The following charts are the national statistical rankings Hoke's various teams have achieved. In parenthesis are the raw data: YPG, PPG, turnover margin, and the collective record of their opponents, respectively. We'll look at each side of the ball individually.
|Team||Record||Rushing Def||Passing Def||Pass Eff Def||Scoring Def||Def FEI||Turnovers||Strength of Schedule|
|Ball St. '03||4-8||98th (197.6)||24th (189.50)||90th||92nd (32.2)||86th (-5)||32nd (64-53)|
|Ball St. '04||2-9||100th (197.4)||106th (260.64)||117th||109th (36.8)||29th (+5)||99th (49-61)|
|Ball St. '05||4-7||105th (202.3)||95th (256.64)||110th||112th (37.8)||44th (+3)||32nd (63-49)|
|Ball St. '06||5-7||103rd (175.7)||115th (257.83)||100th||83rd (25.8)||51st (+1)||95th (56-68)|
|Ball St. '07||7-6||106th (204.3)||58th (228.00)||90th||68th (28.3)||93rd||4th (+17)||92nd (61-74)|
|Ball St. '08||12-1||84th (163.00)||55th (205.21)||38th||29th (20.50)||47th||38th (+5)||109th (59-80)|
|SDSU '09||4-8||85th (165.50)||53rd (216.50)||62nd||98th (30.50)||93rd||111th (-10)||79th (61-62)|
|SDSU '10||9-4||57th (148.77)||39th (205.00)||21st||35th (22.08)||45th||86th (-6)||67th (77-85)|
We'll start with defense because that's supposedly Hoke's specialty. What we quickly realize that, no, it's not. Though Hoke has a reputation for being a defensive-minded guy--one of Dave Brandon's biggest selling points for him--Hoke's defenses have consistently hovered anywhere between middle-of-the-road and completely terrible. The early returns from his head coaching jaunts are understandably poor: he was taking over two historically bad programs and had lots of building to do. What's most disturbing is Ball State's continued incompetence even four and five years into Hoke's tenure.
Despite weak competition most years, Hoke's defenses only cracked the top 100 in rushing defense twice in his six years. Their passing defense was only marginally better in terms of YPG, but their passing efficiency defense tells a different story: team's didn't have to pass the ball because of a porous run defense, but when opponents did, they were successful.
The general takeaway here is that Hoke's defenses are not something to build your team on. Despite their ability to create turnovers (+17 in 2007!), his defenses do nothing exceptionally and, on average, are near the worst in the country. Any attempt to chalk this up to strong competition is easily dismissed when you look at their strength of schedule (which also hovered around the weakest in the country).
There are encouraging data points here though. For one, the Ball State team had 13 less turnovers gained in 2008 as they did in 2007, and despite that, were able to improve in almost every statistical category. This implies genuine improvement. Then again, their strength of schedule dipped significant between those two years and saw the easiest schedule of Hoke's career. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and argue that his defense likely improved. Even still, they were hovering around the middle of the NCAA in most categories.
The other encouraging point of note is that the turnaround at San Diego State appears to be for real (much more about this later). With arguably the same strength of schedule from his first to second year, Hoke and defensive coordinator Rocky Long were able to make significant improvements in all relevant categories. Much like players can improve, so too can coaches. Optimism and hope for this regime can be found in what appears to be legitimate improvement by Hoke's defenses as his coaching career continued.
|Team||Record||Rushing||Passing||Pass Eff||Scoring||Off FEI||Turnovers||Strength of Schedule|
|Ball St. '03||4-8||100th (114.83)||48th (227.5)||62nd||88th (21.75)||86th (-5)||32nd (64-53)|
|Ball St. '04||2-9||95th (114.27)||64th (209.0)||62nd||98th (20.45)||29th (+5)||99th (49-61)|
|Ball St. '05||4-7||98th (110.00)||93rd (189.0)||60th||93rd (21.18)||44th (+3)||32nd (63-49)|
|Ball St. '06||5-7||106th (91.92)||16th (259.3)||15th||39th (27.17)||51st (+1)||95th (56-68)|
|Ball St. '07||7-6||61st (148.92)||22nd (284.9)||24th||39th (31.46)||78th||4th (+17)||92nd (61-74)|
|Ball St. '08||12-1||31st (184.50)||24th (258.00)||12th||5th (34.93)||29th||38th (+5)||109th (59-80)|
|SDSU '09||4-8||116th (78.33)||30th (263.58)||73rd||85th (23.33)||93rd||111th (-10)||79th (61-62)|
|SDSU '10||9-4||48th (161.31)||12th (295.38)||20th||20th (35.00)||12th||86th (-6)||67th (77-85)|
Just as surprising as Hoke's teams underachieving on defense is a competent-to-great offense, fronted primarily by a top-25 passing attack. In 2006, Stan Parrish replaced Ed Stults as the offensive coordinator and the passing offense never looked back. In Parrish's first year as the OC, the offense spiked significantly in production: 93rd to 16th in passing yards per game, 60th to 15th in passing efficiency, and 93rd to 39th in scoring offense. The running game was still puttering around in the bottom of the NCAA, but if your passing game is as effective as Ball State's appeared to be, the run game could be an afterthought. And eventually, even the rushing game was molded into something functional, presumably because opposing defenses were overcompensating for the pass.
Parrish did have the benefit of coordinating against one of the weakest schedule strengths for three straight years, but his consistency actually speaks to the schemes and his coaching ability. We know what the opposition was and we know what the results were. Parrish, however, didn't follow Hoke to San Diego State, but was named the head coach of Ball State, where he promptly ran the program into the ground. (This is another encouraging sign for Hoke's ability, though I don't know what the graduation rate was like when Hoke left.)
At SDSU, Hoke hired long-time offensive coordinator Al Borges. Borges runs a pass-first pro-style system which was adequately dissected by MGoBlog yesterday. Having not seen too much San Diego State game film (or knowing much about Borges' early career), I can't comment a ton on his style, personnel, or any progress they've made, but like the defensive performance at SDSU, the improvement through Hoke's two years points to a legitimate turnaround. And here, more than on the other side of the ball, the Aztecs made significant leaps in almost all categories against comparable competition. Though Hoke's offense was nowhere near the juggernaut that Rodriguez created in the last three years, there's a very real potential (especially with so many returning starters) that the offense remains in the top 25 next year. Much of that probably depends on the utilization of Denard or a significant talent leap by Devin Gardner.
What does it mean?
It means that Hoke is not quite who we thought he was with regards to his defensive acumen or his resume--some good, some bad. Only once did a Hoke team make a significant leap in the win column (the 12-1 season in 2008), and that was a year in which they had the 109th most difficult schedule; in other words, if that team hadn't succeeded, it would've looked disastrous. Then again, Hoke did craft a team that was able to take advantage of a weak schedule and did exactly what they were supposed to do. It's hard to discredit the coach or team for that.
The most encouraging aspect of Hoke's resume is what appears to be real growth by his teams in the last four years. Though not able to bring his teams into the national spotlight, it's tough to look at the numbers and not be at least slightly impressed with the improvements Ball State and SDSU made.
On the more pessimistic side of things, Hoke's inability to produce a truly elite defense is troublesome as is the continued failings of Ball State during Hoke's early career. Not only is he known primarily as a defensive coach, but we can reasonably expect that the offense will take a step back next year. If Hoke isn't able to significantly improve a moribund defense, Michigan could very realistically win less games in 2011 than they did in 2010. But with the depth that Rodriguez has created on the defensive side of the ball, barring attrition, that is probably unlikely.
In the end, Hoke is probably exactly what we've come to believe: a Lloyd Carr clone that will be able to rebuild the team to a point where it's head coaching vacancy isn't being turned down by people that haven't even been offered the job. It's still difficult to see the upside of Hoke, at least in regards to national championships and being an elite program, but he seems like a guy that is motivated, obviously loves the university, and has what appears to be a recent track record of improving downtrodden teams.