By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Reporter
This offensive line is an appropriate term for the way Michigan has blocked recently.
The 2013 season looked to be favorable for Michigan football. The schedule didn’t appear tough and a Big Ten title was in reach; but not anymore.
Michigan is now 6-3 and for all intents and purposes, is out of the Big Ten title race with three conference losses.
The offensive line for the Wolverines has struggled for most of the season, but now it has come to a head that needs to be addressed.
“They’re working hard in practice and are trying to get better, that’s all I can ask of the young guys who are fighting for me,” said quarterback Devin Gardner. “I commend them for doing their best and continuing to fight for Michigan.”
After the Nebraska game, the numbers are telling about the ineptitude of the blocking as a whole for the Wolverines.
The most telling statistics that indicate the problem is the -69 rushing yards over the past two games. Not only have they been going backward more often than forward, Gardner has been sacked 14 times in that span.
Along with lack of rushing and protection comes struggling to move the ball altogether. Michigan scored just one touchdown against Michigan State and Nebraska combined, which came at 9:56 in the third quarter against the Cornhuskers. It was the first time entering the end zone in six quarters.
The team racked up just 175 total yards of offense against Nebraska with 63 total plays. That compares to Nebraska’s 273 yards on 66 plays with a backup quarterback and patchwork offensive line.
The blitz killed Michigan drives early — the team could only convert on 3 of 15 third down attempts in the game.
The struggles of the offensive line have now become the number one concern on Michigan fans minds. Toughness and work ethic have been questioned but Gardner has come to bat for his teammates.
“Whoever questions our toughness, they can shove it,” Gardner said. “I look at those guys eyes in the huddle and they are tough guys and are going out to fight for me so I don’t care what any of you or whoever said that, says.”
Coach Brady Hoke is outwardly frustrated and seemed to answer every question about the offensive line or team for that matter with a self-indicting response.
“I need to do a better job coaching these guys.”
As the season rolls on, it will be interesting to see how Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges adjust to the scrutiny of fans and media alike. The Michigan faithful are looking for answers and will be watching closely in the final three games for visible improvement.
If the product on the field remains ugly, Hoke will have a lot of explaining to do, win or lose.