- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 3, 2013
EAST LANSING — Brady Hoke’s go-to excuse, the one he uses as a safe word in case things get too rough and as his security blanket in case things get too scary, needs to be retired.
Every time anything goes wrong with this Michigan football team — and recently, that’s been fairly often — Hoke blames “execution.” The reason why Michigan was dominated in every aspect in Saturday’s 29-6 loss to Michigan State on Saturday? A lack of execution, says Hoke.
Putting the blame on executing the existing gameplan means putting the blame on the players and not on the coaching staff. This matters because, yes, there were execution issues, but that was not the biggest problem.
Hoke had two weeks to prepare his team for Michigan State, and offensive coordinator Al Borges had two weeks to come up with a plan that made sure redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t get trampled.
Gardner was sacked seven times. Michigan’s offense did absolutely nothing. And after the game, both fifth-year senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan blamed intensity for the loss.
“I think it’s who is tougher, that’s what it comes down to,” Ryan said. “We played a tough game, but it came down to who wanted it more and who played their technique better. That’s something we definitely, definitely need to improve on these weeks coming up.
“We didn’t play the game we wanted to play. We need to go 100 percent every single play, and some plays we didn’t do that … so they came out with the win.”
That’s Hoke’s responsibility. That’s his job. He’s not a numbers guy, or an offensive guru. Those responsibilities are delegated to his coordinators, so as the head coach, he’s essentially a motivator.
And if Michigan is failing at going hard on every play, in the first week of November against a rival, then how are we evaluating Hoke?
Saturday was the type of game the third-year coach has talked about winning since the moment he arrived in Ann Arbor. It was rainy, cold and muddy. Defense and running the football mattered more than anything else. By the end of the day, jerseys were brown and one team was limping to the locker room.
If Hoke can’t succeed with that type of play, then where is he succeeding as a head coach? In 63-47 shootouts with Indiana?
The problem is that the team he’s always envisioned was wearing green, and the team that was getting bulldozed into earning the fewest rushing yards in program history was wearing maize and blue.
Michigan State had everything Hoke has always wanted in a football team — a mean, menacing defense coupled with a power-running game that wins football games with scores like 21-6 or 14-0 or, hey, 29-6.
Instead, in Hoke’s third season, he has a team that still doesn’t have an identity. He’s got a team that is supposed to have a power running offense but ran for negative 48 yards on Saturday and has a featured running back who is averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He’s got a smashmouth defense that is allowing almost 27 points per game and gave up 29 points to a Michigan State offense that has struggled to put up points against teams like Western Michigan and Purdue.
His teams have gone 5-8 on the road while statistically getting worse every year in his three seasons as head coach.
The reality is that Hoke’s best season came in 2011, his first year, when he was coaching Rich Rodriguez’s players. That was also the only time in Hoke’s tenure that Michigan has won a game as an underdog: the second game of the season, against Notre Dame. Even then, Michigan needed a last-second miracle to escape with a win
The Wolverines lost five games last year, and this year, they were virtually knocked out of contention for a Big Ten Championship by the first week of November.
Michigan has four more regular-season games in 2013. Two of them are at home against some of the toughest teams in the Big Ten (Nebraska and Ohio State) and two of them on the road (Northwestern and Iowa).
Hoke isn’t on the hot seat yet. He’s a phenomenal recruiter, perfect for an alumni base that demands tradition above all and the players seem to love him. But the seat is getting warmer and will only heat up more if the next four games look anything like Saturday’s.
Hoke can beat the same dead horse about why his team is failing all he wants, but at the end of the day, Michigan’s faults don’t lie with the players who aren’t executing the game plan.
The faults lie with the man behind them.
Cook can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @everettcook