The new lookThe new Michigan coaching staff won't repeat history by scrapping and abandoning the playbook of an effective offense. The circumstances are much different with the Michigan offense in 2011 under new Head Coach Brady Hoke, than it was with Rich Rodriguez in 2008.
Under Hoke, and his Offensive Coordinator, Al Borges, they have the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year, Denard Robinson (Jr. #16) at QB, and eight starters returning on offense. There will be a much slower transition between the spread-option, zone read and the eventual pro-style offense that Hoke and Borges are developing. The first play in both the Michigan Spring scrimmage and in the opener against Western Michigan, Robinson took a direct snap from shotgun for a designed run.
Against the Irish last year Robinson passed for 244 yards and rushed for 258 for an Irish opponent record of 504 of total offense. The Chicago Tribune's Big Ten MVP became the first quarterback in NCAA history to rush (1,702) and pass (2,570) for 1,500 yards in a season.
During the off-season Robinson has been concentrating on taking snaps under center and is continuing to adjust to the footwork of three, five, and seven step drops. Robinson struggled in the passing game last season against good defenses and that allowed those defenses to cheat up and play his run game.
Expect the Irish, who didn't know what they were up against last season to key more on Robinson than the tailbacks. Last week Robinson rushed for 46 yards on eight carries and was 9-13 for 98 yards in their rain shortened game against Western Michigan.
Wolverines 'backs and receiversHoke wants Robinson to carry the ball less and depend more on his running backs to bear the load. No running back is as dependable as Robinson is to getting a first down when needed, but they don't want Robinson carrying the ball 256 times like he did last season.
The two running backs who have emerged are Fitz Toussaint (So. #28) and Mike Shaw (Sr. #20). Toussaint led the team in rushing last Saturday with 81 yards on 11 carries including a 43 yarder in the 3rd quarter. A highly rated recruit Toussaint has had trouble seeing the field due to injuries. Shaw carried the ball four times and went untouched for a 44 yard touchdown last week. Coach Brian Kelly anticipated that Shaw would carry the ball more as the featured running back in last year's game. As the Irish defense keyed on Shaw, Robinson continued to keep the ball as a part of the zone-read philosophy.
If the Wolverines start adopting the vertical passing game again, Junior Hemmingway (Sr. #21) is the one who will most likely benefit. Originally recruited by Lloyd Carr in 2007, Hemmingway has averaged nearly 18 yards per catch in his career. He recorded one catch for 37 yards last week. Roy Roundtree (Jr. #12) has moved from the slot to an outside receiver and still remains one of Robinson's favorite targets. The All-Big Ten second team selection led the team in receiving for the year (935) and against the Irish (81). Roundtree scored on Michigan's first touchdown and set up the game winner by catching a 15 yard slant pass to the two yard line in the game's final minute.
Kevin Koger (Sr. #86) is no Kyle Rudolph, but the tight ends will be heard from again in the pro-style offense. Koger scored in the '09 game. Koger has made one handed grabs in the open field and has great hands after contact. He's been tattooed by defenders and has gotten up with the ball still in his mitts. He had two catches last week for 16 yards. He's one of three captains on the team.
The Offensive FrontThe Wolverines return four from last year's starting line. They are led by another team captain in David Molk (Sr. #50). An All-Big Ten 1st team player, Molk will start his 31st game Saturday and is on all the national post-season watch lists. When he missed eight games in the 2009 season, the offensive production went down with him.
Taylor Lewan (So. #77) may be the team's nastiest lineman. He was prone to taking some unnecessary personal foul penalties that has cost the team possessions. Wolverine fans and ultimately coaches forgive him because of how effective he is at the left tackle position. Some forecast Lewan as a future All-American, though it probably won't happen this year. Having and Mark Huyge (Sr. #72) return is a big benefit. Huyge started six games at either left or right tackle last season and can also shift to guard.
At right guard, Patrick Omameh (Jr. #65) will make his 22nd start, but who starts at left guard is a question mark. Ricky Barnum (Jr. #56) was supposed to make his first start last week versus Western Michigan but sat out due to a "team matter". He's eligible to play this week but reserve Michael Schofield (So. #75) "handled himself well" according to Hoke and either could start Saturday.
This offensive line didn't give up a sack and had only two plays that were for a loss last week. The Michigan coaching staff still has some unresolved questions with their offense because they only got 39 plays run before the game was called due to the severe weather.
Note: Steve Clarke's preview of the Wolverines defense is forthcoming.