ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Brady Hoke looked at any sort of road woes his teams have had through the years, one of the things he pointed to was how to take an opposing crowd out of the game.
And one of the best ways to do that is to shorten the game up, control the clock and turn an opponent’s offense into as much of a spectator as the thousands of fans sitting in seats instead of standing on benches inside a stadium.
Hoke’s best way to do that? Run.
“Good teams on the road, normally, you have to take care of the football,” Hoke said. “You need to make sure as you’re taking care of the football that you’re running the football, which can help you a little bit.
“It takes a little bit out of the home crowd, the home-team advantage, because people don’t like seeing offenses getting first down after first down.”
Against Purdue the past three seasons, that hasn’t been a problem. In the past three seasons, Purdue’s run defense has almost been like a cure-all for Michigan’s running game. Last season, the Wolverines rushed for 339 yards against the Boilermakers, including 170 yards and two touchdowns from Fitzgerald Toussaint, sparking his strong final month of the 2011 season.
The year before, Michigan combined for 202 yards, led by 99 from Vincent Smith on its way to a seventh win in the 2010 season for the Wolverines, which would also be their last win of the year.
In 2009, Michigan rushed for 215 yards, led by 154 yards and three touchdowns from Brandon Minor, but lost 38-36 when Michigan failed to get key defensive stops at the end.
Gaining 200 yards rushing also seems to be a magic number for Michigan under Hoke. In games in which the Wolverines have eclipsed that mark, they are 9-0. When they don’t, they 4-4. The number goes beyond Hoke, too. In 2010, Michigan was 7-1 when it ran for 200 yards or more and 0-5 when it did not. In 2009, the Wolverines were 3-1 when over the number and 2-6 below it.
For Hoke, it is also a good barometer. In his final season at San Diego State, the Aztecs were 5-1 when rushing for more than 200 yards and 4-4 when it did not. In 2009, his team did not rush for more than 200 yards in any game and went 4-8.
So when Michigan says it needs to discover its running game, especially on the road, there’s a good reason. It gives the Wolverines a much better chance to win.