running back is the key to this offense

Submitted by orillia on August 11th, 2010 at 3:17 AM

As I soak in all the video and read all of the preseason publications I have come to the conclusion that the key to the 2010 offense is the running back position. I believe we are all excited about the quarterback situation- Tate and Denard have a world of potential, are a year older and experienced.

The offensive line is in the same situation- bigger, stronger and more experienced. Last year they struggled protecting Tate- he was flushed from the pocket too often and that led to some ill-advised throws aka turnovers. I am confident that they will be one of the top o-line groups in the big 10.

I am equally excited about the receivers. Hemingway was off to a great start last year until Mono shut him down. Roundtree is exciting as well and I see the tight end position playing a bigger role in the passing game this year.

As a high school coach for many years I have come to believe that you get ahead with the passing game but you win with the running game. There comes a point in every contest where you have to run the ball to win. My concern is simply this- Is there a 1000 yard running back on this roster? I am not specifically looking for a name- but is there that type of guy on the roster?
It is an obvious cliche for sure- will Michigan be successful enough running the football to win?

I know there were injuries at running back last year which hurt but Michigan was not very successful running the ball in conference. Is there a Mike Hart who will emerge out of nowhere and set this offense on fire?

Just my thoughts and ramblings- am interested in your thoughts.



August 11th, 2010 at 3:42 AM ^

I don't think there's going to be a 1,000 yard back on the team, but a lot of them are capable. I see about 3 guys over the 500 yard mark on the team. The top two RBs and Denard with about a TD per carry average. 

Buzz Your Girlfriend

August 11th, 2010 at 3:55 AM ^

This is a year when we need our youngsters to really step up.  Craig Roh, Tate Forcier, semi-Vincent Smith stepped up as freshman last year. I'm really excited to see who steps up this year. It's pretty special to be a true/RS freshman and come in and contribute in a high capacity, but I have faith.


August 11th, 2010 at 6:47 AM ^

I believe Michigan will find gold in one of the RB's on the roster. If I had to guess at this point, I'd say Cox will be the every down back, Smith the 3rd down back, and Hopkins will be short yardage (with the other RB's getting some garbage time). Something tells me Shaw is not going to be eligable this season.

I'm not sold on the O-line being better this year. If Molk stays healthy, Lewan and Omameh pan out - then yes. I need to see it to believe it though.

As for Hemingway, mono was in his true Sophmore season. Last year was his redshirt sophmore season, played in 11 games - started 9. He was just banged up all year. I'm not really sure this team has an outside receiver that will be both productive and healthy all year.

With that said, I do expect Michigan will have a better record this year compared to last. Unfortunately, there are too many question marks and this is still a young team. I am hopeful that Rodriguez will be retained at least one more season after this. Most fans are expecting a bit too much this year.


August 11th, 2010 at 7:05 AM ^

With that said, I do expect Michigan will have a better record this year compared to last.

I don't see anything in your response that warrants that.  Our O-Line will be entirely improved from last year with Lewan battling for playing time, also as RR stated, Omameh has potential to be All-Conference.  We have depth on the line as well -- Barnum, Dorrenstein, Schofield, Washington, etc.  I think our offensive line will be the strength of our team.

As for Hemingway, I think he is finally back at 100%.  Yes, he has had issues the last two years but honestly, he's due.  If it happens again this year, well, he has zero luck.


August 11th, 2010 at 7:20 AM ^

I'm not sure I am on board with the notion that we need a running back to step up and be the 1,000 yard workhorse.  I wholeheartedly agree that, especially with Tate in the game, it's the threat of an effective run that sets the offense in motion. 

I suppose this goes back to the age-old debate of Getting in a Groove v. Fresh Legs.  At QB and at RB I really like the idea that, after a 40 yard run, a player can get a quick breather without any significant drop-off in the talent on the field.  RB by committee doesn't win the Heisman, but it provides options in case of injuries, match-ups, or just having an off day.


August 11th, 2010 at 10:26 AM ^

ask urban meyer if the last couple years he would have rather had running back by committee or somebody that could run for 1300 yeards a season.  Think stanford would have been as good last year if they had running back by committee instead of gerhart?  Im not saying it doesnt work, but I bet most coaches would rather have one badass who can run for 1300 years than a couple guys who can go for 500


August 11th, 2010 at 7:59 AM ^

If Minor had been healthy all last season, then the season would have been different by a few games at least. The void left in the wake of Mike Hart is much bigger than his stature.

I agree with the OP. For example: one of the primary keys to an effective read option is an effective running back. If the defense is actually worried about the threat of both the QB and the RB, then the read option is truly a crap shoot for them. If they know that Tate and Denard are the two most proficient runners on the team, then they defend against the QB on every down.

When that Mike Hart, A Train, Biakabutuka, Chris Perry, or JMo finally breaks out (with a cast of supporting change of pace backs), then the offense truly gets dangerous.

So yeah - the press (and to some extent this board) spend so much time on who's the starting QB, when the key position battle questions are elsewhere on the team. RB is one of them.

The QB battle discussions are a waste of time - both now appear to be "guys we can win with". I'd like to see one or two reliable "guys we can win with" emerge from Fred Jackson's stable.



August 11th, 2010 at 8:12 AM ^

I agree that running back is the key. 

It seems everyone has focused on all the other parts of the puzzle. 

With Shaw probably not playing and Smith trying to come back from a severe knee injury, it will be interesting to see who steps up.  Cox?  Tousant? Hopkins?

ND Sux

August 11th, 2010 at 8:24 AM ^

I like his low stature, plus the experience last year doesn't hurt.  He may not have Shaw's speed, but still has enough to go the distance if he breaks free, IMO. 

If Smith can't go 100%, we have some pretty capable guys waiting.  Not ruling out Shaw, but thinking ahead in case he's ineligible.  If he makes the grades, it could be HIS break out year behind an improved O-line. 

All things considered, looking for big things on the ground this year.  If the O-line is improved, it helps the passing game.  If we can throw better, they can't overload the box against the run.  That's been part of the problem, IMO. 


August 11th, 2010 at 8:40 AM ^

I guess I disagree that the RB is the key to the offense. I certainly think having a quality RB is important, but if holes are opened on the oline, a decent RB should get us 4-5 yards while a better than average one could break more long runs.

To me, RichRod's offensive success is based on the play of the QB. The read option is dangerous not when the RB is phenomanal, but when the threat of the QB running holds backside defenders. This creates more holes/cutback opportunities for the RB and thus more yards.

When the QB isn't that adept at running the football, defenders aren't concerned as much about the QB keeping the ball and instead flow with the RB down the line - something we saw a lot in 2008. Additionally, when the QB isn't a great passer but a decent runner, defenses can bring an additional defender near the line so even with the holding of the backside defenders on the read-option there is another defender to stop the run wherever it goes - what we saw with Denard at QB last year.

That's why RichRod - deep down - I think wants Denard to win the job. Forcier showed himself to be a good QB last year. But other than the ND game (correct me if I'm wrong) Tate didn't create any long runs on the read option. That's because he's not a natural runner. Defenses can flow with the RB a little more with him at QB than if Denard is in the shotgun and not worry about 40-yard runs.

Denard is obviously a great runner. But his development as a passer is key this year. If he can show he has a firm grasp of the offense and can throw with accuracy, defenses won't be able to cheat to stop the run this year. Also, because he is so dangerous running, the backside DE (and maybe even weakside LB) will be coached to keep a close eye on him.

So, in a 4-WR set with 4 CB's and 1 deep safety. There will be six guys in the box. In a read option to the right, Denard would read the left DE. If he holds and Robinson correctly gives the ball, there will be five OL blockers on five defenders (and maybe an out-of-position LB) with no one chasing from behind. The fear of Denard (or any good running QB) taking off will open this up. A QB who isn't as dangerous running will create more defenders chasing the RB and a QB who isn't accurate throwing will bring additional guys in the box and, again, mean more defenders chasing the QB and RB.

Kind of long, I know. But it's a danderous running QB who is a servicable thrower that makes this offense run at full throtle, not a top-end RB.


August 11th, 2010 at 9:36 AM ^

the QB may be able to make the read, but the DE will just cover the QB if he believes 9 times out of 10 Denard is going to bust a run. You have to have a viable threat at RB as well, to keep that DE guessing, forcing him to commit one way or another. (I.e., if he continues to commit on Denard, then the RB gets the ball. If the RB can get the 4+ yards consistently, then sooner or later the DE is going to have to cover him too.)

We had a whole discussion on this a few weeks back.


August 11th, 2010 at 10:14 AM ^

I'll check out the discussion soon,  I was still relatively new to the board then.

If that DE want's to commit completely to making the QB hand off, that's fine. I would argue at that point the remainder of the play is put on the shoulders of the OLine and RB equally (but maybe more the Oline).

Again, back to a 4WR set with 4CB's and a deep safety, there are 6 guys in the box with five blockers. The backside DE is left unblocked and he is who the QB must read. If he stays wide and completely focuses on the QB, you are left with five O-lineman to block 3 Dlineman and 2 LB's/Hybrid. If the O-line wins those matchups it shouldn't matter who the RB is, gains of atleast 4 yards should be available.

The offense would certainly be more dangerous with a Steve Slaton at RB, someone who could read the zone blocking, pick the right hole and go the distance. But I don't think it is imperative.  When there are five blockers to five defenders, the Oline needs to win those matchups most of the time so the RB's make it atleast 1 or 2 yards past the LOS before coming to a defender. Without all the weapons needed in the offense and a lackluster Oline in the last two years, defenses (for the most part) have been able to eliminate one option (either the pass or the QB running) and the Oline either has had too many people to block or was unable to win the 1-on-1 matchups. That meant RB's had defenders in the backfield and led to many 2nd and 13's instead of 2nd and 8's.

The most extreme example would be the Delaware State game from last year. In this game it was obvious that the OLine was winning the blocking matchups up front. That's why, even with Brown and Minor out of the game, we ran the ball for 461 yards. #4 Smith put up 166 yards, #5 RB Cox had 82, #3 RB Shaw had 73, and FB Kevin Grady had 73.  When the Oline can win the 5 vs 5 matchup up front (obviously easier done against D. State than Ohio State), it shouldn't matter who the RB is. An average running will be able to gain yards.

But when Smith/Cox/Shaw/Toussaint show themselves to be the next coming of Slaton, I think we'll both be happy.

Wow....I've done a lot of typing today and it's supposed to be a slow day for me!! Go Blue!

Blue Blue Blue

August 11th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

seen Gardner run and seen Gardner stand tall in a pocket?    if Denard can pass the way he did in the Spring game, he should be out there, and the running game will be much better.......but Gardner is the full package......and when he is in there, defenses will be stretched to the max.

True Blue In Ohio

August 11th, 2010 at 8:49 AM ^

I would like to see our O-Line so effective that it does not matter who we put in at running back.  The Denver Broncos were very effective at having an O-Line that would dominate the line of scrimmage so you could drive a mac truck through the hole.  They could put just about anybody at running back and have success.  Substitute the mac truck for our three star recruit running backs.  Please, may we have some more of that zone left run for 7 yards?  Go Blue!


August 11th, 2010 at 8:53 AM ^

I think it comes down to who can get enough carries. Assuming, very conservatively, that whoever plays at RB can average 4 - 5 yards per carry, a guy only needs to have 15 - 20 carries per game to get to 1000 on the season (assuming he can stay healthy).

Further, I'm thinking the team should be able to rush for 2500 to 3000 yards on the season in this scheme. Working with the QB and, say, 2 RBs as getting the lion's share of carries it seems like 1 guy, probably a RB, should be able to get to 1000 on the season.

 If the offense isn't capable of reaching that level of rushing which I think is fair, then Tate needs to be the main QB because we'll need an upgrade in the passing game in order to give the defense enough slack.

As for who, I really like Toussaint as a dark horse to be the rushing leader this year.


August 11th, 2010 at 8:59 AM ^

And I think that Stephen Hopkins is going to be a bigger part of the offense than most people think.  I hope so anyway.  He reminds me of a Tyrone Wheatley or Leroy Hoard type back.  That would be great to have again.  At the same time, I really liked the style Chris Perry brought to the table.  Great moves, great speed, great power.  So far I really only see Cox being able to re-create that style.  RB is of utmost importance in my opinion.  No matter how great a QB is, he is going to need another guy in the backfield that can step up at any time.


August 11th, 2010 at 9:10 AM ^

My concern is simply this- Is there a 1000 yard running back on this roster? I am not specifically looking for a name- but is there that type of guy on the roster?

I know it's a different offense - but if i remember correctly the 97' team didn't feature a 1000 yd running back. That team did fairly well. What that leading rusher did do well was pass protection. It would be nice to have a great productive rushing and blocking back - but if two or three can share the job effectively I'm ok with that.


August 11th, 2010 at 9:26 AM ^

The 97 team was not known for its offense, and was more dominant because of its defense that didn't allow a touchdown in the second half of a game and no points in the 4th up until the OSU game. Its good to keep in mind the 97 team, but our offense is going to have to be explosive this year and can't be compared to 97.


Side note- 97 team vs ND on Big Ten Network


August 11th, 2010 at 9:23 AM ^

I'm concerned about how the youth and inexperience at RB will translate in big games.

Michigan lost 3 very experienced senior running backs. None of Michigan's current running backs have seen significant playing time, especially in big time games. Maybe a few plays here or there, but nobody is even close to the reliable difference maker type runner that Michigan had in Minor. Remember the ND game? When he was in I thought, "Just hand him the ball and he'll run through the ND defense."

And he did.

Do we have anyone like that on the roster this year? Maybe. Can they do it vs Wisconsin, OSU, and Iowa? Can they do it early in the season vs UConn and ND?

I don't doubt the talent Michigan has at running back. I just think the backfield is a legit concern right now until proven otherwise. Yeah, RB's will have no trouble vs teams line Indiana, BGSU, etc, but does anyone provide a spark in big games, do they stay reliable and protect the ball when the pressure is on?

steve sharik

August 11th, 2010 at 12:41 PM ^

...but a stud at RB makes any offense better.  And WVU was most dominant when they had someone to be feared as a runner at both QB and RB.  That's why, going forward, the QB (imo) has to be Denard or Devin, unless Tate wants to wake his entitled ass up and start working on his speed and strength.  (For someone who hadn't lifted weights until he got here, he should be putting on a lot of muscle weight.)  That's also why, if this offense wants to be explosive in the run game, the RB has to be Shaw or Touissant.  If this offense wants to be effective, it doesn't matter who the RB is as long as he a) never turns it over, b) has good vision, and c) has good timing (when to hit the hole).