By: Eric Thomas
What a beat down. The Michigan State defense was superb—they held Michigan without a touchdown in the Battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy and virtually guaranteeing them a second spot in the Big Ten Championship game. Mark Dantonio’s team embarrassed third year Head Coach Brady Hoke, leaving many Wolverine fans on Twitter and Facebook calling for his head. They may have a point.
There isn’t much doubt anymore. Michigan State is a better football team than Michigan. After today, there shouldn’t be any smack talk. Any Wolverine fan who pastes on a condescending smile and talks about “little brother” or “winningest program in history” is talking about a time long ago. The Montreal Canadiens won twenty four championships. The Detroit Lions won three championships in the 50s.
Mark Dantonio is the best football coach in Michigan. No doubt about it. The defense in the second half was mesmerizing, and the offense has looked better every week, even considering its inauspicious beginnings.
Michigan isn’t a dominant football school anymore; the Rich Rodriguez era now looks more like the beginning of a new era rather than the passing of a trend. The four-star recruits Brady Hoke brought to the team aren’t impacting yet. Mark Dantonio gets more out of his players and his team gets better over the course of the season. Hoke spent much of the game looking confused on the sideline, occasionally turning to clap at someone or something.
It’s been tantamount to treason to speak ill of Hoke, but acrimony has been building. Since the Connecticut game (maybe earlier…some say Ohio State last year) there’s some question about his ability to coach during games. Those calls will only grow louder after Dantonio’s halftime adjustments crushed the Wolverines.
It’s just not funny watching Brady Hoke anymore. At some point, he needs to start answering some questions. Why doesn’t he wear a headset during games? Take him at his word that he doesn’t need one, but how about he wears one to at least give the IMPRESSION that he has SOME control over what happens on the field? Would that be so hard? It doesn’t have to be plugged in, and he doesn’t have to have it over both ears. Think of it as the uniform.
Headset aside, Hoke arrived at Michigan with very low expectations and a fan base that was willing to be patient for once. Hoke had the distinction of not being Rich Rodriguez, and he was a member of Lloyd Carr’s staff. Good enough. But now that the fog from the spread option has cleared, is it fair to start asking the question again?
Wolverine fans have been awfully patient with Hoke, they tout his recruiting classes like they mean something (they don’t, btw, the players need to play well) and they’ve shrugged off his lack of headsets on the sideline. He did a lot to help himself by beating Ohio State in his first year, and by beating Michigan State last year. The clamor to get rid of him would be very loud had he not done those two things. This year, he’s lost to Michigan State and he’s facing a grim challenge against Urban Meyer.
So Michigan has to answer the question: Is this the school they want to be? Michigan State has dominated you. You’re one for six against a team you used to claim wasn’t “really a rival.” One of six; just let that number sink in for a while. You’re two for twelve against OSU. Michigan fans are often the first to pop off at the mouth, but it’s getting pathetic and sad now. You need to stop crowing and acting like you’re better than teams that routinely beat you. Michigan football used to be mighty, now you’re not.
If you don’t think this is a big deal, you haven’t been paying attention. Michigan fans embraced Hoke with a sigh of relief. In their eyes, the long dark night was over. The years of losing to both the Spartans and the Buckeyes were in the rearview, and you could return to the annual expectations of reaching and winning the Rose Bowl. This loss changes things. The Wolverines are now facing yet another season of losing two of the three rivalry games. You’re right back to where you started when you had Rich Rodriguez.
As bad as that beat-down was, the questions it raises make things a whole lot worse for supporters of the Maize and Blue.