Dienhart: Hoke set for fourth spring in Ann Arbor

Brady Hoke is set to begin his fourth spring in Ann Arbor. And, make no mistake about it: There is a sense of urgency.

Michigan is coming off a highly disappointing 7-6 season that saw the Wolverines start 5-0 and go 2-6 the rest of the way. Michigan finished 3-5 in the Big Ten, good for fifth in the Legends Division. All this after some felt the Wolverines would win the division. The season ended with a resounding thud, as Michigan was shellacked 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl by Kansas State in a game that really wasn’t that close. It’s doubtful the program ever has had a worse postseason effort.

So, if you are scoring at home—and I know they are along State Street in Ann Arbor–Hoke’s win totals have gone from 11 to eight to seven. And Michigan still is looking for its first Big Ten title since 2004.

Meanwhile, Ohio State continues to roll and gain momentum. Same goes for Michigan State, which has passed Michigan for state supremacy. The game in East Lansing last season was a bloodbath. Oh, and Hoke is 1-2 vs. Ohio State.

Get the picture?

Hoke shook up his staff in the offseason. The big move was to fire offensive coordinator Al Borges and replace him with Doug Nussmeier, who held the same job with Alabama. Defensive coaching assignments also have been shuffled. This all will make for one of the most watched springs in recent program history.

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Here’s a look at three key spots this spring for Hoke and Co.

1. Offensive line. Without a doubt, this area was a borderline disaster last season. The Wolverines started nine different players up front in 2013, using five different starting combinations. The two best aspects of the line were tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. And each is gone. Bummer. The interior was the big issue. The staff tried its best, even shuffling personnel at guard and center. To no avail. How feeble was the push up front? Michigan ranked 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (125.7 ypg). As a point of reference, Ohio State paced the conference with a 308.6-yard average. Young blockers like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow—among others–need to develop. Now.

2. Doug Nussmeier. He assumes command of an offense that never really got on track last season en route to ranking 10th in the Big Ten (373.5 ypg). Al Borges’ West Coast-oriented attack never took flight with Devin Gardner at the controls, struggling for consistency. Gardner tossed 11 picks. Is he really a pocket-quarterback who can run a more conventional “Michigan” offense? Hoke has said the QB job is open, with Shane Morris in the mix. So, read into that what you will. Still, Job No. 1 for Nussmeier is to put teeth into the feeble rushing attack.

3. Stop big plays on defense. While it was vogue to pile-on the offense last season, the defense did little to distinguish itself, either. The Wolverine defense yielded too many big plays. To wit: Michigan allowed 23 touchdown passes. Only four Big Ten schools permitted more. The last time we saw this defense, Kansas State was shredding it for 420 yards and 31 points. More negative plays are needed by the front seven. No doubt, having a healthy Jake Ryan at linebacker will help as he transitions from outside to inside linebacker. End Frank Clark is a great cornerstone, along with corner Blake Countess. Others must emerge.

Key losses: DT Jibreel Black; WR Drew Dileo; WR Jeremy Gallon; K Brendan Gibbons; LB Cam Gordon; S Thomas Gordon; OT Taylor Lewan; OT Michael Schofield; RB Fitz Toussaint; DT Quinton Washington

Spring drills begin: Feb. 25

Spring game: April 5

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (3 Comments)
3 Post Your Comment
Robert Shaffer on 2/26/2014 @ 12:57am EDT Said:

Hoke better win 10 games or we will be looking for a new coach

Elaine on 3/5/2014 @ 12:31pm EDT Said:

“Michigan was shellacked 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl by Kansas State in a game that really wasn’t that close. It’s doubtful the program ever has had a worse postseason effort.”

Ummm…how about the 2010 Gator Bowl where they were blown out 52-14 by Mississippi State or the 2001 Citrus Bowl where Tennessee stomped them 45-17. I contend those were uglier games.

Bob on 3/24/2014 @ 5:53pm EDT Said:

Lazy analysis by Dienhart regarding Gardner. Devin threw 11 picks, yes, but only THREE in B1G play and ZERO over the last four games. The last image of Gardner is him absolutely destroying OSU’s offense to the tune of 41 points, 451 yards, and 4 TDs on a broken foot. Now he’s being coached by one of the brightest offensive minds in football and a guy who just happens to have been a damn good college QB himself.

Anyone who actually thinks that Michigan is going to hand the reins to a 1-start sophomore over their 5th year returning starter should remand themselves to the nearest psych ward.

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