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Posts Tagged ‘Al Borges’

M&GB Roundtable debates the status of Hoke’s hot seat

Friday, June 27th, 2014


Roundtable-Hoke hot seat

Hoke(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

As we continue our 2014 season preview series, the time has come for our first M&GB Roundtable. These roundtables will be posted on Fridays a few times throughout the summer and will discuss a hot topic relating to the upcoming season. Given the way last season went and the overall pessimism throughout the fan base at the moment, the first topic is certainly a hot one: Is Brady Hoke on the hot seat? If not now, what kind of season does Michigan have to have to avoid the hot seat heading into next season? If so, is there a scenario in which you would want him fired after this season?

Justin banner

In my opinion, Hoke isn’t on the hot seat right now, and I don’t say that because of how I feel Dave Brandon views it. I don’t think Hoke should be on the hot seat right now. Of course we’re all disappointed with a 7-6 season. No one wants that. I’ve heard all the “Michigan shouldn’t accept mediocrity” arguments, and I agree. But we have to face the reality of the situation Michigan is in. The program has to be built back up to where it once was, and that process takes time.

I don’t fully blame Rich Rodriguez, though he is partially to blame, mostly for things like not focusing enough on defense and failing to recruit certain positions each year. The main blame should fall on Bill Martin for hiring Rodriguez in the first place back in 2008. The hiring took a traditional, pro-style offense, hard-nosed defense team and forced it to turn into a new-age, spread offense, smaller and faster defense team. We can debate all day long whether Rodriguez would have eventually succeeded if he had been given enough time to fully transition the roster. But when he wasn’t — he was fired after three seasons — and when Brandon handed the reigns back to a more traditional Michigan coach, it stunted the process even more. I’m not saying that was the wrong decision, but the reality is that Brandon did so for long-term, not short-term success. The roster was somewhere between 60-80 percent transitioned to Rodriguez’s style and now it would need to be turned back into the old style.

Hoke going 11-2 in his first season was more of a mirage than what should have been expected. For his part, he solidified the defense, and that combined with the already potent offense, allowed for the great season. Had he kept recruiting and coaching towards Rodriguez’s philosophies, 2012 and 2013 would have been better. But that’s not who Hoke is or what he was brought in for. With only about 25 roster spots able to change over each year, transitioning back to the Michigan of old will take time. And that’s what we, as Michigan fans, need to give Hoke.

Recruiting is going well and there is plenty of young talent on the team. This season, Michigan will still be one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, and in 2015 the vast majority of the roster will be Hoke’s guys. Hoke needs to be given through 2015 to turn things around. Michigan should at least be within striking distance of the Big Ten championship in 2015. If, at that point, Michigan is still having 7-6 or 8-5 seasons, we can start to seriously discuss how hot Hoke’s seat is.

Drew banner

No, Brady Hoke is not on the hot seat. To be on the hot seat, a coach must be in a position where he must win a substantial number of games the following season or else he will be fired. Hoke is not in such a position, even if his seat is a bit warmer than it was prior to 2013. Fans forget just how toxic things were in Ann Arbor prior to Hoke’s arrival. Not only did Michigan collapse down the stretch in Rich Rodriguez’s final two seasons, his recruiting classes experienced mass defections. The attrition rate was astronomical and left craters in various areas of Michigan’s depth chart that were bound to rear their ugly head down the road.

Hoke has been trying to rebuild Michigan into what it was prior to Rodriguez’s tenure, but it is not an overnight job. Yes, Michigan’s record has worsened each of Hoke’s first three seasons, but do not let the 2011 campaign fool you. That was a magical run. Michigan benefited from some of the best karma and luck the Wolverines have seen in quite some time en route to an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory. But it did not rectify Michigan’s underlying problem that it would have little depth and experience at multiple positions the following seasons. Hoke has tried to plug the holes in the depth chart quickly, bringing in the No. 6 and No. 4 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013, respectively, according to 247 Sports, but those recruits have been only sophomores or freshmen. How much of an immediate impact can be expected from them? This lack of depth and inexperience, combined with puzzling offensive game plans from Al Borges and unfortunate injuries, is why Michigan was 15-11 the past two years.

So Hoke is not on the hot seat yet. He still needs more time to balance the depth chart and develop his talented recruits. Just look at Michigan’s offensive line for the upcoming season. The raw talent is there, but it likely needs one more season to become a cohesive unit. Plus, Michigan will be trying to break in a new offense under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, while being saddled with road games against all three of its major rivals—Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame—for the first time ever. Hoke has two more years to right the ship with big expectations for 2015. He could help alleviate some of that pressure with nine or more wins, especially if they are against a rival or two, in 2014, yet a seven- or eight-win season would make his seat burn a bit more in 2015. And the only scenario where Michigan would consider firing Hoke after this season is one where Michigan has a losing record and fails to make a bowl game. Otherwise, expect Hoke and his staff to be back in 2015.

Josh banner

As far as Dave Brandon is concerned Brady Hoke is not on the hot seat. Whether the university has Brandon/Hoke on the hot seat is another question. I’ve long held the opinion that it would take Hoke until 2015 before he fielded a championship caliber team (conference, not national) and I stick by it. Rome was not built in a day, nor will the Maize and Blue be rebuilt in three-to-four years.

We were spoiled in 2011, but I truly think that was an aberration, an aligning of the stars, so to speak. OSU was down for once and Sparty was, well Sparty. It takes several years to revamp a program from one style into basically the complete opposite. That simply does not happen overnight. Heading into year four Hoke has shown he is a monster on the recruiting trail, which helps me keep my cool. That he has managed to haul in some really good players and classes that fit his ‘Michigan Man’ mold perfectly, in spite of sub-par on-field results is truly a testament to the man’s character and recruiting skill.

The player development, however, has been less than what most of us would have expected but we need to keep in mind that this is a VERY YOUNG team. While it is not uncommon for a first or second year player to be great (Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson*, Johnny Football), it is not the norm. To expect a roster almost fully loaded with first and second year players to play at a high level was just ridiculous.

*Adrian Peterson played with a Heisman winning quarterback, a future first round wide receiver in Mark Clayton, ran behind a line that featured two future NFL players (Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph), and three senior linemen (the other two were juniors), for a team that had a 36-5 record coming in.

No, we haven’t had the seasons we expect from Michigan, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen great seasons back to back (10-plus wins). There haven’t been back to back 10-win seasons in over a decade, 2002-2003 and you have to go back to 1997-1999 to see three straight. Or if you want to be more generous and count 9-plus win seasons, we still go back over a decade to 2002-2004 for three straight and 2006-2007 for back-to-back.

Long story short, Hoke is not on the hot seat nor should he be. One needs at least five seasons to retool a program. I think he gets that and nothing more. That said, I was also of the opinion Rich Rodriguez needed at least five seasons. Although I was happy to see him go, I think he would have turned the corner by his fifth season.

Will the ‘heat’ get turned up if Hoke turns in another seven- or eight-win season? I don’t think so. The fans may be impatient and restless but they don’t call the shots. Dave Brandon played for Bo and he knows what Hoke is dealing with and the time and effort it takes to basically rebuild from the ground up. The temperature stays the same heading into 2015 — which is still very warm — unless of course Hoke goes 3-9. Then all bets are off. I think Brandon is just looking for marked improvement, not necessarily in the win-loss column, but something that shows what this staff is doing is working and taking enough steps forward.

I can think of only one scenario under which I’d like to see Brady Hoke fired after this season. Bill Belichick takes over the program (AD and head coach) and brings Nick Saban along with him. That said, it seems logical that Doug Nussmeier would take over should Hoke be given the boot, after either this season or the next.

Derick banner

Is Hoke on the hot seat? It certainly seems like he should be, but the atmosphere around the program lacks the sense of urgency that usually surrounds a desperate coach. He’s at least feeling pressure, and that’s not only because of the team’s overall performance, but also the individual performances of important players.

Hoke’s similarity to Rich Rodriguez after three years in Ann Arbor has been well documented around the college football world. Both finished 7-6 in their third season, and both struggled in Big Ten play despite hot starts during the non-conference schedule. The major difference between the two? While Rodriguez’s teams at least improved record wise, each year has shown a steady decline under Hoke. If that trend continues in 2014, especially with such a weak home schedule, then Hoke should be shown the door without a doubt.

The overall struggles are largely due to slow improvement from talented players like Derrick Green. Hoke has proven he can lure some of the most highly regarded recruits in the country to Ann Arbor, but those players simply haven’t performed on the field in many cases. In 2013 the offensive line was loaded with former stud recruits, but as a unit it left Devin Gardner on his back more often than any other group in the Big Ten. Some recruits clearly don’t live up to the hype, but Hoke needs more from five-star guys like Green.

Team 135 is immensely important for Hoke and his future at Michigan. In his fourth season fans expect that the talent he needs is at his disposal and the program needs to take a step in the right direction. With Jabrill Peppers and company on campus, Michigan is primed to compete in the Big Ten. Hoke’s job is to make sure that happens.

Countdown to kickoff: 71 days

Friday, June 20th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-71(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

Drew’s Mailbag: Running backs, running backs, and more running backs

Monday, June 16th, 2014


It’s time for another installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run frequently throughout the offseason as Maize and Go Blue prepares for and previews the 2014 Michigan football season. The topics will cover more than just football, though. I will address any questions regarding Michigan athletics, including basketball, recruiting, etc., you may have. So fire away on Twitter (DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

Many of you submitted great questions this past week. However, with the recent announcement that former USC running back Ty Isaac has transferred to Michigan, the topic on everyone’s mind is Isaac and Michigan’s running back situation. Therefore, this installment will focus solely on Michigan’s running backs situation, and I will address your great questions on other topics in a future mailbag. With that said, let’s dive in:

Is it better if [Ty] Isaac is able to play right away or save his eligibility? –Zach (@ZachWoodruff3)

When running back Ty Isaac announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from USC to Michigan, the first question out of Michigan fans’ mouths was whether he would be eligible to play this season. Isaac transferred from USC because he desired to be closer to his mother, who has an inner ear problem due to recent complications related to a surgical procedure, in his hometown of Joliet, Illinois. Consequently, Isaac and Michigan will soon or already have submitted paperwork to the NCAA requesting a family hardship waiver. If the NCAA grants it, Isaac would be able to play for Michigan this fall, rather than sit out all of the 2014 season.

However, it seems like a longshot that the NCAA will approve Isaac’s family hardship waiver request. Whether or not the NCAA grants the waiver depends on the nature of the family member’s illness or injury, the type of care the athlete must provide, and the proximity of the athlete’s new school to his ailing family member. Although Isaac’s mother’s ear injury is undoubtedly a serious one, it does not seem to be an injury that requires constant care and assistance from Isaac on a daily basis. Further, the NCAA recently refined the rules to deny family hardship waiver requests from athletes who transferred to a school further than 100 miles away from the family member’s home. The NCAA’s rationale was that the athlete would be too far away from home to provide regular care for his ailing family member if outside this 100-mile radius. Ann Arbor is 250 miles away from Joliet. Thus, the odds are against Isaac that the NCAA grants his request and allows him to play for the Wolverines this season.

Isaac

Isaac is unlikely to receive a hardship waiver that would allow him to play this season

Yet, this would probably be the better outcome for Michigan. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver, there would be a logjam on Michigan’s depth chart at running back. The Wolverines already have three scholarship running backs entering their sophomore season of athletic eligibility—Derrick Green, Drake Johnson, and De’Veon Smith. Isaac would be the fourth if he is allowed to play this season. There are not enough carries to go around for four running backs on a squad, let alone four that would all be sophomores. At least two would be no better than Michigan’s third-stringer for the remainder of their careers. It would lead to their inevitable transfer from Michigan due to lack of playing time.

Further, not only would there be a logjam, Michigan would possibly not have any quality freshmen or sophomore running backs for the 2015 season. After taking both Green and Smith in the 2013 class, Michigan did not heavily pursue any running back targets in 2014, setting its sights on the running back corps in 2015.

Initially, all went as planned as Michigan received a commitment from five-star Damien Harris in late July 2013. But, after Michigan’s 7-6 record in 2013 and the subsequent firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges, Harris decommitted. Michigan has since fallen out of the lead with its other top running back targets and seems to be trailing by a considerable margin in all of those recruitments. There is a very real chance that the Wolverines strike out at running back in 2015 after passing in 2014. Therefore, if Isaac does not redshirt, there would be a giant gap in Michigan’s depth chart. It may not affect Michigan immediately, but it could be a major issue in the foreseeable future.

The counterpoint is that Michigan does not have the luxury to worry about its depth chart in 2017 and beyond. Coming off two seasons with 8-5 and 7-6 records which have head coach Brady Hoke feeling some heat, Michigan cannot afford another disappointing season. The Wolverines need to put together a successful season and that means winning games now. In order to do that, Michigan will need to have all of its best talent available to play immediately. This includes Isaac, who was a five-star recruit in high school. This is a great point, and I do not necessarily disagree with it.

This is why the best scenario for Michigan is the NCAA granting Isaac’s family hardship waiver request, but Michigan still planning to redshirt Isaac anyway. It would provide Michigan the opportunity to at least attempt to balance its depth chart at running back. Additionally, it would give Green and Smith—who also were heralded running backs in high school—another crack to live up to high expectations after a somewhat discouraging freshman season.

However, if Green and Smith do not produce as Michigan needs, then the Wolverines would still be able to shed Isaac’s redshirt and throw him in there this season. Isaac would then still be able to salvage Michigan’s running back situation for2014. This would be the best of both worlds for Michigan. This is the outcome that Michigan fans should root for, although the odds of Michigan still redshirting Isaac if the NCAA grants his waiver are slim to none.

If Ty Isaac gets a hardship waiver, what do you think the pecking order is at RB? –Steve (SteveCKays)

Even if Ty Isaac receives his family hardship waiver and is eligible to play this season, he still will be behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith on the depth chart. At least initially. Green and Smith have been No. 1a and No. 1b, respectively, on the depth chart since the end of last season. I do not think that changes with the addition of Isaac. Green was Hoke’s prized recruit in the 2013 class as a five-star prospect and the best player at his position. He had 83 carries as a freshman, which was the second-most by a Michigan running back behind the departed Fitzgerald Toussaint, and 42 of those were in Michigan’s final three regular-season games. Although Green had an underwhelming first year, reports are that he finally is back in the shape he was in when he was considered the best running back in his recruiting class. If Green can demonstrate that combination of size and strength that made scouts drool, he will be Michigan’s starting running back in 2014.

Nonetheless, Smith will be pushing Green for the starting job. Smith does not quite have the physical measurements that Green has, but Smith has shown flashes of a running back who has great instincts and can fight through tackles. He and Green split carries with the first-team offense throughout Michigan’s spring camp, and Smith actually worked with the first unit more during Michigan’s spring “game.” Nonetheless, I believe Smith still is slightly behind Green in this competition, but they both likely will see carries on first and second downs this season.

Where Isaac would enter the picture, at least initially, would be as Michigan’s third-down back. Prior to Isaac’s transfer, this role belonged to Justice Hayes. However, Isaac would be a perfect fit here. First, one of Isaac’s greatest assets is his hands. While Isaac can do a great job of taking a handoff, making one cut, and exploding through the line of scrimmage, he may even be a better safety valve by catching passes out of the backfield on screens and other routes. Further, Isaac is 6’3”. Although he still needs to work on his pass blocking, his size will better help him block opposing rushers than Hayes, who is 5’10”. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver request, this is where he would make his greatest impact for Michigan’s offense. However, if both Green and Smith struggle, Isaac would be the player given an opportunity to be the featured back in Michigan’s offense.

With only one RB slot in the 2015 class, is [Damien] Harris still the No. 1 target? –Zach (ZachWoodruff3)
Cass Tech's Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

Cass Tech’s Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

No, I think Cass Technical’s Mike Weber (Detroit, Mich.) has passed Madison Southern’s Damien Harris (Berea, Ky.) as Michigan’s No. 1 target at running back in the 2015 class. Before Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges, there was no doubt that Harris was the top guy on its recruiting board. Not only did Harris grow up rooting for the Wolverines, but he also was considered by many recruiting services to be the best running back in his class. In fact, at the moment, Rivals ranks Harris as the fourth-best player overall in the 2015 class. So it was a great recruiting win for Michigan when Harris chose to commit to the Wolverines in late July 2013.

However, one of the key reasons why Harris offered his verbal pledge to Michigan was Borges. With Borges no longer in Ann Arbor, Harris wanted to reconsider his options and see if Michigan still was the best place for him. So he decommitted. Although Harris reiterated over and over that Michigan still was his favorite school, it is very rare for a recruit to re-commit to a school after decommitting. Will Campbell and David Dawson are the exceptions, not the rule. As time has passed since Harris’ decommitment, his interest in Michigan seems to have waned, while he has become more intrigued with Ohio State, unfortunately. I think Michigan has realized this and adjusted its priorities.

On the other hand, Michigan’s relationship with Weber has improved tremendously since it hired Doug Nussmeier to replace Borges. After Harris’ commitment, Michigan and Weber fell out of contact as the Wolverines had their man at running back. But, since Nussmeier’s arrival in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s interest in Weber seems to have peaked. Weber has been quoted recently as saying that Michigan has made him a priority again and that he is interested in Michigan once again. He also added that no one at Michigan is recruiting him harder than Nussmeier.

Although the Wolverines still are outside Weber’s top three, which includes Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, Michigan has a great opportunity to jump back into the race. It certainly does not hurt that Weber has unofficially visited the Michigan campus twice in the past two weeks. All signs indicate that Weber is Michigan’s top running back target for the 2015 class. This is probably the right move because he likely is Michigan’s best chance at not striking out at the position in this recruiting cycle.

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


It’s that time of year again – time to take one final look back at the football season that was and hand out our awards for the top players, plays, and moments. The past two years we posted this on Christmas Eve, but this year decided to wait until after the bowl game.

Team 134 held high expectations by most, coming off of a disappointing 8-5 season. With Devin Gardner at the helm, most assumed the pro-style, power running offense was about to take flight. And through the first two games there was nothing to make anyone think otherwise. Michigan throttled Central Michigan to start the season and then beat Notre Dame in style under the lights. At that point, Michigan fans were certain this team could win the Big Ten and possibly compete for a national title.

But back-to-back scares at the hands of Akron and UConn tempered those expectations quickly, and after a good win against Minnesota, Michigan suffered its first defeat of the season in quadruple overtime at Penn State. From there, it was pretty much all downhill save an offensive explosion against Indiana and a triple overtime win at Northwestern. Michigan State and Nebraska held the Wolverines to a combined negative-69 yards rushing. Iowa held Michigan to just 158 total yards and 10 first downs and the regular season culminated with a fantastic performance that ultimately came up just short against rival Ohio State. In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan was completely outclassed by Kansas State and the season ended with an even more disappointing 7-6 record.

The underachievement prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges and the hiring of Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to the delight of Michigan fans everywhere. The doom and gloom of 2013 finally, briefly, gave way to hope for 2014. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s relive the top moments of Team 134.

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Everyone knew entering the season that Jeremy Gallon was in for a big year. He came alive at the end of the 2012 season when Denard Robinson went down and Devin Gardner stepped in at quarterback. But no one expected a record-breaking season.

His 1,373 yards broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record of 1,330 which was set in 2004. He also shattered the single-game receiving record (and the Big Ten’s) with his 14-catch, 369-yard performance against Indiana.

“For decades, the prototypical wide receiver at Michigan has been 6’3″, 210 pounds, and had an ability to outmuscle an opposing secondary,” said Drew. “Yet, despite being listed at a minuscule 5’8″, Jeremy Gallon completed of the best statistical seasons for a wide receiver in the 134-year history of Michigan football. Although opposing defenses knew U-M could not run the football and that Gallon would be Devin Gardner’s go-to target, Gallon still broke record after record after record.”

“Was the leader on an offense that struggled to do much of anything this season,” said Chris. “Was consistently reliable any time the team needed him.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Gallon finished the season with 89 receptions, 1,373 yards, and nine touchdowns. The next closest receiver, Devin Funchess, had 49 for 748 and six. No running back did much of anything this season, and only Devin Gardner could be considered for the offensive player of the year award in terms of production.

Gallon had big-time performances against Notre Dame, Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State and came close to 100 yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He caught at least four passes in all but one game (Minnesota).

“Record setting year and pretty much the only consistent player on the team,” said Josh. “Without him we might have had a losing record.”

“Devin Gardner and Taylor Lewan each had great seasons that will be overlooked because of turnovers and Michigan’s record, respectively,” said Drew. “But this is an easy choice. Jeremy Gallon was Michigan’s best offensive player. Not only did Gallon have the most receiving yards and second-most receptions in a single season in school history, he also caught at least four passes in 12 of 13 games in 2013. On an offense that was wildly inconsistent, Gallon was one of the few constants.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

No Michigan defender truly stood out this season, especially with last year’s winer, Jake Ryan, sidelined for the first half of the season. But Blake Countess recorded a team-high six interceptions, including one in the end zone against Notre Dame to seal the win. He had a 72-yard interception return for touchdown against Minnesota and also picked off Braxton Miller.

Countess also tied for the lead among the secondary with two tackles for loss and recorded four pass breakups. He was named first team All-Big Ten by the media.

“After missing the 2012 season with a knee injury, there were some questions whether Blake Countess would be able to return to his form from his freshman season,” said Drew. “Thankfully, for Michigan fans, Countess not only returned to form, he improved upon it. Countess was one of the few playmakers on U-M’s defense in 2013. His six interceptions were tied for third-most in program history and the most by a Wolverine since Todd Howard’s six picks in 2000. And once Countess made those picks, he knew what to do with them, garnering 169 interception return yards – the third-most in the nation and the second-most in U-M history.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III, Raymon Taylor, Desmond Morgan (1 each)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

After a season in which Michigan underperformed all around and offensive coordinator Al Borges was let go, voting for Coach of the Year was not an enviable task. But alas, one position group did perform well and that was the receivers, so Jeff Hecklinski gets the honors.

Jeremy Gallon set the all-time Michigan single-season receiving record and combined with Devin Funchess to set the record for most receiving yards by a duo in school history (2,121). In addition, Jehu Chesson developed into a solid blocking receiver.

“Hecklinski wins for me because his receivers showcased big play ability, were a consistent bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season, and laid some big-time hits (see: Jehu Chesson vs. Notre Dame),” said Sam. “Hecklinki’s unit was all the more impressive considering one of the two presumed starters, Amara Darboh, went down late in fall practice with a season-ending injury and didn’t play a game.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Greg Mattison (1), None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame

Had Michigan converted the two-point conversion against Ohio State, that would have been the hands-down favorite, but instead the big early September victory over Notre Dame takes the cake.

The season still held high hopes and a win over the defending BCS runner-up in the final meeting between the two storied schools in the Big House was a surreal scene to behold.

“It was the second night game in the history of Michigan Stadium,” Drew said. “It had the largest attendance to ever witness a football game. And, most importantly, it was Michigan’s most complete performance of the season. Devin Gardner lit up the Fighting Irish for five touchdowns, throwing three to Jeremy Gallon, and the Wolverines’ defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns.”

“Gardner was both spectacular and spectacularly bad all in the frame of one half, Gallon was outstanding, and the season seemed oh-so-promising on that warm September night,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Near upset of Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Fire drill FG to force OT at Northwestern

For the second straight year our play of the year involves a game against Northwestern. Last year, Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch to set up the game-tying field goal got the honors. This year, it is the fire drill field goal at Northwestern to get Michigan into overtime that gets top billing.

With 18 seconds remaining, trailing by three, facing 3rd-and-23, Michigan snapped the ball at the Northwestern 44-yard line. Devin Gardner dropped back and fired a bullet to Jeremy Gallon at the 26 near the right sideline. But he was hit immediately and couldn’t get out of bounds.

As the clock ticked down, the field goal unit ran onto the field. Holder Drew Dileo slid into position and kicker Brendan Gibbons simply took a few steps back as the snap went. He then booted it through the uprights sending the game into overtime where the Wolverines won.

“Incredible effort and execution to save the game, and essentially a winning season,” said Josh.

“Even though it shouldn’t have been needed after poor clock management by the Michigan coaches, the field goal unit did a great job of getting out on the field quickly and Brendan Gibbons did a great job to make a rushed, pressure packed field goal in a less than ideal situation,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Desmond Morgan’s game-saving one-handed INT at UConn (1)

Past Winners:
2012: Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch against Northwestern
2011: Denard’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat ND

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

This one may be semi-controversial since it came in a losing effort, but the vote was nearly unanimous. In the biggest game of the season, Devin Gardner put together a performance for the ages. Battling injuries, the junior shredded the Ohio State defense, passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for another. Had he completed the two-point conversions it would have gone down as one of the greatest performances in Michigan history.

“Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon broke school and conference records with their spectacular performances against Indiana,” said Drew. “But Gardner’s 451-passing-yard, five-touchdown performance against one of the best defenses in the nation in Ohio State was absolutely sensational. Not only did Gardner shred OSU’s defense, he continued to do so after he broke his foot. After suffering the injury in the third quarter, Gardner fought through it, completing 18 of 27 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, and was a two-point conversion shy of leading Michigan to its biggest upset win over its bitter rival from Columbus since 1969.”

“After a season of inconsistent performance following the Notre Dame win, Gardner came on strong against Ohio State to give the team and fans hope for a stronger senior season next year,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Jeremy Gallon’s 14-catch, 369-yard, 2-TDs vs Indiana (1)

Past Winners:
2012: Denard recording 101% of offense vs Air Force
2011: Denard’s five TDs in win over Ohio State

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

Devin Gardner struggled early in the season, but his decision making and accuracy improved as the season went on. He finished second in the Big Ten with 246.7 yards per game, as well as second in total offense (286.9) and fourth in pass efficiency. His total yards (3,443), passing yards (2,960), and total touchdowns (32) are second best in school history and he didn’t even play the bowl game. He had dynamic performances in big games against Notre Dame and Ohio State and committed a total of just seven turnovers in his final eight games.

“His heart and toughness helped lead this team, though not always consistently, to a winning record,” said Josh. “He was just shy of only the second ever 3,000-yard passing season in history and bailed out the team time and time again despite an inept line. Without Gardner this team would be 4-8, or worse.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year None

For the first time in the short three year history of the M&GB Hail Awards, we are leaving one award on the table. It’s no secret that Michigan’s running game was subpar this season, and it wasn’t all the fault of the running backs, but four of our six writers voted to award it to no one at all.

“None of the three Wolverines that carried the football at least 30 times this season – Toussaint, Devin Gardner, and Derrick Green – averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry,” said Drew. “Only three Wolverines averaged more than five yards per carry: Dennis Norfleet, Shane Morris, and Devin Funchess – a wide receiver, a backup quarterback, and a hybrid tight end-wide receiver, respectively. Further, Morris notched U-M’s longest run of the season with a 40-yard draw on U-M’s final drive of the season. That is depressing.”

“When your leading rusher recorded 648 yards on 3.5 yards per carry and the longest run of the season came in a blowout bowl game by your backup QB, no running back deserves this award,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (2), Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

What else is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Gallon swept the player of the year, offensive player of the year, and now receiver of the year awards thanks to a record-setting season. He also won this award last season.

His 1,373 receiving yards, 105.6 yards per game, and 6.8 receptions per game each ranked second in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s Allen Robinson. His nine touchdowns ranked third. He also recorded a catch in 39 straight games. Remarkably, he was edged out by Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis for first team All-Big Ten despite Gallon having better numbers in every receiving category.

“Gallon is the only Wolverine to be ranked in the Top 3 in Michigan’s record book for most catches and receiving yards in a game, season, and career,” said Drew. “No, not even Braylon Edwards, Desmond Howard, or Anthony Carter can say that.”

“What Gallon did in the Indiana game was incredible, but it was just one sample of his incredible season,” said Derick.

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

Everyone knows that most of Michigan’s struggles this season stemmed from the offensive line. It’s hard enough to break in the entire middle of your line in one season, let alone doing so with walk-ons and freshmen. But Taylor Lewan was not part of the problem. Sure, he let his emotions get the better of him against Michigan State, but he performed arguably better than he did last season.

For the second straight year, Lewan was named the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year for the Big Ten. His decision to return for his senior season didn’t pay off with a Big Ten title or a trip to Pasadena, but his mentoring of the young linemen will pay dividends in the years to come.

“It’s very difficult to evaluate individual linemen without a trained eye, and even more so when the whole line appears to be a sieve, but Taylor Lewan will be a top-15 NFL draft pick for a reason,” said Sam. “Re-watch a few games and only pay attention to Lewan and you will see why…and wonder how the line could be so bad.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

Michigan fans have been waiting for Frank Clark to break out, and while he still hasn’t shown his full potential, he did have a solid season on an underwhelming defensive line. He started all 13 games and recorded 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He was named All-Big Ten second team by the coaches. In the loss to Penn State, Clark had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown.

“The one ‘bright’ spot on the line,” said Josh. “He was not always consistent, a theme for the whole team, but he showed progress and appeared to make some significant improvement as the season wore on.”

“In a six-game stretch from the Minnesota game to the Iowa game, Clark accumulated 9.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks,” said Drew. “In that span, Clark also recovered two fumbles, including one he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Clark’s playmaking ability made him Michigan’s best defensive lineman in 2013, but Clark needs to showcase that ability consistently as a senior in 2014.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

This was the closest vote of all the awards, but Desmond Morgan narrowly edged out James Ross III. Morgan started all 13 games and finished third on the team with 79 tackles, recorded one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He’s not the most athletic player on the field, but is more often than not in the right place at the right time and fundamentally sound. His one-handed interception against UConn saved the game and was likely the difference between a winning season and a losing season.

“James Ross III may have had more tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks than Desmond Morgan, but Morgan made fewer critical mistakes throughout the season,” said Drew. “Morgan was the rock in the middle of the defense that Michigan could count on each game to make thumping tackles at the line of scrimmage. Ross III improved as the season progressed, but sometimes his aggressiveness would throw him right out of the play. Plus, without Morgan’s amazing one-handed interception against Connecticut, Michigan likely would have suffered one of its worst upset losses in school history.”

“More often than not, when Michigan stopped an opposing running back for fewer than four yards, Morgan was in on the tackle,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross (3)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

Countess also won our Defensive Player of the Year award. He came back from a torn ACL and recorded 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, four passes defended, and a team-high six interceptions. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors from the media and second team from the coaches.

“Raymon Taylor led Michigan with 86 tackles, nine pass breakups, and added four interceptions of his own,” said Drew. “But Taylor had better statistics than Blake Countess only because opposing offenses consistently attacked Taylor’s side of the field, avoiding Countess in the progress. Not only did quarterbacks avoid targeting Countess’ side of the field, when those quarterbacks did try to attack Countess, he made them pay. Countess made great plays on the ball on each of his six interceptions, which are tied for the most by a Wolverine this millennium.”

“Countess seemed to always be making plays on the ball on his way to a Big Ten-high six interceptions and All-Big Ten honors,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons had quite the career in Ann Arbor, going from a freshman unable to hit the broad side of a barn to Mr. Clutch and Michigan’s all-time most consistent field goal kicker. He finished his career having made 45-of-60 with a record 16 straight and a 141 straight extra points. This season he converted 15-of-20 field goal attempts and finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring.

“Northwestern game tying FG saved the season,” said Josh. “We’d easily be 6-7 without it.”

“After making only one of five field-goal attempts as a freshman in 2010, Brendan Gibbons made 29 of 35 field-goal attempts (82.9 percent) during his sophomore and junior seasons,” said Drew. “Gibbons was close to maintaining that conversion rate in his final season, making 15 of 20 field-goal attempts for a 75 percent conversion rate. And, most importantly, Gibbons oozed reliability at the position. Gibbons set school records for most consecutive field goals (16) and most consecutive PATs (141) this season. Further, Gibbons made three game-tying field goals in the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime in 2013. Gibbons may never have had had a booming leg, but Michigan fans will learn they took him for granted next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Dennis Norfleet (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

For the second straight year this award goes to a tight end. Jake Butt stepped in as a true freshman and worked his way onto the field, ultimately becoming a key piece of the offense by season’s end. He started eight games and played in all 13, recording 20 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest game came against Ohio State when he caught five passes for 85 yards and a score. He also made a great one-handed touchdown catch in overtime against Northwestern.

“When Brady Hoke stepped on campus, he made it clear that tight ends would play a pivotal role in his offense,” said Drew. “In his first full recruiting class, Hoke reeled in Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams. However, both has had trouble maintaining blocks, which led to Funchess’ transition to wide receiver. Enter: Jake Butt. Butt, as a true freshman, was not only Michigan’s third-leading receiver with 20 catches, 235 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, but he also displayed an ability to block that Funchess and Williams have not. If Butt can add a few more pounds in the offseason, expect him to contend for All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jeremy Gallon

This is always a hard one to pick each year because there are usually two or three departing seniors that have left their mark on the program and will be missed. A case could certainly be made for Lewan here, but six of the seven of us went with Gallon.

When the diminutive slot receiver from Apopka, Fla. first stepped foot on campus no one could have imagined he would finish his career as one of the best receivers in Michigan history. But that’s just what he did. He broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record, caught a pass in 39 straight games, and set the Big Ten record for receiving yards in a game.

He finished his career third in receptions (173) and yards (2,704) in Michigan history.

“From RichRod’s leftover to Michigan record holder,” said Josh. “He was the one bright spot in an otherwise disappointing and depressing season filled with inconsistency and baffling play/play calling. He made an impact on the program that no one could have imagined and will remain in the record books for years to come.”

“Consistently counted on to make big plays, always stepped up when it mattered, provided good leadership for the rest of the team,” said Chris.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Taylor Lewan (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

Last season, Devin Funchess won the Newcomer of the Year award. This year, he adds the Most Improved Player of the Year award. While he burst onto the scene in Week 2 of his freshman year, he was one-dimensional and faded in the second half of that season, finishing the year with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he was a consistent receiving threat all season, upping his numbers to 49 receptions for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

“His blocking left much to be desired but his ability as a pass catching nightmare match-up stood out,” said Josh. “A few too many drops for someone with his skill set but still made a major jump from 2012 to 2013.”

“Funchess had some bad drops toward the end of the year, but after finally moving to wide receiver for good, Funchess wreaked havoc on some opposing defenses on his way to a solid 49-catch, 748-yard season,” said Sam.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), James Ross (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Doug Nussmeier introductory press conference transcript

Friday, January 10th, 2014


Michigan officially welcomed new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier with a press conference on Friday morning. Below is the full transcript. You can watch the full presser on MGoBlue.com.

Brady Hoke

Opening statement
“First I would like to say we addressed what we were going to do as a program on Wednesday and I want to thank Al Borges and his family for their commitment that they’ve made to Michigan and at San Diego State. It’s not easy when you’ve spent five years with a coach and a family and all those things, but we consider him more than just a colleague.

“But as you know, as you go through coaching and the profession itself, we took this job three years ago to make Michigan better. And we took this job knowing that every decision that’s going to be made by me is going to be made what’s best for Michigan and the kids in this program and the legacies and 134 years of teams that have come before. So it’s an exciting day because this change I think is going to be one that we’re all going to benefit from.

“As we look forward and as you move forward, the direction of where we want to go is, we have a vision, we know what that is, and that’s why Doug is here today. It’s a great day for Michigan football in a lot of ways and we’re excited to have Doug here and what we’ll do as an offense and as a football team. A couple things: Doug and I first crossed paths when I was the head football coach at Ball State. We have a mutual friend that I played with and also just happened to be the guy who was representing Doug while he was playing in the National Football League. So Doug and I had a brief conversation and I have tracked his career, obviously, for a long time.

“He’s a great fit and will do a tremendous job with what we’re doing offensively. With Doug himself, number one, he’s got a great family. Christie and Derrick and Ashlan and Colton are a great fit to our football family. We’re excited about that, excited about Doug and his background.

“Obviously, it’s a guy with national championship experience which is the highest goal that we all have, coached in the National Football League, coached in college, and and developed some outstanding quarterbacks. AJ McCarron, Jake Locker, Marc Bulger, at every level, and his tutoring of those guys is excellent.

“I think what’s also exciting is the balance from an offensive perspective that Doug brings. He’s had six 1,000-yard rushers over the last six years and obviously that’s something that we want to do as a program – we want to have that balance and we want to be able to run the football. We’ve talked about that since day one and we will improve that game and what we’re doing. Developing quarterbacks, developing young talent as an offense is something he’s done and proven, and we are a team that is young in a lot of ways but we’re getting older and we’re getting better every day. So we’re excited about that.

“He was a finalist for the head coaching job at the University of Washington. Tells you a little bit about nationally how people think of Doug and his character and what he represents. But the passion that he has for the game of football, the passion that he has for the young men he leads is really what being a coach is all about and having him here to lead our offense and to be a part of this great university and this program and having his family being a big part of it we’re truly excited.

“Today is about Michigan and it’s about Doug in a lot of ways and what he brings, so we couldn’t be more excited and I’m going to have Doug come up here and share. But we’re excited, and we’re excited because of what the Nussmeier family brings to Michigan and also we’re excited because of the fit that we feel we have.

“Doug Nussmeier, please.”

Doug Nussmeier

Opening statement
“I want to say first off, this is a really special day for our family and I can’t say enough how special it is that we are here together, my beautiful wife Christie, my sons Colton and Garrett, my daughter Ashlyn. I want to thank you guys for all that you sacrifice day in and day out.

“We’re very very blessed to be here and I want to say a special thanks to Coach Hoke for giving us this opportunity. Dave Brandon, our athletic director, thank you very much. This is a special place, a special, special place, and that’s why we’re here. We talk about 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships, three Heisman Trophy winners. It’s Michigan football and when you say the word Michigan everybody knows about Michigan football.

“I was fortunate enough to be in this conference before. I have a great amount of respect for this league and for all the things that Michigan football stands for. I just can’t say enough about how excited we are to be here, to be a part of the family, and really look forward to working with a great coaching staff.

“Talking about Coach Hoke and how we met each other a long time ago, the respect that I’ve developed over the years for what he’s accomplished as a head football coach. To watch him start at Ball State and to go onto San Diego State and to come here at Michigan, not only as a quality coach when you talk about wins and losses and being a coach of the year in the nation, but you talk about the type of man that he is, the type of person that he is.

“When you talk about Coach Hoke with other people in our profession you hear nothing but class, family, all the right things, cares about his players, as we all do – we want to win – but he also sees the big picture about developing young men both on and off the field. To have the chance to be a part of that, like I said before, we just feel so blessed, and to work with such a great quality of staff. I’ve known Greg Mattison for a long time and what he’s accomplished and the defensive staff, great coaches. To have the ability to come here and work with Heck and Doug and Dan and Fred, just really really excited about that opportunity and I want to thank, once again, coach and Dave for them believing in us as a family and the commitment they’ve made to us and we’re just very very excited to be here. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”

You’ve talked about the direction and vision with Coach Hoke. In your interpretation, what is that?
“Tough. Physical. Explosive. That’s what we want to be. We want to be able to run the football and we want to be able to put points on the board. We want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game.”

How much do you know about the Michigan offense? The biggest issue was the offensive line. How quickly do you think you can fix it?
“Well, correct me if I’m wrong but we’re 11 points away from being 11-1, so this is a good football team here with good young talent. If Coach Hoke recruits players, which I know he does because you look at our recruiting rankings over the last years, as well as he recruits coaches – he recruited me – we’re going to do really good with our young players and developing and moving toward the future.

“There is young talent on this team. We’ve got to develop it. We’ve got 45, 46 days before we go to spring football, so getting those young players on the same page, and player development is all about how you view it, and with any young player there’s a steep learning curve. So day to day continuing to improve, that’s going to be the focus. We’ve got to get better each and every day and focus on that day and what that holds and get the players focused on what we’re going to get better at today.”

What does Michigan provide that you didn’t have at Alabama? Why go from Alabama to Michigan?
“Well, obviously I can’t say enough about Coach Saban and the opportunity that we had there at Alabama. It was a great opportunity. Like I said, Michigan football, the opportunity to be here in the Big Ten, to be a part of the winningest program in all of college football, to have the opportunity to integrate into a staff and to take this program to where we all want to go. You talk about the quarterback position, the great quarterbacks that have played here, you go down the list: Brady, Griese, Denard Robinson, Chad Henne. It’s Quarterback U so to say, and the ability to be a part of that room here and help those guys develop and grow, I’m just really really excited about that opportunity.”

What’s your challenge in getting the players as ready to go in the spring as you can?
“I think that communication is essential. It’s essential in anything you do, and it starts with that. We’ve got great communicators on this staff and the biggest thing is for us as we sit down as a staff to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, set like I said a clear path every day for these young men and how we’re going to get better and the things we want to achieve on a day to day basis. As we grow daily, then the end product will evolve.”

Schematically, what are your plans, what do you want to install?
“We’re going to put our playmakers in the best possible position we can to make plays. That’s the goal. What that means is we want to control the tempo of the game on offense, whether that means we need to go fast, we need to go slow, whatever it may be, we want to control the tempo of the game on offense and give our guys an opportunity to make plays. Schematically, look at ways that we can create competitive advantages for our players. So what that means is you could see us in one formation one week running one play and a different one the next week. But like I said, the identity is we’re going to be physical, we want to play fast, we want to be explosive.”

What are your head coaching aspirations? How does becoming offensive coordinator at Michigan fit into your long term career arc?
“I’ve said it before, I’d love to be a head coach in the right situation. As that relates to being here today, I’m excited about the opportunity to learn from Brady Hoke, who in my opinion is one of the best coaches in all of college football. To learn the system here that he has in place, to get into a room with who I feel are very, very good football coaches. Anytime you get a new group of guys together when it comes to football there are so many different ideas and so many different avenues and ways you can go. It’s a really really exciting time for us as a family, I’m really excited, and can’t wait to get here and really get grinding.”

With the perception that Nick Saban likes to control things, do you feel like at Michigan you’ll have some freedoms that maybe you didn’t have at Alabama?
“Coach and I talked about his philosophy. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t all in on what Coach Hoke and I discussed and what he wanted to do on offense, how we wanted to be and how we wanted to move forward. So part of coming here was us being on the same page with what we want to do offensively, and we both agree on the identity we want like I talked about before. As far as schematically how we’ll approach that, we’ll adapt with our personnel. That’s something he and I will work with the offensive staff on a day to day basis.”

When you were at Michigan State, what kind of things did you learn about the Big Ten and how did you view the Michigan program?
“Well, I watched a lot of touchdown passes right here in this corner to Braylon Edwards the one year when we thought we were going to get a W. I have a lot of respect for that program. We had a wonderful time there in the three years we were there. But I said it before, when you say Michigan it’s synonymous with football, and I don’t care if you go to a mall in California, Texas, Florida, you’re going to see somebody wearing Michigan. When you get an opportunity to coach at a place like this and to be a part of this, and let me say this, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about coaching, it’s always about the players. The type of people that come to Michigan, the quality of kids, what they’ve achieved, not only on the field but look at the achievement off the field, it is a special, special place and there’s not many of them. So to have the opportunity to come here and be a part of that was something that after we discussed it as a family was something that we felt was the right move for us.”

What’s the key to being able to run the football even in an era where you see a lot of stacked defenses?
“Obviously, you’re always trying to identify the best way to do things. What’s the best way we can create a fair box count for our linemen to get people blocked, or can we use a receiver with this type of motion to create a numbers advantage? Those are all schematical issues, and there are times too when our players have got to know that there may be a loaded box but you know what, we are who we are, we’re tough, we’re hard-nosed, we’re physical, and we’re going to come downhill and run the ball at people.”

Have you had a chance to talk to any of the players?
“A little bit. Got to see a couple of them and great kids. Can’t say enough about the look in their eye and like I said the quality of student athlete that we have here at Michigan is second to none in the country.”

You’ve had success with quarterbacks. How quickly do you think it can take you to make Devin Gardner a very efficient passer?
“The biggest thing I think from a quarterback standpoint is trying to simulate a game type environment for them Sunday through Friday. When you get out on the field on Saturday, things happen fast, and if you’re not prepared you can get exposed very quickly. So you never want to put a quarterback on the field who’s not prepared and the way you prepare them is try to simulate as much as you can a gameday experience Sunday through Friday.

“The biggest thing is the amount of time we spend together in that media room, and obviously we’re limited by NCAA rules, and I think it’s really important at that position that the players possess a quality of self-determination. They’ve got to be self starters, they’ve got to be driven, because you’ve got to do more on your own because we just don’t have the time that you would like with the NCAA rules. But we’ll prepare our quarterback to play and play successfully, and we’ll do whatever we need to do schematically to put him in the best position to have success.”

On the timeline of the hiring
“Coach Hoke reached out to me recently and the conversations we had, like I said, having followed his career, knowing what type of football coach he was and what type of person he was, it escalated quickly. It’s a great opportunity. We’re fortunate to be here and like I said really looking forward to doing big things.”

When did you and Hoke meet?
“We met, shoot coach, it was a long time ago…”

When did you start talking about the job?
“Just recently we spoke.”

When will you get the ball rolling?
“Well, ideally as soon as possible. Obviously we’re in the heart of recruiting season, it’s important as they say, it’s about Jimmies and Joes, not Xs and Os. So the first thing is on the recruiting front. Football will take care of itself. I’m really excited just to get to know these guys more and really dive in and integrate. As soon as we can we’ll get going. Obviously we’re in a little bit of a dead period here, so the convention’s coming up next week and then after that we’ll get rolling.”

Have you sat down with Coach Hoke and discussed other assistants and what your recruiting role will be? Any specific regions or anything?
“I can tell you right now, it’s got to be tropical, coach. No, I’m just kidding [laughter]. Just joking. No, we haven’t and like I said I want to integrate into the staff and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make Michigan football be successful, whatever that may be to recruit I’m all for that. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet. We did have a brief recruiting meeting this morning as a full staff, but wherever I’m needed I’m willing to go.”

How soon do you think this team can be all the things you want it to be?
“Well, like I said and coach talked about, we need to run the football. Just briefly look at statistically where we’re at, we’ve got to eliminate the sacks. We can’t have lost yardage plays, number one thing we’ve got to eliminate that. We can’t have undisciplined penalties, pre-snap penalties. Any time you’re trying to find consistency on offense you’ve got to start from the basis of we’re not going to go backwards. So we’re not going to have lost yardage runs, we’re not going to take sacks, we’re not going to have penalties. So that’s the first thing we’ll start from, as long as the ball’s moving forward and we’re ending every series in a kick we’ll have a chance. That’s where we want to start from, but that will be the key point of emphasis to start.”

How confident are you now that you have the pieces in place to make this work quickly?
“Very confident. Like I said, this football team is 11 points away from being 11-1. That’s a darn good football team and the young players on this roster, having known some that we recruited – Derrick Green and David Dawson and Wilton Speight and Shane Morris and those guys – I don’t know the whole roster, haven’t had a lot of time to familiarize myself with everybody, but knowing the players that we recruited when I was at Alabama that are here and part of this team, really feel good about where we’re headed, and we need to get there quickly.”

How far is this team from being SEC caliber?
“I can’t answer that. I didn’t see a lot of Big Ten football this season, obviously. We didn’t really cross paths anywhere. I know this, when we prepared to play this football team last season down there in Dallas, I thought it was a very, very good football team we were getting ready to play. There were a lot of sleepless nights thinking about Coach Mattison and his blitzes and all the things that we might see the next day.”

Nussmeier in

Thursday, January 9th, 2014


(USATSI)

After announcing the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges on Wednesday afternoon, Brady Hoke didn’t waste any finding his replacement. Word leaked Wednesday evening and the school confirmed on Thursday that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was hired to run Michigan’s offense.

From the official release:

“Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator and has earned a reputation as being a great mentor to quarterbacks, specifically, where he’s coached Pro Bowlers, top NFL draft choices and Heisman Trophy finalists,” said Hoke. “Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience. He is an excellent addition to our coaching staff and football program, and we are excited to have Doug, Christi and their children join the Michigan family.”

“I am extremely excited to join the University of Michigan and work with Brady Hoke, the staff and players,” said Nussmeier. “I’m proud of what we accomplished in two seasons at Alabama, and I owe a great deal to Coach Saban for that opportunity. Michigan is a program I’ve always had deep respect for, and I’m looking forward to getting started in Ann Arbor and being a part of the great tradition there.”

Nussmeier is a graduate of Idaho where he finished his career as one of just four quarterbacks in NCAA history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000, joining Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, and Colin Kaepernick. He won the Walter Peyton Award in 1993, which is given annually to Division 1-AA’s top player.

After a stint in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, Nussmeier went to the CFL where he guided the BC Lions to a Grey Cup Championship in 2000. Following that season, he began his coaching career as the quarterbacks coach with the BC Lions and then became offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Renegades a year later.

In 2003 he got his first college coaching gig as Michigan State’s quarterbacks coach. In three seasons in East Lansing, Nussmeier guided Jeff Smoker and Drew Stanton to becoming NFL Draft picks. Smoker set a school record with 3,395 passing yards in 2003 and Stanton passed for 3,077 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2005, Nussmeier’s final season at MSU. Stanton ranked second in the Big Ten in passing average, total offense, and passing efficiency that season. He was also considered a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the 2006 season, but his numbers dropped significantly following Nussmeier’s departure. Michigan State’s offense also ranked second in the Big Ten in 2005 behind only Northwestern.

Quarterbacks under Nussmeier
Year Quarterback Passing Yds Comp % Pass TDs INTs
2003 Jeff Smoker (MSU) 3,395* 61.9 21 14
2004 Drew Stanton (MSU) 1,601 64.1 8 6
2005 Drew Stanton (MSU) 3,077 66.7 22 12
2006 Marc Bulger (St. Louis) 4,301 62.9 24 8
2007 Marc Bulger (St. Louis) 2,392 58.5 11 15
2008 Tom Brandstater (Fresno State) 2,664 59.6 18 12
2009 Jake Locker (Washington) 2,800 58.2 21 11
2010 Jake Locker (Washington) 2,265 55.4 17 9
2011 Keith Price (Washington) 3,063 66.9 33* 11
2012 AJ McCarron (Alabama) 2,933 67.2 30* 3
2013 AJ McCarron (Alabama) 3,063* 67.3 28 7
*School record
Devin Gardner 2013 comparison
2013 Devin Gardner 2,960 60.3 21 11

Nussmeier then jumped to the NFL, serving as the quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006 and 2007. There, he helped Marc Bulger earn a Pro Bowl spot in 2006 after passing for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

He returned to the college game in 2008 as offensive coordinator at Fresno State and a year later moved on to Washington. In Seattle, he took over an offense that averaged just 13.3 points and 263 yards per game the year before and nearly doubled the scoring in his first season. By his third season at Washington the Huskies averaged 33.4 points and 410 yards per game.

In 2009 and 2010, under Nussmeier’s tutelage, quarterback Jake Locker passed for 5,065 yards, with a 38-20 touchdown to interception ratio and also rushed for 773 yards and 13 scores. He became just the sixth quarterback since 2000 to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft despite a losing record in college. He was selected eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans.

Keith Price took over at quarterback in 2011 and the offense got even stronger. Price threw for 3,063 yards, a school record 33 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes.

Nussmeier’s offense at Washington
Before Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2008 13.3 3,158 1,192 1,966
Under Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2009 26.1 4,506 1,668 2,838
2010 21.8 4,713 2,238 2,475
2011 33.4 5,328 2,006 3,322

Following the 2011 season, Nussmeier was hired by Nick Saban to replace Jim McElwain as offensive coordinator at Alabama. He inherited a loaded offense and did not disappoint in year one, guiding the Crimson Tide to school records for total offense (6,237), points (542), touchdowns scored (68), and passing touchdowns (31) en route to a national championship.

This past season he had to replace three starting offensive linemen and running back Eddie Lacy, all of whom were drafted, but the offense didn’t see much of a setback. It averaged 38.2 points per game – half a point less than 2012 – and ranked 17th nationally in scoring offense, 33rd in total offense, 25th in rushing, and 49th in passing.

Quarterback AJ McCarron ranked first nationally in passing efficiency in 2012 and eighth in 2013 while throwing for 5,996 yards, 58 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions during those two seasons. He also completed 67.2 percent of his passes and finished second in the Heisman race in 2013.

Nussmeier’s offense at Alabama
Before Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2011 34.8 5,585 2,788 2,797
Under Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2012 38.7 6,237 3,185 3,052
2013 38.2 5,903 2,673 3,230

The common theme from his two big gigs, Washington and Alabama, is that in his first season at each school he improved the offense from the previous season.

In addition to his work with quarterbacks, Nussmeier’s offenses have produced six 1,000-yard rushers in the past five seasons. At Washington, Chris Polk rushed for 1,113 yards in 2009, 1,415 in 2010, and 1,488 in 2011. At Alabama, Lacy ran for 1,322 and TJ Yeldon 1,108 in 2012 while Yeldon also ran for 1,235 in 2013.

Nussmeier’s proven quarterback acumen bodes well for Devin Gardner and Shane Morris’ development, and with highly touted running backs such as Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith ready for an expanded role, there’s plenty of reason for hope for Michigan’s offense going forward.

His introductory press conference is scheduled for Friday at 11am and will be streamed live on MGoBlue.com.

Stay tuned for more on other potential staff changes.

Borges out

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014


(Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Michigan announced on Wednesday afternoon that offensive coordinator Al Borges would be relieved of his duties after three years on the job. The 38-year coaching veteran was brought to Ann Arbor from San Diego State with head coach Brady Hoke in 2011.

In three seasons at Michigan, he coordinated an offense that declined each year, going from 42nd to 78th to 87th nationally in total offense. The Wolverines recorded three games of under 200 yards of total offense this season and five under 300 despite having a quarterback that finished in the top three in nearly every single season passing record and a receiver that set Michigan’s single season receiving record.

“Decisions like these are never easy,” said Hoke. “I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons.”

It was a decision that Hoke almost certainly had to make to save his own future at Michigan given the team’s performance decline since 2011.

Hoke now turns his attention to finding a replacement. Hoke has reportedly reached out to UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and at least one NFL assistant. Hoke may also target former Michigan assistant and current LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but it will be tough to lure him out of Baton Rouge. Regardless, don’t expect the wait to take long as a big splash could help seal Hoke’s recruiting class before the Feb. 5 deadline and spring practice is two months away.

The change puts added pressure on Devin Gardner to recover from his foot injury that kept him out of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as he will likely be learning a new offense come March. It will also be interesting to see which direction Hoke goes with the offense and how the differences between the incumbent, Gardner, and the future, Shane Morris, play into it.

Inside the Numbers: What went wrong?

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014


(MGoBlue.com)

On September 7, 2013, there was an excitement—a buzz—around the Michigan football program. The #17 Wolverines toppled #14 Notre Dame, 41-30, at Michigan Stadium. Offensively, Devin Gardner lit up the Fighting Irish, accounting for 376 total yards and five touchdowns. Many believed Gardner had just jumpstarted his Heisman campaign. Defensively, U-M allowed 30 points, but ND’s offense mustered only two touchdowns. The Wolverines nearly played a flawless game.

As a result, the Wolverines were 2-0, jumped to #11 in the Associated Press Poll, and were given 12-to-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship. On that date, only three teams had better odds to win the national championship: Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon. Playing in a subpar Big Ten and having the luxury of hosting the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale, Michigan seemed to be in prime position to make a run at a historic season.

What went wrong?

After Michigan beat Notre Dame, only three teams had better odds to win the BCS National Championship (MGoBlue.com)

One-hundred-and-twelve days later, the Wolverines were smacked around by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and ended the 2013 season with a 7-6 record. After starting 5-0 for the third time in four years, the Maize and Blue lost five of its last six games and six of its last eight. Not only did Michigan not contend for a national championship, U-M was eliminated from the Big Ten Legends Division race after only five conference games. The season—filled with so much promise in early September—completely fell apart.

What went wrong?

Initially, Michigan seemed to be a very good football team with one glaring weakness: ball security. In its first two non-conference games, U-M maintained a neutral turnover margin, outclassing Central Michigan, 59-9, and beating a top-15 Notre Dame squad. Then, in their next two non-conference games, the Wolverines committed eight turnovers and posted a minus-five turnover margin. Yet, Michigan still eked out two wins because U-M’s two opponents—Akron and Connecticut—were considered two of the worst FBS teams.

The Wolverines’ non-conference performances suggested that, if U-M could stop committing turnovers so frequently, U-M would play complete games and be a championship contender. Support for this theory became stronger after the Wolverines’ next performance. In its Big Ten opener, Michigan forced two Minnesota turnovers and, most importantly, was turnover-free for the first time in 26 games. Accordingly, U-M routed the Gophers—a team that would finish with an 8-4 regular-season record—by a 42-13 score. The Wolverines seemed to be back on track and ready to make a title run.

Then, disaster struck. Everything fell apart. As the following table shows, the Wolverines transformed from a team that outscored opponents by almost three touchdowns and outgained them by almost 100 yards per game into a team that opponents outscored and outgained, on average, for the rest of the season:

Michigan Statistical Breakdown – First Five Games vs Last Eight Games
First Five Games Last Eight Games
Record 5-0 2-6
Points Per Game 38.80 28.13
Points Allowed Per Game 19.40 31.50
Total Yards Per Game 396.00 358.75
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 305.00 413.00
Yards Per Play 6.07 5.06
Yards Allowed Per Play 4.66 5.65

Most expected there to be some decline in Michigan’s numbers because U-M’s competition would be much stiffer in the Big Ten than in non-conference play. But a decline that extreme? Highly improbable.

And what is even more improbable is how little turnovers affected Michigan’s regression. Notwithstanding a minus-three turnover margin in their first five games, the Wolverines had a plus-eight turnover margin in their final eight games. Further, U-M’s turnover margin was minus-five in non-conference play and plus-10 in conference play. Yes, the Wolverines committed a few turnovers during Big Ten games in critical moments. But, overall, turnovers prevented Michigan’s statistical regression from being even more significant.

Michigan was battered and bruised in East Lansing (MGoBlue.com)

So the theory that Michigan would be a contender if it stopped turning over the football? Kaput. The Wolverines’ ranks in key statistical categories plummeted, even though U-M’s turnover margin continued to improve. U-M’s issue with turnovers in non-conference play only masked what truly went wrong for Michigan football in 2013. The mask started to crack in Happy Valley and was finally ripped off in East Lansing.

What went wrong?

Here is what went wrong for Michigan—a program with a 7-6 record in 2013 and a fan base beginning to question whether Brady Hoke is the man to lead it: U-M was the epitome of inconsistency in 2013. Both U-M’s offense and defense displayed flashes of greatness in different games throughout the season. However, the problem was that both units also displayed that they could be just as bad.

For months, many Michigan fans have been campaigning for Hoke to fire his offensive coordinator, Al Borges. Those fans likely will be shocked to learn that the 419 points Michigan scored in 2013 were the eighth most since 1905. Michigan also topped 600 total yards in two separate games. U-M’s 751 total yards against Indiana were the most in a single game in school history. U-M’s 603 total yards against Ohio State were its most ever in The Game.

Yet, those U-M fans that want a new offensive coordinator are not unjustified. In a three-game stretch against Michigan State, Nebraska, and Northwestern, Michigan’s offense scored only 28 points total in regulation. No U-M offense had scored that few points in three straight regulations in 48 years. Additionally, the Maize and Blue gained less than 300 yards in five games and less than 200 yards in three of those.

That is the definition of inconsistency. And, to further prove that point, as the following table shows, Michigan averaged about four more touchdowns and 240 more total yards in about half of its games in 2013 than it did in the other half:

Michigan Offense – Six Highest Scoring Games vs Seven Lowest Scoring Games
Six Highest Scoring Games Seven Lowest Scoring Games
Points Per Game 47.67 19.00
Total Yards Per Game 502.33 262.29
Yards Per Play 6.85 4.05

If the Wolverines’ offense produced as much throughout the season as it did in its six highest scoring games, U-M would be ranked #3 in scoring offense, #12 in total offense, and #10 in yards per play. Conversely, if the offense produced as little throughout the season as it did in its seven lowest scoring games, U-M would be ranked #112 in scoring offense, #122 in total offense, and #123 in yards per play. Those ranks are out of 125 FBS teams, including those which reclassified to FBS in 2013.

One week, Michigan would have one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation. And the following week, U-M would look like it had never learned the modern offensive concepts of football.  For example, this is an offense that set a school record for total yards in a single game and then failed to net positive rushing yards in each of its next three halves.  This Michigan offense was one of the most inconsistent offenses in Michigan history, if not the most.

Although not as extreme as the offense, Michigan’s unit on the other side of the line of scrimmage was inconsistent, too. Through its first five games, the Wolverines’ defense allowed opposing offenses to score only seven touchdowns. Only Louisville, Florida, and Oregon had allowed fewer offensive touchdowns at that point of the season. And U-M allowed only six offensive touchdowns total to three other opponents later in the year.

But in the other five games? Michigan’s defense allowed 24 offensive touchdowns. Thus, it allowed an average of 1.63 offensive touchdowns in eight games and an average of 4.80 offensive touchdowns in the other five games. And, therefore, as the following table shows, U-M’s defense, like the offense, experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows with little in between the two.

Michigan Defense – Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games v. Six Worst Defensive Scoring Games
Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games Six Worst Defensive Scoring Games
Points Allowed Per Game 18.14 37.00
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 302.43 452.00
Yards Allowed Per Play 4.43 6.25

If the Wolverines’ defense performed as well throughout the season as it did in its seven best defensive scoring games, U-M would be ranked #10 in scoring defense, #7 in total defense, and #5 in yards allowed per play. On the other hand, if it performed as poorly throughout the season as it did in its six worst defensive scoring games, U-M would be ranked tied for #111 in scoring defense, #101 in total defense, and #106 in yards allowed per play. Those ranks are out of 125 FBS teams, including those which reclassified to FBS in 2013.

Michigan’s six worst defensive scoring games dragged down U-M’s statistics significantly. Michigan’s scoring defense regressed from #6 in 2011 and #20 in 2012 to #66 in 2013. The 349 points and 4,829 total yards U-M allowed in 2013 are each the second worst in program history. So, although Michigan’s defense played very well for about half the season, it performed so poorly when it did have a clunker that U-M’s record book will list it as one of the worst defenses in program history.

What went wrong?

This was not a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation for Michigan, when the whole team would either be very good or very bad. It was much more complicated than that. Both Michigan’s offense and defense were inconsistent, but they consistently were inconsistent in separate games:

Breakdown of Michigan’s Best Offensive and Defensive Performances
Six Highest Scoring Games Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games
Central Michigan X X
Notre Dame X
Akron X
Connecticut X
Minnesota X X
Penn State X
Indiana X
Michigan State
Nebraska X
Northwestern X
Iowa X
Ohio State X
Kansas State

Michigan played only three complete games this season. The table above provides that two of those were against Central Michigan and Minnesota. The third was against Notre Dame because ND’s 30 points overshadow that U-M’s defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns. On the other hand, U-M also had two clunkers as a team: Michigan State and Kansas State.

By season's end Hoke found himself squarely on the hot seat (MGoBlue.com)

Therefore, there were eight games this season in which one of Michigan’s offense or defense played well and the other unit completely fell flat. As the table above notes, U-M’s offense laid eggs against Akron, Connecticut, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, while its defense disappeared against Penn State, Indiana, and Ohio State.

Michigan went 4-4 in these games. All four of U-M’s wins in these games—against Akron, Connecticut, Indiana, and Northwestern—were against opponents that finished with below-.500 records. The Wolverines had enough talent on the unit that was playing well in those games to compensate for the absence of the other and pull out a victory. This is why Michigan still managed to open the season with a 5-0 record despite its offense stumbling against Akron and Connecticut.

However, the total absence of one of its units was too much to overcome when Michigan played teams with winning records, losing to all of Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio State. Each of those losses was by no more than four points. If Michigan’s missing unit had shown up for each of these games, it is very likely that Michigan would have won those games.

What went wrong?

Michigan had the talent to be a championship contender, but was unable to consistently showcase that talent in each and every game. As a result, the Wolverines played only three complete games in a 13-game season. U-M survived against lesser competition when one of its offense or defense performed poorly. But when that happened against teams with winning records, U-M suffered heartbreaking losses. That’s the difference between a disappointing 7-6 season and an acceptable 9-4 or 10-3 season.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

If season’s end had come on Nov. 30 Michigan would have entered the offseason with at least some semblance of hope. No, the Wolverines didn’t beat Ohio State and no, there are no moral victories, but their inspired performance left reason for hope. Instead, the season officially, mercifully, came to a close on Saturday with a game it didn’t want to be in and a lackluster performance that did nothing but erase any goodwill earned in the game prior.

Michigan and Kansas State entered with identical 7-5 records, but it was painfully obvious that not all 7-5s are equal. One team played like it was there to take care of business while the other like it had already mailed it in.

Final Stats
Michigan Kansas State
Score 14 31
Record 7-6 8-5
Total Yards 261 420
Net Rushing Yards 65 149
Net Passing Yards 196 271
First Downs 15 21
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-39 6-64
Punts-Yards 5-204 1-45
Time of Possession 24:56 34:00
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 7-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 1-2
Field Goals 2-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 0-for-0 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 4-of-4
Full Box Score

By late fourth quarter, Michigan fans were reduced to simply hoping the Wolverines would get the ball back one more time to allow Jeremy Gallon to break Michigan’s single-season receiving record. But even that felt hollow in the face of an underachieving season.

Gallon and Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield finished their careers surrounded on offense by kids as Devin Gardner looked on from the sidelines, supported by crutches.

Shane Morris, making his first career start – just the sixth true freshman quarterback to do so in Michigan history – looked poised and showed off a strong arm. Sometimes he was a second late, sometimes his throws were a little off, but many times he went through his progressions, stepped up into the pocket, and delivered a strike in a way that looked more like a seasoned veteran than a kid less than a year removed from high school.

That was one of few bright spots. There was no running game. Michigan’s running backs combined for 13 yards on eight carries. Morris finished as the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 43 yards, 40 of which coming on a long run late in the fourth. It was Michigan’s longest run of the season.

The defense gave up touchdown drives of 14 plays, 75 yards; five plays, 60 yards; and four plays, 59 yards in the first half. All culminated in touchdown passes from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, who routinely burnt Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor en route to 116 yards on 10 receptions. John Hubert had wide open holes up the middle all night long, just like Carlos Hyde did a month ago, finishing with 80 yards on 16 carries. Waters had all day to throw, calmly completing 21-of-27 for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and when things broke down, he picked up yards – and first downs – with his legs.

When all was said and done, Michigan ended its season with a thoroughly disappointing 7-6 record, continuing the decline through Hoke’s first three seasons from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Michigan finished the season with the eighth highest point total in program history, but while it averaged nearly 48 points per game in its top six scoring games, it averaged a meager 19 in its other seven. Defensively, Michigan started the season with just seven touchdowns allowed through five games, but gave up 30 in the final eight, resulting in the second most points allowed in program history.

Aside from individual accolades like Gallon’s receiving record and Lewan’s Rimington-Pace award, the season was a failure by every measure. The good news is that aside from Gallon and Lewan, the vast majority of Michigan’s key players return next season. The bad news is the schedule sends the Wolverines to South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus and Michigan hosts a Utah squad that knocked off Stanford this season.

Hoke will have some big decisions to make in the offseason, likely choosing between moving in another direction at offensive coordinator with hopes of saving his own job or sticking with Al Borges for better or worse. And three years removed from the Rich Rodriguez era, that’s not a good place to be. But at least, mercifully, this season is over.