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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke & Al Borges Rightfully Defend Late-Game Decisions

Was Brady Hoke too conservative against Penn State? Not at all.
Was Brady Hoke too conservative against Penn State? Not at all.Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIOctober 16, 2013

There are some very valid reasons to be upset with the Michigan football coaching staff right now.

However, putting all the blame on head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges for the Wolverines' devastating 43-40 four-overtime loss to Penn State on Saturday is completely misguided.

To say Hoke and Borges "gave the game away with bad play-calling" is absolutely ridiculous.

Michigan put fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons in a position to win the game not once, not twice, but three times. Each missed field goal proved to be more befuddling and frustrating than the one before it.

"We've got the best kicker in the league, or at least that's what we think, especially inside of 40 yards," Borges said on Tuesday, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive. "We were just trying to position it so he could finish it."

With 6:35 left in regulation and with the Wolverines holding a 34-27 lead, Michigan took over at its own 34-yard line. Despite how bad the Michigan offensive line was all afternoon, it decided to finally show up for the potential game-clinching drive, for a few plays at least.

The Wolverines ran the ball nine times and picked up a penalty for pass interference to drive all the way to the Penn State 27-yard line. They also burned the Nittany Lions' three timeouts in the process. From then on, though, chaos ensued. 

A delay of game penalty taken by Devin Gardner cost Michigan a shot at a game-winning field goal.
A delay of game penalty taken by Devin Gardner cost Michigan a shot at a game-winning field goal.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Devin Gardner took an inexcusable penalty for delay of game and Fitzgerald Toussaint then lost three yards on third-and-14. With Michigan on the edge of field goal range, Hoke elected to punt and attempt to pin Penn State deep and make the Nittany Lions go the length of the field in just 50 seconds.

Unfortunately, Matt Wile's punt went into the end zone for a touchback for another unacceptable miscue.

Following the miraculous 80-yard drive by Penn State, which Michigan fans will not soon forget, Gibbons had a chance to still win the game with a 52-yard field goal, but it came up short.

After Sam Ficken missed a field goal attempt on the first possession of overtime, Michigan simply needed three points to escape Happy Valley. That was where arm-chair offensive coordinators across the country began to throw things at their televisions in frustration.

Hoke and Borges elected to keep the ball on the ground for three straight plays, despite the fact that their running backs had only gained 28 yards on 30 carries, to give Gibbons a chance at redemption. 

Remember, this was the same Brendan Gibbons who at one point converted 16 straight field goals with game-winners against Michigan State and Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl. 

The coaches had this statistic to back up their decision as well, according to Michigan's Twitter account:

Hoke: Gibbons was 23-23 from 40 yards in coming into the game.

A low kick by Gibbons allowed Penn State to easily block the 40-yard attempt. 

The same scenario arose in the third overtime after Frank Clark recovered a Penn State fumble. Michigan elected to keep the ball on the ground for two plays and completed a nine-yard pass to set Gibbons up with a 33-yard boot to send it home victorious. 

This one went wide left.

Brendan Gibbons missed three potential game-winning field goal attempts. Photo courtesy of The Detroit News.
Brendan Gibbons missed three potential game-winning field goal attempts. Photo courtesy of The Detroit News.

For some reason, though, Michigan fans believe the coaches were gutless and failed to go for the win.

All Hoke and Borges did was fall back on the usually reliable Gibbons, not allowing Gardner the chance to make another costly turnover. Did people really want the game to be decided by arguably the most turnover-prone quarterback in college football right now?

Fans were calling for Gardner to be benched in favor of Shane Morris at halftime:

We need Shane Morris to be our quarterback now.

TyRe Irving (@TReid97) October 12, 2013

In my book, Devin Gardner's time as Michigan quarterback is over. Time to let Shane Morris take over the reigns

Malik Hill (@eduardohiliani) October 12, 2013

Shane Morris better be starting the 2nd Half

— Tyler Graf (@tylergraf3) October 12, 2013

Yet, with the game on the line, people wanted Gardner to chuck the pigskin around instead of letting a kicker who had made 23 consecutive attempts from 40 yards and in close it out ? That's absurd.

When the Michigan staff employed the same strategy in overtime of the Sugar Bowl last season, nobody cared about how conservative it was. 

Plus, Michigan's coaches did not go about the situation any differently than any other coach has this season. There have been six games thus far where a team has only needed a field goal to win an overtime game and a grand total of one pass was attempted in those situations. On that occasion, Georgia's Aaron Murray threw an incompletion

Of those teams that needed three points for a win, three converted field goals, including Tulane, which sent its kicker out on first down to kick a 42-yarder for the win. Marshall and Virginia Tech traded misses before the Hokies eventually scored a touchdown, Jacksonville State ran it all the way to the end zone and Buffalo fumbled before going on to victory.

Michigan handled the situation no differently than any other coaching staff in college football this season. 

Offensive coordinators are the easiest targets after losses.
Offensive coordinators are the easiest targets after losses.Leon Halip/Getty Images

This is not an attempt to completely absolve the coaches from criticism for the debacle that Wolverine fans were forced to endure. The fact of the matter is that there is plenty of blame to go around.

For instance, standout wide receiver Devin Funchess single-handedly (pun intended) cost the Wolverines 11 points with a pair of drops. Funchess let a touchdown pass slip right between his hands in the first quarter and dropped another in the end zone, which forced Michigan to settle for a field goal.

Meanwhile, Gardner's two interceptions in the first half set up the Nittany Lions inside the Wolverines' 15-yard line both times and resulted in a pair of touchdowns.

It is more than fair to pin the constant regression of the Wolverines' offensive line on the coaching staff. Some of the issues have to do with youth, inexperience and constant shuffling of linemen, but it is not improving at all from week to week.

The starting left guard job is now completely up for grabs and if Kyle Kalis continues to make mental mistakes on the right side, someone may be replacing him as well.

Michigan's 5-6 record in road games since 2011 is completely on the coaches, too, but to argue that Hoke and Borges were too conservative, coached scared or attempted to not lose the game rather than win is just flat-out preposterous.

 

Want to talk more Michigan football? Follow me on Twitter at @Zach_Dirlam. 

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