As Michigan was limping to the end of a dismal evening on the road in South Bend, Brady Hoke could have easily given some of his key players a rest with the game well in hand. He did not. Instead, Hoke sent out starting quarterback Devin Gardner and starting wide receiver Devin Funchess in the final minutes of a 31-0 blowout to finish off the game. Funchess was even put back into the game shortly after having to be helped off the field and not placing any weight on his ankle (he shook it off and seemed to be moving OK after getting to the sideline). But why would Hoke leave his starters in a no-win situation?
“He’s our quarterback,” Hoke said when asked about keeping Gardner in until the end of the game according to MLive.com. “Unless he somehow doesn’t come to work every day, doesn’t come to learn, all those things, (then) he’s our quarterback and we wanted to put points on the board.”
The same logic could be applied to Funchess and other starters as well. Gardner did not have a good night, which is somewhat obvious with a 31-0 score. Gardner completed 19 of his 32 pass attempts for 189 yards. He was intercepted three times. Funchess was on the receiving end of nine of Gardner’s passes, picking up 107 yards.
Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but maybe Hoke should have used that fourth quarter to give some other players a chance to put points on the scoreboard. The calls for a quarterback change may start to get a little louder with some clamoring for Shane Morris to get a chance under center just for the sake of seeing something different. Nobody would have given Hoke or any other player any extra grief for a change on the field, not when the score is 28-0 or 31-0. Hoke let his stubbornness get in the way. Would Michigan have felt that much better about their team had they scored three or seven points with Gardner leading the offense? Would there really be enough good to come out of that in the long run? There is no place for moral victories at this level.
The pressure is on Hoke to prove he is capable of leading Michigan to big wins. He has not done so since his first year on the job. In this day and age, that can cost a coach a job.