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Posts Tagged ‘Brady Hoke’

Ryan drafted in 4th; Gardner, Beyer sign free agent contracts

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015


Jake Ryan(Tony Ding, AP)

A day after former Michigan standouts Devin Funchess and Frank Clark were drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft, Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan found a home in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers as the 129th overall pick.

Ryan, who played defensive end and outside linebacker before moving to middle linebacker for his senior season at Michigan, fits the mold of recent Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews, in number, looks, and talent. While some viewed Ryan as an outside linebacker in the NFL, the Packers had a need for an inside linebacker after Hawk signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and Brad Jones signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“His instincts are something that really stand out,” said Eliot Wolf, the Packers’ director of pro personnel. “He can get through traffic and make plays on the outside, penetrate and make plays on the inside run. He’s pretty good in coverage. Kind of an all-around guy who adds really good value to our team.”

Ryan collected 267 tackles during his five-year career at Michigan that included an injury-shortened junior season. He tallied 45.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and an interception. As a middle linebacker last season, Ryan led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo), to go along with 14 tackles for loss and two sacks, earning All-Big Ten first team honors by both the media and coaches.

After the draft ended, two other former Wolverines signed undrafted free agent contracts. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who entered the draft as a wide receiver, joined fellow former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady on the New England Patriots, while defensive end Brennen Beyer signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

Gardner started 27 games at quarterback for Michigan, passing for 6,336 yards and 44 touchdowns, but his struggles at the position — due at least in part to playing for multiple head coaches and offensive coordinators and behind a poor offensive line — caused him to change positions. He started the 2012 season at receiver, catching 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns, until Denard Robinson went down with an injury that forced Gardner to move back to quarterback.

The good news for Gardner is that his new team has a precedent for quarterbacks-turned-receiver. Julian Edelman started at quarterback for three seasons at Kent State before being drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He caught 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown his rookie season, but it wasn’t until the past two seasons that his career as a receiver took off. In 2013 and 2014 Edelman caught 197 passes for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a nine-catch, 109-yard one-touchdown performance against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

At 6’4″, 218, Gardner has a much different body type than the 5’10”, 200-pound Edelman, but he’ll have a chance to earn a roster spot on a team that has had trouble drafting receivers the past few years. Aside from Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have lacked a true outside receiver as of late. Last season, Brandon LaFell came on with 74 catches for 953 yard and seven touchdowns, but the three receivers the Pats added from the 2013 draft — Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins — were non-factors.

Beyer will likely have a tougher job securing a roster spot with the Ravens. Like Ryan, Beyer played both defensive end and linebacker for the Wolverines over the past few years, but while he was a solid contributor, he didn’t have the same type of impact Ryan did. The Ravens feature one of the league’s best defenses and aren’t exactly thin at either position. Still, he came highly recommended by Greg Mattison — a former Ravens defensive coordinator — and that was enough for John Harbaugh to give him a chance.

Funchess, Clark drafted in second round

Friday, May 1st, 2015


Funchess

Michigan may have struggled on the field last fall, but they had a good night in Chicago on Friday as two former Wolverines found their way into the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Devin Funchess heard his name called first when the Carolina Panthers selected him 41st overall. A short time later, defensive end Frank Clark surprised everybody by getting selected by the Seattle Seahawks 63rd overall. It marks the first time since 2008 that Michigan has had two players drafted in the first two rounds of the same draft.

Funchess was projected to be a second or third round pick, so his position as the ninth pick of the second round was surprising, but not to the Panthers who traded up 16 spots to get him. The St. Louis Rams held the 41st pick, but Carolina traded their third-round (No. 89) and sixth-round (No. 201) picks in addition to pick No. 57.

The 6’5″, 232-pound Farmington Hills, Mich. native joins last year’s first-round pick, Kelvin Benjamin, in the Panthers’ receiving corps. Benjamin, who stands 6’5″, 240, was a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries last season, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera liked the possibilities despite Funchess’ less than stellar showing at the NFL Combine, per the Charlotte Observer.

“He plays fast. He’s a smooth, fluid big man,” Gettleman said. “We really like that about him…he’s a matchup issue.”

“You see a couple things that tell you this kid is a little bit different. He makes catches in traffic. He presents a big target in traffic and takes a lot of big shots, similar to what Kelvin does,” Rivera said. “And then you watch him go vertical, which was surprising. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I thought people talked about he was not a vertical threat.’ He was a vertical threat.”

In three seasons at Michigan Funchess caught 126 passes for 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns. He struggled with consistency last season while battling injuries, but caught a career-high 62 passes for 733 yards and four scores while wearing the famous No. 1 jersey. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection.

While Funchess going 41st was surprising, Clark being selected at all on Friday was a shock given the way his career at Michigan ended. Clark was kicked off the team with two games remaining last season after a domestic violence incident at a hotel in Sandusky, Ohio. But the Seahawks did their homework on Clark and decided the upside he brings was worth the risk he could pose off the field.

Clark, certainly thankful for the opportunity presented, released a statement to Seahawks fans.

“I’m honored to be a part of the Seattle Seahawks organization, and I want to thank coach Carroll and Mr. Schneider for believing in me enough to make me the team’s first pick. I loved Coach Carroll as a kid growing up in L.A., and I look forward to giving the 12th man more reasons to raise ruckus in the near future. I’m a West Coast kid at heart and I’m eager to make Seattle, and the great Northwest my home.”

Clark joins a Seahawks defense that led the league in total defense and pass defense, and ranked third in rush defense, a year ago. But the Seahawks ranked just 20th in the league with 37 sacks, and that’s something they hope Clark can improve.

Clark tallied 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss in 10 games last season. As a junior in 2013, he recorded 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, earning All-Big Ten second team honors.

Michigan still has a couple more players who hope to be drafted in rounds four through seven on Saturday. Linebacker Jake Ryan is projected as a mid-round pick and quarterback Devin Gardner — who will play receiver in the NFL — just hopes to hear his name called. Coverage begins at noon EST on ESPN.

Bellomy, Heitzman to transfer from Michigan

Friday, January 30th, 2015


Bellomy-Heitzman

Four days after running back Justice Hayes announced his intention to transfer, new head coach Jim Harbaugh granted two more fifth-year seniors-to-be a release from the program. Quarterback Russell Bellomy and tight end Keith Heitzman both announced on Friday that they will seek a grad-year transfer to play out their final season of eligibility.

Bellomy appeared in six games during his four seasons at Michigan, completing 4-of-23 passes for 46 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions. The Arlington, Texas native entered the 2012 Nebraska game late in the second quarter in relief of an injured Denard Robinson and struggled to move the ball as the Wolverines lost 23-9. In that game — the most extensive action of his career — Bellomy completed just 3-of-16 passes for 38 yards and three interceptions while rushing five times for no yards.

He missed his junior season due to a torn ACL suffered in spring practice and came into the Penn State game last season for two series in relief of Devin Gardner. On those series, he went 0-of-2, but most importantly, didn’t make a mistake to take Michigan out of field goal range. Matt Wile kicked a 42-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 late in the third quarter.

Heitzman played in 36 games in three seasons after redshirting in 2011. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he appeared in 12 games as a reserve defensive end, recording seven tackles, one for loss, and recovering a fumble. In 2013, Heitzman started seven games at defensive end and played in all 12, recording eight tackles and half of a tackle for loss. Last season, he moved to tight end and caught two passes for 32 yards and one touchdown, which came against Indiana.

Both Bellomy and Heitzman expect to receive their degree from the University of Michigan this spring before transferring. Neither has picked a destination yet, but both stressed their love and appreciation for Michigan in Instagram posts on Friday afternoon. We wish both the best wherever they end up.

Click here to read Bellomy’s Instagram post. Click here to read Heitzman’s Instagram post.

Fourth annual M&GB HAIL Awards

Monday, January 12th, 2015


HAIL Awards banner

The 2014 college football season officially comes to an end tonight, and while Michigan’s season has been over for a month and a half and everybody is swept up in Harbaughmania, we’re going to close the book on 2014 with one more look back at Michigan’s season by handing out our annual HAIL Awards for the top players, plays, and moments.

Despite coming off of a 7-5 season, the team entered the season with high expectations, most ranging from 8-4 to 11-2. With the majority of the offense back, an expected leap forward from the two Devins, a new offensive coordinator, and an offensive line that had nowhere to go but up, most assumed the offense would avoid the pitfalls that the 2013 season saw. And with the majority of the defense back, an offseason shuffling of position coaches, switching Jake Ryan to middle linebacker, and a predicted senior season breakout of Frank Clark, most assumed the defense would be among the nation’s best.

But following a season-opening blowout of Appalachian State, it quickly became clear that those preseason expectations would need to be tempered as Michigan visited South Bend and left embarrassed by a 31-0 defeat. A 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) did nothing to turn the season around as Michigan dropped three straight to Utah, Minnesota, and Rutgers, and suddenly a season that began with hope was relegated to simply hoping for a winning record.

A controversy over the handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris and his “probable, mild concussion” suffered against Minnesota further clouded the season and set the wheels in motion for a coaching change. Michigan responded with an Under the Lights win over Penn State that offered a brief respite, but was summarily mopped off the field by rival Michigan State two weeks later. Needing to win three of four to make a bowl game, Michigan topped Indiana and Northwestern, but fell to Maryland, making a season-ending trip to Columbus a must-win. And while Michigan held its own for the better part of three quarters, even holding a halftime lead, it was unable to stop the Buckeyes, and the season ended at 5-7.

Brady Hoke was fired following the season, and exactly four weeks later, Harbaugh was hired as the 20th head coach in Michigan history. But before we turn our attention completely to Harbaugh, let’s relive the top moments of Team 135.

To revisit previous years awards: 20132012, 2011, or click here for a breakdown of each award.

Harmon Player of the Year Jake Ryan

RyanThe first three years of our HAIL Awards produced offensive players as Michigan’s player of the year. But in 2014, it was only fitting that a defensive player win it for the first time. Michigan’s offense sputtered to 112th nationally in total offense, 109th in scoring, 110th in passing, and 62nd in rushing.

Jake Ryan switched positions in the offseason, moving into the middle of the linebacking corps in order to stay on the field for more plays and keep opposing offenses from game planning away from him. It paid off with a team-leading 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“For a team that relied so heavily on the defense to keep the game close, Jake Ryan was the anchor and leader from the linebacker position,” said Derick.

“Hands down rock star on this team,” said Joe. “He may have started slow, but came on strong as the season progressed. His presence on the field will be missed!”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year  Devin Gardner & Devin Funchess (tie)

Gardner-FunchessMichigan’s offense stunk this season. There’s no denying it. It finished second to last in the Big Ten in scoring, last in total offense, eighth in rushing, 11th in passing, second to last in first downs, eighth in third down conversions, and tied for last in turnovers. Does anyone really deserve to be named offensive player of the year? Alas, we had to vote, and the Devins each received two.

“The lone bright spot (at least for a few games) was junior Devin Funchess, whose physical skillset on the outside went underutilized,” Sam said. “Funchess still had fewer receiving yards than he did in his breakout sophomore campaign, but his fireworks in the first few games were pretty much the lone bright spot on the year.”

Joe made the case for Devin Gardner:

“Okay, stick with me on this one. His numbers weren’t great, but he showed tremendous heart and never gave up on this team in spite of all the adversity. Love him or hate him, he is a heckuva young man.”

Votes: 2 each
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs Miami OHHad Frank Clark not had an off-the-field incident and been kicked off the team, he would have been in the running for defensive player of the year. But Ryan was the best player on a defense that was pretty good but never really lived up to expectations. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss and recorded two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“Jake Ryan made some head-scratching mistakes in his role as middle linebacker, but he also reminded us how great of a player he can be on more than one occasion,” said Sam. “He was the unforgettable heart and soul of a very forgettable team.”

“Easy pick, and we look forward to watching him play on Sundays,” said Joe.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jourdan Lewis (1), The field (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Greg Mattison

MattisonThe defense brought high expectations into the season, and although it finished a very respectable seventh nationally in total defense, no one would consider it one of the top seven defenses in the country. The failures of the offense had a lot to do with that, putting the defense in tough spots time and again and forcing the defense to carry the team, but the defense often struggled to get key stops and takeaways. Even so, there’s no question who the most important coach on the staff was this season.

All told, it ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, third against the run, sixth against the pass, seventh in sacks, second in opponent first downs, and eighth in opponent third-down conversions.

“Greg Mattison’s defense was underrated because of the massive amount of time it spent on the field,” said Derick. “The offense constantly put them up against a wall, and the defense still ranked among the best in the conference.”

“The defense was the one bright spot of the team this year, if there was one,” said Josh.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeff Hecklinski
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights III win over Penn State

UTLIII winFor the second straight year a loss to Ohio State nearly won this category. What does that say about the state of the program the past couple years? Instead, Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State took the cake. The third night game in Michigan Stadium history was a festive occasion amidst an otherwise forgettable season, and although Penn State wasn’t anything special in 2014 either, it was a big win at the time.

Wearing all blue uniforms for the first time ever, Michigan held Penn State to just 214 total yards and sacked Christian Hackenberg six times. Devin Gardner went 16-of-24 for 192 yards and a touchdown, Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and Matt Wile made field goals of 37, 42, and 45 yards. Michigan moved to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in the Big Ten, but remained perfect under the lights in the Big House.

“The night game against Penn State was the only game that really brought magic to the Big House,” said Derick. “Penn State was considered a solid team at the time.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Sticking with Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Frank Clark stops Northwestern two-point conversion

Frank Clark vs NorthwesternHis Michigan career ended unceremoniously, but Frank Clark gets the nod for play of the year. It ended up being the last play of his career, and at the time kept Michigan in postseason contention. For the third straight season, Michigan and Northwestern played an ugly, down-to-the-wire game. Michigan had won the previous two in overtime, and this time Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted no extra football to be played.

When the Wildcats scored a touchdown with three seconds to play, Fitzgerald kept the offense on the field instead of kicking the extra point that would have tied the game. Quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled to his right, planning to stop and throw back to his left, but Clark shot right through the blockers to cut him off. As Siemian tried to stop, he lost his footing and fell to the ground untouched to end the game. After the game, Clark and other Michigan defenders said they knew exactly what play was coming.

“Frank Clark’s stop looked like the play that would get Michigan into a bowl game,” said Derick. “Even though that didn’t happen, it did essentially win a game on its own.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry fat-guy touchdown (1), Ben Gedeon blocked punt return vs App State (1)

Past Winners:
2013: Fire drill field goal to force overtime at Northwestern
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’s 254 yards, 2 TDs vs Ohio State

Devin Gardner vs OSULike the season as a whole, there weren’t many individual performances that stood out. Drake Johnson’s 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against Indiana won two votes, while Devin Funchess’ seven-catch, 95-yard, three-touchdown performance and Derrick Green’s 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State were nominated. But for the second straight year, Devin Gardner’s performance against Ohio State gets the nod.

Gardner finished his career with his best game of the season, completing 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns to keep the game much closer than anyone expected. He began the game with an interception that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown, but shook it off and found Jake Butt for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. On Michigan’s next drive, Gardner ran for 10 yards on third down to keep the drive alive and set up a Drake Johnson touchdown run. Late in the game, Gardner connected with Freddy Canteen for another touchdown.

“The most impressive performances come in the biggest games, and the fact that Gardner kept this Michigan team in the game for nearly three quarters against a national championship game participant was nothing short of a miracle,” said Derick.

“Once again, Michigan looked to be toast heading into The Game, and once again, the Wolverines hung around long enough to tease the Michigan faithful,” said Sam. “Surprisingly, it was Devin Gardner who had his best game of a miserable season, picking apart the Buckeye defense in the first half to give the Maize and Blue a fighting chance.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drake Johnson’s 122 yards, 2 TD (7.6 ypc) vs Indiana (2)

Past Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner’s record-setting performance against Ohio State
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

GardnerGardner had his struggles this season, but his heart and commitment to Michigan can never be questioned. He lost his starting job to Shane Morris five games into the season, but kept his head up and fought hard the rest of the way. Morris’ woeful performance and injury against Minnesota let Gardner retain the job the rest of the season and he closed his career with a good performance against Ohio State.

He finished the season 174-of-283 (61.5 percent) for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, and rushed 98 times for 258 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He finished his career sixth in career touchdown passes (44), fourth in career passing yards (6,336), and fourth in career completions (475).

“Gardner wasn’t great, but the Minnesota game made it painfully obvious that he was the best Michigan had,” said Derick.

“As previously mentioned, he really did play his tail off for this team and left it all on the field,” said Joe. “Despite the results, you have to admire this young man’s character and work ethic.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson vs IULast season, Michigan’s running back situation was so bad that we didn’t even award a Running Back of the Year. This season, the running back play was much better and there were breakout performances by multiple backs, but injuries kept one back from running away with it. Derrick Green opened the season with a 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State. Two weeks later, he rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against Miami (Ohio). But midway through the season he broke his clavicle and missed the rest of the season.

Not to be outdone, DeVeon Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the season opener, and while he stayed healthy, he managed just one more 100-yard game the rest of the way, an 18-carry, 121-yard, one-touchdown game against Northwestern. He finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 519 yards and six touchdowns.

But anyone who watched Michigan over the last half of the season would be hard-pressed to say anyone looked better than Drake Johnson. The redshirt sophomore began 2013 as the backup, but tore his ACL in the season opener. He returned behind both Green and Smith, but once Green went down, he filled in nicely. Against Indiana, Johnson rushed 16 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, then he closed the season with 14 carries for 94 yards against Maryland and 15 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State before tearing his ACL once again in the third quarter. While he finished third on the team in rushing with 361 yards and had the fourth-most carries (60), he led all backs in yards per carry (6.0) and tied Gardner for second with four rushing touchdowns.

“With Green hurt and Smith never really breaking out, I believe that Johnson’s performance earned him this award,” said Joe. “If he had not have been sidelined in the Ohio game, who knows how that one could have turned out.”

“Forget recruiting rankings, Drake Johnson was the only running back who hit holes hard enough to pick up consistent gains, and he did it against OSU before the injury,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: De’Veon Smith (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: None
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Devin Funchess

FunchessAfter losing Jeremy Gallon to graduation, Michigan’s receiving corps looked to Devin Funchess to carry the load. He officially made the full-time switch from tight end to receiver and switched his jersey number from 87 to 1, the first Michigan receiver to wear the iconic number since Braylon Edwards. And he opened the season in style with seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns against Appalachian State. Of course, no one expected him to match those numbers the rest of the season, but it was fun to project his stats out over the course of 13 games: 91 catches, 1,235 yards, 39 touchdowns.

He followed it up with 107 yards on four catches against Notre Dame, but Michigan was shut out and Funchess suffered an injury that kept him out the following week. It took until the seventh game of the season — the Under the Lights game against Penn State — for Funchess to catch his fourth touchdown and then he was held without another the rest of the season. He closed with 108 yards on seven catches against Ohio State, but with no other breakout receivers stepping up, Funchess struggled with consistency and concentration all season.

He finished the season with a team leading 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, but while he caught more passes than 2013, his yards fell by 15 and touchdowns decreased by two, and after that first game he was never the dominant threat he should have been. Still, with enviable size, he will enter the NFL Draft this April.

“Funchess could be a force in the NFL with his lethal combination of size, speed, and athleticism, and he could have been a dominant college receiver on a better team,” said Sam. “Unfortunately, Michigan simply wasn’t able to get him the ball much, even if he did make some crazy how-did-he-do-that catches (like against Penn State) and some my-grandma-could-have-caught-that drops.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Mason Cole

Mason ColeThe biggest reason for Michigan’s offensive ineptitude a year ago was the offensive line. Brady Hoke mixed and matched lineups, trying to find the right combination to protect his quarterback and pave the way for something resembling a running game, but often to no avail. Despite losing two tackles to the NFL — Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield — the line grew up a little bit in 2014. But it was a newcomer that took home the award.

Mason Cole became the first true freshman in Michigan history to start a season opener on the offensive line, replacing Lewan at left tackle from Week 1, and while he made his share of mistakes throughout the season, he generally made people forget he was in high school a few months prior. Michigan’s line allowed 25 sacks, which ranked eighth in the conference, but was 11 fewer than last season. It paved the way for an improvement of an improvement of 37.1 rushing yards per game. And Cole was a major reason why.

“Mason Cole was thrown into the fire as a true freshman left tackle and managed to not be a glaring weakness,” said Sam. “That’s a huge win in my book.”

“Cole has a bright future after a decent redshirt freshman season,” said Derick. “I was impressed with how he hung in there during the Big Ten season.”

Votes: 5

Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Taylor Lewan
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Willie Henry

Willie HenryDue to Frank Clark’s dismissal from the team with two games left in the season, this category suffered from a lack of standout performers at the position, which split the vote. Had Clark finished the season, his 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks — totals that would have had two more games added to them — would have won the award going away.

Instead, Willie Henry was the only lineman that received multiple votes, while Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Mario Ojemudia garnered one apiece. Henry finished the season with 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and three sacks, but he made one of the most memorable plays of the season. Trailing Utah 10-3 midway through the second quarter, Michigan needed a big play and Henry provided it. On 3rd-and-12 from their own 13, Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson dropped back to throw a screen pass, but Henry leapt up and snagged it at the 6-yard line and rumbled into the end zone to tie the game.

“Tough pick here, but since Clark dug his own grave, I was quite impressed with Henry,” said Joe. “His ceiling looks to be quite high and I look forward to watching him pressuring opposing quarterbacks in the future.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Glasgow (1), Brennen Beyer (1), Mario Ojemudia (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Frank Clark
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs NorthwesternAfter winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, this one was a lock, although it wasn’t unanimous. James Ross III received one vote after recording 32 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Sam explains his decision to vote for Ross:

“I know, I know…Jake Ryan wins MVP and Defensive MVP and isn’t even the best linebacker? My vote is probably a lie here, but I feel that James Ross deserves some recognition for a couple bone-crushing hits on opposing linemen. This was the best unit on the entire team, and Ross should have an excellent senior season.”

The other four votes went to Ryan, giving him the Linebacker of the Year award for the third time in four years. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss, and added two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries. His 112 tackles were the most for a Michigan defender since Jonas Mouton recorded 117 in 2010, but Mouton did so in 13 games. It was the most in a 12-game season since Jarrett Irons recorded 115 tackles (80 solo) in 1994.

“Ryan moved over to middle linebacker despite being one of the top outside linebackers in the country. He anchored one of the top defenses in the Big Ten,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Desmond Morgan
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan LewisLast season’s winner, Blake Countess, took a step back this season as Michigan’s secondary was constantly tested by opposing offenses. And while freshman Jabrill Peppers was expected to make the biggest impact, an early-season injury kept that from happening and it was another youngster that rose to the occasion. Sophomore Jourdan Lewis started seven of 12 games, and after being picked on in a Week 2 loss to Notre Dame, proved to be Michigan’s best corner as the season progressed.

Lewis finished the season with 39 tackles (28 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, and a team-leading two interceptions and six pass breakups. His third-quarter interception of Christian Hackenberg led to a game-tying field goal in Michigan’s win over Penn State, and he also made a touchdown-saving tackle against Utah in which he out-raced everyone across the field to bring down Ute running back Bubba Poole at the 25-yard line. That kind of effort was there all season from Lewis.

“Jourdan Lewis can guard any receiver in the Big Ten with his speed and coverage skills, but his work ethic is what sets him apart,” said Derick.

“Tough year for the defensive backs overall, as the passing game seemed to hurt when it counted,” said Joe. “However, Jourdan Lewis looks to have a promising future in Ann Arbor, and when matched up alongside Peppers, perhaps a few more interceptions will be in his future.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Dennis Norfleet

NorfleetThe Special Teams Player of the Year vote was close between return man Dennis Norfleet and senior punter Will Hagerup, but Norfleet edged it out. Michigan’s special teams were a disaster for much of the year, often failing to even get 11 men on the field, but Norfleet was always a constant. Although he is still looking for his first return touchdown, he is reliable at catching kicks and punts and holding onto the ball, and he had a punt return called back against Maryland.

He finished the season with a 23.1-yard average on kick returns — which ranked sixth in the Big Ten — and a 3.8-yard average on punt returns. This season, he also moved into first place in Michigan career kick returns (90) and yards (2,203), and third place in career total return yards (2,293). He also fired up the home crowd with his dance moves while awaiting kicks and punts.

“Dennis Norfleet dances, and dances well. He wins,” said Sam.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Will Hagerup (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Brendan Gibbons
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake JohnsonAlthough a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Drake Johnson was a newcomer since he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2013 season. The Ann Arbor native began the year behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, and after getting three carries for 28 yards in mop-up time against Appalachian State, didn’t see a carry again until the Michigan State game after Green was lost for the season. The following week, he ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Indiana, and then finished the season with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (5.8 yards per carry) against Maryland and Ohio State.

“Tough choice between Mason and Drake, but Drake came alive late and provided a much needed spark to an otherwise sputtering offense,” said Joe. “I look forward to seeing him take snaps in a rotation with Isaac and Green.”

“Before the injury, Drake Johnson was looking like the running back Michigan’s been looking for over since the Sugar Bowl win,” said Derick.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Mason Cole (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jake Butt
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake RyanRyan came to Michigan as a three-star recruit from Cleveland St. Ignatius, choosing Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines over a handful of Mid-American Conference offers. Four years and a different coaching staff later, Ryan leaves Michigan as one of the top linebackers in program history. Despite missing the first five games of the 2013 season following a torn ACL in spring practice, his 44.5 tackles for loss rank seventh in Michigan history and his seven forced fumbles rank second. He started 41 career games and earned Bennie Oosterbaan’s #47 legends jersey.

“A model student athlete for the University of Michigan,” said Joe. “He has seen the ups and downs of this program as well as his own personal uphill battle with injury. In spite of it all, he was always a dominant playmaker on the field and the face of the defense as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll be sad to see all of these seniors go,” said Sam. “All had their moments, and though each of them leave the University of Michigan on a sour note, they played their hearts out for four or five years on the team. I will always be particularly fond of Jake Ryan’s wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks early in his career though, and his leadership was tangible even watching on TV. Ryan was a gritty linebacker, an athletic rusher, and a guy that defenses were afraid of, and for that, he’s my Senior of the Year.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis vs Miami OHMichigan entered the season with plenty of experience in the secondary, led by Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and a true freshman — Jabrill Peppers — who most expected to be a breakout star. But injuries plagued Peppers’ season and it was another youngster who rose to the occasion.

Jourdan Lewis played in eight games as a reserve defensive back in 2013, recording 17 tackles and two pass breakups, but broke out in his sophomore campaign with 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss, six passes defended, and two interceptions. He got better as the season went on and proved to be a good cover corner, leaving fans excited for him to team up with Peppers in 2015.

“If Lewis can become more of a ball hawk, he’ll become one of the better cornerbacks in the country,” said Derick. “His speed and coverage skills were the best on Michigan’s roster this season.”

“Lewis is making strides in his game, basically doubling all of his stats from last year with similar playing time,” said Joe. “As mentioned before, it’ll be fun to see him playing in the same backfield as a healthy Jabrill Peppers.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Joe Bolden (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Funchess
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Final Results

Monday, December 15th, 2014


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Congratulations to JustJeepGear.com for winning the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. JJG’s deviation of 135 was 40 points better than runner-up boggie. JJG was the closest to correctly predicting Devin Gardner’s total yards, just four away from his total of 254. JJG also tied for the closest to the game’s longest touchdown, which was Ezekiel Elliott’s 44-yard run on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. MichiganMack and Maizenblu62 were also only one away from that one. JJG wins the final $20 M Den gift card of the season.

Boggie was closest to Michigan’s total yards (372) with his prediction of 374. Kashkaav‘s prediction of 36 yards was the closest to the yards gained on Ohio State’s first possession (41). Kfarmer16 was exactly right with his prediction of 89 rushing yards for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, although had Barrett not gotten injured on the first play of the fourth quarter, that total likely would have changed. Freezer566 was just one away from Dennis Norfleet’s longest return (29) with his prediction of 30, while GrizzlyJFB was just one away from Jalin Marshall’s longest return (23) with his prediction of 22. Finally, no one predicted that neither team would make a field goal.

Congratulations is also in order for kfarmer16, who won the season-long prize, a pair of tickets to next year’s home opener against Oregon State. While this season was a huge letdown, next season’s home opener should come full of hope, especially if Michigan is able to lure Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL. Freezer566 came in second, just seven points behind kfarmer16, while Hazel Parker finished third despite missing two of the 10 weeks.

No one correctly predicted the final score, though Hazel Parker was the closest with his prediction of Ohio State 38 – Michigan 28. Four of the 16 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average of two points, and the average score prediction among all of the contestants was Ohio State 38 – Michigan 18.

I will be in touch with each winner via email this week regarding your M Den gift cards and the grand prize tickets. I hope they can make for some nice Christmas gifts. Thanks for playing this season’s Five-Spot Challenge. We may hold some random challenges during basketball season, so stay tuned for those. Otherwise, the challenge will return next football season!

The weekly results and final overall standings have been updated.

Hoke let go, players react

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014


NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State(USATSI)

The Michigan football program parted ways with head coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday afternoon after four years. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett held a press conference to deliver the news and the department released the following statement.

“I met with coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program,” said Hackett. “This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.”

“I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan,” said Brady Hoke. “I will always support the University and this football program. This is a special place and one that Laura, Kelly and I have enjoyed representing during our time in Ann Arbor. I want to thank all of the sons that played for our teams and appreciate the commitment that our coaches and support staff made to the program every day. I will miss the relationships that I’ve been fortunate enough to make within this university and community. I additionally appreciate all of the support that our fans, alumni, students, administration and former players have provided our program. I leave with fond memories of my experience at Michigan. Thanks and Go Blue!”

Hoke became the 19th head coach in Michigan football history on Jan. 11, 2011. A former assistant coach at U-M (1995-2002), Hoke guided the Wolverines to a 31-20 record (18-14 Big Ten) in his four seasons as head coach. Hoke led the Wolverines to an 11-2 record (6-2 Big Ten) and Allstate Sugar Bowl victory in his first season at the helm, while U-M finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten) mark following a bid to the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines went 7-6 in 2013 and made an appearance in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan finished the 2014 season with a 5-7 record.

Mike DeBord will oversee the day-to-day aspects of the football program as sport administrator until a new head coach is hired. Hackett will begin a search for a replacement immediately.

Hoke won Michigan fans over from day one when he said he would have walked from San Diego to Ann Arbor for the job and placed an emphasis on beating rivals in his introductory press conference. But while his passion for Michigan has never been questioned, he went just 1-3 against Ohio State, 1-3 against Michigan State, and 2-2 against Notre Dame. Mounting controversies in the past year — the lack of transparency about Brendan Gibbons, multiple player suspensions and arrests, and the handling of the Shane Morris concussion incident — combined with a declining record made it necessary for Hackett to make a change.

The impact of Hoke’s firing was felt by the players — current and former — as they reacted via Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no timetable for Hoke’s replacement, but San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, LSU head coach Les Miles, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano have been mentioned as the top candidates.

Miles and Mullen have both finished their regular seasons and await bowl games. Each could conceivable accept the job if offered at any time and forego the bowl game. Harbaugh’s 49ers are currently 7-5 and nearly out of the bowl picture with four games remaining. If the 49ers miss the playoffs, his final game is Dec. 28. It is unlikely that he would leave before then. Schiano has been out of football since being fired by the Bucs following the 2013 season.

The end: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 28

Sunday, November 30th, 2014


Garnder sportsmanship(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by a trio of Michigan defenders. They all got up, but he didn’t. As he laid on the Ohio Stadium turf, surrounded by medical personnel, senior Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner trotted across the field to console him. The photo gained national attention as a grand gesture of sportsmanship amid a heated rivalry, but the act itself signaled a perfect representation of Michigan’s season.

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Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 28 42
Record 5-7, 3-5 11-1, 8-0
Total Yards 372 416
Net Rushing Yards 121 233
Net Passing Yards 251 183
First Downs 27 20
Turnovers 2 0
Penalties-Yards 4-38 9-84
Punts-Yards 4-165 4-196
Time of Possession 34:05 25:55
Third Down Conversions 6-of-11 7-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 5-41
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 4-for-4 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-3
Full Box Score

In his final game as a Michigan quarterback, Gardner completed 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns and gained 41 more yards on the ground. But his turnovers, the only two of the game for either team, both led to Ohio State touchdowns, which ultimately provided Michigan’s margin of defeat.

Gardner is a textbook example of the type of athlete Michigan — or any school — wants representing its program. His regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital, his early graduation and soon to be Master’s degree, his selfless switching of positions twice in the same season, his sticking it out through two head coaches and three offensive coordinators, and finally, his display of sportsmanship in the final quarter of the final game of his career say more about the man and the future he will have than any on-field success could.

But fair or not, his performance on the field, which regressed from the point he took over for an injured Denard Robinson midway through the 2012 season through Saturday’s season-ending loss to Ohio State, will define his career in the eyes of most Michigan fans.

Michigan put a scare into the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, rebounding from a quick 7-0 Ohio State lead to score back-to-back touchdowns before Ohio State tied the game just before halftime. And after Ohio State took a 21-14 lead to start the third quarter, Gardner led Michigan right down the field for the game-tying touchdown. Ohio State took the lead for good late in the third quarter, but Michigan stayed within striking distance far longer than anyone thought they would.

The loss was Michigan’s seventh of the season, resulting in a third losing season in seven years, and effectively ending the tenure of head coach Brady Hoke. While Ohio State will face Wisconsin in next Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game and hope to gain a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan will turn its attention to a likely coaching search.

Gardner will hope to be selected in the NFL Draft next spring, but if he isn’t, he’ll have a Master’s of social work to carry him into his next profession. And he’ll have several single-game school records, the best offensive performance in Michigan-Ohio State history, and what is sure to be one of The Game’s most enduring moments to carry on his legacy.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 28th, 2014


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Michigan was unable to pick up its sixth win of the season against Maryland last Saturday, leaving the Wolverines in need of a win in Columbus for the first time in 14 years to gain bowl eligibility and avoid a third losing season in seven years. Ohio State is in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth, so it won’t take Michigan lightly. Can Michigan shock the Buckeyes, or will Ohio State continue its dominance? Here are our picks.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 13 50
Sam 11 41
Derick 16 38
Josh 14 50
Joe 17 48
M&GB Average 14 45

Justin: Brady Hoke beat Ohio State in 2011, his first season as Michigan’s coach, but has lost the last two. Both losses were much closer than they should have been, which suggests that, even though Ohio State is the better team, Hoke has been able to get his team ready for The Game.

But no matter how ready Michigan is, it won’t be enough tomorrow. Ohio State can’t afford a narrow win since it needs to jump two teams in the next two weeks to get into the playoff.

Michigan’s defense ranks ninth nationally, but even if it contains Ohio State’s offense, the Wolverines’ offense won’t be able to score enough to win. Michigan has scored fewer than 20 points in seven of 11 games this season. Ohio State hasn’t been held below 21 yet and averages more than twice that.

Michigan will hang around in the first half, but Ohio State will blow the game wide open in the second and won’t let up. Quarterback J.T. Barrett will beat the Michigan secondary deep for a couple of big plays and Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott will wear down the front seven on the ground.

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 13

Sam: Ohio State 41 – Michigan 11

Derick:  Michigan unfortunately missed its chance to lock down a bowl game last weekend when it hosted a bad Maryland team on senior night. Now, it’ll take a mammoth upset against Ohio State, who is looking to qualify for the College Football Playoff with another undefeated Big Ten season.

The near-upset in last year’s game should be enough to keep the Buckeyes from sleeping on even this Michigan team. Ohio State needs to put up style points after trialing Indiana in the third quarter at home last week, so I think Urban Meyer will try to run up the score and pound his greatest rival.

Michigan’s defense has kept games close for most of the season, but this J.T. Barrett-led OSU attack is the best they’ll face this season. Is there a chance? The Buckeyes have faced just two defenses ranked better than Michigan’s in points allowed: A loss to Virginia Tech and an overtime win over Penn State.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s strength is not in the secondary, so Barrett can carve up Greg Mattison’s crew through the air. OSU will roll to a 38-16 win.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 16

Josh: Oh, how I hate Ohio State. If there’s anything I hate more than Ohio State it’s Ohio State fans. Unfortunately, this century has not been very good to Michigan and aside from 2006 and 2011 Michigan hasn’t come into the game with much hope of beating a good OSU team in over a decade. This year will be no different. Yes, we can throw away the records when these two teams meet. Yes, there have been epic upsets by Michigan over highly ranked OSU teams. Yes, Penn State, Minnesota and even Indiana gave this Buckeye team a run for their money this year. And yes, Michigan almost ended Urbs’ 23 game win streak last year. But this Michigan team is, well I don’t know what this Michigan team is other than “not Michigan.”

J.T. Barrett is having one of the best seasons for a Big Ten quarterback ever. He is a redshirt freshman who was named the starter just weeks before the season. Coming into this season I didn’t think Michigan had a chance to win in Columbus, and that was when I thought we’d see marked improvement in player development and a competent offense. Now, I’m not so sure Michigan can score double digits.

This game is gonna get ugly and the rabid fans in Columbus are going to eat it up. They don’t care that Michigan is having a down decade (even though they used the “Luke Fickell isn’t a real coach” excuse when we beat them in 2011). Michigan won’t roll over and die, these kids will fight with all their hearts from start to finish. Sadly, they don’t have as much talent on the field and they definitely can’t compete with the coaching staff on the other sideline.

I feel bad for the seniors and I feel bad for Brady Hoke. Ending your Michigan career with a blowout loss to a hated rival is no way to go out. But the reality is OSU is the far better team, with a far better coaching staff and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach the entire game. But hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and 2014 will be like 1968 and we’ll get Bo 2.0 (Jim Harbaugh) after a blowout loss. I can dream, right?

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 14

Joe: The biggest game of the year is finally here and I’m thinking “UPSET”. Ya, I said it. “UPSET”. Unfortunately, I’m referring to the way my stomach feels during these games. This one will get ugly and out of hand by halftime. The guys will battle hard for Hoke and try to keep things close but won’t be able to contain Barrett. I think he runs wild in this one and will also hits some receivers on deep routes. As much as I want to predict a close one, I just can’t do it. The Offense has been horrible for a few months now and I can’t see things getting right this week. Not against a fired up group of Buckeyes.

Ohio State 48 – Michigan 17

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 28th, 2014


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For many years, Michigan and Ohio State ended the regular season with a clash that decided the Big Ten title. When the two rivals meet tomorrow afternoon in Columbus, they’ll both have something to play for beyond just bragging rights, but their goals couldn’t be more different.

Michigan missed an opportunity to gain bowl eligibility with a 23-16 loss to Maryland last Saturday, which means the Wolverines will have to beat the Buckeyes to extend their season. Ohio State, on the other hand, is still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

UM-OhioState-small-final
Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 138-26 (34-3 at Ohio State)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinators: Chris Ash (1st season)
Luke Fickell (9th season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 41 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-46-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan leads 27-25-2
Record in Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 24-21-1
Brady Hoke vs OSU: 1-2
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last UM win at OSU: 2000 (38-26)
Current Streak: Ohio State 2

Ohio State already has the Big Ten East division wrapped up, but trails Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, and TCU in the rankings. Only the top four will get in. Ohio State will get a chance for another big win in next week’s Big Ten Championship game, but if they struggle with a 5-6 Michigan squad at home, it would be hard to make a case for moving the Buckeyes ahead of any of those other teams unless they lose.

TCU took care of business on Thursday night with a 48-10 win over Texas, and only has Iowa State remaining. Mississippi State visits in-state rival Ole Miss tomorrow, but the Rebels have lost three of their last four after opening the season 7-0. Unless Alabama loses to Auburn tomorrow, MSU won’t reach the SEC Championship game. If the Crimson Tide can top Auburn, they’ll face Missouri or Georgia next week for the SEC title. Oregon, like Ohio State, faces a 5-6 team, Oregon State, and then the Pac-12 Championship game. That leaves Florida State, the reigning national champion and the only unbeaten team.

A lot can happen this week and next, but in order to avoid getting left out, Ohio State has to beat Michigan and look good doing it. Playoff committee chair Jeff Long started a controversy when releasing this week’s rankings by describing the committee’s use of “game control” as an evaluation metric, which is essentially rewarding teams for running up the score. A 42-41 win over Michigan like last year will not win Ohio State any points in that category, so Urban Meyer will look to keep his foot on the gas pedal and send Brady Hoke packing.

As fans on both sides are fully aware, anything can happen in a rivalry of this magnitude. Because of this, OSU fans are approaching tomorrow’s matchup with caution, despite having won 11 of the last 13. Michigan fans, meanwhile, have already set their sights on Jim Harbaugh and can’t wait until the game is over to close the book on yet another lost season.

Does Michigan have a chance to knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since 2000? Or will Ohio State simply take care of the inevitable, ensuring Michigan a third losing season in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

Although they lost running back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State entered the season with high hopes offensively, mostly because of senior quarterback Braxton Miller who would be entering his fourth season as a starter. The two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was near the top of most preseason Heisman trophy watch lists. But after re-injuring his throwing shoulder in fall camp, Miller was forced to spend the season on the sidelines.

Enter J.T. Barrett.

The redshirt freshman, who hadn’t seen the field since his junior year of high school thanks to a senior-year injury of his own, was thrust into action much earlier than expected. And while there were some early-season hiccups that resulted in a loss to Virginia Tech — which could ultimately cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title — he has had one of the most impressive seasons in the country. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,658 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and has rushed for 849 yards and nine scores. Two more solid performances and he will likely earn an invitation to New York at season’s end.

Barrett ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, first in passing efficiency, and first in total offense. He may not match Miller’s 2012 rushing total of 1,271 yards, but he has far and away surpassed Miller’s best numbers.

But it hasn’t been a one man show in Columbus. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott picked up right where Hyde left off with 1,061 yards through 11 games. He ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing with 96.5 yards per game and fifth with 5.9 yards per carry. He has topped 100 yards in five of the last eight games, including a 23-carry, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance against Michigan State.

Ohio State doesn’t have a receiver that ranks in the top ten in the conference in yards or receptions, but the Buckeyes have a group of very solid receivers. Senior Devin Smith is the big-play receiver, leading team with 610 yards on just 25 receptions. Sophomore Michael Thomas has 12 more catches, but five fewer yards. Both have eight touchdowns. Freshman Jalin Marshall has emerged as a threat as the season has gone on. He caught just six passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns in the first five games, but has 18 for 308 yards and four scores in the last six. Elliott has actually caught the second-most passes on the team (25) for 201 yards. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught a touchdown against Michigan last season, doesn’t have nearly the production he had a year ago but is still a threat with 16 catches and two touchdowns.

The offensive line was a major question mark entering the season, but has progressed pretty well throughout and has had the luxury of starting the same group all 11 games. After giving up eight sacks in the first two games — seven in the Virginia Tech loss alone — the Bucks have allowed just 15 in the last nine games. Some of that has to do with the progression of Barrett, but the line has done its part. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the anchor alongside redshirt freshman Billy Price, junior center Jacoby Boren, redshirt sophomore guard Pat Elflein, and fifth-year senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Last season, Ohio State’s defense didn’t do much to help its offense, but new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has helped shore it up. While it’s still not where Meyer wants it to be, it ranks 30th nationally in scoring defense (22.5 points per game), 41st against the run (147.8 yards per game), 15th against the pass (182.5 yards per game), and 19th overall (330.4 yards per game). It also ranks 18th in sacks (32).

It all starts up front for the Buckeyes with one of the best defensive lines in the nation. The group took a hit when last year’s sack leader, defensive end Noah Spence, was suspended for failing a drug test after last season’s Big Ten Championship game. Slated to miss the first two games of the season, he failed another test and was summarily suspended for the entire season. The other end, sophomore Joey Bosa, has been an absolute star, leading the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Spence’s replacement, senior Steve Miller has recorded six tackles for loss and one sack.

In the middle, Ohio State is led by senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington. Bennett finished fourth in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss in 2013, but has fallen off that pace this season with 7.5 so far and three sacks. Washington has seven and 2.5.

The linebacking corps had to deal with the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL, but has developed great cohesion with the same three players picking up 32 of the possible 33 starts. Junior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry leads the team with 99 tackles to go along with 8.5 for loss, three sacks, an interception, and two passes defended. Redshirt freshman strong side linebacker Darron Lee ranks fourth on the team with 50 tackles but second with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and also has two interceptions. Senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant has 47 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.

The secondary was the unit that got torched over and over again last season, but has fared much better this year. Cincinnati and Michigan State both passed for over 350 yards on Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have held five of 11 opponents below 150 yards through the air. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple and senior Doran Grant are the starting corners and have five interceptions and 18 passes defended between them. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is the team’s second-leading tackler with 68 and also has three picks, while the other safety, redshirt sophomore Tyvis Powell, ranks third with 57 and also has three takeaways.

Special Teams: The other third

True freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger has made just 10 of his 16 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 49 yards. Interestingly, he has yet to attempt a field goal between 30 and 39 yards or over 50 yards all season. He is 5-of-6 from 20-29 yards and 5-of-10 from 40-49 yards. Punter Cameron Johnston, on the other hand, ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 43.6 yards per punt. He has downed 19 of his 31 punts inside the 20-yards line and booted nine of them over 50 yards with just three going into the end zone.

The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in punt returns and 19th in kick returns. Marhsall ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 13.6 yards per punt return and has taken one to the end zone. Dontre Wilson ranks fourth in the conference with 24 yards per kick return — 0.1 more than Dennis Norfleet — but a broken foot suffered against Michigan State has sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.

Prediction

There are two likely scenarios for Michigan on Saturday. Either the team plays with nothing to lose, inspired by its soon to be former head coach and gives Ohio State a run for its money, or it packs it in at the first sign of distress and gets pushed around for 60 minutes resulting in the worst defeat in the history of the rivalry.

Michigan had no business nearly beating Ohio State last season, but came within a failed two-point conversion from doing just that. But heading into that game there was at least an indication that Michigan’s offense could outscore the Buckeyes. This year, however, Michigan’s offense has been stuck in neutral, failing to score 20 points in seven of 11 games. Ohio State hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points in a game all season and averages more than twice that.

The only hope Michigan has is if its defense plays its best game of the season, contains Barrett’s legs, and pressures him into mistakes that he — like any first year starter and freshman — can be prone to make. But that’s certainly no easy task and one that even Michigan State’s defense couldn’t do. And even if the defense can do that, Michigan will have to avoid costly turnovers that have plagued the offense all year. And even if both of those things happen, Michigan will need Dennis Norfleet to break a return that doesn’t get called back. In other words, Michigan needs a perfect storm.

Michigan has allowed just nine first half points in its last three games combined, and will hang with Ohio State early on. But Michigan won’t be able to keep the Bucks at bay for long, and if they can’t find the end zone themselves, will see the game slip away in a hurry. Expect a fairly close game at halftime that Ohio State blows wide open in the second half with a couple of deep balls to Smith or Thomas and the running combo of Elliott and Barrett wearing the defense down. Meyer goes for two at the end to get to 50 and earn style points with the playoff committee, Hoke is fired shortly after, and Jim Harbaugh comes home to reignite the rivalry.

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 13

Five-Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


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Sorry for the delay in getting this week’s Five-Spot Challenge posted. Two basketball games to start the week got us behind. But congratulations to Bigboyblue for picking up his second win of the season with a deviation of 136.5, topping Jaeschke by four. Bigboyblue was the closest to Michigan’s longest pass (23 yards) with his prediction of 22. He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Last week’s winner, Freezer566, was the closest to correctly predicting Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown’s total yards. His prediction of 250 was just two away. He was also the closest to correctly predicting the minutes until Michigan’s first touchdown. Michigan scored at the 10:25 mark in the third quarter (34.5 minutes into the game). Freezer566 predicted 35. Four contestants — MichiganMack, Hazel Parker, chris12qb, and Jaeschke — correctly predicted that Devin Gardner would score Michigan’s first touchdown. Four others predicted a touchdown pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess, and thus, were just one away. Finally, first time contestant Ray Weatherford was the closest to the total combined made field goals by both teams. His prediction of 167 was just 14 away from the actual total of 181.

Seventeen of the 18 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 24 – Maryland 16, which was almost the exact reverse of the actual score of Maryland 23 – Michigan 16. MichiganMack and kashkaav each were correct in their predictions that Michigan would score 16 points, but neither tabbed Maryland’s score correctly.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated. Unless Michigan beats Ohio State and gains bowl eligibility this will be the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. All M Den gift cards will be sent out next week to those who have not received them yet.

Here are this week’s picks. As is our custom, we have added a couple more questions for The Game. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.