With quarterback Devin Gardner under center this season, most assumed there’d be more of a downhill look to this Michigan football team. And while the Wolverines will always look for the run game to open up the passing game, it hasn’t really happened this season.
Michigan has had up-and-down success with its passing game, but when it comes to Fitzgerald Toussaint pounding the ball, it hasn’t always happened for the Wolverines. The Wolverines have been anything but consistent in the run game.
But according to left tackle Taylor Lewan, that isn’t completely Toussaint’s fault. Lewan has put that -- along with the offense’s failures on Saturday against Akron and the lack of preparation leading into the game against the Zips -- on his and the other offensive linemen's shoulders.
“Fitz is a great running back and he deserves the yards that he’s not getting right now,” Lewan said. “This offensive line will turn around and give him those yards.”
Through three games this season Toussaint has averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but when taking out his longest run from each game, that average drops to 2.6. And when taking out his two longest runs from each game, that average drops to just 2 yards. That means Toussaint has accumulated 52 percent of his yardage this season on just six carries.
On the other hand, Gardner, who has surprised a few with how often he has carried the ball, is the Wolverines’ lead rusher, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. However, it’s unclear whether Gardner will continue to rush the ball as much as he has. Hoke said Gardner was a bit banged up on Saturday but that his play wasn't affected.
If it did even in the slightest, however, then the Wolverines have a problem on their hands. Gardner rushing is often what has helped Toussaint find some of his yardage. And if defenses can key in even more on just Toussaint, Michigan becomes easier to defend.
Back up running back Derrick Green has rushed for 60 yards this season on 13 attempts (4.6 yards per carry). But that number is also skewed as his long of 30 yards against Central Michigan helped to pad his stats. When that run is taken out, the true freshman has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.
Michigan has been close to breaking out on a few runs, getting tripped up by a weaker tackle or just a second away from what could’ve been a great decision, and Hoke sees that.
“I think you’re one guy away on a couple real big ones,” Hoke said. “Do we want more [yardage]? Yeah, we want more. We want to be more consistent.”
So consistency will key, specifically from the offensive line as it looks to spring Toussaint more as the Wolverines get closer to the conference season.
“I feel like we definitely need to be more consistent as an offensive line,” right tackle Michael Schofield said. “The first half we were all over the place. We were pretty sloppy with our technique and fundamentals. And then coming out in the second half, we had a couple good drives. We need to be like those drives -- that we scored our long touchdowns on -- every time. We have to be more consistent players.”
And if the offensive line can be more consistent, it’ll only make things easier for those playing behind it, specifically Toussaint.