The Big Ten is a football conference in which being able to run the ball on offense still makes the difference between wins and losses. The University of Michigan’s inability to do either is making it quickly one of the worst teams in the conference.
Yesterday against the Michigan State Spartans, the Wolverines got stuffed for -48 yards on 29 carries, averaging -1.7 yards per carry, on the ground yesterday. These numbers aren’t a variation, but have become the norm for Michigan.
In their other loss, the Wolverines managed just 2.8 yards per rush against Penn State. Reaching 149 rushing yards was simply the result of amassing 54 attempts and playing four overtimes. In their narrow win at UConn, the average was 3.7 yards per carry. Many of the big runs that the Wolverines have gotten have been the result of broken plays by quarterback Devin Gardner, not designed rushes.
The Wolverines’ leading rusher, Fitzgerald Toussaint, has a season average of 3.7 yards per carry and has reached just 595 yards through eight games. That 3.7 shows up in another spot on Michigan’s team stat line, as that is exactly what the Wolverines are averaging per rush as a team as well.
Not having an effective running game in the Big Ten cripples the Wolverines in several ways. It makes their offense easier to defend as opposing defensive coordinators don’t need to prepare for it. Play-action passes can’t be run when the defense has no respect for a running game. The opposing defenses’ pass rush is more ferocious when they aren’t hampered with concerns of giving up a big run.
Additionally, the Wolverines’ ability to protect a lead and rest their defense is compromised with an inability to run the football. These are all important attributes of a winning team in the Big Ten.
Looking at the rest of Michigan’s schedule, the running game has to improve if they want to get to a January bowl game. Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State all have running attacks that thus far have been more effective than the Wolverines’.
Gardner and Toussaint have almost exclusively handled the running game duties for Michigan so far this season and have combined for an inadequate attack. If Michigan wants to get to seven or more wins, the offense as a hole has to improve its production on the ground.