Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Massachusetts

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IISeptember 13, 2012

Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Massachusetts

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    After having less than a week to prepare for the Air Force Falcons' option-style offense, the Michigan Wolverines should have a much easier time preparing to face the Massachusetts Minutemen, who were beaten 37-0 by the Connecticut Huskies in their season opener and blown out 45-6 last Saturday by the Indiana Hoosiers.

    The Wolverines held off the Falcons 31-25, thanks to Denard Robinson's 426 total yards and four touchdowns.

    Michigan should have no problem thumping the Minutemen this weekend at the Big House, but here are some of the keys to the Wolverines' final tune-up game before they travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next weekend. 

Michigan's Offensive Line Has to Block Better

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    The Michigan Wolverines' offensive line opened up some holes for senior quarterback Denard Robinson to run through, however the brutes up front failed to handle the Air Force Falcons' undersized defensive line for much of last week's contest.

    Robinson finished the game with over 200 yards rushing, but previously-suspended starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint only carried the ball eight times and totaled a measly seven yards on the ground.

    Not all of this is the fault of the offensive line, though. The Falcons relied on a blitz-heavy game plan and often loaded the box in an effort to stop the Michigan ground game. Needless to say, their plan succeeded with the exception of Robinson's highlight-reel touchdown runs of 79 and 58 yards, respectively.

    Fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer should be settled in at the center position after preparing to be the Wolverines' left guard all spring, and this weekend will allow the entire line to regain some confidence along with improving their cohesiveness as a unit.

    Michigan's offensive line should look better this weekend, but no one will know for sure how far the group has come until the Wolverines line up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish one week from Saturday. 

Continue Throwing to Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess

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    Fifth-year senior tight end Brandon Moore had to sit out last week's game against the Air Force Falcons with a knee injury, and according to Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com, head coach Brady Hoke said the Trotwood, Ohio, native will be sidelined once again this Saturday.

    "Brandon is getting better. He just got twisted up a little bit with his knee, a little sprain," Hoke said. "He hasn't done anything on the field with us yet, but the trainers feel he's healing up and Brandon thinks he's feeling better."

    Michigan Wolverine fans will not notice Moore's absence much if freshmen tight end Devin Funchess continues to produce like he did against Air Force.

    Funchess led all of Michigan's receivers with 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, while former backup quarterback Devin Gardner hauled in the second-highest receiving total with five catches for 63 yards and one touchdown.

    Both players are big targets for Denard Robinson to throw to in the red zone, have proven they can adjust to poorly thrown balls and will be able to subjugate smaller Massachusetts Minutemen defensive backs this Saturday.

    Expect big days from Funchess and Gardner once again. 

Give Fitzgerald Toussaint 20 or More Carries

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    Redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint did not have a strong performance in his first start of the 2012 season, but offensive line problems and Denard Robinson's big day on the ground made his performance look a lot worse than it actually was.

    Sure, Toussaint only gained seven yards on the ground, but he only carried the ball eight times—much less, compared to the 20 carries Robinson had.

    Offensive coordinator Al Borges will want to run Robinson as little as possible this weekend to ensure that his offensive star will be healthy and fresh for the Michigan Wolverines road tilt with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next weekend.

    Michigan's offensive line should easily handle the Massachusetts Minutemen up front and clear the way for Toussaint to turn in some long runs.

    Toussaint should be Michigan's primary ball carrier this Saturday and carry the ball at least 20 times for the Wolverines.

Let Denard Robinson Be Denard Robinson

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    The title may sound a little obvious and redundant, but let's face it, when a team has an athlete like Denard Robinson, they should not put handcuffs on him.

    The Michigan Wolverines let Robinson carry the ball 20 times against the Air Force Falcons, and the staff was rewarded with the Deerfield Beach, Fla. native's fourth career 200-yard rushing game.

    Additionally, Robinson became the first player in NCAA history to pass and rush for 200 yards in one game on three separate occasions.

    While Robinson's carries should be limited this week to allow starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to get himself going, Michigan's star quarterback will get plenty of opportunities to make plays in the passing game and take off for a few dazzling runs.

    Robinson should have no problem turning in outstanding statistics again this weekend with less carries. 

Don't Allow Massachusetts to Convert Several Third and Fourth Downs

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    The Air Force Falcons option offense is difficult to prepare for, even if a team has several weeks to do so; however, the Michigan Wolverines had less than a week to get ready to face one of the nation's best rushing offenses.

    Teams lining up against Air Force they know the Falcons are going to run the ball and probably gain a lot of yards in the process. Since 2010, they have rushed for an average of 317.1 yards per game, according to Yahoo.com.

    The Wolverines gave up 290 yards on the ground, but the most disturbing statistic was not that the defense gave up a bunch of yards. The biggest problem Michigan's defense had last weekend was getting off the field on third downs.

    Air Force converted 12-of-21 third downs and went 2-for-5 on fourth downs, which included a one-yard touchdown rush on fourth and a goal that cut Michigan's lead to four points with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter.

    Michigan's defense did come up big in the fourth quarter, though, and only allowed the Falcons to convert one third down on their final two drives. 

    The Wolverines need to do a better job of holding on third downs this weekend against the Massachusetts Minutemen.