Each Thursday WolverineNation will take a look at five storylines for the Wolverines and five for their opponent heading into Saturday's game. Here are the storylines for Michigan as it looks forward to the home opener against Massachusetts.
1.) Running game needs to get going: Michigan can't allow quarterback Denard Robinson to be the only player running the ball. If the Wolverines want to get running back Fitzgerald Toussaint involved, this is the game to do it. He needs to get going against some team's defense and it'll be much easier for him to hit the hole and make some runs against UMass than it will when Michigan faces Notre Dame next weekend.
2.) Defensive line needs to make stops: The Wolverine D-line hasn't looked so great and it isn't putting up the kind of numbers that win Big Ten championships. Against UMass, it has a chance to gel and gain experience and confidence. When they don't get the push up front, too many easy runs get through to the linebackers. And even though Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden and co. are playing better, it's unfair to throw that many runs at them and expect them to stop them all. It has been made pretty clear that this isn’t the experienced and mature D-line of 2011, but it needs to be solid and serviceable. That can start against the Minutemen.
3.) Robinson needs to keep getting others involved: Last weekend proved that when Robinson is strong in the air, it opens things up for him on the ground. Now, he needs to get some other running backs involved. Once he does that, the offense adds an entire new element which makes it that much harder to game plan for. If Robinson can show he has elevated his game to the point where he gets receivers, tight ends and running backs involved, it will make his job on the field much easier, and defensive coordinator's jobs that much harder. He has the chance to show off a bit against UMass. He might as well.
4.) Get off to a better start: Michigan had a bad first half against Alabama, but then played the Crimson Tide a bit more even in the second half. And then, against Air Force, Michigan had a relatively sloppy first half as well. In the Big Ten, especially on the road, the Wolverines aren't going to have the luxury of being able to start out slow and have it not hurt their chances at the Big Ten title. If Michigan wants to be in Indianapolis in December it needs to start well from kickoff every Saturday, and it should start this Saturday against UMass. Yes, in all likelihood it’s a game in which the Wolverines could start slow and still win, but it's a bad habit and if they can start that trend now, it'll be easier next weekend when they face Notre Dame.
5.) Don't overlook anyone: None of these players were on the team when Michigan lost to Appalachian State in 2007, but that game stands as a constant reminder that the Wolverines can't overlook anyone. It isn't a powerhouse school and it doesn't have the same kind of build up as Alabama or Michigan State or Ohio State, but it's a team that has played close with Michigan before (Wolverines won 42-37 in 2010) and could do it again on Saturday, given the right circumstances.