Previewin' the B1G: Michigan

By Kyle Rowland on July 20, 2014 at 6:00a
2014 represents a final exam for Michigan's Devin Gardner (and likely head coach Brady Hoke).

It’s a make-or-break year for the Michigan football program. The Wolverines haven’t won a Big Ten championship since 2004, with large swaths of mediocrity filling the past 15 years. 

For head coach Brady Hoke, January could bring a different job. His win totals have dropped from 11 to eight to seven. Dave Brandon, Michigan’s unpopular athletic director, is already dealing with declining attendance. If the man he hired to return Michigan football to prominence flounders, even more venom will reign down on Brandon.

And then there’s Devin Gardner, the person who can make everything return to normalcy in Ann Arbor – or be the cause of more consternation. Many believed Gardner was set for a breakout year after taking over for Denard Robinson during the second half of 2012. But it never materialized last season. Despite all the gaudy statistics, there were still shortcomings in his game.

In the spring, Hoke said Gardner and backup Shane Morris were competing for the starting job. It acted as more of a warning to Gardner than anything. He’ll be Michigan’s starting quarterback. And he’ll do so at 100 percent health.

After a Herculean effort against Ohio State – 32-of-45 passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns – Gardner sat out the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with a broken foot. Any lingering pain is gone. Now, it’s just about improving his accuracy and limiting turnovers.

That didn’t happen in the spring game, when Gardner threw an interception on his first pass. He finished the game completing just two of 10 passes for 53 yards, with 44 coming on a single play. It didn’t sully Hoke’s impression, though.

“I think Devin had, really, a pretty good spring," Hoke said. “He became more consistent on a daily basis, I guess, is the best way to put it. He’s always been kind of a football junkie, but I think he’s worked at it more so this spring.”

There are two major factors at play in 2014: a new offensive coordinator and the same porous offensive line.

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent
8/30 Appalachian State
9/6 @ Notre Dame
9/13 Miami (Ohio)
9/20 Utah
9/27 Minnesota
10/4 @ Rutgers
10/11 Penn State 
10/25 @ Michigan State
11/1 Indiana (HC)
11/8 at Northwestern
11/22 Maryland
11/29 @ Ohio State

Doug Nussmeier comes from Alabama with a large quantity of credibility and his game plan for Gardner is similar to what he did with A.J. McCarron. There will be reduced quarterback runs with a focus on limiting hits.

“That’s what Coach Nuss is always talking about even when we have read plays where I’ll read the defensive end,” Gardner said. “It used to be if it’s a question, we’ll take it and go. Now if it’s a question, we want the running back to hold the ball and to continue to run.

“The threat is always going to be there. I feel like that’s going to keep defenses honest. I’m pretty sure they have me on film running before. I feel comfortable with it. It keeps me a little healthy toward the end of the season.”

While Michigan’s offensive struggles were well documenting, the firing of Al Borges still came as a shock. Hoke is immensely loyal to assistants, and he and Borges’ history went back to San Diego State. But the level of offensive ineptitude demanded a change.

With Nussmeier, the Wolverines have a no-nonsense coach with a history of producing national-championship offenses. There’s a lot of Nick Saban in Nussmeier. A play might gain 12 yards, but that doesn’t mean there will be a smile on his face or any hint of satisfaction.

“He’s insane,” Gardner said. “He demands perfection. That’s his personality.”

Don’t think Gardner isn’t aware this is his fifth and final season in maize and blue – he does. Leaving a positive legacy is something that drives the immensely competitive Gardner. Whether the offensive line keeps him upright could determine how many wins Michigan has in 2014.

Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, the Wolverines’ top two linemen on a woeful unit a year ago, are gone. The line’s collapse down the stretch was a contributor in Michigan’s 1-5 record in its last six games. No other team gave up more tackles for loss than Michigan.

It trickled into the run game, where the Wolverines only averaged 125 yards per game. Back-to-back games of negative rushing yards in November represented rock bottom.

“We know we don’t have the option to not get better,” guard Kyle Kalis said. “It’s getting to that point where we can’t really say we’re young anymore, because next year, no one is going to want to hear that. So we have to all come together.”

Running backs Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes and wide receiver Devin Funchess should help elevate what was the nation’s 86th-ranked offense last season.

The defense is also eyeing improvement, though Greg Mattison’s unit was better than perceived. When paired with an offense that didn’t put them in great position, the Wolverines tended to wilt. But a wealth of experience returns.

“The thing that people don’t realize is that so many of our kids played at a young age and with that is why you lose games by a separation of 11 points,” Mattison said. “But now these are kids who are veterans, and they’ve had a lot of experience. That’s going to be a positive thing for us.”

Jake Ryan, Frank Clark and Blake Countess are the headliners. Many believe five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers could be an immediate impact player.

Mattison is a believer in the entire unit.

“The thing that I’m excited about is watching our kids work out this summer – they remind me of the old Michigan groups that we had,” Mattison said, referring the teams from 1992-96, during his first stint at Michigan. “The thing that’s exciting is that there’s competition at every position.”

Michigan needs that competition to translate to on-field results. 


Comments Show All Comments

DannyBeane's picture

I think this pretty much sums up Michigan this year (and every year)

+23 HS
Habu71's picture

I know this says a lot about me, but it's almost impossible for me to not chuckle at the expression or mention of a dumpster fire, when it's used in comparison to a team or situation. I think this pic may have trumped dumpster fire with me.

+1 HS
Crumb's picture

The longer that goes on the better life gets.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

Groveport Heisman's picture

Even Kalis knows it is time to bury the youth excuse. Its put up or shut up time and as another poster said Hoke is fresh out of human shields,and excuses.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+1 HS
Liening's picture

My prediction (though you probably did not hear it here first):  2015 will bring both a new coach and a new AD at UM.

The original excuse for Hoke's performance was that he inherited Rich Rod's guys.  But his record has gone downhill each year as more of "his" guys came into the program.  This despite having some really good recruiting classes.  Could it be that (gasp!) Hoke is a poor coach, even though he is a "Michigan Man"?  I think the UM faithful are coming to that realization, and in 2015 even AD Brandon will get the message and see the need for action.  Brandon fires Hoke, then after the search concludes the Regents fire Brandon.  And the UM football program enjoys 2 more years of upset and mediocrity!  

This is a great time to be a Buckeye!


+3 HS
DannyBeane's picture

Could it be that (gasp!) Hoke is a poor coach, even though he is a "Michigan Man"?

Ha next you're going to be telling me the emperor isn't in fact wearing clothes! 

+3 HS
allinosu's picture

Looking at that schedule 7-5 might be a stretch. They would have to beat Minn and Indiana. I thought it was just Michigan bashing when some of the recent post put Hoke on the hot seat but this this might be it for him. Some of the players could transfer with no more barbecues. He definitely cHOKEd up there.

Mortc15's picture

I sure hope they win 9-10 games this year, both keep their jobs, and they stay stuck in mediocrity. That's just me though. 


+7 HS
toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

8-4 is good for me. I'd like to see more of those 8-4 LLLLoyd Carr years up there with no Big Ten titles.

+2 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Carr was a much better coach than Hoke could ever dream to be....

Groveport Heisman's picture

I'm with Mort. Best case scenario is Hoke wins about 10 games.Beats MSU and loses by 1 pt. in Columbus and guarantees himself another 3 years. I just cant envision it happening though as much as I try.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

niblick's picture

The only prayer hoke has rides on not playing msu or wisky

-1 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

Look again. They play michigan state.

+1 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

MI has a lot of problems to fix if they are going to be relevant this year. It is easy to blame Hoke, and I do, but I am curious to see the impact of Nuss.

buckeyedude's picture

~~He’s always been kind of a football junkie, but I think he’s worked at it more so this spring.”

WTF does that mean? Nice Hokeism. I really hope Gardner isn't doing drugs. We need Michigan to be good.

I hope the OSU/Navy game isn't on the same time as the Appy State/TTUN game because I'd really like to watch both. I think their first loss is to ND, and it only gets worse after that.

Oh. And Kyle Kalis: it's time to put your money where you mouth is. Put up or shut up. There's no hiding behind Lewan this year.



+3 HS
Kingbuck12's picture

Even with that weak  schedule I only see six or seven wins.  Shouldn't they be playing at Appalachian State since they got it handed to them. Just a thought go Appalachian State. Go Bucks!!!!


M Man's picture

You think it is a weak schedule?

We play Notre Dame, MSU and OSU on the road.

You play Virginia Tech at home, MSU on the road, and Michigan at home.

+5 HS
TheTeam16's picture

Its gonna be a rough year for the winged helmets on the road...ugh

-1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

Anyone remember when Hoke was going to be the next Bo and he was a better coach than sounded crazy then and it sounds batshit crazy now.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+8 HS
Poison nuts's picture

I remember...that's what all those fans were saying after his first year. Not so much now. I'll be in the minority on this, but I think they'll be a decent team this year. However, I think if Hike loses to both MSU & UM, he's gone..

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

+1 HS
DaveStephens's picture

No, I do not remember that.

The Dude abides.

FitzBuck's picture

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

Fatpants's picture

I remember it well. Hoke was supposed to kick Urban's ass a few times and then he'd "get sick" and retire again. 

High hopes for a guy that had a losing record (47-50) when they hired him. 

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

+1 HS
Bucks's picture

I actually do remember this from some of my Michigan friends when he was hired. There was absolutely nothing spectacular about his resume and there still isn't. 

Fatpants's picture

Guy had one good year in the mighty MAC. Very mediocre. 

How michigan folks convinced themselves they got some great hire is beyond me. I guess fandom is a strange thing. 

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

urban86's picture

Buckeyedude...DVR is the 21st century...LOL

+3 HS
urban86's picture

Brady Hoke is a complete skidmark...hope he stays around a while

+8 HS
tosubuckeye's picture

Looking at their schedule the only predictable wins are Appy State and Miami (OH). Scum is terrible on the road under (c)hoke, thus their game in Piscataway on 10/4 is not a gimme. The other road games: ND, MSU, NW, OSU I see them being underdogs, thus losses. At worst scum will be 2-10; at best 4-8. The 2 possible wins (in addition to the "guaranteed wins) will come as a combination between Utah, Rutgers, PSU, IN, MD. GO BUCKS1111



-2 HS
grantmeaname's picture

I know it's not a popular opinion around here, but I'd prefer that TTUN was good and The Game was always close - if they came into The Game at 10-0 or 9-1 every year it would make the rivalry a lot more interesting and get the bucks a lot more out-of-conference respect. Look how interesting the SCAR-Clemson rivalry game has been lately, or the 06 'Game of the Century'. I mean, I wouldn't ever root for them in the earlier games of the season, but I'd like it if Hoke got fired and replaced with a reasonably good coach.

In the meantime I'm not worried about The Game though. I think Tosubuckeye is on the right track with their prediction, something like 2-5 wins.

razrback16's picture

Man that never gets old.

+1 HS
exnwohiobuckfan's picture

I can never figure out which I like more. The chinless chicks face or the "who farted?" Look from the guy behind her

+2 HS
NCBuckeye2011's picture

The girl on the right is the one who dealt it..The guy behind is smellin' it

+1 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

Best gif I've seen. Ever. I thought the girls face was hilarious. Then I saw the guy. Yep, it's definitely my favorite.

Dougger's picture


I like football

BuckUte's picture

Can't wait to see both my Bucks and my Utes trounce *ichigan this year. Having both my schools beat the TTUN in one year would be a treat indeed. 

“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.”
– Paul Brown

+2 HS
johnblairgobucks's picture

If Michigan fails to win 9 games before the Bowl games are played, then their season should be considered a failure.   

+1 HS
Meatchicken's picture

Borges was responsible for last year's ineptitude.  The Nuss hire is huge.

+1 HS
Silver Bullet 10's picture

As bad as they were they embarrassed us last November. Inexcusable for such a sorry soft team. That was not a good football team . Not a traditional Michigan team. Tressel would have blown them out of the water. Urban has much to prove.

+4 HS
2morrow's picture

Tressel would have crushed them the year before as well in Columbus. In our last 3 biggest games of the year, we were outcoached. 

+2 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

Bring it the F on!

Fatpants's picture

11/29 is going to be pretty telling. If hoke's boys get their asses handed to them in Columbus it's going to be hard for him to argue that he has the program headed in the right direction. 

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

BuckeyePoetLaureate's picture

Don't you mean WHEN the Wolverines suffer a crushing loss in Columbus? =)

Proud alumnus of the Ohio State Creative Writing MFA Program.  Creator of the writing craft site Great Writers Steal.

+2 HS
Fatpants's picture

My bad!

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

BartGK's picture

They don't play NE, IA and Wiss... They could have nine wins very easily...

Only really good opponents (Top 20) are OSU, MSU and ND.


+1 HS
Urban Nation Army's picture

If the man he hired to return Michigan football to prominence flounders, even more venom will reign down on Brandon.


Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

+8 HS
Fatpants's picture

Hoke should've gotten the 'fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life" dropped on him at some point. 

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

+1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahahahahahaha!  Damn near pissed myself with this post!  Thank you!!

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

NuttyBuckeye's picture

I just wonder how many years Fat Joke-Hoke gets to have average seasons.  Dick Rod was on a short leash and Joke isn't doing too much better.  And - when he gets canned, I do believe Brandon will be sent packing, too.  The lack of butts in the seats cannot all be blamed on Brady Cheeseburger.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

+1 HS
Tim's picture

“We know we don’t have the option to not get better" -- that is a very Kyle Kalis way to say something.

+3 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

The odds are that I'm in the minority here, but I would really enjoy being alive to see Michigan become relevant in football again. For the sake of our conference. Better yet, for the sake of our rivalry. OSU-Mich didn't become the best rivalry in sports by Ohio State laying a beat down on Michigan year after year after year. The Ten Years War, where it was an arms race between Woody and Bo and the 2 schools were on relatively even playing field were what made this rivalry so special. At this point its hard for Michigan to have a single successful season, let alone ten of them back to back. That needs to change in my opinion.

PasadenaBuckeye626's picture

It seems like the city of Detroit isn't the only problem up north

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
sivaDavis's picture

While I think TTUN could actually be a decent squad this year, I still will watch and hope they lose every game. Ohio State doesn't need them to be good. If the Buckeyes take care of business throughout the year and then play/beat a solid team in the B1G championship game, which I'm assuming will be a 10-11 win Sconsin team, our boys should be in the playoffs and then after that, it's all in their hands. 

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

apack614's picture

First things first TTUN needs to beat there #2 rival Appalacian St.

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.

+3 HS
blueinsconsin's picture

I think 2015 is the real make or break year for Hoke at Michigan.  2014 could be the make or break year for OL coach Funk.  If he can't make the line (even though it's still young) at least respectable, he's got to go.  Michigan has maybe the biggest weapon in the B1G on offense with Funchess, a good, experienced QB, and will have a good to good + defense.  It really boils down to the basics of football - blocking.  If this unity can't block again, it's going to be a long year.  If they can do even an average job, 8-9 wins is realistic.  

Not here to troll...Go Blue

+1 HS
THEOSUfan's picture

I believe that Jim Harbaugh will eventually be the head football coach at that despicable school - and at that point, they will be formidable again.  In the meantime, we should root hard for the 49ers, and hope that Hoke gets enough wins to make Brandon hang on to him.

buckeyedude's picture

And what exactly do u base that opinion on? I dont see it. It would be a self-demotion for Harbaugh. Now, Leslie Miles in Ann Arbor? That i could see as a possibility.



buckeyedude's picture

And what exactly do u base that opinion on? I dont see it. It would be a self-demotion for Harbaugh. Now, Leslie Miles in Ann Arbor? That i could see as a possibility.



THEOSUfan's picture

Do I have to answer twice?

That opinion is based on the fact that NFL teams change coaches like you and I change underwear.  One bad season for the 49ers combined with a 6-6 scUM team could very well mean that Harbaugh would be available.  If I were the Corn and Bruised, I would throw whatever money I had to at Harbaugh in order to get him to AA.   Last I checked, money still talks loudly.

Les Miles in AA?  I'm all for it, but he's got a good thing going on in Baton Rouge.  I don't see him leaving there.  But that would sure make news conferences more interesting.  :)