When he wakes up tomorrow morning (assuming he can sleep), Brady Hoke will find himself at the end of a long journey back to the Michigan Stadium sidelines. After six years as the head man at his alma mater Ball State and a two-year stint at San Diego State, Hoke returns to the University of Michigan, this time as head coach. Hoke spent eight seasons as an assistant under Lloyd Carr coaching the defensive line. His return has sparked hope (and a slew of puns) in the Michigan fanbase, despite his hiring coming with much scrutiny and surprise.
Athletic director David Brandon selected Hoke to lead the program after bigger and flashier names like Harbaugh and Miles were bandied about. While his name might not carry the weight that many feel the head coach at Michigan should, Hoke could prove to be exactly the type of coach needed to lead Michigan away from the disappointment the last three years have brought.
Along with Hoke comes new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Most recently the DC for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, Mattison brings tremendous experience and respect to Michigan. His mission is to turn around the worst defense in the history of Michigan football. As important as it will be for Hoke to create a new atmosphere of winning and toughness, it will be impossible to do so without changing up a defense that gave up single game totals of 41, 48, 52 and 65 points last season.
Senior nose tackle Mike Martin will lead the defense as it heads to the 4-3 after a disastrous attempt at the 3-3-5. The defensive line is the most talented group on the defense, as Martin teams with senior Ryan Van Bergen and junior Craig Roh. After moving back to rush end from LB, Roh is primed for the breakout season Wolverine fans have been waiting for. Redshirt junior Kenny Demens came on strong after (finally) replacing Obi Ezeh at MLB halfway through the season last year, and has the potential to be an All Big-10 performer. The secondary is still the defense’s biggest weakness, but they at least now have a some experience and a healthy Troy Woolfolk.
While the change in defensive philosophy should have a positive effect on the Michigan defense, the change in the Michigan offense might be the most intriguing storyline heading into tomorrows game. For the first time in four years, Wolverine fans head into the opener not only confident in the starting quarterback, but also knowing who it will be. The electrifying Denard Robinson returns after smashing team and NCAA records left and right, as well as up the middle. Robinson ran Rich Rodriguez’ s spread attack to the tune of nearly 4,300 total yards and 32 total touchdowns. It remains to be seen how Robinson can operate in new OC Al Borges’ pro-style offense. While Borges will surely utilize Robinson’s unique talents, we may also see more of Robinson under center and a power running game. While Robinson’s stats might not approach the video game numbers they did last season, the new offense should keep Robinson healthier and as dangerous as ever.
Michigan’s first five games of the season all take place at the Big House. In fact, UofM only leaves the state once in its first eight games, traveling to Northwestern on October 8th. The friendly schedule should have the Wolverines starting out strong and leaving fans confident about the start of the Hoke era. Michigan has started fast each of the past two seasons only to fade down the stretch. Road games at Iowa and Illinois and home dates against newcomer Nebraska and hated Ohio State will decide if Michigan’s season is ultimately a success.
The Wolverines kickoff their season tomorrow against Western Michigan University at 3:30 PM.