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Posted on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

Face the facts: Michigan has not been a good road football team

By Kyle Meinke

In football, coaches are always looking forward to the next Saturday. It's part of their fabric to perpetually self-evaluate, to self-critique — to say you're not where you need to be, but you'll get there.

But there comes a point when you are what you are.

And, as difficult as it might be for coach Brady Hoke to acknowledge, his Michigan football team just might not be a very good road team.


Denard Robinson's fumble at Iowa was one of two turnovers Michigan committed against the Hawkeyes.

Melanie Maxwell |

He continues to deny that fact, as he should. He ascribes the Wolverines' two losses to various problems such as a lack of a running game or poor line play — but maybe, just maybe, Michigan isn't unlike most mid-tier teams in the Big Ten.

They've struggled on the road this year. So has Michigan, which is 7-2 overall but 1-2 away from the Big House.

And, is Michigan really any better than Wisconsin? Or Ohio State? Or Iowa? (Well, we know the answer to that one.)

Each of those teams is 3-2 in conference play, each has struggled on the road in conference play. Wisconsin and Iowa lost their two games on the road, both are unbeaten at home.

Like Michigan.

What would make Michigan any different?

The Big Ten has been treacherous for all road teams, except those playing Indiana. League teams are 9-22 away from home this year, with a third of those victories coming against the worst BCS team in the country. (The Hoosiers, in case clarification was required.)

Those struggles aren't new for Michigan, either. It's 5-12 on the road since 2008. The only thing less impressive than that mark is the teams it actually beat: Minnesota in 2008; Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue in 2010; and Northwestern this year.

The Wolverines will try to add to that list Saturday when they travel to Champaign, Ill., to face the Illini in their final road game of the year (3:30 p.m., ABC).

Hoke's ability to change a program, a defense, a kicker, a culture in just months has been impressive. The road struggles, however, have yet to change accordingly.


Michigan State fans watched the Spartans build an early 14-point lead against Michigan on Oct. 15.

Melanie Maxwell |

Why is that?

Part of it, surely, is slow starts. The Wolverines have faced a double-digit deficit in each of their road games, overcoming the one against Northwestern but not the 14-pointer at Michigan State nor the 15-pointer at Iowa.

Michigan has faced only one double-digit deficit in its seven wins. The Wolverines came back to beat Notre Dame, but needed a miracle to do so. They can't bank on miracles on the road.

The Wolverines also seem to struggle with communication on the road, and Hoke said this week the team did more to compensate for that against Illinois, which is expected to sell out Memorial Stadium.

"In fact, I think they’re bringing extra bleachers in or something like that," Hoke said, acknowledging the tough turnaround for a team that's struggled away from the comforts of home. "And it’s Michigan. If you’re Michigan, you’re going to get people’s best. It’s just the way it is."

Hoke was asked if it's more difficult to rebound from a loss on the road.

“We can’t worry about being comfortable, to be honest with you," Hoke said. "If the question is, 'Do you like playing at home better than away?' I think 100 percent of teams in the country will say it’s always nice to play at home."

Clearly, his team has been more comfortable playing in Ann Arbor.

Further compounding things for Michigan is Illinois is coming off its off week. The last time the Wolverines faced a team with an extra week to prepare?

Michigan State. On the road.

That didn't end well.

Sensing a trend?

Illinois has lost three in a row. It also has the nation's best pass-rushing defensive line, which will do its darndest to make Swiss cheese of Michigan's offensive line and make quarterback Denard Robinson uncomfortable. And uncomfortable, Robinson has been, when pressured. He will need to prove there is consequence to blitzing him. If he doesn't, Illinois — third in the country in sacks, and featuring the two most prolific sackers in the Big Ten — are going to punish him.

That's the kind of defense that has given Robinson, already at 12 interceptions this season and hovering around 50-percent accuracy, the most fits.

In a battle of the Big Ten's two most-improved defenses, scoring opportunities will be at a premium. Michigan can't afford to waste them — and it just might. Illinois 24, Michigan 21

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Theo's Brother

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

O King, Our King We block and tackle With Hoke and Co. Their offense we shackle. O King, Our King, It's way too late Your last chance was Against Mississippi State. Theo's proud little Bro '11 P.S. What dish are you bringing for Thanksgiving?


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

Thanks Kyle. These are interesting facts about road records across the Big 10. So, it's surprising that the voters in the poll today are choosing Michigan over Illinois when both teams are similar in ability. One would think the home field advantage for Illinois would cause more voters to select Illinois.

Joseph Brando

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 4:04 a.m.

Usually the 'lowering the expectation bar" to insure a pleasant surprise article gets published much sooner in the week. He must have missed his deadline.


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 3:07 a.m.

Face the Facts: Michigan is simply an average team right now. Shouldn't be ranked, beaten nobody of significance. The schedule has to be among the weakest in the country, yeah the last two games are to quality opponents in Nebraska and Ohio State, but even they are down this year. No real power in the big ten this year and Michigan will most likely lose by 2 touchdowns to both, if not more. Defensively the team has improved although stats are skewed due to the lack of competition. Offensively the coaches are not utilizing Denard like they should, but they are running it better. Hoke will get this team back to competing for titles in 2 to 3 years. It will take time for Hoke to get his type of players in the system. It wont happen with these players.

Terry Star21

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 10:19 p.m.

I have heard all the road talk and watched/attended all the road games. These are different times however; first the so-called king is long gone (biggest difference) and second this team has a lot to play for. They were pushed around up north, got pushed back by referees out southwest and they have heard the talk. They have learned to be tougher and improved in most areas. It will be big for the Senors (last B10 road) and the team knows they can beat anyone with errorless play. Look for Michigan to win and keep the illini under 24 points. Eight wins for the first time since 3 and gone. MgoBlueForTiM......the Wolverines came, they dominated and the returned home victories.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 10:13 p.m.

Facing the facts; I agree BUT, as you point out, Neither has WI, or IL or IA and even NE been very good on the road this year. Michigan can prove a lot IF they can pull off a win. I don't disagree that we could lose 24-21 to IL and that will only happen if the offense coughs up the ball and loses the turn over margin. I would expect IL to also turn the ball over as well. I doubt that either team will score 30 points. The question is, what will Al Borges do with Denard? We'll know in the first couple of series. If we can move the ball and score on our first series, I think that can set the tone. The injury issue is concerning and that too will be revealed early in the game. I have lots to be concerned about and calling this one within the 3 point margin. Here's one: Denard completes a pass to Roy Roundtree on the Michigan side of field, Roy then sprints untouched all the way to the end zone and scores the TD he didn't get in 2009, this play being sometime in the 4th quarter. Mich 28, IL 27. GO BLUE!!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

Kyle hints at the underlying issue: good teams are good road teams. The Big 10 is lacking good teams, thus all the problems on the road this year. It's tough to win on the road in this conference. You generally need a solid defense and a ball control offense. We're not there YET. Hopefully Illinois is still reeling.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

It has never made sense to me why a team is worse or better on the road, but clearly there is something to it. I think a lot of it has to do with mindset, but these things don't appear correctible over the long term for any team. That being said, does it then make sense for teams to only schedule home non-conference games, as Michigan and most other big ten teams seem to do, to avoid playing other tough teams? The theory says that money helps other school sports, and is good for the bean counters. The theory also says that you won't win a championship if you play tough teams because you will lose and be out of it (now, that's having confidence in your team, huh?). I think that the bean counters do a disservice to the team in terms of preparation and fan interest by avoiding meaningful road games.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

No way UM wins the game tomorrow. The offense is going to struggle badly and the defense will be pretty good. I don't know how this team will score more than 14 points. The collapse will continue until the end of the year and finish at 7-5. Although this 7-5 is much more promising than the last. The future is bright, but not for the rest of this year.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

Sadly I feel the same way unless the coaching staff lets Denard be Denard and turns him loose. They've taken away his most effective asset--his legs--and opposing teams don't fear him as a passer (nor should they). He's gone from being one of the most electrifying and dangerous weapons in college football to the complete opposite, unless they're playing a really bad team like Minnesota. It's painful to watch how he's transformed from a Heisman finalist to, well, this. I hope they can turn it around the rest of the season, but the coaching staff is going to have to suck up their MANBALL desires and use what works, which is Denard out of the shotgun doing his thing.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

The title is a bit deceptive. It makes it seem as though Michigan was a good team period the last three years. Let alone a good road team. The players on this team are still learning and figuring it out. Keys to any road game are this. 1) Limit turnovers!!!! No stupid, rediculous, uncalled for interceptions or fumbles Denard! 2) Limit penalties! Keep your head Lewellan 3) Do not let big plays happen! Take better angles Woolfolk (if your still playing FS) 4) Weather the storm of the first drive and set the tone! These things Michigan can and should accomplish. They did not do these things against ND, Iowa, and MSU and we see what the results are! A lot of L's Luck, Loss, Loss. Go Blue and smash Illinois tomorrow!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

Turnovers. As much as I hate it when "experts" on TV make such an obvious "analysis" before a game, I think in our case it is more important than the other obvious "keys" like rushing yards, penalties, big plays, stopping the other team's best player, etc.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:45 p.m.

Thanks, Kyle. Ever since Our King left, we haven't been good at anything. O King, Our King; A smile you bring. Now offense no zip, And DRob no zing. Come back, King. This team we'll be nice. We now know impatience, Is a terrible vice.


Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 12:53 a.m.

Like a toy piano with every key broken but one ... I've seen you weigh in with non-poem commentary. It was good, honest stuff. How come you don't drop the veil and just comment like the rest of us?


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

Patience is required when trying to turn around a bad program, such as the one Hoke inherited from RR. When you take a great program and make it bad, you are afforded no such patience. Zip and zing are fine if you have all the other pieces in place, but alone they got us nowhere. I do like your comment style, however.

David Vande Bunte

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

Ever since Our King left, we haven't been good at anything. Except playing defense and kicking field goals.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

I don't see where it's a home/road difference. We're just spoiled by 40 straight years of pre-Rod dominance of the Big Ten. During that time, Michigan had a winning record in the Big Ten every single year. So naturally, that meant a lot of road wins. The last three years, Michigan has had a losing record in the conference. Iowa and Michigan State are better than the three teams the Wolverines beat.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

We lost to State ( a very good team) and we lost to Iowa ( had a bad day ). I've never seen michigan ( or any other Big Ten team) go thru a full season without having a bad day. You have a chance to win the championship when you win on those bad days. Lets refrain from judgement until after the season, Michigan is a better team than last year that is for sure.

Michigan Man

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

Heading to Champaign tomorrow with my youngest son - Currently live in Downers Grove, Illinois. Rob and I are both Michigan Men! We (Rob and Steve) are undefeated on the road - I think our road record is 10 - 0! Have seen road wins at Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois - Fully expect the same for tomorrow in Champaign. Michigan 31 - Illinois 21.

Terry Star21

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 12:31 a.m. forgot Indiana on the road last year - we won 3 road game in Indiana last year......yes, let;s sweep Illinois this year !


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

Wow! You are good luck. Hey, Michigan won twice in the state of Indiana last year: ND and then Purdue. They won in Evanston at NW so this is their year to win both games in the state of IL. I'm counting on you and will be watching on TV wearing all of my Maize and Blue...GO BLUE!!!

Michigan Man

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Heartbreak M is a smart person - not sure if a man or woman! Maybe I should send my resume to Brandon/Hoke with outline of a full time road warrior role! One minor benefit also - ran into David Terrell (#1) at Northwestern game so my current FB picture is with David, me and my oldest son!


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

Ladies and gentlemen: We have now found our SECRET WEAPON!!! (Thanks. Just a request: keep going on those road trips!! Michigan nation needs you) :)


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

Can't waste scoring opportunities again, and cut the turnovers. Counter blitzing and pass rush with screens and QB draws. Planting DR in a drop back situation by design most of the time will limit M's explosiveness again.

Matt Patercsak

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

if we stay on our blocks longer we can create bigger plays i watched the film and there were a lot of times when the last guy to beat came off a block to make a play. finish blocks and we'll be ok