What was Brady Hoke thinking?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see the Alabama-Michigan game last Saturday night in person at Cowboys Stadium. Here’s the view from our luxury box, and yes, the stadium is as impressive as you’ve heard. Jerry Jones has done at least one thing right in the last 15 years.

As an Ohio State fan, I wasn’t very thrilled about the match-up, though of course these are two of the most storied programs in college football. Nick Saban has Alabama at the top of the mountain, while Brady Hoke is trying to rescue Michigan from the RichRod debacle.

Michigan fans were thrilled with last year’s 11-2 record, but many of them and the “experts” around the country were a little too giddy about Michigan’s prospects for this season. Michigan didn’t beat a top 15 team last year, so that record wasn’t as impressive as it looked.

That said, the team’s performance on Saturday was pathetic, and frankly I blame the coaching staff. Sure, Alabama is clearly the better team, but Brady Hoke has Denard Robinson, and he’s the kind of player that can change a college football game in seconds with his explosiveness.

Last year I wrote about Michigan’s dilemma with Denard Robinson. Brady Hoke wanted to run a pro-style offense, but he had one of the best running quarterbacks in the country. Well, Hoke tried to have it both ways for a while, but on Saturday he and his staff called plays as if they had Tom Brady under center instead of Robinson. The result was ugly with incompletions and brutal interceptions. Hoke specifically avoided Robinson’s best play – sending the receivers deep and then tucking the ball and running.

We’ll see if Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges realize they blew it with the game plan. Hoke likes to run his mouth, and he’s gotten plenty of support following RichRod, posting 11 wins and then beating Ohio State. But now Urban Meyer is in Columbus, and he seems to know how to use his dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller. Hoke’s support in Michigan will start to whither if he can’t find a way to unleash Robinson and starts losing to his Big Ten rivals.

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Michigan should realize it’s a single-wing team, which is a good thing

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Through the first three games of this season, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has tried at times to implement the more pro-style offense that he eventually wants to run in Ann Arbor. When that hasn’t worked — and that’s often — he’s trashed that and gone to a simplified version of Rich Rodriguez’s offense, aka the “Give the Ball to Denard” offense.

Denard Robinson as a runner might be the most dangerous weapon in college football. As a drop-back passer in a pro-style set, he’s not even in the top half of quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

Borges is realizing this, and in recent weeks has gone to the GTBTD offense quicker than he did in, say, the Notre Dame game. Against the Irish, Borges waited until the second half, and had it not been for horrendous fundamental coverage skills by the Notre Dame defensive backs, it would have been too late. Unleashing Denard in the shotgun not only allows him to throw, but also forces single coverage on the outside, which is Michigan’s only chance to get any kind of passing game, because Robinson isn’t going to read a defense effectively.

The challenge going forward, however, is finding a way to make this work during the Big Ten season. A year ago, the better Big Ten defenses figured out how to shut down Robinson, or at least slow him down enough to force Michigan into uncomfortable situations. If Borges tries to go pro-set, Michigan might not win a Big Ten game, and I’m not exaggerating. If he goes simply GTBTD, the Wolverines are probably going to run into the same problems eventually, but it’s easily their best chance at winning games.

Some Michigan fans have brought up using Robinson as a running back and trying out Devin Gardner, a sophomore who was a highly-regarded recruit, at quarterback. That won’t work either, because part of what makes Robinson so dangerous is the fact that you still have to cover receivers down the field when the ball’s in his hands. That goes out the window if you’re just handing off to him. He’s also not big enough to handle the between the tackles pounding that a running back.

So how about the single wing? It’s a pretty simple offense, and it’s really not that far from what Michigan does now. The misdirection keeps defenses from keying on Robinson, and he still has the threat of throwing downfield. Also, nobody plays against the single wing, because nobody runs it. That gives Michigan, and maybe the most dangerous player in the country, the same advantage the service academies and other option teams have: forcing teams to prepare in one week for an offense they’ve never seen before.

I understand that Michigan is eventually going to be closer to the kind of smash-mouth type football team that we saw under Lloyd Carr and Bo Schembechler, but if it wants to win games and take advantage of its best asset this year and next, it’s going to have forget about that.

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