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The top ten moments from Signing of the Stars

Friday, February 5th, 2016


It’s been more than 24 hours since Jim Harbaugh and Michigan took over National Signing Day. The Wolverines got started at 8:13 a.m., when Nate Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the Maize and Blue, and went nonstop until Devin Asiasi pulled out the block M cap at 3:32 p.m.

That’s seven hours and 19 minutes of Michigan football on full blast, and it’s nowhere near the start of the season.

Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, let’s take a look back at the event that highlighted it all: The Signing of the Stars. Whether you love it or hate it, you know Harbaugh hit the ball out of the park on Wednesday. All eyes were on Ann Arbor as the Wolverines pulled in virtually every single signing day target on their board.

I’ll count down what I thought were the top 10 moments of the first (of many) Signing of the Stars.

10. Celebrities call in to hype up Michigan football

Big Sean

When it seems like the stage can’t get any bigger, Jim Harbaugh finds a way to blow it out of the water. Sure, there were more than 20 well-known celebrities in Hill Auditorium, but why stop there?

The Signing of the Stars featured video call-ins from the likes of Owen Wilson, Big Sean, and even Verne Troyer. Seriously, Verne Troyer? Somehow, Harbaugh convinced the 2-foot-8 comedian to congratulate the incoming class while his entire head was drowned in a Winged Helmet.

Then Owen Wilson, who’s connection to the university was that he “played a character that had a Michigan degree once,” popped onto the screen and played the fight song on his cellphone. Future generations won’t remember Wilson as the actor from Wedding Crashers or The Internship. They’ll hear his name and say “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Signing of the Stars?”

But even Troyer and Wilson couldn’t top Big Sean. The world-famous rapper jumped onto the screen completely draped in Maize and Blue gear. While the rest of us were staring at the block M on his hat and jacket, Big Sean introduced a recruit from his own hometown: Michael Onwenu. How cool is it that a kid who chose Michigan over MSU got to be introduced by one of the city’s most famous living hometown heroes? Coincidence? Obviously not. It’s just another recruiting tool that Harbaugh can use during future in-state recruiting wars.

9. Quinn Nordin calls in with his family

Quinn Nordin

For months Michigan fans have heard the name Quinn Nordin thrown around on message boards and social media. Even when the four-star kicker (that’s right, a four-star kicker!) was committed to Penn State, it was almost a given that he would end up donning the Maize and Blue.

On Wednesday, just hours after making his decision official, Nordin joined the Signing of the Stars on screen with his entire family to introduce himself to the Michigan faithful. This marked the end of the recruiting journey that gave us round one of Harbaugh vs. James Franklin and the unforgettable post-dead-period sleepover.

Jim Harbaugh wanted this kicker, so Jim Harbaugh got this kicker. Boot ’em straight, Quinn.

8. Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock team up on stage

Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock

Harbaugh brought a whole host of former Michigan players to participate on Wednesday, but no duo better captured the moment that former quarterbacks Robinson and Rudock.

Denard Robinson, who played in one of the most all-around disappointing eras in Michigan football history, made the Wolverines watchable during his four years on the field. The hyper-athletic, just-go-out-and-play makeup of Robinson made him an easy player to root for and endeared him to a fanbase that hasn’t seen many dual threat quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, Robinson took the podium with a player who, not unlike himself, helped carry an offense that would’ve otherwise been mediocre (or completely lost, in Robinson’s case) without him. Rudock only spent one season with Michigan, but his improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season was so great it can’t be described in a paragraph of socially-acceptable length as the No. 8 ranking in a list.

Robinson kept a reeling football program afloat and Rudock helped steer it back on track. Watching them introduce a whole new group of Michigan men brought the last decade full circle.

7. “Who’s got it better than us?”

Harbaugh %22Go Blue%22

In his short 13 months in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has offered no end of quirky quotes. He told us that artificial sweeteners are not, in fact, safe. And that he would run for president of the United States with Wale as his partner. He even revealed that worms with machine guns (assuming they are loaded) would no longer be afraid of birds.

All of those comments are just Harbaugh-isms. You can’t hope to understand them, you can only bask in their pure glory and absurdity. But when Harbaugh asks, “Who’s got it better than us?” he’s in a really, really good mood.

That was the case on Wednesday as he stood in front of some 3,000 Michigan die-hards and asked his favorite question. The responding “Nooooooobody!” echoed around Hill Auditorium as one of the country’s top recruiting class fell into place.

It’s only been 13 months, but Harbaugh’s already got his trademark punchline. Luckily, Michigan Nation loves it.

6. Ric Flair reveals his deep Michigan loyalty

Ric Flair

The whole bizarre, out-of-nowhere professional wrestling fascination evolving from Harbaugh’s declaration that he would love to have Wrestle Mania in the Big House hit a peak Wednesday when Ric Flair professed his love for the University of Michigan.

Flair got the crowd fired up as only he could, yelling about Michigan football and releasing one of his trademark “WOOO”s after saying he’d never wanted to leave Ann Arbor. But his best quote of the speech, and one of the funniest moments of the event, came near the end of his time on stage.

“I’m BLUE baby,” Flair shouted into the microphone. “I can’t STAND Ohio State. Ain’t got no TIME for Michigan State.”

We wanted Ric Flair, and we got Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be a speech from a professional wrestler without an unprompted shot at the common enemy in the room. It only makes it funnier that his jibe came while Columbus and East Lansing were grinding their teeth at how much attention Michigan was garnering.

Oh the disrespekt.

5. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady share the same couch

Jeter and Brady

Am I the only one who noticed how much athletic greatness was shoved onto that one couch? I mean, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest infielders of all time and he was only the second-best athlete sitting on that piece of black leather.

With more than half a cushion available, there were still 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs scored, 1,311 RBI, 260 home runs, 58,028 passing yards and 445 total touchdowns on that couch. Between the two, Jeter and Brady own 10 major sports championships (five World Series titles, four Super Bowl rings and a college football national title).

Watching the early enrollees as Jeter and Brady talked about sports right in front of them was a cool sight, and Harbaugh will place that into his already-loaded recruiting arsenal.

4. Devin Gardner leads The Victors

Gardner(MGoBlue.com)

Devin Gardner was probably one of the most unfairly treated players in recent Michigan history during his time on the field. When he had some semblance of a team around him in the second half of 2012, he looked like a pretty strong quarterback. But when the 2012 class graduated and left Gardner with a sieve of an offensive line and a head coach on his way out, the odds were stacked heavily against him.

Despite all of the boos and criticism he received as a player, Gardner is always around the Michigan program. He attends all the events and voices his support of a school that waited until after he left to become the most exciting sports landing spot on the planet.

So it makes sense that when Gardner took the stage on Wednesday, he did so with a huge smile on his face and forced the full audience, including notorious Notre Dame slappy Lou Holtz, to sing The Victors. Some of the guests were clearly uncomfortable on stage, but Gardner was a proud representative of the school and his simple gesture turned into one of the best moments of the night.

3. Jim Harbaugh discreetly learns Rashan Gary’s decision

The Signing of the Stars was great, securing commitments from Nordin, Washington, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill was great, but the biggest story of the day was always No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary’s decision.

Harbaugh couldn’t say anything about Gary during the party because of NCAA rules, but that almost made the whole process even more entertaining. Video of Harbaugh watching the decision go down on Mike Tirico’s smart phone and then calmly fist pumping and waltzing back onto the stage is priceless. The guy had just secured perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in Michigan history and he had to just go sit quietly on a couch.

Sure, everybody knew what happened, and Harbaugh even disclosed that he “got some good news backstage,” but watching one of the most enthusiastic men on the planet sit quietly after hearing the most exciting news of his college coaching career was pretty awesome.

A moment that didn’t get captured on camera while Todd McShay was breaking down film of running back commit Kareem Walker, Harbaugh walked back onto the stage and whispered to his assembled early-enrollees and gave them all fist bumps. The crowd of course picked up on this and their cheer that seemed random on the live stream now makes sense.

2. Dabbing

Jim Leyland dab

As it tends to do at all headline sporting events nowadays, dabbing played a major role in the Signing of the Stars.

First, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell hit a perfect dab on stage after being called up to discuss his first few weeks in Ann Arbor. Mitchell is one of the most outspoken recruits in the class, so making a move in the spotlight was right up his alley.

Then, in an internet-shattering meeting between crusty MLB manager and trendy hip hop group, Jim Leyland turned the world on its head by hitting a well-rehearsed dab with his new buddies Quavo and Takeoff cheering him on. Was it the most beautiful dab in the world? No. Did it almost look like a well-timed sneeze? Yes. But Jim Leyland dabbed with two rap artists and nobody can take that away from him.

Lou Holtz’s dab was just as beautiful, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering. After stumbling out to the middle of the stage to ensure everyone he’d sang the Michigan fight song, Holtz dabbed with Harbaugh to the glee of six nearby 18-year-old future Michigan football players.

What a time to be alive.

1. Chad Tough tribute

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

One of the underlying benefits of Signing of the Stars is that it raised money for the ChadTough Foundation. The event was not held to be a fundraiser, but to honor Michigan’s nearly 30 new football players. That being said, the tribute to Chad and the persevering cause dedicated in his name turned into perhaps the best moment of the night.

There are many who’ve criticized Michigan for involving the charity in Wednesday’s proceedings. They say Michigan used the charity to deflect criticism of the event. To be blunt, those people are being very stupid.

The ChadTough tribute at the end of the Signing of the Stars capped off a festive day in which Michigan celebrated its stars old and new. I thought it came off as genuine and gave a platform to an issue that’s trying desperately to raise awareness.

Michigan never advertised the Signing of the Stars as a charity event. No, Harbaugh was clear that Wednesday was a day to celebrate Michigan’s new recruiting class. The fact that over $100,000 was also raised toward the cause was just icing on the cake.

Chad’s story puts things in perspective, especially on a day when thousands of people came together to celebrate teenagers committing to a football team. Sure it sounds strange, but it was a slam dunk for Harbaugh, who not only brought great exposure to the program but also gave recruits another reason to consider the Maize and Blue.

Dozens of young men were honored during the Signing of the Stars, none more important than young Chad Carr.

Signing of the Stars shines spotlight on Michigan football

Thursday, February 4th, 2016


Signing of the Stars(MGoBlue.com)

Dense fog blanketing Interstate-94 from Chicago to Ann Arbor in the wee hours of Wednesday morning provided an apt metaphor for the current state of Michigan football. I knew the destination was ahead, but could only see a few feet at a time. As long as I stayed the course I would get to where I was going, despite the vast unseen in between.

By Wednesday afternoon, a good portion of the fog separating the Michigan program from where it stands now to where it wants to be had been lifted as Jim Harbaugh polished off a top-five recruiting class in style with a star-studded event in Hill Auditorium. The one-of-a-kind Signing of the Stars event was streamed live via The Players’ Tribune, drawing a large audience and making Michigan the talk of the college football world on National Signing Day.

During the two hour event seven early-enrollees were introduced by duos of celebrities, resembling an awards show like the ESPYs or the Oscars. Each player walked up onto the stage to applause from the audience, similar to NFL Draft day. Their highlight reels were then broken down by a panel of experts made up of ESPN analyst Todd McShay, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

“That was originally Harbaugh’s idea,” said Matthew Mills, the founder and executive producer of Spacestation, the New York-based production agency that produced the event. “We were told that they wanted something that felt like a combination of NFL Draft day, College GameDay, and an awards show. And I think we delivered that.”

The members of the 2016 recruiting class that were on hand to be celebrated for the night agreed.

Carlo Kemp(MGoBlue.com)

“It felt like NFL Draft day, sitting in your seat and waiting to hear your name called to go say your two lines and stand up there with Coach Harbaugh,” said defensive end Carlo Kemp, who enrolled a month ago. “It was like waiting to get drafted.”

Former Michigan quarterback and current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson, who along with fellow former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, was among the day’s presenters, echoed that sentiment.

“It was crazy because during the pre-runs for the whole thing it was kind of funny looking and you’re like ‘how’s this going to set up, how’s it going to be?’ and now you see it and it’s like ‘wow!’ It’s a great idea,” Robinson said. “It’s almost like draft day. You’ve got guys announcing you, you’ve got guys breaking down your highlights, it’s like getting drafted. You come to Michigan for things like this and to get drafted because a lot of people get drafted from this school.”

Per Mills, as Michigan worked to confirm celebrity attendees, who ranged from Tom Brady and Derek Jeter to Josh Gracin and Migos, other celebrities were “coming out of the woodwork” to ask to participate. So much so that Mills and Michigan couldn’t fit them all into the program. Instead, they filmed video montages of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Robert Patrick, Dick Enberg, Verne Troyer and many more congratulating the recruiting class.

“Usually (coaches) sit by the fax machine and the coach stands up and talks and usually says the same kind of things, so I wanted to do something different, wanted to do something awesome,” Harbaugh said after the event.

SotS(MGoBlue.com)

Although he was traveling across the country, climbing trees, sleeping at recruits’ homes, and attending classes with them, Harbaugh was involved with the planning throughout the process, said Mills.

“He contributed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We took our cue from him in that regard. He said ‘make this bold and give people something unique’, and I think we gave them that. He was very involved in the process and the creative process. We were giving him briefs about ‘we’d like to do this, we’d like to do that’ and he would say yea or nay or he would amplify something. He was very collaborative and we just had a blast working with him.”

It was a grand spectacle that provided water cooler talk in offices nationwide, some good and some who thought it was over the top. But those who will take notice the most are still in high school and Harbaugh will be battling for their commitments in the years to come.

“Sixteen and 17 year old kids are going to love this,” Kemp said. “I mean, if I knew this was going to happen I probably would have committed even earlier. It’s awesome, it was great. I’m glad to be a part of it and I’ll remember February 3, 2016 for the rest of my life.”

Robinson, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, concurred.

“I think it’s a big deal. It’s going to put us back on the map a little bit. This was a great idea to have guys come out like this. We’ve had so many celebrities come out, actually announcing these guys, so it’s big. I mean as an 18-year old you’ve got Derek Jeter announcing you, Tom Brady announcing you, Ric Flair, Desmond Howard. They get to announce you when you’re 18 years old. It means everything and coming to Michigan is going to be a great opportunity.”

But in addition to celebrating a top five recruiting class, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer, an issue that has gripped the Michigan family since last year. Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr passed away on Nov. 23 after a battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG).

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

While Harbaugh’s recruiting tactics have drawn criticism from rival coaches, players, and fans, there was no more telling moment than shortly after 1pm. As the nation’s consensus top recruit, Rashan Gary, whom Harbaugh and his staff had been courting for over a year, was announcing his commitment to Michigan over Clemson live on ESPNU, Harbaugh wasn’t glued to a television set or a smartphone. He wasn’t backstage working the phones. He wasn’t eagerly awaiting a text message or a call or a tweet.

No, he was standing on stage, flanked by his wife Sarah to his right and Tammi Carr to his left. He was telling the 3,500 fans in attendance and the rest of the country watching the live stream the importance of a five year old kid, urging them to visit ChadToug.org and donate to help fund research that may someday save other kids like Chad who suffer from DIPG.

Word of Gary’s commitment spread through the Hill Auditorium crowd as they wiped their damp eyes — a poignant reminder of what matters most.

Jim Harbaugh’s party guests, ranked

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016


Harbaugh(Getty Images)

Jim Harbaugh sure knows how to throw a party.

Whether it’s a sleepover on the floor of a high school senior’s bedroom, an appearance on Judge Judy, or a National Signing Day celebration, Harbaugh only knows how to do it one way.

He does it BIG.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh will return from a fortnight of country-wide tree climbing and birthday cake baking to officially welcome his first full recruiting class to the halls of the Maize and Blue. But he won’t be sitting beside the fax machine, chewing his fingernails in anticipation of LOIs from high school players.

Instead, Jim Harbaugh will be hosting a few special guests.

What kind of guests? I’m glad you asked.

From current NFL stars to pop culture idols to chain-smoking former MLB managers, this party is sure to have it all. Naturally, I’m going to put these guests into a special edition of the M&GB power rankings (we’ll be sure to update this list as soon as Donald Trump and Bruce Jenner RSVP).

20. Todd McShay
Todd McShay

It’s only fitting that our list kicks off with a savvy little under-the-radar invite from Harbaugh. Although McShay isn’t exactly an American household name, he fits two of the major criteria that 21st Century recruits crave: national television and the NFL.

What better way for Harbaugh to compliment his NFL pedigree than bringing in half of ESPN’s draft debating duo? McShay is an immediate reminder that playing for Harbaugh means a chance to move on to the next level — just ask Jake Rudock.

19. Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz

Thpeaking of sporth broadcathterth, Lou Holth ith altho heading to Ann Arbor. Holtz adds something even Harbaugh doesn’t have to the party: A college football national championship.

If you can look past his “Notre Dame is still 1940s dominant” mentality and the fact that he once compared Rich Rodriguez to Adolph Hitler on national television, Holtz is actually a pretty nice addition.

Just don’t ask him to blow out the candles on the cake.

18. Derek Holland

Derek Holland(AP)

For the non-baseball fanatics, Holland is one of the hidden gems on this guest list. Sure, a simple ESPN search will tell you he’s a soft-throwing, oft-injured southpaw with mediocre career stats. But off the field, Holland has the social arsenal to be the life of the party.

As the five-star recruits pour in from all over the country, Holland can christen their unity with Ann Arbor in the soothing drawl of Harry Caray or the dulcet tones of Tim Kurkjian. Holland’s impression game is so strong, he even does impressions of celebrities doing impressions of other celebrities.

How did this unlikely union between Holland and Harbaugh come to be? It all started on a fateful August evening in downtown Detroit. Harbaugh was set to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game, and Holland was in right field wearing a Winged Helmet. The rest is a story for another time.

17. Jack Kennedy
Jack Kennedy

No, not THAT Jack Kennedy.

Among the Michigan football alums returning for this remarkable gathering is one of the most efficient passers in the school’s history. Kennedy finished his Michigan career with a perfect completion percentage and an average of six yards per rush.

Even more impressively, the quarterback-turned-rapper opened for Lil’ Wayne back in June when Weezy came to Joe Louis Arena. If he can rock the “Big Show at the Joe,” he can probably handle Hill Auditorium.

16. Randy Sklar
Randy Sklar

Randy Sklar enters the party as a rare five-tool social talent. He went to Michigan, joined a frat, worked for ESPN, became a professional comedian, and appeared on several huge T.V. shows. Harbaugh just couldn’t pass on such a well-rounded talent.

Sklar appeared on shows like CSI, Law & Order, Entourage, Grey’s Anatomy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He’ll be asked to play the charismatic Michigan-salesman on this episode of Signing of the Stars.

15. Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland(Ronald Martinez)

Ah yes, the Skipper. Can you imagine a conversation between these two Jims? Harbaugh would put so much effort into understanding Leyland’s mumbling and bumbling that he’d probably blow a gasket. Harbaugh’s post-talk slap on the back would send the former Tigers manager to his knees.

Luckily, Hill Auditorium has exits to the left, right, and center of the main entrance, so Leyland can avoid most of the young’uns and take plenty of smoke breaks.

14. Jon Jansen
Jon Jansen(Taylor Baucom, The Players’ Tribune)

Jansen is valuable in that he brings an almost Harbaugh-level enthusiasm for Michigan football. As emcee of the Michigan Football Bust last year, he brought an enthusiasm unknown to mankind in his sendoff for Coach Brady Hoke.

Jansen adds to the NFL experience in the room. He was drafted in the second round in 1999 and played 137 games on the offensive line.

13. Jessica Szohr
Jessica Szohr

If you were starting to think, ‘Wow, there are a lot of dudes going to this party,’ fear not, because Jessica Szohr will also make an appearance.

I won’t even pretend that I know how Harbaugh managed to bring Szohr to Ann Arbor for this event. Maybe she’s an undercover hardcore football fan? Or simply couldn’t say no to Harbaugh’s boyish charm?

Either way, Szohr has some impressive credentials. Her biggest role was Vanessa Abrams — which I think will especially appeal to Gossip Girl diehards like Rashan Gary — and even guest starred in an episode of Drake and Josh, which takes the cake for me.

12. Mayer Hawthorne
mayer-hawthorne

Now that I’ve done a little research and confirmed that Mayer Hawthorne isn’t actually a mayor, I think he’s a strong addition to Harbaugh’s party list.

Lame jokes aside, this guy is all over the music industry. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, and DJ and he plays a ton of instruments. I’m not sure how Harbaugh got in touch with the Mayer, but it’s another notch on his popularity belt.

11. Josh Gracin
Josh Gracin

Let’s face it, country music has made a huge comeback over the last several years and it’s not going away.

Not only is Josh Gracin a product of Westland, Michigan, but he also went to school at Western before joining the Marine Corps. He’s a big-name musician in his prime and that’s a major plus on National Signing Day.

Oh yeah, and he picked up bonus points for being on American Idol way back when it was cool. There’s no shame in losing to the likes of Clay Aiken.

10. Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth

It’s almost like Harbaugh is trying to collect the best of the best in every sport (or activity). Hellmuth has a record 14 World Series of Poker bracelets and won the Main Event in 1989 and the World Series of Poker Europe in 2012.

The Poker Brat might just sit at a table in the corner with his sunglasses on, staring menacingly at the rest of the room with his fingers interlocked, but anyone who musters up the courage to start a conversation with him will surely learn a lot about overreaction and intimidation.

9. David Portnoy
Milton, MA 022511 Dave Portnoy (cq) is the publisher of Barstool Sports empire which he puts out his Milton office. He and his blogger / vlogger Jenna Mourey (cq) were photographed at his office on February 25, 2011. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET

This is one of the unbelievably amazing names that might be unappreciated on the list. El Presidente did the entire world a huge favor when he started Barstool Sports and he’s one of the best follows on Twitter.

Portney will be an easier guy to approach at the party, but I think a conversation with him will be the most entertaining on campus. This’ll also be a bit of a reunion for Portney, who went to high school with McShay in Massachusetts.

8. Denard Robinson

(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

He may not be the biggest name on this list, but there’s no way Shoelace wasn’t making my top 10.

Denard Robinson was the single player who made watching Michigan football bearable from 2009-2012. In an offensive era defined by terrible coaching and broken plays, Denard turned bad snaps and missed blocks into 60-yard touchdown runs. He was the best athlete every time he took the field, and didn’t make a peep when he lost his starting job due to injury.

And in a world of domestic violence, drunk driving, and banned substance abuse, it’s refreshing to remember a character like Denard Robinson.

7. Migos
Migos

All you need to know about this hip hop trio is they call themselves Migos and their names are Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff. They work under the former manager for Gucci Mane, which I think makes them pretty cool, and I’m sure Harbaugh heard their name on the recruiting trail a few times.

Hey, they’re no 2 Chainz, but they’ll have to do.

6. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski(Geoff Burke, Getty Images)

I’m certainly not much of a NASCAR expert, but a quick Google search told me Keselowski finished seventh in the Sprint Cup standings last season.

If top 10 is good enough for Harbaugh, it’ll be good enough for the recruits. Keselowski has won at some of the biggest racetracks in the country and even has a Sprint Cup championship under his belt. As NASCAR’s biggest Michigan football fan, he’ll fit right in.

5. Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan(Getty Images)

We’re getting down into elite territory now, and my top 5 will start with the most accomplished coach attending the event.

Shanahan has been out of the NFL for a few years now, but his nearly two decades of head coaching experience is highlighted by three Super Bowl championships and 178 career wins.

In a building full of football fanatics, Shanahan’s three rings will shine even brighter than Quavo’s chains.

4. Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard

This was probably the easiest sell of the year for Harbaugh, but that doesn’t take away from how valuable Howard’s presence will be.

Howard is one of the greatest players in Michigan history as a Heisman Trophy winner and author of one of the program’s most memorable moments. He’s an unabashed homer for the Wolverines on the most popular football pregame show in the world and won’t hesitate to do whatever he can to help Harbaugh in his pursuit of the best players in the country.

Des will give new Michigan players an early taste of what Ann Arbor love really looks like.

3. Ric Flair
Ric Flair

Ever since Harbaugh said he would love to host WrestleMania at the Big House, he’s been a popular guy in professional wrestling circles. He specifically said he wanted to referee a bout between Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, which likely kicked off the relationship that brought the former wrestler onto this list.

Wrestling isn’t as popular as it used to be, but Harbaugh’s sudden in with pro wrestlers is one of the things that is so Harbaugh you can’t help but admire it. Flair, like Keselowski and Holland, demonstrates another corner of the sporting world Harbaugh has taken over.

2. Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter

Every fanbase has its crowned jewels, and Derek Jeter is one Michigan fans hold close to their hearts. When Jeter shows his support for the Wolverines, Michigan football gains even more credibility.

It couldn’t have been difficult to get Jeter to Ann Arbor for this party after he spent a full night partying at Rick’s in the fall. The Captain also came to the Big House for a game this season and stood on the Michigan sideline. It’s obvious that Harbaugh is working to keep Michigan’s most famous fans in the loop.

1. Tom Brady
Tom Brady(AP)

Nobody on this list even comes close to matching Tom Brady. Even though he only started for two seasons at Michigan and fell to the 6th round of the NFL draft, Brady is one of the greatest players to ever step on the field.

When Brady walks into the hall with his four Super Bowl rings, two MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowls, and nearly 60,000 career passing yards, he’ll be the absolute center of attention. Brady alone has turned half the state of Michigan into devoted Patriots fans and when his face pops up on the Big House scoreboard, the responding cheer is unmatched.

Brady is probably the most loved Michigan player of all time, and might retire as the greatest football player in history, so he grabs the top spot on this star-studded list.

While the event is drawing big names from all corners of the sports and entertainment world, I would be remiss not to mention the ChadTough Foundation, which will be the biggest beneficiary of the event. Proceeds from tickets sold to the event will go to the foundation, and Michigan donor Ira Harris announced that he will match any donation at the event up to $50,000. Whether you’re going to the event, following The Players’ Tribune’s live stream, or stuck at work, head on over to the foundation’s website and make a donation to help fight DIPG.

Wednesday is sure to be a big day for Michigan football, wrapping up one of the top recruiting classes in the country with a party full of stars on hand and all benefiting a great cause.

Who’s got it better than us?

No-body!

The Michigan Medley breaks silence on the Brady Hoke/Shane Morris situation

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Hoke

I have refrained from posting or commenting about the fallout from the Minnesota game, both on this site and on Twitter to this point. It’s not because I didn’t want to or had nothing to say. As happens every now and then the real world stole my time, and since this is such a hot-button topic, I felt I would be doing it a disservice by commenting on it if I couldn’t commit my full attention to it. What a week for that to happen, huh?

Unlike the chorus of sudden Twitter doctors I wasn’t going to rush to conclusions and shout accusations without facts. And unlike other sites I wasn’t going to post controversial snippets and rumors just for clicks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging those in the know for answers, but I believe in doing due diligence before speaking, especially on a subject such as this.

That said, here’s my stance on everything that has transpired over the last few days.

On Brady Hoke and the Shane Morris injury

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hoke’s results on the field, but the criticisms about his character are flat out wrong. We have seen some of his former players come out publicly in support of Hoke and to defend his character and love for his players:


Other former players I’ve talked to since Saturday have backed that up as well. One didn’t agree with the way Hoke prepared him for the next level, but stood up for Hoke’s character, describing Hoke and his staff as “some of the most kind-hearted people you can meet…loving and very welcoming.” I have yet to find a former player who didn’t share that sentiment.

It’s easy from a fan’s point of view to watch what transpired on TV on Saturday and claim that Hoke knew Morris was concussed and put him back in. We had the benefit of instant replay and commentators stating their disgust for the handling of the situation. I was listening to the radio broadcast in the car at the time and had no idea there was even the possibility of a concussion until I got home and looked on Twitter. Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf said nothing about a head injury or a hit to the head and kept talking about him limping because of his ankle.

Shane Morris

Morris is held up by Ben Braden after getting hit (Getty Images)

On the field, Hoke and the rest of the staff didn’t see the close-ups and replays that were shown on TV. So when Hoke says he was following the pass down the field and didn’t see the hit, that makes complete sense. And in the aftermath of the play, going from would-be fourth down to now first down because of a roughing the passer penalty, the likeliness of Hoke not knowing about the head injury, or seeing Morris stumble into Ben Braden, is very, very probable. Like he said in his Monday press conference, it’s his job to coach, and regardless of whether or not anyone feels he’s doing a good job at that, it’s the medical staff’s job to determine and evaluate injuries.

So if you take Hoke’s word that he didn’t see the hit and Morris stumble into Braden, then when Morris waved off offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it would have been assumed that he felt he could still play based on his ankle injury. They pulled him one play later and he was evaluated by the trainers on the sideline.

As The Concussion Blog points out, coaches and trainers don’t step out onto the filed to remove a player that got up and “shook it off.” Had Morris stayed down, warranting an injury time out, the trainers would have come out, evaluated him, and removed him from the field. Or if he had come out after the hit and told the trainers his head hurt, this situation could have been avoided. But he didn’t. That’s not to say this was all his fault; that’s just the mindset of a player, especially when you consider that he was the backup quarterback getting his first start of the season, fighting to win the job. In retrospect, Morris should have stayed down or taken himself out in this instance, but you can’t fault him for not doing so. I have personally suffered a concussion in a high school soccer game many years ago and stayed in and finished the game. It’s in a player’s nature to shake off an injury and try to play through it.

So if Hoke didn’t see the Morris hit or see him stumble into Braden, and Morris waved off the staff trying to get him to come out of the game, when Devin Gardner had to come out for a play because of his helmet coming off, Hoke didn’t put Morris back in for a play to hand the ball off knowing he had a concussion. So let’s put to rest the vitriol directed towards Hoke about willingly playing a concussed player. If you want to argue whether or not he’s the right coach for Michigan, fine. But stop the baseless attacks on his character.

That said, there certainly was a breakdown in communication as someone should have seen the hit and stumble and relayed that to the training staff on the field. According to the statement released by Dave Brandon (more on that below), the team neurologist didn’t see the hit, but did see Morris stumble, and “determined he needed to head down to the sideline to evaluate Shane.” The breakdown appears to have been between the neurologist who saw the symptoms (stumble) and the team physicians who evaluated Morris for his ankle injury when he was taken out of the game a play after the big hit and determined he was okay to go back in the game for one play when Gardner’s helmet came off.

Brandon has promised changes to improve that communication in the future, such as having a dedicated physician staff in the box to review each play and look for injuries, and then be in contact with the on-field training staff about them. Hoke wearing a headset or not is irrelevant in the situation that occurred last Saturday. That, like this whole situation, is blown out of proportion because of the results on the field.

The public relations aftermath

The program did itself no favors in the aftermath of the situation, allowing it to balloon into a national story instead of getting out in front of it and killing it right away. Had the program or Brandon released a statement Saturday night or Sunday morning admitting the mistakes and promising to put new processes in place to prevent it from happening again, and allowed Hoke to be forthright in the Monday press conference, the story wouldn’t have gained so much traction.

As former Michigan athletic director Don Canham used to say, and John U. Bacon pointed out on Twitter, never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Michigan turned it into a story that is still all over the mainstream media by waiting until after midnight on Monday to release the statement. It became less about the situation that happened, and more about the final straw for those already wanting Brandon and Hoke ousted. Waiting more than two days to release the statement, and allowing Hoke to go into a press conference not answering questions about the injury and promising a statement from the medical staff, lost the public’s trust and made it look like Michigan was trying to cover it up.

By not killing the story up front, they allowed people to speculate about Brandon trying to persuade the medical staff to lie, Brandon and Hoke’s job status, secret meetings between the regents, and more. And it led to a student petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal and a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally in the Diag, which culminated outside the house of new university president Mark Schlissel. Then, of course, ESPN sent Joe Schad to campus to report throughout the day from in front of Schembechler Hall.

All of it has amounted to a major black eye for the university and the football program that could have been avoided — or at least greatly reduced — if handled properly.

The student rally

Rally at the diag(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Our own Derick Hutchinson attended the rally on Tuesday and wrote the following:

Hundreds of students milled around the diag on Tuesday evening to protest the actions of an athletic department that faces national scrutiny in the wake of Shane Morris’ handling against Minnesota. Students began the rally with chants of “Fire Brandon,” “We want Harbaugh,” and “Down with Dave.” By 6:20 there were at least 1,000 frustrated students in the small section of the Diag near the Graduate Library, some yelling and others walking around with signs.

Students rally outside president Schlissle's house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Students rally outside president Schlissel’s house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Perhaps the most noticeable fan stood in the center of the crowd with an Ohio State sweatshirt on in protest of his team’s AD, holding a standard “Fire Brandon” sign. Others brought bottles of Coke to mock the university’s ‘buy two Cokes get two tickets to Minnesota’ promotion.

Finally, the mass made its way over to the home of university president Mark S. Schlissel. Once there, the chants increased in intensity and frequency as one student took to the front steps with a megaphone. A police officer stood to the right of the steps, but the rally remained peaceful throughout as the students tried to make their points heard. At around 7:10 p.m. the students cleared out.

Though the turnout from the rally was substantial, the president’s statement that no further action will be taken has not changed. It’s strange that after doing nothing on the field started this mess, and doing nothing afterwards until 1 a.m. Tuesday made it much worse, that the president’s response to the national outrage is to do exactly nothing.

Moving forward

Michigan just released a statement outlining the new player-safety measures that will be in place beginning this Saturday at Rutgers. The new system will incorporate three measures:

1. Putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box to view the entire field and identify players that might need evaluation by a trainer on the field. This person will have access to the television video feed and direct communication with the trainers on the field.

2. Added two-way radio communication, which includes mandatory radios possessed by the individual in the press box and the trainers on the field, with hard-line phones and cell phone communication as backups.

3. Taking helmets from players determined to be unable to continue playing. The medical team will take the player’s helmet to ensure he cannot return to the game.

Those safety measures will hopefully ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again. Saturday cannot get here soon enough and hopefully the players rally together around the adversity and do the only thing that can turn down the heat: win.

Notre Dame Q&A with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


ND_Q-A_banner-v2

The past few seasons we have run a weekly feature called Friend vs Foe, in which we asked that week’s opponent blog to explain why their team will win that Saturday. We posted their response and had one of our writers answer the same question about why Michigan will win. This season, we’re changing it to simply a Q&A with the opposing blog as a way of making it more focused and getting some more questions answered. This week, we invited back Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons to provide his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter at @TXirish.

1. Are you sad to see the rivalry come to an end? Personally, I love the rivalry and wish it would never end, but I know some on both sides of the rivalry feel we each have other bigger rivalries. How do you feel?

In all honesty, yes, I am. I enjoy hate week, even if I do consider Southern Cal our biggest annual rivalry came. I won’t lie though, the prospects of being able to play teams like Texas and Georgia in the future early in the season is incredibly exciting so there will likely be moments were I won’t really miss the game that much.

Still, I’m hoping that college football will adjust to the point that schedules can get a bit more flexible, especially in the B1G. That nine-game conference slate makes out of conference scheduling nearly impossible, especially since Delany wants all conference games at the end of the schedule. Combine that with our eight-game “conference” schedule (5 ACC, Sothern Cal, Stanford, Navy), and something had to give. Michigan State and Purdue have caught the short end of this stick as well and I’m all kinds of shocked that Ohio State managed to squeeze us in (their future schedules are all kinds of ridiculous right now).

2. The recent suspensions didn’t have an impact in Week 1, but what’s your take on it? Will ND feel their absence more this week and as the season goes on, or is it really not that big of a deal?

Any time a starter goes out, it’s a big deal. Any time depth is lost, it’s a big deal. While Notre Dame thankfully has some talent to take over for the big losses, KeiVarae Russell (CB) and DaVarias Daniels (WR), Notre Dame does have some solid talent to fill back in. The Russell suspension looms largest, especially with safety Austin Collinsworth lost for most of the season to a knee injury.

I’m hopeful the academic investigation wraps up soon so we know the final verdict for all five players involved. Not knowing the length of suspension for each has been brutal.

3. How does the offense differ this season with Golson instead of Rees?

Night and day. Notre Dame under Everett Golson is the kind of offense that Brian Kelly wants to run. Kelly depends very, very heavily on his QBs and practically requires a dual threat for his offensive scheme to reach it’s full tempo.

The no-huddle is backed, and increased tempo is back, and the read option is back. Most importantly, Golson has the ability to extend plays for potential big gains as he did against Rice. To put it another way, you remember what Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner have done to us in the past? That’s what Golson can bring to the table.

4. Michigan moved the ball pretty well against ND last season and then fell apart the rest of the season. With only a handful of returning starters on the ND defense, do you foresee Michigan doing the same? What has changed with has the switch to the 4-3 and the new defensive coordinator?

Last season was such a weird outlier for Bob Diaco’s usual “bend don’t break” defensive scheme. Last year, he decided to blitz like crazy and contain of Gardner went right out the window at the worst possible times.

Ironically enough, Brian VanGorder brings that very style to the table for the Irish. In reality, what VanGorder has shown this season looked a lot like what Michigan threw at App State. You’ll see a lot of blitzes, lots of bump and run coverage, and possibly even the potential for some huge plays should things go awry with this young defense.

Despite the loss of so many starters, ND might surprise you, especially in the play of the front seven (I know I certainly was this past week). However, the secondary is the biggest question mark due to the injuries and suspensions. If there is an obvious potential weakness to exploit, it would be the secondary, in my opinion. And it really isn’t due to lack of talent, but more so because they are required to do so much and their mistakes are the most costly.

Will history repeat itself? I’m honestly not sure. While Diaco’s blitz-happy gameplan was completely out of character last year, VanGorder has the entire defense completely bought in to this style of play. Mistakes should hopefully be fewer, but if the Irish blow contain once again, it’ll be a long night.

5. Is there anything you’re particularly worried about in this matchup?

Two things. First, as I’ve mentioned multiple times, the Irish secondary. The second is how Everett Golson will react to the aggressive Michigan defense. If Golson can handle the blitzing attack, I think there is a very real potential that he could have one hell of a performance, the likes of which ND fans haven’t seen against Michigan in ages.

6. What’s your prediction? Who will win, score, and why?

I see two potential outcomes. The first is what we’ve typically seen the past few years: a one possession game that comes down to the wire.

The other outcome I see is the one in which Golson is able to exploit an aggressive defense much like Robinson and Gardner have done to ND in the past. In this scenario, the Irish win rather comfortably in a two possession game. Notre Dame, under VanGorder is actually able to pull of the blitzing attack that Diaco failed to do last season.

Now, this is the last time I’ll be able to predict this game for quite a while, so I might as well go full homer and go with the later: 34-20 Irish.

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


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

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

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

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

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Heston Running Back of the Year None

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

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

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

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

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

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

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

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

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

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

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

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

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

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

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend vs Foe: Nebraska

Thursday, November 7th, 2013


For this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe, please welcome Jon Johnston, Aaron, Mister Mike, and Husker Mike of the Nebraska SB Nation site Corn Nation. They have kindly answered some questions about what we can expect from Tommy Armstrong instead of Taylor Martinez, the comments made by Ameer Abdullah regarding Michigan’s “nasty” and “ruthless” fans, their thoughts on Bo Pelini’s job security, and more. They also provide their predictions. You can follow them on Twitter at @CornNation.

1. With Taylor Martinez out once again, can you explain the main differences between he and Tommy Armstrong? What can Armstrong do that Martinez couldn’t? In what areas are he not as good?

Aaron: Well, right now Tommy can run a lot better than Taylor. Martinez’s injury limits his mobility. To be honest, Armstrong struggles in the same areas that Taylor does. The main area of concern is throwing the ball downfield. He’s thrown six interceptions in his last two games (Purdue and Northwestern). But he can run. He has a lot of quick moves if his line can open up some holes for him.

Mister Mike: One word describes where Armstrong is different than Martinez: option. Armstrong is much better at running the lead and speed options than Martinez has been, and probably would ever be. He still has a lot of trouble making his reads in the passing game, but that’s some of what you get with a RS Freshman QB. I think that he’s made more accurate throws downfield and on time than Martinez did at this point in this career, but right now I’d say Martinez is the better passer, simply due to his experience.

Husker Mike: The option really is the only thing that Tommy Armstrong does better than Taylor Martinez. Martinez is a better runner (or at least he was against Minnesota) and is infinitely better in reading the defense. Which he should be as a senior, as compared to a redshirt freshman. Armstrong has a stronger arm, which could be a difference maker in 2015 or 2016, should Armstrong be able to beat out Johnny Stanton next season. If Armstrong finds himself flustered against the Michigan defense, senior Ron Kellogg will be there, splitting time. Kellogg is not a threat to run at all, but he knows the offense.

Tommy Armstrong's strength is running the option (Huskers.com)

2. Ameer Abdullah made some headlines by saying that Michigan’s fans are nasty and ruthless. From a Nebraska fan perspective, what do you make of this? Do you agree? Or did he mix up his Michigan schools?

Aaron: Not sure where he gets that from, but he did make the trip to Ann Arbor two years ago. “There’s always one in every family,” and every fanbase has a few bad eggs. Maybe he’s had to put up with a few of them.

Mister Mike: Meh. I don’t make much of it. Maybe just some BB material for the Wolvies and their fans.

Husker Mike:  As a fan of UNO hockey, I’m well aware of Michigan fans from the days of the CCHA and the cesspool that is Yost. Ameer Abdullah went easy on Weasel fans.

3. On a scale of 1-10, how safe is Bo Pelini’s job right now? How does the Nebraska fan base feel about him at this point, and with four tough games remaining how much room is there for that to change between now and the end of the season?

Aaron: Depends on who you ask. There’s a section of the fan base that wanted him out years ago and there a section that will be behind him forever. I think the general feel of Bo across Nebraska is that the program is kind of stuck in neutral. Some people fear that letting Bo go will cause the program to spiral downward (who do you replace him with?), but they also realize that we probably aren’t going to be elite with Bo at the helm.

Mister Mike: Agree with Aaron. Our fanbase is very divided over the issue, and fear is a big part of that. But right now, that’s the kind of staff we have. Pelini is a very polarizing figure and has done nothing to assuage that impression of him. On a scale of 1-10, I would say a 3 or a 4. There are undoubtedly some that would disagree with me, but quite frankly I think that’s an accurate statement.

The only way Pelini changes things is if he wins the B1G and goes to a BCS bowl. Again, there are people that would probably say that’s unfair, due to injuries, etc, but conversely it is his sixth year and if he wants to remain the coach at Nebraska, he has to show definite signs that his program is still moving forward. Winning the B1G and getting to a BCS bowl would go a long way towards accomplishing that.

4. For those that didn’t watch the game, what happened against Minnesota? Was it the right move to play Martinez, who clearly wasn’t 100 percent?

Aaron: Minnesota played well. We lost our anchor on the offensive line the previous game (Purdue) and I think Minnesota exploited it. On offense, they took notes from the Big Ten Championship game last year and ran some plays that Wisconsin had success with. Tight ends have killed our defense this year and Minnesota used them very effectively. They managed the game clock and were able to put points on the board.

Mister Mike: How much time do you got? Seriously. It was the 2012 B1G Championship all over again, except the score wasn’t as lop-sided. They used pre-snap shifts and motion to great effect and our team and staff had no answers for it. Except for Pelini’s go to answer: “we just have to execute better and make plays.” Limebeck found a weakness in our defense (our front seven) and exploited it over and over again.

We got flat handled on both sides of the ball. That’s bottom line.  There’s also been some controversy over how Martinez was handled by Bo leading up to this game, but personally, I think he should’ve been riding the pine.

Husker fans are divided on Bo Pelini

Husker Mike: Any questions about whether Martinez in the Minnesota game were answered against Northwestern when the backups threw four interceptions. Nebraska made a bunch of mistakes against Minnesota. Defense was a mess, as Mister Mike points out. The offensive game plan was a mess, holding Abdullah under 20 carries. Martinez’s rust was pretty low on the list of Nebraska’s issues in Minneapolis.

Jon Johnston: Nebraska lost to Minnesota because they looked at the Gophers the same way the fan base did… “ho hum, this is a walk in the park” and weren’t prepared or focused to play that game. Hell, our coaches weren’t even ready to coach. Congrats to Minnesota, who didn’t have those problems, and in fact, went down 10-0, acted like nothing was wrong, came back and won.

5. In what area(s) do you see Nebraska having an advantage this weekend? What about area(s) where Michigan has an advantage?

Aaron: Not sure, honestly. I don’t believe that either team is really that strong in any phase this year. I think I speak for both teams with this next comment. Depending on  which defense/offense/special team shows up, the game could go in many different directions. As I watch Michigan under Hoke, they remind me a lot of Nebraska under Pelini. A quick spark early on (Sugar Bowl), but starting to trend sideways. As an outsider, I view the Wolverines as a good program that runs things the right way and prepares kids for the future, but I don’t see them becoming an elite football program any time soon. Like Nebraska, they just don’t strike fear into me the way a really good team should.

Mister Mike: An advantage? Did you laugh as you typed that? Right now, this is a horrible match-up for Nebraska. You have a team in Michigan that runs a lot of power…a lot of heavier sets and they run it right at you. Add to that a mobile QB, a couple of all-stars at TE and WR, and a running back in Touissant who we better not forget about, and I think it’s going to be a long day for the Huskers. Some people may say that Borges is trying to fit square pegs into round holes on offense, but he’s honestly not going to have to get very cute this weekend. Your OL should be able to protect Gardner long enough for him to make his reads and complete passes. Oh…two words for you…”jet motion.” Remember them well, Grasshopper.

Husker Mike:  Actually, if Nebraska can get some receivers healthy, I think Michigan could be a decent matchup against Nebraska. Michigan is fairly inept running the ball (11th worst yards per carry average in the Big Ten), and only involves two receivers in their passing game. That doesn’t mean that Nebraska will win, though. Both teams have found ways to lose and look putrid doing it. It comes down to which team wants it more and outplays the other because both teams have underperformed this season. The key is what happens when Nebraska pressures Gardner. Mobile quarterbacks can burn Nebraska, and so if the Huskers can’t get to Gardner, it’ll be a big Michigan victory.

6. What’s your prediction and why?

Aaron: Nebraska’s defense is getting better, but they are also being asked to do more because of the injuries we’ve had on offense. You know about Taylor Martinez, but we also have a converted linebacker getting a lot of passing targets on offense, and we’ve seen a lot of our starters on the offensive line go down in recent weeks. In my opinion, all Michigan has to do this weekend is to play conservatively and try to bust up Nebraska’s offensive line to create opportunities. If Michigan can keep their turnovers down, they really shouldn’t have a problem beating Nebraska. If they get too aggressive, well, that’s when the Wolverines seem to make mistakes. They lead the league in turnovers. I see a low scoring game with Michigan coming out on top. Something like UM 24, UNL 10.

Mister Mike: Hoke is undefeated at home in AA and I really don’t see that changing this weekend. We’ve had some injuries (of course, every team deals with injuries and some have key players out just like ours, but I digress…) to Martinez, a couple of starters on OL, Kenny Bell, etc, etc…so I just don’t think we’re going to have enough “oomph” to overcome what Michigan is going to throw at us. I think the Wolverines cover the spread handily and probably by double digits. I’m thinking something like a 31-17 or something similar.

Jon: Two Michigan predictions? Gahahhh!!! We need one homer, dadgummit. I say Nebraska stuffs the Wolverine run game, picks off at least two Gardner passes, and Ameer Abdullah runs for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Nebraska 31, Michigan 30

Well, last week went about as poorly as it could have and Michigan is all but eliminated from Big Ten title contention. In addition to needing to win out we’d need MSU to lose all three of their remaining conference games. But just because the main goal is unattainable doesn’t mean the season is lost. We still have games to play and can still get to a good bowl game. Next up on the schedule is an interesting Nebraska team who, much like us, hasn’t looked like the older versions of themselves. So what does Michigan need to do to keep their home win streak alive and beat the Huskers? Let’s dig in.

On Offense:

Despite throwing a late interception last week Devin Gardner played well, especially considering he was hit or hurried on just about every passing play. He made much better decisions than he has in the past and took the sack instead of throwing up prayers that most likely would have been interceptions. It’s easy to blame the quarterback and sometimes it is his fault, but Gardner has made progress and he just needs to keep doing so, which is basically my point: Gardner needs to keep building off his progress and get a little better each game. Thankfully Nebraska’s defense is not the Blackshirts of old.

If Gardner can remain calm under duress (even though it won’t be anything like it was last week) and make good decisions Michigan should win this game. By good decisions I mean not forcing it or getting happy feet. Heck, even taking a sack instead of throwing up a bad pass is a good decision.

Kyle Bosch and Michigan's young offensive line look to rebound from a rough performance (MGoBlue.com)

Usually I talk about not turning the ball over, but I’m not even going to say he needs to not turn it over because apparently that’s too much to ask. Besides, I don’t think Nebraska is good enough to shut the door on Michigan even if Gardner does turn it over a couple times.

The offensive line has been much maligned, and for good reason. I hesitate to say the line needs to play better because they start two freshmen – one true and one redshirt – but the line needs to play better. On the outside looking in I see ‘deer in the headlights’ moments far too often. This may be an inaccurate assessment but it’s what I see. In all honesty, I don’t expect much out of this line but I do think if they can just play with a little more confidence they’ll be fine. If they can go out and just play, not think just play Michigan will be in good shape to win.

While it would be nice to see Fitz break 100 yards again I’m not so sure that will happen. What I do think, and this ties into last week’s piece about running more shotgun and pistol formations, is that we need to go back to the read-option, period. We’d all love to see new versions of Anthony Thomas, or for you old school folks like myself Tyrone Wheatley, but we’re not there yet. So in the meantime let’s not have RichRod syndrome and try to put square pegs in round holes.

Go back to 2010 and look at Denard Robinson’s passing stats, 2,570 passing at 62.5 percent. Yes he had 11 picks to 18 touchdowns, but the point is that the threat of the run allowed him to pass the ball well because the defense came down into the box to stop the run. Gardner is no Denard but he can scoot, so stop mixing in the read option and just go to it completely. I guess the theme of this is: NO MORE UNDER CENTER offense. If Al Borges can put aside his ego and just let these kids do what they do best, and it ain’t power football as much as we’d all like, then Michigan will win the game.

On Defense:

Well for starters Raymon Taylor needs to at least put a hand on someone and not let them run down the field 40 yards for a touchdown. Okay, that’s out of my system let’s move on.

Nebraska likes to run the ball, to the tune of 261 yards per game. Ameer Abdullah does most of the damage as he is already over 1,100 yards so far. Michigan needs to not only stop the run but be aware of the play action pass. I think I may have said this before but it deserves to be said again. Michigan has been susceptible to the big play all year. Part of that is the lack of a pass rush but the secondary deserves some of the blame too.

Hopefully they won’t see too many deep passes but the corners and safeties need to be careful about coming up to stop the run and leaving themselves vulnerable to the pass. If Michigan can prevent big passing plays while still keeping the run game in check (read: under 200 yards) then Michigan should win this one.

On Special Teams:

Again, win the field position game. This is something they did not do against State and it came back to bite them. Though it is not all the special teams’ fault. Norfleet is getting better with running north/south more and not dancing around so much and he needs to continue that. Short fields for us, long fields for them and we should be in good shape.

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Friday, November 1st, 2013


Last season Michigan got the Michigan State monkey off its back with a 12-10 win in the Big House. But tomorrow’s meeting carries even greater implications since Michigan already has a conference loss. There is no margin for error left if the Wolverines want to win the Big Ten Legends Division as a loss would effectively put Michigan two-and-a-half games behind the Spartans with four games remaining. It would also be Michigan’s fifth loss in the past six matchups with the hated rival, something nobody in maize and blue wants to face.

Fans in East Lansing want to believe the tide is turning, or has already turned. They’ll tell you that Michigan no longer owns the state. But this isn’t the first time Michigan State has gained a brief upper hand in the rivalry. Yes, Michigan holds a 68-32 advantage (plus five ties), but from 1950 to 1968 MSU went 13-4-2. Enter Bo Schembechler.

He replaced a coach who was, at the time, the worst in program history. Sound familiar? Bo promptly lost to Michigan State in East Lansing his fist season – Michigan’s fourth loss in five meetings. But from there, Michigan won the next eight against the Spartans and went on a 30-8 run under Bo, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr.

The series finally turned back in State’s favor when Rich Rodrigeuz took over, and by the time Brady Hoke was hired to replace the new worst coach in program history Michigan had lost three straight. Like Bo, he lost his first meeting in East Lansing, but turned the tables a year later.

Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (7th season)
Coaching Record: 76-46 (58-29 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (7th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (3-5, 4th Legends)
Last Meeting: Michigan 12 – MSU 10 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 68-32-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-12-1
Current Michigan Streak: Won 1
Last MSU Win: 2011
Last Michigan Win at MSU: 2007

Our neighbors up I-96 want you to believe they own the rivalry now, but if Michigan could regain the series dominance once after a few lean years there’s no reason to think it can’t do so again.

Michigan State comes in as the leaders of the Legends Division with a 7-1 record overall and 4-0 record in conference. The lone loss was a 17-13 defeat at Notre Dame on Sept. 21 in which the Michigan State offense was limited to just 254 total yards – their lowest of the season.

The seven wins, however, have come against six FBS opponents with a combined record of 15-30 and an FCS foe. Not exactly a formidable group of opponents.

The nonconference slate included wins over Western Michigan (26-13), South Florida (21-6), and Youngstown State (55-17) in addition to the Notre Dame loss, while the Spartans opened conference play with with four of the worst teams in the Big Ten – Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois. If any team in the top half of the Big Ten was anything worse than 7-1 at this point it would be a major disappointment.

Michigan has the advantage of coming into this one off a bye, which means Hoke and staff had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. But Hoke’s teams have struggled to win on the road since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Can Michigan pull off the win and put themselves in the Legends Division driver’s seat? Or will Michigan State regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the fifth time in the last six years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

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

Offense is not what wins the games for Mark Dantonio’s squad this season, but after a sluggish start to the season, it has shown some signs of life the past few weeks. Early on, it seemed the Spartan offense was struggling to find its identity after losing Le’Veon Bell to the NFL. Dantonio and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Bollman shuffled through quarterbacks trying to find the right one to simply move the ball without an every down workhorse to carry the load.

In the first two games of the season, Michigan State’s offense scored just 19 points combined (two touchdowns, a missed extra point, and two field goals) against Western Michigan and South Florida. The 26 total points MSU scored against WMU are the lowest the Broncos have allowed all season, and 14 of those came from the Spartans’ defense. The 21 total points MSU scored a week later are the third fewest scored against USF this season, but again 14 of those came by way of the MSU defense. The two teams that scored fewer than 21 points against USF – Cincinnati (20) and UConn (10) – did so with their offense, which means no offense has scored fewer points agains the Bulls than Michigan State.

Connor Cook's arm has been inconsistent, but he has avoided turnovers (Rey Del Rio, MSU Athletic Communications)

The Spartan offense seemed to get going, scoring 55 against Youngstown State, 26 against Iowa, 42 against Indiana and Illinois, while being held to 13 by Notre Dame. But then Purdue came to town and the MSU offense of the first two games returned. Purdue’s defense allows 34.4 points per game but Michigan State’s offense mustered just seven. Even Indiana State of the FCS, which hasn’t won a game against Division 1 competition, scored more offensive points against the Boilermakers.

As mentioned above, much of the early season scoring troubles originated from the quarterback position. Last year’s starter, Andrew Maxwell, began the season as the starter but completed just 15-of-30 passes for 114 yards in the first two games. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor got a shot, but was equally as ineffective, failing to record a touchdown. Dantonio finally settled on redshirt sophomore Connor Cook who fully grabbed the reigns against Youngstown State and has been up and down since, but has proven most capable of managing the offense.

Cook has completed 59.9 percent of his passes this season for 1,238 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Against Notre Dame, he completed just 16-of-32 for 135 yards and against Purdue he connected on just 13-of-25 for 107, but in the other four games he has completed 68.1 percent of his passes. The most impressive performance was last week against Illinois when he missed on just one of 16 throws for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

The Spartans don’t throw downfield a lot, instead using the run to set up a lot of crossing routes and underneath passes, which is a big reason for Cook’s rather pedestrian but mistake-free numbers. He also doesn’t have a many standout targets to throw to, but redshirt sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr is his favorite target. Kings leads the team with 26 receptions for 303 yards and has big play ability on crossing routes. Senior Bennie Fowler is the second leading receiver with 20 catches for 278 yards and leads the team with four touchdowns. He had a big game against Iowa, catching nine passes for 92 yards and a score, but hasn’t caught more than three passes in any other game. Redshirt junior Tony Lippett is the tallest receiver at 6’3″, while Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphrey are the only others that have double digit receptions.

The running game is headlined by redshirt junior Jeremy Langford who has really come on in Big Ten play. After failing to reach 100 yards in each of the first five games, the 6’0″, 206-pound back has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last three. He leads the team with nine touchdowns, and his 141 carries are third-most in the Big Ten behind Fitzgerald Toussaint (155) and Iowa’s Mark Weisman (149). He has averaged 23 carries a game in the last three.

The only other back that has more than 50 carries is redshirt junior Nick Hill, who has 55 for 289 yards. True freshman Delton Williams is the bruiser of the bunch at 6’1″, 220. He saw his first action once Big Ten play started and leads the team with a 7.2 yards per carry average. Against Indiana he ran 12 times for 92 yards and he had five rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown last week against Illinois.

While there aren’t a lot of big time playmakers on the Spartans’ offense, the line might be its best unit. It has paved the way for a respectable running game and most importantly has protected Cook, allowing a conference best six sacks, which is half as many as Michigan has allowed. The main reason for the consistency is the lack of major injuries which have plagued the MSU offensive line the past few years. The line is anchored by fifth-year seniors, right guard Dan France and left guard Blake Treadwell who have a combined 50 starts on the line.

Overall, Michigan State’s offense is the definition of conservative and that’s by design. With such a strong defense and a first-year starter at quarterback, there’s no reason to take too many risks offensively. Michigan hasn’t had much success at getting to the quarterback this season, so don’t expect many blitzes to try to attack the stellar offensive line. Look for Michigan to sell out to stop the run and force Cook to make throws to beat them. That’s essentially what Notre Dame and Purdue did and Cook wasn’t very accurate.

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

Defense is the reason for the excitement in East Lansing as Pat Narduzzi’s group leads the conference and ranks in the top three nationally in most defensive categories. As mentioned above, the Spartan defense has scored five touchdowns, singlehandedly keeping MSU in some games early on. They give up just 12.3 points per game and have allowed just three total points in the past two weeks. Only Indiana’s high-powered offense has scored more than 17 points, but the 28 the Hoosiers scored were still well below their season average and 19 fewer than they scored against Michigan two weeks ago.

Michigan's line will have its hands full with Marcus Rush and the rest of the MSU defense (MSU Athletic Communications)

It’s an aggressive defense that doesn’t do anything outrageous, but is well coached and plays good fundamental football. Despite losing two very good players on the defensive line, tackle Jerel Worthy and end William Gholston, the unit might be even better this season. Redshirt sophomore Shilique Calhoun is certainly an upgrade to Gholston. He currently has eight tackles for loss and four sacks and leads the nation with three defensive touchdowns. The other end is redshirt junior Marcus Rush who has started 34 career games and has three sacks of his own this season. Nineteen game starter Tyler Hoover is also a veteran on the line and redshirt sophomore Damon Knox rotates in as well.

The linebackers are a very smart and talented group led by seniors Denicos Allen and Max Bullough who are the team’s leading tacklers with 48 and 47, respectively. Allen has three sacks and is tied for the team lead with eight tackles for loss, while Bullough has one sack and 6.5 TFL. Junior Taiwan Jones is another experienced player who starts at the Star linebacker position.

The secondary may be the best, and certainly the most aggressive unit on the team. The corners play press coverage and are prone to pass interference penalties, but are a big reason the defense is so good. Darqueze Dennard may be the best cover corner in the Big Ten and has two interceptions and seven pass breakups to show for it. The senior has started 34 career games and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season. Redshirt sophomore Trae Waynes has performed well despite being a first year starter. Safeties Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond have a combined 49 career starts and 13 interceptions.

There’s no question this will be the best defense Michigan will face all season, and for an offense that struggled against the likes of Akron and UConn, that’s more than a bit worrisome. But the problems that plagued the Michigan offense in those games – most notably turnovers – have been more under control since Michigan’s last bye week, and this offense has more weapons than any team Michigan State has faced yet this season.

Michigan has had trouble moving the ball against the Spartans the past couple of years, but it was also much easier to defend with Denard Robinson’s inability to make the throws that Devin Gardner can make. State was able to load the box and force Denard out of his comfort zone. With Gardner, that can lead to big plays.

The other third: Special Teams

Michigan State has used a pair of kickers for field goals this season and they have combined to make 10-of-13. Senior Kevin Muma made 4-of-6, but was replaced by true freshman Michael Geiger who has made 6-of-7 with a long of 49. Muma handles kickoffs and has a touchback rate of just under 50 percent. Redshirt junior punter Mike Sadler is one of the Big Ten’s best, currently second with a 43.1-yard average.

Nick Hill and Macgarrett Kings handle the kick returns, which have been few and far between this season. The Spartans have only returned nine kicks through eight games for a meager 17.4-yard average. Receiver Andre Sims Jr shares punt return duties with Kings. Sims has 15 returns for an average of 8.6 yards, while Kings has 11 for 8.5.

Prediction

Gardner will pick up yards with his feet but if he takes care of the ball Michigan will win (MGoBlue.com)

The absolute biggest key to this game will be turnovers. If Gardner avoids the bad mistakes that he made against Akron, UConn, and at the end of the Notre Dame game, Michigan will have a very good shot to win this game. If he feeds right into the Spartan defense, it will likely spell doom. Michigan State’s offense likely isn’t going to put together many long scoring drives, so the last thing Michigan can afford is to give up a defensive touchdown or turn the ball over in its own territory giving MSU a short field.

It’s vitally important for Michigan to get off to a quick start. Michigan State’s offense isn’t built for playing from behind and its defense gains momentum as the game goes on. If Michigan falls behind and has to get out of its normal offense, State’s defense can tee off on Gardner. A couple of early scores will change the game and force the Spartans back on their heels, opening things up, and take the crowd out of the game.

Look for Michigan to start the game with the shotgun and pistol looks and try to dictate the way the game goes before settling into its more traditional under center offense. As Drew pointed out in his Inside the Numbers post earlier in the week, Michigan has had twice as much success running the ball out of the shotgun/pistol than under center, but it will need to run about half of its offense from under center simply to have a balanced offense. Michigan State hasn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards yet this season, but I think Michigan will eclipse that mostly because if there is one thing State’s defense has struggled with the past couple of years it’s dual threat quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez both had big games last season, and Indiana’s Tre Roberson had a good game a couple weeks ago. Gardner is less one-dimensional than Denard Robinson and will be able to extend plays with his legs while making throws Denard couldn’t make.

Defensively, Michigan will force Cook to pick apart the defense. Jake Ryan, who is in line to make his first start of the season, will be key in stopping the quick screens and jet sweeps that Bollman likes to run. This isn’t a big play offense, so as long as Michigan can stop the run it shouldn’t have much trouble holding the Spartans to less than 20 points, which will be enough to allow Michigan to win the game.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 17

Inside the Numbers: With MSU looming, Michigan must not make “Manball” mistake

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Ladies and gentlemen, it is State Week.

The big question many Michigan fans have been asking this week is whether Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges will finally solve the complex puzzle that is Michigan State’s defense. Despite a dramatic, last-second victory for the Wolverines last October, no team has given their offense more fits than the Spartans. In the past two contests against MSU, the Maize and Blue averaged 13 points and 288 total yards. Those numbers are the worst Michigan has averaged against any opponent it has played more than once since U-M hired Borges.

Do not expect the puzzle to become any easier this Saturday. If anything, it has become even more challenging. Statistically, Michigan State has one of the best defenses in the country, if not the best. The Spartans’ national ranks in each relevant defensive category speak for themselves. They are ranked in the top three in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, rushing yards allowed per carry, passing yards allowed, passing yards allowed per attempt, and passing efficiency defense. MSU is the only team in America to have such a high ranking in all of these categories. Other than Michigan State’s tendency to force referees to throw an inordinate number of yellow flags—MSU is ranked 109th in fewest penalty yards per game—the Spartans’ defense has no weaknesses for Borges to exploit.

The team that rushed for more yards has won 40 of the last 43 meetings in this rivalry (Leisa Thompson, The Ann Arbor News)

Borges will run into roadblocks whether he tries to run or pass against Michigan State, but if he wants to walk out of Spartan Stadium with a win on Saturday, he needs Michigan’s ground game to be successful against the nation’s best rushing defense. Why should Borges bother testing the teeth of MSU’s defense? Because in the last 43 meetings between the two in-state rivals, the team with more rushing yards in the game has been the victor 40 times.

So what should Borges do to give Michigan the best chance to execute against a rush defense that has held all opponents to less than 100 yards and all but one opponent to less than three yards per carry? Simply, Borges needs to shelve his “manball” formations and make the shotgun the core of U-M’s offense.

Michigan entered this season with a mission to deemphasize the spread formations that U-M employed the last two seasons when former quarterback Denard Robinson took the snaps. The goal was to preach “manball,” feature tight formations, such as the Ace and I-formation, and run the ball down defenses’ throats. Through the first seven games of the season, Borges and the Wolverines have not deviated from this goal. Sixty-eight percent of U-M’s 281 relevant running plays—which exclude those that featured Michigan’s backups—have been called from formations in which quarterback Devin Gardner has lined up under center.

Yet, there are times when people must realize that their goals are not in their own best interest. For Borges and Michigan, this is one of those times. Despite Borges’ preference to run the football when under center, the Wolverines are much more productive when running from spread formations, such as the shotgun and pistol. Evidence of this production can be seen in the table below, which breaks down Michigan’s rushing totals by formation:

Michigan rushing – by formation
Under Center Shotgun/Pistol
Carries Yards YPC Carries Yards YPC
CMU 30 180 6.0 8 50 6.25
Notre Dame 21 80 3.81 15 95 6.33
Akron 21 78 3.71 8 110 13.75
UConn 25 92 3.68 16 137 8.56
Minnesota 31 104 3.35 3 19 6.33
Penn State 34 65 1.91 17 110 6.47
Indiana 29 125 4.31 23 145 6.30
Totals 191 724 3.79 90 666 7.40

There is no denying how much better the Maize and Blue’s rushing attack is when running from the shotgun and pistol. Not only has Michigan recorded more yards per carry in those spread formations than when under center in every game this season, it has averaged 3.61 more yards per carry overall. If U-M ran well from both types of formations, there would be no need for Borges to rethink his offensive game plan, but this is not the case. Instead, the Wolverines have exceeded six yards per carry in shotgun and pistol formations in all of their games, while averaging less than four yards per carry overall in all but two of them.

Borges may have finally realized this after the debacle in Happy Valley, where Michigan ran a season-high 34 times under center while averaging a season-low 1.91 yards per carry. The following week against Indiana, U-M posted its highest percentage of running plays from the shotgun and pistol this season (44.2 percent), including a season-high 13 runs from those formations for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Not only did Toussaint have his most productive game of 2013 with 151 rushing yards, the shift to more spread formations contributed to Michigan’s season-high 248 rushing yards and helped the Maize and Blue set a school record for total yards in a single game with 751.

Michigan has averaged nearly twice as many rushing yards from shotgun/pistol than under center this season (Eric Upchurch, MGoBlog)

This was a step in the right direction for Michigan’s offense, but Borges needs to leap even further away from under center and towards the shotgun and pistol when it faces Michigan State this weekend.  To give U-M the best chance to win, more than half of the Wolverines’ runs must be from spread formations. Although there is no guarantee that running mostly from the shotgun and pistol will be effective against the mighty front of the Spartans’ defense, the odds that it will are exponentially greater than if U-M lined up under center. Plus, there are two additional benefits to running from the shotgun and pistol.

First, those formations provide Michigan a second rushing threat in addition to the running back: Gardner. He has been U-M’s most effective rusher this year. When one removes his sacks, Gardner has carried the ball 80 times for 625 yards and an average of 7.81 yards per carry. When one then removes his scrambles, Gardner still has averaged 6.84 yards per carry—about three yards per carry more than both Toussaint and backup running back Derrick Green.

If the Wolverines want to utilize their best rusher properly, they need to put him in a formation that does not restrict him only to scrambles and bootlegs. The formations that expand the arsenal of quarterback runs that Borges can call are the shotgun and the pistol, and the Michigan quarterback has used his legs best when lined up in those formations. In the shotgun and pistol, Gardner has recorded 54 carries for 484 yards—averaging 8.49 yards per carry—and recorded seven of his nine total rushing touchdowns. With Gardner lined up a few yards behind the center, MSU’s defense won’t be unable to focus all of its attention on Michigan’s running back, opening up lanes for both Wolverines in the backfield.

Why would the Spartans focus all of their attention on Toussaint when Michigan goes under center? The reason is because Michigan tips its play calling when it lines up in the Ace or I-formation. When U-M lines up under center, defensive coordinators know that U-M usually plans to handoff to its running back. This season, Michigan has run 270 relevant plays from under center, and 70.7 percent of those plays have been runs. Further, 84.8 percent of these runs have been handoffs to the running back.

It is even worse in third-and-short situations. When the Maize and Blue need three yards or less to move the chains on third down, Borges has called a run 15 of 16 times (93.75 percent) when under center, earning the first down only nine times. In these situations, Borges practically is telling the defensive coordinator that the ensuing play will be either a handoff to the running back or a bootleg by Gardner.

Defenses have adjusted accordingly by placing eight or nine defenders in the box when they see U-M line up under center. Without an audible, these plays generally have been dead before Gardner even received the snap. Of the Wolverines’ called runs when under center, 35.8 percent have resulted in no gain or a loss, while only 15.3 percent of their runs in the shotgun and pistol have had such poor results. This has been a critical reason why Michigan’s inconsistent offensive line—which will have its ninth different starter of the season against MSU—is 115th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed.

Fitz can expect a swarm of Spartan defenders if Borges chooses to spend the game running from under center (MSUSpartans.com)

Thus, the second benefit of lining up in spread formations is that Michigan likely will no longer tip its plays to opponents. Michigan’s play calling has been much more balanced when lined up in the shotgun and pistol. In these spread formations, the Wolverines have run the football 45.5 percent of the time. Although Michigan’s run-pass balance likely will skew more towards the run if Borges decides to feature more spread formations, the balance should be much closer to a 50-50, meaning defenses should be less likely to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on U-M’s formation.

Additionally, an emphasis on the shotgun and pistol should not negatively impact Michigan’s aerial attack. Gardner’s accuracy has been nearly identical when throwing from both types of formations, completing 61.3 percent of his passes when under center and 61.2 percent in spread formations. Also, Gardner’s yards per passing attempt in both formations are no less than 8.6, so U-M should still maintain its vertical passing attack.

The only potential drawback for U-M is turnovers, particularly interceptions. Michigan’s battle with Michigan State likely will be a low-scoring affair, meaning points will be a premium. Turnovers not only waste an opportunity for a team to score, but they also put the opponent in a great position to capitalize with points, especially in Michigan’s case. This season, eight of Gardner’s ten interceptions have been the result of plays in the shotgun and pistol. To make matters worse, five of those eight led to an opponent returning the interception for a touchdown or starting the ensuing possession in the red zone.

However, of those eight interceptions in the shotgun and pistol, seven occurred when Michigan faced second or third down with a distance to go of seven yards or longer. These are difficult situations for Michigan to throw the football because defenses expect U-M to pass. Yet, the Wolverines are in these difficult situations mostly because U-M has lined up under center for 71.4 percent of its first-down plays. As aforementioned, this has led to defenses adjusting and stuffing Michigan’s runs at the line of scrimmage. If the Wolverines utilize more shotgun and pistol on first down, they should be able to gain more yards on first-down plays. Thus, Gardner will not be placed in a position in which he has to force risky passes to extend drives nearly as much as he has in the first seven games.

As much as Michigan and Borges want to go “manball,” it is time for them to cut their losses and put “manball” on the backburner. This Michigan squad is not a “manball” team, no matter how much Borges wants it to be one. The personnel of this offense best fit in the spread and are most productive and efficient when operating out of the shotgun and pistol. If Borges wants to finally solve the puzzle that is MSU’s defense, he needs to call the majority of plays out of these formations. But if Borges chooses to stick with “manball” against one of the best defenses in the country, he likely will put Michigan at a severe disadvantage in a heated rivalry game and a game that would, for all intents and purposes, extend U-M’s Big Ten championship drought to 10 years with a loss.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Michigan State
  1. Michigan’s defense should keep blitzes to a minimum against Michigan State. Although MSU has below average national ranks for most offensive statistical categories, the Spartans have exceled at not turning over the football—MSU is fifth in the nation in interceptions thrown—and have been one of the best ten teams in the nation in not allowing tackles for loss. Thus, the Wolverines should stay back in coverage, forcing quarterback Connor Cook to fit throws into tight windows to extend drives and hoping Cook will be unable to make those throws.
  1. Dating back to 2001, Michigan is 10-1 in its last 11 games after a bye week. Saturday’s contest against Michigan State will be the second such game this season for the Maize and Blue—the Wolverines beat Minnesota, 42-13, in Week 6 after a bye. U-M’s average margin of victory in those 10 wins—three of which were away from Michigan Stadium—is 19 points. The lone defeat was a 10-point loss to Penn State in 2010.
  1. Under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines have not lost a game that has started at 3:30 PM ET, holding a 9-0 record in such games. Eight of those games were in Ann Arbor, with the only road game resulting in a 31-14 win against Illinois in 2011. Michigan and Michigan State will kick off at 3:30 PM ET on ABC this Saturday.

Final Look: Indiana

Thursday, October 24th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Last week, following a 43-40 quadruple overtime loss to Penn State, Michigan’s offense was decried as too conservative, too predictable. Al Borges was accused of not knowing how to put his players in the best position to make plays. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk was called to be canned because he couldn’t develop an offensive line.

The Wolverines responded with possibly the best offensive performance in school history, moving the ball up and down the field at will and breaking several records en route to a 63-47 win over Indiana. But everyone knew coming into the game that Indiana’s defense was one of the worst in the nation. The concerning part now is Michigan’s defense which allowed almost 47 points and 600 yards.

Greg Mattison now gets two weeks to shore up his unit before Michigan travels to East Lansing to face rival Michigan State. But before we look ahead to that one, let’s take one more look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and records from the win over Indiana.

Three big moments

1. Gallon goes off

Instead of narrowing this one down to a single moment, I’m just going to include Jeremy Gallon’s entire record-breaking performance. The senior hauled in 14 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns. The 14 receptions included gains of 15, 70, 16, 15, 6, 17, 10, 21 (TD), 50 (TD), 70, 12, 8, 33, and 26. Several of those catches would have made for a good receiving day on their own. In fact, he had more receptions of over 50 yards than he did of under ten yards!

As Drew highlighted in this week’s Inside the Numbers, the big game put Gallon on track to finish in the top five of all major season and career receiving totals in Michigan history. Gallon has surely benefited from the emergence of Devin Funchess as a wideout as the sophomore had big games against Minnesota and Penn State. Opposing defenses can no longer key on Gallon, which means one or the other will likely continue to have big games going forward.

2. Gardner (also) goes off

All the talk was about the offense but Thomas Gordon's two fourth quarter picks sealed the game (Patrick Barron, The Michigan Daily)

While Gallon got the majority of the attention for his video game-like performance, Gardner deserves credit for the best game of his career. The junior threw for a Michigan record 503 yards, shattering John Navarre’s record of 389, and gained a school and Big Ten record 584 total yards, topping Denard Robinson’s record of 502.

Perhaps the biggest and most impressive play Gardner made on the day was a 6-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. Indiana had cut the Michigan lead to just 42-40 after a failed two-point conversion. Michigan needed to respond.

Gardner looked to Gallon often on the drive, connecting for gains of 12, eight, and 33, and Michigan made its way into the Indiana red zone. On 1st-and-10 from the 18, Gardner scampered for 11 yards setting up 1st-and-goal on which Toussaint gained a yard. On 2nd-and-goal from the six, Gardner faked the handoff to Toussaint and rolled to the right. But IU defensive end John Laihinen didn’t bite and Gardner found him in his face. At the 14-yard line, Gardner pump faked, drawing Laihinen up into the air, allowing him to race right by. He split a pair of defenders at the goal line and was hit three yards deep, drawing a 15-yard personal foul on the Hoosiers. The touchdown put Michigan back ahead by nine.

3. Gordon seals the deal

Michigan’s defense forced Indiana to punt on four of its first five possessions of the game, but the Hoosiers scored the next seven times they had the ball, gaining 387 yards in the process. They were matching Michigan score for score and Greg Mattison’s defense had no answer. It was apparent that whichever team made the first stop was the one that was going to win.

After Indiana had cut Michigan’s lead to 49-47, the Wolverines mounted another long drive that looked to be headed into the end zone. But Gardner fumbled a snap on the Indiana 2-yard line and the Hoosiers recovered. Could this be their chance to seize the game? Two straight six yard runs moved the ball away from the end zone, but on 1st-and-10 from the 14, Nate Sudfeld dropped back to pass. He had an open receiver down the left hash, but the ball was underthrown and Thomas Gordon stepped in front to pick it off. He weaved 30 yards to the IU 5-yard line, setting Michigan up for yet another touchdown.

On Indiana’s next possession, trailing 56-47, the Hoosiers marched into Michigan territory, but on 1st-and-10 from the 30, Gordon was in the right spot at the right time once again. This time it was Tre Roberson that he intercepted and Michigan responded with another touchdown to reach the final score of 63-47.

Nobody will mistake Michigan’s defense for good after the game, and Mattison will be the first to admit that, but Gordon rose to the occasion when needed and sealed the win for the Wolverines.

The numbers game

18: Consecutive wins for Michigan over Indiana dating back to 1987

751: Michigan’s total yards, a school record, 24 more than the previous high against Delaware State in 2009. It is also second-best in Big Ten history

1,323: The combined total yards, a Michigan record

584: Devin Gardner’s total yards, a school record. It is also the second highest total in Big Ten history, one behind Illinois’ Dave Wilson which was set in 1980

503: Devin Gardner’s passing yards, a school record

369: Jeremy Gallon’s receiving yards, a school and Big Ten record. It is also the second highest total in FBS history

831: Jeremy Gallon’s receiving yards through seven games, two more than he had all of 2012

6: The number of Michigan running backs that have rushed for four touchdowns in a game. Fitzgerald Toussaint became the sixth

2007: The last time a Michigan running back carried the ball 30 or more times in a game (Mike Hart) before Toussaint did so against Indiana

3: Players made their first career start (Joey Burzynski, Erik Magnuson, and Channing Stribling)

948: Dennis Norfleet’s return yards this season, which currently rank second on Michigan’s all-time single-season list

Drive chart
IU
UM
IU
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IU
UM
IU
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IU
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IU
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IU
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IU
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IU
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UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Record Watch
Career Receiving Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Braylon Edwards (2001-04) 3,541 1,379
2. Anthony Carter (1979-82) 3,076 914
3. Amani Toomer (1992-95) 2,657 495
4. David Terrell (1998-2000) 2,317 155
5. Mario Manningham (2005-07) 2,310 148
6. Roy Roundtree (2009-12) 2,304 142
7. Tai Streets (1995-98) 2,284 122
8. Marquise Walker (1998-01) 2,269 107
9. Jason Avant (2002-05) 2,247 85
10. Greg McMurtry (1986-89) 2,163 1
11. Jeremy Gallon (2010-present) 2,162
12. Desmond Howard (1989-91) 2,146
13. Mercury Hayes (1992-95) 2,144
14. Derrick Alexander (1989-93) 1,977
15. Jack Clancy (1963-66) 1,917
Career Rushing Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Mike Hart (2004-07) 5,040 2,823
2. Denard Robinson (2009-12) 4,495 2,278
3. Anthony Thomas (1997-2000) 4,472 2,255
4. Jamie Morris (1984-87) 4,393 2,176
5. Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) 4,178 1,961
6. Butch Woolfolk (1978-81) 3,861 1,644
7. Chris Perry (2000-03) 3,696 1,479
8. Rob Lytle (1973-76) 3,317 1,100
9. Billy Taylor (1969-71) 3,072 855
10. Gordon Bell (1973-75) 2,900 683
11. Tim Biakabutuka (1993-95) 2,810 593
12. Lawrence Ricks (1979-82) 2,751 534
13. Harlan Huckleby (1975-78) 2,624 407
14. Ricky Powers (1990-93) 2,554 337
15. Russell Davis (1975-78) 2,550 333
16. Ron Johnson (1966-68) 2,440 223
17. Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-73) 2,343 126
18. Tony Boles (1987-89) 2,247 30
19. Fitzgerald Toussaint (2010-present) 2,217
20. Stan Edwards (1977-81) 2,206
21. Rick Leach (1975-78) 2,176
Career Field Goals Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 64 27
2. Remy Hamilton (1993-96) 63 26
3. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 57 20
4. JD Carlson (1989-91) 38 1
5. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 37
6. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 31
7. Bob Bergeron (1981-84) 29
8. Hayden Epstein (1998-01) 26
9. Mike Lantry (1972-74) 21
KC Lopata (2007-08) 21
Career Point-After-Touchdowns Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 162 12
2. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 150
3. JD Carlson (1989-91) 137
4. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 130
5. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 117