Ann Arbor — Running the ball effectively always has been a key to who wins the Michigan-Michigan State game.
But Michigan lost lead back Derrick Green to a broken clavicle in the Rutgers game nearly three weeks ago, and will rely on fellow sophomore De'Veon Smith to handle the bulk of carries at Michigan State on Saturday.
Smith had been used throughout this season but not to the degree as Green.
In the Penn State victory, the Wolverines' first without Green, Smith had 12 carries for 24 yards. Justice Hayes, who had been used primarily on third down, had seven carries for 20 yards, and quarterback Devin Gardner had 10 carries for 18 yards.
Certainly, the Wolverines (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) will need significantly more output from the running backs in this game. It has been well-noted that Michigan's box score last season included minus-48 yards rushing.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday at his mid-week news conference that Smith is well aware of his increased role in the offense.
"De'Veon knows he has to be the lead back or is the lead back," Hoke said. "Justice has done unbelievably well.
"This is something (Smith) has thought about. We were walking up the tunnel (after Penn State), and he was walking next to me after the game and said, 'Boy, I played terrible. I missed more holes that were there.' It's refreshing to hear a guy say that and it's also refreshing when he fixes it. He's had a very good week."
No one has tried to sugarcoat what happened to Michigan's offensive line last season in a 29-6 loss at Michigan State — it was manhandled.
Gardner took seven sacks behind a line that included a freshman starter in Kyle Bosch. Hoke said the offensive line might have lost technique because they were so overwhelmed by the Spartans.
"There are some times when you get shocked a little bit (and think), well, maybe I can do it better this way," Hoke said. "That's where the technique gets haywire. That's at every position. If a corner gets beat deep, he's got to have a short memory. He has to go back to the technique and fundamentals. It's the same thing up front."
"The communication, we're so much better this year than a year ago with communication, if you want to use that as a gauge throughout the front. The more they've played together, we've been much more consistent on what we want to do. There was (some shock) last year, yet get a little deer in the headlights. Some guys were young, and it's a different environment (at MSU)."
Michigan will have to do a better job possessing the football. In its last three games, Michigan has averaged 56 offensive plays. The Wolverines had four three-and-outs in the win against Penn State nearly two weeks ago. At Rutgers, they ran 57 plays and had two three-and-outs and had two drives end with an interception and a blocked field goal. And in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota, Michigan ran 53 plays and had six three-and-outs in its 12 possessions.
Dan Dierdorf will not be on the U-M radio broadcast from Michigan State on Saturday.
Michigan play-by-play voice Jim Brandsatter said Wednesday night during Hoke's radio show that Dierdorf, the college and NFL Hall of Famer, had a medical issue and hopes to return as the analyst for the Indiana game on Nov. 1. This is Dierdorf's first season doing Michigan radio.
Jon Jansen, a former Michigan captain and All-American who is part of the radio team, will work as the analyst with Brandstatter on Saturday.
Freshman receiver Drake Harris (hamstring) is doing more in practice.
"He's not full yet," Hoke said.
Earlier in the season, Hoke said he expected Harris to be redshirted.