It’s very clear now: Unless Michigan suddenly discovers an offense, and that is as likely as authorities finding Jimmy Hoffa’s body, Brady Hoke’s days are numbered as the Wolverines’ head coach.
His team laid another giant egg Saturday, getting clobbered 26-10 at home by Utah. At kickoff, there were plenty of empty seats in the upper reaches of the end zones. Then a thunderstorm suspended the game with more than seven minutes remaining, and by the time the game resumed, only about 2,000 fans – all dressed in Ute red – remained in 100,000-plus seat Michigan Stadium.
Amazingly, the Wolverines’ offense has scored touchdowns against only Appalachian State and Miami of Ohio, even failing to reach the red zone against Notre Dame (a 31-0 loss) and against Utah (the lone UM touchdown was on an interception thrown by the Utes' backup quarterback).
Now Hoke, whose team has lost eight of its last 12 games and has a grumbling fan base that is failing to fill Michigan Stadium, has a full-blown quarterback controversy. Turnover-prone quarterback Devin Gardner seems to have regressed. Left-hander Shane Morris plays like the inexperienced quarterback he is, but it’s a good bet he will start Saturday at home against Minnesota in its Big Ten opener.
“I’m concerned about everything that we’re doing,” Hoke said. “Do we want to be better offensively? Yeah, no question. Do we want to score points? That’s part of the game. … Am I concerned? We need to play better. We need to make sure we execute better.”
The scary thing for Michigan (2-2) is that none of the remaining eight games appear to be easily winnable, given how inept the Wolverines’ offense is. The Wolverines have problems blocking, throwing and catching. They also must play rivals Michigan State and Ohio State on the road.
So say that Michigan, 7-6 a year ago, wins no more than five of the remaining eight to finish 7-5, Hoke is as good as gone. And that’s being optimistic on the Wolverines’ behalf -- I expect them to win no more than four more and perhaps even finish with a sub .500 record.
And here’s some Cajun food for thought: I think this time, after flirting with each other in 2007 and again in 2011, Les Miles ends up making the trip from Baton Rouge to Ann Arbor.
The fact is, the school is running out of “Michigan men” to hire. Jim Harbaugh likely wouldn’t leave the NFL’s 49ers to take the job if he didn’t want it when it was offered three years ago, although most of the early speculation will center on him. And Miles is one of the last coaches remaining with the resume and Michigan background to satisfy everyone involved in the search.
Since Rich Rodriguez was hired and then fired three years later, leading the way for Hoke to be hired from San Diego State in 2010, details of Miles’ courtings have been revealed. Apparently, the two sides had a solid verbal agreement in December of 2007 when Lloyd Carr retired. Miles told Michigan officials, “I could never say no to Michigan.”
He just wanted two weeks to make it official, as he was preparing his LSU team for the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Carr, no fan of Miles for some reason, called RichRod in West Virginia and told him to consider the job. Carr then talked Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin into changing his mind and RichRod was hired while Miles had no choice but to sign an extension and stay in Baton Rouge. Miles’ Tigers went on to win the SEC title and defeated Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans.
Whether those past flirtings and the subsequent fallouts would prevent Miles, a guard on Bo Schembechler’s teams in 1974 and ’75, from being offered the job, and even accepting it, this time around …. well, perhaps only he and UM athletic director Dave Brandon know. Of course, he is 60 and his age may work against him, too.
I would think Tiger Stadium emptying out in the third quarter once LSU fell behind 31-10 to Mississippi State Saturday night would rub Miles the wrong way. After all, LSU’s fan base is much like an NFL fan base. LSU fans can turn on a coach and a team quickly and would never be called “die-hard” by any means, as Saturday night’s game illustrated. LSU rallied with three fourth-quarter touchdowns and attempted a Hail Mary into the end zone on the final play to win the game. But it fell incomplete and the Tigers lost 34-29.
“I am not questioning the people who left early,” Miles said Monday. “That’s certainly a personal decision. But there would have been an eruption at the end if we had maybe two more feet on that pass for a completion. But it would have been a quiet eruption.”
Writers covering the game estimated about 7,500 LSU fans remained at the end of the game in the newly-expanded Tiger Stadium, with a capacity of 102,000.
For the record, Miles has a 98-25 record in his nine-plus seasons at LSU, since arriving from Oklahoma State.
RICHROD HITS A HAIL MARY
Speaking of the former Michigan coach, “three-and-out” Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats have started the season 4-0, thanks to the comeback of all comebacks, capped by a Hail Mary on the final play.
Arizona trailed a much-improved Cal team 28-6 at the half and 45-30 with five minutes left in the game. But the Wildcats scored three touchdowns in the final five minutes, capped by a 47-yard Hail Mary on the final play to win 49-45.
Arizona scored 36 points in the fourth quarter.
BIG TEN HAS BIG DAY
The beleaguered conference rebounded somewhat with a 12-1 day against non-conference competition Saturday, with only the hapless Wolverines on the losing side. (Ohio State was off over the weekend).
The biggest win was Indiana’s 31-27 shocker at No. 18 Missouri and Iowa also rebounded from a tough loss against Iowa State by winning 24-20 at Pittsburgh. Nebraska’s 41-31 win over Miami also helped. Otherwise, the other nine conference teams which won were heavy favorites in each of the other games, mostly against cupcakes.
Still, there are no marquee non-conference games left for the conference until bowl season, so the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech and Michigan State’s loss at Oregon will remain as the lasting images the nation remembers as the season progresses.
BUCKEYES’ IN-STATE WINNING STREAK ON LINE
Cincinnati poses the toughest remaining non-conference test for any Big Ten team, as they travel to Columbus for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game.
Remember that Ohio State has not lost to an in-state opponent since 1921, and that was a 7-6 heartbreaker to Oberlin a year before Ohio Stadium was completed.
From 1933-91, the Buckeyes never faced off with an Ohio team. Woody Hayes was adamant that he never wanted to play an in-state team, so Ohio State complied while the legend roamed the sidelines from 1951-78. Earle Bruce’s teams never faced one, either.
But when John Cooper arrived in 1988, he had no problem with the concept, so the school’s administration changed its policy and the Buckeyes started facing Ohio teams for the first time in the modern era, beginning in 1992.
So far, the Buckeyes are a perfect 39-0 in these games. Most have been predictable one-sided affairs, with three notable scares.
The worst scare came in Cincinnati in the fourth game of the 2002 national championship season. After the sixth-ranked Buckeyes scored nine fourth-quarter points to take a 23-19 lead, the Bearcats drove to Ohio State’s 15-yard line and threw three incomplete passes into the end zone. Two passes that would have been game-winners were dropped. On fourth down, Will Allen’s interception in the end zone avoided the upset.
It was a season of cliff-hangers as the Buckeyes won all 14 games to win their first national title in 34 years.
But can you imagine, if that lone game – to an instate team of all opponents – would have prevented the Buckeyes from that dream season? It would have been a nightmare, which is probably why Cooper always said, “I’ll play any team from Ohio that wants to schedule us – as long as it’s played right here in Columbus.”
Then there was Ohio University, leading the third-ranked Buckeyes 14-12 in the fourth quarter of a 2008 game at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes ultimately prevailed 26-14, but got crushed 35-3 at No. 1 USC the following week. During Luke Fickell’s interim season as head coach in 2011, Toledo trailed 27-22 and reached the Buckeyes’ 17-yard line in the final seconds before the Ohio State defense stopped the Rockets on downs. By the way, the 22 points was the most scored against an Ohio State team by any in-state school since 1906. Again, the Buckeyes lost the following week – 24-6 at Miami.
I have always maintained it is a big mistake to schedule in-state teams. Not only is Ohio State paying other state schools (Cincinnati will pocket $890,000 Saturday) big money, which can be used to improve their facilities and resources and thereby steal a recruit every now and then (Ohio State has lost head-to-head recruiting battles with the Bearcats), but what would happen should they lose?
It would be a disaster that would be recounted for years, unlike, say a loss to a lower echelon team from the Pac-10, Big 12, SEC, Conference USA, etc. There really is nothing to gain and everything to lose from these in-state games.
Fortunately, there will be fewer games against in-state schools in the future, because of the Big Ten’s recent expansion.
As it stands, there are only two more in-state games currently scheduled -- Bowling Green in 2016 and Cincinnati again in 2019 -- both in Ohio Stadium. But athletic director Gene Smith said there will be more in the future, beginning in the 2020s.
FLORIDA STATE’S CIRCUS CONTINUES
Florida State University is known as having the only university-operated, on-campus circus in the country.
And it has nothing on the escapades of Jameis Winston and how the football staff handles, or mishandles, him.
After the FSU administration upgraded his suspension against Clemson from a half game to a full-game, Winston entered the locker room, fully dressed in pads and uniform and took the field for pre-game warm-ups. ESPN’s cameras caught Jimbo Fisher with a look of amazement on his face, as he told Winston to go change into street clothes.
"That was a miscommunication between us and the [equipment staff] because, with the late-night suspension, he was scheduled to dress and the stuff was put out in the locker room when he went in to dress,” Fisher said Monday. “He assumed he was going to dress for warm-ups and went out, and I never saw it. It got mis-communicated.
“(The equipment staff) probably should have never had it in the locker, and that's exactly what happened. We saw it, corrected it. He was great about it, went in and came back out and did what he was asked to do. That was our fault internally. We were making adjustments, moving around, and that was one part that slipped through the cracks.”
It slipped through the cracks much like Winston’s discipline has since he arrived on campus.
Fisher’s excuse is a lame one, for sure. It was an 8 p.m. kickoff. The suspension was upgraded at 11 p.m. on Friday night. So in the interim 21 hours, nobody at Florida State communicated to the star quarterback that he shouldn’t dress for the game?
The fact is, he shouldn’t have been at Doak Campbell Stadium to begin with. TV cameras followed his every move, in between plays, proving that Winston will be center of attention no matter what the team on the field does.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: Ohio State 44, Cincinnati 31 – Buckeyes have to out-score a potent Bearcats’ offense; Georgia 45, Tennessee 28 – Vols put up a fight in Athens; South Carolina 33, Missouri 30 -- Close one.
UPSET OF THE WEEK: Maryland (+4) at Indiana -- The Hoosiers come back down to earth after shocking Mizzou.
BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK: LSU 64, New Mexico State 10 – The Tigers are angry.
BEST BETS: Texas A&M (-8) over Arkansas; Cal (-11) over Colorado; Ole Miss (-18) over Memphis. Virginia (-21) over Kent State.