It was a wonderful day for the Michigan Wolverines Saturday against Appalachian State in the 2014 season opener at The Big House. Fans rolled in to fill up the stadium, the student section looked packed, Michigan got its revenge on Appalachian State, and best of all: two Wolverines rushed for over 100 yards and quarterback Devin Gardner wasn’t asked to do much of anything on the ground.
But how optimistic should we really be about that success?
The biggest concern heading into this season was the offensive line, a unit that severely struggled in 2013 with two NFL linemen. Now starting some unproven names, including true freshman Mason Cole, there was a lot of buzz surrounding exactly what the offensive line would be capable of to begin the season.
Any uncertainty seemed warranted in Michigan’s first drive, which saw starter Derrick Green rush for only three yards on three carries. After that, however, things seemed to pan out much better up front, and the combination of Green and De’Veon Smith worked together for 285 yards, easily giving both running backs the best single-game performances of their collegiate careers.
I’m not sold on the offensive line, though. And while we’re at it, I’m not sold on Green completely just yet either.
What Michigan’s offensive line did yesterday was incredible in the sense that we haven’t seen production like that (arguably) since 2012, even if this was only against Appalachian State. In my “Matchup of the Game,” I specifically said the Wolverines’ front was going to be tested by an above-average pass rush from the Mountaineers. Michigan passed, but I didn’t see it consistently enough.
Throughout the game, it seemed like the offensive line would give the running back one good hole per drive, and that resulted in a big play. Other than that, it was a relatively a hit-and-miss day for Michigan up front. The communication looked to be nailed down, though, which is an excellent sign this early in the season, but the art of performing still has a long way to go.
The reason I’m not completely sold on Green just yet is because he didn’t seem to fight through first contact like a guy of his size should be doing. It was a huge problem last season, and I was a little disappointed to see how easily we went down again to start this season. There were times you could definitely see the physical side of his game prevail, but there’s still so much more room to grow in that department, and I think I, along with the rest of the Michigan faithful, would have liked to see a better demonstration of physicality on Saturday from Green out of the backfield.
170 yards made for an overall phenomenal and encouraging performance from the sophomore, who probably needed that sort of result from himself as much as anyone, but when teams that are bigger and stronger than Appalachian State are on the other side of the ball, I’m afraid the toughness won’t be there like it should.
In all, I was extremely happy with Michigan’s performance yesterday on the ground. It was pleasing to watch a game in which the quarterback wasn’t forced to come through with his legs, and I think that’s going to be a general theme this season. However, we watched an offensive line that is clearly still developing against a weaker Appalachian State defense, which is why I can’t bring myself to become too optimistic about the remaining 11 games on the schedule.