1. Hoke will defend Borges until the bitter end.
Al Borges may well be the most talked about man in Ann Arbor, but not in a good way.
Calls for the offensive coordinator’s firing started with Michigan’s first loss to Penn State last month. They became a little louder after the Michigan State loss, and they’ve reached their peak now that the Wolverines had their second consecutive week of negative rushing yards.
After Saturday’s game, though, Hoke said he approved of Borges’s calls.
“I liked the play calling,” Hoke said. “We thought we could do some things, and we didn’t.”
Michigan made no attempt to change its game plan from last week to this week, as it continued to run the ball when the running backs — fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and freshman Derrick Green — couldn’t find any space.
Borges clearly thinks he’s making the right decision, and Hoke justified the play calling, saying that the execution and poor coaching has more to do with it than anything else.
That implies that Hoke believes in the current game plan, and that he intends to keep up with the same played-out scene until the Wolverines find some way to master it. It’s just uncertain if there’s enough time left for that to happen.
2. It’s November, and turnovers are still an issue.
Remember three games ago when the biggest question mark for the Wolverines was if redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner could throw the ball without it falling neatly into the hands of an opponent?
That’s hardly the case anymore. Now, the bigger issue for Michigan is how to capitalize when it’s on the receiving end of a turnover.
The Wolverines had two golden opportunities to score on Saturday, one set by fifth-year senior linebacker Cam Gordon forcing a fumble to put the Wolverines at the Nebraska 33-yard line, and another where Dennis Norfleet recovered a muffed punt on the Nebraska 26-yard line.
And as a thank you for those two gifts graciously given to it, the Michigan offense went 1-for-2 on field-goal attempts to cap off those drives.
The problem to score has been categorized as offensive ineffectiveness. But when you’re actually moving backward on a drive, that’s not ineffectiveness, it’s self destruction. The bottom line is, when even the kickers aren’t put in a position to succeed, it undermines everything the coaching staff has preached about capitalizing on turnovers.
3. The defense looks like the lone bright spot.
Cam Gordon and Courtney Avery were asked an interesting question after the game. As fifth-year seniors, they weathered the Rich Rodriguez era that, among other things, was criticized for its porous defense. So, how does it feel to be on the other side of things this season?
They, of course, responded that football is a team game, so their performance doesn’t count for much. But when Hoke was asked about any bright spots he saw in the game, he cited the defense — specifically, how it held the Huskers to 6-for-16 on third downs.
Sure, that’s ignoring the fact that the Wolverines gave up a critical 4th-and-two late in the fourth quarter, but overall, things are a lot less iffy when the defense is on the field. It just begs the question of how long it will take Michigan to have an electric offense and a stout defense at the same time.
4. Michigan needs to stick with short passing routs.
Could it be just three weeks ago that fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon dazzled everyone with his record-breaking day in receiving yards against Indiana?
Gallon’s been something of a ghostly figure for the Wolverines as of late. And that may continue, as Michigan seemed to be more effective short routs on Saturday compared to the long ones to Gallon — fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess thrived most on short screen passes.
With Gardner facing a sack each time he steps back into the pocket to throw, these kind of passes just make more sense. Since the run game is in a rut and these are the kind of passing plays that Michigan can successfully execute, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see more of them going forward.
5. Bold Prediction: Michigan will lose out.
Even if the Wolverines were playing up to their full potential, Ohio State was always going to be the toughest team they faced all season. At this point, a victory over the Buckeyes would be nothing short of miraculous.
But Michigan still has two weeks to go before Ohio State rolls into town, and there is very little to suggest that it will come out of those two weeks unscathed.
The Wolverines are three-point underdogs against Northwestern next week, and just for a frame of reference, the Wildcats are winless in the Big Ten this season. Northwestern has never been favored over Michigan. But that day has finally arrived.
Iowa, too, has been a mediocre team this season. But never underestimate the Wolverines’ poor road performances. In a season labeled as Big Ten title or bust by Michigan, it has become the latter.