By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 24, 2011
During the Michigan football team’s 28-7 victory over San Diego State on Saturday, several Michigan coaches — including head coach Brady Hoke — spent the entire game on the Aztecs’ sideline.
But don't panic — the coaches were on the Michigan sidelines, too. The only difference was they were in their full human form on the Wolverines' sideline. For the Aztecs, they were simply signs indicating formations.
Throughout the game, the San Diego State coaches held up pictures of all the coaches and administrators who departed the team last year for Michigan. Each picture represented a different type of play for the Aztecs.
“We chose the pictures based on, we know those guys and we respect those guys,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “They related to certain coverages by their personalities.”
For example, Hoke, who is known for his defensive mind, represented the goal line or short-yardage defense.
There were other uses for the pictures as well.
“It was our way of telling them how much we missed them,” Long said. “But the real reason we used them was because they know our signals. So we were trying to figure out a way to signal the defense to our defense without them knowing exactly what we were in.”
The plan didn’t work out as well as Long would have liked. He said the signs might have been part of the reason the Aztecs struggled on defense in the first half — San Diego State gave up 208 yards on the ground, with no answer for Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson, who rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
“We actually thought in the process it would help us,” Long said. “I don’t think it did. It probably would have been better if we hadn’t done it. But it was really a tribute to them, because we’re all friends and we know they’re gonna do a great job here.”
As for the Michigan players:
“We were laughing,” Robinson said. “Everybody was in that huddle laughing. They got pictures of our coaches up there — it’s crazy.”
A YOUNG DONOVAN WARREN?: In the second quarter, fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk was off the field, injured. Again.
Woolfolk has suffered various injuries this year, including a tweaked left ankle in the season opener against Western Michigan. And it was that same ankle that he "tweaked" again on Saturday.
“I’m sure that’s day-to-day,” Hoke said of the injury. “If I know Troy, he’ll come out tomorrow and do everything that we’ll do.”
Freshman cornerback Blake Countess replaced Woolfolk, and he made the most of his time on the field. He recorded seven tackles — tied for a team-high — and broke up a pass.
“(Countess) is a talented young guy,” Hoke said. “He’s done a good job. He has great pride in performance, so he gets himself ready to play.”
Fifth-year senior Ryan Van Bergen compared Countess to former Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, a 2009 All-Big Ten selection and current member of the Detroit Lions practice squad.
“He has a swagger about him,” Van Bergen said. “He’s very confident in his abilities, and I think the more reps he gets, the more time he’ll see because I think he’ll prove that he can play. I think the coaches are slowly getting more comfortable with him and rotating him in.”
WILL IT EVER GET BETTER?: Entering Saturday’s game, redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons had only attempted one field goal this season — a 21-yard chip shot that he converted against Eastern Michigan last week.
That didn’t exactly convince Michigan fans that he’s the answer for the Wolverines’ kicking woes. Gibbons and redshirt sophomore Seth Broekhuizen went a combined 4-for-13 on field goals last year, good for last in the nation.
And on Saturday, Gibbons didn’t exactly help the cause.
With 3:30 left in the third quarter and Michigan leading 21-0, Gibbons lined up on the right hash for a 40-yard field goal as the Big House collectively held its breath.
He had the distance, but he pushed it left. No good.
“I think it was just one bad kick,” Hoke said. “I can tell you from how he planted, not that I’m (former NFL Pro Bowl kicker) Garo Yepremian at all or know much about the kicking aspect, but he just didn’t plant well and kind of pushed it.”
ONE BIG, POWERFUL FAMILY: When asked after the game if there was anything about his team that surprised him, Hoke paused. He made a few faces and thought about it for a good five seconds.
And then his face lit up.
“I like how they like each other,” he said. “I’ve been around teams that don’t like each other. And if they like each other enough and respect each other enough, they’re gonna play for each other.
“When they play for each other and they play for Michigan, that’s a powerful thing.”