Michigan Looks to Ditch Road Struggles Against Penn State

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IOctober 11, 2013

Why does Michigan come up short on the road?
Why does Michigan come up short on the road?Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Michigan hasn’t lost a home game since Brady Hoke took over as head coach.

In three seasons, the Wolverines have won all 18 games they’ve played at Michigan Stadium.

But it’s a different story when they travel, having lost seven games against only six victories.

With his team heading to Happy Valley, Hoke discussed how crowd noise will create a hostile environment for the Wolverines.

No. 77 Taylor Lewan
No. 77 Taylor LewanAndrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Hoke was asked at Monday's press conference if he thought that road noise was a major factor contributing to the Wolverines’ dismal road record during his tenure.

“I don’t think so,” said Hoke. “I think the first year up at Michigan State, I don’t think we communicated well, it might not have been crowd noise, and it might have been us not communicating.”

Crowd noise concerned offensive tackle Taylor Lewan enough that he texted Hoke after the Michigan victory over Minnesota to recommend that the team have more crowd noise during practice to prepare, according to StateCollege.com.

The Wolverines took the additional step of having quarterback Devin Gardner whisper the snap count during practice this week to help prepare for the possibility of communication problems due to crowd noise.

There’s no disputing that the Wolverines struggle when they leave Ann Arbor.

What factors have hindered their success on the road under Hoke?

Young players

Calm down everyone, it's just UConn
Calm down everyone, it's just UConnJim Rogash/Getty Images

When the Wolverines traveled to UConn this season, Hoke joked about needing nannies to deal with the problems of traveling with so many young players.  This season the team had approximately 25 players on the travel squad for the first time.

As the season progresses, this should become less of a problem as players gain experience traveling.

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Few patsies on the road

The Wolverines have the luxury of stocking their nonconference schedule with lesser opponents, teams who are playing Michigan to help fund their athletic departments.  They come to Ann Arbor, collect an appearance fee and take a beating for their trouble.

Many of the Wolverines' home opponents over last two seasons have been against teams from the upper echelon of college football, including Alabama and South Carolina. Other losses have been against historical rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.

Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jalston Fowler (45) carries the ball during the fourth quarter of the game against the MIchigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama beat Michigan 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama, which needs no introduction as defending national champion, is a tough opponent for any team in college football. South Carolina ended last season ranked No. 8 after edging the Wolverines 28-23 in the Outback Bowl. Ohio State completed last season undefeated, and the Wolverines lost in 2011 to Michigan State in a frenzied environment with the extra distraction of switching uniforms after warm-ups.

If the Wolverines want to play for a Big Ten Championship and return to the national spotlight, they need to play better on the road against top-tier opponents.

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Hostile environments

Welcome to the cell block
Welcome to the cell blockAndrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines play in some of the largest stadiums in the country. Ohio State alone presents one of the most hostile environments in the country. To illustrate the fact, Ohio State public safety just acquired an armored assault vehicle to deal with its own fans.

Just imagine what the Wolverines have to deal with when playing in Columbus.

The hostile environment argument just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The Wolverines play before the largest crowd in the country and have a large contingent of fans travel to support them.

They need to deal with hostility; it comes with wearing the winged helmet.

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Need to bottle some big house magic

Michigan has had some amazing last-minute victories at home. Late comebacks have defeated Notre Dame (2011), Northwestern (2012) and Michigan State (2012).  But the Wolverines have also been unable to manage the same mojo on the road against Notre Dame (2012), Ohio State (2012) and South Carolina (2013).

If luck is the residue of design, then they need to manage some more of it when they leave Ann Arbor; better yet, be far enough ahead to not need a late fourth-quarter comeback.

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Just not that goodyet

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 28:  Urban Meyer speaks to the media after being introduced as the new head coach of Ohio State football on November 28, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The biggest reason that the Wolverines struggle on the road is probably the most disappointingthey’ve just not yet returned to the upper level of college football. Help is on the way with a number of promising recruits in the fold, but the team is still working to overcome the talent deficit from the Rich Rodriguez era.

This is galling to Wolverine fans, who see the quick resurgence of Ohio State under Urban Meyer, but it’s the biggest reason the team is 6-7 when it leaves Ann Arbor.

Great teams overcome distractions and get the job done.

The Wolverines are building toward greatness, but they’re not there yet.

Excuse meter 5/5

Phil Callihan is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand during press conferences.


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