Oct. 3, 2011
By Leah Howard, MGoBlue.com
Michigan football head coach Brady Hoke isn't a fan of polls. And he isn't concerned with statistical standings or individual accolades, either. What does matter, said Hoke, is winning.
Following Michigan's 58-0 rout of Minnesota last weekend in its Big Ten Conference opener, the Wolverines moved up to No. 11 in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll -- the highest they have been ranked since the 2007 preseason. So when asked if the Wolverines might be overrated, Hoke responded quickly and succinctly in the affirmative.
"We're not playing the football that we need to play," said Hoke at his weekly Monday press conference. "We're not playing well enough. We're not finishing things well enough. I mean, there are a lot of fundamental things. We get two penalties that bring us back. There are six to eight plays in a game that are going to determine the outcome, period. That's going to happen, especially when you're playing in a conference like ours. You never know when those six to eight plays are going to happen. So, you have to play your best every play, whether it's covering a kickoff, whether it's blocking a three technique, whether it's taking on a double team. You have to play your best every play."
But Michigan did a lot of things well last Saturday against the Golden Gophers, piling up 580 yards of total offense, including 384 in the first half, and scoring on 10 of 13 offensive possessions. Defensively, the Wolverines held Minnesota to 177 yards and just eight first downs. It was Michigan's first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since 2001 and largest margin of victory over Minnesota in the 120-year series history.
As Hoke likes to points out, the Wolverines are now 1-0 [in Big Ten play]. So as Michigan plays deeper into its 2011 schedule, one that Hoke said will get tougher, it seems every week of the season has brought a new challenge -- first game of the season, first night game, first Big Ten game and now first road game. For the first time this year, Michigan will awake to unfamiliar surroundings on Saturday morning. After five straight home games, it's finally time to hit the road. U-M will face Northwestern at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday (Oct. 8) at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., in a game broadcast by Big Ten Network.
"I don't know if it's different or not," said Hoke. "We'll find out. Just the demeanor that we travel with and this being a night game. I think we have a good blueprint for that with how we'll do walkthroughs, all those things. They're out of their security of the Campus Inn. There's a lot of familiarity there with a lot of guys, especially guys who have played a lot of football here. So, I mean, it's all those distractions that are out there that you may not have when you're here.
"We have goals. This is another one of the 12 guaranteed games that we have. It's a Big Ten game. We have to go out there and play our best football and improve."
N O T E S
Despite Northwestern's 2-2 record and with or without quarterback Dan Persa, who returned to action last week after missing the first three games with an injury, Hoke views the Wildcats as a talented and well-coached team -- one in which Hoke said Michigan will have its hands full.
"They're 2-2, (and) as you all know, lost a heartbreaker down in Champaign last week. But they have a football team that's very well coached. Pat [Fitzgerald] is probably as good of a coach as there is in this league and a guy who feels strongly about that program, being an alumnus of Northwestern, being a tremendous player there.
"I think you also look at they're a team that's going to play physical, they're going to play 60 minutes of football. Defensively they run very well to the ball. Offensively, Dan Persa was back, played most of the game, was pretty productive. Kain Colter is also a guy who has moved them offensively and done a nice job."
Hoke is particularly impressed by Persa, who went 10 for 14 for 123 yards and four touchdowns in his season debut against Illinois last weekend.
"I think he's a tough-minded kid," he said. "Looking from a year ago in the offseason, he's a guy who is not afraid to tuck the ball running, take a hit, deliver a hit. I think he has a very good handle and management on the offense, getting them the right plays and all those things."
Michigan rotated in sophomore quarterback Devin Gardner throughout the Minnesota game. Gardner rushed for 39 yards on six carries and completed 2 of 5 passes for 31 yards.
"That's always a give-and-take," said Hoke. "You've got to make a good decision how you manage it. I think there's some positives what we gain from it to some degree. Part of that positive is people now work on it. That's just one more thing as a defensive coach, you only have so many hours in a day, you only have so much time on the practice field, that it's another piece.
"That's good. Really at the end of the day it's about the execution. I mean, it's great to have tricks and all that kind of stuff. If you don't execute it, you might as well not have it. So it's the execution."
Hoke admitted that coordinators Al Borges and Greg Mattison have had to scale back some of Michigan's playbook to better suit its roster and best use its players.
"We can know all the football we need to know, but if they don't know it, it doesn't do any good. I think scaling things back at some times is a plus. We scaled some things back a week ago because of a lot of the movements and trades that they had. (It's) better to have 11 guys in position than maybe that great defense that you think you may have called and have guys confused.
"It's just reality. If your guys are going to play hard, play aggressive, play with fundamentals and technique, I'd be happy if we could run four defenses, two coverages, as long as we could play it at our highest level."