The good news for the Michigan football team is that offensive coordinator Al Borges identified the offense’s problem in its loss to Michigan State. The bad news is that he’s got a lot more work than people originally thought.
At Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s radio show last week, Borges said the Wolverines’ inability to run the ball was what got them into trouble. The running backs have struggled for most of the season. In the past two games, three different backs have combined for just 102 yards. But both the coaching staff and the players were quick to point out it hasn’t been just the running backs’ fault.
“I think, like anything else, when you talk about a quarterback, and talk about a linebacker not making as many tackles, sometimes that’s the front,” Hoke said. “(It’s the) same thing with the running backs. Sometimes it’s the opportunities or what we’re doing up front.”
The offensive line is looking for a better way to operate. Fifth-year senior David Molk said the offensive line deserved some of the blame because it hadn’t been getting to the second level in its blocking. Hoke’s critique didn’t get past the line of scrimmage. He said the line isn’t consistent enough at the point of attack.
Other than junior quarterback Denard Robinson, there hasn’t been much consistency in the backfield either. No. 18 Michigan opened the season with 147 rushing yards from its running backs against Western Michigan. The group ran for just 10 yards in the next game. Before their two poor performances against Northwestern and Michigan State, the running backs ran for 268 yards against Minnesota.
“People want to blame one player or a coach or whatever and it’s generally not that,” Borges siad. “It’s generally a combination of issues. It certainly isn’t the running backs. …When you’re not playing well, usually nobody plays well.”
But the most inconsistent aspect has come from the personnel. For most of the season, the load has been carried by redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint and junior Vincent Smith. The two began the season locked in a position battle with a coaching staff adamant about finding a lead running back. Eight weeks later, the two are still fighting for the spot.
Toussaint appeared to win the job coming out of camp, beating out senior Mike Shaw. Then Toussaint didn’t have a carry in Michigan’s second game. Smith, originally the third-down back, vaulted himself into the lead after a 118-yard performance against Eastern Michigan. Shaw, who was the favorite coming into camp, faded out of the competition early in the season before reemerging against Northwestern. He didn’t have a carry against Michigan State.
Hoke said he would like 100 yards a game from his running backs in order to feel good about their performance. Both Smith and Toussaint have done it just once this season.
“No one’s standing out, basically,” Borges said. “It’s not something missing. It’s just no one is standing out, and until somebody does we’re going to operate the way we operate.”
Now Borges just has to fix all the pieces involved in the operation.