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Archive for the ‘The Michigan Medley’ Category

The Michigan Medley discusses the importance of Lewan’s return

Thursday, January 10th, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan announced in a press conference that he would return to school for his senior season. It came as a surprise to nearly everybody as the 6’8″, 309-pound junior was projected to be a high first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. It’s rare for a player of his caliber to forego what would have certainly been a large paycheck, but it’s very refreshing to see.

During the Lloyd Carr tenure, especially as his career went on, it seemed that making the jump was pretty much the norm, though Jake Long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart all stayed for their senior season. Long, like Lewan, was a sure-fire high draft pick and parlayed the gamble to come back into the top overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Lewan has the potential to do the same as long as he can avoid the injury bug.

Lewan proved his NFL potential by shutting down Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl

It’s always a risky move to put on hold an NFL contract for one more year of college ball. Just ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley who would have likely been a first round pick last season, but chose to return and suffered through a poor and injury-riddled season that will likely hurt his draft stock this April. On the other hand, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did the same a year ago and it payed off.

What’s most impressive in my opinion is the reasons Lewan stated for his decision. For one, he loves college, and that was evident more than ever during Wednesday night’s basketball game against Nebraska when Lewan got up in front of the band and led them in The Victors. Secondly, he stated that he has unfinished business, having not achieved a Big Ten title yet in his career. Third, Michigan has a long tradition of great offensive linemen such as Jon Jansen and Steve Hutchinson, in addition to Long, who have stayed through their senior years and still went on to long and productive NFL careers. Lewan realized that and what a special opportunity it is to play for Michigan.

“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something you want to be a part of,” Lewan said. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”

The other reason he gave for returning is the most telling and the most important: he wanted to be a leader the way last year’s senior offensive lineman, David Molk, was for the younger guys on the team. Brady Hoke has brought in a great haul of offensive linemen to fill a void that was left thin by the previous regime. While the young guys such as Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, Ben Braden, and Erik Magnuson, as well as this year’s incoming class, are extremely talented, perhaps nothing is more valuable than being able to grow and learn alongside an All-American to see what it takes to become one and what it takes to be a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft.

The foundation that was put in place by Janson and Hutchinson and Long and Molk has now transcended three coaching staffs and personifies exactly what it means to be a Michigan Man. Had Lewan chosen to make the leap, no one would have blamed him for doing so, but it would have left next year’s offensive line extremely young and inexperienced. That’s not a recipe for success in college football. His return provides leadership in addition to talent and it sets an example for the talented young guys.

“Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them develop into something where they can possibly be in my position in a couple years,” Lewan said.

Lewan’s return is probably the best news Michigan could have received this offseason – better than any recruit Hoke will sign on Feb. 6 – because it will have both an instant impact next season and a residual impact on the future of the offensive line. Bravo to Lewan for embodying what college football is supposed to be about rather than simply using it as a stepping stone to the riches of the NFL.

The Michigan Medley explains why Manti Te’o winning the Heisman would illegitimize the award

Friday, December 7th, 2012


Tomorrow night, one of three men will be awarded college football’s most prestigious honor, the Heisman Trophy. Only three were invited to the ceremony this season instead of the usual five, but in reality only two of them have a chance of winning the award and only one is actually deserving. But in the wacky landscape of college football in 2012, it’s likely that the most deserving player, the one who fits the definition defined by the Heisman Trust, won’t take it home.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone that has followed college football, especially over the last decade or so when the Internet, social media, and more televised games have allowed everyone to be an expert. The award voting involves more politics than Washington and that’s why Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o will likely win it tomorrow.

Te’o is a great player. He’s a great person. He has had a great career and he’s a great story. But none of that makes him the most outstanding player in the country whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

Linebacker comparison
Forget the Heisman Trophy race for a minute; let’s take a look at Te’o compared to Michigan’s top linebacker, Jake Ryan. It’s a lot closer than you think.

Manti Te’o

Jake Ryan

103 Total Tackles 84
52 Solo Tackles 53
5.5 Tackles for Loss 14.5
1.5 Sacks 4.0
7 Interceptions 0
2 Forced Fumbles 4
As you can see, Ryan’s numbers are very comparable to Te’o's and actually better in most categories, but no one is saying he’s deserving of Heisman consideration. And rightly so. In fact, Ryan was only named Second Team All-Big Ten by the media.

It can be argued that had Notre Dame been in the Big Ten, Te’o would have been the third or fourth best linebacker in the conference. Six Big Ten linebackers had more tackles, five had more solo, about a dozen had more tackles for loss, and several had more sacks.

Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier had 12 more total tackles than Te’o, 18 more solo tackles, 11.5 more tackles for loss, and 3.5 more sacks. The only thing he lacked were interceptions, though he did have one and forced three fumbles. Is the reason he’s not up for Heisman discussion simply because he has six fewer interceptions?

If Te’o wins the Heisman, then Ryan and Shazier better be invited to New York if they have similar seasons next year. They will, after all, be upperclassmen by then, which is apparently the main criteria used by many voters.

His 103 total tackles are tied with Wyoming’s Corey Jones, Western Michigan’s Johnnie Simon, and Florida Atlantic’s Bret Harstad. Are any of those guys considered for the Heisman? How about the 51 players who had more tackles than him? Or the 58 who averaged more tackles per game?

But it’s not solely based on tackles is it? How about solo tackles? You know, tackles made by yourself without the help of a teammate. Te’o's 52 are fewer than at least 87 others. His average of 4.3 solo stops per game don’t even rank in the top 94.

Ok, so maybe it’s not simply about tackles, so how about tackles that mean something – tackles in the backfield? Te’o had just five-and-a-half (yes, 5.5) tackles for loss. That puts him far outside the top 100. Four Michigan players had as many or more, led by Jake Ryan’s 14.5.

So Te’o hasn’t been dominant in tackles, solo tackles, or tackles for loss; how about sacks? Surely the likely Heisman winner has been lethal in the backfield, right? Wrong. His 1.5 sacks are fewer than five Michigan defenders – and Michigan ranked 85th nationally in sacks.

So he’s clearly not one of the top 100 defenders in the country when it comes to tackles for loss or sacks, and barely cracks the top 100 for solo tackles. Are we sure we’re looking at the right player’s stats? Yep. So what other defensive categories are there that have him as the likely Heisman winner?

How about turnovers forced? Ding ding ding ding! Te’o collected seven interceptions this season, which are second nationally to Fresno State defensive back Phillip Thomas. So there you have it: the Heisman trophy is now the award for the linebacker who makes the most interceptions.

Look, Te’o is a great linebacker and will probably have a long NFL career, which is why he won the Nagurski (best defensive player) and Lombardi (best lineman) awards. But even those are debatable, given the numbers listed above. Let’s be real here: he has benefited greatly from a productive career at Notre Dame and a defense stocked with NFL talent.

If the trophy is truly for the most outstanding player, as the Heisman Trust mission statement reads, then Johnny Manziel is the winner hands down. He ranks second nationally in total offense and points responsible for, 18th in scoring, 16th in passing yards, 33rd in rushing, and 17th in pass efficiency. Name another player in the country that has had that much of an impact in that many categories. Here’s another exercise: name another player on Texas A&M’s team. If you’re not an Aggie fan, you probably can’t. His offense isn’t chocked full of next level talent and he still led it to be the nation’s third-best scoring offense – as a freshman.

Aaahhh, so there’s the main reason he likely won’t win the award. Many Heisman voters won’t vote for him simply because he’s a freshman (a redshirt freshman that is). No freshman has ever won the award, and the snooty voters who are willing to deny the most outstanding player the award simply to preserve that record should be stripped of their ability to vote. Manziel should be rewarded because he’s a freshman – a freshman that led what was previously a 7-6 team to a 10-2 record and an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the nation’s best conference. He shouldn’t be penalized for it. It makes what he has done this season that much more – wait for it – outstanding.

Despite being a great player and a great person, Te'o (center) doesn't deserve the Heisman

If Te’o wins the Heisman, it should officially be re-named the Popularity Contest Trophy. Te’o will earn the sentimental vote because of his career body of work, because he came back for his senior year, because of the personal tragedy he suffered mid-season, and because his team is ranked No.1. But it will completely render the trophy, as currently defined, illegitimate.

The only thing he has done spectacularly is intercept seven passes. Is that more impressive than scoring 43 touchdowns? Is it more outstanding than breaking the all-time SEC total offense record that was set by Cam Newton during his Heisman trophy-winning season? Year in school aside, there’s probably not a person outside of South Bend that would say yes to those questions. Which means that if Te’o wins the award for this season’s most outstanding player it will be because of those outside factors mentioned in the previous paragraph, which are not what the Heisman Trophy is for.

It’s too bad we’ll never see Manziel and Te’o battle it out on the field. It would be a good one to watch considering that entering this season (you know, since we’re apparently taking into account full careers now) Te’o couldn’t stop Denard Robinson. Instead, we’ll have to settle for the two battling it out on a stage in New York and hopefully the voters will uphold the integrity of the award by actually awarding it to the nation’s most outstanding player rather than one whose only distinguishing points among dozens of other linebackers are interceptions and a stellar career.

The Michigan Medley analyzes Michigan’s bowl outlook

Thursday, November 29th, 2012


With an 8-4 record and a second place finish in the Big Ten Legends Division, Michigan is obviously headed to a bowl game. Since Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible for postseason play, Michigan’s bowl destination will be better than it would have been had the 12-0 (8-0) Buckeyes and 8-4 (6-2) Nittany Lions been able to go bowling.

Games to watch on Saturday
Atlanta, Ga. Indianapolis, Ind.
#2 Alabama #3 Georgia #12 Nebraska Wisconsin
11-1 11-1 10-2 7-5
4pm on CBS 8:17pm on FOX

Michigan will fill the Big Ten’s second or third bowl slot behind the winner of Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game between Nebraska and Wisconsin. The winner will get the conference’s guaranteed BCS bid, while the loser is unlikely to receive a BCS at-large due to the conference’s weak showing all season. There is a chance Nebraska could still get one if it loses, but the bowl committees won’t look to kindly on an end-of-season loss to a 7-5 team.

If Nebraska wins and heads to the Rose Bowl, the Capital One Bowl will choose between Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. A 7-6 Wisconsin squad is likely the odd man out despite playing in the Big Ten title game because the Badgers wouldn’t have been there if Ohio State was eligible. Michigan will travel far better than Northwestern will, and a matchup between the Wolverines and a top-tier SEC school is far more appealing than one involving the Wildcats.

If Wisconsin beats Nebraska and goes to Pasadena, Nebraska will likely get slotted into the Capital One Bowl, pushing Michigan down to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. In the previous two decades, Tampa was a familiar sight for Michigan, but the Wolverines haven’t been there since beating Florida in 2003. The bowl committee would love to get a Michigan vs. SEC matchup in Raymond James Stadium. So who will Michigan face? Depending on the outcome of the Big Ten title game as well as the other conference championships, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and LSU are most likely. Let’s take a look at each team.

Likely Bowl Opponent Comparison
Points/Game 38.0 26.8 44.8 30.2
Scoring Defense 17.7 12.9 22.5 16.9
Rush Avg 190.1 194.5 235.1 179.9
Rush Def. Avg 163.4 97.0 140.9 101.8
Pass Avg 273.6 143.9 317.2 207.2
Pass Def. Avg 174.4 186.4 248.4 194.3
Total Yds Avg 463.7 338.4 552.3 387.2
Total Def. Avg 337.8 283.4 389.3 296.2
Turnovers 16 12 20 16
Takeaways 25 29 15 31
Time of Poss 28:39 33:07 28:33 31:09
3rd Down Conv. 69/150 (46%) 62/168 (37%) 102/184 (55%) 75/181 (41%)
3rd Down Def. 64/180 (36%) 49/173 (28%) 58/189 (31%) 51/167 (31%)
Sacks by/allowed 24/22 25/36 30/23 30/26
Field Goals 8-for-12 23-for-28 13-for-22 20-for-28
PATs 54-for-58 34-for-35 64-for-71 41-for-41
Red Zone pct. 35/41 (85%) 35/42 (83%) 56/64 (88%) 42/50 (84%)
Red Zone Def. 25/35 (71%) 23/32 (72%) 31/40 (77%) 24/31 (77%)
Red Zone TD pct. 30/41 (73%) 22/42 (52%) 47/64 (73%) 25/50 (50%)
Red Zone TD Def. 18/35 (51%) 15/32 (47%) 24/40 (60%) 19/31 (61%)

Georgia faces Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in what is essentially the BCS National Championship play-in game. Notre Dame awaits the winner. The loser will still probably get a BCS at-large bid because of the strength of the conference, especially if Alabama is on the losing end. But there’s a slight chance that if Georgia is blown out by the Crimson Tide, the Dawgs would fall to the Capital One Bowl and Florida will gain a BCS at-large bid.

Georgia has quietly put together an impressive season, beating then-No. 2 Florida in Athens, and outscoring opponents by an average of 38-17. But if there is a knock on the Dawgs it is the fact that the SEC scheduling allowed them to skirt playing LSU and Texas A&M and they didn’t play anybody of note in the non-conference. The only loss was a 35-7 thrashing by South Carolina on Oct. 6. The Gamecocks were the only other ranked team Georgia played all season. We will find out on Saturday whether they are for real or merely benefited from a favorable schedule.

Florida and Georgia would both present stern tests for Michigan (Sam Greenwood, Getty Images)

Florida won’t get to play in the SEC Championship game because of a 17-9 loss to Georgia. It was the Gators’ only loss of the season, although they had several close wins. Thanks to the SEC’s wacky scheduling, Florida got to face Texas A&M in Week 2, before super freshman Johnny Manziel took off, and beat the Aggies 20-17. They beat LSU 14-6, hung on against Missouri 14-7, and needed some late magic to hold off Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20. Like Georgia, the Gators didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule save the annual matchup with rival Florida State. Bowling Green, Jacksonville State, and Louisiana-Lafayette were the other opponents. If both Alabama and Georgia earn BCS bowl bids, Florida will likely be slotted into the Capital One Bowl.

Texas A&M finished the season 10-2 and 6-2 in the SEC with losses to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19). The Aggies feature one of the best players in college football, likely Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. They rank fourth nationally in points per game (44.8) and shook up the BCS standings by beating Alabama on Nov. 10 (29-24). Since they were in the SEC West, they didn’t have to face Georgia or South Carolina, and their non-conference schedule featured SMU, South Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, and Sam Houston State. The Aggies will likely go to the Cotton Bowl, but bowl committees would love to get a matchup of two of college football’s most exciting players, Manziel and Denard Robinson.

LSU put together a good season, going 10-2 with losses to Florida (14-6) and Alabama (21-17). In the game against Alabama, LSU moved the ball with relative ease and led the Tide 17-14 late in the fourth before A.J. McCarron hooked up with T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass that went 28 yards for a touchdown with 51 seconds left. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 24-19 on the road and South Carolina 23-21. Like the Florida and Georgia, LSU didn’t play much of an out-of-conference schedule of North Texas, Washington, Idaho State, and Towson. LSU is probably the most unlikely opponent among the group, but if Wisconsin beats Nebraska and Michigan slides to the Outback, it’s possible.

Florida and Georgia are probably the most likely, depending on the outcome of the SEC title game, which will be played Saturday at 4pm on CBS and the Big Ten title game, which will be played Saturday at 8:17pm on FOX. I would much rather face Florida than Georgia or Texas A&M. While A&M doesn’t quite have the defense the other two feature, Florida’s offense is not very good. The Gators are pretty comparable to Notre Dame with a really good defense and a lackluster offense, and Michigan hung with Notre Dame for most of the game, falling due to a cacophony of turnovers. Regardless of the opponent, it will be a tough bowl game to win for Michigan this season since they will essentially be playing up a slot or two. If Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, Michigan would probably be playing in the Gator Bowl against someone like Mississippi State.

The Michigan Medley salutes the seniors of Team 133

Thursday, November 15th, 2012


They arrived in Ann Arbor four or five years ago, to a program in a state of flux that no incoming class had seen in nearly 40 years. Unlike last year’s graduating class, none came to Michigan under the old regime of Lloyd Carr prior to his retirement. The 18 [Edit: 23] players that will play their last game in Michigan Stadium on Saturday came to Michigan full of promise with a new coach. While the first couple years of their careers didn’t go as planned, they laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Michigan football that we have seen last season and this. While they still have two games left and a bowl game, let’s take a look back at the careers of each of Michigan’s graduating seniors.

#16 – Denard Robinson

No player has meant more to Michigan over the last four years than Denard Robinson. His career began with an electric 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 2009 and has produced enough highlight-reel plays and legendary performances to assure that he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue.

Denard currently ranks fifth in career rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in 100-yard rushing games, sixth in pass completions, fourth in passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, and first in total yards in the Michigan record books. He also ranks first all-time in Big Ten rushing yards by a quarterback, third in NCAA career quarterback rushing yards, and seventh in Big Ten career total yards. If he’s able to play the final two games and bowl game, he will surely move up even higher in most of those categories.

He arrived in Michigan a soft-spoken kid and became the face of Michigan football through the roughest patch in the past 40 years. Even when Michigan was barely competitive, Denard gave us a reason not only to watch but to be excited. This August, he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Media Day and serves as team captain. This is all the more remarkable considering that Rich Rodriguez was virtually the only major coach that wanted him as a quarterback.

Denard will remain a Michigan legend long after he plays his final game, whether or not his number gets official legends status.

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#32/11 – Jordan Kovacs

While Denard has been the face of the team and put up all the offensive stats over the past four years, Jordan Kovacs has been the face of the defense. And his story is even more improbable. A hardly recruited defensive back out of Clay High School in Ohio, Kovacs chose to walk on at Michigan instead of go to the only other school that showed any interest in him – Toledo.

In his first season, he was named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team and was named Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. As a redshirt sophomore he finished second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He also earned a scholarship. Last season, he was again named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and currently has 54 tackles through 10 games in his senior campaign. He also became a captain this season. From walk on to captain, he’s everything Rudy wasn’t.

Last weekend, Kovacs was awarded the Wistert brothers’ No. 11  legends jersey to wear for the remainder of his career. He has started 43 career games and has brought hard-nosed, high-energy defense every game. Every walk on from now on will aim to be the next Jordan Kovacs and he will be missed next season.

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#21 – Roy Roundtree

A skinny kid from Dayton, Ohio, Roy Roundtree committed to Rich Rodriguez on his first National Signing Day. After redshirting his freshman year, Roundtree led Michigan with 32 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 while starting four games. He was named a CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention and Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. In 2010, he broke out with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second in the Big Ten in yards and was named to the All-Big Ten second team by the media.

Last season, his production fell off considerably in Brady Hoke’s first season, but he provided one of the highlights of the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in Michigan’s improbable comeback against Notre Dame. This season, Roundtree has 20 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown through 10 games, but no catch has been more important than the 53-yarder he hauled in in the final seconds last week against Northwestern to set up the game-tying field goal.

Although he won’t go down as one of the best receivers in Michigan history, he has shown a knack for big plays and won’t soon be forgotten. For the past two seasons, he has worn Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legends jersey, which was the first one given such status.

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#88 – Craig Roh

Craig Roh was a big pickup for Rich Rodriguez when he committed on Sept. 18, 2008. The seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation out of Scottsdale, Ariz. held offers from USC, Stanford, and Nebraska to name a few, but chose to make the journey east.

As a freshman in 2009, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception, earning CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention honors, as well as Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. He upped his tackle numbers to 43 in 2010 and then was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media last season. He ranked second on the team with four sacks a year ago.

This season, he’s on pace for his best season yet with 37 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks through 10 games thus far. He has consistently represented Michigan well off the field and was named 2011 Academic All-Big Ten. He has started 48 consecutive games, 20 at linebacker, 26 at defensive end, and two at defensive tackle, showing his versatility and willingness to do what is needed to help the defense improve.

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#73 – William Campbell

Will Campbell was one of the most highly touted in recent memory, a consensus five-star defensive tackle. He arrive din Ann Arbor weighing 356 pounds and never lived up to the hype through his first three seasons. At one point in 2010, he moved to offensive line, but that was short lived when Hoke took over. As a senior, he has finally earned a starting spot and done well with 32 tackles and a sack so far.

#2 – Vincent Smith

The diminutive back from Pahokee, Fla. was recruited for Rodriguez’s system and had a promising freshman season with 48 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown, as well as 10 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He earned the starting job in 2010, carrying the ball 136 times for 601 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 130 yards and two more TDs. When Hoke arrived, Smith lost the job as the starter, but became the third down back. Against Minnesota last season, he became the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and passing touchdown in the same game. This season, he has just 24 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but has always shown an ability to pick up yards when needed.

#57 – Elliott Mealer

Mealer’s road to Michigan was filled with heartache when a car accident killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother Brock permanently paralyzed. But he has overcome the tragedy with a solid career as a backup offensive lineman. This season, he earned the starting nod at center, replacing David Molk and may be best known for his mountain man beard.

#25 – Kenny Demens

Demens was a highly sought after linebacker recruit in the midwest in 2008 but chose to come to Michigan at a time when linebacker play was less than stellar. He grabbed a starting spot midway through the 2010 season and never looked back, helping to solidify a position that had been a weak point for a couple of years. He was the team’s third leading tackler as a sophomore with 82 tackles. Last season, he led the team with 94, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the coaches and media. This season, he currently ranks second on the team with 67 tackles and five for loss.

#52 – Ricky Barnum

Barnum spent his first couple of seasons as a reserve offensive lineman before coming onto the scene a year ago. He started three games at left guard and finally earned a true starting spot this season, starting all 10 games thus far.

#65 – Patrick Omameh

Omameh has started 39 consecutive games at right guard over the last three seasons while being named Academic All-Big Ten twice. He was also one of 11 players nationally to be named to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team for his regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital.

#8 – J.T. Floyd

Floyd wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but has been a fixture in the Michigan secondary for the past three seasons, starting 32 games at cornerback and playing in 40. In 2010, he finished sixth in the conference in tackles per game, and last season he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he has 29 tackles so far for the nation’s top-rated pass defense. He has recorded three career interceptions and two career forced fumbles.

#89/87 – Brandon Moore

Moore hails from the same high school as Roundtree and former Wolverine Michael Shaw and came to Michigan as the nation’s eight-best tight end. He has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career, but has recorded two receptions for 28 yards. On Sept. 15, he was given Ron Kramer’s No. 87 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of the season.

#7 – Brandin Hawthorne

Hawthorne came to Michigan from Pahokee, Fla. as a three-star player and has spent the majority of his career on special teams. Last season, he started five games, recording 43 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. So far this season, he has 14 tackles, seven of which came against UMass.

Other seniors who will be playing their last games in Michigan Stadium are #14 Jack Kennedy, #20 Steve Wilson, #23 Floyd Simmons, #31 Paul Gyarmati, and #81 Mike Kwiatkowski. [Edit: Also, Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Garman, and Charlie Zeller].

Make sure to get into the stadium early on Saturday to salute each of these Michigan men for their hard work an dedication of the last four or five years. Give them a standing ovation to thank them for coming in during tumultuous times, sticking it out, and helping turn the program around.

The Michigan Medley wants to relish what’s left of Denard

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012


For about 25 minutes on Saturday, Michigan remained in prime position to sieze control of the Big Ten Legends division. The Wolverine defense had held Nebraska’s high-powered offense to just seven points and 113 total yards of offense and was marching down the field to take the lead with time running short in the first half. On 2nd-and-7 from the Nebraska 15, Denard Robinson rushed to his left, cut back to his right just before the sideline, and picked up a first down inside the ‘Husker 10-yard line setting up a 1st-and-goal. And then the world stopped.

Denard injured a nerve in his elbow on this play (AP photo)

Like he has done so often in his career, Denard didn’t get right back up, and Michigan fans across the country held their collective breaths. This time, however, he stayed down and when backup Russell Bellomy took over, Denard didn’t come right back in after a few plays. Bellomy proceeded to run for one yard and throw two incomplete passes, leading to a 24-yard field goal to pull within one. It was the closest Michigan would get.

The second half became a show of offensive ineptitude as Bellomy threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan four on Michigan’s first possession. The defense held strong, forcing a field goal. Two straight Michigan three-and-outs led to two more Nebraska field goals and Michigan’s chances were slipping away. Michigan’s lone scoring drive of the second half included 45 yards of Nebraska penalties  - a personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct, and pass interference – while the Wolverines gained just 17.

Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a punt and giving the ball back to the offense with a chance to tie the game, but Bellomy responded with another interception that led to Nebraska’s final, game-sealing touchdown.

In the immediate, it puts Nebraska in the driver’s seat for the Legends division. Both teams have one loss in conference, but Nebraska holds the current tie-breaker because of their head-to-head win. If the ‘Huskers win out, they’ll advance to the Big Ten Championship game against the winner of the Leaders division. Michigan almost certainly has to win all of its remaining games against Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State and needs Nebraska to drop one of its remaining contests.

In the broader context, this won’t go down in history as a classic Michigan-Nebraska contest. The chances for that went out the window the moment Denard went down. As Katie discussed last week, the previous seven meetings between the two teams turned in some close contests including a 6-6 tie in 1911 and a 27-23 Michigan victory in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. This one had the makings of an epic showdown until Denard went down, but Bellomy wasn’t ready for primetime. His 3-for-16, 38-yard, three-interception performance was perhaps one of the worst in Michigan history.

Taylor Lewan tried to settle Bellomy down after he was thrown into the fire (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

So who is to blame for the letdown in Lincoln? Many are calling for Al Borges’ firing and many others are pounding Bellomy for not being ready. In reality, it’s a little of both, but not to that degree. There’s not a team in the nation that has both the playmaking ability of Denard from its starter and a backup that could pick up right where he left off when thrown into the fire. Ohio State would be in trouble if Braxton Miller went down against a competent defense (read: not Purdue). Much has been made about how the only thing that could keep Alabama from running the table is losing A.J. McCarron. The list goes on.

Many are blasting the coaching staff for not having Devin Gardner ready, but they’re also the same ones that were clamoring for moving Gardner to receiver before the season started. The simple fact of the matter is that while Michigan has improved since Hoke took over, the roster is still thin at certain positions. Receiver is one of them, necessitating Gardner’s move, and quarterback is the other since Tate Forcier flamed out.

Hoke and Borges felt that Bellomy was the team’s second best option at quarterback and Gardner’s athleticism was too good to keep off the field. While Gardner hasn’t exactly had a game-changing impact, he does lead the team with four touchdown catches, and the passing game as a whole is pretty bad. How much worse would it be without him? Bellomy, on the other hand, is likely better than his performance showed on Saturday, but like I mentioned above, he was thrown into about the worse possible scenario. As Chris discussed in his MMQ segment yesterday, once Bellomy came in, the Nebraska coaching staff unleashed the defense on him and Borges didn’t adjust the game plan to sufficiently counter it. There was a fantastic diary on MGoBlog that broke down why Michigan’s quarterback situation is the way it is, and I couldn’t agree more.

Of course the loss hurt and it leaves Michigan without control of its own destiny in its pursuit of winning the Big Ten. But let’s be realistic. Most thought this was an 8-4 or 9-3 team before the season started. In fact, it has played out exactly how I thought it would so far, even though I changed my pick against both Notre Dame and Nebraska. There’s a very good chance Michigan would have beaten Nebraska if Denard hadn’t gotten hurt, but we’ll never know. But don’t give up on this team. We have four games and a bowl left to witness a player the likes of which we’ll never see again in a winged helmet. Relish it. And then we can talk about who should be Michigan’s next quarterback.

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The Michigan Medley was in the wrong stadium on Saturday

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012


I have a confession. I wasn’t perched high atop Michigan Stadium, looking down on Michigan’s thrilling win on Saturday from the press box. I wasn’t even in Ann Arbor. Nor was I watching the game from the comforts of my own couch. Instead, I was viewing it on a 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED screen in section 16, row 34, seat 22 of Notre Dame Stadium.

How I watched the Michigan game

My wife and her whole family are Notre Dame fans. Each season, her parents take one of their kids (and their spouse) to an ND home game. This was our year. Prior to the season, I gave a list of dates that would be optimal for me, the Michigan game being the obvious choice, but her dad didn’t want to go to that one. During Michigan’s bye week? Nope, ND’s was the same week. Or maybe the day Michigan plays at Minnesota. Ultimately, they were going to pick the game they wanted to see, and they chose BYU.

With kickoff at 3:30, I was hoping for either a noon or night game, but of course the football scheduling gods placed them both at the same time. To make matters worse, it wasn’t on ESPN which could be picked up via radio, but rather the Big Ten Network. So the best plan I could come up with was to hope I could get enough of a signal in the stadium to watch it on BTN2Go app on my phone.

So here I was sitting on a wooden bleacher that Paul Bunyan probably chopped down himself, in one of college football’s most hallowed sites, packed like sardines with 80,000 people not dressed like me, glued to a Samsung Galaxy SIII with one earbud in and the other out. If there was a game going on 34 rows below me, I barely noticed. I’m told it involved the undefeated, fifth-ranked team in the land. But what was more important was a 4-2 team battling a 4-3 team for a wooden replica of Bunyan and a whole lot of bragging rights.

At the risk of sounding like this is an advertisement for Samsung or Verizon, I could not have been more impressed with the game stream on the phone. I borrowed the phone from work (I actually brought three in case of battery life, loss of signal, or one got hit by an errant Tommy Rees pass) and linked my DirecTV account to the app. The stream was perfect, crisp, and steady for most of the game. After hours of streaming video, the battery hadn’t even lost half of its power.

For three hours, I sat there, eyes glued to the miniature screen, glancing up at the events unfolding around me in between plays, standing up when those around me stood, and sitting down whenever I could. Aside from the eardrum-shattering blast every time AC/DC or Metallica was blasted from the stadium speakers, I could hear the play-by-play perfectly fine. It helped that the Domers were stunned by BYU holding the lead for most of the game.

As Notre Dame scored its game-winning touchdown and the crowd erupted, I sat in disbelief watching Michigan State punter Mike Sadler gallop 26 yards to his right to convert a 4th-and-9 from his own 23. It seemed as if those 80,000 were cheering against me at that moment. Michigan State took a 10-9 lead and then the inexplicable happened. I lost the feed. Less than six minutes remained, Michigan down by one, and the BTN2Go app was telling me the bandwidth was exceeded. I still had a full 4G LTE signal.

I was tempted to decide that I had to use the restroom at that moment and leave my seats to conveniently find a TV somewhere, anywhere, with the game on. Instead, I realized that if I clicked “watch live” it would take me to the audio feed for about 10-15 second increments and then time out. So I spent the next five football minutes pushing “back,” then “watch live,” back, then watch live, over and over again. In my other hand, on another phone, I pulled up the ESPN GameCast just for good measure. Far from ideal, I didn’t miss much, and as Brendan Gibbons booted the ball through the uprights from 38 yards out, the Notre Dame game came to a close. I joined in with the blue and gold celebration, albeit for a very different reason, and we all left the stadium happy.

The game that apparently happened in front of me

Notre Dame bits

It was my first Notre Dame game (in South Bend) and the feeling I got from the whole in-game experience was sort of underwhelmed. Granted, I wasn’t hanging on every play, and the ND faithful didn’t have much to cheer about for most of the game, but the crowd noise was soft and nowhere near as loud as the Big House. The wooden bleachers and lack of a video board made me feel like I was back in the 1980s, but the eardrum-piercing blasts of rock music every third down rudely reminded me I wasn’t. The whole stadium just felt kind of bland, which is okay I guess since it’s the essence of college football, with no corporate ads or luxury boxes, but now that I’ve seen a couple of seasons with Michigan’s new structures, I’m over the whole “traditional” thing. I did like the yellow flowers on either sideline, though they would look better in Michigan Stadium than ND since they’re not, you know, gold.

Campus was beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for a better fall day. We watched the band play its pregame concert on the steps of Bond Hall, which was fun for a college atmosphere. Tailgating was average. The big concrete lots surrounding the stadium were severely lacking in any sort of parking structure, so you were constantly moving your chairs and tables to allow cars to drive through the lanes. It was the largest collection of simultaneous cornhole games I’ve ever seen. Every tailgate had at least one.

The fans were nice with the exception of the guy behind us yelling “F— Mormons!” and the girl in front of me sneering/laughing at BYU every time ND made a tackle – whether it was in the backfield or after a 20-yard gain for a first down. Every BYU fan we walked past around campus gave a smile and a “hi,” perpetuating the stereotype that Mormons are the nicest people ever.

One thing I do have to admit that Notre Dame has over Michigan is its bookstore. Aside from being nice looking and a great central meeting spot, the apparel selection is much better than what The M Den and Moe’s offer, and it was much bigger. Michigan desperately needs to add something like it on campus.

In conclusion, the Samsung Galaxy SIII is fantastic for streaming video, the BTN2Go app is great as long as there aren’t too many people watching it, Notre Dame’s campus is beautiful, its stadium experience is just okay, and its bookstore is much better than Michigan’s. I hope I never have to do this again. See you in Ann Arbor on Nov. 10.

The Michigan Medley defends Denard after South Bend meltdown

Monday, September 24th, 2012


On a soggy field in South Bend, Michigan’s offense struggled to find consistency and turned in a charitable effort, giving the ball away six times en route to an Irish victory. It was the third game of Rich Rodriguez’s first season.

John U. Bacon’s book Three and Out revealed a striking account of the final moments and what happend in the locker room. Several Michigan players were seen laughing on the sideline in the waning minutes, and Rodriguez let the team know how he felt.

Denard had the worst game of his career, but also wasn't put in position to succeed (photo by MGoBlue.com)

“We’re losing the goddamned game, getting our asses kicked, and we’ve got two guys laughing over there on the sidelines,” Rodriguez shouted. “LAUGHING! We’ve got seventy guys out there busting their butts, right up to the very end, and a few guys who think it’s funny.”

The excitement of a new high-powered spread offense was still in its infancy, but on that day, with Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan splitting time under center and Sam McGuffie leading the offense, the performance was laughable – at least from the outside. But it was, perhaps, the first indication that Rodriguez would not last, whether it was his fault or not. He was, after all, working with players recruited by a different coach for a different system.

Four years and a new coaching staff later, the talent is much greater and expectations much higher, but the outcome was the same. Six turnovers let a very winnable game slip away in South Bend, but this time there was no laughing. Instead, there was a senior quarterback, the star of the team, who was recruited by the former staff and who was responsible for five of the six turnovers, making no excuses. And in doing so, providing a Tim Tebow-like sound clip.

“I forced a lot of throws, and I want to say sorry to everybody who watches football, who watches Michigan football, and who follows Michigan football,” Denard Robinson said. “I want to say sorry. It won’t happen anymore. I’m going to be accountable for the rest of the season.

“This is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself,” he continued. “In my 22 years of living this is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself.”

There won’t be a gaudy plaque bearing those words affixed to the side of Schembechler Hall, but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful. Anyone who knows Denard’s improbable story can’t help but root for him to succeed. In an era of money- and fame-hungry athletes he’s the epitome of a student athlete, all the while being the star of the team. He’s set to become the first member of his family to graduate college, and he’ll have a shot at playing on Sundays, even if not at quarterback. All because he made the right choices.

Entering Saturday, Denard was poised to become one of the greatest heroes ever to put on the winged helmet. And he still may. But despite gaining more total yards against Notre Dame than any player in college football history and leading Michigan to two thrilling wins over the Irish, his legacy will be tarnished by Saturday’s performance.

On the same day he became Michigan’s career leader in interceptions thrown, he also became Michigan’s career leader in total offense. Mill that over for a second. In the 133 seasons that Michigan has been playing football, no player has accounted for more yards, and he still has 10 games to add to it. By the time he finishes his career, he’ll have amassed a total that will likely never be broken. And yet, he’s still one of the most polarizing players ever to don the Maize and Blue.

Joe Bolden and the Michigan defense was the bright spot of the game (photo by MGoBlue.com)

In the aftermath of the game, the following statements, and many more like them, showed up on my Twitter feed, all from Michigan fans:

“I’d take any QB over Denard honestly. I seriously don’t like him. Yeah he creates hype some games but I don’t like him.”

“Denard is simply NOT a QB…can’t wait till he’s gone to be honest.”

There were also comments about him being selfish. And frankly, I feel bad for the people who think this way.

In a sense, Denard is a victim of his own success. From his first snap, a 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan, he’s turned in more electrifying plays and moments than perhaps any player in Michigan history. Yet when he struggles, people turn against him, as if he’s inhuman. As if Brett Favre doesn’t have the most interceptions in NFL history. As if Peyton Manning didn’t throw three interceptions in the first quarter of last week’s Broncos game. As if Tom Brady has never had a bad game in his career. In fact, Brady has six career four-interception games and he’s widely regarded as the best quarterback in the league.

Denard isn’t anywhere close to Brady as a passer, but the point is that great players have bad games every now and then. Denard has been responsible for many more wins than losses and we will likely never see a player like him again in the maize and blue. Every player is worthy of criticism, but if you’d take any quarterback over him or if you can’t wait until he’s gone, please root for Michigan State this season and let me know how well you enjoy Andrew Maxwell.

The irony of Saturday, however, is that an ultra conservative game plan likely would have won the game. In last Friday’s game preview, I wondered whether Notre Dame’s strength was inflated due to Michigan State’s inflated perception entering the season. It looked like a signature win for ND in East Lansing a week ago, but was it really? I think we all – Michigan’s coaching staff included – bought into the “upset” as an indication that Notre Dame is for real. And don’t get me wrong; they’re a good team. But not so good that Michigan should not have won.

Al Borges essentially out-thought himself with his game plan. He assumed that it would take trickery and asking Denard to be Tom Brady to beat the Irish, when in reality, all it would have taken was to ask Denard to be Craig Krenzel. I don’t have a problem with the way Michigan started the game – a Devin Gardner pass to fullback Joe Kerridge on the second play – but when the opening drive didn’t yield points, the time for getting cute was over.

Not many quarterbacks will succeed in this situation (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

When Michigan wasn’t turning the ball over, the Wolverines moved the ball well, putting up 299 yards of offense despite giving it away six times. And the way Michigan moved the ball well was with designed runs and a short, safe passing game – Denard’s strengths. The turnovers came when Denard was asked to stand in the pocket, stare down one of the nation’s best pass rushes, make the right reads, and put the ball on the money.

Borges certainly doesn’t have an easy job, fitting in a player that possesses a completely different skill set than what’s needed for his offense. And next year, he’ll have a chance to get to work with his ideal personnel, but Denard is simply too good of an athlete and playmaker to take off the field. And so Borges needs to play to Denard’s strengths rather than try to fit him into the mold of a prototypical passer.

On this night, he didn’t, and Denard didn’t make the plays. After three years of getting the right bounces against Notre Dame (and all of last season), the bounces are bound to go the other way. While it’s easy to criticize play calling, if Vincent Smith isn’t about to get buried into the turf, it’s an easy touchdown pass. If Denard doesn’t uncharacteristically fumble inside the red zone, ending the best drive of the night, Michigan likely would have pulled within three, or at the very worst, settled for a field goal. If Devin Gardner had run his route full speed, he would have at very least broken up what was Denard’s third interception. If freshman safety Jarrod Wilson hadn’t been flagged for pass interference on third-and-goal, ND would have settled for a field goal instead of its only touchdown of the game. If a whistle from the crowd hadn’t stopped play, perhaps Fitz Toussaint would have broken off a big run. But it all happened, and none of it can be used as an excuse. It wasn’t Michigan’s night, and it all added up to a disastrous result that will have two weeks to fester before taking on a Purdue team that nearly beat Notre Dame.

The result wasn’t what any of us wanted, let alone those who it directly effects, but most of us didn’t expect Michigan to win 11 games again this season. And despite a 2-2 record, Brady Hoke’s stated goal – winning the Big Ten – is still very well within reach.

Let’s be thankful for a quarterback willing to stand in the face of criticism and accept responsibility for his performance. No, he’s not perfect, but I’d take him over any other quarterback in the Big Ten this season. He kept touching on accountability after the game and as a senior leader and team captain, I have no doubt that he’ll step up and perform. Michigan won’t go on to with the national championship this season, but while Tebow is now relegated to backup quarterback duty and running fake punts, Denard has 10 games remaining to cap off what has been a brilliant career. And I have a feeling his best – and career defining – moment is yet to come.

The Michigan Medley is sold on Treadwell

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


He’s as good as advertised

Last Friday night I had the chance to go see the nation’s top receiver, and one of Michigan’s top remaining targets, LaQuon Treadwell, play in person. His Crete Monee Warriors played previously unbeaten Glenbard South and came away with a dominating 45-7 win. Treadwell racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches through three quarters of play. With such a big lead, he didn’t play the fourth.

Treadwell, center, being watched by Florida's receivers coach (Photo by....should have brought an actual camera)

Treadwell’s team is loaded with talent, most notably linebacker Nyles Morgan, fellow receiver Lance Lenoir, and defensive back Jaylen Dunlap, but it was ever apparent that the offensive game plan could have simply been to throw it to Treadwell on every single play. And it would be just as effective. But in a team sport on a squad with other Division 1 prospects, they have to spread the wealth.

For a high school senior, he has perfect size, good hands, and enough shiftiness to turn a crossing route into a 75-yard touchdown. I was skeptical prior to the game. After all, how good can this kid be? But I was impressed. I guess that’s why the kid has offers from nearly every school in the country. Florida receivers coach Bush Hamdan (far right in photo) was on hand and Oklahoma State will be there this week. Treadwell visited Ole Miss on Saturday and would be a huge pick up if Brady Hoke is able to land him.

Treadwell also plays safety and kicker for the Warriors. At safety, he seemed to shy away from contact, and the one time he tried to make a big hit, he whiffed on the receiver who then ran untouched for an 84-yard touchdown. But that doesn’t take away from Treadwell’s receiving skills as he’s clearly a receiver first and foremost.

His teammate, Morgan, may have been the most impressive player on the field that night. He has offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Purdue, with interest from several others, including Michigan and Alabama. He’s currently just a junior, so he’ll be one to watch next season. He visited MSU last weekend. Please don’t end up there.

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#EATING

I’ve been meaning to pump the #Eating fundraiser for some time now, but it kept slipping my mind. Now that I’ve remembered, it has already reached its goal. But that doesn’t have to stop you from donating to this great cause.

If you’re not aware of it yet, it’s a project by former Michigan receiver Martavious Odoms. He’s trying to start a community garden in his hometown of Pahokee, Florida to “create jobs and provide job training, as well as provide positive activities for the youth.”

If you don’t know much about Pahokee, it’s a relatively poor town in south Florida with higher than average crime rates, but has produced an astonishing number of big time athletes. Unemployment rates are currently around nine percent and the percentage of college graduates is very low as well. Regardless of political affiliation, this is a cause to get behind since it involves one of our very own Wolverines serving and giving back to his community.

While the goal has already been met, there’s nothing that says Hope for Pahokee doesn’t need more. If you’re leery about where the funds will go, you can read about it on the Kickstarter page. Hope for Pahokee is using Urban Greenworks of Miami, which has successfully installed five urban gardens in Miami, to facilitate the project.

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Legends jerseys

Jake Ryan proved that a Legends number doesn't have to go to an upperclassman (Photo by the Ann Arbor News)

We’ve talked previously about the Legends jerseys that will be awarded this season and our view on them. I, like many others, thought Craig Roh was the logical choice to get Ron Kramer’s No. 87, but it was awarded to senior tight end Brandon Moore on Saturday afternoon. The previous week, Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 was awarded to sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan. This clears up a couple of things. First, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an upperclassman. Secondly, with Moore, it doesn’t have to be a star or a player who has made major contributions on the field.

It appears that the jerseys will be sought after by the players who get the distinction of wearing a jersey that commemorates a Michigan football legend and a special locker in the locker room. That means Desmond Howard’s No. 21, which was worn by Junior Hemingway last season and Roy Roundtree this year will likely be given to someone else next year, as will Kramer’s 87 that Moore will done for the remainder of 2012.

The next question is, who will be awarded Gerald Ford’s No. 48 and the Wistert brothers’ No. 11? Since it appears that each of them will, in fact, be awarded, my vote for 48 now goes to senior center Elliott Mealer. Unfortunately, unless Michigan can get the rules changed, which is highly unlikely, it has to go to a quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back, or linebacker. So how about Desmond Morgan? Like Ryan, he’s a young starting linebacker and plays the type of hard-nosed defense that would make ford, the former center, proud.

No. 11 also falls into the same number classification under NCAA guidelines, so my vote goes to Devin Funchess. Would the coaching staff give it to a freshman? Would they give it to another tight end? I’d say at this point it’s probably unlikely, but given the potential star ability of Funchess, it would be great to see. If not, how about sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy? He’s likely to be the starting quarterback next season and according to Sports Illustrated, the best player to ever wear No. 11 in the NFL was Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. But watching the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald pull down touchdown passes in No. 11, I can’t help but think how great it would look on Funchess before he makes a name for himself in 19.

The Michigan Medley channels the Verve Pipe

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012


We were merely freshmen

Rich Rodriguez’s first recruiting classes are now the team’s upperclassmen and they have produced some stars, most notably Denard Robinson. But there are considerable talent and depth deficiencies that Hoke’s first two classes are beginning to fill. On Saturday against Air Force, we saw eight freshmen play considerable roles for the Wolverines and their roles are going to continue to expand throughout the season.

Tight end Devin Funchess had a breakout game with four receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. Fellow freshman tight end A.J. Williams saw considerable time as a blocking tight end. The pair got thrust onto the field due to an injury to Brandon Moore, but they would have played eventually given the lack of depth at the position following the graduation of Kevin Koger. Funchess has a chance to be an outright star. Prior to the season, I predicted him to be the offensive breakout star this season. He has great length and athleticism to create a mismatch with a linebacker or safety every time he’s targeted. Williams has a much bigger frame, which is more suitable for blocking. My only concern is that opponents will eventually catch on to this and see run every time Williams is on the field an pass every time Funchess is. But Al Borges knows this and will have plays to counter this.

Devin Funchess gives Denard another great receiving threat (photo by Getty Images)

Another pair of freshmen that got significant playing time are linebackers James Ross and Joe Bolden who played much of the second half in the middle of Michigan’s defense. Ross saw time against Alabama, and Brady Hoke said Saturday that Bolden was in because his high school, Cincinnati Colerain, ran the option. Both have done well so far. Bolden was the team’s second-leading tackler on Saturday with 10 tackles, one behind Jake Ryan. Ross added four. Has Bolden supplanted last year’s leading tackler, Kenny Demens? Probably not. He played the whole second half because of his experience with the option, but Demens has several years of experience. If anything, it’s good for the team to have such talented freshmen pushing the upperclassmen for their spots and it creates great depth.

On the defensive line, another duo, Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia, saw action. Most expected Pipkins to see the field even before the season started, and possibly even work his way into a starting role, but most considered Ojemudia a year or two away. But due to an injury to Brennen Beyer, Ojemudia got in. Hoke and Greg Mattison like to rotate a lot of bodies on the line, so improving the depth with talented freshmen is a good thing.

In the defensive backfield, freshman safety Jarrod Wilson got in. He’s the future of the position for Michigan, but likely won’t supplant Thomas Gordon this season except in certain packages.

Another freshman who has impressed so far is kick returner Dennis Norfleet. He has flashed speed and shiftiness in the first two games, giving Michigan a kick return threat it hasn’t seen since Steve Breaston.

One position that hasn’t seen freshman action yet, but could before too long, is receiver. Devin Gardner has done well in the first two games, cementing his spot as a starter, but no one else has really impressed. Jeremy Gallon had a good game against Alabama, but Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, and Jerald Robinson have a combined seven catches for 64 yards. Roundtree is Roundtree and deserves a spot on the field, but Jackson and Robinson have left a lot to be desired. Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both have qualities that could earn them a chance to step in. Darboh has great size at 6’2″, 220 pounds and wowed teammates in fall camp, while Chesson has track star speed. Gardner will continue to be a threat and so will Funchess from the tight end spot, but Denard Robinson needs at least one more receiver to step up as a consistent threat to keep Michigan’s passing game effective and open up the running game.

As you can see, the amount of players seeing the field who were going to prom just five months ago is higher than most coaches would want it to be, but that’s where this team is at right now. It bodes well for the future since these guys are getting on the job training, but we’ll have to deal with the growing pains along the way.

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Rival problems

With one-fourth of Michigan’s yearly schedule made up of bitter rivals, each season inevitably has the “which rival do I root for?” moments. This weekend is one of those. Michigan State hosts Notre Dame on Saturday night and many of us will flip channels or go back to our tailgate spot or find a bar with a TV in it after the Michigan game to do some advanced scouting of both teams. But who will we root for?

For many, the rule of thumb is to root for the Big Ten in out of conference match-ups. But that’s easy when it’s Iowa against Florida. It’s much harder when it involves a rival against a rival. So here’s my two cents: since both of them can’t lose on Saturday, root for Notre Dame.

First of all, Michigan plays Notre Dame next weekend. I wold rather have the Irish enter the game riding high with a 3-0 record and poised for a letdown than pulling together after defeat and looking to take it out on someone. Though Michigan hasn’t always dominated the Irish, it has in the won-loss column the past few years. The same can’t be said for Michigan State. I would rather face an undefeated Notre Dame team in Week 4 than an undefeated Michigan State team in Week 7.

Secondly, the game has implications in Michigan’s postseason. Last season, Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame was part of what helped Michigan earn a BCS bid. While the loss doesn’t outright affect the Big Ten title hopes since Notre Dame isn’t in the conference, it does even the playing field since Michigan already has one loss on the season.

So join me in rooting on the Irish on Saturday night, as hard as it may be.

The Michigan Medley looks for benefits of the ‘Bama blowout

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012


Using the Alabama game to our benefit

I’ll never say a loss is a good thing, but perhaps losing the way Michigan did on Saturday can be beneficial going forward. Most of us can agree that Michigan was overrated at No. 8 entering the season. With the unfavorable schedule and key losses, we all knew it was going to be hard to repeat the successes of last season.

After the Week 1 blowout, all of the hype and high expectations are gone, and now the team and coaching staff can get back to work in the underdog role. Of course, this is Michigan and we’re used to being the the ones at the top looking down. But the reality is that right now Michigan isn’t there. Another couple of recruiting classes like Brady Hoke has been securing and they’ll get there, but right now the underdog role suits his team quite well.

Most of us expected a loss to Alabama, but very few of us thought it would be as bad as it was. But, in my opinion, that speaks more to how good Alabama is than how bad Michigan is. Just listen to Al Borges talk about the game.

“The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”

Michigan's D-line essentially went up against the Super Bowl offensive line (photo by MGoBlue.com)

In other words, Alabama dictated Michigan’s offensive game plan, forcing Borges to all but abandon the run. Now, listen to these words from Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner about the slants that were broken up early in the game.

“We knew coming in any time that they got in that formation that they like to run the quick slants backside,” Milliner said. “So I was anticipating that and knew it was coming.”

So Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart forced Michigan to essentially abandon its usual running game, and the defense knew what plays were coming. Either Hoke and his staff got severely out-coached or he decided all along that the deck was stacked against him on Sept. 1, and the rest of the season was more important than one Cowboys Classic.

With an offensive line the exact same size as the Super Bowl champions and a defense that is the best in college football, Alabama would have won with Chad Henne under center and Mike Hart in the backfield for this Michigan team. So why put the rest of the season on the line trying to run Denard 20-25 times? Work on the passing game, work out a few kinks, put up your best effort, and move on. I’m not at all saying Michigan threw the game; I’m merely saying that there’s no point in going all in against a stacked deck at the expense of the number one goal – winning the Big Ten championship.

The loss dropped Michigan all the way to 19th in both the AP and Coaches polls and already has some counting Michigan out of the Big Ten race. This season, I’d rather have Michigan coming up from behind to start the season than playing with a big target on its back. It’s just not good enough for that yet.

The loss allows Hoke and the rest of the staff to show the team they’re not as good as they thought they were. They need to work harder and execute better if they want to win the Big Ten.

The loss gives Michigan the experience of playing the best team in the nation and knowing that every game the rest of the season will be easier than that one. Not that they’ll be easy, but in comparison to the closest thing to a professional team, they’ll seem like the minor leagues. The lines won’t be as big. The linebackers won’t be as fast. The corners won’t be as strong. They’ll be what Michigan has been used to the past few years: beatable opponents.

Michigan likely won’t run the table the rest of the way. There will be some bumps along the way, but I think what happend in Dallas on Saturday will be good for this team in the long run.

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A big recruiting weekend

Much of Michigan’s success going forward depends on Hoke’s recruiting classes. He has already secured a highly-ranked class and has another on the way. It could get even better with a commitment from Rivals’ number one receiver, Laquon Tredwell. The 6’3″ receiver from Crete, Ill. is one of many highly touted recruits that will be on campus when Michigan opens the home portion of its schedule this Saturday against Air Force. He’s one of the top two remaining targets for Hoke and carries offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, USC, and many more. But he won’t be the only one on campus. Cass Tech athlete Damon Webb, who may be Michigan’s top 2014 target, will be there as well.

A couple of basketball targets will be on campus, most notably the top overall recruit in the 2015 class, Karl Towns. The 6’11″, 210-pound center from Metuchen, N.J. is still years away from stepping foot on any college court, but just getting him on campus is huge for John Beilein. Call me a skeptic, but the Kentucky’s of the world will certainly lead for him. However, a recruit that Beilein has a much better chance of landing is Jae’Sean Tate and he’ll be there this weekend as well. He visited Ohio State last weekend and was at Michigan just a month ago. ESPN ranks him as the 46th overall player in the 2014 class.

A win during a big recruiting weekend doesn’t always mean much, but it would certainly help. Dropping to 0-2 and losing at home to a team like Air Force would put a bad taste in a recruit’s mouth. So let’s hope for a big victory for the maize and blue this weekend for more reasons than one.