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September 3, 2011

Hoke enjoys win, says defense needs work

"Wet and wild." That's how Michigan head coach Brady Hoke jokingly described his first win as Michigan's head coach, a 34-10, weather-shortened affair that concluded with both schools choosing to end with that score. The surreal scene didn't completely overshadow the football for Hoke - he found plenty to critique in the aftermath.

The defense, for one. Though the unit scored two touchdowns, both by linebacker Brandon Herron (one a 94-yard interception return that changed the game, created by pressure from linebacker Jake Ryan, the other a 29-yard fumble return created by a hit from safety Jordan Kovacs), Hoke wasn't pleased overall.

"We're a long way from being any kind of defense we want to represent Michigan with," Hoke said after watching WMU put up 279 yards and march the field a number of times. "That's great [to get turnovers]. Really good. It's always fun to score on defense, but there are 100 different things in that tape that tomorrow we'll address, correct and get better with.

"I would say not very good," he added when asked how he felt about the defense.

He credited WMU, though, for its part. The Broncos kept U-M off balance early with an up-tempo, no-huddle look and marched for a quick seven points.

"Offensively they are a very good football team. Bill [Cubit] is one of the great offensive minds in college football, the way he uses tempo and personnel," Hoke said. "The quarterback Alex Carder is as good as any guy we may play all year. He's got some great weapons out there. At the same time we need to push the pocket a little more in the zone aspect; we need to challenge a little more, be a little tighter."

Other positives as seen by Hoke:

• Turnover margin. U-M managed three takeaways (Herron's plays and lineman Ryan Van Bergen's recovery of a fumbled snap) and didn't give it away on offense.

"Turnover margin is a statistic that's very important in the game of football. Our offense did a tremendous job taking care of the football. Our defense did a great job, and obviously two of them were for defensive scores, which is always fun," Hoke said. "But I think your guys really understand that message we sent about taking care of the football, and defensively some guys did a nice job up front of applying some pressure … or if they were coming on a blitz. Kovacs did a nice job, Jake Ryan. They all got good push."

• The running game.

"I was pleased with the 190 yards rushing the football. You've got to control the line of scrimmage to do that," Hoke added.

• The penalties - specifically, his team's lack of them (one for five yards).

"That's an important part early in the season … all season long. I thought our guys did a nice job with that part of it," he said.

The negatives:

• Fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk's sprained left ankle. Woolfolk made two early plays before leaving after recovering a kick. The good news, though, was he could have returned.

"If we would have needed him, he would have gone back in," Hoke said. "The other guys played pretty well … you could keep hearing him on the sidelines encouraging on both sides."

Kick returns (Western Michigan averaged 31.3 yards per return) and third down conversions (6-of-11 for WMU against the U-M defense) were also sore spots, with Hoke calling the former "awful."

By the third quarter, though, the Wolverines had assumed some control in the trenches, playing with an edge Hoke had been waiting to see.

"There's a mindset that they understand how we're going to play," Hoke said. "You could see it a little bit in the third quarter up front on both sides, that it was going to be more physical, more attacking, that kind of deal. I think you could feel that. There were some hard runs.

"[Running back] Fitz [Toussaint] (80 yards, two touchdowns) ran the ball up in there pretty hard, took some guys on, which is what you want to see out of your backs."

Notebook

• Hoke praised Cubit for his decision to allow the game to go into the books when it did.

"Obviously, it's an unusual circumstance to have the weather stop the game when it did. Bill and I both had concern how long we'd be stopped, how many times we'd be stopped," Hoke said. "I've got so much respect for Bill as a football coach and person.

"Both of us, we're worried about the kids. You go out and play your heart out, then you're back in for a half hour. You get a five-minute warm up, then a lightning strike comes again … it ended probably not the way all of us would like it to, but as long as the kids were healthy and nobody got needlessly hurt, we're all for it."

• Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison brought an exotic array of blitzes in the second half. The Wolverines brought consistent pressure with them, Kovacs picking up their two sacks.

"You have a plan for certain things, and you want to make sure you have enough bullets for your guys. That was all part of it," Hoke said. "At times when they are in four wides, you can outnumber them. The key to it is the guy unblocked has a great path to the quarterback. That helped us some."

• Quarterback Denard Robinson started the game with a designed run for 11 yards and finished with 46 yards rushing (5.8 yards per carry), 98 yards passing.

"We just had a plan. [Coordinator] Al [Borges] had a plan he thought would be successful against what they did defensively," Hoke said. "Denard is always going to have a hand in what we do. Number one he is the quarterback, but secondly because of his ability to run.

"Al and I had talked, and he was going to start the game with the quarterback sweep. That's a comfort level, probably, that you want him to feel good about. I think we blocked it well, and he got a first down on it."

• Toussaint earned the start for the way he finished fall camp. He and Shaw both played well, ripping off runs of 43 and 44 yards, respectively, on Michigan's final touchdown drive.

"Number one, they both had good vision. Let me put it that way," Hoke said. "I think Michael's got a little more top end speed, so he was able to get away from the safety. But if you notice on the one long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy. If you watch, you see Junior Hemingway launching over the top to get a block. That was exciting to me. That was good football to me."

• Kicker Brendan Gibbons made four extra points and had one blocked in his debut.

"We got knocked back a little bit. We'll correct that," Hoke said. "In fact, the young man did correct it."

• Hoke said running back Stephen Hopkins, guard Ricky Barnum and linebacker Marell Evans, who all missed the game for what was described as a team issue, would be back next week to face Notre Dame. SAM linebacker Cam Gordon, who missed the game with a back injury, is also expected back.






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