Hoke needs to make better in-game adjustments if Michigan is going to be an elite team
Michigan's offensive performance in the second half of Saturday's 26-21 loss at Ohio State could be summed up in one word: unimaginative.
Brady Hoke coached like he was terrified to face Urban Meyer's Buckeyes head-on, especially on the offensive end. Despite the fact that Michigan has played inspired football as of late—with stellar play by Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson taking the lead on the ground—Michigan coaches refused to utilize this advantage in the biggest game of the year. They blew out Iowa the week prior, effectively implementing a combo Denard-Devin offense that frankly should have been installed since the beginning of the season.
Using Gardner and Robinson simultaneously keeps defensive coordinators up at night and players on their toes. But for some reason in the second half of Saturday's loss, Al Borges decided that this combination was not good enough to challenge Ohio State's defense. It was simply baffling.
The result was a second half in which they managed only 57 total yards and three turnovers en route to posting zero points—while once again losing to their hated rival Buckeyes.
After taking a 21-20 first-half lead on big plays and decent game planning, Hoke and Borges flat-out squandered a valiant effort by the Michigan defense. This should come as no surprise to anyone that has watched this disappointing season thus far.
It started on the first drive of the second half when the decision to go for it on 4th and 3 at around mid-field was made and then the ensuing play call was a lackluster run up the middle by Denard Robinson. I don't blame Denard; that call was so blatantly obvious that a baby could have sniffed it out.
That set the tone and apparently the scheme for the rest of the game. When Gardner was in, Michigan passed, and when Robinson was in, he ran. Michigan did not use any disguise packages, no decoys and almost zero combinations of the two playmakers. It made no sense.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is not just ridiculous, it is amateur. But that is the offense Borges insisted on sticking with for the remainder of the second half.
Why would you remove your deepest threat and best decoy when attempting to come back from a one touchdown game?
Denard hardly played in the fourth quarter as Gardner desperately attempted to claw back in the game, and of course, he made mistakes. The play-calling in the final quarter looked like something a team down three scores would install, not a team down by just five.
This has been the pattern of ineffectiveness this season by the combination of Borges and Hoke. It took an elbow injury to Denard for them to discover that maybe Gardner and Robinson in the same backfield was a dangerous combination. And then, on the biggest stage of the season, against the Buckeyes, they completely abandoned their best chance for a win.
Stubbornness has cost Michigan other games this season as well.
Against Nebraska, the biggest game of the year aside from Saturday, when Robinson was hurt and Russell Bellomy was clearly unprepared and ineffective, Hoke elected not to take a shot at a comeback by throwing Gardner out there. The result was a 23-9 loss that cost Michigan its chance at the Big Ten title game, as Bellomy blundered his way through the rest of the game, throwing as many completions to Nebraska—three—as he did to his own team.
Saturday was no different. Borges and Hoke refused to acknowledge that their offensive game plan for the second half was too predictable, and it cost them this game as well. The inability to make in-game adjustments is the sign of a coach that does not know how to manage his team on a big stage.
I'm not saying that Hoke should be fired after two seasons (I cannot say the same about Borges), but I would not be surprised to see this team fall into another pattern of consistent losses to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Michigan will not gain as many top recruits unless they can rekindle this so-called rivalry.
Can it still be called a rivalry, or the best rivalry, if the outcome is so one-sided?
Michigan fans deserve better than that, and I'm not so sure that Brady Hoke is the one to give it to them. Let's hope that he learns from his mistakes and gains the moxie to change the game plan if it fails to produce results. However, based on his track record of stubbornness this year, I'm not holding my breath.
Maybe I'm the only one to have this opinion, but I have very little confidence in a Brady Hoke-led team competing for a national championship. Hopefully, I am wrong.