When Brady Hoke became the head coach at Michigan, Urban Meyer was working as a football commentator for ESPN. Meyer had also worked with Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison at Florida, so it wasn’t entirely surprising to see him at a Michigan football practice in 2011.
But, Meyer wasn’t a typical broadcaster or colleague stopping by to offer advice. A college football lifer, many considered his return to coaching a foregone conclusion. And in the wake of Jim Tressel’s abrupt dismissal at Ohio State, Columbus was a possible, if not likely destination for a coach with ties to the Buckeyes and who had a resume that included two national championships.
When Michigan faces Ohio State on Saturday, it faces a brilliant coach who not only understands the rivalry, but knows his opponent well. Michigan coach Brady Hoke needs to use Meyer’s familiarity with the Wolverine coaching staff against him.
Ohio State is favored to win by double digits on Saturday. The Buckeyes have not lost a game under Urban Meyer. Everything points to a huge Ohio State victory. But, the pressure is on Ohio State; a victory isn’t enough, the Buckeyes need to win big to preserve a high national ranking and have a chance to compete for the national championship.
College coaches don’t prepare for individual players; they prepare for coaches. Ohio State is being prepared to attack Greg Mattison’s defense and stop Al Borges’ offense.
Hoke needs to throw that script out. If Michigan rolls out that same game plan as the last couple of weeks, this one will be over by the third quarter.
The Michigan defense might be able to hang with Ohio State, but wholesale changes are needed on offense. The only way to beat Meyer is to hit him with something he hasn’t prepared for.
College teams rarely bust out big changes on offense this late in the season, but it’s the only chance that Michigan has to win.
It’s time to break the glass and pull out all the stops; here are some suggestions.
Stack the offensive line strong right
Traditionally the left-tackle position protects the quarterback’s blindside when he’s throwing the ball. Unfortunately, quarterback Devin Gardner is getting hit from practically every side. To open up the running game, Taylor Lewan should be moved to the right side as an extra blocker. The change showed promise when used earlier in the season.
Go pro set with players who can block
Early in the season, Devin was successful when he had time to throw the ball. In passing downs, Michigan needs to use a pro-set formation and put two players in the backfield who can block. Gardner needs more time to find receivers.
Get speed on the field
Dennis Norfleet needs to be in on more plays. He has the potential to break for huge runs if he can get loose.
Move Devin Funchess into the slot
Funchess had great success when he was matched up against linebackers earlier in the season. When he moved to wide receiver, he started getting paired with defensive backs who could handle him. Moving him back into the slot can get him back to a more favorable matchup.
Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson nearly pulled out a victory last season in Columbus. Can Gardner and freshman Shane Morris be as effective this year?
Pull out the trick plays
It’s time for Al Borges to open up his bag of tricks and get creative. Flea flickers, hook and ladders, whatever it takes. Borges needs to swallow his pride and use whatever works against Ohio State.
Is there anything Michigan can do to beat Ohio State?
Hoke needs to swallow his pride and admit that Michigan is overmatched against Ohio State this season. Overmatched teams need to adapt to compete.
Maybe next year Hoke can return to the power football he envisions, but for now Michigan needs to pull out every trick play and gimmick formation Borges can think of.
Meyer won’t be expecting it; it’s not what Michigan teams do.
And that’s why it’s Michigan’s only chance on Saturday.