Ty Isaac Transfer Is Nice for Michigan, but Success Is Still in O-Line's Hands

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJune 5, 2014

Southern California running back Ty Isaac (29) rushes the ball against Fresno State during the second quarter of the Royal Purple Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Cleveland)
David Cleveland/Associated Press

Michigan's backfield has officially been upgraded. Whether that upgrade goes into effect this year or next remains to be seen. 

On Thursday, USC transfer Ty Isaac tweeted that he had, in fact, enrolled at Michigan. The news comes about a month after it was announced he would be leaving USC to be closer to his family (h/t John Taylor of College Football Talk). 

News of Isaac's transfer began Wednesday night, courtesy of Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports

Isaac is seeking a hardship waiver from the NCAA because of his family situation, though that waiver has yet to be approved. If he is deemed eligible to play this year, the Wolverines will have three quality running backs: Isaac, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. 

That list is as good as any in the Big Ten, if not the best. With first-year coordinator Doug Nussmeier running the offense, Michigan's ground game suddenly looks legit. 

But there's one question mark the Wolverines must overcome: the offensive line. 

The unit was inconsistent at best last year. In losses to Michigan State and Nebraska, Michigan's offense averaged minus-35 yards rushing. Granted, sacks are grouped into that number, but the point remains: The O-line was getting abused off the ball. 

Tony Ding/Associated Press

Michigan's best linemen—Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—are gone, too. Erik Magnuson, one of the returning linemen, has been held out with a shoulder injury. He will rejoin the team in time for preseason camp. 

Michigan's O-line was painfully inexperienced beyond Lewan and Schofield. This year's unit is still young, but players like Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch have game reps under their belt now. 

"I can't all of a sudden make them older, so we have to make sure we do what we can do," offensive line coach Darrell Funk told Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. "We’re so young that if every day we can get better at something, we’ll have what we want." 

Playing together as a cohesive unit is a bigger deal for the offensive line than changing playbooks. There are, after all, only so many ways to block an opponent. 

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, however, the O-line showed during the spring game that it still has a long ways to go: 

Michigan struggled to run the ball at all times Saturday. Maybe that's a hat-tip to the team's defensive line, but it's also a knock on the offensive front five. You can hide a lot of things in a spring game situation. But you can't hide a failure to control the line of scrimmage.

There wasn't one offensive line grouping that looked anywhere near ready to push a Big Ten defensive front around. Not even close. Were there as many negative plays? No, probably not.

But there were still several. Far more than there should be.

Green, Smith and Isaac are talented backs. They're also only as good as the holes they have to run through. A first cut shouldn't be three yards behind the line of scrimmage. 

For that matter, quarterback Devin Gardner is an exciting player. So is tight end Devin Funchess. There's talent in Ann Arbor, no doubt about it. That's part of why the potential for this team to get back to double-digit wins is there. 

It's also what could make Michigan so frustrating. An offense starts and stops at the line of scrimmage. It's an important piece of the puzzle, just as Isaac is a piece. 

When those pieces fit together, you get a well-oiled machine. When they don't, you get, well, Michigan's 87th-ranked offense. 

Getting Isaac is an improvement, sure. He's just not the only improvement that has to be made. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.