ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- So this is where the buck stops. Here, with Brady Hoke.
Every problem, every failure, every struggle of this Michigan football team ... it lies with him.
That’s what he made perfectly clear Saturday night following the Wolverines’ 17-13 loss to Nebraska, as he professed nine times in a 10-minute news conference that he needs to coach better.
It was Michigan’s third loss in four games, and the defeat has taken from the Wolverines what little hope they had to contend for a Big Ten title -- what Hoke has set as his standard of success at Michigan.
His third year in maize and blue. His third season failed. And this game showed all of the struggles the Wolverines have had over that period.
The offensive line continued its poor play, yielding seven sacks for the second week in a row.
That’s not on the six guys who filtered through the offensive line. Or the All-America left tackle. Or offensive-line coach Darrell Funk.
I’ve got to do a better job coaching, it looks like.
And then there was the fact it seemed like whatever game-to-game or in-game adjustments the Wolverines had made were failing miserably, as the offensive game plan never really gained momentum.
I thought there were a number of things I've got to do a better job coaching the kids on.
It was a chance to make something happen. And just as quickly, it was over.
Gardner stood on the 35-yard line in shock. Less than a minute remaining, and he’d have to watch the game from the sidelines knowing that he and the rest of his teammates had lost for the first time at Michigan Stadium during Hoke’s tenure.
But no, that loss wasn’t on Gardner and his teammates, was it?
Guys were working, guys were fighting, guys were doing things -- did we do them well enough? No. That goes on me.
And then there was the run game, which finished with minus-21 yards. That’s not just Michigan bad, not just Big Ten bad. That’s historically bad.
From 2000-12, Michigan had just one game with negative rushing yardage (minus-5 against Oregon in 2003). And in the past five seasons, the only FBS team to go consecutive games with negative rushing yardage was Washington State, which did it last year en route to a 3-9 record.
Michigan’s minus-48 rushing yards last weekend against Michigan State and its minus-21 against Nebraska make the Wolverines the only FBS team in the past decade to record consecutive minus-20-yard games.
I’ve got to do a better job coaching those guys.
Someone needs to call bluff. Because it just doesn’t seem right. Several times this year, these coaches and players have professed that this is the greatest team sport on earth. Team sport.
So how then can all the blame from a 21-year-old quarterback and a rehabilitated running back and a defensive line that allowed 128 rushing yards and dozens of coaches and trainers fall completely on Hoke? Isn’t the blame collective?
At different points during the game, boos came from the fans. And they weren’t aimed toward Nebraska. For the first time during Hoke’s tenure, the Michigan fans booed Michigan.
Maybe some were aimed at Hoke in particular and others at Al Borges’ play calling. But in general, they were aimed at it all -- at the game plan, the failure of the players to execute, the un-Michigan-ness of it all, and maybe, yes, the coaching, too.
Did Hoke hear that?
“That’s the way things are,” he said.
No, the way things are is that this Michigan team -- which has preached about Big Ten championships and dreamed of bigger things -- is realizing how bad its youth and depth issues really are.
Fans are discovering that maybe that national title they dreamed of is still (very optimistically) a few years off. And everyone is discerning that all of the talk of these championships and toughness can only heal the wounds of losses for so long -- and Michigan has reached that point.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Wolverines have failed.
They've failed by taking themselves out of the Big Ten title race. That is not on Gardner or the offensive line or the defensive line. They weren’t the ones who made that the standard. That is on Hoke.
But the loss, put it on the team. Lose as a team, win as a team. The buck stops with Michigan, not its coach.
It is the team, the team, the team ... right?