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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — No matter what the future holds for Michigan coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines' loss to Minnesota certainly looked like a low point of his tenure.
The Golden Gophers dominated Michigan in a 30-14 victory Saturday — the second straight home loss for the Wolverines amid mounting speculation about Hoke's job status.
Michigan again looked overwhelmed at times on offense, and Hoke is now taking heat not only for the defeat, but for his handling of quarterback Shane Morris after the sophomore took a violent hit in the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines (2-3) lost to Minnesota for the first time since 2005, and Michigan has clearly regressed since 2011, when Hoke led the team to a Sugar Bowl berth in his first season.
"Believe me, there's guys in (the locker room) who are taking responsibility for what we've done," Hoke said after the game. "I'm talking about players, coaches, everybody. When you look at what's ahead of us, we've got to go back to work and get better."
Athletic director Dave Brandon did not respond to an email seeking comment on the state of the program and Hoke's performance.
The Wolverines hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in their two previous losses, to Notre Dame and Utah. They scored one Saturday to take a 7-0 lead, but still didn't look capable of any offensive consistency against decent competition. The offensive line, expected to be a strength after Hoke brought his smash-mouth approach to replace Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, wilted toward the end of last season. The Wolverines still aren't blocking well enough to protect Morris and fellow quarterback Devin Gardner.
With Michigan down 30-7 early in the fourth quarter, Morris took a crunching hit from Theiren Cockran, who was called for roughing the passer. Morris briefly looked like he was having trouble standing, but he remained in the game for the next play and threw an incompletion before being taken out.
Gardner replaced him, but later on that drive, his helmet came off at the end of a play. While Gardner sat out for a play as required, Morris went back in and handed the ball off to a running back.
Hoke said after the game he didn't see Morris looking wobbly after the initial hit. He elaborated a bit in a statement Sunday night.
"Shane Morris was removed from yesterday's game against Minnesota after further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest. He was evaluated by our experienced athletic trainers and team physicians, and we're confident proper medical decisions were made," Hoke said. "The University of Michigan has a distinguished group of certified athletic trainers and team physicians who are responsible for determining whether or not a player is physically able to play. Our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition."
Michigan plays at Rutgers next weekend in a game that looked like a probable victory before the season. But it's hard to say any win is certain at this point. The toughest tests may be still to come, with road games against Michigan State and Ohio State.
"You have to have 11 guys playing on the same page every time or you're bound to have mistakes," center Jack Miller said. "I feel like it's something different every time. One thing you try to do in football is not make the same mistakes. If you're going to make one, make a new one and keep moving forward. Eventually, you hope to run out of them. We haven't gotten to that point."
With the Big Ten looking unimpressive this season, 2014 looked like a year when Michigan could make progress after a 7-6 showing. But if the Wolverines don't turn things around soon, they may not even reach a bowl. Michigan missed the postseason in Rodriguez's first two seasons, and he only lasted one more. This is Hoke's fourth season, and the results lately have been unbecoming of one of college football's most storied programs.
In addition to the losing, fan apathy seems on the rise, with empty seats becoming more common at home games in the area where students sit.
"We know their frustrations and we share their frustrations," Hoke said. "I would also tell them as a team we all take accountability for it and we also are all going to work together to rectify it."