Michigan takes step back under Hoke, finishing 7-6

Michigan has taken a step back for a second straight season

under coach Brady Hoke.

The Wolverines were defeated by Kansas State 31-14 Saturday

night in the Buffalo Wings Bowl, losing their sixth game in an

eight-game stretch that left them barely over .500 and dropped

their all-time winning percentage to second in college football

behind Notre Dame.

After Hoke won eight games last year and 11 in his debut season

with the storied program in 2011, the coach, his staff and players

will have a lot of reasons to be motivated to bounce back next

year.

”I think this team is going to be very hungry,” Hoke said in

Tempe, Ariz.

Michigan (7-6) started the season with five consecutive wins,

including over the Fighting Irish and Minnesota, before its

problems became too much to overcome.

The Wolverines failed to open holes for running backs, to

protect quarterback Devin Gardner or to consistently make stops on

defense.

Gardner ended up getting hurt in the last game of the regular

season, a one-point loss to rival Ohio State, and was ruled out

against Kansas State because of a toe injury.

Freshman Shane Morris became the first Michigan quarterback to

make his starting debut in the postseason. Morris was 24 of 38 for

196 yards with an interception, passing more than planned because

the Wildcats jumped out to a 21-6 lead in the first half.

Jeremy Gallon broke the program’s single-season record for yards

receiving with 1,373, surpassing Braylon Edwards mark set in

2004.

”The records right now don’t mean anything without a win,”

Gallon said after the game.

Michigan won just twice – in three overtimes at Northwestern and

in a 63-47 shootout against Indiana – after its 5-0 start.

Next year, the Wolverines will be without offensive tackles,

Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Gallon and running back

Fitzgerald Toussaint. Defensive tackles Jibreel Black and Quinton

Washington, safeties Thomas Gordon and Courtney Avery and kicker

Brendan Gibbons are also out of eligibility.

This season, Michigan began ranked No. 17 and rose to No. 11

during its undefeated start.

Gardner accounted for a school-record matching five touchdowns –

for the first of two times this season – in a 33-21 win over the

Fighting Irish. The first of many signs of trouble for the team

followed the next week when the Wolverines needed a goal-line stand

to beat Akron.

The Wolverines dropped out of The Associated Press poll on Nov.

3 after a 29-6 loss at Michigan State, their fifth setback in six

years against the rival Spartans. Michigan finished fifth in the

six-team Legends Division, extending its Big Ten title drought that

dates to 2004.

Michigan’s top receiving option next season will be Devin

Funchess, whose 748 yards receiving set a single-season school

record for a tight end. Derrick Green, one of the young running

backs who got a chance to play late in the year, will be back as a

sophomore behind an offensive line that needs to grow up fast.

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Frank Clark,

linebackers Jake Ryan and James Ross along with cornerbacks Blake

Countess and Raymon Taylor will return to help a defense that has a

lot of room for improvement.

The Wolverines flopped in their first December bowl game since

2005 after a surprisingly solid showing against then-No. 3 Ohio

State in the last game of the regular season. They lost 42-41 to

the heavily favored Buckeyes, failing to convert on a 2-point

conversion with 32 seconds left.

Against Kansas State, the Wolverines found out how much they

relied on Gardner because a relatively meaningless TD with 1:15

left avoided their lowest-scoring bowl game in nearly four

decades.

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