Hoke believes in U-M offense, play calling

It was another disappointing loss, and it took Michigan out of the race for the Big Ten title.

Now, the Wolverines are aiming for a 10-win season, which means they would have to win the final three regular-season games and get a victory in their bowl game.

But given how poor the offense has looked these past two weekends, that seems highly unlikely. Michigan's offensive numbers against Michigan State and Nebraska fell well below its own averages and the averages the Spartans and Cornhuskers have surrendered this season.

It looked as though the Huskers took a few pages from the Spartans’ playbook as they dialed up similar blitzes and pressures to get Devin Gardner and the offense in tough down and distances.

“I shouldn’t speak for every other coach in America, but I think we all look at who defended somebody well or offensively what gave this defense problems,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Yeah, you’ll get some copycat looks.”

Hoke said that it was possible that Nebraska took several notes from the Michigan State film, but that the Huskers didn’t use any blitzes against Michigan that they hadn’t used earlier in the season. Even so, the Wolverine offensive line couldn’t contain the pocket and never produced enough push to get any momentum.

The Wolverines allowed seven sacks and tallied negative yards on the ground for the second straight game, but Hoke stood by his word and said he was happy with offensive coordinator Al Borges’ play calling.

“There’s not any question about it,” Hoke said Monday, echoing his postgame sentiments.

He thought the offense displayed enough diversity that it shouldn’t have been too predictable on Saturday.

“I think the other day we went from spread to the jet read to two backs in the backfield to two tight ends and a fullback,” Hoke said. “We hit all the buttons.”

But for two weeks in a row, those buttons produced similar results for a team that has vastly underachieved based on early-season expectations. Here’s a closer look at a few of those statistics:

Nebraska’s season defensive average | Nebraska’s defense vs. Michigan

Yards per game: 374.9 yards | 175 yards

Yards per play: 5.4 yards | 2.8 yards

First downs per game: 21 | 13

Percent of rushes for 0 or negative yards: 26.8 percent | 44 percent

Percent of plays for 0 or negative yards: 35.7 percent | 34 percent

Percent of rushes gaining 5 or more yards: 38.3 percent | 11 percent

Percent of plays gaining 5 or more yards: 40.2 percent | 32 percent

Percent of plays gaining a first down or TD: 29.6 percent | 22 percent

Average yards gained per offensive drive: 28 yards | 13.9 yards

Drives of three plays or fewer: 4.9 per game | 6

Of note from those numbers:

  • Michigan had more plays for 0 or negative yardage than it did for five or more yards.

  • Michigan's 2.8 yards per play takes in to account the sack and fumbled snap yardage. However, if those statistics weren’t included, the Wolverines would’ve accounted for 3.6 yards per play.

  • Fitzgerald Toussaint accounted for the most 0 or negative yardage rushes (five), but Gardner wasn’t far behind with four.

  • On Michigan’s 13 drives, three never gained positive yardage and eight didn’t go for more than five yards.

Even with those stats, Hoke said he believes in this team and its offense. In both games, the Wolverines were able to put together at least one solid drive, but it was the inconsistency and negative plays that eventually got the better of Michigan.

But now, with three regular-season games left and a bowl-eligible team, Hoke has changed his tune from winning the Big Ten championship to winning 10 games. He thinks that’s possible because of his players.

“The attitude. How they go to work,” Hoke said. “They’re competitive. They’re physical. If you have guys who would duck or shy away, then I’d be really concerned. But these guys, they compete with each other.”