Sept. 13, 2011
By Leah Howard
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke began his regular Monday afternoon press conference by identifying several "exciting" elements of last Saturday's thrilling 35-31 comeback victory over Notre Dame -- the record crowd, the passion displayed by both teams and the overall environment of the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium.
But like any successful coach does, he spent the remaining minutes focusing primarily on the improvements his team will need to make in order to reach the level of expectation that accompanies the winged helmet.
"It was hard fought, not a perfect game when you look at offensively and defensively, things that we need to get a lot better at if we are going to be any kind of football team," Hoke said. "We need to focus in on those things and as a team. We have to do a good job of coaching, No. 1, and teaching and then playing. Our expectations are high, and we won't get that way if we don't possess the ball enough offensively to help the defense and if we don't do a better job in third-down conversions from a defensive standpoint."
The Wolverines are still looking for playmakers on defense, said Hoke, acknowledging that practice situations and game situations can sometimes produce different results.
"I think we are not near to the expectations that we have," said Hoke. "I think the kids feel the same way at that position. I think we are a work in progress (to a) degree. Some of it is because of a little difference schematically and how you tackle in scrimmage and tackle on blocks and get off blocks. We would think we would be further along."
Hoke will look for progress this weekend when the Wolverines face Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are 2-0 for the first time since 1989 following wins over Howard (41-9) and Alabama State (14-7). Defensively, Eastern Michigan has allowed just a combined 83 yards rushing, 341 yards passing and two offensive touchdowns. Despite EMU's history, according to Hoke, those statistics should warrant Michigan's attention.
"They are a confident team," Hoke said. "I think Ron [English] has done a nice job. They are averaging 331 yards per game rushing the football. That's pretty impressive. I don't care who you're playing.
"I think you've got a staff over there of guys -- when you look at it with Mike Hart, Kurt Anderson and Steve Morrison, who are all products of this program as players -- and understand about coaching hard and doing those things; that's how they coach their kids. You can tell with Ron's influence as a defensive coach and defensive-minded guy and that aggressive personality guy, that's the way they are playing football. They are impressive. They have got 10 sacks in two games. They are doing a lot of good things."
N O T E S
After all the pre-game hype and last-minute heroics involved with last Saturday's Notre Dame game, the Wolverines are mindful of and working diligently to prevent any letdown this weekend against Eastern Michigan.
"Well, I can tell you one thing -- Eastern is 2-0," said Hoke. "They have not been 2-0 since 1989. They (are averaging) 331 yards rushing a game. If that doesn't get our attention, I would hope there would be enough maturity in that room with those seniors to understand we are going to correct mistakes and do all those things and then we have to move forward fast."
"I think it all starts with focus and leadership," said senior linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald. "Coach Hoke has obviously put a huge emphasis on this game, and we can't take it lightly. You can't take any game lightly because that's when bad things happen. The upset is in the mind of the favorite, so we have to stay humble and stay focused to what the game plan is. It was an incredible win on Saturday, but it's over now, unfortunately, and we have to move on."
Among Saturday's top defensive performers, junior linebacker Brandin Hawthorne registered a career-high six tackles, including four in a row early in the fourth quarter, and his first career pass breakup against the Irish.
"I thought Brandin got in there and did a nice job and made some plays," said Hoke. "I think it was good to see him be productive in that role and part of it. I think he did a nice job of reacting and seeing the ball and focusing in on keys and those things and then finishing plays.
"It was good to see him play at full speed."
According to Fitzgerald, Michigan has benefited from some depth in its linebacking corps, and while they have a lot of work left to do, the Wolverines feel comfortable in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's scheme.
"I think we really embrace it," said Fitzgerald, "and when you play to perfection or as close to perfection, it's a lot of fun. Hitting the quarterback is the defense's number one goal; hit the quarterback and make sure he throws a lot of picks and get a lot of turnovers for your offense. This year so far it's just execution. We've been executing pretty well and we've been getting a great result from that, getting turnovers and getting the ball back to our offense. I don't think it's scheme versus anything else, I just think you need to execute, and the execution is there and the results are fortunately coming."
Saturday's game was marked by several big plays and spectacular catches, including junior/sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Gallon's 64-yard reception on the winning drive and grabs of 43, 77 and 45 yards from fifth-year senior receiver Junior Hemingway. But the Wolverines also had several dropped balls in the contest. That's inevitable, according to Hoke, but something they will look to minimize.
"We work all the time with catching the ball and how you catch the ball -- thumbs up, thumbs down, palms in, finger tips together, not together," he said. "Look, none of us here are perfect. I mean, we all screw up once in awhile, and you don't want to. I know I don't like to screw up, but I do it daily. We just want them to play their best for their teammates and play their best for Michigan."
"We know we need to make sure to catch everything, that is one thing coach harps on in practice," said Hemingway. "That is one thing we pride ourselves on. We make every catch, regardless of where it is. If it is in our vicinity, we have to catch it. Saturday night, we dropped a couple of balls that we should have made, but you have to move onto the next play. You are not worried about the last one, because if you worry about the last one it will affect the next one. You just have to have a short memory."