a nasty 125th in offensive TOs nationally, and can’t be much better today, if not sinking.
The Wolverines defense still can’t tackle, has a leaky pass defense, and sometimes doesn’t turn play in, letting the opposition turn the corner outside and go. While it is obvious that the defense is light years ahead of the struggling offense, the defense affords many big pass plays and runs. They sometimes will make a stop of the first down play, stuff the second down play and get burned by a run or pass on third and long. Today there were 5 or 6 such instances.
Some speculate that Devin could not utilize his true skills in the present play action offensive scheme, and that Shane Morris more closely mirrored the offensive image that the coaches have been wanting. Saturday did not prove that Shane could do better.
Is this Michigan team raveling at the seams? Or has it already? What this most important Gopher game in decades has told us is that Michigan Football is on the ropes. It screams that the Coaches do not know how to fix the problems to make the Wolverines competitive in the Big Ten.
Saturday they were not competitive! Are the Wolverines headed to the bottom of the Big Ten barrel? What’s your level of confidence?
Every week Coach Hoke states that the team has had a good week of practice, and that it is a great cohesive team, but the results don’t translate to winning on the field. They have to find the path to address the whys and why nots soon, or Rutgers, a newcomer to the Big Ten, is going to embarrass them, in prime time, on a national stage.
Team 135 has yet to prove that it is a good football team, and the Coaches have yet to prove they can make it a good team. Expectations are dropping faster than the stock market in 1929.
All this speculation surrounding Hoke’s coaching ability and tenure is obviously not a good thing for Hoke or his Wolverines, unless it is thought that any publicity, including derogatory publicity is worthwhile. Not likely.
Hoke had a message for Michigan fans: “I would tell them that, number one, we know their frustration, because we share their frustration. I would also tell them that as a team, we all take accountability for it, and we also all are going to work together to rectify it.” The sooner the better, Coach!
Some are clamoring that Head Coach Brady Hoke should be fired instantly. I don’t buy that. A mid-season firing further destroys football programs, and are an emotional response which do not harm the coaches as they take a wagon load of money away with them, but do hammer the student athletes pledged to the program.
In any case, let’s take the bad Michigan times with the good and hang in there. The Wolverines have always come roaring back. The only question is when.