Michigan’s offense is ‘frustrating’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — There is little positive to say about the Michigan offense, aside from the fact it can outgain teams even in losses.

For the second time this season, Michigan had more total yards than its opponent in a losing cause, but also for the second time this season the Wolverines failed to reach the red zone and failed to score an offensive touchdown.

Michigan is 2-2 and reeling after a 26-10 loss at home to Utah in a weather-delayed game that didn’t end until after 9 o’clock Saturday night. Michigan’s only touchdown came on an interception return by Willie Henry. The Wolverines also outgained Notre Dame in a 31-0 rout the second week of the season.

But turnovers have plagued this team. The Wolverines are minus-10 in turnovers and are ranked 124th — tied for last — nationally in turnover margin. Starting quarterback Devin Gardner threw two more interceptions against Utah and was pulled after the second with just less than 11 minutes to play and replaced by backup Shane Morris. Morris also threw an interception and had a fumble. Gardner has thrown six interceptions this season.

As far as interceptions are concerned, Michigan is ranked No. 121.

Still, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who fired offensive coordinator Al Borges after last year’s 7-6 season and replaced him with Doug Nussmeier, said after the Utah loss that he doesn’t see the need to completely retool the offense.

“I don’t think there has to be an overhaul,” Hoke said. “Our execution, the little things we need to do, again, that needs to start here (with coaching). We’ve got to do a better job with that part of it. I have a lot of faith in those guys who are out there on the field.”

Michigan’s offensive line has remained intact since the second game of the season. But the Wolverines allowed four sacks against Utah and are ranked 83rd of 125 teams in tackles for loss allowed.

Center Jack Miller echoed his coach’s sentiments that Michigan’s improvement is predicated on taking care of the “little things.” But not being able to get into the red zone is a substantial problem.

“It’s frustrating,” Miller said after Michigan outgained Utah, 308-286. “We’re moving the ball, we’re just not getting into the end zone. Last year we were struggling to move the ball at all and possess the ball. We rushed for more yards and passed for more yards, which wasn’t happening last year. It’s a different type of problem, I think, but one that needs to be fixed nonetheless.

“I don’t know if I have all the answers. The thing we know we can do is go to work every day and practice hard and prepare the best we can. If we do that, we let the chips fall where they may and see what happens. We’re just focused on doing our best and hopefully those things will start to piece together for us. I think there’s a lot of potential on this team, and there’s a lot of season left and guys haven’t lost faith at all.”

But will this team move forward with Gardner, a fifth-year senior, leading the way at quarterback?

The turnover issues looks eerily similar to last year’s Michigan totals after four games. A year ago at this point, Michigan had nine interceptions and three fumbles. This year through four games, Michigan has eight interceptions and four fumbles.

There’s a new coordinator in town, but so far, a lot of the same issues exist — turnovers, inconsistent quarterback play, an inconsistent run game and mediocre line play. And Michigan is ranked 90th nationally in scoring.

The quarterback play has been so inconsistent, there could be a change for Michigan’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Hoke, after the Wolverines’ lopsided loss at Notre Dame, quickly backed Gardner despite his second-half turnover issues. But after the Wolverines lost 26-10 against Utah at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, he left open the quarterback situation.

When asked what the plan is moving forward Hoke was noncommittal.

Gardner was 14-of-26 for 148 yards and had two interceptions and took three sacks against Utah. For the season, he has six interceptions and a fumble. Backup Shane Morris was 4-of-13 and had an interception and fumble.

“No. 1, I think it’s way too early for me to assess that until Doug and myself look at the tape. One thing I can tell you, sometimes it’s good for the guy to come out and just watch and see what he can see from the sideline and look at rotations or coverages.

“Look, there’s not going to be any (quarterback) answers for that tonight. We will compete and challenge like we have every day, and we will have a starting quarterback against Minnesota.”

Miller said Gardner, who threw down his helmet in anger after the second interception, gave Morris encouragement as he went into the game as his replacement.

“When Devin got pulled and I saw him look at Shane and say, ‘OK, let’s go,’ that’s a (credit) to Devin and what kind of guy and what kind of teammate he is,” Miller said. “He’s a competitor. I’m sure he didn’t want to get pulled and I’m sure he’s not thrilled with what happened out there today, but he kept his head up and was Shane’s biggest fan.”

Hoke reiterated, when asked if there could be a quarterback change, that Gardner and Morris will “compete and challenge” this week.

“I said we will have a quarterback for the Minnesota game, and we’ll assess where we’re at right now and we’ll compete and challenge all week,” Hoke said. “We’ll see what happens. I think that’s the best way to put it.”