Ann Arbor — As Homecoming games go, this one was pretty ho-hum.
Michigan beat Minnesota, 42-13, on Saturday, remains unbeaten at home under coach Brady Hoke and improves to 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten.
No apologies here from the Wolverines. That has become the standard approach.
But what do we really know about this team?
Hoke calls the team a work in progress.
“Because of the youth that we have, they’re learning all the time,” Hoke said. “There’s a lot of young players playing a lot of snaps. We’re improving.
“We’re a long way from where we need to be.”
The 18th-ranked Wolverines will have to be further along by the time the November schedule begins. There are no breathers that month — not that there were, as we all found out, in September — with games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa, and home games against Nebraska and Ohio State.
There are no quick fixes, of course, but Michigan needs to improve in a few critical areas as it prepares to play at Penn State on Saturday and, really, the rest of the season.
The running game needs to improve, and the Wolverines took a few steps toward making changes during the bye and in the Minnesota game. There’s a new offensive line combination with bigger, more physical Graham Glasgow at center and Chris Bryant at left guard.
Hoke promised to get freshman Derrick Green early snaps, and he did. Michigan had just 52 offensive plays — Minnesota’s 16-play, 75-yard drive that ate 9:44 in the first quarter kept Michigan’s offense off the field — and just more than half of those snaps went to tailbacks Fitz Toussaint and Green.
Michigan finished with 113 rushing yards on 35 carries. Again, room for improvement.
The Wolverines had minus-two yards on six carries in the second quarter and nine carries for one yard in the fourth.
We’d like to have the time of possession-wise a little more so we could have gotten more runs for both,” said Hoke, whose team had the ball about seven minutes less than Minnesota. “What I saw, (Green) ran hard, he made a couple good vision cuts and accelerated through.”
Left tackle Taylor 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,” 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.”
Conversely, Michigan’s defense prides itself on its run-stopping, but the Gophers gained 136 yards on 41 carries, a week after Iowa held them to 30 yards on 27 carries.
In the Gophers’ time-consuming first-quarter drive, they ran the ball 12 times, and the Wolverines appeared most susceptible up the middle.
“There were a couple of interior runs, the four- or five-yarders they bled you with a little bit,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re doing a better job in there. I think the second half was really good. The first half, they converted three times (when quarterback Mitch Leidner was) running the ball. He’d go back and maybe want to pass it, maybe not. He’d get out of the pocket, and we’d miss a tackle. That’s part of it.
“There are some issues when you don’t tackle well, when you’re reaching instead of running through. When I was watching it, we didn’t run through enough. Sometimes guys do that because they don’t want to make a mistake. I’d rather they be aggressive and run through and make a mistake.”