Trounced by Michigan State, Michigan's Road Struggles Continue Under Brady Hoke

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Trounced by Michigan State, Michigan's Road Struggles Continue Under Brady Hoke
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Devin Gardner was sacked seven times by the Spartan defense Saturday

Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer have one thing in common in their football coaching tenures at Michigan and Ohio State, respectively—neither has lost a game at home.

That, however, is about where the similarities end.

With Saturday's shellacking at the hands of rival Michigan State, the Wolverines are now 5-7 on the road since Hoke took over in 2011. That includes a 4-6 record against Big Ten opponents.

When asked recently about his team's road struggles, Hoke responded by shaking his head and saying, "Turnovers, turnovers. That's what's plagued our team." according to Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com.

But there's a lot more to it than that.

While Devin Gardner did throw an untimely interception on Saturday, Michigan's lone turnover didn’t dominate any headlines. This year's Michigan team, like both Wolverines teams that preceded it, has some glaring shortcomings.

While everything from injuries to bad ball protection has been to blame the past two seasons at Michigan, this season, it's a weak and inexperienced offensive line and a porous secondary. It has become painfully clear that Michigan is able to play to its strengths and win close games at home, but sharp execution and gritty play escape it on the road.

What do Michigan’s road losses have in common? They’re all due in part to a lack of toughness and an absence of leadership.

In their home games, the Wolverines are upbeat, erupting with enthusiasm on big plays and staying positive after bad ones. On the road, their cohesion and camaraderie seem to disappear into thin air.

There’s a feeling of melancholy on the road that seems to infect everyone wearing a winged helmet when things don’t go their way. In the college game, this responsibility lies primarily with the coaching staff.

After Saturday’s game, Hoke was asked if he thought his team lacks toughness.

"I don't think so,” Hoke said, as reported by MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner. “I think our kids played hard. I don't think we executed very well."

But part of being tough is executing well in hostile road environments. It’s what separates the good teams from the great. In the late '90s and the past decade, it was the Michigan run game that made up its identity and provided it with a consistent edge in Big Ten play. Well into Hoke’s third year at Michigan, any semblance of a reliable identity remains mysteriously absent.

The Wolverines have two more road games in November with showdowns at Iowa and Northwestern looming on the horizon. These games offer the Wolverines the chance to turn things around and gain some much-needed momentum heading into their all-important Ohio State game.

We’ll see how it goes.

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