After Michigan's four-OT loss to Penn State last month, Brady Hoke could still motivate his team with the possibility of playing for the Big Ten Championship.
In the wake of a crushing defeat to rival Michigan State followed by a late fourth-quarter loss at home to Nebraska, all hope of heading to Indianapolis has disappeared.
Michigan is teetering on the edge of an epic collapse, falling from the national rankings with a thud. The offensive line is in shambles, leaving quarterback Devin Gardner unprotected (14 sacks in the last two games) and providing no holes for the running game (minus-69 yards in the last two games).
The outlook is bleak, but Michigan has three remaining Big Ten games and can still salvage the season.
Win 2 Out of the Last 3
Michigan is 6-3 and heads out on the road to play Northwestern and Iowa before returning home to face Ohio State in the season finale.
Northwestern and Iowa are beatable, although after disappointing performances in the last two games, Michigan can’t take anything for granted.
Michigan has struggled on the road under Hoke and fans were very vocal with their displeasure during the Nebraska game. A few weeks away from now, Michigan Stadium will relieve some of the pressure on the team.
If Michigan finishes 8-4, fans won’t be building statues of Hoke, but they won’t be ready to run him out of town, either.
Eight wins along with a large national fanbase will ensure that the Wolverines get a decent bowl destination.
Or Beat Ohio State
With the Big Ten Championship out of reach, Michigan has a chance to spoil Ohio State’s perfect season and prevent the Buckeyes from playing for the national championship.
The Wolverines had a similar opportunity last year, but came up short in Columbus. Ohio State was ineligible for any postseason games then, so maybe the Buckeyes will get caught looking ahead to the Big Ten Championship game.
While the possibility seems remote, a Michigan victory would not only reignite the rivalry between the schools, but provide Hoke with a signature win to quiet his critics.
How to Do it
Protect the QB
Whether Devin Gardner or Shane Morris plays quarterback, the coaching staff needs to find a way to give them better protection. Running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green aren’t generating yards in the running attack or pass protection: It’s time to pull them out.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges should change to a pro set and move somebody—anybody who can block—into the backfield. Move some defensive linemen over or give some other running backs a chance to show what they can do.
Anything is better than what’s we’ve seen from the Michigan running backs this season.
Run the Ball
Stop trying to run the ball between the tackles—it’s not going to happen with this group of offensive linemen. The coaching staff needs to switch to attempting sweeps or off-tackle runs, preferably using Jeremy Gallon or Dennis Norfleet in motion from the edges of the formation.
If backup quarterback Morris has superior skills pitching the ball, he might be a better option than Gardner in this type of attack.
Pull Out the Tricks
When teams struggle with a basic offense, they need trick plays to keep an opposing defense back on its heels. Borges is known for tinkering with formations to get the advantage against opposing defenses.
This might be the biggest challenge of his career: Can he create an offensive attack to overcome an offensive line that can’t block?
If not, Michigan will struggle to score points and next season’s home opener versus Appalachian State will start to look like a possible repeat of its last visit to the Big House.