Tag Archives: Brady Hoke

Michigan vs Notre Dame 2011

“Good morning, and welcome to the Michigan band’s first ever early morning postgame show.”
—Michigan Stadium PA announcer Carl Grapentine, just past midnight after Michigan’s victory over Notre Dame

Does anyone know what happened at the Big House on Saturday night? Did anything happen? Was it all just a dream?

This was the 10th Michigan-Notre Dame game I’ve attended and eighth in a row. The 2009 game was a classic; last year’s contest was unbelievable. They pale in comparison to what happened in Ann Arbor this weekend for the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium.

For the third straight season, the Wolverines beat the Irish in the final 30 seconds by four points, this time 35-31 in one of the wildest games in college football history.

Michigan’s leading receiver last season, Roy Roundtree, had just one reception but it was the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left. Of course most of the NCAA-record crowd of 114,804 thought the game-winner had come with 1:12 left when Denard Robinson dumped a screen pass to Vincent Smith, who weaved between defenders and blockers to score from 21 yards out and put Michigan up 28-24 after the extra point. And surely they thought the final score had come when Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees found a wide open Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown with just 30 seconds left.

But just as Michigan had given the Irish too much time, ND had scored too quickly. After a kickoff for a touchback and an incomplete pass, Robinson connected with Jeremy Gallon, who was even more head-scratchingly open than Riddick. Gallon caught it near the right sideline and sprinted up and across the field, going out of bounds at the ND 16 with eight seconds left. That’s when Robinson hit Roundtree, defended by a cornerback who wasn’t looking at the ball—a theme of the night—to cap off the exhilarating evening.

The numbers are mind-boggling. Robinson completed just 11 passes but had 338 yards, over 30 yards per completion. He recorded 446 total yards after putting up 502 on the Irish last season (a figure Robinson himself didn’t believe when ESPN’s Chris Fowler informed him of the number in his on-field, postgame interview). He was pretty awful for three quarters but absolutely electric in the fourth, when he threw three TDs and ran for another as Michigan erased a 24-7 deficit.

For the first 45 minutes, the Irish contained Robinson on the ground and were content to let him self-destruct through the air (he threw three picks; his first two were of the “What was he thinking?” variety). But like last week against South Florida, Notre Dame had its gun aimed squarely at its foot, turning it over five times.

What won’t be recorded in the box score is the energy of the crowd. I can’t be upset if I never experience anything like that again, and I won’t be surprised if I don’t. Like so many others, I remained in the stadium for about an hour after the final whistle. I would have preferred not to hear the contrived Michigan football anthem that played twice (the lyrics include “Hail to the Wolverines”), but almost everything else was perfect. Sure the uniforms were a little silly but they didn’t look too bad over the pads and the players seemed to like them. Even if they don’t catch on I think an annual night game at the Big House will.

But none of them will ever top the inaugural game.

Michigan Wolverines Football Season Preview 2011

How stubborn is Brady Hoke? For the Michigan Wolverines that may be the most important question of the 2011 season.

At this point it’s not about whether a guy with a 47-50 record as a head coach deserved to be the next head coach at Michigan. History is filled with people who may have appeared to be undeserving of their opportunity but thrived once given it. Although his record today is still 47-50, there are no signs he is in over his head: His recruiting was solid. The coordinator hires were terrific. The star quarterback he inherited is still here.

But everyone wants to know how Hoke will utilize that star quarterback. Watching Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense last year was about as much fun as you can have watching football. I’m not exaggerating when I say it felt like Michigan could score on any given play. Many of Robinson’s runs were so good they were laughable. This allowed him, on several occasions, to give the defense the slightest perception he might run before tossing it to a receiver so wide open that anyone in the bar who said “I could have scored there” wasn’t wrong.

The architect behind all of that, Rich Rodriguez, is no longer in Ann Arbor. That’s not unfair nor is it necessarily sad; it’s just unfortunate. This offense probably fails to take a really big leap because of that fact, but I think it can still take a step forward.

I am basing that largely on a hope that Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges (who came with Hoke from San Diego State) will be more flexible than Rodriguez was when he first arrived. They have said all the right things but we really won’t know until Saturday afternoon and maybe not even until the next Saturday night.

People may doubt Robinson’s ability to be a consistently accurate thrower in an offense more pass-oriented than he’s accustomed to, but people doubted his ability to go from “running back who stands where the quarterback stands” to Heisman candidate and he did that in one offseason. The Spring Game may not have been encouraging but I’m willing to wait and see.

How much of this will we see from Denard this season? (Credit: John Peckham)

As for the defense, it will be better than last year. There won’t be true freshmen everywhere. Greg Robinson is no longer the defensive coordinator. (Let that sentence sink in for a moment.) The new coordinator is Greg Mattison, who last year at this time was preparing the Baltimore Ravens defense for another stellar season. Michigan went from a handle-less bicycle to a Porsche in that department. This still won’t be a great defense but unlike the offense there’s no concern about messing with a good thing. Michigan fans won’t want to cry this season when the other team has the ball.

Another thing this team has going for it is the schedule. The first five games are at home and include Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State. Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State all come to Ann Arbor. That is why I will be optimistic and predict a 9-3 record for Michigan. Nebraska feels like a loss while Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio State are toss-ups. Ask me tomorrow and I might say 8-4, but you only get one prediction so 9-3 it is.

Not to get all defensive, but a new coaching staff makes predictions difficult. Nobody really knew what to expect three years ago and the same is true as we head into the 2011 season. All eyes will be on Robinson and the offense: How many designed runs will there be? How often will he be under center? Has his accuracy and decision-making improved?

And it all leads back to the coaching staff’s willingness to blend their personal schematic preferences with their personnel. Everyone knows Robinson’s biggest asset is his speed so it will be imperative that the coaches maximize that—even if they don’t maximize it to the same extent Rodriguez would have. Finding the right balance as Michigan tries to win this year and begin the transition to a new era is easier said than done, but Wolverine fans are ready to embrace it.

Brady Hoke: Michigan Football New Coach

A lot of people have asked me how I feel about new Michigan football coach Brady Hoke. My answer has been: I don’t really know. I know how I would’ve felt had one of the other potential candidates been hired: I did not want Les Miles and while Jim Harbaugh has come across as a bit of a jerk over the last few years, there’s no denying his success. But with Hoke, who comes from San Diego State and was at Ball State before that, I’m not sure how I feel, and I think that sort of sums up the hire—it’s hard to get too excited about Hoke, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the first questions when Hoke was hired—well, since Rich Rodriguez was fired, really—was whether Denard Robinson would stay at Michigan. Robinson has said he will, which is reassuring to Wolverine fans. It would have been impressive if Michigan could’ve somehow induced both Ryan Mallett (who had the fifth most passing yards in the country this past season for Arkansas) and Robinson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, to transfer within three years of each other.

Part of the reason Robinson is staying is because of Hoke’s willingness to adapt to the star quarterback’s skill set. At least that is the hope. Rodriguez said the same thing as Hoke in his introductory press conference—that he is going to implement his style but will adapt to his personnel—but it proved to be not entirely true. Granted, Rodriguez didn’t have much to work with in his first year (regardless of what he was willing to do offensively), but his stubbornness didn’t help.

We’ll see if Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges, who has never presided over a running quarterback, can make good on their initial promise. Reducing Robinson’s carries may not be such a bad thing anyway, but if he doesn’t get some freedom to run then the transition from Rodriguez to Hoke could be just as rough as it was from Lloyd Carr to Rodriguez.

Speaking of Carr, a certain group of Michigan fans is not exactly enthused that Hoke was an assistant under Carr and believes in a similar football philosophy. These people were understandably frustrated with the last few years of Carr’s tenure and were excited about a shift they had hoped would bring Michigan football into a new era. Rodriguez’s three years obviously didn’t work out, but the Hoke hire by no means suggests Michigan is “surrendering” and settling for mediocrity.

Brady Hoke at his introductory press conference (Credit: MGoBlue.com)

Look at what Carr did in his first six years as Michigan’s head coach (starting in 1995): a 55-18 (.784) overall record with a 5-1 mark against Ohio State and a 4-2 record in bowl games, including a national title in his third season. It was his final seven years that weren’t as strong, though still respectable: 64-24 (.727), 1-6 vs. OSU, 2-5 in bowls. Of course there are a lot of factors that make Carr’s beginning as Michigan head coach different from Hoke’s, but it’s foolish to pretend Michigan was not great (not very good, but great) during Carr’s first several seasons.

Another assistant under Carr, Greg Mattison, returns to Ann Arbor as the defensive coordinator. Mattison’s resume and the reviews from his peers suggest this was an excellent hire. Rodriguez’s demise was largely because of his choice of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator, so in this very important regard Hoke made a great choice. Mattison leaves the same position with the Baltimore Ravens, and you’ve got to like anyone who was affiliated with the Ravens defense.

There is no doubt that Hoke really wants to be at Michigan—at his press conference he said he would have walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego to get the job—and that passion certainly can’t hurt his chances of succeeding. The pressure is certainly there. With each season the Wolverines are really bad, bad, or just average (as they have been the last three seasons), it will be harder for them to climb out of the hole and back to national prominenc