Michigan entered November with its preseason goals within reach: winning a Big Ten championship and playing in the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines still controlled their destiny after a 63-47 victory over Indiana, despite a 4OT loss to Penn State and a national ranking near the bottom of the Top 25.
But November has not been kind to Michigan—a crushing defeat at the hands of Michigan State was followed by two late fourth quarter defeats to Nebraska and Iowa. If not for a 3OT victory over Northwestern, Michigan would be winless for the month.
|Michigan State 29||Michigan 6||East Lansing, MI|
|Nebraska 17||Michigan 13||Ann Arbor, MI|
|Michigan 27||Northwestern 19 (3OT)||Evanston, IL|
|Iowa 24||Michigan 21||Iowa City, IA|
The same problems that have dogged Michigan all season—an ineffective offensive line and baffling play-calling—along with the team’s November freefall have raised questions about head coach Brady Hoke’s status for next season.
Doubt about Hoke’s status might have played a factor in losing top defensive end recruit Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama despite him long being considered a lock for Michigan.
Rumors about Hoke’s status definitely affected another top player who had already committed to Michigan. Defensive back prospect Jabrill Peppers announced on Twitter that he will now take official visits to other schools.
In a statement to Tom VanHaaren with ESPN.com he explained his reasoning.
With the rumors about Coach Hoke possibly not being there I need to make sure that I have options and have seen other places in case the University of Michigan decides to go in a different direction.
Athletic director David Brandon went on the offensive to dispel any questions about Hoke’s status, issuing a statement on mgoblue.com, Michigan football’s official web page.
Brady Hoke is our coach and will be leading our football program well into the future. There is no question about it. Brady has done a great job rebuilding the program and reshaping the culture to the level it was under coaches Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr. Anyone making efforts to stir up a coaching controversy at Michigan is ill-informed and is likely promoting a personal agenda that is not in the best interest of Michigan Football.
While Hoke has Brandon’s unquestioned support, the same cannot be said for other members of the coaching staff. Hoke told Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News that the entire staff would be evaluated after the season.
We'll look at what's gone right, what's gone wrong. We’ll look across the whole program to make the decisions we need to make to win. But I can't engage in a public discussion of personnel and won't. I'm not going to talk about individuals up and down the staff.
The offensive line has been abysmal this season. Despite the presence of fifth-year senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, the unit could not consistently run block or protect quarterback Devin Gardner. Seven players have been futilely shuffled through the interior line positions in hopes of finding an effective combination.
With the departure Lewan and Schofield, Michigan faces the prospect of replacing its only two consistent offensive lineman prior to next season.
Is Funk recruiting the right kind of players for Borges’ offense and are they being developed correctly when they arrive on campus?
As bad as the offensive line is, the offensive play-calling by Borges has been baffling. Michigan began the season with quarterback Devin Gardner shouldering the load on offense, reminiscent of last year’s attack with Denard Robinson. Just as Robinson’s performance degraded throughout last season, the same thing happened to Gardner as this season wore on.
Even Borges himself acknowledged the failure of the offense during a press conference (via mgoblue.com).
"We have sputtered so bad in the last four games, I just don't ever remember it being like this."
Borges has shown little consistency game-to-game and seemingly refuses to make in game adjustments.
Has the malfunctioning offensive line produced Michigan’s inconsistency?
Or has the lack of offensive identity hampered the development of the offensive line?
Hoke will need to unsnarl the knot before next season.
Ohio State is favored to win by double digits on Saturday, and the Buckeyes have not lost a game under Urban Meyer. Ohio State has everything to lose; a perfect season and a chance to compete for a national championship are the on the line.
But even if Michigan pulls an upset, any objective evaluation of its offense should lead to serious questions about play-calling and player development.
Coaches are always evaluating players and opponents looking for an edge to jump the gap between victory and defeat.
Soon it will be time for Hoke to evaluate his staff, and the decisions he makes will decide the fate of the program. He has David Brandon’s unquestioned support—for now, but another disappointing season and that support might disappear.
Hoke may support his coaches and bring everyone back, but there are absolutely no excuses for a similar problems next season.