Hold your Criticism

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

When Brady Hoke was hired as the head coach of Michigan football, fans rumbled about one thing: the MICHIGAN style of football. That I’m-gonna-come-trucking-at-you-so-try-to-stop-me system that fans as young as their 20’s can relate to.

Of course, that process was delightfully delayed because of the human bullet, otherwise known as Denard Robinson. But who was complaining? Everyone loved Robinson. So we gave the Michigan coaching staff a few years to mold that Wolverine brand of football we’ve been fantasizing over. After all, patience is a virtue. 

Fitzgerald Toussaint provided us with some flashes of hope in 2011 when he became the first 1,000+ yard rusher out of the backfield since the days of Mike Hart. And we were on the edge of our seats when 2012 came rolling around–Denard’s final season in a winged helmet, fresh off a Sugar Bowl victory, beating Ohio State for the first time in 2,973 years. Did we take the time to consider a lapse at running back? 

Not exactly. 

 Well we probably should have. Not that Toussaint gave us any reason to doubt him after that brilliant season, but there was way too much working in favor of our beloved Wolverines to just simultaneously continue its forward progress. If you’re involved in the world of sports, you know what I mean. But I’m not ranting on superstition. That’d be silly. What I’m trying to push across is the idea that we are in over our heads when we gripe and moan about Mr. Toussaint. 

When we consider a broken leg at the end of the 2012 season on senior day against Iowa, it doesn’t exactly make up for all that lost ground from the previous season, but we’re handed a very reasonable explanation as to why 2013 hasn’t coupled with the rocket launchers. We’ve become so fixated with the idea of overpowering every opponent because of that “Wolverine brand” of football we saw march in with Brady Hoke that we’re losing our grip on the reality of the situation. 

You can clearly see Toussaint doesn’t have the same bounce in his step, and I’m not chalking it up to nerves. This is a kid who, in the midst of a battle for the position, guaranteed us he would be the starting running back when week one came rolling around. And that he was. 

Personally, I haven’t seen anyone accusing the young man of simply being scared to re-injure himself. And if that thought is preparing to slip over your tongue, through your teeth and out your mouth, save it for another day, please. 

But before I turn this into the “All Hail Fitzgerald Toussaint” show, we can’t deny some of the general faults in his game. The biggest one that pops out to me every week is his instinct–at least it seems like instinct–to run east to west in the backfield and try to beat the defense to the edge. And while that works on occasion, it’s not the intended style of running for this Michigan team, and it has proven to be unsuccessful on many occasions. 

Part of that can definitely be blamed on the offensive line, though. As any good, humble quarterback will tell you in his post game interview after a 400+ yard day, it all begins up front. And the running back position is no exception to the rule.

There have been times in this young season when all 5-feet-7-inches of me could have plowed through that line like a wrecking ball on a mission. They’ve turned in some dismal performances, and it’s really limiting what Toussaint can do out of the backfield. So in his defense, it becomes difficult to run north, full steam ahead, when north is being plugged by defensive linemen. 

Another unfortunate factor that takes a toll on Toussaint’s performance is the terrible situations the Michigan offense gets into. It seems like third-and-long is a consistent battle for this squad. It’s tough to contribute on the ground when your quarterback’s number must be called in order to get out of jams like that.

Quite frankly, I’m not a huge fan of the way Devin Gardner has been playing quarterback this season. A good deal of his decisions are questionable at best, and it translates to a gargantuan hole being dug in the midst of a game. This offense just isn’t getting itself into reasonable situations to consistently pound the ball. It’s what they’ve been wanting to do, and it’s what we’ve been wanting to see. But it isn’t happening.

Every Saturday when I browse my timeline on Twitter, I can easily spot 15-20 people calling for Toussaint’s head, saying we recruited a five star running back (speaking of Derrick Green) to run the ball, not ride the pine. And I understand the logic; I really do. Because it’s absolutely frustrating to see the sub-par performances of these guys who are supposed our biggest weapons. So naturally, as critical fans, we demand change.

But change is not necessary. We’ve already seen what Toussaint is capable of under good circumstances, and it’s extremely encouraging to see how fiercely he can run the ball at times. The meat of the equation lies in trying to bring all of that together into one result. Because as it stands right now, consistency probably isn’t in the vocabulary of many of these players. But we are just a few fixed kinks away from witnessing a running back do Michigan things. And you know what I mean.
Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.