Michigan handing the keys to its offense over to offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of offense for the Wolverines.
The return of Jim Harbaugh as head coach brought with it a more traditional brand of offense: under center, I-Formation power running, as was his system at Stanford and other coaching stops. The so-called three yards in a cloud of dust approach is good for limiting negative plays, but it’s not as easy to generate the explosive plays college football offenses need to be elite in the modern era.
The first year was not enough time to get those intended results.
When the University of Alabama defends Michigan’s rushing attack in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, it will see an attack that is easy to contain and keep away from explosive plays, but also an attack that is difficult to stop behind the line.
“They’re good,” UA senior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis said of the Michigan offensive line. “They love double-teaming, they’re good at pass pro — at protecting the guy. They’re a good O-line.”
That offensive line keeps its ball carriers from getting stopped behind the line more than most.
After sack-adjusting both Michigan’s tackles for a loss allowed and rushing attempts, narrowing it down to just runs stopped behind the line and true rushing attempts, Michigan has run 452 times and been stopped behind the line 35 times. That 8.14 percent rate is 22nd in the nation, with four of the teams ahead of them being option teams (Army, Air Force, Navy and Georgia Southern) that get a certain advantage by scheme that most teams don’t.
Since Michigan averages 35.8 sack-adjusted rushes per game and allows tackles for a loss on 8.14 percent of its runs, that gives Michigan’s opponents an average of 2.9 runs stopped for a loss per game. That total would be a downgrade for the UA defense, which has stopped runs for a loss 3.58 times per game this season.
But, even if UA struggles to stop Michigan behind the line, it may not struggle to keep the Wolverines bottled up.
Michigan has 57 runs of 10 yards or more and 15 runs of 20 yards or more, both tied for 79th nationally. The explosive rushing output is not only below the national average, it’s below Michigan’s own standard in recent seasons. The Wolverines’ 4.75 runs per game of 10 yards or more and 1.25 runs per game of 20 yards or more are lower than each of the three seasons prior.
The word to describe Michigan’s rushing attack this year would be methodical. On New Year’s Day, UA will be tasked with keeping it from being just that.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson