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Published: Tuesday, 9/11/2012

UM linemen hoping to open more holes for backs

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, 16, gets a block from teammate Elliott Mealer, 57, as Robinson cuts inside against Air Force during the third quarter at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Air Force defender is Steffon Batts (23) Saturday, September 8. University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, 16, gets a block from teammate Elliott Mealer, 57, as Robinson cuts inside against Air Force during the third quarter at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Air Force defender is Steffon Batts (23) Saturday, September 8.
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ANN ARBOR — While quarterback Denard Robinson proved again to be a dynamic offensive force, the Michigan football team still lacked something in Saturday's 31-25 win over Air Force.

Behind Robinson, Michigan's offensive backfield had a minimal contribution. In particular, Michigan's offensive linemen believe that collectively, they faltered in an attempt to produce any other substantial run-based offense against the Falcons.

Because in the pursuit of exercising depth and, more importantly, creating results in a running game, it takes two to tango.

"It's everything," Taylor Lewan said. "If you have a well-blocked play, there's no problem making cuts in the backfield. If they don't make cuts in the backfield, you don't have the holes. If we play good, the running backs have a better opportunity to play well too."

Against Air Force, Michigan (1-1) finished with 214 yards rushing on 31 carries, though Robinson accounted for the bulk of that yardage — and then some. Robinson finished with 218 rushing yards on 20 carries, but tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint finished with seven yards on eight carries, and as a team, Michigan lost 11 yards on three carries.

After gaining only 69 yards on 29 carries in a 41-14 loss Sept. 1 to Alabama, the Wolverines — namely Robinson — tripled that rushing output against the Falcons.

Still, after the win, Lewan, none too kindly, derided the offensive line's performance.

He is firm in the belief that there's a certain standard that comes in playing at the position at Michigan, though he softened his stance two days later, as the No. 17 Wolverines prepare to host Massachusetts on Saturday.

"It was better than I first described it," the fifth-year senior said. "At first, I was upset because [Toussaint] had seven yards, but people don't get that we also block for Denard too. He had 200-some yards, so that's successful on our part, but we really need the running backs going. Whether it's Fitz, Vincent [Smith], or anybody, we've got to get going."

Center Elliott Mealer said Michigan's offensive line has a certain luxury in playing in front of Robinson.

"He makes us look good, but with the running backs, that's completely on the offensive line," the fifth-year senior from Wauseon said. "I think we improved a little bit this week, from the first game, but we've got to play a lot better.

"It's something that's on the offensive line, as far as getting Fitz and other guys more rushing yards."

Against UMass, Lewan said the offensive line's goal is to block well enough for one of Michigan's backs to gain at least 150 yards.

Mealer outlined the offensive line's goals as a unit.

"We need to be more downhill as an offensive line," Mealer said. "Making the highest holes for Fitz and playing Michigan offensive-line football. That's something, hopefully, we can do this week."

BIG TEN HONORS: The Big Ten named Robinson its offensive player of the week and tight end Devin Funchess its freshman of the week.

Robinson accounted for 426 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, had more than 200 yards rushing (218) and passing (208) to become the only player in FBS history to run and pass for 200 or more yards in a game three times.

Funchess had four catches for 106 yards and a touchdown and became the first UM tight end to record 100 or more yards receiving in a game since Jerame Tuman (1997).

INJURY UPDATE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke said sophomore defensive lineman Brennan Beyer will miss Saturday's game because of a knee injury. Hoke said he hopes Beyer will return to the lineup within two weeks.

Richard Ash, a sophomore defensive lineman, did not play against Air Force because of an undisclosed injury, but when asked about the status of Ash's injury, Hoke used one of his familiar terms.

"He's got a boo-boo," Hoke said.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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