Analysis: Michigan football team will seek better offensive balance to help Denard Robinson
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
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.