5 Michigan keys: A look at who has the most to gain against UMass (with prediction)
ANN ARBOR -- UMass is averaging three points per game. It is allowing 41 per game.
It has played UConn and Indiana.
The Minutemen lost both those games -- shocking, right? -- and are among the worst FBS team in the country. They also happen to be next up for No. 17 Michigan (3:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN).
This kind of game typically puts a team such as the Wolverines in a no-win situation: Either they smoke UMass, as they should, and everyone moves on with their lives. Or they don't, and then there are problems.
But this game won't be a complete wash for Michigan (1-1), which was embarrassed against Alabama and tested against Air Force. There are concerns that have surfaced, and they could become more serious next week against No. 20 Notre Dame if not addressed.
So, who/what is looking to get on track against the Minutemen? Coaches have talked all week about getting tailback Fitz Toussaint going, and that's surely important.
But what about Roy Roundtree?
The senior was expected to be Michigan's top wideout, despite recording only 19 catches last year -- well off a 72-catch season in 2010 that is becoming an increasingly distant memory.
Coaches continue to say they're not concerned about Roundtree's production, noting the leadership he provides -- and he really is a great leader -- as well as his blocking. And those are important things.
But at some point, you have to catch the football.
Roundtree has more experience than any Michigan receiver -- far more, actually, as a fourth-year contributor -- yet has only two catches for 17 yards. Instead, Michigan has turned to converted quarterback Devin Gardner and even true freshman tight end Devin Funchess for production.
Roundtree, to his credit, has about as good an attitude as can be expected from someone who has experienced such a precipitous decline.
"The stats don't really mean anything to me -- as long as I can go out there and block and help the team out," he said this week. "I'm a team player. I know my time will come.
"People know what I can do -- I don't get into all the stats. I know when the ball is in my hands, I can make good plays and get in the end zone. Stats don't matter to me -- I just want to win."
Roundtree is a tremendous blocker, and his savvy presence has helped expedite the growth of freshmen wideouts Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, coach Brady Hoe said.
But Michigan also is a better team when Roundtree is catching passes. If he could get it going, it would add a dimension to a passing game that has carried on without him in Gardner and junior Jeremy Gallon. Even Jeremy Jackson.
Roundtree will look to get it going this week before traveling to South Bend next week to face a Notre Dame team that surely is ready to shut him down, after he caught the game-winning pass against them last year.
Boy, does that seem like a long time ago or what?
Other facets of Michigan's game that are looking to get on track against UMass:
Fitz Toussaint and the tailbacks
How slowly have Michigan's tailbacks started this year? They combine for 49 yards, less yardage than 284 individual players. Astounding.
Starter Fitz Toussaint rushed for at least 100 yards in four of his final five regular-season games last year. Through two games this year, he has 7 yards on eight carries. So much for momentum.
Of course, Toussaint's progress was stunted by his one-game suspension for an offseason DUI arrest. But when he returned against Air Force, he wasn't much more effective than when he was sitting on Bacari Alexander's couch during the Alabama game.
The backs combine for just 49 yards on 27 carries, although it's far from just their fault. The offensive line, which features new starters at three spots and has lost All-American center David Molk, must work more cohesively.
It will work on that chemistry against UMass, which ranks 110th against the run. Nothing like a whipping to get the good vibes flowing.
The senior linebacker has started since he was a sophomore, but could be losing his grip on his spot in the middle. Demens did not flow to the ball well against Air Force, although UMass is last in the country in total defense. Could be a remedy for whatever is ailing Demens.
He needs something to spark his game, before he loses his spot for good.
Michigan's defense has been carved up for 848 yards of offense, which ties Troy for 92nd in the country. Much of that falls on the Wolverines' punchless defensive line.
Put it this way: Which defensive lineman has played the best for Michigan this year? Is there a single guy who stands out? Maybe Frank Clark. He played well, particularly down the stretch, against Air Force. He could be disruptive.
But pretty much every other guy at that position group has underperformed so far. Coaches like the progress they see from some guys -- Quinton Washington stands out -- but Michigan just isn't getting enough push or pressure from its front.
UMass won't make the Wolverines pay, but other could. Michigan will be looking to build rhythm here against the Minutemen.
Please see the first two paragraphs. Michigan 45, UMass 6