When Jake Ryan went down with a torn ACL this spring, his season was presumed over by most people. However, Jake Ryan is not most people.
He set a goal to be back by October for his team, and this past Saturday Jake Ryan was out on the field in full pads and playing football in an actual game—just like he said.
Sure, it wasn't a full game of action, but he made an impact in his limited return to the field.
Ryan had three tackles and one tackle for loss in the four-overtime loss to Penn State.
There was no doubt that having Ryan out there gave this team a temporary boost. Unfortunately for Michigan, Ryan alone won't cure what ails this Michigan team.
Of course, that's because Ryan doesn't play offensive line, nor does he play running back.
Those are the two areas that have hurt this team more than anything else.
Does Devin Gardner run the ball 24 times last week if he isn't getting bum-rushed on nearly every play? Furthermore, does Gardner throw two interceptions with better protection and less designed running for him?
Some have caught on to the problem at hand already, and it is that Al Borges and Brady Hoke thought they had something on offense that they clearly don't—a group of players on offense capable of playing the pro-style system.
It would explain why a duo of good running backs have done nothing all season long. Last Saturday was the latest, and perhaps starkest, of examples of Michigan's inept run game.
Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for just 27 yards on 27 carries against Penn State and is averaging only 3.4 yards a carry, the worst average of his career.
Then there is former 5-star running back recruit Derrick Green. He's been nearly nonexistent all season long and his strength is supposed to be downhill running and the power run game. He's had all of 26 carries this season for just 84 yards and a 3.2-yard per carry average.
Jake Ryan returning won't solve that puzzle on offense.
What he can do for this team, above providing another defensive weapon, is serve as a catalyst for this team. Or to put it in soccer terms, he can be a talisman for the Wolverines.
Every team needs that one guy everyone rallies around and is the emotional heart and soul of the team. And from the reaction to Ryan's ACL tear to his return to the field, you can tell just how important Ryan is to the emotion of the team.
Where Ryan can help on the field, though, is in the pass-rushing area—an area that saw improvement in the Penn State game alone, at least that's how he saw it during Monday's Press Conference:
I felt like it was better this game. The atmosphere at Penn State might have had an effect on it. Chris Wormley did really well, Frank Clark had a great game and Jibreel Black too; I could name all of them. It was definitely a better game pass-rushing for us, but it still needs to get better.
Against Penn State, the pass rush netted three sacks, upping the team total to 14 on the season.
However, a pass rush, and a defense that has come to the rescue more times than one can count, can only go so far. What ails this team is something that Ryan's return is unable to have an effect on.
It's up to Brady Hoke and Al Borges to figure out how to fit the best 11 players into the best position to win games on offense, and until that happens it won't matter much who is or isn't playing on defense.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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