The Wolverines have two weeks to ponder loss to Spartans
To this point in the season, Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been by-the-book all of the way. Everything the first-year coach has said and every move he has made has been loyal to the "one game at a time" bible.
But after rival Michigan State sent the Wolverines down to their first defeat of the season, Hoke decided to take his team into its bye week by deviating from the manual of coaching principles and cliches.
Hoke dumped the conventional "17-hour-rule" where coaches limit their teams to just the first 17 hours after a win or a loss to digest the result of that game, before insisting that they move on. With the bye week giving him some flexibility, Hoke took a different route.
"They need to feel this one," Hoke said in the wake of the 28-14 loss at East Lansing. "We all need to feel this one for a while. But we'll turn the page."
The Wolverines' purgatory starts with a lot of defensive soul-searching, since the Spartans sliced them up with the running game. Michigan State rushed for 213 yards, while Michigan managed just 82 yards rushing.
In the days leading up to the Michigan State showdown, Michigan offensive coordinator Greg Mattison spoke prophetically about what the Wolverine defenders will need to do to be successful as they grind through the remainder of the Big Ten schedule.
"You can measure a defense on how they stop the run, in my mind," Mattison said.
Beyond the patching up needed on the defensive side, the Michigan psyche is a fragile thing right now. As they head into the bye week, the Wolverines have an extra seven days to ponder how the great starts of the past two seasons turned into downhill slides, each time starting with a loss to the Spartans. Michigan dreads even considering a three-peat of that.
"I think it's easy to say that this is the same Michigan team from the last two years, but I have no doubt in my mind that we're not," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We're going to improve, learn from this game, and win."
Kovacs said the bye week comes at an ideal time since this team needs a break before it marches into those final five Big Ten games.
"Physically, it's probably a good thing," Kovacs said about the timing of the bye. "But mentally, I'm ready to move onto the next one. It's probably a good thing we have the bye week so we can physically get healthy, but at the same time, though, I'm ready for the next one."
--QB Denard Robinson goes into the bye week needing the rehab time for his body after taking a number of hits in recent games. The junior from Florida, with 2,815 yards, has moved past Tshimanga Biakabutuka (1993-95) and into 10th place on Michigan's career rushing list.
--The Wolverines pulled a clever switcheroo before their meeting with Michigan State, warming up in their regular road uniforms, and then changing into their "legacy road uniforms". The new threads are white jerseys over white pants, with maize and blue stripes on the shoulder pads. The uniforms salute the 1974 and 1975 Michigan teams that wore white pants. Michigan had not worn all white since the 1976 Orange Bowl game against Oklahoma.
--Michigan will spend time in the bye week trying to figure out ways to get the ball in the hands of junior WR Roy Roundtree, who caught the game-winner against Notre Dame earlier this season but did not have another touchdown reception until late in the Michigan State game. An active and involved Roundtree will make Michigan a much better offense in the second half of the season.
BYE WEEK MISSION: The Wolverines have looked down the remainder of the schedule and put together an ambitious "to do" list. After their quarterbacks got sacked seven times in the loss at Michigan State, the Wolverines need to address issues on the offensive line. That same group is taken to task over the ineffective running game against the Spartans. Defensively, stopping the run remains the priority so personnel tweaks or changes are being reviewed. Michigan's next five opponents are studying the film of the loss at MSU, so Michigan can't look like that team any longer.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Wolverines will come off the bye week to face Purdue, but then go on the road in consecutive weeks to battle Iowa and Illinois. They close out the season at home against Nebraska and Ohio State. The Legends Division title and a berth in the Big Ten championship game are still very much in play, with some help. The strides Michigan hopes to make in its bye week work could push the Wolverines in that direction. Otherwise, the euphoria over the 6-0 start will quickly fade and the questions about this team's progress will intensify.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You just have to bounce back. But the thing about this team is, I know for a fact this team will bounce back. Guys are hungry for the next game, and that's the biggest difference in this team." -- DL Mike Martin on the team's state of mind entering the bye week, and how the Wolverines will rebound from the loss to Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines have one of the most dangerous and dynamic players in the nation in QB Denard Robinson, but they still expose him to far too many hits. For Robinson to last the season, he needs better protection, and more contributions from the Michigan running backs. "To get it out of our running backs, we have to get more out of our front first," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "From an offensive standpoint, I think there's some opportunities we missed a little bit, but at the same time I don't know how much movement we've got consistently at the line of scrimmage." Look for Hoke to use backup QB Devin Gardner more after the bye week, to spell Robinson but also to get the ball in the air more. "I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately," Hoke said, comparing Gardner and starter Robinson.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolverines took a pretty good beating from Michigan State in their final game before the bye week, so there is much to be addressed before Michigan takes the field against Purdue in its next game. The run defense is lacking and Michigan's coaches are seriously considering some personnel changes to put more crunch up front and more pursuit at the linebacker positions. Michigan entered the season knowing its defense would be suspect until it proved otherwise, and following the first six games it looked like the Wolverines had made significant improvement. The Michigan State loss has rekindled the questions, and the UM defense has to come out of the bye week prepared to silence those doubts.
--LB Cam Gordon's back injury kept him out of the first six games of the season but he returned to the lineup against Michigan State and played special teams.
--OL Ricky Barnum missed the Minnesota and Northwestern games with an ankle injury, then dressed for the Michigan State contest but did not play. He is expected to return to the playing field following the bye week.
--OL Michael Schofield has replaced the injured Ricky Barnum for the past two games, but Barnum is expected to be back in the lineup following the bye week.
--LB Brandon Herron did not dress for the Michigan State game and has not seen action since the season-opener as he deals with a leg injury.
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