ANN ARBOR — Devin Gardner can’t get angry at his offensive line.
Aside from All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and redshirt senior Mike Schofield, it’s an inexperienced unit that was rendered ineffective in last weekend’s 29-6 loss at Michigan State. The only people who could stir any internal emotions toward the offensive line, Gardner said, were the five Wolverines who make up the unit.
“They were pretty upset with themselves,” said Gardner, who was sacked seven times by the Spartans. “Me being mad at them, it’s not going to do anything. You have to stay positive with them, and I believe they’re fighting for me as best as they can.
“I’m not playing perfect, either, and I’ve got a lot of things to worry about. I don’t have the time to be angry at anyone. We’re just trying to win football games. They saw I fought for them, and they’ll fight for me.”
The offensive line now faces its toughest stretch, beginning with today’s game against Nebraska. Michigan (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) faces the Cornhuskers (6-2, 3-1) in a game in which a successful season likely hangs in the balance.
“We have to pay more attention to detail,” Lewan said of his offensive line, which has been juggled twice since the start of Michigan’s Big Ten schedule in October. “We have to take it one play at a time.
“We have four more games to turn it around and play much better. The season’s not over yet. Obviously, we haven’t played very well or very consistent throughout the season, so we’ll get better and we’ll do what we have to do.”
Lewan and Schofield anchor the Wolverines’ offensive line at left and right tackle, with true freshman Kyle Bosch at left guard, redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right guard, and redshirt sophomore and former walk-on Graham Glasgow at center.
Michigan’s ground game hinges upon the effectiveness of the offensive line to open up holes, something that didn’t happen last week at Michigan State, as the Wolverines were forced into negative yardage last week.
Running back Fitz Toussaint garnered UM’s only positive yardage against the Spartans (20 yards on eight carries), and UM is 10th in the Big Ten in team rushing (154.9 yards)
Not helping that situation? Michigan coach Brady Hoke admitted earlier this week that the progress of his team’s younger running backs isn’t where he or his coaching staff want it to stand this far into the season.
Derrick Green, who started the season as a highly touted freshman, has 32 carries for 105 yards, and Hoke said earlier this week that he took freshman De’Veon Smith off the travel team.
“You just need to put the pieces together and hope like heck that under pressure your young players can perform,” Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “This brings you back down to earth on where you are against teams that you have to play — the margin of error against really good defensive teams is small. We had just too many errors put us in bad situations. And it wasn’t always the younger guys. The middle of our offensive line is young, and things come up sometimes.”
With four games left in the regular season, Michigan has no plans to change its lineup in front of Gardner, for better or for worse.
“We’re going to approach it just like we’ve done the last couple weeks,” Borges said. “We could fire them and start all over again, and you’re asking for more problems. But if the same issues occur, we will put another guy in there. But you have to give them a chance to develop a little bit.”
All that can help this line, Hoke said, is experience.
“If they just fundamentally keep to what they’ve been doing, there’s an excitement that I think guys get,” Hoke said. “And you see it in different guys. But we just have to keep grinding.”