In a game the national media (read: Kirk Herbstreit) thought the University of Michigan would fall into a classic Big-10 trap, The Wolverines rediscovered what helped make them Michigan.
For the last two years, much of the talk about Denard Robinson centered on how head coach Brady Hoke wanted to change him into a dropback passer. Before the season many thought Robinson looked sharper in the pocket and would switch to a more pass-first offense in his final year as the Michigan signal caller. Despite posting some nice numbers in the first four weeks, Robinson never showed the hyped skills though and the offense lacked pop.
Short drives and smaller leads, against real competition that is, really hurt Michigan in the first four weeks, but the team rediscovered what built the program up on Saturday against Purdue. Many were excited about the hiring of Hoke because they thought he’d bring the power run game back to Ann Arbor. After a first year featuring the Power I formation prominently, Michigan has looked more like a pro offense this season, until they used Robinson to revive the run game and the offense so many have been looking forward to seeing.
Many confuse the positives of a power run game with the positives of a spread offense. Why the power run game is effective is not because of the ability to score quickly by running the ball, like the spread, but instead by being able to slowly move down the field while picking up large chunks of yardage at a time. It keeps the defense off the field and makes sure the other team has fewer opportunities to score.
Michigan plodded down the field most of the afternoon Saturday and Robinson was a huge part of the reason why. Yes, he had some huge runs for big yardage, including for one for 59-yards, but with 235-yards on 24 carries, it is not like he was breaking them all day. Instead of running faster than everyone else, he ran as efficiently as possible. Even though most of the yardage rushing was from Robinson, the team did have 73 yards rushing from the rest of the running back grouping too. It is as much about spreading the ball around as it is highlight Robinson.
Heading forward in the Big-10 schedule, this new commitment to running could be huge, especially against some explosive offenses like Nebraska, Northwestern and of course Ohio State. Keeping the opposing offense on the sideline is often some of the best defense a team can have. The opposition has fewer opportunities to score and a smaller window of time to win back the momentum.
The time of possession was not incredibly lopsided against Purdue, but Michigan did hold onto the ball for over 36-minutes, 13 more than the Boilermakers. Consider this, Michigan was able to do that while also having a pick-six in the second quarter, that is some pretty solid offense. Robinson is an electric sprinter, but it is hard to think this Michigan offense isn’t more effective when he has to work for his yardage.
Heading forward, do not be surprised if Big Blue continues to focus on its big running attack for the rest of the season, or until they have to throw. It showed Saturday how it can highlight their best player, Robinson, and keep their biggest weakness, the defense, off the field. The Big-10 should watch out if Michigan runs well again against Illinois on Saturday because they’ll be running wild for the rest of the season.