- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 7, 2011
With terms like NASCAR, three-wide and pace flying around Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s press conference, you might think the topic of conversation was Tony Stewart’s upset victory at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
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Instead, Hoke was discussing the “NASCAR” formation that almost saved the No. 22 Michigan football team from its 24-16 upset defeat in Iowa City on Saturday.
After redshirt sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint — the Wolverines’ leading rusher against Iowa — left the game with an injury, junior quarterback Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense shifted into the one-back, three-receiver shotgun set and turned up the pace.
Was it essentially a two-minute drill?
“It’s just a little different on the play selection — the calls,” Hoke said on Monday.
Is it as fast as the two-minute offense?
“It might be even a little more tempo,” Hoke said.
Robinson appeared significantly more comfortable in the “NASCAR,” a formation that is more similar to what Michigan ran the past three seasons.
In the final quarter, Robinson led the offense on one late scoring drive and fell just three yards and a two-point conversion short of completing the comeback against the Hawkeyes.
“I think when you go what we call ‘NASCAR’ ... you limit the defense a little bit,” Hoke said. “Iowa’s not a huge substitution defensive football team — never have been. But you limit them a little bit to what they can do because you’ve got a little more engaged tempo.
“Now we’ve done that same thing three other times this year. In one game we were three and out, so we used no possession time. We weren’t in any kind of situation not to try and score quickly.”
Having Toussaint on the sideline didn’t hurt the comeback, according to Hoke, since he would rather use junior running back Vincent Smith’s pass-blocking abilities in the late-game offense.
“We got into the two-minute and got into the 'NASCAR', and that’s kind of Vince’s deal,” Hoke said. “If you watched the game and watched him pick up the linebacker blitz the one time, you know why he’s in there.”
SAFETY SWAP: Through seven games this season, redshirt sophomore safety Thomas Gordon was the most opportunistic player on Michigan’s defense.
Gordon was a turnover machine, collecting an interception, forcing two fumbles and recovering three fumbles.
So when fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk shifted from cornerback to safety last week, it was expected that Woolfolk would be the backup safety and would only start if redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs remained out of the lineup with a knee injury.
But on Saturday against Iowa, Woolfolk was the starting safety alongside Kovacs. Gordon didn’t play a snap.
Hoke attributed the change to Woolfolk besting Gordon, the team’s third-leading tackler, in practice during the week.
“We just thought Troy was going to start the football game once Jordan came back,” Hoke said. “We were going to go with those two guys. And they’ll compete like hell this week (to see) who’ll be the guy. It’s not like Thomas had made some mistakes.
“You have to feel pretty good about the guy that’s on the field, too. It all comes down to competition and where guys are. Thomas is a competitor.”
Woolfolk didn’t play badly, but he had never started a game at safety alongside Kovacs and didn’t necessarily impress with his routes to the ball.
“I think we should have taken an opportunity to get (Gordon) in a little bit and just didn’t for one reason or another,” Hoke said.
INJURIES: Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan was one of four freshmen who saw significant time on Michigan’s defense against the Hawkeyes. Ryan started but suffered a stinger on the opening play of the game. He returned in the fourth quarter.
“(Ryan will) be alright,” Hoke said. “He came back in the game, made a great play on third down at the end of the game to get the ball back for our offense.”
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ricky Barnum did not make the trip to Iowa City. He is recovering from an ankle injury, and Hoke was hopeful Barnum would practice more this week.
Toussaint left in the third quarter and didn’t return, but Hoke and Toussaint said the running back could have returned late in the game.