Things started with a bang for Michigan in 2013. Devin Gardner carried his team to victory with a Heisman Trophy-esque performance against archrival Notre Dame en route to a 5-0 start to the season.
Then the wheels fell off the Wolverines' offense.
Gardner turned the ball over too much, the offense never really got on track and Michigan lost five of its last six games. The Maize and Blue were held below 200 yards of offense on three separate occasions and held to negative rushing yards twice.
The same offense that rolled up a record 751 yards against Indiana.
Needless to say, consistency was a major issue and changes needed to be made to the 87th-rated offense. Not only will Michigan now be playing in a tougher Big Ten Division but they will be doing so with a new name calling plays on the offense.
Michigan 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)
Spring Practice Opens: Feb. 25
Spring Game: April 5
Three Things to Watch in Michigan's 2014 Spring Practice
Doug Nussmeier, meet Devin Gardner
Hoke hired former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in early January. The timing was strange and the way Al Borges was put out to pasture was equally bizarre. But Hoke got his guy and Wolverines fans will be anxious to see how Coach Nuss works with embattled but extremely talented quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner at one point last year was leading the world in turnovers but also set a Michigan single-game record with 584 yards of total offense. Protecting the football and working on becoming a more efficient passer will be the focus of the new offensive duo in Ann Arbor. There were a lot things wrong with the Michigan offense last year but it begins and ends with Gardner’s play. Of course, if Hoke can provide some sort of running game for his QB, that might help…
Rebuild the line and develop a workhorse
Taylor Lewan is gone. So is Michael Schofield. So the best two players are gone from an offensive line that finished 102nd in the nation in rushing and 109th in sacks allowed. The quickest way to ensure success for Gardner in the passing game is to provide balance on the ground. To do that, Nussmeier will have to reverse a very disturbing trend in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s rushing offense has gone from 238.5 yards per game in 2010 to 221.8 in ’11, 183.8 in ’12 and just 125.7 yards per game last year. Replacing those stars up front on the O-line and developing a true workhorse (paging Derrick Green) has to be atop the offensive priority list for the new coordinator. Additionally, figuring out a way to maximize Gardner’s athletic ability in space could help to open up more traditional running lanes for Green.
Find a go-to weapon on the outside
With a defense ranked in the upper half of the Big Ten and returning eight starters, the focus all spring should stay on the offense. Devin Funchess can be a dangerous weapon in open space but record-setting wideout Jeremy Gallon is gone and dependable target Jake Butt is out with a torn ACL. So other than Funchess at tight end, Michigan won’t have any player returning this spring with more than 15 catches on their resume. Amara Darboh will return to the field after missing all of 2013 and Jehu Chesson and Dennis Norfleet have limited experience. Finding a go-to target on the outside would also go a long way in helping to improve Gardner’s production in the pocket.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Despite entering a tougher division in 2014 with a new coordinator calling plays, Michigan fans should have plenty of optimism heading into the spring. Gardner can be a special player when things are going well and Hoke has easily the second-best roster in the Big Ten this season (as usual). Is there a lot of work to be done on the offense? Certainly, but with a manageable early schedule and key swing games coming at home late in the year (Indiana, Maryland), Michigan should find a way to improve on the seven wins from a year ago. Should Nussmeier find a workhorse back and stabilize the offensive line, 10 wins is well within reach.