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Posts Tagged ‘Courtney Avery’

A Thanksgiving salute to the seniors of Team 134

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Thanksgiving is a time for all to remember what they are thankful for, and on Saturday 17 Wolverines will take the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. They’ll play their hearts out, hoping to redeem an otherwise lost season and play spoiler to their most bitter rival’s perfect season. But before we get there, let’s take some time to thank those men of the maize and blue that made the decision to attend the University of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan
Career starts Consecutive starts Honors
46 39 All-Big Ten first team (2012), second team (2011), Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year (2012), Walter Camp first team All-American (2012), Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist (2013)

Thank you Taylor Lewan for sticking it out for all five years. Thank you for forgoing sure millions in the 2012 NFL Draft to return to school, finish your career, and help mentor the young offensive linemen. Thank you for carrying on the tradition that so many linemen before you began. Your senior season hasn’t gone as planned, but you’ll go down as one of the all time Michigan great left tackles and while it doesn’t show right now, your leadership and guidance of the young guys will pay dividends in the coming years. May a long and productive career in the NFL await you.

Jeremy Gallon
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
155 2,440 16 15.7

Thank you Jeremy Gallon for working hard to improve for five straight years. You committed to Rich Rodriguez while he was in the process of recruiting smaller guys but didn’t really even get to play in his offense. Thank you for sticking with Michigan through the coaching change and forcing yourself into the leading role in an offense built for taller receivers. You’re on pace to finish in the top five in every career receiving category and top two in single season receiving yards, despite standing just 5’8″. Whether the NFL comes calling or not, thank you for being a bright spot in an otherwise down season and best of luck for your future.

Fitzgerald Toussaint
Career Rushes Career Rushing Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
503 2,255 26 4.5

Thank you Fitzgerald Toussaint for bringing excitement back to the Michigan backfield for the first time since Mike Hart left. We’ll always have 2011 when you ran for 1,041 yards and, along with Denard Robinson, became the first Michigan tandem to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since the 1970s. This season has been tough and last season ended with a gruesome injury, but thank you for pushing hard to overcome the injury and work your way back into the starting role.

Brendan Gibbons
Career FG Attempted Career FG Made Career FG % Career PATs
60 45 75% 156-158 (98.7%)

Thank you Brendan Gibbons for your improvement throughout your five years in Ann Arbor. Your freshman struggles are a distant memory as you have become one of Michigan’s all-time best field goal kickers. Your game winning kicks against Virginia Tech in the 2012 bSugar Bowl and Michigan State in 2012 will always be remembered, as will your other game-tying kicks. You are proof that vast improvement can be made year-to-year.

Drew Dileo
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC Career Punt Ret Career Yds/Ret
39 560 5 14.4 11 7.2

Thank you Drew Dileo for coming north to play for Michigan and providing a set of sure hands. You’ll always be remembered for your big plays in helping Michigan end its losing streak to Michigan State in 2012, but more so for your hard work and dependability. When Hoke needed sure hands at returning punts, you filled in. Your ability to hold for field goals has been steady and the slide into the hold for the game-tying field goal against Northwestern this season will go down in history.

Michael Schofield
Career Games Played Career Starts
50 34

Thank you Michael Schofield for giving this year’s squad a veteran presence on the offensive line along with Taylor Lewan. While the season hasn’t gone as planned, your guidance of the young linemen will pay off down the road. You started your career at guard and then held down the right tackle spot for two years. Although you don’t have the accolades of Lewan, you’ve been a steady contributor and may you find a spot at the next level.

Thomas Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
36 214 3 11.5 3 4 6

Thank you Thomas Gordon for holding down the secondary and providing a veteran presence while Hoke’s young guys work their way into the lineup. You were the team’s third-leading tackler in both 2011 and 2012 and currently rank sixth this year. Your interception ended this year’s Northwestern game in overtime and you led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries in 2011. Thank you for a productive career.

Cameron Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
15 132 4 14 1 2 3

Thank you Cam Gordon for your flexibility over the past five seasons and being willing to play wherever you were needed in order to see the field. You came in as a receiver, switched to safety and then to linebacker and were named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team in 2010. A back injury forced you to miss time in 2011 but you fought your way back in 2012 and have played a key reserve role at linebacker and even defensive end the last two seasons. Perhaps most importantly you were named Academic All-Big Ten each of the last three seasons, so big things are in store for you when your playing days are done.

Jibreel Black
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
14 69 7 14 3 0 0

Thank you Jibreel Black for an under the radar but productive career. You waited your turn, serving as an important reserve defensive lineman in 2011 and 2012 before working your way into the starting lineup this season. You recorded three sacks in the final four games of 2011 and made a key sack in overtime against Northwestern this season.

Quinton Washington
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
16 54 1 3 1 0 0

Thank you Quinton Washington for giving the team a veteran leader on the defensive line despite coming to Michigan on the other side of the ball. You started your career at right guard in 2010 before switching over to the defense. You blocked a kick against South Carolina in last season’s Outback Bowl and have held down the middle of the defense in the absence of Ondre Pipkins this season.

Courtney Avery
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
18 109 1.5 5 3 3 2

Thank you Courtney Avery for outperforming your recruiting rankings and earning a spot as team captain this season. You’ll be remembered for your interception on Ohio State’s final drive in 2011 to seal the win, ending their winning streak. You tied a Michigan record for longest fumble recovery against Minnesota that same year. You’ve battled injuries but always found a way to get on the field. You were given the honor of wearing the No. 11 Legends jersey to honor the Wistert brothers, Francis, Albert, and Alvin, and that will be something you can be proud of when your playing days are over.

Thank you Joe Reynolds, Jeremy Jackson, Jareth Glanda, Erik Gunderson, Dylan Esterline, and Kristian Mateus for your contributions to the Michigan football program over the last four or five years. You helped prepare the team for battle week in and week out and can take pride in being able to don the maize and blue. Best of luck wherever your post football careers lead you.

These 17 young men will be honored prior to Saturday’s game, so regardless of how you view this season make sure to get there in time to give them the ovation they deserve. If you’re not happy with the way this season has gone, you can bet they feel it ten times worse, but all of them came in under a different head coach and, stuck out the transition, and have laid the foundation for Hoke’s future success.

M&GB staff predictions: Central Michigan

Friday, August 30th, 2013


Every Friday throughout the season last year we submitted our staff predictions, which involved a long-winded breakdown and then a score prediction from each of us. This season, we’re doing the same, but toplining the breakdown. We feel that while we aim to provide one consistent message throughout the site, the variety of opinions of each individual writer is important, so this is their opportunity to present those. We make it a contest internally, and we hope the varying opinions help make your viewing experience on Saturday more well-rounded.

Justin: Like I said earlier, I really like Central Michigan as a season opening opponent this season. Don’t get me wrong; the anticipation leading up to the Alabama game last season was fun, but the result wasn’t. I’m not opposed to season openers against high quality opponents, but let’s get back to that level ourselves first and then bring on all comers.

Central provides a matchup with a very solid running back and a receiver that will be tough to stop, which means Michigan will receive a bit of a challenge. But aside from that, there isn’t much else that can compete with the kind of depth and speed Michigan has. Throw in a quarterback making his first career start, and a retooling offensive line, and it’s a great opportunity for Michigan’s front four to get started on a high note.

Michigan will have the game well in hand by the third quarter, allowing Shane Morris and the rest of the young guys to gain some playing time. Expect a heavy dose of Fitz and the rest of the running back group. I’m most excited to see the rest of the backs, as well as Jehu Chesson’s debut.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Central Michigan
Justin 41 17
Chris 40 14
Josh 42 17
Sam 45 10
Derick 41 14
Katie 48 10
M&GB Average 43 14

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 17

Chris: Has been out of the country for the week, so no breakdown, but did provide a score prediction.

Michigan 40 – Central Michigan 14

Josh: Refer to yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full game breakdown.

Michigan 42 – CMU 17

Sam: This Saturday at the Big House, as Michigan kicks off its 134th season of college football, two in-state non-rivals will be breaking in two full-time starting quarterbacks – redshirt junior Devin Gardner for the Wolverines and junior Cody Kater for the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Maize and Blue figure to march up and down the field against a Central defense that gave up a putrid 32.4 points per game last season while playing a schedule peppered with MAC teams and just one ranked squad – Michigan State.

For Gardner, it’s a chance to prove that his five successful outings at quarterback to book-end last season were no fluke, and the matchup is seemingly perfect for him. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess should be next to unguardable for the Chippewa defense, and will find the end zone twice on the day. Michigan’s stable of running backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint, will also get plenty of light work, and highly-touted freshman Derrick Green figures to see a handful of carries as well. Pay special attention to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson, who will get the start opposite Jeremy Gallon in Amara Darboh’s year-long absence, and on defense keep a close eye on the play of the safeties. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson was being talked up all spring before nearly losing a starting spot recently to the now-injured Courtney Avery. If Michigan gets burned deep more than once, Brady Hoke will have a quick leash.

On Central’s side, there simply is not much to talk about other than running back Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and Titus Davis, the leading receiver on last year’s team with 860 yards and eight touchdowns on 43 catches. Both of those guys should figure to eclipse the 1,000-yard marks in rushing and receiving, respectively, but expect the bulk of their production to come after Greg Mattison’s defense shuts down the Central attack and forces three turnovers this weekend. Michigan will score first and never look back on the way to a rout.

Michigan 45 – Central Michigan 10

After an impressive freshman season Devin Funchess earned the #87 Legends jersey and is expected

Derick: Central Michigan gets the honor of showing the world what Michigan’s post-Denard offense can do. With the night game against Notre Dame on the horizon, Borges will likely want to use week 1 to test his new arsenal and prepare for that much bigger challenge. Devin Gardner will hopefully spread the ball around his receiving core, including new receiver Jesu Chesson and tight end Devin Funchess.

Michigan will showcase multiple running backs in this contest, as the preseason depth chart seemingly has four backs that could be anywhere from #2-#5 on the list. Along with starter Fitzgerald Toussaint, Drake Johnson, Thomas Rawls and De’Veon Smith will apparently receive carries before 5-star recruit Derrick Green. No matter who is on the field, the Michigan running game will be crucial this year, and they should be able to run over the Chippewa’s defense on Saturday.

Though Hoke, like many Michigan coaches before him, will probably refuse to run up the score, I think Michigan will put a pretty good beating on CMU with a balanced offensive attack. Hopefully the defense can hold a MAC offense off the board until the second string comes in.

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 14

Katie: Great to be back for another season of Michigan football.  I can’t wait to see what our Wolverines have in store for us this year.

Now to the home opener against an instate foe, the Central Michigan Chippewas. I know that they aren’t ‘Bama by any stretch of the imagination, and that most of us take for granted that this will be an easy tick mark in the win column. But the Chippewas could put up a few touchdowns if junior Cody Kater (who replaced last year’s starter Ryan Radcliff) can show that his skill is palpable even against a Big Ten secondary, a task I’m not sure he’ll be up to.

They beat the Iowa last year, but the Hawkeyes had already lost to Iowa State and would also lose to Indiana before going 4-8 on the season. So while Central has some firepower, the loss of Radcliff will hurt, and a Michigan defense that includes a fifth-year senior strong safety in Thomas Gordon, another fifth-year senior outside linebacker in Cam Gordon, and a sophomore safety with a lot of potential in Jarrod Wilson, won’t likely help them heal.

That being said, Central Michigan does return Zurlon Tipton, a senior running back who put up just under 1,500 yards rushing last year, and a wide receiver Titus Davis who averaged 71 yards a game. With two touted starters in the  offensive line, a powerful center and left guard, Central could look to keep Michigan on their feet.  And with the Chippewa defense seeing the return of three top play-makers, one of whom, Justin Cherocci, a linebacker, had 132 combined tackles last season to put him at 19th nationally, the visitors could cause some trouble for the Wolverines offense.

Some trouble. As in keeping the Wolverines under fifty points trouble. With Devin Gardner starting this season, protected by 6’8″ fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, with fifth-year wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and an up-and-coming tight end Devin Funchess as targets, as well as a long list of potential running backs, I’m not seeing the offense having trouble finding a comfortable rhythm and staying in it. If Gardner could amass 1,200 yards passing in five starts last year, there’s no telling what he may be able to accomplish as the designated leader of the Michigan offense. It’s a lot of pressure I realize, but from what I’ve seen he has a level head, and from backing up Denard Robinson, I assume he also picked up that winning spirit of never being down and out.

Michigan shouldn’t have a problem beating the Chippewas in their opener.

Wolverines 48, Central Michigan 10

Predicting Michigan: The secondary

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

The final defensive position group for our Predicting Michigan series is the secondary, a group with a good blend of experienced talent and up-and-coming stars. Previously, we previewed the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive line, and linebackers.

Returning Starters

Perhaps one of the biggest unknowns for the 2013 Wolverines is how the secondary will follow up an extremely strong season in defending the pass. Michigan had one of the best secondary units in the nation during the entire season, but looked lost in the bowl defeat to South Carolina. Competition is the name of the game this spring, as several of the players from that great 2012 group return to battle 10 freshman that have Brady Hoke singing the praises of his depth. Since the veterans have proven their worth, they will likely have every chance to win the starting jobs this offseason and repeat what they’ve done under Greg Mattison the last two years.

Blake Countess' return from injury will give Michigan a very talented secondary

Coming into 2012, one of the most exciting players on the defense was cornerback Blake Countess. The sophomore had won a starting job during the second half of 2011, and acquitted himself very well with 44 tackles and six pass breakups. Unfortunately, injury struck Countess in 2013, and it didn’t wait long to do so.

In the very first game of the season, against Alabama in Cowboy Stadium, Countess blew out his knee and missed the rest of the season. The 5’10″ Maryland native never got a chance to build on his impressive freshman year, as he was forced to take a medical redshirt and watch the remaining 11 games from the Michigan sideline. This season, he could be the leader of the secondary if he is able to regain the form he showed during his first full season. So far, everything has gone smoothly for Countess, who is now fully participating in training camp. He will spend the next few weeks trying to stop the freshman from doing what he did just two years ago: beating out an upperclassman for a starting spot.

On the other side of the field, Raymon Taylor was securing his own starting spot in 2012. Taylor ended up starting 11 games at cornerback after being named a backup to J.T. Floyd and Countess out of training camp. The sophomore had a nice performance to start the season, recording seven tackles in week one against the Crimson Tide. His most memorable moment was the 63-yard interception return for a touchdown during the dismantling of Purdue, which came just one week after his first career interception in South Bend.

Taylor didn’t record an interception in Michigan’s final eight games, but he continued to be a steady defender for Mattison’s battered secondary and will likely continue to start in 2013 across the field from Countess, barring a training camp setback.

When a young player takes over a starting job, that means there is a player that has to swallow his pride and take a back seat. In 2012, that player was Courtney Avery. Avery started all four of Michigan’s non-conference games, but gave way to the younger secondary players during the Big Ten season.

Avery has an interesting case for starting in 2013, as he has played in all 39 of his games in Ann Arbor but has only started 13. He made his biggest splash during the 2011 season when he picked off two passes despite starting only three games all year. As a senior, it is Avery’s last opportunity to hold onto a starting job during his college career, and it will be very difficult because of the competition. At worst, Mattison will have a backup veteran cornerback who is familiar with a role off the bench.

At safety, Thomas Gordon represents the only player who is almost assured a starting spot. In 2012, Gordon started all 13 games for the strong Wolverines secondary and seems to be the top candidate to take the reins from safety Jordan Kovacs as the leader of this unit. The redshirt senior recorded 81 tackles last season to go along with his two interceptions, and his only sack of the season came against Ohio State. Despite the absence of flashy statistics, he did his job well at strong safety. Gordon will have a tough job filling the hole that Kovacs left when he graduated, and Michigan’s defense will rely heavily on his play on the field and leadership off of it.

Career Stats – Countess
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
2012 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Totals 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
Career Stats – Taylor
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 1 1 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
2012 33 12 45 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Totals 34 13 47 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Career Stats – Avery
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 22 14 46 0.0 0.5 1 0 4 0
2011 17 9 26 0.5 2.0 1 2 4 2
2012 14 5 19 0.5 2.0 1 1 0 0
Totals 53 28 81 1.0 4.5 3 3 8 2
Career Stats – Gordon
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 13 10 23 2.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
2011 41 26 67 0.0 1.5 2 4 2 1
2012 46 35 81 1.0 4.0 1 0 2 2
Totals 100 71 171 3.0 9.5 3 4 4 3

Dark Horse Candidates

A couple of minor contributors are battling for their lives in training camp, as they try to increase their role against an even deeper group of defenders. Jarrod Wilson gained the trust of his coaches during his true freshman campaign, playing in 10 games as a reserve safety. Though his main job last season was on special teams, Wilson showed why he was ranked highly as a recruit when he did get his few defensive snaps. Coming out of high school, Wilson was ranked a four-star safety and one of the top in the country at his position. Being a talented recruit means very little in Ann Arbor these days though, and the sophomore will have to prove himself more capable than the fresh faces during training camp to increase his playing time.

Junior Delonte Hollowell is another long-shot candidate to win major minutes in the secondary. Hollowell played in three games as a reserve cornerback in 2012 and will likely have a similar role in his third college season.

Career Stats – Wilson
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2012 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Hollowell
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 5 1 6 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
2012 1 3 4 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 6 4 10 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0

The Freshmen: Who Will Stand Out?

Brady Hoke has quite the log jam on the horizon in the secondary. This season, there are six true freshman listed as defensive backs on the roster and four redshirt freshman. It’s a great problem to have, though, and Hoke has stated that this offseason he will keep an eye on everyone’s performance and let the competition decide who starts the season in which roles.

Of the five secondary players recruited in last year’s class, Jarrod Wilson was the only one who earned the chance to play as a true freshman. The other four players were all given redshirts and sat out the 2012 season because of an already-strong secondary. In 2013, three-stars Allen Gant and Jeremy Clark are the strongest candidates of the four redshirt freshman to earn major minutes, but will probably play most of their time on special teams because of a more talented 2013 class.

Three true freshman in the secondary should really interest Michigan football fans this season. At cornerback, Jourdan Lewis could be a fan favorite during his career in Ann Arbor if his knack for making big, flashy plays in high school translates to the college game. Lewis separates himself from other players because of his incredible athletic ability; and like many great cornerbacks, his play at receiver in high school makes him a threat to pick off passes on defense. The combination of playing both wide receiver and cornerback means Lewis will take a ball-hawk approach to defense, allowing his instincts and strong hands to force turnovers. Unfortunately, the freshman is very small at 5’9″, 160 pounds, which makes it hard for him to match up with some bigger receivers. Size is one hurdle Lewis will have to overcome while battling for a position in training camp.

Dymonte Thomas should be Michigan's nickel back as a true freshman (Scout.com)

Perhaps the most important secondary storyline during camp is the fight for the second starting safety spot. There is almost no chance that Mattison would start two true freshmen over senior Thomas Gordon, so Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas will battle for one spot during the next few weeks.

Though his commitment didn’t generate as much buzz around Ann Arbor as Thomas’, Cass Tech safety Delano Hill is built to play safety in the Big Ten. The scouting report on Hill is that he is a great form-tackler, and understands the game better than incoming freshman usually do.

Since his hiring two years ago, Mattison has preached damage control on the defense. Under Rich Rodriguez, the defense would often gamble and give up huge plays. Now, the defense limits gains and lives to play another down. Hill fits this mold and could play his way into the starting lineup as a result. His ability to diagnose plays and make smart reads means that Hill can prevent getting beat and allowing huge plays.

An added bonus with this young man is his ability to defend in coverage. Though he probably isn’t quick enough to cover speedy slot receivers, he can take away a tight end in man to man or zone coverage, which is an important asset to have in a physical conference. Whether he wins the starting job or not, expect Hill to play an important role in the Michigan secondary this year.

Hill’s competition is a player that likely everyone in Ann Arbor has already heard of. Thomas was one of the jewels of this year’s top-10 recruiting class, and was given a rare five-star by Scout.com. Like Hill, Thomas is 6’1″, so he can match up with big tight ends as well as smaller, quicker receivers if necessary. He also played running back and linebacker in high school, developing a punishing, physical approach to the game. Thomas will put a big hit on opponents on either side of the ball, but will focus on doing so to ball-carriers at Michigan.

The only knock on this five-star safety is his discipline in coverage, an ability in which Hill is very strong. Talent-wise, however, Thomas is the best defensive player in the recruiting class and will get every opportunity to win a starting spot as the nickel back in 2013. Awareness on defense is something that he will gain as he learns to play in the Big Ten, so the only way to get the maximum production out of Thomas is to put him on the field. Hoke and Mattison may feel the same way and give the freshman a chance to wreak havoc on the field to start the season.

Wrapping Up

During Mattison’s current tenure as Defensive Coordinator his pass defense has been effective, but it hasn’t been flashy. The turnaround that the defense showed in 2011 is a prime example of just how much one great coach can impact a college team. With essentially the same roster as Greg Robinson had the year before, Mattison turned a terrible defense into one of the top in the country. This season, Mattison will apply his legendary coaching ability to the outstanding recruits he has brought in the past two years.

It’s very difficult to win Big Ten games with freshman, so even though all these new five- and four-star players are generating excitement around Michigan Football, bounce-back seasons from Avery and Countess will be the most important factors to this year’s secondary. If Countess can bounce back from his injury and play like he did during Michigan’s Sugar Bowl run, and Avery can find some consistency as a senior, the secondary will be one of the best in the country.

Ramon Taylor and Thomas Gordon are going to be steady, as they were last season, leaving the Wolverines with four veteran defensive backs that can lead the young recruits. If a few of the freshman are able to step up during the 2013 season, this will be a deep secondary and should follow up the 2012 dominance with another great year.

Outback Bowl preview: Michigan vs South Carolina

Monday, December 31st, 2012


[I did a Q&A for the fantastic South Carolina site Garnet and Black Attack, which you can read here. You can also read their game prediction here. Hint: they don't pick Michigan.]

A month has passed since Michigan last set foot on the gridiron, yet the sour taste of defeat from that post-Thanksgiving Saturday has not escaped. Because of the rivalry nature of the game and the way it went down, it will continue to sting, but there’s one thing that can at least wash it down until next season: Gamecock.

Michigan is historically average in bowl games (20 wins in 42 appearances), but has won two of its last three and also won the last Outback Bowl it played in 10 years ago.

Raymond James Stadium  -  Tampa, Florida
1pm EST  -  ESPN
______________

South Carolina Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (8th season)
Coaching Record: 65-37 (207-77-2 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Shawn Elliott/Steve Spurrier Jr.
Defensive Coordinator: Lorenzo Ward
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 11-2 (6-2)
Last Meeting: Michigan 34 – South Carolina 3 (1985)
All-time Series: Tied 1-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

In the grand scheme of things, this game won’t have much significance for the program, win or lose, since it’s still in the process of being rebuilt, but it goes without saying that a win would give the team some momentum heading into the offseason.

Perhaps the main thing riding on the game is Denard Robinson’s legacy. The lovable, dreadlocked highlight-reel waiting to happen will long be remembered as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue, but can he shed the perception that he can’t win big games? To go in depth on the topic is for another story, but a great performance against a great defense on the national stage would be a fitting sendoff for the man who has given the program the face of a Michigan Man through the tumultuous times.

South Carolina will be the fourth team in the AP top 11 that Michigan has faced (would be BCS Top 10 if Ohio State were eligible). Michigan lost to the other three. The Gamecocks are statistically very similar to Michigan, but lost just two games, to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks in October. The Gamecocks avoided playing Alabama and Texas A&M, and played a non-conference schedule of East Carolina (8-5), UAB (3-9), Wofford (9-4 FCS), and Clemson (10-2).

When South Carolina has the ball

As we showed in our First Look, South Carolina averages about a point more than Michigan and gives up about a point less. Michigan has the better rushing game by about 45 yards per game, while South Carolina has the better passing game by about 30.

One of the most interesting aspects to watch will be how Steve Spurrier utilizes his two quarterbacks. Connor Shaw was the starter for most of the season and completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,732 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards, but averages just 2.8 yards per rush, sacks removed. His 173.2 passing yards per game ranked 11th in the SEC, but he avoided making mistakes for the most part. His best game of the season came against Tennessee when he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns. His worst game was a 9-for-20, 72-yard performance against Florida.

Ace Sanders is the main offensive threat for SC (Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

The other quarterback in the equation is sophomore Dylan Thompson who started two games, against East Carolina and the season finale against Clemson. In those two, he completed 44-of-78 passes for 640 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. He also played considerable time against Florida, completing just 8-of-20 passes for 83 yards and an interception. He’s not the runner Shaw is, but obviously has the better arm.

Shaw is accurate when given time to throw, but will either take off or throw off balance if faced with pressure. Thompson has the ability to pick Michigan’s defense apart. Spurrier has said that both will play, but what is unclear is how much of each we will see.

The running game is average at best without Marcus Lattimore who missed the final three games of the season after tearing his ACL. Lattimore had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry through the first eight games, but the leading rusher now is senior Kenny Miles who has 358 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Miles’ rushing totals in the three games he was the feature back mirrored his season ypc average, but if you remove the game against FCS Wofford, it dips to just 2.7. Freshman Mike Davis split time with Miles late in the season and averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 28 attempts.

The receivers are mostly little guys of the Jeremy Gallon variety. The most dangerous is Ace Sanders, a 5’8″, 175-pound slot man who has 36 receptions for 439 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. He’s coming off his best game, a six-catch, 119-yard performance against Clemson. Bruce Ellington (5’9″) leads the team in receptions (38) and yards (564) and also has six touchdowns. He had back-to-back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas. Lattimore had the third-most receptions on the team prior to going down, while Miles has 16, 10 of which came in the final three games. Tight end Rory Anderson is third on the team with five touchdowns, though he has caught just 13 passes, while fellow tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 receptions for 287 yards.

The offensive line is ok but not great. They are big and athletic, averaging about 320 pounds, and are built to manhandle defensive linemen. But they have allowed 35 sacks on the season and haven’t given the Gamecocks much of a rush offense once Lattimore went down. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines have recorded just 19 sacks all season and may not be able to take advantage of this weakness.

Look for Carolina to try to force Michigan to stop the run at first, to see if Michigan’s defensive line can stop an SEC rushing game. Also expect the old ball coach to let Thompson try to pick apart the Michigan secondary with an underneath passing game, getting the ball to playmakers in space. Also, expect them to test Courtney Avery often, who is filling in for the suspended J.T. Floyd.

Devin Gardner will have to be decisive with Jadeveon Clowney coming after him

When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, SC has the better rush defense and Michigan has the better pass defense and Michigan gives up an average of just one fewer total yards per game. Both defenses hold opponents to 36 percent third-down conversion rate.

All of the talk heading into the game centers around the matchup between Michigan All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and SC’s All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney led the nation 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss and is already talking about contending for the Heisman Trophy next season. He’s the type of freak athlete that NFL teams will love to get their hands on when he enters the NFL Draft following the 2013 season. A lot of pressure will be on Lewan to hold him in check, which virtually no one has been able to do all season, and keep the combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner upright.

But Clowney isn’t the only good player the Gamecocks have on defense. The other end, Devin Taylor, has three sacks and eight tackles for loss and is a good athlete. The interior is merely average, although Michigan’s interior offensive line is just average as well, which will negate any advantage in the interior run game.

The linebackers, led by senior middle linebacker Reggie Bowens, are solid. DeVonte Holloman is a playmaker at the Spur position and free safety D.J. Swearinger is good in run support. The rest of the secondary is made up of aggressive ball hawks that are good cover men, but tend to try to make the big play or strip the ball rather than make the tackle, which leads to extra yards.

For Michigan’s offense to have any success at all, it’s going to have to feature the creativity that Al Borges displayed in the Iowa game. Michigan isn’t going to be able to line up and run right at the Gamecocks or simply rely on Gardner dropping back to pass often. He’ll have Cloweny or Taylor in his face all day. Denard is going to have to line up all over the field and be used in several different ways, both as a playmaker and a decoy. Most importantly, Borges has to show, or at least make the defense believe that Denard can and will pass the ball anytime he has it in his hands. That wasn’t the case against Ohio State and the Buckeyes shut him down in the second half.

The other third

Rushing Attempts: 19 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 78 – Denard will pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd in career rushing yards. With 88, he will pass West Virginia’s Pat White (2005-08) for the NCAA FBS record for career rushing yards by a quarterback.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will tie Tyrone Wheatley for 3rd in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Receiving Yards: 8 – Roy Roundtree will pass Tai Streets for 6th in career receiving yards. With 34 he will pass Mario Manningham for 5th. With 41 he will pass David Terrell for 4th.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 2 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Kicker Adam Yates made 11 of 15 attempts with a long of 51. He also had two blocked. Punter Tyler Hull averaged just 39.4 yards per punt, which ranked last in the SEC. Where the Gamecocks are dangerous is on punt returns. Ace Sanders ranks fourth nationally with an average of 14.5 yards per punt return. By comparison, Gallong averages just 5.5. Sanders returned one for a touchdown and is capable of doing so at any time. Ellington is the kick returner and is merely average at 22.2 yards per.

Prediction

The outcome of this game rests squarely on Borges and his ability to find enough offensive creativity to negate Clowney. The good thing is he had five weeks to gameplan and practice with Denard in various packages and formations, as opposed to trying to throw him in during a normal game week. Denard should be much more familiar with the offense from a variety of spots than he was against Iowa or Ohio State. I think this gives Michigan an advantage over South Carolina because the Gamecocks really don’t know how Borges will utilize Denard. It’s not like they have 12 games worth of tape to study.

There won’t be much scoring in this one and. Expect a similar score as last year’s Sugar Bowl. Borges’ offense may work well early in the game, giving Michigan hope, but it will be important to sustain it as Carolina adjusts. If Lewan and Michael Schofield can’t keep Clowney and Taylor out of the backfield, it could be a long day for Michigan.

Defensively, there likely won’t be many big plays given up as SC will run right at Michigan and dink and dunk underneath. Aside from the Lewan-Clowney matchup, the Spurrier-Greg Mattison matchup will be very intriguing as both are considere masterminds on their respective side of the ball. Will Mattison be able to adjust to a multiple quarterback offense?

Overall, it will be a close game with neither team pulling away, but short of Michigan executing flawlessly on offense, it’s hard to see the Wolverines pulling it out. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20

Forecast Friday: Michigan vs. Illinois

Saturday, November 6th, 2010


After losses to Michigan State and Iowa in weeks six and seven, I assumed those were simply because those two teams were much better than Michigan this season, but Michigan was catching up. After last week’s dismantling at the hands of a very injured and average Penn State squad, it’s apparent that this Michigan team isn’t quite as far a long as most had thought.

The offense has done its part, ranking 19th in points per game (35.4), 4th in total offense (518.4 yards), and 8th in rushing yards (275.5). But the defense has been the Achilles heel, surrendering 30 points per game.

Michigan vs. Illinois
Block M logo Sat. Nov. 6
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
5-3 Record 5-3
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Wins S. Illinois 35-3
N. Illinois 28-22
Penn State 33-13
Indiana 43-13
Purdue 44-10
#17 Mich. State 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
Losses Missouri 13-23
#2 Ohio State 13-24
#13 Mich. State 6-26
35.4 Scoring Offense 26.9
275.5 Rushing YPG 194.4
242.9 Passing YPG 143.1
518.4 Total Offense 337.5
30.0 Scoring Defense 16.8
149.8 Rush Defense YPG 117.5
290.5 Pass Defense YPG 183.9
440.2 Total Defense YPG 301.4
9 Takeaways 15
12 Giveaways 15
12/3 Sacks By/Allowed 15/16
47/101 (47%) Third-down Conv. 39/103 (38%)
3/9 Field Goals 15/17
36.8 Net Punt Avg. 40.2

It’s not going to get any better this week as Michigan lost sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd to a season-ending ankle injury. The already young and thin safety is now left with toddlers. True freshman Courtney Avery will most likely fill Floyd’s starting spot, meaning at least three true freshmen will be in the starting lineup against Illinois.

We can talk about excuses or who’s fault it is that Michigan is in this predicament all we want, but the fact of the matter is, in the Big Ten or any other conference, starting multiple true freshman is not a recipe for success. Yet, that’s what has to be done in order for Michigan to win at least another game to become bowl eligible and perhaps save head coach Rich Rodriguez’s job.

Time is running out for Rodriguez to achieve bowl eligibility, with only four games to play, and only the next two seem even remotely winnable at this point: Illinois and Purdue.

Illinois is an interesting comparison to this year’s Michigan squad. Last year, the Illini went 3-9 and many in Champagne were calling for head coach Ron Zook’s head. A year later, Zook has the nation’s 15th-ranked defense leading a 5-3 record.

In the first week of the season, when Illinois lost to Missouri 23-13, I figured this would be another typical Illini team. But no one knew at that time that Mizzou would become a top-ten team, which in hindsight, makes that loss look a little better.

Illinois’ defense makes up for an average offense, which averages 337.5 yards and 26.9 points per game. The offense is lead by freshman quarterback Nate Scheelhaase and junior running back Mikel Leshoure. Both are dynamic players that could tear up Michigan’s defense.

LeShoure is the conference’s fourth best rusher, with 97.5 yards per game and six touchdowns. He had 100-plus yard rushing games in four of the first five games, but had just 23 yards on 15 carries last week against Purdue.

Prior to last week, I would have said that Scheelhaase didn’t scare me, given that he ranks last in the Big Ten in passing with just 137.4 yards per game. But if Penn State walk-on Matt McGloin can shred Michigan’s defense, then Scheelhaase could be in for the game of his life.

Michigan will have its hands full tomorrow and will have to play flawlessly on offense if it wants to gain that ever-elusive sixth win.

In its five wins, Michigan’s offense averaged 565 yards and 41.4 points per game, turning the ball over just five times. But in three losses, the offense has averaged slightly less, as 440.7 yards and 25.3 points, turning the ball over seven times.

Much of that can be attributed to starting the Big Ten schedule, but the turnovers and mistakes that the Wolverines did such a good job avoiding in the first five games have plagued the offense as of late.

Michigan turned the ball over three times against Michigan State and four times against Iowa. For a team with such a porous defense, the offense can’t afford to squander opportunities, and that’s especially important this week against a top-20 defense.

Before the season, I penned this as one of Michigan’s seven wins, but when I compare the two teams now, I’m not nearly as confident. Last week’s beatdown in Happy Valley shook any confidence I had about this team.

Illinois played Ohio State tough a few weeks ago, then thumped Penn State 33-13, but then got hammered by Michigan State 26-6. In that game, Illinois led 6-3 at halftime before Michigan State woke up and outscored the Illini 23-0 in the second half.

Prediction:

Leshoure will run for 100 yards and Scheelhaase will be effective enough to put some points up. Illinois did a pretty good job of stopping Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor a few weeks ago (he did run for over 100 yards, but threw for just 76) and will hold Denard Robinson in check. He’ll still get his yards but I wouldn’t expect the type of game we came to expect from Shoelace in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Michigan won’t be able to find the end zone enough to keep up with the Illini.

Illinois 33 – Michigan 24

From Their View….

Hail to the Orange better be careful what it wishes for, The Daily Illini features some quotes from Scheelhaase that indicate he thinks Michigan actually has a defense, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells what to watch for tomorrow, The Sports Bank on Chicago Now predicts an Illini blowout and says Stephen Schilling is following in the footsteps of Jake Long and Obi Ezeh “will get some looks” (WTF?).

Meet Your 2010 Recruiting Class: The Cornerbacks

Sunday, February 28th, 2010


National Signing Day came and went with Michigan making a huge late-minute splash, adding four-star safety Demar Dorsey from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. The 6’1″, 175lb. star originally committed to Florida before backing out and eventually choosing the Wolverines, giving Michigan a very solid safety class.

Who are the rest of the high school seniors that round out the class? Here’s a breakdown by position of the defensive side of the ball. Due to the size of the defensive class, this will be broken into four posts: the defensive line, the linebackers, the cornerbacks, and the safeties.

Cornerbacks (3)

Cornerback Cullen Christian

Cornerback Cullen Christian

CULLEN CHRISTIAN
Height: 6-0
Weight: 180
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Penn. (Penn Hills)
Rivals Rank: #8 CB (4-star)
Scout Rank: #3 CB (4-star)
ESPN Rank: #18 CB (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: West Virginia, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Illinois, Purdue, Cincinnati, Colorado, Minnesota, Boston College.
How He Fits In: Christian is an elite cover corner with great hands, good size, and solid fluidity. He has the ability to become Michigan’s next great corner and is exactly what Michigan needs immediately due to the lack of depth at the position. The only thing he lacks is elite speed, but that’s something he can work on, and his lockdown ability can make up for it. He could play right away if the coaches feel he’s ready come fall camp. Probably the best comparison is Marlin Jackson, and if Christian can live up to that comparison, good things are in store for Michigan.

Cornerback Courtney Avery

Cornerback Courtney Avery

COURTNEY AVERY
Height: 5-10
Weight: 165
Hometown: Lexington, Ohio (Lexington)
Rivals Rank: NR (3-star)
Scout Rank: #35 CB (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #94 CB (2-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Stanford, Indiana, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Bowling Green.
How He Fits In: Avery is somewhat of a wild card. He is very quick and athletic, but lacks ideal size for a corner, and played mostly quarterback in high school, where he earned first-team all-state honors. He adds depth to the position, but won’t play right away. If he can develop his cover skills, he could see playing time in a couple of years.

Cornerback Terrence Talbot

Cornerback Terrence Talbot

TERRENCE TALBOTT
Height: 5-10
Weight: 172
Hometown: Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)
Rivals Rank: NR (3-star)
Scout Rank: #108 CB (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #33 CB (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Connecticut, North Carolina.
How He Fits In: Talbott is the brother of defensive tackle commit Terry Talbott. Like Avery, he lacks ideal size, but he makes up for that with his cover skills and vertical jumping ability. He has goos speed, plays physical for his size, and has fluid hips, which is important for a good corner. A year of redshirting should prepare him well to see the field in a couple of years and he could become a solid contributor.