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The Inaugural Maize and Go Blue Awards

December 23rd, 2011 by Justin Potts

[Ed.: This was started right at the end of the season in hopes of getting it out before the Michigan football bust, but then I bought a new house, moved, etc, which resulted in less free time and no internet access at home for a few weeks. We apologize for the lack of content lately].

The 132nd team in Michigan football history began play in September with a new head coach and plenty of returning talent. It opened with a rain-soaked three-quarter win over Western Michigan and continued on with the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history. It opened Big Ten play with a 58-0 route of Minnesota, then followed up with a second half comeback at Northwestern. It suffered defeat in East Lansing and Iowa City with a win over Purdue sandwiched in between, but bounced back with decisive wins over Illinois and Nebraska. And finally, it ended seven years of futility with a 40-34 win over Ohio State.

It’s hard to believe 12 games have already come and gone, but with season’s end comes awards and accolades. The All-Big Ten teams have been announced and Brady Hoke was named conference coach of the year, so we at Maize and Go Blue decided to announce our very first Maize and Go Blue Awards. Some of these will be painfully obvious and some you may disagree with, but we welcome the discussion and ultimately aim to honor the men of Team 132.

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson entered the season as a Heisman contender and almost singlehandedly beat Notre Dame in Week 2. However, his throwing mechanics seemed to tail off in the middle of the season, resulting in a number of interceptions and calls for Devin Gardner to replace him. But Robinson kept battling and delivered his best all-around performances of his career late in the season, including one of the greatest by any Michigan quarterback ever against Ohio State.

Last week, we found out that Robinson played much of the season with a staph infection on his arm and an abscess on his throwing elbow that at least in some part contributed to his midseason miscues.

He completed 133-of-237 passes for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 1,163 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns. His rushing yards per game ranked 28th nationally and his total offense ranked 29th nationally. He also accounted for an average of 17 points per game, which ranked 15th in the nation, and despite his midseason passing struggles, he ranked 36th nationally in passing efficiency – just behind another preseason Heisman contender, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (1), Mike Martin (1)

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

As stated above, Denard Robinson led the team rushing with 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns. He finished 28th nationally in rushing and 36th in passing efficiency.

He also got better as the season progressed. After a fast start, and great performance against Notre Dame, he struggled against Northwestern and Michigan State. But he rebounded with three of his best performances of the season in Michigan’s final three games against Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

Robinson moved into 8th place in career completions, passing yards, and rushing yards at Michigan, 6th in career touchdown passes, 100-yard passing games, and 200-yard passing games, and 5th in rushing touchdowns. He’s also just 679 rushing yards away from Juice Williams’ Big Ten quarterback rushing record, which he should easily break next season.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (1)

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Mike Martin

Mike Martin was the rock of a Michigan defense that improved vastly in every statistical category from a year ago. Total defense ranked 18th nationally, rush defense ranked 35th, and scoring defense ranked 7th. While Martin didn’t have eye-popping numbers, he took on double-teams more often than not, freeing up the pass rush for the rest of the front seven. He was also solid in run defense, consistently clogging the middle of the line and taking away running lanes for opposing backs.

He made one of the best defensive plays of the season, fighting through the Purdue line to sack quarterback Caleb TerBush in the end zone for a safety to break a 7-7 tie. Michigan went on to score the next 27 points to put the game away.

Martin’s senior leadership and defensive tenacity was a stabilizing force for an all-around young Michigan defense. He benefited from Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison’s experience coaching NFL defensive linemen and had the best season of his career at Michigan. He finished with 54 tackles (5.5 for loss) and three sacks.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)

Yost Coach of the Year | Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

In his first year at the helm, Brady Hoke took an underperforming Michigan squad and guided it to a 10-2 record, falling just a few plays short of an undefeated season and a chance to play for the Big Ten championship. His display of composure on the sidelines, his hiring of top-notch coordinators, his willingness to call a gameplan with what he called ‘controlled agression’, and his beating of Ohio State make him a lock for the award.

Hoke was awarded the Schembechler-Hayes Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the coaches and the media (the media’s award is called the Dave McClain Award). It was his third conference coach of the year award in four years, having received the honor as head coach of San Diego State in 2010 and Ball State in 2008.

Many Michigan fans were skeptical of his hiring back in January, but one would be hard pressed to find a Michigan fan who hasn’t bought in at this point. In Hoke’s introductory press conference, he proclaimed that he would have walked to Ann Arbor (from California) if he had to. After nearly a year on the job, Hoke has won over players, almuni, and fans alike who would probably walk to California for him if they had to. He’s also putting the finishing touches on what will be a highly-ranked recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor next season.

According to Matt, “Hoke came in post-RichRod, turned this team around, went 10-2, became BCS eligible, and beat Ohio State.”

Greg Mattison is one of those coordinators that Hoke hired and was a genius pick. In Mattison’s second stint in Ann Arbor (he coached at Michigan from 1992-96), Mattison turned a defensive unit that ranked 110th nationally in 2010 and gave up the most points in Michigan history into the nation’s 18th-ranked total defense and 7th-best scoring defense. Not once all season did an opponent score as many points as the Michigan defense averaged allowing last season. Ohio State came the closest but was still one short.

The turnaround was most impressive because it was largely the same players as last year with the addition of freshmen Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, and Blake Countess mixed in. That Mattison can take the same defense, add three true freshmen to the mix, and produce what he did is nothing short of miraculous. The Michigan defense is in good hands as long as Mattison is coordinating it.

Chris picked Mattison, saying “Tough call between Hoke and Mattison but I had to go with Mattison because he was more directly responsible for the greatly improved play of the defense. His blitz schemes were a nightmare for opposing coordinators and his ability to get essentially the same players as last year to play like they did was top notch.”

Votes: Hoke (2), Mattison (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | 40-34 win over Ohio State

Of all of the achievements this season – a 10-2 record, a BCS bowl game, beating Notre Dame at the last second, etc., the most satisfying for Michigan players, coaches, and fans was beating Ohio State and ending the seven-year drought. It wasn’t easy and the game had its share of twists and turns, but Michigan persevered and found a way to do what the previous seven Michigan teams could not: Beat Ohio.

The Buckeyes came in with a 6-5 record, a true freshman quarterback, and nothing to lose. The OSU offense was anemic all season, but in what would be interim head coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman’s last game on the reigns, they turned the offense loose. Instead of pounding the ball up the middle all game, they let quarterback Braxton Miller make plays with his arm and legs.

But Michigan traded blow for blow and scored the most points of any Michigan team against Ohio State since 1946. Denard Robinson played the best game of his career, hitting 14-of-17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushing 26 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of the greatest performances by a quarterback against Ohio State in Michigan history.

The win ensured that another senior class would not graduate winless against Ohio State and served as a pleasing sendoff for the seniors who stayed through three head coaches and multiple coordinators.

“Streak ending statement game,” said Josh.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Howard Play of the Year | Denard’s TD pass to Roundtree to beat Notre Dame

Another unanimous selection, the 16-yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Rountree with two seconds left to beat Notre Dame proved to be one of the greatest moments of the season.

It was the much-hyped and nationally televised Under the Lights game, the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history. ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast live from Ann Arbor that morning and Brady Hoke needed the win to keep Michigan fans from another “here we go again” feeling.

The game itself was a candidate for game of the year and probably would have been had Michigan not ended its seven-year futility against Ohio State. It was back and forth throughout, but looked like Michigan was headed for a loss when Notre Dame answered a Michigan touchdown to take a three-point lead with 30 seconds to play. Michigan got the ball on its own 20-yard line, needing to drive 80 yards in 30 seconds to pull off a miracle. And that they did.

On the second play, Robinson found a wide open Jeremy Gallon on a wheel route for a 64-yard gain to the Notre Dame 16. One play later, Robinson floated a perfect jump ball to Roy Roundtree in the end zone. The junior receiver leaped above ND defensive back Gary Gray and hauled it in, touching a foot in bounds before falling out of bounds. Replay confirmed the catch and Michigan celebrated its third-straight win over Notre Dame.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 5 TDs against Ohio State

Denard Robinson had his share of electrifying moments the past couple of seasons, even garnering Heisman talk at times the past to years. However, the major knock on the junior quarterback has been that he hasn’t played well in big games against the likes of rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. This time, in the season’s final game, he did.

Although Ohio State was limping in with a 6-5 record, it was still a rivalry game and Michigan was fighting the burden of the seven-year plague. Ohio State’s defense still had largely shut down two of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.

Robinson, however, was not to be stopped. He turned in one of the greatest single performances by a Michigan player against Ohio State in the history of the rivalry. He completed 14-of-17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 26 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He became just the fourth Michigan quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a game against Ohio State (the first since Drew Henson in 2000) and his 170 rushing yards were the third-most by any Michigan rusher against the Buckeyes (behind Tim Biakabatuka’s 313 in 1995 and Jamie Morris’ 210 in ’86).

“Big players come up big in big games,” said Chris. “Denard did not disappoint.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson

Unlike the Yost Coach of the Year award, in which two coaches very much deserved the honor, this one is painfully obvious. Even though sophomore Devin Gardner got some playing time, no one is going to name him quarterback of the year.

Denard Robinson followed up a stellar sophomore season with an even better junior season. While his numbers were down overall (1,163 rushing yards vs. 1,702 in 2010 and 2,056 passing yards vs. 2,570 in 2010), he developed as a quarterback and as a leader. There were times early in the season where questions arose about Denard’s progress, but by season’s end, he proved that the job is his and his alone.

He ranked 28th nationally and 5th in the Big Ten in rushing, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. He completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, though his TD-to-INT ratio grew as the season drew to a close. Most importantly, he turned in his best performance in leading Michigan to its first win over Ohio State in eight years, throwing for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He became the fourth quarterback in Michigan history to throw for three touchdowns in a game against OSU – the first since Drew Henson in 2000 – and recorded the third-highest rushing total by any Michigan player against the Buckeyes.

Michigan fans should expect big things from Robinson in 2012.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Fitzgerald Toussaint

It took a while for Fitzgerald Toussaint to get going, but once he did, he turned in a phenomenal season. After rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the rain-soaked season opener against Western Michigan, Toussaint didn’t play against Notre Dame and carried just twice for seven yards in a mid-season loss to Michigan State. After that, however, he gained at least 120 yards in four of the remaining five games, averaging six yards per carry.

Toussaint finished sixth in the Big Ten in rushing, right behind Robinson, and 40th nationally. He also eclipsed the 1,000 mark, becoming the first Michigan running back to do so since Mike Hart.

For the season, he gained 1,011 yards and scored nine touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 91.9 yards per game.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Carter Receiver of the Year | Junior Hemingway

With the exception of the Notre Dame and Northwestern games, Michigan didn’t put the ball in the air often. The emergence of Fitzgerald Toussaint allowed Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges to utilize the passing game just enough to keep the defense honest for the running game.

Junior Hemingway was a guy that Michigan fans had been waiting to break out for years, but was always hampered by injury. This season, he did so.

Hemingway emerged as the main receiving threat with his ability to stretch defenses and go up and get balls in the air. He made several great plays against Notre Dame and Northwestern, out-leaping the defensive back to give a shot in the arm to the offense. He finished the regular season with 32 receptions for 636 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Notre Dame, Hemingway had three catches for 165 yards and a touchdown and against Northwestern, he caught five passes for 124 yards. His second and only other touchdown of the year came against Ohio State, putting Michigan ahead 16-7 at the end of the first quarter.

“Hemingway gave the offense a deep threat which had been lacking over the last few seasons,” said Josh. “When he was catching the ball, his ability to stretch the field opened up windows in the defense for other receivers to run into.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Roy Roundtree (1)

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | David Molk

David Molk was everything you could possibly ask for at the center position. He was the rock of the Michigan offense and a senior leader both on and off the field. He was a First-Team All-America selection and the Rimington Award winner which goes to the nation’s top center.

While many things could be pointed to for Michigan’s offensive success throughout the entire season, one of the biggest is the stability Molk provided to the offensive line. That was all the more apparent in 2009 when Molk missed eight games due to various injuries and the offense fell apart.This season, he was healthy throughout, and the offense never missed a beat.

Off the field, while Robinson could be considered the face of Michigan football, Molk was usually the voice of Michigan football, providing positive soundclips and keeping the team focused and together. He was one of the few seniors who stayed and triumphed through three head coaches and multiple coordinators. He beat Ohio State and will play in Michigan’s first BCS bowl game since the year before he arrived in Ann Arbor.

“Center is the most important player on the line,” said Chris. “Molk came through with leadership and stellar play.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

The best position group on a vastly improved Michigan defense, and also the hardest to replace next season, was the defensive line. It was manned by a pair of senior leaders, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, both of which share the Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year award.

Martin was the clog in the middle of the defense that routinely took on double-teams and made it tough for opposing offenses to run the ball. Van Bergen had a knack for fighting his way through the line to pressure the opposing quarterback. Together, they formed the backbone of one of the Big Ten’s top units.

According to Josh, “While Martin was often fighting through double-teams, Van Bergen was making plays with his quick pass rushing abilities. He had five sacks, 12 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and four pass breakups. This is another Senior who will be difficult to replace.”

Votes: Martin (2), Van Bergen (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Last year’s linebacker corps was plagued with unsound fundamentals and poor tackling and the unit entered this season as one of the biggest question marks on the team. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were gone and many wondered who would fill their spot. Kenny Demens entered the scene last season, but no one else had stepped up. Enter Jake Ryan.

The redshirt freshman broke out to provide some much-needed playmaking ability and combined with Demens to provide stability to the linebacking corps.

He finished the season with 30 tackles, seven for loss, and also recorded two sacks and recovered two fumbles. Against San Diego State, he recorded five tackles, one for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He was named to the and Big Ten All-Freshman team.

Demens led the team in tackles with 86, five for loss, and also tallied three sacks. He recorded a team-high 12 tackles against Notre Dame and also helped slow down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, adding eight tackles and an assisted sack.

He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honoree.

“Led the team in tackles and was a force in the middle of the field,” said Chris.

Votes: Ryan (2), Demens (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

Over the last couple of seasons, Jordan Kovacs has become one of the team’s most popular players. The former walk-on who earned a scholarship last season did a little bit of everything on defense.

He was second on the team in tackles with 64, second on the team with eight tackles for loss, tallied four sacks, forced two fumbles, recovered one, and picked off a pass.

In the season-opening win over Western Michigan, Kovacs led the team with 10 tackles, two for loss, recorded a pair of sacks, forced a fumble, and recorded a pass breakup. For his effort, he was named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.

He also made one of the key defensive plays of the season when he sacked Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa on fourth down to give the ball back to Michigan and seal the win.

He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media.

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Blake Countess (1), J.T. Floyd (1)

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

It’s fitting that two players split the special teams player of the year award given that Michigan’s special teams was a disaster the past couple of seasons and improved immensely this year.

A year ago, Gibbons made just made just 1-of-5 field goals before being replaced by Seth Broekhuisen for the remainder of the season. The kicking game was so bad that Rich Rodriguez elected to forego kicking unless the team was within about 30 yards. This year was a drastic turnaround. Gibbons hit 10-of-14 field goals and 52-of-53 extra points.

The night-and-day difference between last season and this was on display in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Holding onto a three-point lead with two minutes left, and facing fourth-and-goal from the OSU-26, Hoke sent Gibbons out to attempt what would be a career long. With the pressure of the seven-year plague on his back, Gibbons nailed it, pushing the lead to six, and making Ohio State have to score a touchdown to win rather than a field goal to tie.

Another sore spot for Michigan the past couple years was the return game. Aside from not getting return yards, Michigan’s returnmen had trouble catching the ball. Michigan fans held their breath every time a punt was in the air, arcing down toward a Michigan returnman. Not so this year.

Jeremy Gallon provided a solid receiver on punts and proved capable of picking up yards as well. He averaged 10.1 yards per return and his 32-yard return against Illinois set up a Michigan touchdown. He was named an All-Big Ten Special Teams third teamer by Phil Steele.

Votes: Gibbons (2), Gallon (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Blake Countess

As a true freshman, Blake Countess certainly impressed. He added a playmaking cover corner to a Michigan secondary that was desperately in need of one after getting torched game-in and game-out last season. He played in 11 of the team’s 12 games (10 at cornerback) and earned a starting spot in the last five.

Countess totaled 36 tackles, one for loss, and was second on the team in pass breakups with six. Against San Diego State, he tallied seven tackles and a pass breakup, and made a fantastic touchdown-saving pass breakup against Ohio State in the season finale (pictured right).

He was named to the and Big Ten All-Freshman team.

“Came into a starting role and never relinquished it,” said Josh. “Played with maturity and poise beyond his true freshman status.”

Chris was also impressed, saying, “The addition of Countess to Michigan’s secondary mid-way through the season was an excellent move by the coaches. In five starts, Countess had 36 tackles, 6 PBUs, and 1 forced fumble. Not bad for a true freshmen in such a short game span. Opposing QBs had to account for him on every passing play.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drew Dileo (1)

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Mike Martin

Mike Martin was a senior leader who stuck it out through three head coaches, multiple defensive coordinators and various schemes. He very easily could have departed for the NFL after his junior season rather than try to learn a new scheme, but he stuck it out and emerged better off for it. The coaching he received from former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should certainly help out his NFL Draft stock.

He routinely took on double teams, freeing up Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh to rush the passer, and clogged the middle of the line, making it hard for opposing running backs to find holes.

“Martin was the leader of this defense, starting in the offseason when Hoke was first hired,” said Chris. “He helped Hoke get the rest of the defense (and the team) to buy into the new coaching staff. Losing Van Bergen’s abilities off the edge will hurt too, but it’s always tough to replace a leader like Martin.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

As noted above in the special teams player of the year award, Brendan Gibbons showed vast improvement compared to a year ago. He went from 1-for-5 last season to a dependable 10-for-14 this season. And when it mattered most, he connected on a career long 43-yarder in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. With two years of eligibility left, it looks as if Michigan will be solid at kicker at least until he graduates.

Fitz Toussaint also gets the nod because of the way he broke out in the second half of the season. He battled injuries a year ago when he got just eight carries for 87 yards all year. Of those 87, 61 came on one run. This year, he busted out for 1,011 yards on 174 carries, becoming a dependable every-down back and a perfect complement to Denard Robinson in the backfield. Like Gibbons, Toussaint is just a sophomore, ensuring two more years to continue improving and leaving Michigan with a solid running game.

“Emerged as the go-to back,” said Josh. “Gave offense a much needed added dimension to take pressure off Denard.”

Votes: Gibbons (2), Toussaint (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None