Ann Arbor — Maybe 52 offensive plays aren’t enough on which to judge Michigan’s restructured offensive line, but the early returns were positive.
The Wolverines moved to 5-0 with a 42-13 victory over Minnesota in their Big Ten opener on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
It was Michigan’s first game after a bye and the first in which it debuted the new-look offensive line with Graham Glasgow moving from left guard to center and Chris Bryant to left guard. And there were even wrinkles within the wrinkles with left tackle Taylor Lewan at right tight end to give a blocking boost.
Michigan planned to run the ball and made clear that was the game plan since quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t attempt a pass until the drive that started with about nine minutes left in the second quarter.
“We wanted to run the ball, and we wanted to send that message,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of it. We didn’t have as much yardage as much as we’d like to have. But the threat was there consistently throughout the game that we were going to run the football.”
The Wolverines finished with 113 yards on 35 carries with lead back Fitz Toussaint gaining 78 yards on 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns (8 and 12 yards), and freshman Derrick Green gaining 23 yards on 10 carries. He also scored a rushing touchdown, as did Gardner.
Hoke had said all week he planned to get Green in early. Michigan’s first possession of the game was set up by a recovery of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner’s fumble at the Gophers’ 35-yard line. Michigan’s plays were all runs, with Toussaint handling the first three, and then Green the next two, including a 14-yard run his first carry. Toussaint scored on an 8-yard run for the early lead.
“We’d like to have the ball time of possession-wise a little more so we could have gotten more runs for both,” Hoke said. “What I saw, (Green) ran hard, he made a couple good vision cuts and accelerated through.”
Toussaint said he saw a difference in the offensive line.
“Definitely,” he said. “I (saw) guys more hungry and just executing that position and being able to do what you have to do and what you’re coached to do.”
Lewan said that despite the 52 plays, he felt like the offensive line had an opportunity to gel.
“I feel like we found a groove today,” Lewan said. “Every first down we were gaining yards except for one or two. That’s the goal — keep moving the line of scrimmage, keep getting those yards and eventually one of those will pop. Fitz is a great running back. He’s got to get an opportunity to show it. Fitz needs to have at least 100 yards every game in my opinion, he deserves this. He works so hard.”
In previous games, there were times Gardner appeared to be running for his life, with little protection from the offensive line.
Gardner took one sack, from Bryant’s side, but he appeared more comfortable throughout the game. He finished 13-of-17 for 235 yards, mostly to Devin Funchess.
“I felt like overall we came to fight,” Gardner said. “As an offensive line, they kind of had a chip on the shoulder that they weren’t going to let me get hit like I was before. I felt like no matter who was in there, it was going to be like that.
“They told me they weren’t going to let me get hit. I like to hear that.”
And with that, Gardner smiled broadly, like a guy who didn’t take many hits.
Moving Lewan to the right side next to right tackle Michael Schofield was something Michigan had practiced since fall camp, Hoke said.
“Just another way to get another heavy body over there, guys who are pretty good blockers,” Hoke said. “We’ll probably do more of it.”
Lewan said he enjoyed the challenge.
“Just a little something to put me at the point of attack,” Lewan said. “Gives me and Schofield a chance to play next to each other. It was fun. It was actually really interesting because I’ve never been in a right-handed stance before. That felt uncomfortable, but I had an opportunity to get that on my resume.”