Brady Hoke 'concerned' about offensive line as tailbacks' funk deepens
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke has consistently said the offensive line shares the blame for the Wolverines' tailback funk.
That's especially true this week.
Michigan's tailbacks had another long day in the win against Minnesota, despite working in backup Thomas Rawls to supplement the struggling Fitz Toussaint. They combined for 29 carries and 113 yards -- 41 of which came on a late run with the game in hand.
Take out that run, which came after the game was decided, and the Wolverines' backs averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.
But according to Hoke, the offensive line deserves blame -- more than normal -- and added for the first time this year that he's "concerned" about the unit.
"Yeah, I am," he said. "I think we had some protection breakdowns that we can't have last week -- that we haven't had, to some degree. I think us moving the line of scrimmage (is an issue).
"We got to do a better job at the point of attack."
Hoke said he has considered making personnel changes to the line, including inserting Joey Burzynski or Jack Miller, but has held off because the current group also has had nice moments.
Just not enough.
Toussaint is averaging just 48.9 yards per game this year, after averaging 118.0 in six games as Michigan's featured back last year. He had 70 yards on 13 carries against Minnesota, but more than half those yards came on a late 41-yard touchdown run.
Michigan (6-3, 4-1) worked in the backup Rawls against the Gophers, but he didn't fare any better. He logged a team-high 16 carries -- Toussaint had 13 -- but gained just 43 yards.
Although both backs struggled, Hoke said he liked what he saw, noting "when there’s been times where there’s enough space, they both have run hard and run downhill."
"I think both of them, downhill running and some of the things out of the I-backs -- I thought they both ran hard," Hoke added. "I thought both of them saw things well. Playing both of them has kind of been the plan to some degree. We just haven’t executed well enough.
"We’d like to get more from our backs running the football. I think those two guys for the most part read things right, ran downhill. We have to do a better job at the point of attack.”
One of those guys at the point of attack agrees.
Junior left tackle Taylor Lewan said there were breakdowns in pass protection as well as run blocking. Michigan allowed three sacks, despite quarterback Devin Gardner's mobility.
"I think that's pretty obvious, the problems we had," Lewan said. "We gave up way too many sacks. The goal is always no sacks in a game. Got to get better and more consistent.
"I think it's easily fixable, just got to know the scheme a little better and work on our fundamentals and techniques. That's what more of our problems are. ... Protection, run game, everything. Everything, overall, needs to be blocked better."
Lewan said he noticed on film that Michigan's line was struggling to pick up twists at the line of scrimmage, as well as blitzers. He said those are easy corrections that must be executed.
Michigan's tailback production picked up in the fourth quarter, rushing for 60 of their 113 yards (aided by the 41-yard Toussaint touchdown). But Lewan wasn't impressed.
He wants to see it for four quarters.
"I was happy with it -- we need to block that way all the time," he said. "Toward the end of the game was good, but it needs to be that way for four quarters. Not just the fourth quarter."