The game film shows some good with the bad in Michigan's narrow victory over Air Force.
By DAVE HOGGFS Detroit
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It was easy for the
Michigan Wolverines to pick out the flaws in Saturday's 31-25 victory over Air Force. After all, they needed a defensive stand in the final minutes to avoid being upset by the Falcons.
When they watched the films, though, they discovered something else. They had actually played pretty well at times.
Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was the first to notice the difference, after calling the offensive line's play "terrible" on Saturday.
"It was better than I thought," Lewan said Monday. "I was focused on the running backs gaining seven yards, and I lost sight of the fact that Denard rushed for over 200. We were blocking for him, too.
"On Denard's first long run, if he had given the ball to Fitz (Toussaint) on the play, it still would have been a big run. We blocked that play really well."
Center Elliott Mealer disagreed slightly, acknowledging that blocking for Robinson and Toussaint are different propositions.
"It's definitely the job of the offensive line to get rushing yards for anyone who runs the ball, and we aren't doing the job well enough with the running backs," Mealer said. "Were we better this week than we were the week before? Yes, but it still isn't good enough.
"There are times we look better because we open a small crease and Denard takes it for 80 yards. He's doing all of that off his own reads, so a lot of the time even we have no idea where he's going."
The lack of production from the running backs is why Robinson has accounted for 95 percent of Michigan's total offense through two games. Vincent Smith, with 33 yards, leads the backs, even though he didn't get a single carry against Air Force.
"My personal goal is to get our running backs 150 yards a game, and that obviously isn't happening," Lewan said. "Right now, I'm excited to get a shot at doing that against UMass."
That goal might well be met against the Minutemen, who are struggling badly in their first FBS season. UMass has been outscored 82-6 in losses to Connecticut and Indiana, allowing an average of 240 rushing yards per game.
The test for Michigan's running backs will come against Notre Dame in two weeks and during the Big Ten season.
Brady Hoke knows that although the Wolverines will be in Robinson's shadow at times, they will also need to provide some help.
"The balance is going to change, depending on how teams choose to defend our offense, and how they choose to defend Denard," Hoke said. "We need running backs to step up and make plays, but it is easier for them if they have some holes to hit."
Until that happens, the load remains on Robinson.
With his 422 yards Saturday, he now owns nine of the top-10 single-game performances in Michigan history, something that even Hoke is starting to take a little for granted.
"He's got nine of the 10?" he asked. "Well, let's hope he gets nine more."
GOING WITH YOUTH
The Wolverines played 12 freshmen against Air Force, and had six playing defense at the same time at one point.
Hoke said that he's never used that many young players before, especially this early in a season.
"No, I've never done this," he said. "We had 17 true freshmen on the flight to Dallas, and that was an experience. Some of them had never even flown before.
"We had to do a lot of what, well, it wasn't exactly baby-sitting on that trip, but supervising. Luckily, we have a lot of upperclassmen that take a leadership role and make sure the freshmen know what is expected of them."
Hoke dismissed the idea that using that many freshmen was a sign of trouble.
"We recruited these kids because we thought they can play," he said. "The fact that they are competing for jobs and earning snaps is because they've worked hard enough to impress us.
"We don't expect them to just sit around and wait for a turn."
Michigan is favored by 45.5 points over Massachusetts, believed to be the biggest spread in school history. ... Hoke said that he's been pleased by true freshman Dennis Norfleet on kickoff returns, but wasn't too happy when Norfleet grabbed a ball out of Drew Dileo's hands. "That could have been a major disaster. He's been making great decisions back there, but that wasn't one of them." ... The defensive line is expected to be missing two reserves on Saturday. Brennen Beyer has a strained knee, and Richard Ash will sit out the game with what Hoke described as a "boo-boo."