Brendan Gibbons

Dept. of Education coming to Michigan for review of sexual misconduct policy

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The U.S. Department of Education is making its way to the University of Michigan to review the timeline from the investigation into the response to the Brendan Gibbons sexual misconduct incident. Gibbons was expelled in December although he was never charged by police because the alleged victim chose to seek punishment through the university’s administrative offices.

Michigan started using a new sexual misconduct policy in 2011 but it did not become the standard until last August. This is the likely explanation for why Gibbons, a kicker for the Wolverines, was allowed to remain on the football team and as a member of the university until last December, as the investigation had been going on for close to a year. According to a MLive.com report, the university made a request to Ann Arbor police for documents related to the Gibbons case in October. He was expelled from the university two months later. The DOE began to inquire about the handling of the case back in February, according to a previous report.

This is similar to the recent investigation news relating to Florida State’s handling of the Jameis Winston investigation. Last week it was reported the Department of Education was heading to Tallahassee to review all cases of sexual misconduct at the university, and not just the Winston case. It is believed the DOE will compare and contrast how Florida State responded to the Winston allegations with other incidents not linked to student-athletes.

Howard and Hutchinson have hope for Hoke

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Despite seeing their school take steps back in total wins each of the past couple of seasons, a couple of notable Michigan alums are coming to protect the back of Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Desmond Howard and Steve Hutchinson have each spoken out in support of the current Wolverines head coach, rejecting the idea Hoke may be on a hot seat in Ann Arbor.

“I think they’re headed in the right direction, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Coach Hoke,” Howard said in a story by MLive.com while making the rounds at the Super Bowl. Howard and Hutchinson are each among the many football personalities floating around New Jersey and New York this week. “Sometimes you got to take your lumps before you get to the top of the mountain. I don’t think people understand that. I’m good with it.”

Michigan had the Big Ten’s top-ranked offense in 2010 but the Wolverines have slipped in Big Ten total offensive ranking each season since, ending the 2013 season ranked 10th in the 12-team Big Ten in total offense. Howard warns any who suggest Hoke should be on a short leash that he has done some good things since arriving as the head coach to succeed Rich Rodriguez.

“Michigan won a BCS (game) championship for you lately, don’t forget about that,” Howard said, referring to the 2011 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech, a game neither team probably should have been in anyway.

Howard’s words of encouragement were echoed by Hutchinson.

“He has my support 100 percent,” Hutchinson said to MLive.com. “I don’t think you can put him on the hot seat. I think anytime you don’t get the results right off the bat, that phrase ‘hot seat’ comes up. A lot of times I know where it comes from, but I don’t think it’s justified here. People need to be patient and know we’re headed in the right direction.”

Hoke and Michigan have come under fire this week with the report of kicker Brendan Gibbons dismissal from the university and how it was addressed, or rather not addressed, by Hoke and the athletics department. That issue was not addressed by either former Wolverine, at least not in the MLive story.

Michigan gave kicker the boot for 2009 sexual misconduct violation in December

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Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons was separated, or expelled, from the University of Michigan on December 20, 2013 as a result of an investigation in to an alleged sexual misconduct incident from 2009. This may shed some light on his status on the football team in the final few games of the 2013 season, but it also raises some others.

According to a report by Michigan Daily, revised university policies related to sexual misconduct on campus led to review of various allegations, including the case regarding Gibbons that had previously run its course. This ultimately led to the school’s decision to remove Gibbons from the university last December.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was named the head coach in Ann arbor after the Gibbons investigation had run its course during the Rich Rodriguez era. As far as he was concerned, Gibbons was eligible and available to play for the Wolverines without question. His handling of the re-opened investigation though is raising some questions from Michigan fans. If Hoke had been made aware of the re-opened investigation, which is a somewhat safe assumption, he certainly made no attempts to address it with the media.

On December 23, three days after the decision to remove Gibbons from the university was made official, Hoke only mentioned that his kicker did not travel with the team to Tempe, Arizona for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. The issue shared by Hoke was Gibbons was dealing with a family matter. If Gibbons had been separated from the university, Hoke would have likely been made aware of that decision and appears to have hidden that piece of information when given an opportunity to address it. A simple violation of team rules is all that would have been needed and is the typical coach explanation when a player is in some sort of trouble. This certainly would have qualified as a violation of team rules.

Questions about Hoke’s handling of Gibbons during the regular season also are now fair to question given the information provided now. In the regular season finale against rival Ohio State, on November 30, Gibbons sat out of the game due to what was reported as a muscle injury. The injury supposedly happened earlier in the week. Given the timing, it is possible the university re-opened their investigation in to the Gibbons sexual misconduct case. Under those circumstances it is fairly typical to have a player removed from the team until the investigation comes to a conclusion.

We do not know for sure what exactly Hoke knew or was told, but if the head coach was kept out of the loop on this sort of case it is fair to ask why.

Penn State hands Michigan first loss in fourth overtime

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I had to rewrite this game story a few times. You see, Michigan had a ten point lead midway through the fourth quarter and Penn State’s offense was looking to be out of steam. But then, almost out of nowhere it seemed, Penn State pulled an 80-yard touchdown drive with 50 seconds to play in regulation with no timeouts to use. The score tied the game at 34-34 but Michigan still had a chance to sneak out of State College with a win, but a 52-yard attempt by Brendan Gibbons in the final seconds of the game fell short, which ended up sending the game in to overtime. Things really started to get crazy after that.

Penn State served Michigan their first loss of the season, with Bill Belton scoring the game-winning touchdown in the fourth overtime for a 43-40 victory that 107,000 fans will not soon forget. Belton’s touchdown was the only time in four overtimes the ball crossed a goal line. Michigan had their chances to secure another tight victory this season, but a mixture of special teams failures and missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Wolverines.

In the first overtime Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed a 40-yard attempt, but Michigan was unable to capitalize because the Nittany Lions special teams unit blocked a 40-yard attempt set up by conservative play calling. Michigan got as close as the eight yard line to open the second overtime, setting Gibbons up for a 25-yard field goal. Penn State would answer with a 36-yard kick from Ficken to force a third overtime.

The third overtime started ominously for Penn State when Allen Robinson fumbled the first play of the third overtime. On an end-around play, Robinson never gained control of a handoff from Penn State’s freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The ball dropped loose in the back field and Michigan defensive lineman Frank Clark pounced on the ball to turn the game over to Michigan’s offense with a golden opportunity to walk out of Beaver Stadium with their first win against the Nittany Lions since 2007. But from 33 yards back, Gibbons had his kick fly left of the goal post despite being set up in the middle of the field. Yes, this game would need a fourth overtime and it was becoming clear this one was not going to be decided by special teams.

the fourth overtime did not go well for Michigan’s offense. Two incomplete passes by Devin Gardner failed to move the football forward, and a delay of game put Michigan back on the 30-yard line. A seven-yard run by Gardner set Gibbons up for a 40-yard attempt, which was good for a 40-37 lead before Penn State got their chance. Penn State relied on the running game to start moving the football forward, with Belton carrying the load. Belton had taken over in the backfield as the primary rusher after Zach Zwinak‘s struggles became a problem. Belton carried the football three times to put Penn State in a fourth and one. Rather than kick and move to a fifth overtime, Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien kept his offense on the field to pick up the first down. It worked, with Belton showing patience to pick up a couple of extra yards. After a pass interference call against Michigan in the end zone gave Penn State a free first down, Belton cashed in with a run to the left side of the field and nothing but open room from two yards out. The touchdown by Belton clinched the win for Penn State and sent Michigan home regretting giving Penn State a shot at this one.

Michigan’s defense had done a good job in the second half, which started with a fumble returned for a touchdown on Penn State’s first play of the second half. The return cut Penn State’s lead to 21-17 and the Wolverines took a 27-24 lead in to the fourth quarter. A 37-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to tightend Devin Funchess caught Penn State without a safety on the field and a linebacker chasing down field well out of position. It was a play like that which seemed to show how Penn State’s depth issues were starting to hurt them. But this Penn State team found a way to bounce back when the going got tough, something that eluded them a week ago in Bloomington, Indiana. Penn State gets all sorts of credit for coming back the way they did time and time again, but there are some real concerns about Michigan going forward now.

Michigan once again struggled in a game they probably should have won without much of a problem. The road woes continued for Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, and now the Wolverines are left scratching their heads instead of celebrating a 6-0 start. Can Michigan still come back and make a run for Indianapolis, the site of the Big Ten championship game? Absolutely, because nobody in the Big Ten’s Legends Division is running away with anything. Northwestern lost to Wisconsin and Michigan still has games against the Wildcats, Michigan State and Nebraska ahead of them before getting to Ohio State.