You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

Michigan football team will seek better offensive balance to help Denard Robinson

By Kyle Meinke


Denard Robinson, center, has accounted for 948 of Michigan's 987 offensive yards in its past two wins against Notre Dame. It's a remarkable statistic. But is it a good statistic?

Angela J. Cesere |

The Michigan football won its season opener without playing a fourth quarter. It won again Saturday by playing only a fourth quarter.

The 35-31 victory -- earned by virtue of a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback, then a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 30 seconds -- was euphoric for the Wolverines (2-0). It was engineered by quarterback Denard Robinson, who was 7-of-10 passing for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.

But after Sunday's afterglow wears off and this team begins to look at film and prepare for Eastern Michigan (2-0), it’ll see a lot of things it won’t like.

Among them is imbalance on offense.

Robinson finished with 446 total yards, which was 98.7 percent of Michigan’s overall offensive production. Coupled with the 502 yards he racked up against the Irish in last year’s comeback win, he’s now accounted for 948 of the Wolverines’ 987 yards the past two years against Notre Dame (96.0 percent).

That’s a remarkable statistic. But is it a good statistic? Or is it disconcerting Michigan leaned so heavily on one player? The problem with that approach is, although the team is hot when he’s hot, it’s not when he’s not.

For three quarters against the Irish, Robinson was not hot, completing 4 of 14 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown and two of his three interceptions.

For Michigan coach Brady Hoke, the troubling part of his team's offensive imbalance was, while Robinson rushed 16 times for 108 yards, the Wolverines’ running backs combined for only eight carries and 10 yards.

Sophomore Stephen Hopkins led the way with five carries for 10 yards. Week 1 starting tailback Fitz Toussaint did not play due to injury.

“I’d give (Notre Dame) some credit because I think they’re more stout up front, when you look at them from a defensive perspective,” Hoke said. “But I also would say we’ve got to be better at the point of attack. I didn’t see a whole lot of room, maybe a couple of times in there when we didn’t have the greatest vision in the world running the football.

“It all starts up front on both sides and we’ve got a lot of work to do there.”

The lack of production at running back, paired with Robinson’s mistakes at quarterback, made it difficult for Michigan to set an offensive rhythm for much of the game. The Wolverines, despite scoring 35 points, did not sustain a drive of longer than five plays.

“We never really got on track early in the game, didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm,” Hoke said in his opening comments after the game. “We didn’t start as well as we would like, played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We’ve got a lot to work on.”

Part of the problem could be Michigan has less depth at running back than originally thought.

The coaching staff named senior Michael Shaw the leader to win the highly touted tailback competition in fall camp, but he lost the job to Toussaint the night before the opener against Western Michigan (at least publicly).

Toussaint played well in that game, but Hoke said Friday he “is a little banged up,” and did not play against the Irish. Shaw was announced as the starter at running back, but received only two carries for minus-3 yards.

Such a limited role, with the starter shelved, indicates Shaw is perceived to be a reserve at best. Toussaint appears to be the clear No. 1, and Shaw likely will not be a significant part of the offense, assuming Toussaint’s healthy.

Regardless of who it is, Michigan will be seeking better balance on offense. Against the Irish, so went Shoelace, so went Michigan. It was enough that night, but won't always be.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Michael B. Bard

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

I would give anything to have had Bob Ufer call that game.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:16 a.m.

I was thinking the same thing, as I'd listened to his famous "Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter..." call from the '79 Indiana game earlier on Saturday. They don't make'em like that any more: Even when the games were on back then, we'd mute the sound and listen to Ufer.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 5 p.m.

I have a fever and the only cure is ... MORE TOUSSAINT!!!!! Seriously, Toussaint is the only back other than maybe the Freshmen who are going to be able to play in this scheme. I'm glad to see someone here at saying about Shaw what I've always thought and said here numerous times, namely, he's not very good and hasn't found an arm tackle yet that won't take him down. Expect to see Rawls become more involved in the offense as the season progresses, particularly if Fitz can't stay healthy. As for the "new" scheme not fitting or not working w/DRob, I say, what new scheme? Other than a handful of plays against WMU where we were in a pro set, this has been the spread offense from last year. The first 3 plays were a DRob run, a Shaw run from a spread set, and a poorly thrown ball, also from a spread set. DRob lined up under center, what twice, in the game vs ND? The problem was we go ZERO push by the offensive line. Most all the yardage on the ground that we got was due to a broken play. Even DRob's designed runs went no where. The offensive line needs to figure things out and do it quick, otherwise we're going to be seeing this all season long. Funny, at this point, I'm more confident in the defense than I am in the offense.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 7:47 p.m.

What's the deal, how come everyone sells Smith short. I don't think they use him enough. All the talk is about Toussaint, Shaw and Hopkins. Smith did well last year and given the chance he has done well this year. Surely it can't be his size, one of Michigan's all time running backs, Jamie Morris, wasn't very big.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

Speaking of retro, the fourth quarter brings back memories of Detroit Lions of 90's. Lot's of undersized athletes but running the roll outs and screens helped kept Michigan comeback in the game. The only difference is lacking a Barry Sander in the backfield. Perhaps Michigan should have Gardner be the quarterback and have Robinson play Barry Sander. That way, teams cannot over-commit on stacking the line of scrimmage as they have all Saturday night.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

Congrats to Denard and the team. I love winning, and seeing ND lose. Beating them three years in a row in the last 30 seconds is great fun. Now...we gotta be more accurate with those downfield passes. We had open receivers all game but could't consistently get them the ball. Our running backs don't have much of a chance with the opposing D has nine guys stacked on the line of scrimmage. Too bad Toussaint is hurt. I didn't hear Herron's name called at all; did he play? It also looked to me like Denard was walking gingerly after that late hit in the 4th. It reminded me of last year. I hope Gardner is ready, because I suspect we'll need him this year.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:30 p.m.

This analysis is built on a faulty premise, at least as far as the passing game is concerned. Kyle Meinke is not entirely to blame, he's just been sucked into a statistic perpetuated by a sporting media with too much bandwidth on its hands. The statistic on which the argument is constructed offers far more light than heat. Let me explain. By my count, Denard made only a handful of accurate throws. He missed receivers badly in the first half and threw a total of three interceptions. I would argue that, with only a couple notable exceptions, the receivers actually accounted for the more athletic end of the pitch and catch game. They caught balls that were thrown up for grabs, winning the jump-ball match-up against sometimes double coverage. Denard gets "credited" for all the yards gained in the passing game, when his receivers really did the lion's share of the work. Think, too, about that great run by Vincent Smith. The yards after the catch on his touchdown in the south end zone were a result of Smith's ability to make people miss, not Denard's. I am not bagging on Denard. As a running threat, he's electrifying. In the passing game, he's able to keep plays alive that other quarterbacks would have to concede to the defense (either via the sack or the ball thrown out of bounds). What I am challenging is the notion that Denard is the only skilled offensive weapon. The receivers and some of the backs (like Smith) account for more of the offense than the silly statistic would suggest. Better analysis would possibly be to acknowledge ND's defensive game plan, a plan predicated on stifling the inside run game. Had Denard been more accurate in the pass game early, ND would have had to back a man or two out of the box, defend honestly, and the UM run game would have found some space. I have a lot of faith that Denard will improve his passing accuracy (he was admittedly to amped up in the first half) and that the running game will benefit accordingly. Go Blue!


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

brionte dunn had planned on being at michigan but went to the penn state-alabama game. he went to the wrong game and wishes he had come to the michigan game. his cousin dymonte thomas who came to the michigan game also committed to michigan after the game. . . GO BLUE!!!


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

If there were some recruits in the crowd during this game, the thing that will convince them to come to Michigan will be the atmosphere. You're playing on National TV, against quality rival teams and there are 114,000 fans in the stands. You can't beat that, you're in the "Big House", no other college program offers that.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Keep a close eye on the MSU/ND game next week. That will give you an indication as to well Michigan will do once they get into the big ten. I think ND will win this game. I would like to see Denard roll out more like he's going to run and thrown those short passes 5-10 yards. Michigan need some bigger backs who can stand the pounding. IT seems that every week, one of their backs is injured.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 8:42 a.m.

There are 4 RB's in the rotation. Toussaint-Shaw-Smith and Hopkins so if one is down, you have three more. This season it is more dangerous if you will use all four backs as each of them has a different skill set and therefore a different weapon for each situation. The Vincent Smith TD is an example.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

Last year, Denard was getting hurt because he WAS the running back. Better to have hurting running backs than hurting starting quarterbacks.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

The tailbacks did not step up against Notre Dame in Saturday's gane. I am sure they will have a great game against Eastern this Saturday. The problem is that they only look good against the MAC schools. I am hoping to see them make the bigger plays on a consistent basis or else; we will be a one-trick pony like we were last year. I loved the way in which the Wolverines pulled out the thrilling win aginst the Irish of ND, but "luck" will eventually run out if we keep doing this. Brady Hoke and Al Borgess are better than that and I am confident they will not let that happen again this year but they have a lot of work to do. I like the last two sentences in this article by Kyle Meinke, that about sums it up.

Lorain Steelmen

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

I think there have been several accurate comments here, so far. No need to say the same thing. But my sense, was that UM was always trying for the 'home run' ball. Why not adopt a 'shorter' passing game, albeit, virtical, not horizontal. Without Fitz in there, we have NO other runners. Vincent Smith is decent, he's a tough kid, but he can't handle the power game inside. Our Oline seems to be able to give DRob time, although he had to move around, to get those passes off. On Defense, we need Herron back in there, but I again, liked the effort from the Freshman, Ryan. I'm still a skeptic on Campbell. Our secondary is not ready for prime time, and it's doubtful we'll see any improvement there, any time soon, until we gain control of the D-line, and get pressure from sources other than blitzes. By the way, 'Where is Waldo?', aka, Craig Roh? Finally, I thought Hoke handled himself well. Yes, he is intense, but his 'coaching' is always, 'with purpose', and not out of anger. He is 'involved' more than most coaches are, especially with his beloved, dline, and he is much less political, than Carr was. I love the fact, that he went for the win with 8 seconds to go. Carr would have lost that game being conservative. That for me, is the biggest difference in this team. If we are lucky, with few injuries, we'll build as the season goes. There are NO unbeatable teams on our schedule, so I am not quick to say that UM can't do VERY well this year. Only Wisconsin, is clearly better, and we wouldn't see them, until Indianapolis.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

*clap, clap* Bravo! Well said.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

The real problem with the offense early on is that Denard was not settled down. He comes into many games with too much nervous energy. Any game where he is consistently overthrowing recievers (which he did many times in this game), shows that Denard is too nervous. The coaching staff and Denard need to figure out a way to get Denard calmed down before the game starts so that he can be effective in the first half. He didn't show it in this game, but he can be a pretty accurate quarterback. I watched him in all of the early games last year and he was hitting people on the numbers and in stride pretty accurately. The other challenge with Denard is that he can't see or through over defenders well. He should be doing a lot of rolling pockets and bootlegs so that he can have a clear view of the field.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 12:04 p.m.

The fact we need more balance is pretty obvious. I think we had to use the spread primarily in this game is because of where we are currently talent-wise and the fact ND is terrible at stopping it. But, a couple things need to change for Michigan on offense. The line needs to do a much better job blocking. They were handled by ND. Also, we need to find a running back that can create yards on his own and not require a gaping hole to run through every time. Part of the problem is most of our backs other than Hopkins are small and don't have the power to push the pile. Maybe this back isn't on the roster. But it will need to be a major recruiting priority. Finally, Denard needs to work on his accuracy and consistency. He was not throwing well for much of the game and that contributed to us getting into a big hole.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

Kyle: Great openning sentence!! Obvious; but well said. What a great football game for the fans what a lousy football game. I would not want to sitting at practice Monday listening to the lists of errors and missed executions as a player. The question of the new pro game in the first half looked like D R was being handcuffed. The defense began to get better and then reverted to sandlot football. The team has not jellied. They haven't practicied enough. Both teams melted down.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:07 a.m.

There are lots of things to fix, but if Vincent Smith isn't in the backfield a lot that is a crying shame. I came away from the game with a lot of questions about many facets of the game for Michigan; pass coverage, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Kicking and so forth. Please - I hope no one thinks I am trying to take anything away from a thrilling victory but it was clear we have a ways to go and I hope the EMU game allows us get something set. Is it possible that on offense they tried to put too much in? Go Blue


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:36 a.m.

Absolutely agree, Kyle. This offense is not going to carry us through the B1G season. It's clunky with no flow or consistency. Especially worrisome is the fact that a majority of our yardage occurs because of broken plays. We were beyond fortunate to beat ND. At least with the offense last year, someone was successful running the ball with consistency. I haven't seen it yet this season. Also, we cannot count on the defense bailing us out with turnovers (unforced mostly) in the red zone twice per game.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 11:28 p.m.

And, we all knew coming in that Denard is not an accurate long range passer. Why did Borges prefer longer throws over shorter routes against ND? Denard is most deadly on the short routes -- the flares and bubble screens and quick pitches over the middle. Mark my words, we will not compete with better competition if Denard is forced to stand in the pocket, make a decision, then heave 25+ yards downfield.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 11:22 p.m.

"At least with the offense last year, someone was successful running the ball with consistency." You are correct. "Someone" being DRob. I'm not seeing it this year, even with the 108 yard effort against ND. Yes, ND has a good front 7, but I don't think they're any better than MSU or Iowa, and they're certainly not better than OSU or Nebraska. Call me an evil cynic, but that game against ND did not give me a comfortable feeling going forward. We did nothing offensively for three quarters. Then, nearly all of our 202 yards of output in the 4th quarter came on broken plays where Hemingway and Gallon got loose. ND did pretty much what they wanted to do offensively until they repeatedly and almost inexplicably shot themselves in the foot. Other than "this is Michigan", tell me why I should feel comfortable, because I really want to.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

TBF, other than DRob, who ran the ball consistenly last year? No one, as far as I could tell.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:03 a.m.

I think most UM fans realize that we're 2 years, minimum, from being on the level, talent wise, of OSU, Neb, Wisc. But the last 3 years was embarrassing playing them. (Not Neb, of course) But if UM wins 4 Big10 games, most fans will be content, I think.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:56 a.m.

Thru 3 quarters Robinson completed 4 of 14 passes for 136 yards one touchdown and two interceptions. That is the most incredible stat line ive ever seen from a D1 QB who wasnt benched. 4 play drives were the longest of the game except for the final drive Which i believe was 5 plays. We are doomed when we get to the B10, I dont know if we can even beat Indiana again with numbers like that.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Numbers are what's important, am I right?


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:10 a.m.

Nothing like a positive attitude


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 5:39 a.m.

Those figures are not 100% rushing yards. If Denard rushed for 900 plus yards than that is doing it by himself. Passing yards simply meant that he passed it to a receiver and the receiver took the pass and ran it. Only rushing yards meant Denard did it alone. In those 2 games how many running yards did he accomplish?


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:49 a.m.

Yeah, We know what passing yards mean.......... Just sayen


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:18 a.m.

First let me be clear I love Hoke and his plan for the future.. But I wonder how many games we will start out running unsuccessful power football with an undersized group and then divert to the spread that matches our present skill set. I hope they dont wait till the 4th qtr to open it up when its too late. We have not dominated the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball in either game, really. Especially disappointing that the defensive front four could not even get pressure against WMU. That being said I would like to see some commentary regarding the recruits who were at the game.. I know we had some undecided prospects attending and they must have been influenced by the magic of that environment.. Defensivley, I expected to hear Mike Martins name a whole lot more in the first two games than what I have. I hear Woolfolk a lot, but mostly because he is injured.. Beginning to doubt that he can play an entire game, seems a little fragile unfortunately. Disapponted in television coverage of the Desmond Howard tribute... I had hoped that since Desmond was a member of their college football coverage that we might get a glimpse of the halftime ceremony. All that being said the game was great and I look forward to the rest of the season!! Coach 'em up guys, This is MIchigan!


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

When did we try to run power football? I think people are misremembering what actually happened Saturday night, because of the dichotomy of the performance. We ran the spread from the word Go. The first play was a DRob run followed by a Shaw run from a spread set. What was different between the first 3 quarters and the 4th was DRob rolling out and the routes being run by the receivers changed from "GO" routes to crossing patterns.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:09 a.m.

UM got a verbal commitment for the class of 2013 after the game; Dymonte Thomas


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:39 a.m.

PHX, has something on the visitors, including 1 commit.

Wally the Wolverine

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:12 a.m.

UND's cornerback (#4) was our game MVP. I could not believe how horribly out of position he was on every play where he had accountability. Kudos to Barwis and Denard for exploiting this.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:37 a.m.

I agree. If UM had helmet stickers, they should send one to #4, Gary Gray. I don't think it was so much he was always out of position, he just never turned around to look for the ball. I know this sometimes happens to DBs, but c'mon, Denard was throwing dying ducks all evening.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:12 a.m.

Also, I'd much rather win one-dimensionally, than lose multi-dimensionally (ND)! Next year and for many years, we'll win with player talent. This year, we'll win with team, scheme (better coaching) and wearing out the opponent. Enjoy the ride!


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:11 a.m.

I don't know what it is but Shaw just seems to have not upped his game as a senior to what we all hoped he could be. He came in with high accolades, but it seems he has just stagnated and is generally not productive nor good at hitting holes. Yes, he had that long run last week but he was just not good enough in his limited chances against ND. And he looks no better than as a frosh. Puzzling. And what about Hopkins? Another guy who looks like he has potential, but did not show it at all yesterday.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

For 3 quarters UM tried to get others involved. ND is just better, as a team, on the line. Whatever it takes, legally, to win is the challenge and goal. As a QB, his stats don't show that the receivers were just as accountable for the win. Looking at the highlights, most of the catches were on adjustments by them. Take what the other teams allows. ND's defensive focus was on stopping the run (and Koger). They, pretty much, did. UM won! Now UM has 3 weeks to get Rawls (and Devon) ready for Big10 play. Go Blue!!


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:45 a.m.

Agree 100% ... as nice as it is to pull out a win on the shoulders of Denard, it won't always turn out like that. So it's good to see some recognition of the importance of credible threats across the total offense, not just one player. My sense is Michigan will achieve this only in part this season. My sense is the horses just aren't in the stable. In the coming years yes. Where in the heck was Koger in that game? He caught one pass. But why nothing else? No plays called to him? Or whoever was defending him did a particularly good job?


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

To the untrained casual fan's eye, it looks like Michigan is trying to change the culture of the past three years and institute a more power/pro type offense. But that when the game is on the line and the thing that is working is the more open free wheeling offense, Borges(sp) is going with it. So they win with the free wheeling Denard run offense and vow to continue to work on the pro set offense.