Michigan’s offense has been a well-oiled machine the past two years, but after a rocky start to the season, the UMass game will be a welcome pit stop.
The Wolverines run elements of the spread and the pro-style offense, and relies on its incredible depth to keep opposing teams off balance. Last year the Al Borges-led offensive unit ranked 26th in scoring and 13th in rushing.
Alabama essentially shut down Michigan’s attack, and problems on the offensive line allowed Air Force to stay in the game. The Wolverines will look to make some offensive adjustments against the Minutemen and hope to right the ship before taking the short trip to Notre Dame a week later.
While size, speed and depth abound on Michigan’s offense, there is one man that keeps the vehicle running. He’s the quarterback, running back, and heart and soul of Michigan football.
He’s also the biggest problem for a UMass team that is still trying to find its way.
The kids say it, the coaches say it and any true fan of college football knows it.
Denard Robinson is a baller.
There is no doubt that Robinson is the best football player the Minutemen will face this year. The senior quarterback holds the season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,702), was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500, and is only the fourth player in the history of college football to gain 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season, twice.
He has been hailed as a Heisman hopeful, and should have a trophy case full of national and conference awards by the time he hangs up his helmet and tries his hand at the next level.
This season looks to be more of the same for Robinson. While he has gotten off to a slow start – relatively speaking – Robinson still has more than 400 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in two games. He was beaten up a little bit against Alabama, but after single-handedly beating Air Force there is little doubt that Robinson is poised to continue his pursuit of rewriting the record books of Michigan and the NCAA.
UMass fans may want to keep an eye on redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy, Robinson’s backup. If Michigan gets out to a big lead, you can expect Robinson to take a rest in preparation for Notre Dame. Bellomy appears to be the starter in waiting and worked his way up the depth chart surprisingly fast during his first two years.
Michigan’s best running back is its quarterback, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks talent when Robinson actually hands off the ball.
However, after the first two games, it appears that the Wolverines are still trying to figure out who is going to carry the load when the weather gets colder, the defensive lines get bigger and Big 10 teams figure out how to keep Robinson in check.
Fitzgerald Toussiant is supposed to be the answer for Michigan, but after being suspended for the Alabama game, he was never able to get anything going against Air Force. Toussiant had only seven yards on eight attempts and never got into much of a rhythm.
Last year, Toussiant and Robinson were a formidable two-headed monster in the backfield. While Robinson led the way with more than 1,300 yards on the ground, Toussiant had 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns. He is listed as the No. 1 back for Saturday, and UMass fans should expect an increased workload for a quality running back who is trying to find his way.
If Toussiant continues to struggle, the Wolverines are likely going to give Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith some touches.
At fullback, Stephen Hopkins is the man to watch out for. Hopkins is every bit of 240 pounds and is a solid pass and run blocker. He’s not much of a threat to carry the ball in Michigan’s offense, but he does have the skills to do so. Hopkins was originally recruited as a running back, but was forced to make the switch to fullback. He has embraced the change and altered his body to fit the role. UMass linebackers will know how tough this guy is by the end of the game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Michigan lost a lot of depth at wide receiver last year and is hoping Roy Roundtree can step in and pick up where he left off. Roundtree, a fifth-year senior, had more than 300 yards last year but is off to a slow start this season. It may be a bit of rust: Roundree had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Aug. 10 and is likely trying to find his sea legs.
Statistically, the Wolverines are led by Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon, each have more than 100 yards on the season. Gardner was originally supposed to play quarterback for Michigan, but due to his athleticism was moved to the wide receiver position.
At tight end, true freshman Devin Funchess is turning heads after a historic game against Air Force. Funchess had four catches and a team-high 106 yards against the Falcons. He is the first Wolverine tight end to put up 100 yards ince 1997. The 6’5, 229-pound athlete was named the Big 10 Freshman of the Week for his efforts.
Fifth year senior Brandon Moore is likely to get a lot of reps at tight end and is a better blocker than the smaller, faster Funchess.
Newspaper stories are laid out by inches, and if I’m doing the math correct, about two miles have been written about the concerns surrounding Michigan’s offensive line.
The Wolverines have had trouble opening holes for its running backs, and all-everything Taylor Lewan, Michigan’s left tackle, was none-to pleased.
“Seven yards from the running backs is awful,” Lewan said. “We have to do a better job of re-establishing the line of scrimmage.
“It’s going to be tough for this team to be successful if we can’t do that as an offensive line.”
Lewan is the best lineman on the team, and might be the best pro prospect in the Big 10. The junior has been a two-year starter and is a towering figure (6’8, 302 pounds) with a mean streak. If you don’t believe me, ask Michigan State’s William Gholston, who had Lewan push his head to the ground last year, prompting him to jump up and punch the Michigan lineman. Watching those two battle is pretty enjoyable for a football purist.
At right tackle is Michael Schofield, another huge athlete (6’7, 300 pounds) that should cause problems for a UMass defensive line that had trouble getting penetration on Indiana.
The center is fifth year senior Elliot Mealer, while the guards are Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh, both of whom are also fifth year seniors.
Michigan’s offense is going to be angry, and that spells trouble for a UMass defense that had trouble with a below average Indiana squad.
The Wolverines have been riding Robinson’s coattails, and they know that has to change. Big 10 teams are going to have better athletes than Air Force and will eventually figure out how to contain Robinson. When that happens, Michigan is going to need its stable of running backs to take over and pound it out behind an offensive line that has been porous so far.
UMass is the breather before Michigan rolls up its sleeves and hits the road against Notre Dame and Purdue. The Minutemen will play crash test dummies as the Wolverines will likely try to run the ball up the gut while allowing Robinson to let the ball fly to his group of veteran receivers.
The good news is that Michigan will be the best offense the Minutemen will face this season. The bad news is that they have to face them, on the road, in front of more than 100,000 fans, after getting decimated by two teams that wouldn’t stand a chance against the Wolverines.
Saturday will be ugly for the Minutemen, but after taking an early lead, the Wolverines may rest their starters for next week’s big showdown in South Bend.