Published November 26, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan opened the season by scoring 59 points. It had at least 40 in wins over relatively solid teams in Notre Dame and Minnesota.
The Wolverines even put up a school-record 751 yards of offense as they scored 61 points against Indiana last month to improve to 6-2.
Since then, they've struggled — especially with the ball.
Michigan was held scoreless in the second half of its 24-21 loss Saturday at Iowa, its third in four games. The Wolverines scored nine points the previous week in regulation before going on to beat Northwestern in triple-overtime; they were limited to six and 13 points, respectively, in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska.
Coach Brady Hoke says he's confident Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) will be consistent for a change on offense against archrival and third-ranked Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) on Saturday at home. Even though the Wolverines are 14-point underdogs, Hoke said he believes his team has a shot to win against the undefeated Buckeyes.
"This game has always been different in some ways," Hoke said Monday. "Are they a good football team? Yeah. They're a very good football team. Do we have to play better than we've played? I don't think there's any doubt."
On offense, that's as clear as the difference between maize and blue.
Michigan ranks last out of 123 major college football teams in tackles allowed for a loss, getting stopped behind the line of scrimmage 103 times this season. That statistic has led to the Wolverines ranking 110th in sacks allowed, 100th in rushing and 95th overall on offense among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
"I know they've probably gave up a thousand tackles for loss this season, but I know going into this game that they're going to try to give up as least as possible," Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier said.
The Wolverines were in a position to get a clutch touchdown to win or a timely field goal to probably push the Hawkeyes to overtime Saturday, but quarterback Devin Gardner fumbled at the Iowa 31 with about 2 minutes left.
"I lost the game by myself," Gardner said. "I fumbled the ball when they trusted me."
Gardner has broken Michigan marks this season, accounting for 584 yards of offense and 503 yards passing against the Hoosiers. He matched school records with five touchdowns against the Fighting Irish and again against the Hoosiers.
In the last four games, however, he has averaged 182.5 yards passing and lost a total of 47 yards rushing.
"He's had some really good moments and some moments that he would rather redo if he could," Hoke said. "I think we all have that; I do as a head coach. There are always moments that you think about and say, 'Maybe we should've done this.' He's been pretty resilient. He's a guy who comes to work every day to get ready to play."
Gardner's lack of consistency appears to be linked to rarely having time to throw behind a trio of inexperienced linemen and not having the luxury of a running game that defenses have to respect.
Michigan has shuffled several players around at center and both guard positions between senior tackles without much success.
The Wolverines gave running back Derrick Green a chance to carry the ball extensively against Northwestern in place of banged-up senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, and the freshman had 79 yards. Emblematic of Michigan's offense, Green then failed to find consistency in the next game as he had just 23 yards rushing on 11 carries against the Hawkeyes.
"We get a 9-yard gain, then we take a step back," Hoke said, trying to explain why his team has lacked consistency with the ball. "Or, we've got good protection and don't finish the throw or execute the throw or catch the football."
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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