The first bye week of Michigan’s season has come and gone, and we’ll see how much not playing last weekend will help the Wolverines in their homecoming game this weekend.
Here are five things to watch as Michigan gets back on the field tomorrow.
1. Devin Gardner bouncing back. Following the Notre Dame game, Heisman hype surrounded Gardner. Now he’s saying that he deserves the amount of recent criticism he has gotten from fans and the media. That’s quite the swing for anyone, even someone as confident and sure of himself as Gardner. He admitted he strayed from his technique in the Akron and Connecticut games. With a week off to take a step back, spend more time in the film room and work more on the basics, he could step on the field as an entirely new player ... or he could reappear as a turnover risk. However, with the combination of Gardner’s attitude and Minnesota’s defense, expect Gardner to take a few steps forward this game.
2. The new interior offensive line. The Wolverines’ offensive line was inexperienced and lacked chemistry. Now, at the very beginning of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines are changing it up and hoping for the best. Moving Graham Glasgow to center will give Michigan a slightly bigger presence on the inside, but again, they’ll be starting from scratch. He has started four games at left guard and has worked at center through practices but he has never had to direct the line and work with Gardner during game action -- let alone the Big Ten opener. Chris Bryant will likely pick up his first start at left guard, which is again, not the most promising scenario for Michigan. He has been dinged up with knee and shoulder issues and has only appeared in one game so far this season. Perhaps the Wolverines’ O-line will take a few steps forward against the Gophers, but expect the occasional step backward as well.
3. The defensive line moving on up. The Wolverines showed progress with their four-man rush against Connecticut, and with a bye week to get back to the basics (which Greg Mattison had said they needed) as well as time to work together, expect them to continue their movement against Minnesota. They’re going to continue to funnel and shuffle guys through, but we’re still waiting on Frank Clark, while he has been impressive, to have his coming-out party. Saturday seems like a perfect time for that to happen.
4. A possible role change with Devin Funchess. The Wolverines haven’t had a consistent downfield threat this season. At times, Joe Reynolds has shown promise and Jeremy Jackson has shown potential, but that hasn’t exactly resulted in big gains. With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo as Gardner’s current safety nets, it makes sense for Michigan to try something out, like moving Funchess into more of a receiving role down the field. He has tons of pro potential and has always been a better pass catcher than blocker, so don’t be too surprised if you see him line up as a wide receiver against the Gophers.
5. Run game, fun game. The best the run game has looked was against Connecticut, but even so, it wasn’t the way Michigan wants it to be. This week Brady Hoke said that he might give Fitzgerald Toussaint (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) a few less carries from here on out just to mix things up and to get different players/bodies out there. So if you see Derrick Green (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) and De'Veon Smith (5-foot-11, 224 pounds) out there this weekend, don’t be too surprised. And if this sparks the Wolverines run game, be even less surprised.