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September 11, 2013

News & Views: Thomas Gordon needs to produce more

Brady Hoke spoke to media Wednesday for the final time in preparation for Akron, and as expected, no one asked a single question about the Zips. Hoke did address the play of his offensive line, running game, and safeties through two games.

News: Michigan has rushed for 408 yards in two weeks and has yielded only two sacks, but hasn't had a dominant performance yet in which the offensive line manhandled the opponent. That's to be expected with three new starters, and Hoke is looking for the day when his five men up front impose their will.

Hoke: "I think the consistency of how they play is going to be huge. When you feel an offensive line take the game over [I'll feel better]. Your running game, and teams want to blitz five or six men, and how your team picks those up and how much time Devin Gardner has. I think it's a group of guys that is pretty intelligent. From a physical standpoint, they have some good size and strength that go along with it."

Views: This should be the week where the Maize and Blue exert themselves against an undersized and overmatched Akron defensive line, but as we learned from the Central Michigan game two weeks ago, it's about more than overpowering an opponent with sheer size and strength. It is critical the Wolverines develop the proper technique of staying low and winning the battle of leverage because they will face Big Ten defensive lines just as strong and large, and cannot in those instances simply get by on being bigger.

News: Senior tailback Fitz Toussaint has only rushed for 128 yards in two games, and is averaging a paltry 3.6 yards per carry, but Hoke has been pleased with the performance of the tailback so far, and thinks he's made a lot of nice plays.

Hoke: "Fitz looks like he did before the injury and maybe a little bit quicker at times. Quicker out of the hole. I thought the one run where he made the Notre dame safety miss, I thought his burst out of the hole was really good."

Views: A running back can only do so much and Toussaint turned a few nothing plays into something last weekend, including a 22-yard run he bounced outside, making two defenders miss for a key first down en route to the game-clinching touchdown. Has he been perfect? Absolutely not, but he's been a lot better than his per-touch average would indicate.

Toussaint can still be a 1,000-yard back this season, though his numbers need to trend up dramatically. He could have a big game Saturday against a porous rush defense that is allowing 172.5 yards per game on the ground, but he might not because he may only see 10-15 carries in the first half before exiting for backups. Still, the yards will come eventually.

News: Senior strong safety Thomas Gordon made seven tackles in his season debut (he had missed the opener due to a one-game suspension) and helped limit Notre Dame to few big plays - the Irish's long for the game was 23 yards - but he wasn't a difference-maker in his first contest back.

Hoke: "Thomas is a good football player. He's played a lot of snaps. I think the one thing he needed to do better, and we needed to do better because [sophomore free safety] Jarrod Wilson had the same issue, we need to be a little more under control when you're coming to the line of scrimmage on the run game, and then making sure we bring our arms in when we tackle. Both of them were very aggressive and you like that part of it, but there is a time when you're the last man standing and you better bring the ball to the ground."

Views: Considering Notre Dame's long run on the night was 16 yards, Gordon didn't allow a big play behind him as the last line of defense, but clearly Hoke wasn't completely satisfied, feeling there were a few plays he left out there.

Gordon has been a solid player for his career, but the question this season was whether he would become more than that? Would he be a playmaker that racks up tackles for loss, pass breakups and interceptions? Maybe he doesn't have to be that guy if Wilson emerges in that role, but after two games, U-M's safeties (Josh Furman included) have combined for one pass breakup and one tackle for loss, and they need to make a bigger impact than that.

News: Out with a torn ACL, redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy is not practicing.

Hoke: "He hasn't practiced. He's doing some conditioning and those kind of things with Coach Wellman and his staff, but he hasn't practiced. He's in meetings."

Views: Bellomy isn't returning to the field this season so there is no reason to rush his rehabilitation. Like with redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess a year ago, the trainers and medical staff will take their time with Bellomy, making sure there are no potential setbacks and setting him up for spring practice and the opportunity to compete for playing time in 2014.

News: While the talk along the offensive line remains centered on fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan and the three new interior starters, fifth-year senior right tackle Michael Schofield is having a quietly strong start.

Hoke: "I don't know if he ever felt like he was in Taylor's shadow. I've never asked him. He's probably a little bit of a forgotten man because Taylor does get a lot of attention, but those are two pretty good tackles to have on your football team."

Views: Schofield probably won't ever get the attention he deserves and even if he outplayed Lewan this season, would still play second-fiddle when it came time to conference and national recognition, but his time will come - perhaps even all-league honors this season - and a few folks that matter, NFL scouts, have taken notice. Schofield is shooting up draft boards and could even demand first-round consideration by next April.

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