December 27, 2013

News & Views: Final Hoke pre-game press conference

Brady Hoke met with the media one last time before the Wolverines take on Kansas State tomorrow night. Here are the topics that came up, Hoke's words and's take.

News: Michigan has been forced to ramp up the development of rookie Shane Morris for the bowl game, given that he's now the starter.

Hoke: "We've had a little time, which is a positive. He's had a lot of snaps. We've been able to give him as much as we can during the last 13 practice days. We've had a couple off days in there where the mental part of it with film study [came into play], just trying to give him as much experience as we can, live stuff against each other, ones on ones, and put him in situations."

Views: That's terrific for the future, for Morris' development, etc. He has gotten, essentially, a spring practice as Michigan's starter. He'll no doubt go into U-M's actual spring practice believing he can compete to start in 2014, and much farther ahead in that pursuit than he would have been.

What Michigan cannot simulate in practices involves the specific game-day situations, tweaks, attacks and everything that Kansas State will throw at him. For all the pre-game pleasantries, the Wildcats haven't won a bowl game since 2002 and will see exploiting a freshman quarterback as the perfect way to get that done.

Michigan will be in a vastly stronger position in 2014, in terms of developed quarterback talent and depth. It just won't be in a stronger position over the next 48 hours.

News: Kansas State features some potential game-changers with regard to its special teams play.

Hoke: "Tyler Lockett impresses you an awful lot, when you look at the returns that he's been able to have. They've blocked five kicks this year. I think three of them were PATs, one of them a field goal, then one of them a punt against Baylor.

"They're very sound, very aggressive in what they do. We've got a lot of respect for them and always have with a Bill Snyder team. I know coach is 17-0 when they've scored a non-offensive touchdown some way, somehow."

Views: It will likely be 18-0 if they score one in this game. Michigan will have enough of an issue scoring enough points to win the game, but especially so if it allows a TD without its defense even on the field.

The flip side involves Michigan's own special teams. Asked why Drew Dileo hasn't been a factor on trick plays from the holder's spot this year as opposed to previous seasons, Hoke indicated some have defended those situations better.

"The other thing is, Drew tweaked that knee up, so he wasn't the Drew that we've had," Hoke offered.

Perhaps after more than a month without games to play, he could be. And that in itself could make a difference at some point in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

News: It was pointed out, again, to Hoke what a young team he's putting on the field in the bowl. While it's true, the head coach wants to downplay that aspect of the situation.

Hoke: "We are a young team. That's no excuse for performance being young at this state with the program. I know we want to finish for our seniors well. We haven't been a great finishing team the last five weeks of the season. We need to do that.

"I think there will be some lessons learned, like always, from this experience that we have out here."

Views: The biggest lesson for all, among anyone returning for next year and beyond, involves finishing. The Wolverines are four plays away from experiencing a very different result this year (and yes, a couple of other plays from not being in a bowl).

The sooner they learn how to close out games, the sooner they can begin to take the next step - learning how to win championships. That wasn't an issue on a Michigan roster for many, many years, up until the last few. There were always veterans who had been there, who had won championships, who knew what it took.

That's no longer the case. The finishing mountain is much higher in this game, without the quarterback who guided the team all season. But like Hoke said, it's a chance, and they have to start somewhere.

News: Future aside, Michigan's seniors want to win now. Several came in on a seven-win season, and don't want to leave with one.

Hoke: "They've meant a lot. They've struggled a little more than we'd like for them to. But I think they've persevered a lot at the same time.

"They've set some good examples and they've set some lessons up that I believe will be built on by the other classes."

Views: The last several Michigan classes have talked about how satisfied they'll be seeing the breakthrough to get the program back to where it needs to be. This class is no different, but as noted, they want to win a game first.

They'd never say it, but Devin Gardner's injury probably struck more than a few of them as the final bit of bad luck in a season, and careers, where they didn't get a lot of good bounces. They'll hang onto the 11-2, Sugar Bowl championship season of two years ago, but have plenty else to ponder when it comes to the last four or five years.

News: Michigan has enjoyed a month's worth of time and more than a dozen practices since the near miss against Ohio State. The Wolverines will look to parlay all of that into a bowl win and advancement on all fronts.

Hoke: "We'd like to be able to run the ball and let the tailbacks get loose, try to control the line of scrimmage, have Shane do a great job of managing the game, making the throws off the play-action and that stuff that we think he can do a good job with.

"Defensively, we've got to be active on the line of scrimmage and control the line of scrimmage better."

Views: To tweak an old saying, you only get one chance to make a final impression. For the seniors saying farewell, for the younger players hoping for bigger and better things in the not-so-distant future, this game is significant.

It's also fraught with more adversity than the 12 preceding it, simply because Gardner supplied such a high percentage of Michigan's offense. That's not a good situation, but Kansas State isn't Florida State … so they'll still play it.

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