After two games where the offense stalled and Michigan was lambasted for barely winning, the coaching staff used the bye week to make some serious adjustments.
When the Wolverines took the field in front of a homecoming crowd to play Minnesota in their first Big Ten game of the season, some changes were evident.
The interior of the offensive line, which had been manhandled all season, was rebuilt, with Graham Glasgow moving from guard to center replacing Jack Miller, and Chris Bryant entering the lineup taking over at guard.
Michigan tested the new configuration, running the ball ten straight times to start the game, and not throwing a pass until the second quarter.
Their first drive of the game saw Gardner alternate between handing the ball off to running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green, driving down field to the first score of the game.
In addition to testing the offensive line, the play-calling prevented quarterback Devin Gardner from suffering any early mistakes and allowed him to regain his confidence.
With Gardner under center, the Gopher defense pounded by peppered by Toussaint and Green pounding the ball, Michigan showed further adjustments.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges is known for his constant tinkering with formations to create matchups to give his offense an advantage. To jump start the Wolverine running game, he used a myriad of formations to baffle the Gopher defense. He pulled out all the stops; double tight ends, an extra tackle, even having left tackle Taylor Lewan line up as an extra tight end to create an unbalanced line on some plays.
But the biggest surprise was shifting tight end Devin Funchess out to wide receiver. Attacking the edge, Minnesota defenders were unable to contain him, and he slashed the Gopher defense with seven catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. Funchess (6’5”) used his athleticism to make some amazing receptions and then simply outran the smaller Gopher defenders for yards after the catch.
The Wolverine offense has struggled this season, but these adjustments to the offensive line, the increased commitment to establishing the running game and the innovative use of Devin Funchess offer a glimmer of hope that things are getting on track.
The defense has been solid, and while two fourth-quarter touchdowns inflated the size of the Wolverine victory against the Gophers, the game provided a much needed, comfortable victory.
Michigan is undefeated, and in addition to keeping the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor, the victory over the Gophers may be a blueprint that they can use to compete for the Big Ten Championship.