Ann Arbor is in a state of free fall
A year ago today, Michigan's fan base was still largely optimistic, hoping and praying that Brady Hoke's impressive ability to recruit would bring the Wolverines to the Promised Land within the next two years. Fast forward to November of 2013, and witness a fan base that is anything but optimistic.
The state of angst was very clear Saturday, with fans shaking their heads and booing loudly across the stadium as Devin Gardner dropped into the abyss time and time again. Not only is Michigan not where many pictured it would be, but it's actively regressing toward something many thought to be impossible not too long ago: a program with major holes that need ample time to be properly addressed.
The offense is sporadic at best; Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon and the rest of Michigan's capable skill players are all being dragged to the ocean floor by an awful interior offensive line that has been reshuffled more times than my music playlists. Defensively, the Wolverines don't have any organic pass rush and are inconsistent on the back end, often leading to big plays that were few and far between during the Kovacs-Mattison era.
Michigan's fans aren't pleased, and for good reason.
Coaching problems run deeper than Al Borges
This is painful to acknowledge, and it's sickening to think of when it comes to the long-term stability and advancement of the program. Al Borges still sticks out as the weakest link on the Michigan coaching staff, but offensive line coach Darrell Funk is making a strong case for the spot too. Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Ben Braden, Jack Miller, Kyle Bosch, Graham Glasgow, Chris Bryant and–damn, I'll stop there and come out and say that Funk has failed to implement any of Michigan's young interior maulers. Yes, these are inexperienced young players being thrown into the fire long before they're ready, but Michigan has yet to field an interior line that looks below average, let along competent. The argument to clean house on offense, or at least clean out Borges and Funk, grows stronger by the week.
Reputations aren't growing any stronger at Michigan's other coaching positions, either. Brady Hoke's recruiting prowess is being met with massive questions and complaints in the form of, "Where are all of these four-star recruits?!" Not even Greg Mattison, architect of a complete overhaul of a once-horrific defense, has escaped all criticisms, taking some of the blame for the front four's inability to put consistent pressure on defenses. It also doesn't help that the secondary still doesn't have four starters locked in.
How bad is it? Probably not as bad as many think. Borges and Funk may only have four games left as coaches on the Michigan football staff; Hoke and Mattison are reeling to fix major problems but are still far from on the hot seat.
Devin Gardner is being ruined by his offensive line
Some within the Michigan community truly believe that Devin Gardner has made strides in terms of ball security and pocket presence. Even if Gardner has made strides, who would truly be able to tell? He was sacked seven times for the second game in a row; he's so beat up that his ability to exit the pocket and make plays with his legs has been severely dampened. This all goes back to the inside of Michigan's offensive line, which can be exploited with simple stunts and blitzes.
Even more depressing to think about is the fact that Gardner's string of poor, turnover-prone games may have been a direct result of his knowing that the offensive line was going to be atrocious. Gardner got to see his line live before any of us, and we'll never know what this season would look like had Funk and Borges put a more reliable unit in front of him. It's hard not to feel for an embattled Devin Gardner.
Where to now? The answer to that question is long, complex and outside the scope of this article. We do know that Michigan's offensive coaching staff could be shaken up following the season, and it's also very clear that the offensive line could remain poor throughout all of the 2014 season.
The immediate future also looks depressing. Northwestern and Iowa will both pose stiff tests for the Wolverines, and Ohio State is all but guaranteed to run Michigan out of its own stadium just a few weeks from now. I'm hoping that Brady Hoke gives serious consideration to firing Funk and Borges, which would give us all more hope for the future.