Offensive coordinator Al Borges paid the price for Michigan’s offensive inconsistency last season and was fired by Brady Hoke, who replaced him with Doug Nussmeier from Alabama.
Nussmeier was hired to resurrect the Michigan running game to help the team compete in the new Big Ten East Division which now includes last year’s Big Ten champion Michigan State and runner-up Ohio State.
The offensive storylines out of spring practice revolved around the quarterback competition, the resurrected running attack and the emergence of freshman wide receiver Freddy Canteen.
But fans who attended the Michigan spring game hoping to see the newly minted offense roll up and down the field left disappointed.
On his first play from scrimmage, quarterback Devin Gardner threw an interception. The offense struggled to make first downs. Michigan running backs dove into the line of scrimmage struggling to find seams.
Things looked a lot like last season.
Here is what Brady Hoke needs to do fix the Michigan offense before next season.
Pick the Right Quarterback
Brady Hoke has been cagey on this all spring. Last week he said that Gardner would probably be his starter but that the competition was ongoing.
Devin Gardner poses an interesting problem heading into next season. His career experience and performance from last season make him the presumptive favorite to be the starter. But his confidence took a beating, and his demeanor in postgame press conferences revealed a player who was beat down by season’s end. He played admirably with an injured foot versus Ohio State but Michigan still fell short against its bitter rival. Gardner missed the bowl game rehabbing, opening the door for Shane Morris to gain valuable experience.
It remains to be seen which quarterback style fits Nussmeier’s offense best. Morris closed the gap when Gardner was out at the tail of last season and both quarterbacks have worked equally with Nussmeier this spring. Borges paid the price for gradually implementing his offense—will Nussmeier choose Gardner who will be learning his third offensive scheme in his last season, or invest his time in a quarterback with multiple seasons of eligibility left?
Hoke and Nussmeier need to make a clear decision. Gardner is feeling the pressure—he acknowledged as much when he pushed himself to be ready and surprised his teammates and coaches by fully participating at the team’s first practice.
If Gardner can’t make the throws necessary in this new offense and his running ability isn’t valuable, then he needs to be replaced. It’s a decision that could threaten the team’s chemistry, but it may be time to move on with a new quarterback.
Solidify the Offensive Line
The offensive line was a disaster last season. A position group that needed a consistent group of starters to improve instead saw nine players rotate throughout the five starting positions because of injury and performance issues.
The projected starters are likely Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden at the tackles, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch at the guards and Graham Glasgow at center. Jack Miller and Davis Dawson are also in the mix. The wildcard is freshman Mason Cole. Do the coaches risk having a true freshman play tackle while trusting him to protect the edge of the Michigan offensive line?
Miller took his lumps early last season but should be better prepared if needed to fill in at center or guard.
Last season, Michigan’s offensive line suffered from bad luck and poor play but the constantly morphing offensive attack didn’t help. Offensive linemen thrive on run-blocking and endure pass blocking. Under Nussmeier, the offensive lineman should benefit from a more consistent running attack but will still need a more regular group of starters to be successful.
Hoke needs luck to avoid injuries but hiring Nussmeier was the right move to stabilize the offensive identity of his team. The team will miss tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but the added year of experience should help the returning players improve.
Damn the Torpedoes
Last season Michigan won early, barely defeating teams with less talent. There was no impression of gradual improvement—one close call was followed by another until the wheels fell completely fell off in November with a 1-4 record.
Hoke needs to finish the Big Ten slate strong this season and he might need to let the offense struggle until Nussmeier’s new scheme gets on track.
The boos might rain down at Michigan Stadium but if early struggles lead to victories on the road later in the season versus Michigan State or Ohio State, fans will forgive him.
When you're the coach at Michigan boos don't hurt you, but repeated losses to Michigan State and Ohio State can be fatal.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.