Big Ten notes: Michigan in need of some fixing

Big Ten notes: Michigan in need of some fixing
September 25, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

The near-loss against Akron was shocking. The near-loss at Conncecticut was concerning.

Michigan has some explaining to do following back-to-back worrisome performances against opponents of a significantly lower caliber, a pair of games that could have easily wound up in the loss column after a dominant win against Notre Dame.

"I thought we played hard for 60 minutes, I don't know if we played well," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches conference call, elaborating on the latest game vs. UConn. "Obviously, we've got a good week for us to be on a bye. When you look at some of the issues we need to shore up, when you look at turnovers, look at giving up big plays, those kind of things. And those are things that when you get into Big Ten play will get you beat. So we've got to do a better job as coaches, first, in making sure our message is crystal clear in how we want to play at Michigan."

[MORE: Beckman, Illini look to build off productive bye week]

The headaches afflicting the maize-and-blue-clad throngs stem mostly from the recent play of quarterback Devin Gardner, the QB with the No. 98 who had a game for the ages against the Fighting Irish. Now he's thrown five interceptions in two weeks and threw for only 111 yards against UConn.

Hoke is calling it a funk.

"I talked to him (Monday) and talked to him about how he feels and all that," Hoke said. "I think any time that you make some mistakes that you know you can't make or you know you have to do a better job with. I don't know if his confidence — because he's a pretty confident guy — was shaken. I think he felt more comfortable running the ball near the end of the game than he did throwing it, so that may have been something. At the same time, he's way too intelligent not to work his way out of whatever funk he may be in.

"I would think so (that it's just a funk). He's pretty confident, as you know. It's, fundamentally, some of the footwork issues that we have to make sure we're doing a good job with. And at the same time, it's him getting back in the saddle a little bit and stepping up in the pocket a little more and throwing the football."

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The red flags are popping up all over the place in Ann Arbor, but take a deep breath and realize that Gardner has 12 total touchdowns this season. And then there's the most important state, which Hoke was happy to remind everyone of: The Wolverines are still undefeated.

"It's not like we're abandoning ship or sinking. We are 4-0, which there's a lot of teams in the country who aren't."

Toughness expected in Floyd of Rosedale fight

Saturday will mark the 107th meeting between the Iowa and Minnesota football teams — the 78th battle for the Floyd of Rosedale, this lovely statue of a pig — and the way things are going this season, it could resemble one of those early matchups.

That's not to say that the Hawkeyes and Gophers will have trouble putting points on the board, but they'll likely be doing it with a heavy focus on the running game.

Iowa running back Mark Weisman is getting a heavy workload so far this season, and he ranks sixth in the country (second in the Big Ten) with 468 rushing yards. Meanwhile, as a team, Minnesota has the fourth-most rushing yards in the country (second in the Big Ten) with 1,129.

[MORE: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4]

It's why both coaches are expecting a hard-nosed, hard-fought game in the trenches come Saturday. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill praised Iowa's toughness and actually went as far as saying that he's trying to emulate the Hawkeyes' style.

"I don't think there'll be any question that it's physical," Kill said Tuesday. "They, physically, whipped our butt a year ago. I think if you look at an Iowa team, the highest compliment I can give — I think I was at Southern Illinois and I sent our staff there to see how they practiced because, you put their film on, technically they're as good as anyone in college football with hand placement, moving their feet, not making mental errors. They don't beat themselves, and they play physical, downhill football. That's really what we'd like to be. They really put it on us last year physically, so hopefully we've done our summer work and got stronger and better.

"We'll find out."

Michigan State set on a QB, or are they?

The quarterbacking situation at Michigan State started the season in disastrous fashion. Coach Mark Dantonio couldn't land on a starter out of camp, and he shuffled three guys in and out of the first couple games of the season.

But then Connor Cook established himself against FCS opponent Youngstown State — the lone good game the Spartans have had offensively so far — and played almost all of Saturday's loss at Notre Dame. But not all of it.

Dantonio subbed in Andrew Maxwell for the Spartans' final drive of the game — and Maxwell looked quite poor in that series — fueling only more head scratching over what's happening under center in East Lansing.

[RELATED: Not pretty, but Northwestern stays undefeated]

Tuesday, Dantonio spoke in praise of Cook, as if that final series vs. Notre Dame — with the Spartans trailing by only four — meant little to nothing.

"I think we're comfortable with Connor going forward," Dantonio said. "I think he did some good things, he obviously did some good things. He played 58 minutes of the game, and he was our quarterback of choice going into the game and he did some good things, did a lot of good things.

"We always look at people, how they mature, as practice continues, as the season continues, whether it's a younger player or an older player. We evaluate things as they come. I think that's the fair thing to do in regards to all the positions. Right now, as I see it, Connor Cook is our quarterback, and he's played well enough to continue to play that position, to be in that position as the starting quarterback."