Michigan Football: Passing Game Must Improve to Compete for Big Ten Championship
Despite a BCS win last season, the lack of a conference championship leaves last season as a bust for Michigan fans. The improvement of Michigan's passing game will be crucial in meeting expectations and claiming the Big Ten this season.
For proof, look no further than Michigan's two losses last year against Iowa and Michigan State.
In those two games, Michigan averaged only 15 points, as Denard Robinson completed a combined 26 of 61 passes. That's a completion percentage of an abysmal 42.6 percent.
The offense is far too reliant on Robinson to handle such poor passing performances, and that must change in 2012.
Exacerbating this problem is the fact that last year's top running back, Fitzgerald Toussaint, was just suspended indefinitely for a DUI arrest, according to a report from ESPN's Chantel Jennings.
That means that even more pressure will be on Robinson to carry the offense, and he will have to do it with his arm, not his legs.
There is reason for optimism in this regard.
Despite his struggles last year, Robinson saved his best performances for two of Michigan's biggest games.
In Michigan's final two games of the regular season against Nebraska and arch-rival Ohio State, Robinson was a combined 25 of 35 passing for 347 yards with five touchdowns and an interception.
Both of these secondaries featured NFL-caliber talent, so clearly Robinson can get it done against the top competition.
Now he just needs to do it consistently, and Michigan can help him do that in a few ways.
First, Michigan must get Robinson into a rhythm early in games. Last season the Wolverines often relied on the run to the detriment of their passing game. When they did pass, it was often to take a deep shot downfield.
An improved screen game and more short passes in general would help Robinson immensely. The Wolverines will likely be more committed to working with the short passing game, as they hope to help Robinson develop as a pro-style passer in his senior season.
Another way Michigan could help Robinson is by keeping the volume of his passes more consistent. Robinson will never be a guy who should throw the ball 40 times a game, but he also needs enough chances to develop a rhythm.
Last year, there were games where Robinson threw just 10 passes, but against Iowa, he threw 37 times.
Based on his performances last year, the ideal number for Robinson seems to be between 15 and 25 passes. That's just enough for Robinson to develop a rhythm while still keeping the defense focused on stopping the run.
Of course all of these changes would be for nothing if Michigan's receiving corps doesn't step up.
That means that Roy Roundtree must return to his 2010 form, while Jeremy Gallon steps up as Robinson's top underneath target.
The talent is there for the receiving corps to make great strides in 2012, while Robinson certainly has the talent to rebound from an average 2011 season.
Whether or not this talent turns into real improvement in the passing game will be the ultimate key to Michigan's ability to finally win the Big Ten.
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