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September 16, 2013

News & Views: Breaking down Brady Hoke's Monday presser

Brady Hoke came out today talking about the Zips, and focusing forward on UConn. He had plenty to say about Akron. Here are some facts, Hoke's comments and TheWolverine.com's take regarding the Wolverines.

News: Two of Devin Gardner's interceptions last Saturday came on third and long.

Hoke: "Any time you get in some of those situations people can make life hard on you, either by bringing pressure or dropping eight, spying a guy because of Devin's athleticism, all that when they do drop eight or various things. Some of it is we've got to not self destruct protection wise, route running wise, decisions making wise."

Chris Balas's views: Gardner's pick six against Akron was so poorly blocked some might not be inclined to blame him first. However, it's the third one within the shadow of his own goal line in three weeks.

Last year, Hoke and Co. stopped letting Denard Robinson throw after half due to the continuous mistakes. They'll continue to put trust in Gardner, however, and not limit the playbook - at least that's what Hoke said Monday.

News: The offensive line struggled again in Saturday's win, both on run and pass plays, and Hoke said "there's always competition" when asked if there would be changes.

Hoke: "We need to play better overall. I thought we got too much push at times. They gave us a little bit different than we had seen from them, a little more 46 or bear concepts than we'd seen … we'd seen it, but not mutable times like we did. At the same time at halftime, the adjustments - we watched the offense, adjusted and I think they were on top of it."

Balas's views: On top of it, maybe, but still not nearly good enough. The running game would have looked better if not for two big runs called back on holding penalties (including one bogus call), but 11 of 19 Fitz Toussaint runs still went for two yards or less. That's not good enough against an opponent like Akron. It's not good enough for anyone else, either.

There's a benefit to developing cohesion between the three interior offensive linemen, but they need to produce, too. Guys like Chris Bryant will likely get more serious looks this week.

News: The pass rush remains a concern after a Saturday of zero sacks against the Zips.

Hoke: "There was more than you would think the other day. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot three times by not keeping the contain of the rush. They changed the game midstream, a two man game. Once, maybe twice the communication across the front didn't get there. The two guys knew what they were doing, but you need all four to make sure they are.

"There was a little more push than I thought during the game when you watched Sunday morning. If you're getting push up in here, you'd better be collapsing the outside. It's one or the other. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot some. Do we want to get better at our games? No question, and at our pass rush. I think we're a lot better than we were a year ago at it. We've just got to be consistent."

Balas's views: Better than last year means we should start seeing results at some point, which is encouraging to an extent. But it does seem as though the Wolverines aren't winning enough of their one-on-ones matchups, too, especially on the edges from guys we heard so much about in the offseason. Veteran Frank Clark, for example, has been too quiet given his talent.

We'll see what transpires in the next few weeks, but the pass defense will continue to struggle unless guys continue to improve. They have the talent and they worked hard enough at it in fall - with good coaching - that it should be better than it is. We think it will get where it needs to be.

News: The Wolverines went through a rare Sunday practice after a sluggish win.

Hoke: "We went out and practiced yesterday. Pads, helmets, the whole dal. We usually don't. They were very receptive, though I wouldn't say excited about getting back on the field."

Balas' Views: Hoke took responsibility in the postgame and told his kids in the locker rom he'd prepare them better. They got the message that Saturday's performance wasn't acceptable, even if Hoke didn't say it in so many words. There are wake-up calls, and many (many) past Michigan teams have gotten them following games with Notre Dame.

The sky isn't falling, but the days of beating anyone by just showing up are over. They learned a lesson.

News: Hoke likes to keep any tirades behind closed doors, even in a game as potentially agitating as the cliffhanger against Akron. Any other approach is, to him, counterproductive.

Hoke: "It's constructive criticism. Every guy you coach differently, to some degree. I could hit Glen Steele with a chair, and it would be fine by him. Everybody is a little different.

"During the game, if I'm some tyrant or idiot on the field, that's not going to do anybody any good. You've got to count on them. I thought about putting Kenny Allen in to punt, but that wouldn't have been the right thing for Matt [Wile] and Matt's psyche. The next punt, he booms it."

John Borton's Views: There have been some notable sideline screamers, at Michigan and elsewhere, but Hoke's method does make sense. He's trying to get the most out of his players, on game day in week one and week 12, next year and three years down the road.

That doesn't mean you're a softie. Note the Steele reference, and check back on how the Boys of '97 were coached, and responded. The fact is, this coaching staff will do plenty of chewing behind closed doors, in the locker room, etc.

But Hoke doesn't feel the need to take out his own frustrations from a game like Akron by lighting up somebody on the sidelines. It certainly endears him more to players, and makes recruiting easier. The balance just needs to come through the proper post-game-day motivation - such as a Sunday padded practice.

News: With an obviously poor performance just behind them, Michigan prepares for UConn with a number of players vowing they'll pick up the pace.

Hoke: "Because of the leadership, and because how guys have taken this personally, in a good way - because you can take it personally in a really bad way, too - [it's good]. Taylor [Lewan] and Devin [Gardner] … Jake Ryan has been unbelievable. Courtney [Avery] and Cam [Gordon] … you look at your seniors and your captains, and they have really pushed it."

Borton's Views: They know. They know, and they're angry. They're more mortified by the narrow victory against the Zips than the message board poster with the TV remote imbedded in the drywall and the chip dip-spattered Chihuahua.

The key is to channel it properly. James Ross III didn't like not starting last weekend, but put the blame squarely on himself and a lack of practice focus. Devin Gardner didn't like a near loss to Akron (no disrespect to Akron, he ironically added), and received another reminder of what not to do when pressured.

Lewan didn't like anything, and has vowed along with several others that it simply won't happen again. Lots of folks will be honorary Missourians (Show Me) in the meantime, and that's fair. The Wolverines need to show themselves, as well.

News: Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint yet to hit 100 yards rushing in a single game, and 11 of his 19 rushes against Akron went for two yards or less. Michigan is obviously taking a look at all aspects of the run game, including the blocking ahead of Toussaint.

Hoke: "I think there have been a couple of times where people have defended it pretty well. You're one guy away, on a couple of real big ones. Then two penalties took away 40-some yards. You add that into the mix.

"Do we want more, yeah. We want more. We want to be more consistent. I thought some of the lead plays, with Joey [Kerridge] blocking … Joey will take on a linebacker, now."

Borton's Views: All backs miss cuts at times, but far too many times, Barry Sanders couldn't double back enough to find holes early this season. Michigan's offensive line just has to get better. Whether through personnel changes (Hoke reiterated the competition in practice theme) this week or the continued meshing of the men up front, there has to be better room to run.

It doesn't look like Toussaint is going to break away from the pack too often for the 50- or 60- yarder. But he has to have far more chances at the 10- to 12-yard runs, and those have been pretty scarce.

Michigan also can't get so stubborn that it runs into an eight-man front, just because it knows the run game needs work. That also played into Akron staying in the game.

News Hoke acknowledged operating a padded practice on Sunday after the narrow victory over Akron. He later pointed out that there will be a couple of tweaks to the week's practice schedule leading up to the UConn game.

Hoke: "We want to improve every time we take the field. As a team, if you took a vote, they would have thought on Saturday we didn't make the incremental improvements we needed to. So since we missed that day, we'd better do it yesterday, so that's what we did.

"We won't change a whole lot. We're going to do a little more inside drill, full line, on Wednesday than normal. We'll do two-minute on Tuesday. We do it always on Thursday, but we'll get another two-minute in there."

Borton's Views: Hoke insists jobs are on the line every day in practice. That ought to especially be the case this week, and it's important to note they're adding some extra full-line drills, midweek.

Neither side of the line of scrimmage has received glowing reports from the man who knows how important those elements are to a winning effort on the field. Again, it has to improve, and there could be different combinations tried.

The extra two-minute drill is self-explanatory. Akron went right down the field on the Wolverines at the end of the game. They responded well in the two-second drill, but it can't come down to that.


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