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September 20, 2013After Michigan's close-call win over Akron last weekend, most of the news this week focused on what the Wolverines have to do to become the championship contender they desire. Front and center - the play of the offensive line and whether changes are coming.
Brady Hoke does not dismiss the potential of a new OL starting lineup
In his Wednesday's press conference - the final chance for the local media to talk to Hoke - the head coach said he wasn't sure who his starting five offensive linemen will be. "Obviously the best five guys are going to play. The guys who deserve it on a daily basis are the ones that are going to play. This would be a week to (experiment) because then you have another week (with U-M's coming bye) to keep working."
What They're Saying
MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner points out the reality of the situation, noting something has to give: "Michigan's offensive line issues, to this point, have lived on the interior. More specifically, up the middle. The Wolverines have not been able to generate a consistent push between the tackles, and have also allowed pressure to creep through toward Devin Gardner. This is, of course, a similar issue the team went through last season -- one that was ultimately never really corrected.
"Michigan's running backs have gained 299 yards on 81 carries through three games -- an average of 3.7 yards per pop. That's not good enough against Akron. Not good enough against Connecticut. And it certainly won't be good enough when the Big Ten season begins in two weeks."
The Detroit News Angelique Chengelis points out that chemistry along the offensive line takes time, but how much time should be allowed when U-M has played two weak teams and has performed below expectations:
"Earlier in the week after practice, redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis said there was no timetable on when this offensive line might start jelling and play consistently on a game-to-game basis. Michigan has used the same starting offensive line combination for three games, and not that the offensive coaches will tinker with personnel - and perhaps it takes longer than three games to develop chemistry -but the lack of production from the running game has become a concern."
My Take: As we mentioned in Inside The Fort, there is a pretty decent chance that the current starting five offensive linemen get one more opportunity to show that they represent the best combination for the Maize and Blue, but after Saturday (and maybe only after a half of football), all bets are off.
The five know right now they're under scrutiny, giving them plenty of motivation, and if they come out as flat and unproductive as they were against Akron it means one of two things: there is no way to inspire them to play their best or, worse, this is their best. Either result is unacceptable and would merit a demotion.
The fans are annoyed, and rightfully so, but the perfect outcome is that these five, who have worked their tails off to be in this position and are proud, quality representatives of the program, put it all together and provide belief that they will blossom together.
If that doesn't happen, though as Hoke always likes to say, the expectation is for the position, and that expectation is getting the job done consistently.
Devin Gardner receives encouragement from Johnny Manziel
A few days after one of the worst performances of his career - a three-interception, four-turnover effort that left him with a 124.77 pass efficiency rating (a mark that over the season would rank him 79th nationally) -- redshirt junior QB Devin Gardner received an encouraging text message from Texas A&M standout and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
What They're Saying
The Detroit Free Press Mark Snyder noted that Gardner is ready to put last weekend's horror show behind him: "Gardner said he broke down his mistakes immediately after Saturday's game, watching film as he does every week, and analyzing his performance. Each decision he made looked different in hindsight, but he was glad to hit the practice field Sunday, if only to leave behind Saturday's mistakes. Now, with Connecticut looming, the week can't move fast enough for Gardner."
My Take: To say we truly know what motivates Gardner would be a lie. We think being the best teammate he can be does. We think wanting to be a great quarterback that leaves a legacy does. And we think that wanting to be a first-round draft pick does.
If what we think is correct (and we feel pretty good about that), then maybe Gardner will finally get it, and realize he can't make every play, he can't throw from whatever arm angle he so deems appropriate (it's one thing if necessary, another when he's just being lazy) and he can't keep making the bad decisions that have plagued him the past two games.
Gardner needs to clean up his performance. It's not about throwing for 300 yards and running for 100 every week (though that would be nice) but about being a smart, dependable QB the Wolverines can count on to make the passes that are there, lead the team down the field using every available teammate and punch it in the end zone whether that means the glory for himself or for someone else.
Knowing the junior, knowing his personality, and how much he loves Michigan and his team, he wants to be that guy and probably goes into a game thinking that way but then alters his approach in-game. He has to stick to that attitude for 60 minutes. Then repeat. Then repeat and then repeat.
If he does that for the next nine games, U-M will have a good chance to play for the Big Ten title.
Bo Pelini goes off on Nebraska great, feels the pressure weighing him down
After jumping out to a 21-3 lead over No. 16 UCLA, No. 22 Nebraska saw the Bruins score the next 38 points in besting the Cornhuskers 41-21 in Lincoln last weekend. After the loss former NU Heisman Trophy winner Tommy Frazier called out Pelini, "I hate saying this but this crap is getting old. How in the hell do you not make adjustments or put your players in the position to compete? If this is what is going to happen for the remainder of the season, count me out."
Pelini responded at his Monday press conference: "If he feels like that, then so be it. We don't need him. That's a shame.
"Until you've sat in this seat, until you've sat here and done it, anybody can have an opinion. It's easy to point fingers when you stand outside and throw stones. So I just take it for what it is."
And of course, Frazier then responded: "I said what I said. He's right: He doesn't need me. He needs someone to help him. But what he's doing is not what Nebraska fans deserve, period."
What They're Saying
At a school like Nebraska, with a rich football tradition, Pelini has come under the gun not for his comments, but for - what else - the losses that fans just can't wrap their heads around, The Washington Post's Tracee Hamilton said:
"Pelini's bigger sin - bigger than a profanity-laced tirade against the people who support his team - is losing four games in each of his five seasons in Lincoln. Nebraskans remember fondly their five national titles, most recently in 1994, 1995 and 1997, and after years of appearances in Sugars, Oranges, Roses, Fiestas and Cottons, back-to-back losses in the Capital One the past two seasons are not what the 'Huskers faithful expect."
Pelini's problems got worse when Deadspin.com released an audio file of the coach going off on fans following a 2011 win over Ohio State, and he's certainly feeling the heat even if the issue was long ago dealt with by the Nebraska administration, HuskersOnline.com's Robin Washut writes:
"The past 48 hours have been a hectic and embarrassing ride for Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, and he continued to try and explain his side of the story on Tuesday regarding his expletive-laden audio recording that surfaced on Monday afternoon.
"After the sports website Deadspin published a leaked recording of Pelini blasting fans and local media members following the Huskers' comeback win over Ohio State in 2011, the sixth-year head coach issued a statement Monday night apologizing for what he had said. On Tuesday morning, Pelini addressed the issue again during the weekly Big Ten teleconference for his full allotted 10 minutes on the call.
"He faced the issue for a third time following Tuesday's practice, where roughly 45 local reporters gathered around to listen. Just as he was in his statement and during the Big Ten teleconference, Pelini was up front and honest about the ordeal and what he has learned from all that has transpired over the past few days.
"While Pelini has been able to tune out much of the backlash from the fan base about his insults from two years ago, he knows he won't be able to escape it when he takes the Memorial Stadium field for the first time on Saturday afternoon. His hope, though, is that Husker Nation accepts his apology and - just like he's tried to do with his team and himself - move on."
My Take: In five full seasons in Lincoln, Pelini has won 10 or more games three times, earned four first-place finishes in Nebraska's division (the first three in the Big 12 North and then in 2012, the Big Ten's Legends Division) but the Cornhuskers have lost four games in each of his five seasons and have finished no higher than 14th in the final AP poll.
Saying the wrong thing or offending the fan base may generate media buzz and talking points, but Pelini won't be fired because he's a jerk. Just as Rich Rodriguez wasn't let go by Michigan because he was a backcountry southern boy that didn't understand the U-M tradition. Rodriguez was let go because he sunk the program to new depths, turning a proud football history into a laughing stock for three seasons, and when Pelini is dismissed, it will be because he couldn't take Nebraska to the top of the Big Ten.
That's not to say it's just that easy and a successor will be able to do it likethat but programs like Nebraska and Michigan and Ohio State measure their success by titles, and in five seasons, Pelini doesn't yet have a ring.
If it doesn't happen this year, he'll be on the clock and might even be let go. I bet he'll get one more chance because in 2014 Nebraska will be in the weaker West Division and stands a better chance to qualify for the Big Ten Championship, but if the Cornhuskers fall short both this season and next