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October 14, 2013

U-M player notebook: Oct. 14

Fifth-year senior right tackle Michael Schofield and redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan sat down with the media Monday afternoon. These are the highlights:

News: Despite the fact that Michigan was committed to a ground game, the offense got almost no production from its running backs. Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint ran the ball 27 times for 27 yards, and his 1.0 yard-per-carry average is by far the worst in Michigan single-game program history for a runner with that many carries.

But it's not entirely Toussaint's fault. Michigan has struggled to open running lanes for the best part of the last two seasons.

Schofield: "It kills me to hear [Toussaint's numbers]. We're definitely go to try and improve this week, work on fundamentals, technique, going back to the basics and really try to get our run game going.

"It's painful to watch the film after a loss like that. We have to take what we can form that film and learn what we can, improve and try not to let Penn State beat us twice, like the coaches keep saying. Come out next week ready to go."

Views: After Toussaint gained 78 yards on 14 carries vs. Minnesota, fifth-year senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said there was no reason Toussaint shouldn't have at least 100 yards every outing.

At the pace with which he was gaining yards, it would have taken Toussaint 73 more carries to hit the century mark last weekend.

The issue is not Toussaint. He has proven that, given the proper amount of room with which to work, he can make some things happen. He's the only running back since Mike Hart to top the 1,000-yard plateau in a season (1,041 yard in 2011).

The issue is the blocking in front of him - and the guys doing said blocking know they have to improve, or they're in for a very long November.

At this point, I think Michigan's best bet is to try a few different things. The straight-up power game is not their strong suit, despite their best efforts to make it so. But redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner has proven a pretty effective leader of the read-option play, in the few times he's done it. The Wolverines have had success getting out of the box with sweeps from fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet.

Try something new. Why not?

News: The Michigan front seven fell under some scrutiny after the defense tallied just one total sack in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Akron. But the pass rush has steadily improved all season, and the wolverine have racked up nine sacks in the last three games, including four (to go along with seven tackles for loss) at Penn State.

Ryan: "I felt like [the pass rush] was better this game. I felt like the atmosphere of the whole Penn State stadium had a little effect on us. Chris Wormley did well. Frank Clark had a game, and Jibreel Black. I can name all of them. It was definitely a better game pass rushing, but it still needs to get better."

News: The Wolverines got to freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg four times - and there were many more times when he was rushing throws or running for his life.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the pass rush looked markedly more intimidating against Penn State - the game Ryan returned to the fold - than it has in previous weeks.

Offenses - tackles, running backs in pass pro, fullbacks, etc. - have to be aware of Ryan when he's on the field, knee brace or no. Even though Ryan didn't get a sack, the attention he garners frees up guys like Black and Wormley. And with the defense accounting for Ryan, Clark turned in perhaps the best game of his Michigan career (two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one defensive touchdown).

The pass rush is definitely something to be excited about, moving forward.

News: The left guard spot is still in flux. Redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow, who started the first four games of the season there, took over for redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at Center. Glasgow's replacement, redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, looked solid against the Golden Gophers, but he had some injury/effectiveness issues at Penn State.

Redshirt junior left guard Joey Burzynski finished out the game. With the competition still wide open there, true freshman Kyle Bosch has entered the discussion as someone who might take some snaps at left guard.

Schofield: "He plays hard every play, even if he does something wrong. He'll go hard. He'll hit someone. Coach really loves that. Once he figures it out, he'll be a good player."

Views: It's extremely hard for a true freshman to play - and play well - along the offensive line. Perhaps no other position group on the field is more difficult to develop, physically and mentally, because these guys are just grinding and hitting all game long.

Is Bosch ready? It's an impossible question to answer. Everyone outside of Schembechler Hall has not seen what he can do. Until he straps on a helmet and checks into a game, there's no telling what kind of player he would be this year.

Michigan NEWS


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