Michigan Bye-Week Overhaul Part 2, Special Teams Need Special Attention

Phil CallihanContributor ISeptember 24, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke (right) watches from the sideline as they take on the Connecticut Huskies in the third quarter at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Brady Hoke isn’t concerned about fans panicking after two near-losses to inferior teams.

“I don’t really worry about it,” said Hoke during his weekly press conference. “We have great fans; they are entitled to their opinions.”

The Wolverines are 4-0 entering their bye week and looking forward to the start of Big Ten play against Minnesota at the Michigan Stadium.

Two weeks ago, few would have expected the Wolverines to struggle against Akron and UConn, two teams with only a single victory between them.

The Wolverines face numerous questions on offense, and the bye week is the perfect opportunity to work on aspects of the game without needing to implement a game plan until the following week.

Hoke has said the team is getting back to basics and evaluating players position by position. Part of this evaluation needs to be on special teams, which have been exacerbated by problems on offense.

Catch the ball

Dennis Norfleet
Dennis NorfleetAndrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Kick returner Dennis Norfleet has shown spark returning kicks. But, he has also bobbled some and nearly turned the ball over a few times. Drew Dileo has shown sure hands but doesn’t have the explosive burst of Norfleet.

Norfleet remains the best option here, but he needs to catch the ball without drama. Long returns are great, but if he starts turning the ball over, Dileo might need to be the primary option. 

Punting

September 8, 2012; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke talks to kicker Matt Wile (45) and punter Will Hagerup (43) before the game against the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Spor
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Punter Matt Wile is averaging 36.5 yards a punt and hasn’t averaged enough punts per game (more about that later) to be listed in the official NCAA punting statistics.

But if he did have enough punts, he’d be ranked No. 82 in the country.

The poor blocking up front has also added to the problems as Wile is being rushed to get rid of the ball.

Unfortunately, the Wolverines are without Will Hagerup, who averaged 45.0 yards per punt last season and is suspended until next season.

With the Wolverines ranked No. 102 nationally in net punting, it may be time to give Kenny Allen a shot.

Devin Gardner

Sep 21, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) warms up before the start of the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Why mention Devin Gardner in a discussion about special teams?

Because he's the main reason Wile doesn’t have more punts.

Fans may cringe at the statement that a punt is a great offensive play, but compared to Gardner’s mistakes this season (eight interceptions and two fumbles), it’s a preferable option.

Drastic improvements, and perhaps some personnel changes, are needed for the Wolverines to regain the mojo they had after beating Notre Dame.

They are still 4-0, but with numerous problems on offense, special teams might be the key to remaining unbeaten as they sort things out.