Michigan's Offensive Line Must Improve for the Wolverines to Win the Big Ten
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The Michigan Wolverines were able to ride the legs and arm of senior dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson to a 31-25 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday. However, the sluggish play by the offensive line through their first two games is a major concern that head coach Brady Hoke and his staff must address if they hope to be the 2012 Big Ten Conference champions.
Robinson returned to vintage form this weekend against Air Force's undersized defense. The Deerfield Beach, Fla. native threw for 208 yards, rushed for 218 yards and was responsible for all four of Michigan's touchdowns.
Although Robinson put up impressive numbers on the ground, the rest of Michigan's running backs were held to a measly seven yards on eight carries in large part because of how poorly the Wolverines offensive line performed.
In Michigan's season-opening blowout loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Wolverines finished the game with an abysmal 69 rushing yards on 29 carries, which did not come as much of a shock to many college football analysts.
There were no excuses for Michigan's poor offensive line play against Air Force as the Wolverines offensive line should have easily overpowered the Falcons defensive front and Hoke let that be known in his postgame press conference.
"I don't think (starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint) ever had a chance to get going," Hoke said according to Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com. "We didn't block well enough."
Junior left tackle Taylor Lewan also expressed his frustration with the struggles of the sluggish offensive line play so far this season.
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Seven yards from the running back is awful, Lewan told reporters. What Denard did was good, but there is always room for improvement, especially on the offensive line. We have to do a better job establishing the line of scrimmage. It's going to be tough for this team to be successful if we can't do that as an offensive line.
If the Wolverines have any hope of winning the Big Ten Legends Division this season, their offensive line will have to get better, especially between the tackles where Michigan had to replace All-American center David Molk with fifth-year senior Elliot Mealer.
Fifth-year senior guard Ricky Barnum was supposed to move from left guard to center for the 2012 campaign, but has started the first two games at the same position he played in 2011.
Luckily, Michigan will have a chance to iron out some of the kinks along the offensive line this Saturday against Mid-American conference newcomer Massachusetts. Expect the Wolverines to move a few players around inside to figure out the best rotation of linemen for their Sept. 22 matchup with long-time rival Notre Dame.
Robinson can cover up for a lot of mistakes along the offensive line with his speed and uncanny ability to dodge defenders, but if Toussaint and Michigan's stable of running backs do not have any room to run then the Wolverines will be relying on their quarterback's arm to win games.
As Michigan fans already know, the thought of Robinson having to win games with his passing skills is not one that ends with the Wolverines winning a Big Ten title.
Zach Dirlam is the former Lead Editor of the College Basketball section as well as a Big Ten columnist for the FOX Sports/MSN/YardBarker affiliate website Sports at Work.
Follow Zach on Twitter.
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