The Michigan Wolverines must get excellent play from their young offensive line if they want to avoid an embarrassing opening loss to Central Michigan at the Big House.
While you’d probably like to forget it, it’s hard to erase the sting of the team’s 2007 season-opening loss to unheralded Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team Appalachian State.
In order to avoid a disaster like that to start this hopeful season, the Wolverines have a couple of things they need to prove on the field. The Chippewas might not appear to be much of a challenge, but they are coming off a 7-6 season, including a road win over a Big Ten team—Iowa—and a win over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Here’s a look at Michigan’s keys to avoiding an upset and starting 2013 on a high note.
Establish the Offensive Line of Scrimmage
Anchored by All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan, Michigan’s offensive line will have a much different task than in years past. The team’s approach with Devin Gardner under center will require different blocking than with scrambler Denard Robinson back there.
But other than seniors, Lewan and Michael Schofield on the ends, the Wolverines have inexperience on the interior of this vital unit. Sophomore guard Graham Glasgow, redshirt freshman guard Kyle Kalis and sophomore center Jack Miller replace three departed seniors from last year’s disappointing group.
While it’s just Central Michigan, this is a huge test for this group to step up and prove it can provide ample time for Gardner and move defenders to help establish the running game—a staple of Brady Hoke’s pro-style offense.
Contain Running Back Zurlon Tipton
Last year, Zurlon Tipton powered Central Michigan’s offense with 1,492 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, including over 100 yards in each of the team’s final seven games. That’s prompted lofty expectations for the senior running back in 2013.
Tipton was named to the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list and was selected as a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award. No other school in Michigan boasts a candidate for the Doak Walker, presented to the nation’s top running back.
At 6'0", 221 pounds, Tipton flashed a good balance of speed and power last season. Michigan is going to have its hands full while getting a heavy dose of the bruising back all afternoon.
Find Another Option in Passing Game
As they say, next man up. Losing wide receiver Amara Darboh for the season during a scrimmage on August 17 was a huge blow for the Wolverines. The 6’2” sophomore was expected to be the team’s other wideout across from Jeremy Gallon and a potent vertical threat for Gardner.
Speaking of Gallon, his rapport with Gardner will be huge this season. After he took over for Robinson last year, Gardner found Gallon early and often. The receiver and quarterback connected on 31 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns during Gardner's five starts. Gallon caught just 18 passes for 318 yards and one touchdown in the eight games with Robinson under center.
They still have to find another legitimate option in the passing game, though. Redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson is an intriguing option at 6’3”, but they might have to rely on seniors Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds out of the gate. Although, the two have combined for just 28 career catches during their tenures in Ann Arbor.
Gardner needs playmakers in the passing game, though, so it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as a reliable option for him this year. We’ll get a good look at that in the opener.