INSIDE SLANT: Hoke wants to cut Robinson's carries
Brady Hoke has some big mitts, and the first-year Michigan coach is using them a lot lately, just to keep hanging on to the notion that he can have a good football team and a productive offense without QB Denard Robinson being options one, two and three in the game plan.
The Wolverines had to lean very hard on Robinson to pull out the dramatic win over Notre Dame, and then relied even more heavily on the fleet junior from Florida's running ability in last week's win over Eastern Michigan.
Robinson carried the ball 26 times against the Eagles for 198 yards, providing more than half of Michigan's rushing yardage. Hoke knows that if he is forced to go to Robinson too often, the risk/reward ratio will quickly tilt against him.
"We still don't want to run Denard 26 times a game," Hoke said, repeating a recent lament as the Wolverines prepared to face San Diego State in their final non-conference game of the 2011 season.
"That's a good way to get him beat up and hurt. We've got to keep plugging away on this. We took a little bit of the load off of him, but we need to make sure we're a healthy football team.
"This is a marathon. The season is a marathon and you just want to try and protect him and not get too many dag-gone hits on him."
In general, Hoke said there has been good progress with his team, but the sluggish starts in recent games leave him baffled. The continuation of that trend was very evident in the Eastern Michigan game as the lowly Eagles were dominant in the first quarter.
"We started a little slower than we'd like to (against Eastern Michigan), but I don't know if there's a magic answer for that," Hoke said.
Unbeaten San Diego State, Hoke's former employer, will give the Wolverines a certain test, but Hoke wants to keep the focus away from his connection to the Aztecs and the fact he will be coaching against a number of players he once recruited to play at San Diego.
"We've got our hands full," Hoke said. "But this is San Diego State playing Michigan, and that's all it is. In the framework of what's happening, it's two teams competing."
--Michigan coach Brady Hoke was involved in the scheduling of the San Diego State game at Michigan when he was head coach of the Aztecs.
--With the most-recent win over Eastern Michigan, Wolverines' coach Brady Hoke moved to 50-50 in his career and reached the .500 mark for the first time since he was 4-4 in his first year at Ball State.
--The Wolverines held a 2-1 edge in the turnover battle against Eastern Michigan, giving Michigan a plus-six turnover differential this season. Last year, Michigan was minus-10 in turnovers over its 13 games.
--Heading into the game against San Diego State, Michigan has won its last 11 regular season games against non-conference opponents, and won its past dozen games played in September.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads San Diego State 1-0 (last meeting, 2004, 24-21, Michigan)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines have scored in each of their 10 red zone trips this season, and those scores have been touchdowns nine times. Michigan also boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers last weekend in RB Vincent Smith (118 yards) and QB Denard Robinson (198 yards). Michigan wants to see Robinson throw more often and tilt the offense back towards a more balanced approach, and see him carry the ball much less that the 26 times he ran against Eastern Michigan.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolverines were a sloppy bunch when they allowed Eastern Michigan 122 rushing yards in the first quarter of last weekend's game, and a repeat of that performance will be disastrous against an unbeaten San Diego State team. Michigan needs to apply plenty of pressure from its defensive line, and make sure there is contact at the line of scrimmage when the Aztecs run the football. San Diego State has the athletes to scare Michigan, if the Wolverines are not assignment sound.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you just have to come out with some energy. We can't be getting behind at the beginning of the game. If we want to be a great defense, we have to stop them in their tracks at the beginning of the game, so there's an area we have to improve on, no doubt." -- Michigan junior S Jordan Kovacs on his team's trouble with chronic slow starts
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Diego State at Michigan, Sept. 24 -- The Wolverines get a close look at head coach Brady Hoke's former team, and a lot of players that Hoke recruited for the Aztecs. They also get a solid, final test of their readiness for the Big Ten schedule - the eight games that follow.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan wants to keep San Diego State's explosiveness in check, and demonstrate a good rhythm of moving the chains and sustaining drives. "We play good defense when we're watching our offense," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Vincent Smith made his case to be the featured back in this offense with his 118 yards on just nine carries against Eastern Michigan.
--S Thomas Gordon was challenged by his head coach to become a better football player. Gordon took those words to heart in his film review, training and in practice. He had an interception and a fumble recovery last week.
--LB Brandin Hawthorne got the first start of his career last week against Eastern Michigan and led Michigan with 10 tackles. He had one stop in all of the 2010 season.
--QB Denard Robinson had 198 rushing yards in the win over Eastern Michigan, giving him 2,405 for his career and pushing him within 152 yards of the second position in the Big Ten's all-time rushing leaders among quarterbacks.
--RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who missed the Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury, returned last weekend and had 46 yards on 11 carries in a supplemental role against Eastern Michigan.
--LB Cam Gordon missed the Eastern Michigan game with a sore back but is expected to return to the active rotation against San Diego State.
--LB Brandon Herron did not play against Eastern Michigan due to a leg injury, but he is expected to be back on the field this week against San Diego State.
--PR Jeremy Gallon had a 71-yard punt return against Eastern Michigan called back because of an illegal block penalty.
--P Will Hagerup will miss the San Diego State game as he serves the final game of a four game suspension for a violation of team rules.
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