Coaching Points: Utah vs Michigan, 2014

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Offense: 12 and 11 personnel. Mix of under center, pistol, and gun.
Defense: Mostly Cover 1, mixed in some zones. Base 4-3 Over on normal down and distance.

Devin Gardner
That was Gardner's worst game as a QB for Michigan of his career. I know he's put up worse numbers before, I know he's been hit more, but his performance Saturday was broken. His mechanics were as all over as they've ever been, relating back to the 2011 MSU game. I think Nuss worked so hard with him on learning the offense and when to get the ball out that his mechanics have slipped ina  very bad way now, and he still isn't comfortable with the offense. He stared down receivers, he made some poor decisions, and worse yet, and made the correct decisions way too late.

This is a QB that is completely uncomfortable with the offense. He's uncomfortable with the reads, the progressions, and the timing. He's battle scarred from last year, his eyes come down onto defenders, and now he isn't even really sure when to bail. There are small parts of his game that have improved, such as stepping up and through the pocket, but even that is more an artifact of his interior OL looking better and teams now attacking the edge with their blitz package.

I think Gardner is playing, or at least starting, because the coaches believe he gives them the best chance to win. I've really seen nothing to suggest otherwise from game tape. But I don't see a QB comfortable or confident enough to lead this team to victory consistently right now. I think you continue doing what you're doing in practice in terms of QB competition, but I think you have to have some sort of early game rotation and see who has the hot hand.

I know some are advocating for a move to WR for DG. I think if Borges was still around that would be an option, as he's practiced WR in that system. But he has taken zero reps at WR in this current system. I don't think it's a viable thing to do at this point, though it'd be nice to have another receiver to take some attention off of Funch.

Speaking of which, Gardner got Funchess killed with late decisions throwing him into traffic all day. Funchess dropped what could have potentially been a TD on what was probably Gardner's best throw of the day. But when you lead a WR into traffic multiple times, a WR that is injured coming in, they do tend to start short arming the ball. That play was completely on Funchess at that instance, but Funchess's reaction was a reaction to what he had already gone through in that game.

Pass Protection
Hayes was excellent at pass protection all day, he seriously was. That is a RB that is willing to go nose-to-nose with anyone on the defense to pick up a pass rush. The left side, with the exception of a few issues from a true freshman playing LT, was solid, particularly Mags and Miller. But Braden and Glasgow got abused on twists all day. This isn't a new thing this season either, it's just something Utah saw on tape and then decided to exploit regularly. I don't know if Michigan is maintaining Big-On-Big and then having the lesser engaged OL find the twist regardless (rather than passing off), but either Braden is not passing off assignments, or Glasgow isn't understanding how to slide across to pick up twisting LBs. He tried several times to go above Braden, which means he also has to go above the guy Braden's blocking. How often will an OL be able to reach a twisting LB in that scenario? Rarely if ever. Sliding behind constricts the pocket, but at least it gets the guy picked up. The right edge is going to be an issue this year.

Run Offense
I still think the run offense is about as good as it could have been expected to be at this point, minus some DG runs that seem completely absent. The OL is mostly getting into assignments and then not doing much after that. Mags is showing to be a good player in space (makes sense, he's a LT playing LG) but has some mistakes inside still.

Offensive Explosiveness
Or lack there of. There is no explosiveness to this offense. The "explosive" plays Nussmeier is claiming are ones that go for chunks but never threaten TDs. It's not for a lack of athletes either. This was an issue I had with Nuss's offense coming in. His route structure and play calling require receivers to either win one-on-one battles consistently with limited schematic help, or they work because the defense has to overplay something else, such as the run game. Without a great rushing attack, the route structures are very simplified, the defense can stay in their base without having to bring anyone down, and Michigan receivers are forced to simply out-run 4 or 5 DBs. That's hard at this level, it really is, regardless. If you aren't putting in something schematic to help them out, any athlete will struggle to get open. I had a feeling last year that Borges was all-or-nothing so many times because he believed his offense couldn't work its way down the field. That looks absolutely the case this year. They shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly once they cross midfield, and they just aren't a threat to win over the top. This isn't completely absolving Borges, whose approach is likely part of the DG issues above, but this offense needs some explosiveness, it needs to threaten over the top, it needs to force the defenses to do anything other than just keep things in front and go to work.

Defensive tackles
This was the best performance by Michigan DTs since Martin left. They had, for the most part, an absolutely terrific game. They got penetration but didn't over penetrate. They fought with their hands and blockers couldn't take them on one-on-one. They kept LBs clean when they were doubled. They got push. They got pass rush on T/T stunts. That was an absolutely stellar performance by them.

The DEs came to play as well, the whole DL was really good in this game, and may have given the best DL performance of Hoke's tenure, regardless of stats (I don't think it was, the Sugar Bowl and the '11 Illinois game come to mind immediately, but it was a very good performance).

All this lead to a huge day by Ryan, who was mostly clean, but was also attacking the correct gaps and making plays. Bolden was aggressive as well, and while he missed some plays, he at least forced action and made work for the other defenders easier. But all this stems from the play of the DTs, who had a great day.

Michigan went back to mostly Cover 1. Lewis looked fantastic. He was consistently in great position and forced every throw to be the best throw. The one time he was out of position (he got boxed out), he fought through the receiver and broke the play up. The other CBs played well also, just not to Lewis level.

But boy did Michigan struggle between the LBs and mostly Thomas at SS. It's hard to say on some of the mesh concepts, because teams will pass it off sometimes, but I have to think the issues were mostly on Thomas, who took poor angles, didn't really get in position well, and just flat out struggled to make the plays he needed. This was a known weakness of his game coming in, and Utah took really big advantage of it.

FWIW, the biggest Michigan bust on the long screen pass off of Michigan's blitz was a bust by Heitzman. That's a Cover 0 blitz, the DE needs to peel off if any back leaks out his direction. He didn't identify the RB quickly enough and attacked the QB, thus leading to him being wide open with a lot of space and blockers.

Punt Coverage
Said during the game that it looked like Kerridge got out of his lane in punt coverage. He may have, but he may have because Michigan only had 10 guys in coverage. That's inexcusable. You have that mat on the sideline with 10 numbers listed for a reason. Part of the issue is so many starters playing on ST. But you have a ST coordinator and GAs that are in charge of that sort of thing. The punter before every punt should count the numbers he has on the field, because it is a unit change. This is the 2nd time in as many weeks where something broke down despite having multiple means of preventing such an issue. That means it's broken on multiple levels, which is a really bad sign.

Mattison vs Hoke: FIGHT!
The spat between Mattison and Hoke isn't an issue. It's nothing. Mattison cost Michigan five yards, Mattison was celebrating the defensive performance. Mattison's job is to get the defense to play, Hoke's job is to get the team to play. Both are competitors, both are trying to do their jobs. Competitors trying to do their job go off on each other sometimes. That happens on every football team across the country. That isn't a sign of things falling apart on the staff in any way. That's two grown competitive men doing what they do.

Where the Program is with Coaching
Here's the thing that spoke most to me: Michigan came out in the 2nd half of a 13-10 game and looked completely flat. That had no spark, no energy, and seemed to be going through the motions. It looked to me like they didn't believe any more. To me, that speaks to where this team is at with respects to this coaching staff. Even in the ND game, to me, it looked like they just got beat, but not that they gave in. This was a different scenario.

Fans and the outside circus don't help. Players hear this stuff. But if you're a fan and the performance is as you see it, you're going to be disappointed and start questioning things. I think booing your own team is stupid, even if it's just booing your coaches because of your displeasure (and not all fans were only booing the coaches). I think not supporting your coaching staff, regardless of situation, is stupid, because supporting the staff is supporting the players, even if you think eventually the staff isn't right for the program.

And for the people that call themselves fans that say things like "I knew this staff was dumb two years ago" or whatever, don't bring that here. That's garbage. Bragging that you gave up on your program before others, that's not a good fan. That's being bitter, that's trying to find worth in yourself because you can't find your self-worth in a football program that is losing.

I don't want to hear about this staff being "incompetent", or stupid, or any of the like. People that sit in the bleachers or at home on a couch and make those claims look foolish. It's not lack of effort, it's not lack of pure football knowledge, but it does seem that there is an issue with teaching right now on this team. Things are not coming together, and it looks like it's starting to snowball, players are losing confidence and effort seems to be starting to wane, at least effort in the right direction as a complete team.

Hoke, in my mind, still has an opportunity to prove he should stay. He doesn't need to win every game from here on out. He doesn't need to beat OSU and MSU. But he must get this team back on track. The effort and fight has to be there from here on out. He must be competitive and find a way to win some road games and we must see tangible improvement. But it has gone from Hoke is safe unless the team collapses to Hoke must prove he deserves the job. I like Hoke. I like people that work their ass off and get to live out their dream job. I like them to succeed when they do it, because frankly, very, very few people live that sort of dream. I think he cares, I think he has the ability to be a good coach, I don't think it's scheme or being a "dinosaur" or anything like that, but something with him and the staff and how it's translating to players isn't working right now. That needs to change soon.

Lastly, I'm not going to talk about potential coaching changes until there is a coaching change. At this point, Hoke is the coach of Michigan and this is his staff, I will only discuss that. Until then, as a fan, I will support this staff and this team.


  • This was probably DG's worst performance as a Michigan starting QB. It is a one game thing, but signs that he'll make drastic improvement are limited
  • Pass protection issues are now on the outside rather than the inside. RG/RT issues will be attacked going forward until cleaned up
  • Run game is about as good as it could have been expected to be, FWIW.
  • Best performance by the DTs since 2011. The DL as a whole played very well, lead by great DT play
  • Coverage issues appeared to come mostly from the safety position
  • Punt coverage was bad and inexcuseable, Hoke vs Mattison spat basically means nothing.
  • Hoke now needs to prove he deserves to be the Michigan coach by the time the season ends; still has that chance but things need to improve quickly. Until then, this is the Michigan staff and they are the only staff I'll talk about with regards to Michigan.


  1. Excellent stuff. I have to admit I am harsh on the staff, but after reading your POV I see why that's just silly

    1. Thanks. And again, it's not that people can't be critical of the staff, or have high expectations for Michigan. They should. I just think there is a way to handle that which doesn't hurt the team and program.

  2. Great post, again. Thanks SC.

    I will admit that in the last few days of the RR regime I was too hard on him. I'm not one to say someone is incompetent. My knowlege of football comes from HS and Sega; but I thought he just wasn't a good fit. I still think that is probably the case. However...

    With the hindsight of age and experience, I think he probably should have been given another yer, and definitely more support. Had Casteel come with him originally maybe things would have been different.

    Now were are in the fourth year of Hoke as HC; and I'm worried. I think you hit the nail on the head: His teaching just isn't getting across. And his teams on Saturday, and at the Bowl game last year, looked just completely flat to me. Like they just weren't in it. The comparison to me was some of the games I saw when Carr was HC: Tough struggles with PSU or MSU where we held on and fought back.

    But the flatness more than anything makes me worry that somehow Hoke has lost this team. I'm not a guy to sit here and say 'X is obvious, why don't they do that' because I honestly think that something I view from the stands that looks dumb to my eyes would make perfect sense if the coach sat me down in film and explained it to me. Maybe it didn't work, but these guys aren't idiots. And they have all the motivation in the world to find what works. But sometimes I think there has to be a chemistry between team and coach where things start to click, and work, and the team starts to believe. I think Hoke had that his first year,but I think its really started to slip lately. If he can't get that back, he's doomed.

    I guess at this point, we have to temper our expectations and just go with it. The MgoBlog podcast mirrored my feelings at the beginning of the season: I felt good about it. We weren't going to be perfect, but if Gardner could play like he did at OSU or Indiana, we could get 10 wins but lose our big rival games. Yes the guys are young, but they have experience playing that will make them better. I was irrationally exuberent. :-)

    Now we are 2 losses down to the only competent teams we've played, and we see the reality. Yes, our players have experience. I'm actually pleasantly surprised with the O line. The recievers (to my eye) seem to play pretty well. The D looks good, if not the terror inducing MSU style I prefer...

    1. But the Offense is on its fifth game ever in this system. And it looks balky and uncoordinated. You've covered alot of reasons why. Gardner looks like he's just completely overloaded. I like Morris but I don't know he'd offer much of an improvement. I like Nuss, but he has his work cut out for him.

      The D is good, but not so good that it can cover for an O that can't score. And shut outs aren't to be hoped for in modern college football, especially when the O puts you in lousy field position.

      it is what it is.

      If Hoke can't get this team back, I think he's done. For my part I'd let him play out his contract. Both because I think he's an honorable guy who should be given some respect, and because I think that allowing that signals to new potential coaches that Michigan is a place that will give you the time to develop; which should help us be more attractive. While he's here we should back him to the hilt and not repeat the mistakes of the RR era.

      A quick note on Gardner. I've heard alot of people bashing him hard.
      I feel for Gardner. He's had so many schemes during his college career, and so much pressure, he just seems shell shocked out there. And before anyone rips on the kid too much, this is a young man who got his bachelors in 3 years and is working on his masters, while being the starting QB for a division 1 program. He's got to have alot of intelligence and a hell of a work ethic. Whether he starts or not come Saturday, he's taken a beating the past couple of years and delivered some stellar performances; some of which while being injured. DG doesn't owe anyone anything. I'd like for him to leave the U with his Masters, a whole body and psyche, and some respect from the fans for what he's done.

      Just my $.02


      And sorry for the book. :-)

    2. I certainly agree on DG. I think it's about perspective. He had a bad game. He knows he had a bad game. I can promise he puts more pressure on himself than anyone else. He may not be the answer for Michigan now, but rest assured he gave it his all, and because of the work he put in, he'll leave with a lot more than he started with.

      I don't have issue with people being critical of coaching staffs. That's going to happen. I don't have issue with people questioning certain things, again, people have that right. But there are certain things that just provide no benefit to anyone. Making inane criticisms or insults is stupid. Not supporting them is equally so in my mind. I think you can question and believe they don't belong, and that can be valid, but you shouldn't outwardly be rooting against them because of those feelings. That benefits no one, not the program, not the kids, not the fans. All it does is serve to improve an image of self-worth, or "I'm better than this". I don't like that.

      And no issue with "the book". Being succinct is far from my strength.

  3. I very much appreciate your perspective. Much of what Hoke does is admirable. He seems to teach the players to be responsible human beings, seems to genuinely care about them and seems to make sure they graduate. It is hard to find a coach who will make those his priorities and still be able to win at a level satisfactory to Michigan's fans, but I (this is just personally) would never want a coach who did not have those as his priorities.

    As to winning, I still believe Hoke can turn it around (just as I thought Rodriguez was slowly but surely turning it around by the end of the 2010 season). At this point, he has the defense he wants but still has an OL that has zero 5th year seniors and zero 4th year seniors, and he has had a few injury problems to boot. When Funchess is back to 100% and Butt is back to 100%, then the offense will be close to where it can be, and the OL should improve as the players gain experience and cohesion during the course of the year.

    Was the Utah game disappointing? Was the ND game disappointing? Of course. But I am not ready to quit on Hoke or the players. Maybe that comes from having been at Michigan when Bump Elliott was the coach, but maybe it just comes from believing that hard-working decent people will usually find a way to succeed. Hoke, Mattison, Nussmeier and the rest of the coaches all have those basic characteristics for success.

    1. I agree. I don't think people should quit on Hoke yet. This is a team that can be turned around if they keep working to get better, get the details down that are haunting them, and all that. I'm not saying it will necessarily, but it certainly still can. And quitting on the coaches is akin to quitting on these players right now, and I'm not quitting on these players.

    2. I'm hoping for this, too, that Hoke can turn it around.

      I don't really know what will constitute "turning it around", but in my opinion, that's what should determine Hoke's job at the end of the year: was he able to turn it around?

  4. I have been out of the game for way to long to x and o any more but I do have a general take on this subject. Looking back at my career I can remember 4 different times when I was in a similar position either as an assistant or head coach. That being where you had a QB that just wasn't able to accomplish what he needed to do.Just like with Gardner all of these kids had a great work ethic, were quality people ,and would go on to outstanding careers.

    Now for the but. You just can not be successful as a team without a good QB. When they can't perform the offense sputters, and eventually even solid defenses wear down. It can cause in fighting on the staff and within the team. Coaches start to grasp at straws and try to over coach their way through the problem. i,e, if we can just get that backside tackle to jab step 6" instead of 4" we can gain 2 more yards on the belly. Also you start to develop the bunker mentality because everyone has a solution to the problem. Usually that solution is to make changes meaning everyone starts worrying about their job.

    What makes it worse is you know you have to change and go with the back up but you also know he isn't any better or isn't ready. It's a tough situation all the way around but support from your AD can go a long way to helping you manage.

    Just the ramblings from an old coach that has seen a lot .

  5. I know Morris isn't really the answer in the here and now, but I wonder if he played the rest of the season then he would eventually become the obvious better choice and prove himself worthy by the time the end of the season came around, say the OSU game. Gardners mechanics just seem obviously broken and with about 8 games left, I just don't see it getting any better this year. It kind of just is what it is, I'm afraid. I feel bad for Gardner, but at the same time I think we have to approach it just like any other position on the team. The best player has to play. Nuss doesn't seem to want utilize Gardner in the running game as much as I think he should. If you're not going to do that then what's the point in leaving him out there.

  6. Your bit about explosiveness really hit upon my concerns about Nuss from what I've seen so far.

    There seems to be a lack of schematic ability or interest in creating these explosive plays. Consequently, the offense creeps down the field going 10-15 yards every 3-4 plays and every negative play puts the drive in jeopardy. It leads to respectable stats and maybe even out gaining the opponent but never threatening the endzone and instead settling for the occasional long FG.

    It strikes me as too much to ask that in order to score an offense has to execute these flawless 10-13 play drives. This offense is not going to do that any time soon. If Michigan is going to get up off the mat, they need to start ripping off some big plays. In order to do that, they need to try to do it.

    I hoped that the press might ask Nuss about this in his presser but not yet. I am left genuinely wondering what the benefits of Nuss's offensive system are if he is never setting the defense up for a big play and it requires flawless consistency to achieve incremental gains.

    1. I agree. I think that good teams can accomplish 10-13 play drives for TDs if defenses are content to stay in their base, but Michigan isn't that team yet. They need to be able to threaten the end zone at any time, or teams are just going to play bend don't break, get them behind the chains once, and then get them off the field.

      When I reviewed the game again I did see a few more vertical passing concepts than I did live, but still, it was a lot of things like 4 verts. These are just straight line plays that require good timing from the QB and don't really scheme in ways to get separation on the defender. Instead, it relies on reads and timing, which isn't Michigan's strength right now.

      I think that talks to what Nuss needs to do here. Scheme in some routes that can allow receivers to gain more separation, that way the ball doesn't need to be perfectly on time, the QB can make the read easier, and the receiver doesn't need to out athlete defenders every time. I guess we'll see though, but yeah, I agree on the lack of explosiveness.

  7. Any chance that Devin's foot is not fully healed and the source of his mechanics problems (which seem rather pronounced this year)?

    1. I think there is a very real chance of that. He doesn't look as comfortable running either. And he seems to be struggling to really step into throws, so I think that could be a possibility.


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