ANN ARBOR — The offensive line continues to be scrambled. The running game behind Devin Gardner was anemic in Saturday’s loss at Penn State. As the Michigan football team prepares for the meat of its Big Ten schedule, the timing of these factors isn’t opportune.
If the Wolverines want to rediscover their stride, they’ll have to consider the smaller elements on the offensive line that will allow them to reopen the running game.
“This week, specifically, we need to focus on getting better at one thing every day,” said right tackle Mike Schofield, whose team hosts Indiana at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. “Whether it’s run-blocking, taking your first step correctly, or pass protection, everyone here needs to focus on one thing and get better at that.”
The Wolverines (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) enter their third game without a set offensive line, which was originally shuffled after a 24-21 win Sept. 21 at Connecticut. As a result, Michigan’s rushing offense is ninth in the Big Ten (173.2 yards) and Gardner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Derrick Green have combined for 262 yards in Michigan’s two Big Ten games.
“Devin ran the ball 27 times and most of them, a lot of them were called runs, not scrambled runs,” Hoke said. “You worry about the hits he’s taken. We’ve got to get production from the back end, the running backs.”
The fact that Toussaint and Green combined for 28 yards on 30 carries at Penn State — and that Penn State had 11 tackles for a loss of 44 yards — isn’t just a reflection of the backs themselves. It’s also a reflection of the offensive line’s recent shortcomings.
“It kills me to hear that,” Schofield said, when he was told Toussaint and Green’s rushing totals.
As a result, the shuffle on the offensive line continues. While left tackle Taylor Lewan (hip injury) is expected to play against Indiana, Hoke said left guard is a position that is “open” right now. Graham Glasgow started there in the first four games before replacing Jack Miller at center, and Chris Bryant started at left guard against Minnesota and at Penn State.
Hoke said Kyle Bosch — who is listed third on Michigan’s depth chart, behind Bryant and Joey Burzynski — could play.
“Does Bosch have a chance?” Hoke asked. “Sure he does. We traveled him [to Penn State] for a reason, and it wasn’t to feed him.”
If Bosch does start Saturday against Indiana, the true freshman will likely have to learn on the fly.
“The game is a lot quicker,” said Schofield, a fifth-year senior. “As you move on and get more reps, and get to see more things, it just gets easier. The game gets more natural. That’s what’s going to help these guys. They just need reps. Reps are going to help them, as much as they could.”
Hoke said he won’t spend additional time tutoring the offensive line and will lean on the tutelage of offensive coordinator Al Borges and offensive line coach Darrell Funk, yet he admitted this much: he does have questions about its production.
“As a coach, you look and see, ‘am I coaching it the way I need to coach it?’ ” Hoke said. “We are. What are we doing in practice to make sure we’re giving them the looks that they need? Am I motivating them to knock somebody off the football?
At this point in the season, does patience factor into the development of the offensive line?
“I’m not going to accept any of that,” Hoke said. “We’re not going to accept that.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Devin Gardner. I’ve got confidence in our offensive linemen getting better. They’ll be ready to play against Indiana.”