(Author's note: For this week's Q&A, I traded e-mails with Justin Potts of the Michigan blog Maize & Go Blue. You can find my answers to his questions here.)
1) Michigan, like Miami, had way too many costly turnovers last week. How much of that was on Devin Gardner as opposed to the Notre Dame defense, and do you think there's a chance he'll make those mistakes again Saturday?
Devin Gardner is an interesting conundrum. He has had some very good performances and some very bad performances. The hope entering this season was that he had fixed some of his technique issues that plagued him last season, and much was made about the fact that new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier taught him how to read defenses, something he didn't learn under Al Borges. He looked phenomenal against Appalachian State in Week 1, making the right reads, making accurate throws, and checking into better plays. But then again, the level of competition had a lot to do with that.
That said, there's no reason he shouldn't have had more success against Notre Dame than he did. Rice had a lot of success through the air against ND in Week 1 and Gardner did look good on the first couple drives last Saturday. But those drives resulted in missed field goals and Michigan fell behind. The turnovers all came in the second half when Michigan's offense was in a position that fed right into Notre Dame's defense and Gardner was forced to take some chances. The interception on Michigan's first drive of the second half was Gardner's first interception in his last 172 throws, dating back to Nov. 3 last season against Michigan State. There were FIVE games in between that he didn't throw a pick.
So what will we see this Saturday? Given that Miami is allowing 230 passing yards per game so far, I would expect a performance closer to Week 1. However, Gardner's main weapon, Devin Funchess, injured his ankle late in the fourth quarter last week and rumors are going around that he's still in a walking boot. If he can't go, that could change things a bit. Gardner hasn't found consistency with any of his other receivers yet, but the good news is he gets tight end Jake Butt back from an ACL injury he suffered in the spring.
Gardner is at his worst when pressured and the jury is still out on Michigan's offensive line. Miami has recorded seven sacks in the first two games, so if they can get some pressure on Gardner, they can force him to make mistakes. But if not, and if Funchess plays, I don't see anyone that can stop him.
2) What is the Wolverines' biggest question mark going into week 3?
I would say right now the biggest question mark is injuries. Michigan was down linebacker Desmond Morgan and super freshman nickelback Jabrill Peppers heading into the Notre Dame game and also lost cornerback Raymon Taylor in the first half, in addition to Funchess late in the game. Morgan is likely out 4-6 weeks, but no one knows about Peppers and Taylor. Hoke won't talk about injuries, which infuriates the beat writers. There's a chance both could be back this week, but they could just as likely be out. That's three of 11 opening day starters on defense, and it's somewhat concerning given the way Everett Golson picked apart the secondary last week and the passing numbers Miami has put up so far this season.
3) The Michigan offense put up 52 points against Appalachian State and zero against Notre Dame. Which one is closer to the "real" offense, and why?
I'm going to cop out and say the answer lies somewhere in between. Like last year, it will put up big numbers against bad defenses and struggle against good ones. Until the offensive line improves -- I do think it is slightly improved from last year -- and can pave the way for a good running game, Michigan's offense will struggle against the Michigan States of the world.
Hoke and Nussmeier said this week that the offense is still a work in progress. Let's not forget last week was just the second game in a new offense. Michigan fans don't want to hear that because they feel that in Hoke's fourth season there shouldn't be these kinds of issues, but that's the reality right now. It's also very young with the exception of Gardner. The hope is that the offense will continue to evolve throughout the season as things sink in, but it's probably about a 30- to 32-point per game offense when all is said and done.
4) Do you think Brady Hoke has the personnel in place to run his preferred game plan now, or is he still hampered by Rich Rodriguez's recruiting philosophy?
That's the million dollar question. I am still of the opinion that if Rodriguez had been given the support from day one and the time he would have built a very good team. For many reasons, it didn't work out, and the hiring of Hoke set that process back even more. Prior to Rodriguez, Michigan had always been a "big, lumbering Big Ten team" but Rodriguez spent three years recruiting for a completely different type of team, one built for his smaller, spread style. Hiring Hoke switched that back to the Michigan style of old, but that required transforming the roster. Hoke has now had three recruiting classes, which means this is the first season he has had his recruits -- the ones recruited for his style of play -- approaching upperclassmen status (juniors/redshirt sophomores).
Of Rodriguez's last full class and the 2011 class that was mostly filled by Rodriguez before Hoke was hired three weeks before signing day, only 17 of 46 commits are still on the team. That's 29 (63 percent) would-be fourth- and fifth-year seniors that should make up the backbone and leadership of the team that are no longer on the team. And people wonder why the team has struggled on the road and in close games the past couple of years.
That's the cliff's notes version, but Hoke is just now starting to get his pieces in place. I'd say they're still a year away from making noise because it all comes down to experience and leadership. Yes, freshmen can have great success in college football, but when they're surrounded by veterans. When you've got a team full of underclassmen you're going to have trouble winning on the road and winning close games. Unfortunately this season, all three of Michigan's rivals are on the road -- Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Next season, a whole class of Hoke's recruits will be upperclassmen with experience, Notre Dame drops off the schedule, and Michigan State and Ohio State both come to Ann Arbor. In addition, Nussmeier's offense will be much more entrenched than it is now. Hopefully, as I said above, it will improve as this season goes on, and we can gain some momentum heading into next season.
5) What's your prediction and why?
This is a very important game to see how Michigan responds from the Notre Dame loss. Last season, Michigan struggled mightily with Akron and UConn after a huge win over Notre Dame. The team admitted it bought into some of the hype at the time -- again, a product of a lack of leadership -- and precipitated a huge letdown against Akron, which then stripped them of all confidence. Now, it faces the opposite: trying to bounce back from being humiliated by its rival. Will they let Notre Dame beat them twice or will they respond? I think we'll see the latter.
Miami's offense will be too one-dimensional to be able to beat Michigan. Andrew Hendrix will probably make a couple of big plays over the Michigan secondary, but it won't be enough to be a serious threat. Michigan's offense will move the ball much more efficiently than it did last week with a balanced performance and a couple of touchdowns to Funchess.
Michigan 42 - Miami 17