Denard Robinson may be under center more often to get Michigan's tailbacks going
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Offensive coordinator Al Borges thinks he knows why, and some won't like his solution.
The problem, Borges said, is the absence of a consistent running game, and the answer lies in putting quarterback Denard Robinson under center more often.
"Some of that (offensive consistency) will come from running more under center," he said after practice Tuesday. "We're still so much more shotgun than we are under center, and as long as you're under the gun, your tailbacks aren't going to be featured as much."Michigan ran shotgun plays 68.4 percent of the time in its opener against Western Michigan, and also a considerable amount in Saturday's 35-31 win against Notre Dame.
"I'd like to be under center a little bit more," Borges said. "Not a lot more, but a little bit more."
Some, such as former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, believe Michigan should be in shotgun sets more often because it better utilizes Robinson ability to spread out defenses and attack them with his legs.
Borges, though, wants to take some of the offensive emphasis off Robinson to create better stability. He would like to do that by getting the running backs going.
As a group, the Wolverines' tailbacks combined for 10 yards on eight carries, no touchdowns and one fumble against Notre Dame. Sophomore Stephen Hopkins led the group with five carries for 10 yards.
That put more of the offensive onus on Robinson. The junior finished with 16 rushes for 122 yards, but struggled mightily in the first half.
The Wolverines gained 65 percent of their yards on just six plays against Notre Dame and failed to put together a drive of at least six plays. After averaging 72.4 plays per game last year, Michigan has run 89 in two games. Losing the fourth quarter of the weather-shortened opener against WMU didn't help that number.
Borges said he would like to run 70 to 72 plays per game.
"Absolutely not," offensive guard Taylor Lewan said when asked if sensed a rhythm on offense. "That doesn’t sound very good to me, especially how our offense used to have 13-, 14-, 15-play drives.
"You could blame it on the first-year coaches, but overall, they call on (the offensive line) for a reason. We were recruited here to do something. It’s our jobs -- not the coaches' jobs -- our jobs to get ourselves in gear."
Lewan said it was the offensive line's fault the running game has struggled.
"I’m pissed," he said. "What do you want me to say? That’s awful and that’s an extension of the offensive line. We did some good things ... pass protection wasn’t bad, but at the same time, it’s not all about pass protection. You have to run the ball, and that’s a direct correlation to us."
Is Lewan surprised by how much shotgun Michigan has run?
"Yes and no," he said. "I know it’s a pro-style offense, but at the same time, when you have a player like Denard, you need to utilize those tools. The guy can run. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, the guy can run a little bit and he’s a playmaker.
"So we need to put him in situation to make plays, and we need to put our offense in a position to make plays, and if that means more shotgun? Coach Borges knows what he’s doing. These coaches know what they’re doing, and anything they say, I’m listening to them."
What Borges is saying now is he wants to use Robinson less in the shotgun, but still rush him 15 to 17 times per game, and he needs to get others involved. He also now acknowledges Michigan is running a "hybrid" system that is an amalgam of the pro-style he favors and spread he inherited.
Still, he said, Michigan is 2-0, and that is what is most important, no matter how ugly it's looked at times along the way.
"I told you before, there are going to be growing pains to this thing," Borges said. "Hopefully, they're not excruciating, and so far we've had some ... but we didn't do so much damage that we lost the game.
"You'll get to the point you want to be at. And I think I'm talking to me more than I'm talking to you."