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October 7, 2013Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan and sophomore outside linebacker James Ross III spoke with the media Monday afternoon about Saturday's win over Minnesota and looking ahead to Penn State.
These are the highlights:
Third Down Troubles: In last Saturday's 42-13 win over Minnesota, the Michigan defense held the Golden Gophers to just 281 total yards of offense and just 4.5 yards per snap. But Minnesota controlled the clock, thanks, in large part to an 8-of-15 conversion rate on third downs, including seven conversions in the first half.
Minnesota went 5-of-6 on third downs in the first quarter, holding the ball for more than 11 minutes. The Wolverines are 77th nationally on third downs, allowing a first down on 30 of 73 attempts.
Ross III: "That's a big problem for us. We started off pretty poorly in the beginning. We got better in the second half, but we have to get our offense back on the field. We can't give them that much time of possession. Those are money downs to us, and we have to get off the field to set up our offense to score more points. That's on us, and that's our main focus in practice going into the game next week. Those third downs are a big deal."
Views: The Wolverines have, at times, been the same dominant third-down defense they were in Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's first two years.
In a 24-21 win at Connecticut, Michigan allowed just one conversion on 11 Husky third downs. After giving up first downs at a 70-percent clip in the first half Saturday, the Wolverines surrendered just one conversion in the second half against the Gophers.
Getting opposing offenses off the field will be key, moving forward. Minnesota redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner extended drives with his legs, which is concerning, considering the Wolverines will face Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller in October and November.
Like many of Michigan's issues, third-down defense is something the team has proven it can do in spots - but consistent success is the name of the game from here on out.
Offensive Line Changeup: The Wolverines introduced a new-look offensive line Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow moved from left guard to center; redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant took over at left guard; and redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller was left out of the lineup.
It's hard to extrapolate success too much, because of a small sample size. Michigan ran just 52 total plays in the game, due to Minnesota's slow pacing and ball control.
But there were some good signs. Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked just once.
Lewan: "Graham has, since spring ball, graded out better at center than he has at guard. As far as Chris goes, I think he played a good first game as a starter. There's no excuse not to be perfect if you play offensive line at Michigan, but him doing thing he had to do. He got the job done. Fitz averaged 4.5 a carry. We'll take that all year. Obviously, we want more yards every single time. Chris did a nice job. Have to shore up some things here or there, but I am proud of the way he played. If he continues to build off that, this offensive line will be successful."
Views: There are plenty of reasons to be encouraged by Michigan's offensive line moving forward.
The Wolverines surrendered five tackles for loss, which, while still not good, is a big step up from previous weeks, when the offense gave up 32 in four games (8.0 per game). Also, Minnesota is 17th nationally in tackles for loss with 40 on the year.
Drives weren't stalled by missed assignments or mistakes. And the Wolverines kicked off the drive with a six-play, all-running drive that ended in the end zone.
Of course, there will still be growing pains. Bryant is a brand-new starter, and Glasgow is still growing into the communication aspect of playing at center. But this was a step in the right direction.
Offensive Line Kinks: Lewan moved around the line in Saturday's win, lining up in an unbalanced set on the right side of fifth-year senior right tackle Michael Schofield, and the Wolverines had success moving the ball behind the one-two tackle punch, with Lewan and Schofield - the team's two best blockers - leading the way.
Lewan: "As far as enjoying it, yeah. I think it was that every run but two was behind me. Taking that responsibility and feeling that responsibility before the game, the coaches told me they were going to run behind me a lot more this game. I took pride in that. That was something I enjoyed. My head hurts a little today, but other than that, I'm good.
When asked if the formation telegraphs the Wolverines' intentions, Lewan said, "As long as we're not outnumbered and we have bodies on everyone, it shouldn't be a problem. We have different plays out of it. I'm not going to give you the whole playbook here. But we have different plays and different stuff we can do to the other side. There's a bunch of stuff. [Offensive coordinator Al] Borges is a great coach. He knows what he's doing. He's been doing this a lot longer than I've been alive. We just have to keep blocking."
Views: If I'm a middle linebacker, I'm immediately selling out to the right side when I see Lewan and Schofield line up side by side, leaving Bryant and a tight end on the back side.
But Minnesota must have been thinking that, as well, and it didn't help them all that much, especially on Toussaint's 12-yard touchdown on which he could have moonwalked through the massive hole and into the end zone.
It's an interesting way to get Michigan's two best linemen at the point of attack - and it's something to keep an eye on, as the Wolverines move forward.