The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 92 of 275

THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 91 BY CHRIS BALAS W hen Brady Hoke took control of the Michigan football program in 2011, he envisioned bringing the Wolverines back to run-it-down-your-throat, power offenses that left defenses wanting no part of them in the fourth quarter. Three years later, they're still trying to get there. Quarterback De- nard Robinson carried the running game on his back in his first two seasons, and rightfully so — he was a weapon who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2011, opening room for running back Fitz Toussaint's 1,041-yard campaign and an impressive 7.2 yards per rush in 2012. Then came 2013, and a transition that didn't go quite as planned. What was supposed to be the year of the backs and a return to power football became a season of inconsistency, one in which redshirt ju- nior quarterback Devin Gardner led all rushers with 829 gross yards (483 net). Toussaint managed only 3.5 yards per carry behind an of- fensive line that changed personnel several times during the year, and when No. 2 back and now redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson (6-0, 212) went down with a knee injury in the opener, it was up to a pair of freshmen — Derrick Green (5-11, 227) and De'Veon Smith (5-11, 223) — to provide key minutes in a complex offense for which they weren't prepared. Now in year four, Michigan is still searching for its calling card on offense. Running backs coach Fred Jackson believes new coordinator Doug Nussmeier is on his way to providing it. "The first thing he said when he came in was he wanted us to create an identity of who we are," Jackson said. "If people looked at us on film they'd say, 'Michigan does this' as opposed to saying, 'I'm not sure exactly what they do offensively. "He wants us to be a team that has a true identity. He worked hard this spring to make sure that's something we did. "We're going to run a certain three or four running plays, and we'll base everything off those plays. He wanted to do a lot of what they did when he was at Alabama [as coordinator in 2012 and 2013]." So even if opponents know what's coming — a run-oriented of- fense with actions off those plays, not unlike many of the U-M teams of the past — the goal is to make it so they can't do anything about it. The simplification was a net positive for the young running backs during the spring, Jackson noted. Creating an identity A Young Group Of Running Backs Will Help Michigan Establish An Offensive Approach RB Sophomore De'Veon Smith's toughness, vision and willingness to pass protect set him apart from the competition this spring. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 91-97.RBs.indd 91 6/19/14 12:08 PM

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