- Todd Needle/Daily
By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 14, 2013
It took well after the noon kickoff for the student section to wake up, arrive at Michigan Stadium and make the northwest corner look remotely occupied during the Michigan football team’s game against Akron on Saturday.
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It took even longer for the Wolverines’ running game to make an appearance.
Though an effective ground game wasn’t visible until about midway through the third quarter, it was better late than never, especially for a game in which very few elements of the Wolverines’ offense seemed to click.
On a day where redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner struggled mightily through the air, the Wolverines relied on their running game to squeeze by the Zips, 28-24. Michigan finished the game with 177 rushing yards.
Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan was furious after the game, putting responsibility for the offensive lapses on himself and the rest of the offensive line.
“We’re not making holes for the running back,” Lewan said. “Fitz is a great, unbelievable running back, but you can’t do anything if you don’t have a hole. A couple times there’s a hole here and there, but a couple of penalties took him back. We’ll get that fixed.”
At halftime, Michigan had rushed for just 19 yards — it hadn’t rushed for fewer than 20 in a half since the season-opener against Alabama last year. The starting running back, fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, was averaging 2.1 yards a carry while Gardner had 11 rushing yards.
It couldn’t have been different by the second half. Gardner finished with a team-high 103 yards while Toussaint had a personal season-high of 71.
On the drive that got the Wolverines back in the ball game about five minutes into the third quarter, they gained 57 yards on four plays. Each was a run. On the first play of the drive, Toussaint broke free for a long gain, his first big gain of the day, but it was called back due to a holding penalty on fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.
No matter. The next play, Toussaint went the other way for a 24-yard gain, the kick-starter to the drive that ended with a 36-yard touchdown run from Gardner.
Though the drive ended in a touchdown, Gallon’s penalty still dimmed what should have been one of the Wolverines’ bright spots — Michigan simply could not afford to lose an inch in a game that became nail-bitingly close.
“Fitz got 50 yards of rushing wiped out because we fundamentally didn’t block properly and we held guys,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “That can’t happen because that’s 50 yards of rushing. That’s a rhythm in a game.”
Whereas Lewan was livid with the offensive line’s performance in relation to the ground game, Hoke was a little more even-keeled. A moment of reflection on an otherwise bleak game allowed Hoke to re-evaluate the unit’s performance in relation to the ground game.
“There were some good holes in there at times and Fitz made a couple good cuts out of it,” Hoke said. “Is it consistent enough? No. I think watching it like we will there’s going to be a lot of learning and there’s going to be a lot of teaching going on.”