Freshman running back Derrick Green rushed 19 times for 79-yards Saturday while fellow freshman De’Veon Smith tallied eight carries for 41-yards.
Is this the kind of production Michigan finds ideal?
Nope. But add the carries and yards up together and Saturday was as productive a running attack as the Wolverines have had in quite some time.
After Michigan’s three overtime, comeback win at Northwestern Coach Brady Hoke continued to reiterate that senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who has battled back to a clean bill of health after an ugly leg injury in 2012, is still their guy at the tailback position.
Former Michigan tailback Jamie Morris isn’t buying that and neither am I. Morris was effusive in his praise of the freshmen backs, noting the Wolverines will simply need to go with what works. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Now, by no means is the Michigan running game done being under construction. Michigan’s third down struggles at Northwestern continue to be a cause for concern, converting just 3-of-17 attempts and although the Wolverines got chunk runs of 23-yards and 16-yards, consistently pushing the line of scrimmage and creating holes for the backs will be the focus in the final three games of the season.
Either way, Saturday, because of the win, served as a stepping-stone of sorts for Michigan. For the first time Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk and offensive coordinator Al Borges will be able to look at the film and show their mixed bag of experienced and youthful offensive linemen clips of success in a game setting -- a blue-print if you will, and that could be vital to a group desperately trying to right the ship and grow.
Welcome back Mitch McGary.
The way Michigan coach John Beilein hinted at an expedited timeline for McGary’s return over the last week, Sunday seemed like a good possibility and sure enough there was No. 4 warming up, not only playing, but instantly being a shot in the arm for the Wolverines on both ends of the floor.
McGary took a minute to get right, missing his first field goal attempt and allowing an offensive rebound to Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim, who was extremely impressive in his season debut with 22-points, nine rebounds and three steals.
But once McGary found his way in that first half it was more than evident how key his presence will be for Michigan.
McGary can be flashy at times but for the most part his game is as old school as it comes. His first three field goals of the season came on a tip-in on the offensive glass, a steal going the other way with a little fake behind the back pass for a lay-up, and yet another offensive rebound with three Cyclones in the area.
Finishing with four steals, nine-points and six rebounds in 22-minutes, there’s a lot to like about McGary’s return and I’d imagine Michigan will find a better rhythm by the end of the Puerto Rico Classic.
Walton’s first road test
After essentially doubling up sophomore Spike Albrecht in minutes played through the first two games, freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. played 21 minutes while Albrecht put in 18 minutes at Iowa State.
Although Walton Jr. had three turnovers he did finish an efficient 6-of-10 from the field with 13-points missing key stretches late as the Cyclones blew away from Michigan.
The biggest stat line for Walton Jr. is the 1-for-5 mark from the three-point stripe but for the most part I thought he was a difference maker, finished several buckets inside on nice cuts, just needed to get into the paint on a more consistent basis.
Friday I asked Coach Beilein if he believes the trip to Iowa State and now Puerto Rico could serve as a similar barometer that Maui did for Trey Burke when he was a freshman. Obviously, it’s just not going to happen on that scale, Burke is special, but as far as finding out what he has in Walton Jr., I thought it a fair question.
Despite the loss and moments on the bench down the stretch, I still believe Walton Jr. ultimately gives this team the best chance to win at the point guard spot and I would’ve loved to have seen him work through the atmosphere and pressure points of a hostile arena.
A couple more sips
This loss at Iowa State can serve Michigan well and be a wake up call of sorts for a young team that has giant expectations.
Biggest things we need to see for the Michigan basketball team moving forward will be getting two feet in the paint, something the coaches preach constantly (the Wolverines attempted just nine free throws Sunday), less standing up defensively with quicker feet to shut down dribble drives, and everyone needs to get on the glass, especially with the smaller lineup.
Oh, and I’m not surprised about Nik Stauskas’ solid road performance at all. Don’t let his slender frame fool you, this is a tough, competitive young man. I know this won’t be the last time I say this but in preseason practice it took one stretch for me to know that Stauskas will be cool and calm for Michigan in pressure situations.
Michigan was playing three-on-three and Jordan Morgan took a feed straight to the rim, Stauskas drawing what he thought was a charge -- nope. The made bucket meant Stauskas and his squad had to go run some sidelines in defeat and No. 11 was not happy about it at all.
Next possession for Stauskas offensively he collected the ball in the corner, went hard to his left on the baseline and threw down an angry two-handed slam.
Just practice, but I’m telling you, you can learn a lot about a players’ attitude in various settings.