Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 11/3/13
(MGoBlog/Flickr) Two weeks. That’s how long Michigan had to prepare for its critical showdown with Michigan State. It would be hard to say with any degree of certainty, though, that the Wolverines even practiced in the days between a win over Indiana and their Saturday meltdown. Head coach Brady Hoke blamed execution issues after the game — the status quo argument he’s made following subpar efforts against Akron, UConn and Penn State. There’s no doubt some truth to that assessment. Michigan’s constantly reworked offensive line looked lost against the Spartans’ blitzes, while Devin Gardner was indecisive at best on the rare occasions he had time to throw. But pinning all the blame on players missing assignments or making incorrect reads is shortsighted. The fact of the matter is that Michigan was unprepared for Saturday’s game, and the reasons for that point back to Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges. The real problem, boiled down to its simplest form: Hoke and Borges want to utilize a pro-style game that this offense is not built to play. Michigan has been here recently, of course. Hoke is now at about the point in his third year that Rich Rodriguez was at when the calls for his head grew to a fever pitch around Ann Arbor. Rodriguez had others issues working against him — terrible defense, off-field problems, an angered base of former players. He still struggled from 2008-10 trying to implement his spread offense, despite having Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet as QBs that first year and a group of plodding linemen. His situation improved some thanks to Tate Forcier and (for a more extended period of time) Denard Robinson. Rodriguez still left an unfinished project when he was let go, after a 15-22 run. Hoke has 10 more victories than that in his tenure, including an undefeated record at home. He also has claimed a win over Michigan State, one over Ohio State, two over Notre Dame and a BCS victory. Because of his background as a “Michigan man”, Hoke had a lot more leeway than Rodriguez did, and his early success bought him even more time. That said, he's essentially inverted Rodriguez's problems on offense. Whereas Rich Rod tried to fit a pro-style team into the spread, Hoke has tried to take those pieces of a Rodriguez spread attack and plug them into an old school Michigan attack. It has not been working. The final evidence came down Saturday, as Michigan State simply outmuscled the Wolverines up front. Michigan finished with minus-48 yards rushing, a record poor showing for the proud program. If Hoke and Borges were not aware of it before that outing, MSU's domination should have been a painful reminder that this Michigan team is a long way from being the physical force those coaches envision. So why do the Wolverines insist on sticking to that plan? On two separate occasions Saturday, Michigan was in position to really land a blow against the high-flying Spartans. Both times, Borges opted to roll with a doomed read-option play call. The first came with Michigan down 6-3 early and facing a 3rd-and-short deep in Spartan territory. MSU stuffed nine players into the box, more than enough to blow up that read-option call for a huge loss. Rather than learn from his mistake, Borges went back to the well in the fourth quarter after a Raymon Taylor interception briefly gave Michigan some life. The Spartans again smoked the read-option, then destroyed a second-down call when Borges put Gardner under center for a slow-developing play-action fake to Fitz Toussaint. Against the Spartans' defense, which lives to bring blitzes and extra pressure, the calls were doomed from the get-go. That Michigan had shown no ability to slow those pressuring Spartans -- and have struggled to protect Gardner all season -- should have done plenty to convince Hoke and Borges to rethink their approach. They didn't, either because they were clueless as to how to fix things or because they are so stubbornly determined to get Michigan back to its old ways on offense. Either answer is problematic for the Wolverines. This is the same problem they ran into under Rodriguez's guidance. Against some of Michigan's lesser foes, the spread offense clicked on all cylinders (just as this year's team lit up, say, Indiana). But when the Michigan States, Wisconsins and Ohio States of the world came calling, Rodriguez had no Plan B when his initial gameplan fell off the cliff. Hoke and Borges have yet to display that they can adjust either, be it week-to-week or in-game. Until they do or until Michigan's roster fully fits their vision, these losses will continue to happen. For Wolverines fans, the wait already has been too long.
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