During Brady Hoke’s first year as the Michigan football team’s coach in 2011, he could do no wrong.
Ace the introductory press conference? Check. Pull out a miraculous comeback against Notre Dame, a major rival? Check. Successfully run a fake field goal to help blow out a good Nebraska team? Check. Beat Ohio State? Check. Make a BCS bowl game (ahead of Michigan State, no less) and win it? Check.
Almost every break fell Michigan’s way that season. The Wolverines recovered 20 fumbles and lost just six. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller overthrew a wide-open receiver to miss what would have been a game-winning touchdown for the Buckeyes, and Michigan somehow converted an ugly botched field goal against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
But three years have passed, and things aren’t quite so rosy anymore.
Saturday marks Senior Day at Michigan Stadium, when the program will honor the 12 student-athletes who will play in their final home game. It might also be Hoke’s last game there, too.
Since that honeymoon year, things have only gotten worse for Hoke and his team — on the field, at least. Off the gridiron, the Wolverines insist they’re more tight-knit than ever, and Hoke expects to be fueled by emotion Saturday.
“You look at guys who have worked their tails off for four or five years,” Hoke said Wednesday. “You look at guys as a coach and as a mentor (and) how they’ve grown, not just from a football standpoint but guys are graduating, guys who’ve grown as men, so there’s always that. I don’t know if you get emotional about not being able to coach this guy again, that part of it, but the relationships that you’ve built, I think those things really are the emotional part of it.”
Saturday marks the final home game for fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner and fifth-year senior middle linebacker Jake Ryan, among several others. And while this season hasn’t featured much winning at the Big House, the veteran group is determined to end on a positive note.
“I’m just really excited,” Gardner said. “There’s a lot more at stake than just my last game at Michigan. It’s never been about me, and it’s not going to be about me on Saturday. I’m just going to go out and give it everything I have, like I’ve always given, to try and get a win for the team.”
But the opponent is no cupcake. Maryland (3-3, 6-4) boasts road wins over Indiana and Penn State, so it shouldn’t be fazed by Michigan Stadium.
The Terrapins aren’t statistically dominant in any category; they rank 67th overall in passing offense, 67th in points for and 84th in points against. Most notably, they average just 113.7 rushing yards per game, good for just 114th in the nation.
That should play well into the Wolverines’ strength. They rank seventh in the nation in rushing yards allowed (103.2) and have surrendered fewer than three yards per carry.
But Michigan’s defensive line will be tested in its first game without senior defensive end Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the team Monday amidst allegations of domestic violence. In his place, junior Mario Ojemudia and sophomore Taco Charlton will likely each see more time at the position.
“Taco, we all know Taco. He’s made some really good plays already in his young career,” said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on Monday. “Mario, I mean, if you really focus, Mario’s done some unbelievable things, and Brennen Beyer, you don’t have to say much about him. And there’s more and more guys. That’s just the guys at that position or at that category, so we just keep going.”
Mattison did praise Maryland’s passing attack, which is led by quarterback C.J. Brown, and receivers Deon Long and Marcus Leak. However, the Terps’ best offensive threat, star wideout Stefon Diggs, will miss the game with an unspecified injury.
And that might just be enough for Michigan’s veteran defense to dominate Maryland and — four seasons after Hoke’s tenure began — end the 2014 home slate on a positive note.