What Brady Hoke Must Do to Jumpstart Slumping Season for Michigan Wolverines
So, Michigan fans. You probably thought 1-1 at this point in the year was a possibility. Oh, you didn't want 1-1, but let's be honest: Captain Hook could count the teams that had even a remote possibility of winning that Alabama game on his hands.
What you probably didn't expect, however, was being outscored in those two games by a total of 21 points and looking like a liability at times on both the offensive and defensive line.
So it's a legitimate question to ask: Is Michigan in trouble this year? Mind you, that isn't a question that's going to be answered in the UMass game—unless that one never gets past a 31-point margin, in which case PANIC, because Indiana was up 38-6 on UMass at the break last week. But if this is in fact a slump, Brady Hoke needs to put his team back on the right track, and here's how.
Get Denard Robinson into a rhythm
One thing that's been evident from Michigan's first two games is that the deep pass is still an integral part of the Michigan offense. That's all fine and good and you don't want an explosive team like this to start thinking horizontally, but deep throws are low-percentage plays even for talented throwers. Denard Robinson is talented at a lot of things, but in terms of hitting his guy in stride on a deep fade, RG3 he ain't.
So it's important for Brady Hoke to start getting Robinson more of the chain-moving throws he's actually good at completing—those 15-yard crossing routes that Robinson can hit on the move, even though they're not always great for yards after catch or anything. Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess (who are not related, because that is not how first names work) are both big, fast targets who can play the ball pretty well, and that's the kind of guy you want to target on plays like those.
And if Robinson can start stringing together four or five manageable completions at a time, all of a sudden that defense is on its heels and it should be more than vulnerable to a Robinson (or, one would hope, Fitz Toussaint) run.
Find someone, anyone who can get you four yards a pop at tailback
The most shocking aspect of Michigan's ground game against Air Force wasn't that Robinson got 218 yards and Toussaint only managed seven. Well—okay, that was the most shocking thing. But the most shocking detail of it was that Toussaint was the only running back who got a single carry in the game; Robinson accounted for the other 20.
That's in stark contrast to the Alabama game, when Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls accounted for 19 carries. While those weren't terribly productive carries (42 yards total, 2.2 yards per), they were certainly not worse than what Toussaint did against a much more porous Air Force defense.
So Hoke now finds himself in a similar position to last season, when Smith and Toussaint also found themselves part of a three-man RB platoon (last year the third man was Michael Shaw; this year it's Rawls). That turned into Toussaint starting, but it took a decision by Hoke to get there and Michigan was better off for it.
Hoke doesn't have to pick a man by Week 3 and stick with him for the year, because UMass makes everyone look good. But he should find his workhorse soon, and it can't automatically and exclusively be Toussaint's role for the rest of the year anymore.
Just win, baby
If nothing else, fans and players alike are going to respond the most to the win column. Yeah, it's important to get the team in position to win first, but the Notre Dame win last September was every bit about 50/50 plays going Michigan's way as anything else.
So is this a roundabout way of saying "be lucky at football"? Perhaps, but 50/50 plays also come down to hustle and motivation, and keeping the players on the right side of that battle is absolutely up to Hoke and his staff.
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