Michigan's running backs - specifically Fitzgerald Toussaint - have yet to get on track through eight weeks. Head coach Brady Hoke was again quick to dismiss criticism of his No. 1 back, claiming other factors have prevented backfield success.
Hoke said he was disappointed even before senior quarterback Denard Robinson left with a nerve injury.
"I think we ran 40 plays in the first half. Out of five possessions, three were 10 plays or more," Hoke said. "We were doing okay, but I usually and generally am always disappointed in the running game if the numbers aren't there to a certain point.
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"The most frustrating thing for everybody is our red zone offensively and not getting touchdowns. When you can't run the ball, that's where it starts. You've got to be able to run the football in the red zone. People have too many ways to take away the running game because of the shrinkage on the field."
Toussaint did his job, Hoke continued.
"Fitz ran hard," he said. "He took on 'backers, safeties. I was happy how he played. I know one things - we've got to block better. We didn't finish blocks the way we had the week before. We didn't score touchdowns the week before, but we were finishing blocks better. That's disappointing."
Robinson is far and away Michigan's leading rusher this year, averaging over 118 yards per game. His role - part quarterback, part running back - puts him in better position than the running backs for success, Hoke said.
"The way you set things up, a guy doesn't take the read, a guy hesitates, we seal the backside, all those things are part of it," Hoke said. "An opponent earlier in the year, the nose was coming too fast over the center and the backside runs were there for Denard. It's not there for a tailback per se all the time, because it's different.
"It's a whole different animal when you have Denard and some of the runs he's able to make. Scheme wise, it changes a little bit."
Hoke agreed with the assessment that the running backs needed more help up front.
"We need to finish blocks," he said. "Period."
Hoke said Robinson should play Saturday against Minnesota, but only if he practices this week (which he should). He'd be close to being able to go if they played today, he added.
"They don't play too much [without practicing] under how I do things," he said. "Everyone has a different philosophy towards it. Your preparation - I think you play like you practice. That position, look wise, and what you're going to see is a little different than being a wideout, or to some degree being a running back or a defensive lineman."
Defensive end Frank Clark (ankle) practiced yesterday and will play Saturday, Hoke said. Freshman defensive end Mario Ojemudia was also banged up in Saturday's game at Nebraska.
"He should be okay," Hoke said without disclosing the injury.
Hoke didn't back off his stance that the defense didn't play well enough against the Cornhuskers despite being put in bad positions.
"Those guys are on scholarship to play defense," he said. "If that team doesn't score, they don't win. It's as simple as that. We talk to them that way all the time. They understand the expectations. They've got a job to do, and they've got to do their job.
"Those sudden change situations where a team gets the ball inside the 50, really working to hold them to field goals - that's a positive. We pat them on the butt when they do that, but they're expected to do it all the time."
Hoke wasn't entirely pleased with the run defense.
"That's always where it starts," he said. "I don't know how many yards Nebraska ended up rushing for. We did a good job keeping them out of the end zone, but we didn't do a very good job against the rush. That starts up front with the defensive line. It starts up front with those two positions."
Hoke said back-up quarterback Russ Bellomy had only one bad interception in a 3-for-16 performance.
"The one interception, Russ is getting hit as he throws it," he said. "The one to Vince Smith, I don't know what that was exactly. Was it possession, not possession? What is it? I think there were questions on that."
Receivers have dropped at least five Bellomy passes this year.
"I don't think there's a difference," Hoke said. "I just think we've got to concentrate looking the ball all the way in."
Hoke called Minnesota a vastly improved football team. The Golden Gophers picked up their first Big Ten win with a blowout of Purdue.
"Jerry Kill is a very good football coach," Hoke said. "He's a hard-nosed guy whose teams are going to play that way. From a talent standpoint, they're playing faster. Watch the tape of the skill positions. But I also think they're playing faster as a team defensively and offensively. That's usually a good sign of knowing the schemes, feeling more comfortable in it."
Hoke is happy with Saturday's noon start.
"We got home at 3:30 or something like that," he said of the Nebraska trip. "That's hard. They're student athletes. I don't care what you say."