Michigan's tailbacks struggle again as offensive line falters
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four times, Michigan faced a third- or fourth-and-short in the second half against Ohio State. Four times, it ran the ball.
Four times, it came up short.
The Wolverines' tailback issues have persisted throughout the year, and hit a nadir in Saturday's 26-21 loss at No. 4 Ohio State.
Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith, playing with Fitz Toussaint sidelined for the season, combined for just 14 yards on 10 carries. The longest run of the day was 8 yards by Smith.
But it wasn't just on them, as Michigan's offensive line failed to gain push against Ohio State's defensive front.
"They're all lost in the trenches," coach Brady Hoke said. "When you win or lose, (it starts) in the interior.
"They got pretty good guys up front. I think we played good at times and bad at times."
Were the Buckeyes just tougher than Michigan in the trenches?
"I don't know," Hoke said.
Denard Robinson proved to be Michigan's only source of rushing production, racking up 122 yards on 10 carries while playing tailback and quarterback without attempting a pass.
But Ohio State figured out the Robinson riddle in the second half, creeping in its safeties and holding the senior to minus-2 yards on four carries after he gained 124 yards in the first half.
Without him, the Michigan rushing attack stalled completely.
"That's always difficult," Hoke said. "When you play away, running the football is always something you want to try to do and be able to do. And we didn’t do that, besides running with Denard, with any success.
"You know me well enough: We want to run the football, and we want to do a good job stopping the run. We didn’t do either."
That proved problematic in the second half, as Michigan went 0-for-4 on third- and fourth-and-short. The Wolverines ran each time, gaining minus-4 yards.
Rawls rushed once, Robinson once and Smith twice, none achieving positive yardage.
Hoke was asked after the game why Michigan continued to rush up the middle with the tailbacks, with Ohio State having success against that play.
"You got to look at where you’re at and where you feel you may have an opportunity," he said. "Upstairs, (coordinator Al Borges) sees a lot of different things."