ANN ARBOR-- In preparation for Saturday’s game against Illinois, Brady Hoke is employing coach-speak when it comes to speaking with the media. The second-year Michigan football coach pointed out the Fighting Illini’s third- and fourth-down defensive proficiency. He singled out Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and linebacker Jonathan Brown, terming them as “weapons.” And he and the Wolverines insist there’s no looking past a conference opponent that hasn’t won a game since Sept. 15.
The Wolverines are utilizing those same talking points. “You can’t pass any week on our schedule,” defensive tackle Will Campbell said. “Because every week, we’re playing for a Big Ten championship.”
But in preparing to host the Illini (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) Hoke considers an ongoing shortcoming of his team: its run game, which, aside from quarterback Denard Robinson, continues to sputter as it approaches the halfway point of the season.
In a 44-13 win Saturday at Purdue, the No. 25 Wolverines (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) placed more of an emphasis on the run but didn’t have much offensive production on the run outside of Robinson’s 235 yards.
Yet Hoke aimed to avoid any kind of backfield controversy, essentially declaring that he hadn’t lost faith in tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint scored two touchdowns against the Boilermakers, but finished with only 19 yards on 17 carries.
“A year ago, Fitz ran for 170 yards against Purdue,” Hoke said. “They weren’t going to let him do that. They were very concerned with taking that part of our offense away. Denard rushed for 235? So something’s gotta give. So there weren’t really any golden opportunities because of how they defended the tailback position.”
Hoke, however, said he’s had some concern about the production of the backs. Behind Robinson’s 676 rushing yards, Michigan’s backs have 366 yards on 108 carries. And despite Thomas Rawls’ late-game touchdown against Purdue, Hoke hasn’t considered giving Rawls more playing time earlier in the game - “because Fitz hasn’t proven that he can’t.”
By design, there was less of an emphasis on the pass and more of an emphasis on the run against Purdue, especially centering around Robinson.
"If they’re going to shut off the tailback runs, which I think they did a decent job of, then we’ll take Denard,” Michigan center Elliott Mealer said. “We have the luxury of having a playmaker back there, along with Fitz and the other guys.”
“307 rushing yards? I’d say we’re doing alright, but they gave us Denard.”
DENYING THE PASS: Michigan is ranked seventh in the nation on passing defense, allowing just 155 yards a game - yet still another area where Hoke sees room for improvement.
“At this point in the season, I don’t think we’re getting enough pressure on the quarterback,” Hoke said. “At the same time, there’s times we need to tighten either with zone blitz coverages or man coverages. Because now you force that quarterback to be a little more accurate. We keep searching, as coaches, for different ways to manufacture some pressure.”
ROBINSON HONORED: Robinson shared Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors with Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. With 235 yards Saturday against Purdue, Robinson became the Big Ten’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks.
MICHIGAN-MICHIGAN STATE TBA: The Big Ten said Monday that Michigan will host Michigan State on Oct. 20 at Michigan Stadium either at noon or 3:30 p.m., and will be broadcast either on an ABC/ESPN affiliate or on the Big Ten Network. Game times and stations for three Big Ten games will be announced after Saturday’s games.
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