Lines still draw criticism

Michigan's 50-point win was welcomed, but Wolverines weren't satisfied

Updated: September 15, 2012, 9:26 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan knows what is coming.

A 63-13 win over first-year FBS program UMass is nice and all, but the Wolverines made one thing extremely clear Saturday. They weren't as happy as one would think after a 50-point thumping.

They realized even in beating an inferior team there was a long way to go.

Next week is Notre Dame, a rival opponent that the Wolverines have beaten in the final minute the past three seasons. It is also an opponent with a strong defensive front seven, which plays into part of Michigan's issues so far this season -- the offensive and defensive lines.

"Of course any win is a good and every game  everybody is not going to have a perfect game, so everybody is going to have mistakes that we can capitalize on and correct for next week," senior defensive tackle Will Campbell said. "Because if we play like we did today, we will not win next week."

[+] EnlargeFitzgerald Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireRunning back Fitzgerald Toussaint got on track on Saturday with 85 rushing yards as the Wolverines rushed for 294 yards.
In reality, Michigan faced a team it should have dominated, and it did statistically and on the final scoreboard.

But the Wolverines allowed Massachusetts to gain 259 yards Saturday, almost 100 yards more than an average of 161.5 yards set against Connecticut and Indiana. Michigan is not supposed to be a Connecticut or Indiana.

The offensive line appeared to block better, but Hoke still seemed displeased with how the Wolverines controlled the line of scrimmage. Some of this can be attributed to Hoke, like many coaches, never being satisfied with how his team is playing, at least publicly. But there also appeared to be genuine concerns there as well.

"We're progressing maybe a little bit in the two areas that are most concerning, and that is up front defensively and up front offensively," Hoke said. "I don't think we're anywhere close to where we should be and where we need to be."

They are, though, at least a little bit closer offensively. Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 85 yards Saturday and Michigan as a team rushed for 294 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Denard Robinson had another 100-yard rushing game with 106 yards on the ground to go with 291 yards and three touchdowns passing.

Considering how the running game flailed and faltered against Alabama and Air Force, Michigan took that as a positive development. Robinson also completed passes to nine receivers, showing that the Wolverines have options all over the field.

"It's pretty nice. Maybe y'all are the only ones who had questions before the season," receiver Drew Dileo said. "We knew the kind of guys we had and the kind of quarterback that we had and that we could make plays."

They did, notably junior Devin Gardner extending his body to turn a play that would have been stopped short of the goal line into a touchdown in the first half.

The Wolverines' offensive line also allowed just one sack and that came with the game well in hand and second-stringers playing in the fourth quarter. They also gave Robinson time to pick apart the defense.

Improvement, in places, was there. But not enough for their coach.

"I didn't think we moved the line of scrimmage as well as we need to," Hoke said. "We better play with better leverage and we better combination-block better and when we're done with that, we'd better finish."

Hoke wouldn't go as far to say he would potentially shake up his offensive line -- although the Wolverines don't have many non-freshmen or non-walk-on options beyond the starting five -- but he certainly expressed enough concern to show it was genuine.

He had the same issues on defense, where Michigan will be tested again next week by a Notre Dame offense with a game-breaking tight end in Tyler Eifert and potentially a dangerous quarterback-running back combination in Everett Golson and Cierre Wood.

So Michigan may have more confidence, but it also knows the opponents are about to become much more difficult. After the past two weeks, Saturday was a win the Wolverines needed.

Yet one thing was clear. Michigan needs to improve up front and real fast.

"I put a lot of pressure on [the offensive line]," Hoke said. "We put a lot of pressure on them, just like we do the defensive line. If you're going to be good in football, you better be good in your offensive line and your defensive line."

Michigan isn't good enough for Hoke yet.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter