Sunday September 21st, 2014

Michigan’s hopes for a win were already smothered in a wet blanket – then it began to pour. Crippled by an inept offense that through two games against Power Five opponents has yet to produce a touchdown, the Wolverines fell to Utah 26-10.

Starting quarterback Devin Gardner was pulled midway through the fourth quarter after completing just 14-of-27 passes for 148 yards with two interceptions. His replacement, sophomore Shane Morris promptly tossed a pick on his fourth attempt, the last play before the game was delayed for 144 minutes by lightning. By the time lightning struck, the Utes already led by 16, an insurmountable margin given Michigan’s lack of offensive momentum, and the soaked fans that filled in Michigan Stadium had little reason to wait out the storm.

With losses to Notre Dame and Utah sandwiched between victories over Appalachian State and Miami (OH), the Wolverines have yet to offer any reason to believe they are improved from last year’s 7-6 squad or the 8-5 team of the year before. That lack of progress explains why coach Brady Hoke’s job security rests somewhere between “slim” and “none.” Sure, realistically Michigan cannot win a strong Big Ten every year, but if the Wolverines prove to not even be able to compete during one of the conference’s worst years, it’s very hard to see Hoke returning for a fifth season.

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Michigan showed no ability to consistently move the ball, marching 50 yards for a field goal on the game’s opening drive before failing to put up any points on offense for the rest of the game. The Wolverines’ lone touchdown came when defensive tackle Willie Henry intercepted a screen pass and returned it seven yards to the end zone. In addition to Gardner’s ineffectiveness in the passing game, Michigan gained just 3.3 yards per carry for 118 yards on the ground.

The Wolverines wasted a strong defensive performance that held Utah to just 286 total yards. That defensive effort kept Michigan in the game; Henry’s pick-six tied the game at 10-10 midway in the second quarter, and the Utes did not score an offensive touchdown until early in the third quarter (Kaelin Clay scored Utah’s first touchdown on a 66-yard punt return in the second quarter).

Michigan hosts Minnesota next week to kick off its Big Ten campaign, but the schedule offers no favors to the Wolverines’ already beleaguered conference hopes as they must travel to both Michigan State and Ohio State. Gardner now has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns for the season (five), so perhaps Morris will see more time under center. He was thrown into a tough situation trailing against a stingy defense amid a downpour, so Michigan can hope his future results will prove more favorable. Hoke’s employment may depend on it, no matter how much athletic director Dave Brandon claims to support the embattled coach.

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