April 17, 2013

Borton's Blog: Security check

Brady Hoke is putting a huge emphasis on not turning the football over as much this year as in 2012. That's nothing new, but Hoke sees the huge difference turnovers made in year one to year two for his team.

The 11-2 Wolverines of 2011 turned the ball over 22 times, while forcing 29 turnovers. The 16 interceptions U-M pitched weren't what Hoke seeks, but his team still came out well ahead in the balance.

Hoke insists the single-biggest difference from that 11-2 to last year's 8-5 involves turnovers, and it's easy to see why. In 2012, the Wolverines turned it over 27 times, while forcing just 18. With the head coach's defensive mindset, that latter number will be addressed like the dietary issues of a 350-pound defensive lineman.

But there's reasonable evidence to believe Michigan should cut down on its own giveaways significantly this season. The Wolverines threw 19 interceptions last year, and barring an injury to redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, that just should not happen again.

Gardner pitched five of those pickoffs, in 126 throws. Denard Robinson racked up nine, Russell Bellomy four and running back Vincent Smith one in the miserable giveaway meltdown in South Bend.

The Wolverines, of course, threw it to the Irish five times in that 13-6 loss, Robinson tossing four interceptions himself. After that breakdown, U-M's offensive staff took a more conservative, run-and safe-pass-conscious approach.

It worked well for a while, Michigan going from 10 interceptions in the first four games (eight combined versus Alabama and Notre Dame) to just one over course of the next three games, wins over Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State.

Then Robinson went down to injury at Nebraska, and Bellomy endured a rough night in Lincoln in his stead. Those three interceptions marked the last time all year the Wolverines threw more than one in a game.

Gardner took over the following week, and Michigan pitched one pickoff in each of the final five games. In other words, the Wolverines suffered 11 of their 19 interceptions in losses against the Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish and Cornhuskers, and did a reasonable job of taking care of the ball in their other games.

But that's three losses of five, and toss in the inability to score in the final 30 minutes of action at Columbus, and inability to stop the long ball in the final seconds of the Outback Bowl, and 11-2 becomes 8-5.

If Hoke could lock in a healthy Gardner and one interception per game throughout 2012, he'd take it in a heartbeat. Then again, he's been around long enough to know it doesn't usually work out that way…

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