At the heart of most potent offensive attacks lies a strong running game, which is what Devin Gardner and the Michigan football program needs more than anything else this year to find success.
Thankfully, Fitz Toussaint appears to be coming back as strong as ever after recovering from a broken leg suffered against Iowa last season in November. Head coach Brady Hoke raved about the senior running back in an interview with WTKA-AM 1050's Michigan Insider show regarding Saturday's scrimmage, as noted by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, saying, “Fitz ran the ball awfully, awfully well and looked like the Fitz of old.”
That's good news for Michigan's offense in 2013.
Gardner carries the weight of high expectations on his shoulders this season, and those expectations seem to be growing on a daily basis. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com noted a recent spike in favor of Gardner in betting odds:
Gardner, who opened with 40/1 odds of winning college football's most coveted award, saw his Heisman odds leap up to 25/1, per oddsmaking site Bovada.lv...Bovada projects Gardner as the favorite to lead the Big Ten in both passing yards and passing touchdowns -- ahead of [Braxton] Miller in both categories.
Growing expectations of Gardner and Michigan's offense are...
No offense intended to Gardner or the oddsmakers, but let's let the kid play a few games first this season before we crown him as an elite passer.
Don't get me wrong.
Gardner possesses elite talent, and Michigan's passing attack could be quite potent with burgeoning tight end Devin Funchess making big plays in the middle of the field while Jeremy Gallon makes plays on the sidelines.
But Gardner is still a young quarterback who needs a strong running game behind him to keep opposing defenses honest. Last season after he took over for Denard Robinson, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes, throwing 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The team struggled to move the chains when the running game failed to produce, as neither Gardner nor his receiving corps excelled in 3rd-and-long situations.
But a strong rushing attack opens up the entire offense.
If Toussaint can return back to the form that saw him rush for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, as Hoke alluded to in his interview, then Michigan's offense would be a potent blend of ground-and-pound and big plays down the field off of play-action passes.
Time will tell if Toussaint can play with explosiveness and consistency behind Gardner, but if he does, then Michigan will be a difficult team to stifle on offense.
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