Nebraska vs. Michigan: What Wolverines Must Do to Bounce Back on Offense

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIINovember 8, 2013

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) attempts to hand the ball of to Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (not pictured) during the 1st half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last week against rival Michigan State, Michigan turned in the worst rushing performance in the school's long history.

After the Wolverines were held to minus-48 rushing yards in the 29-6 loss, it may sound like a no-brainer to say that they need to do a better job of establishing the run going forward.

That "going forward" period will start immediately, as UM will play host to Nebraska this weekend with both teams fighting for their lives in the Big Ten Conference Legends Division. Aside from fixing its forlorn running game, Brady Hoke's club really just needs to leave the past in the past.

But first, the running game.

Even before its embarrassing result against the Spartans, it was no secret that the Wolverine offense fed off the run.

Similar struggles, although not as extreme, showed up in Michigan's 43-40 overtime loss to Penn State two games prior.

While it didn't seem like it on the surface, the Wolverines didn't run the ball well against the Nittany Lions. They gained 149 yards on the ground, but took 54 attempts to reach that total—an average of just 2.8 yards per carry.

That failure on the ground was a major part of UM's downfall, as it failed to put PSU away late in the game, allowing for a miraculous comeback.

In the losses to PSU and MSU, the Wolverines have averaged 1.2 yards per carry. 

Meanwhile, when they have tallied more than 200 yards on the ground, they have averaged 61 points per game.

As previously mentioned, it's no secret that the ground game makes Michigan go. Through some troublesome games, the offense just hasn't consistently gone anywhere.

As a result, UM ranks No. 10 in the Big Ten in rushing. This would be excusable if the Wolverines had a lethal air raid offense, but they don't. In fact, they have the opposite: one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference in Devin Gardner.

With a quarterback that can run well, UM should be among the top five rushing attacks in the league.

However, thanks to the inconsistencies of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, that just hasn't come to fruition. 

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen (28) tackles Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) for a loss during the 1st half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TOD
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The senior has the ability to snap for 100-plus yards on a good day, but he can then turn around and be a non-factor, rendering the UM offense futile. 

Toussaint has averaged just 23.5 yards at a rate of 1.3 yards per carry in his team's two losses. While other running backs around the league like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah are averaging 8.7 and 7.1 yards per touch, it's no wonder that the Wolverines have one of the worst rushing attacks of the bunch.

However, it isn't all on the UM skill players. The struggles start up front for the Wolverines, which became apparent last week when they allowed seven sacks, resulting in the negative yardage.

That negative yardage turned Michigan into a laughing stock on Twitter.

After the defeat, UM's All-American lineman, Taylor Lewan spoke with Maize & Blue about the issues that his line faced against the Spartans:

A lot of this game absolutely falls on the offensive line. They ran a bunch of blitzes—a lot of the same exact blitzes they ran in 2011. When it came down to it, we couldn’t pick it up. That's our job.

It’s a matter of straining that extra half a second. There were a couple of runs where Fitz (Toussaint) really could have broken out. We just have to strain that much more on blocks. These guys will get it. They will. But this one’s gonna sting for a little bit.

Much of the Wolverines' offensive line struggles have come on the interior, where they start two freshmen and a sophomore. 

While that is understandable, that excuse won't un-sack Gardner or open any holes for Toussaint. 

Inexperienced or not, Michigan must be better up front. Otherwise, it will continue to be a laughing stock. Luckily, the Wolverine front won't be matched up against the best defense in the nation this week.

While MSU ranks No. 1 nationally in rushing and total defense, Nebraska is 70th in yards allowed per game, yielding 400 total yards per contest. Additionally, the Cornhuskers rank 86th in the nation and ninth in the Big Ten against the run.

It will be a pleasant sight for Lewan and the UM offensive line to look across the field and not see Shilique Calhoun, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Co. staring back at them.

While minus-48 rushing yards might make it seem like Michigan needs major changes to spark a turnaround, maybe all it really needs to do is play Nebraska.