In Doug Nussmeier’s introductory news conference as the offensive coordinator at Michigan, some of the first words out of his mouth were no surprise to anyone who knows the Wolverines' traditional identity.
“Tough, physical, explosive is what we want to be,” Nussmeier said. “We want to be able to run the football. We want to be able to put points on the board. We want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game.”
The tough, physical, explosive talk is exactly what's expected from an offensive coordinator at Michigan, a school that prides itself on being strong in the trenches and physical with in the running game.
However, the running game was one of the Wolverines’ biggest issues last season. The Wolverines had an FBS-worst 174 rushes for no gain/negative yards, which means that 35 percent of the time Michigan rushed, it went nowhere or backward. And Michigan’s average of 3.28 yards per rush wasn’t much better: No. 113 in the nation. Considering how poor both of those stats were, Michigan still managed to score 27 rushing touchdowns, which ranked 42nd in the country.
So there seems to be some hope in the run game, but it lacks consistency. That’s where Nussmeier intends to start his focus.
“As long as the ball is moving forward and we’re ending every series in a kick, we’ll have a chance,” Nussmeier said. “That’s where we want to start from, but that’ll be the key point of emphasis to start.”
Nussmeier has an impressive track record in nurturing a running game. In his past six seasons as an offensive coordinator, he has produced six 1,000-yard rushers.
Last season at Alabama, Crimson Tide rushers finished in the top 20 nationally for yards per rush (No. 8 at 5.8 yards), rushes gaining 10 or more yards (No. 18 at 89) and percentage of rushes gaining five or more yards (No. 7 at 47 percent).
Before the Wolverines can produce a run game, he’ll have to address the issues on the offensive line, which struggled all season and must replace All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and three-year starter Mike Schofield.
The Michigan offensive line allowed 36 sacks this season, 109th in the country.
“We need to run the football, and just briefly, looking at statistically where we’re at, we need to eliminate the sacks. You can’t have lost-yardage plays. We’ve got to go eliminate that. We can’t have undisciplined penalties, pre-snap penalties,” Nussmeier said. “Any time you’re trying to find consistency on offense, you have to start from the basis of, ‘We’re not going to go backwards. We’re not going to have lost-yardage runs. We’re not going to take sacks. We’re not going to have penalties.’ ”
Those aren’t exactly tiny issues to fix, but Nussmeier is confident that even though Michigan will have a lot of young players getting major minutes next season, the group will show improvement.
A big focus will be working on the day-to-day expectations for the players and making sure that they get better on a daily basis. If the team can manage to do that, he believes the offense will be in a good place at this time next year.
“The biggest thing for us, as we sit down as a staff to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, set a clear path every day for these young men in how we’re going to get better and the things we want to achieve on a day-to-day basis,” Nussmeier said. “And as we grow daily, then the end product will evolve.”