Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  By DAVE HOGG  |  Last updated 10/2/13
If any undefeated football team ever needed a bye week, it was Michigan. The Wolverines scored 100 points in their first two games, beating Central Michigan and Notre Dame. They then had to make a last-second goal-line stand to beat lowly Akron, and were down 21-7 before coming back to beat a UConn team that lost to Towson of the FCS. After that, Michigan needed a week off to try to regain some of the swagger it had after the beatdown of the Irish. The biggest issues have been on the offensive side of the ball, which are the same problems that caused losses a year ago: too many interceptions and an inability to get the running game going. Devin Gardner has thrown eight interceptions in four games, many of them on poor decisions. While avoiding pressure, he threw pick-sixes against Notre Dame and Akron that put Michigan under severe pressure in games they appeared to have under control. No one expected Gardner to be able to pick up yards on the ground like Denard Robinson, but Gardner was supposed to be able to take better care of the football. At this point, that isn't happening. The other thing that was supposed to take place in the post-Denard era was a better running game. Without Robinson, who needed a spread offense to be effective, Michigan was going to switch to a pro-style offense that would open up bigger holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, who struggled last season before a gruesome leg injury ended his year. It hasn't happened. In four games, Toussaint is averaging only four yards a carry despite playing against three below-average defenses. He has only a few more rushing yards than Gardner -- 319 to 301 -- even though Gardner, in the new system, is mainly carrying the ball when pass plays break down. With Gardner, the problem doesn't have an easy fix. Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have both stressed that his decisionmaking is only partially to blame for his struggles. Gardner has also been mechanically flawed, which has left him unable to make throws both coaches think he should be making. Gardner worked a lot on his fundamentals during the bye week, along with his teammates. "We got a lot accomplished last week," HOke said. "I think it was a very good week. We felt that as a staff, and the players felt the same away. "We got back to the fundamentals at every position, and we needed that. The intensity and competitiveness were very good, and our kids are excited to start the Big Ten season." Hoke played down questions about Gardner's health. "We went out Tuesday and Thursday last week, and he didn't look sore," Hoke said. "He may be doing a good job acting because he knows there are a lot of guys out there who are sore. "That's just part of playing this game. I thought he did a nice job for us on the practice field." Of course, Gardner isn't getting the help he needs from the rushing game, and the offensive line isn't winning any awards for pass protection, either. Hoke wouldn't say Monday if changes were coming at the center and guard positions, where young players have struggled. "We've talked a lot and done a lot during the bye week, and we've got two big work days coming up this week," Hoke said. "After that, we'll have a good indication of where we want to go. "We're evaluating from the four games and the practices, from individuals and their fundamentals and all those things. We won't have a problem making a change if that's what we deem we ought to do." Michigan is still running Robinson's spread offense at times -- Gardner spent three years practicing it after playing a similar system in high school -- and it has looked more effective than the pro-style attack; however, Hoke doesn't want to give up on a power-running game. "When you see some of the downhill runs and some of the play-actions off of them, I think we've done a good job with those things," he said. "We've had too many negative yards at the point of the attack, and that's something we need to be a little more cognizant of fixing." That fix didn't happen last year, and it hasn't taken place so far this year despite the change in focus. Freshman Derrick Green has gotten a few carries, but hasn't done more than Toussaint, which leaves the focus on the offensive line. "We are trying to get everyone on the same page," senior tackle Michael Schofield said. "We have to get some runs going so that we're not putting Devin in third-and-long, but we've also got to do a better job of giving him as much time as possible to make the smart throws -- the throws we know he can make. "We've had more than 30 negative plays already, and a lot of them came against UConn. We have to stop doing that." The Wolverines get their first chance to change things at Saturday's homecoming game against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are coming off a bad home loss to Iowa, but the way Michigan has played in the last two games, even the Little Brown Jug is far from being locked into another year at Schembechler Hall.
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