Michigan is heading into a game against a winless Big Ten team as an underdog. That’s where the Wolverines are right now. Offensively, Michigan is jumbled without any cohesion up front, the running game has suffered mightily, and Devin Gardner has gotten to know opposing defensive linemen like family.
Michigan’s defense has also struggled at points, especially against the option last weekend versus Nebraska. This weekend, they’ll face more of that. If Michigan wants to reverse its downward trend, here’s what needs to happen on both sides of the ball:
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Al Borges said that the Wolverines two biggest struggles right now are pass protection and running the ball. That’s kind of a two-step guide to what not to struggle at in football. And it’s what killed the Wolverines against Michigan State and Nebraska.
Michigan will stick with its offensive front, hoping to continue building chemistry and investing in its youth. But it needs to do a better job protecting Gardner because he can’t take any more seven-sack games.
At this point, Michigan will stick with its current five starting offensive linemen because looking back isn’t really an option at this point of the season.
“If we just keep changing, then you have new guys making new mistakes,” Borges said. “You can change everybody, but it’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve done enough of that. We have to allow our football team to grow. With that, some growing pains. That’s just the way it is.”
That doesn’t mean that other guys such as Kyle Kalis won’t see the field, but the starting five will stay the same.
And so will the running back situation.
On Wednesday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that he still considers Fitzgerald Toussaint the Wolverines’ featured back and doesn’t see freshman Derrick Green surpassing Toussaint's number of carries.
With that, the Wolverines need to find a way to get Toussaint yards. With the Iowa linebackers and Ohio State's defense on the horizon, NOrthwestern's defense might be the easiest defense for Toussaint to find yardage against. Whether that means the offensive line actually gets push and opens holes in the middle or him going off tackle, Michigan needs to find a way to get a rushing attack going.
Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is of the opinion that his defense will be good enough when it finds a way to win each game.
This weekend against Northwestern, that’ll be asking a lot because Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter possess a threat much like Nebraska posed last weekend with the option, leaving Mattison to decide how to pressure.
“I’m trying to pressure, thinking we can get home, and they check to option,” Mattison said. “That’s the fine line where you decide if you’re going to be a pressure team in passing situations, or are they going to change their game plan and check to a running play? There were a number of times when we came out of it okay, and a couple times we didn’t.”
Michigan will try to get pressure up front, and with this being Brennen Beyer's second game back on the defensive line, the gained chemistry from practice could show as Mattison works up different schemes and blitzes.
But Mattison said that the scout team offense had actually given the first-team defense a good look of what Northwestern will run Saturday.
“That’s a huge thing, especially as the season goes on, when your numbers go down a bit,” Mattison said. “You’ve got to do a good job to make sure you get a great look.”