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October 30, 2013In his final media appearance before this weekend's showdown at Michigan State, head coach Brady Hoke updated the status of receiver Drew Dileo, announced U-M's starting offensive line and addressed whether Saturday is a defining moment for his team.
News: It's a stat trotted out each year, but the team that wins the ground-game battle has won 40 of the past 43 matchups, including last year when Michigan had 163 yards rushing and Michigan State only had 112.
Hoke: "I saw that stat somewhere. It's probably true but there are also years where it hasn't [proven true]. You have to do what's best for you as a team, where you think you can have success, and both teams will do that."
Views: It sounds like Hoke is prepared to not win the rushing matchup and he's OK with that, noting a team has to do what it can to be successful. Perhaps this is reading too much into it, but it seems like he's setting up the strong likelihood that U-M will rely heavily on the pass, seeing what the rest of us did two weeks ago - that QB Devin Gardner and targets Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess are the best weapons the Wolverines have, and the assets that Michigan needs to go to most often.
News: Senior wide receiver Drew Dileo missed most of the Indiana game offensively with an injury. Though Hoke did not say Dileo will play, he implied he is probable for the game.
Hoke: "He did some things yesterday. We'll see today, how much more he progresses. Same with Thursday. He's a viable guy for us. I would think [he would hold on kicks regardless]. No doubt."
Views: Hoke later added that Dileo is "tougher than most," suggesting that the senior will play even if he's not 100 percent. Hoke also said that in Dileo's absence, senior Jeremy Jackson played well against the Hoosiers, catching two balls for 23 yards, with good route-running and blocking.
Whether it's Dileo or Jackson, or redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, the slot receiver could be critical this week as MSU focuses on shutting down the Wolverines' top-two outside receivers.
News: Sophomore tight end A.J. Williams will sit out the game due to suspension. Williams is Michigan's best blocking tight end, and with his absence, Funchess may have to play more inside as opposed to the outside receiver position he's been lining up at.
Hoke: "There are three guys. You have Jordan Paskorz, who has played a little bit in every game. You have Jake Butt, who has gotten better and better. Who can block the line of scrimmage pretty good. And you got Funchess. Those are the guys."
Views: Again, it sounds like Hoke is saying something without deliberately saying something. In this case, that he has enough confidence in Paskorz and Butt to play inside, next to the tackles, that Michigan can continue to use Funchess in the receiver role.
That's good news. He's much more valuable to the Maize and Blue out there, matched up against a cornerback running the vertical, out and crossing routes more than he is in doing the underneath stuff or vertical seam routes down the middle that were drawing the attention of linebackers and safeties.
Funchess is a physical mismatch against anyone, but especially corners, and he should have another chance to exploit his advantage.
News: The five linemen that finished the game against Indiana are set to start against Michigan State, meaning true freshman Kyle Bosch at left guard and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right guard.
Hoke: "Right now [that's who it'll be].
"I like Bosch. I know one thing about him, he's a pretty tough guy."
Views: Nothing like a baptism by fire for the rookie. Sure, he played extensively vs. IU, but that was Indiana. This is Michigan State in Spartan Stadium.
At this point, Michigan has to commit to a starting five, to give the line an opportunity to gel and develop the chemistry to improve and become a viable unit for the Wolverines.
News: Hoke was asked if Saturday is a "defining" moment for his team, one that would establish this program's identity as it works towards becoming the team Hoke envisioned when he took over in 2011.
Hoke: "To some degree, each week gets measured. This week, because we're playing a really good football team with a really good defense, and their offense has been really good the last three weeks too. Special teams are good. Punter is outstanding. Would it be a defining moment? I don't know. I think it's a learning moment. You learn a little more about your guys, about your team."
Views: One can understand Hoke downplaying it as a defining moment because if Michigan loses and the line is pushed around then he certainly doesn't want that image to be what this 2013 team is remembered for, and he doesn't want to say that's what this program is three years into his tenure.
At the same time, this is a defining moment because of what's at stake. The first two years of the Hoke tenure came and went without a Big Ten title. Now, here is Michigan in year three, and if the Wolverines are to have the opportunity to play in the championship game, it has to beat Michigan State. A loss would cripple any chance for U-M to make it to Indianapolis.
It is also a defining moment because all the talk right now is about the big, bad, bullying Michigan State team, and U-M trying to reclaim its status in this rivalry. If that doesn't happen Saturday, one has to wonder when it would? 2015? 2016?
Hoke wants his team to play with physicality and toughness, to beat up other teams on the line of scrimmage, like Michigan teams have always done in the past. We haven't seen it for a very, very long time, since the 2006 season, and to get pushed around by MSU this weekend would suggest this program is further away from realizing that goal than thought.