Michigan has worst rushing performance in its 134-year history

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By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 2, 2013

EAST LANSING — Michigan State has a great defense, the Michigan football team’s offensive line is inexperienced, and Michigan was playing in a hostile road environment. All of those things are true.

But it’s easy for the excuses to pile up, to make the number “-48” seem unimportant and to blame sacks and a missed snap for that atrocious number.

The bottom line is that no team in the 134 year history of Michigan football has ever run for fewer yards than the Wolverines did on Saturday in a 29-6 loss to Michigan State. The next closest Michigan team to rush for that many negative yards (48) was the 1962 squad, which ran for -46 against Minnesota. That team went 2-7, was outscored 214-70 on the year and finished dead last in the Big Ten.

This 2013 team was still very much alive in the Big Ten title race before Saturday’s debacle began. Now, a game later, the Wolverines have muffed themselves out of contention while putting themselves in the record book in the worst possible way.

“It’s a matter of straining for that extra half-second,” said fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan. “There were a couple runs where (fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint) really could have broke out, but we just needed to straighten that much more on blocks. These guys will get it, they will, but this is going to sting for a bit.”

Through all the switches and substitutions, the offensive line has been criticized all season, particularly, the three interior lineman. Saturday saw another starting unit, the fourth different starting offensive line in as many games, get beaten up the middle.

Redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow remained at center after a mid-season move from guard. Freshman Kyle Bosch made his first career start at left guard. Redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson made his second at right guard.

Evaluation will have to wait, though, because of the beating the entire unit took. It’s hard to single out players when a whole line struggles.

“It’s not just those guys,” Lewan said. “Absolutely not. This is a team effort, but a lot of it falls on the offensive line. It’s not just those three guys.”

Part of the reason for the new record-setting number was the number of sacks redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner took — seven. That bumped the total, as did a high snap that moved Michigan’s offense back 20 yards.

Still, a dominant — or even average — running game would have pushed Michigan past that 1962 team. Toussaint had another underwhelming game, finishing with 20 yards on eight attempts.

All night long, Michigan State dominated the line of scrimmage. Lewan said after the game that the Spartans ran similar blitzes to the ones they ran two years ago. Michigan just couldn’t stop them.

“A lot of this game absolutely falls on this offensive line,” Lewan said. “They ran a bunch of blitzes, a lot of the same exact blitzes they ran in 2011, but when it came down to it, we couldn’t pick it up. That’s our job.”

That might have been Lewan’s opinion, but it wasn’t the opinion of everyone.

“It’s not just the line,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “There are backs involved, there are routes involved, there’s timing — all those issues are part of it.”

And maybe that’s the biggest issue. It would be easier to point at one specific unit and place the blame on them, but it’s not that easy.

Toussaint was blown up repeatedly on blitz pickups, which essentially erased Gardner’s safety net. Wide receivers got no separation all night, while Gardner held onto the ball for too long and was hit on almost every passing attempt. Part of that is on offensive coordinator Al Borges, but part of that is also on Gardner.

You can blame it on the line, or on Gardner, Toussaint, Borges, Hoke — whomever. There are many holes with many needed solutions.

All that’s important is that on a night where Michigan could have made a statement win, it instead put up the worst rushing performance in school history. Sometimes, numbers say all that needs to be said.