Heading into the season, the Michigan backfield received more hype than any other position group.
Freshman Sam McGuffie’s YouTube fame preceded him. Running backs coach Fred Jackson said McGuffie and fellow freshman Michael Shaw were part of his best recruiting class ever. Veterans Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor gave the Wolverines depth beyond the newcomers.
Expectations were high.
But production was low against Utah. Michigan compiled just four rushing yards in the first half and 34 for the game.
“It was a huge disappointment,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said after the game. “We didn’t give the defense much of a rest because we couldn’t establish any long drives.”
Through three quarters, Utah tallied 16 first downs to Michigan’s six and held an eight-minute edge in time of possession.
Blame doesn’t just lie with the individual backs. Michigan’s offensive line — which features four new starters — struggled to gain leverage on the defensive line and blocking linebackers to create space for the running backs. Rodriguez wasn’t pleased about the unit’s performance against Utah.
“Below average,” Rodriguez said yesterday when asked to rate his offensive line against the Utes. “I think those guys tried hard but reverted to some old habits and techniques.”
Jackson thought young players running a new system was the main reason for the lack of production.
“The game is a little bit faster than practice,” Jackson said. “I actually think they made good decisions. I just don’t think the decisions were made quick enough in this system.”
Following the game, Shaw, McGuffie and Minor declined comment.
Holding themselves back: If Saturday’s football game were a golf match, Utah gave Michigan quite a few strokes.
Utah gained 341 yards of total offense compared to 203 for Michigan. But after adding Utah’s 137 penalty yards to Michigan’s total, the teams were almost even.
“I looked at the scoreboard (at halftime), and I thought the game should not have been as close as it was,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That’s what’ll happen if you have an untimely turnover and very untimely penalties in certain situations.”
After the first quarter, Michigan led 10-6 despite gaining just 35 yards on offense. Michigan created that edge by capitalizing on a muffed Utah punt and a pass interference call on the opening drive to put the Wolverines deep in the red zone.
Injury update: Several players suffered minor injuries against Utah, but Rodriguez was uncertain yesterday if any of them will miss the Miami (Ohio) game.
Junior wide receiver Greg Mathews left Saturday’s game after injuring his ankle in the third quarter. His status is day-to-day. Before leaving, he had three catches for 54 yards.
Senior strong safety Brandon Harrison missed the second half with a groin injury, but Rodriguez didn’t think it would affect Harrison’s status for next Saturday’s game.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Ryan Van Bergen suffered an ankle injury Saturday and is considered to be day-to-day.
Sophomore Junior Hemingway left Michigan Stadium with his shoulder bandaged, but Rodriguez called it a precautionary measure, saying the Conway, S.C., native should be ready for Saturday. Running back Carlos Brown had a shoulder injury before the Utah game that limited him to just one carry. Senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor had his foot wrapped and was limping after Saturday’s game. Both are expected to play against the RedHawks.
Roster update: In addition to the seven true freshmen who played in Saturday’s game, Rodriguez expects tight end Kevin Koger and wide receiver Roy Roundtree to play this season. The others will likely redshirt.
Notes: Redshirt sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh received Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors yesterday. He recorded 15 tackles and had an interception in Saturday’s loss. Rodriguez also named Ezeh Michigan’s player of the game, alongside senior defensive tackle Will Johnson, who had 1.5 sacks against Utah. … Instead of naming captains for the entire season, Rodriguez names captains on a game-by-game basis. On Saturday, the team captains were cornerback Morgan Trent, defensive end Tim Jamison, tight end Mike Massey and long snapper Sean Griffin, all seniors.