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Posts Tagged ‘Denard Robinson’

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

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


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


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 (

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 (

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.


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

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


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 (

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


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

*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

Inside the Numbers: Despite pint sized stature, Gallon may be one of Michigan’s best ever

Monday, October 21st, 2013

(Patrick Barron, The Michigan Daily)

What is the prototypical Michigan wide receiver? For many, it is a wide receiver that is six-feet-and-three-inches tall, weighs 210 pounds, and can dunk a football over the crossbar effortlessly. For years, they have walked through the doors at Schembechler Hall and dazzled those in attendance at Michigan Stadium. They include Braylon Edwards, Amani Toomer, Tai Streets, David Terrell, Marquise Walker, and Derrick Alexander. The list is seemingly never-ending.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has expressed his desire to add more of them to the list and has done so since taking over the program, obtaining verbal commitments from nine receivers that are all at least six-feet-and-two-inches tall in his 2012-15 recruiting classes. Yet, it is the five-foot-eight wideout from Apopka, Florida, that may just be one of the best to don the winged helmet.

On June 5, 2008, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon gave a verbal pledge to then-Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez that he would leave the warm confines of the Sunshine State to play his collegiate ball in Ann Arbor. Gallon was expected by Rodriguez and the staff to have a versatile role for the Wolverines, lining up in the slot, in the backfield, and as a returner. Rodriguez wanted to utilize Gallon by putting him in space in the middle of the field, where his quickness and speed would expose linebackers in coverage and generate plentiful yards after the catch.

Jeremy Gallon's 369 yards set a Michigan and Big Ten single-game record (

However, Gallon did not become the starting slot receiver until after Michigan fired Rodriguez, and the results at the position under offensive coordinator Al Borges were a mixed bag. Borges did not feature Gallon in Michigan’s game plan, and former quarterback Denard Robinson’s accuracy issues limited Gallon’s production the few times he was targeted. In Gallon’s 21 games at slot receiver in 2011 and 2012, he caught at least four passes only three times and topped 80 receiving yards only once. It seemed like Gallon would be an average second or third option in the passing game throughout his career, highlighted by his undercover 64-yard reception in the final seconds against Notre Dame in 2011.

But with a move to outside receiver and a substitution at quarterback during the second half of the 2012 campaign, everything changed for the pint-sized Gallon. He became Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner’s favorite target as they developed an ESP-like connection, and the record-setting performances began to pile up.

In the 12 games since Gardner became the starting quarterback, Gallon has caught 76 passes for 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns—which would be the most receiving yards by a U-M receiver ever if accomplished in a calendar season. He has caught a pass in 33 straight games, which is third best in Michigan history. He has grabbed at least four passes in 11 of his last 12 games and topped 80 receiving yards in six of them. He shattered the Michigan and Big Ten single-game receiving records with 369 yards against Indiana last Saturday. Not only is that total the second most in FBS history, his first- and second-half receiving totals—170 and 199—would be the 15th- and second-best performances, respectively, in Michigan history by themselves.

With virtuoso performances against South Carolina in the 2013 Outback Bowl and Notre Dame and Indiana in 2013, Gallon has sneakily transformed himself into one of the best wide receivers in Michigan history.  Here are Gallon’s current receiving statistics, compared with those of former Wolverine wideouts considered by most to be the best ever at Michigan:

Mosts for top Michigan wide receivers – Current Numbers
Jeremy Gallon Anthony Carter Desmond Howard Amani Toomer Tai Streets David Terrell Marquise Walker Braylon Edwards Mario Manningham
In a game
Catches 14 9 9 8 12 10 15 13 10
Yards 369 154 167 179 192 150 160 189 162
Touchdowns 3 2 3 2 2 3 2 3 3
In a season
Catches 45* 51 63 54 67 71 86 97 72
Yards 831 952 1,025 1,096 1,035 1,130 1,143 1,330 1,174
Touchdowns 7 14 19 7 11 14 11 15 12
In a career
Catches 129 161 134 143 144 152 176 252 137
Yards 2,162 3,076 2,146 2,657 2,284 2,317 2,269 3,541 2,310
Touchdowns 15 37 32 18 19 23 17 39 27
*Gallon had 49 catches in 2012, but will likely surpass that number in the next game against Michigan State

As one can see from the table above, while Gallon’s best numbers in individual games are almost as good as, if not better than, every other wide receiver in Michigan history, his season and career totals are slightly lower than those of the eight ex-Wolverines listed, except for Desmond Howard’s career yardage and Toomer’s most number of touchdowns in a season.

However, this is to be expected for a player that still has six or seven games remaining in his collegiate career. To have an idea where Gallon will stand at the end of the year, one must project his 2013 season and career numbers. The best method to project these totals is to use the averages Gallon has recorded since Gardner became the starter, rather than his averages for his entire career, because Gardner will be the quarterback for the remainder of the year.

In the 12 games since Gardner became the signal caller, Gallon has averaged 6.33 receptions, 111.83 yards, and 0.83 touchdowns per game. If Gallon maintains these averages for the next 6.5 games—which allows for the possibility of Michigan participating in the Big Ten Championship Game—here is how his numbers stack up against the same former Wolverines listed above:

Mosts for top Michigan wide receivers – Projected Numbers*
Jeremy Gallon Anthony Carter Desmond Howard Amani Toomer Tai Streets David Terrell Marquise Walker Braylon Edwards Mario Manningham
In a game
Catches 14 9 9 8 12 10 15 13 10
Yards 369 154 167 179 192 150 160 189 162
Touchdowns 3 2 3 2 2 3 2 3 3
In a season
Catches 86* 51 63 54 67 71 86 97 72
Yards 1,558* 952 1,025 1,096 1,035 1,130 1,143 1,330 1,174
Touchdowns 12* 14 19 7 11 14 11 15 12
In a career
Catches 170* 161 134 143 144 152 176 252 137
Yards 2,889* 3,076 2,146 2,657 2,284 2,317 2,269 3,541 2,310
Touchdowns 20* 37 32 18 19 23 17 39 27
*Projections are only for Gallon’s 2013 season and career totals

If these projections pan out, the following would be Gallon’s rank in Michigan history in those categories:

Gallon could finish in the top five in Michigan history in all receiving categories (

Catches in Game: 3rd
Catches in a Season: t-2nd
Catches in a Career: 3rd
Yards in a Game: 1st (Big Ten record, 2nd in FBS history)
Yards in a Season: 1st (Big Ten record)
Yards in a Career: 3rd
Touchdowns in a Game: t-2nd
Touchdowns in a Season: t-6th
Touchdowns in a Career: 7th

Gallon has a realistic opportunity to finish in the top five in Michigan’s record book for all nine of these categories. To do so, Gallon would need at least 31 catches, 299 yards, and eight touchdowns to close out the season. If he does do so, he would become only the second receiver in Michigan history to accomplish such a feat, joining Braylon Edwards.

There are two caveats that must be mentioned before one assumes these projections will come to life. First, by using only the numbers from the 12 games that Gardner started at quarterback, the sample size is much smaller and the 369-yard performance becomes an even bigger outlier. Although Gallon has averaged 111.83 receiving yards in those 12 games, he has only eclipsed 100 receiving yards in three of them. Gallon will need to be more consistent with his output because 369-yard performances do not happen every Saturday.

Second, the yards may be harder to come by in Michigan’s remaining games. The average rank of the seven teams Michigan has already faced in passing yards allowed is 72.6. The average rank of the five teams Michigan has yet to play is 58.2, and U-M likely will play better passing defenses in the Big Ten Championship Game, if necessary, and its bowl game. While there is not a large discrepancy between the average ranks, Michigan will face two top 30 pass defenses in Michigan State (no. 4) and Iowa (no. 26) after facing zero in the first seven games.

Nonetheless, Gallon has been absolutely incredible in his past 12 games, enough so that it is time to start debating where he ranks among the best wide receivers in Michigan history as Team 134 finishes its season. There is no doubt that Carter, Howard, and Edwards, in no order, are the three best at the position to wear the maize and blue. Yet, the fourth best receiver is not so clear. A legitimate argument can be made for seven former players: Alexander, Toomer, Streets, Terrell, Walker, Jason Avant, and Manningham. If Gallon has a quiet second half of the season, he will likely find himself outside the top 10 and not in the discussion for the fourth best wideout in school history.

But if Gallon can continue to perform like he has since Gardner took the reins and produce numbers similar to the ones in the above projections, he will cement his case for being one of the five best wide receivers in Michigan history, despite not matching the physical specifications of a prototypical Michigan wideout. Not bad for a five-foot-eight Floridian that would not have been a Michigan recruiting target if he had been born only two years later.

Three notes you should know for the bye week

  1. Like Jeremy Gallon, Devin Gardner also broke multiple Michigan records by a large margin. His 584 total yards were 82 more than the 502 Denard Robinson had against Notre Dame in 2010, while his 503 passing yards were 114 more than the 389 John Navarre had against Iowa in 2003. Gardner leads the Big Ten in total offense (328.4), points responsible for (18.9), passing efficiency (159.6), and yards per completion (16.63). Further, he is second in the conference with 13 passing touchdowns and third with nine rushing touchdowns.
  1. Although Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has not found many holes behind U-M’s offensive line, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry this season, he has had a knack for finding the end zone. After his career-high four scores against IU, Toussaint is tied for third in the nation and tied for first in the Big Ten with 11 rushing touchdowns—two more than the personal best he set in all of 2011.
  1. Michigan’s defense struggled mightily against the Hoosiers—allowing a season worst 572 total yards—but the Wolverines have not struggled to force turnovers. Through seven games, U-M has forced 15 turnovers after gaining only 18 all of last season. Additionally, U-M’s 11 interceptions are four more than the number in 2012, and all four starters of Michigan’s secondary have picked off at least two passes this year.

By the Gallon: Michigan 63 – Indiana 47

Sunday, October 20th, 2013


Following the first loss of the season the heat was turned up on Michigan’s offense. All it did was score the most points it has scored all season, set the all-time Michigan record for total yards in a single game, and break several individual player yardage records en route to a 63-47 win over Indiana.

Devin Gardner broke Denard Robinson’s single-game yardage record with 584 total yards and John Navarre’s record for passing yards with 503. Senior receiver Jeremy Gallon shattered Roy Roundtree’s receiving record – and the Big Ten’s – with 369 yards on 14 catches.

Despite the gaudy numbers, the game wasn’t over until Fitzgerald Toussaint ran it in from 27 yards out with just over a minute remaining. Indiana answered nearly every Michigan score, utilizing a fast-paced offense to keep Michigan’s defense off balance.

Final Stats
Michigan Indiana
Score 63 47
Record 6-1 (2-1) 3-4 (1-2)
Total Yards 751 572
Net Rushing Yards 248 162
Net Passing Yards 503 410
First Downs 35 28
Turnovers 2 2
Penalties-Yards 4-15 3-20
Punts-Yards 2-73 4-146
Time of Possession 38:34 21:26
Third Down Conversions 7-of-11 8-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-22 2-22
Field Goals 0-for-1 2-for-2
PATs 9-for-9 5-for-5
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-8 4-of-4
Full Box Score

The teams traded punts to start the game, but that was about all of the defense this game would feature. Indiana got the scoring started on its second possession with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld to Cody Latimer. The Hoosiers used a quick snap to catch Michigan’s defense not set and Latimer ran right by Raymon Taylor for the long touchdown.

Michigan answered with a five-play, 56-yard scoring drive capped off by a 13-yard Gardner touchdown run. After forcing Indiana to punt, Gardner connected with Gallon for 70 yards to the IU 11-yard line. Four plays later, on 4th-and-1 from the two, Toussaint found the end zone to put Michigan ahead 14-7.

Michigan’s defense forced another Indiana punt and put together a 13-play, 60-yard drive. But it stalled when Gardner was sacked on 3rd-and-4, forcing Michigan to attempt a field goal. Brendan Gibbons’ 39-yard attempt was blocked.

Indiana still wasn’t able to get anything going, punting it back to Michigan and the Wolverines made the most of it, scoring in seven plays. Toussaint carried it in from seven yards out to give Michigan a 21-7 lead.

The Wolverines looked to be in full control of the game at this point, but Indiana responded. A 40-yard kickoff return gave IU good field position and then it took the Hoosiers just three plays to score, this time on a 33-yard pass from Sudfeld to Shane Wynn.

Michigan got the ball back with six minutes left in the half and put together a 12-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Gallon. It looked like Michigan would take a 28-14 lead into the locker room, but IU got a 50-yard field goal to end the half.

Michigan started the second half with the ball, but on the second play, a pitch from Gardner to Toussaing was fumbled and the Hoosiers recovered at the Michigan 5-yard line. Three plays later, the Hoosiers punched it in on a 2-yard run by Tevin Coleman to pull within four at 28-24.

On the fourth play of the ensuing possession, Gardner connected with Gallon for a 50-yard touchdown, but Indiana matched it once again, this time using an 8-play, 71-yard drive and a 5-yard pass from Sudfeld to Wynn.

Devin Gardner set a school record for passing yards and total yards in a single game (

When it got the ball back, Michigan was forced to punt for the first time since its second possession of the game. With a chance to take the lead, Indiana marched to the Michigan 6-yard line, but Michigan’s defense stiffened in the red zone, holding the Hoosiers to a 23-yard field goal. Michigan led at this point 35-34.

On the third play of Michigan’s ensuing possession, Gardner connected with Gallon for a 70-yard gain to the Indiana 2-yard line. Two plays later, Toussaint punched it in.

It took Indiana just four plays to answer, this time scoring on a 67-yard pass from Roberson to Kofi Hughes. IU attempted a two-point conversion to tie the game, but it fell incomplete and Michigan held a 42-40 lead.

Michigan opened the fourth quarter with a six-yard touchdown run by Gardner to cap off an 8-play, 75-yard drive to go ahead by two scores. But once again, Indiana responded. Plays of 17, 20, and and 15 yards put the Hoosiers in the red zone and Roberson scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out to pull IU within two.

Michigan marched right down the field again, getting to the Indiana 2-yard line, but on 1st-and-goal, a botched snap was recovered by Indiana. With 8:34 remaining, the Hoosiers got the ball back with yet another chance to take the lead. But Michigan’s defense had other plans. After two straight six yard runs, Thomas Gordon picked off Sudfeld’s pass at the 35 and returned it 30 yards to the IU five. Three plays later, Gardner found the end zone with his legs from six yards out.

Indiana got the ball back with six minutes left, trailing 56-47 and quickly moved the ball into Michigan territory. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 30, Roberson launched a pass downfield, but Gordon was there again to pick it off. Six plays later, Toussaint found a hole and raced 27 yards for his fourth touchdown of the game, this time to put the game away.

The 751 yards of offense set an all-time single-game Michigan record, surpassing the 727 yards the Wolverines put up against Delaware State in 2009. It was also the second-highest in Big Ten history. Gardner’s 584 total yards were just one shy of the Big Ten record for a single game which was set by Illinois’ Dave Wilson on November 8, 1980.

The win keeps Michigan in contention for the Big Ten Legends Division title. At 6-1, the Wolverines now have a bye week to get ready for a brutal five-game stretch that starts with rival Michigan State in East Lansing on Nov. 2. The main question facing Hoke and the rest of the coaching staff over the next two weeks will be how the offense will be utilized the rest of the way, especially with the toughest defense the team will play all year looming next.

Stay tuned for more coverage and analysis of the game and a look ahead at the rest of the season.

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 11th, 2013

If not for Blake Countess’ pick-six last Saturday, my score prediction would have been dead-on, but I’ll gladly take an extra seven points and a defensive touchdown over getting my prediction exactly right. Now if it had been a Minnesota score to ruin my pick that would be a different story. But Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota was exactly what the Wolverines needed to put the Akron and UConn games behind them.

Now, Michigan gets a chance to make a statement with a big win on the road. Penn State certainly isn’t a powerhouse at this point, but they are better than every team Michigan has faced this season save Notre Dame and the Wolverines’ recent road woes – 10-18 since 2008 – make nothing a sure bet. Is Michigan in danger of its first loss of the season? Let’s take a look at our picks:

Justin: Jake Ryan returns from injury and immediately turns Michigan’s defense into a juggernaut. He leads the Wolverines with 15 tackles, two sacks, and picks off a pass and Michigan cruises to a 42-0 win.

Ok, so that probably won’t happen, but it will be great to see Ryan back on the filed even if only briefly to start getting him re-acclimated to game action before the brutal November schedule hits. He likely won’t play enough to make much of an impact on the game, but if Michigan plays the way it’s capable of playing it shouldn’t need him in this one anyway.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 31 20
Chris 28 21
Josh 38 17
Sam 31 24
Derick 31 24
Katie 35 21
M&GB Average 32 21

Michigan has more weapons to go around, especially with the move of Devin Funchess to wideout, opening up the field for Devin Gardner. His big game last week will force opposing defenses to respect the downfield passing game in a way they haven’t had to until this point, which means the running game will be more effective. The insertion of Chris Bryant into the lineup last week gave Michigan the ability to run more of a power running game and Indiana had some success running right at Penn State last week when it wasn’t throwing the ball.

Defensively, Michigan will give Hackenberg the short, underneath throws and try to prevent the big plays to Allen Robinson. Look for Greg Mattison to dial up some pressure to force the young quarterback to make quick decisions and ultimately lead to turnovers.

The team that wins the turnover battle will win this game and with the expanded offense Gardner has at his disposal combined with the youth of Hackenberg, I think that will be Michigan.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20

Chris: Penn State recovers from their loss last week and plays well at home, but it’s not enough.

Michigan 28 – Penn State 21

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 17

Sam: With the non-conference season in the rearview mirror and one win already in the books, the Michigan Wolverines take to the road for the second time in their 2013 football campaign. Three weeks and two games ago, Michigan made the trip to East Hartford, Connecticut for a night game against UConn that proved to be much closer than expected. With a record crowd of 42,704 watching at Rentschler Field, Devin Gardner overcame four awful turnovers and a 14-point third quarter deficit to lead the Maize and Blue to a 24-21 nail-biting win.

This Saturday, the visiting Wolverines will once again be playing under the lights (for the third time already this season), but in an environment that figures to be much crazier this time around in Happy Valley against Penn State. With a putrid crowd of nearly 93,000 against Eastern Michigan earlier this year, one of the smallest since 2001, and an all-time record of 110,753 in 2002, Beaver Stadium will be rocking in white-out fashion.

Luckily for Brady Hoke and his Michigan squad, Penn State is struggling through their second year of heavy sanctions to the tune of a 3-2 record. Already with a loss to Central Florida four weeks ago and a 44-24 beatdown suffered at Indiana last week, the once-proud Lions are certainly beatable this year. But if you combine Michigan’s inconsistency, a Bill O’Brien-coached offense at Penn State, and a raucous night crowd, you will find a game that will likely be up for grabs.

With Devin Funchess warranting attention outside, look for a big game from Jeremy Gallon and others (

Christian Hackenberg, O’Brien’s star freshman quarterback, has been very good at times and sports a 60 percent completion mark and a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio; unfortunately experience is not on his side, and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be throwing different looks at Hackenberg all night. Penn State will also have a trio of running backs in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch who have big-play ability and all gain more than four yards per carry, but Michigan has been solid against the run for the better part of the year.

Last week’s insertion of Chris Bryant into the starting lineup at left guard seemed to open up some running lanes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but even more surprising was a stacked offensive look with Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield, and Bryant all lined up to the left of center Graham Glasgow.

If Michigan trots out in that power formation again, expect to see some play action open up deep for quarterback Devin Gardner. On paper, Michigan has been the much better team so far, but these two squads should be battling into the fourth quarter with a critical win on the line. Vegas opened the books favoring Michigan by just one point, and still Michigan is giving less than a field goal to the Nittany Lions with a -2.5-point margin.

Michigan’s confidence should be back, however, after a big win over Minnesota last week, and Penn State is still playing for pride alone. Hackenberg will throw for two touchdowns but will also lose a crucial second half turnover that Michigan will take advantage of on the way to a Wolverine win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 24

Derick: Michigan will face it’s toughest opposing crowd of the season Saturday after nearly failing the first road test in Connecticut. If Rentschler Field was a tough venue for Team 134 to play in then Beaver Stadium will provide a very rude awakening.

Fortunately for the Wolverines the running game perked up after the  shift in the offensive line and stabilized a struggling offense. Devin Gardner looked comfortable running both the play action and bootleg screens with Fitzgerald Toussaint picking up solid gains on first and second down. If he can take care of the football and make the easy passes then the defense should be able to carry the Maize and Blue to victory.

Though Happy Valley proves a tough test, I think Greg Mattison will have something prepared for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Michigan wins the turnover battle and as a result, improves to 6-0.

Michigan-31 Penn State-24

Katie: So the Wolverines are 5-0 but it doesn’t quite feel that way. After two tough weeks where backups should have seen playing time but instead were left to watch as their teammates played for their B10 Championship lives, a win against Minnesota doesn’t exactly cleanse the palate.  It was a good win, but a victory in Happy Valley is a most necessary followup. And considering that the Nittany Lions are 3-2, with a loss last week to the Hoosiers, the outlook is rather good for the Wolverines to continue undefeated.

But the Nittany Lions have been amassing more than a fair share of offensive yards per game, averaging 475. With a starter out for Michigan in Ondre Pipkins, the Wolverines could certainly use someone who is arguably the best player on the defense, Jake Ryan. to return. The counter to racking up so many yards per game however, is how many the Penn State defense is allowing.  Against Indiana, the Lions gave up 486 yards and lost 24-44. If Michigan can put Penn on its heels early, with consistent throws and a good running game, they should be able to dig the Lions into a pit they can’t claw out of. The key for the Wolverines will be to do better on 3rd down percentage defensively. If the Nittany Lions aren’t able to rack up a series of long drives, it isn’t likely that their defense will be able to hold Michigan.  I’ve got the Wolverines winning this one, even given the hostile crowd they will be playing in front of (fingers crossed that Gardner doesn’t get rattled, or that Morris would be ready at the helm if he is).

Michigan 35 Penn State 21

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Penn State game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation blog Black Shoe Diaries; Monday’s First Look: Penn State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. We also featured a new urban garden campaign by Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne to expand their Pahokee garden and build one in Denard Robinson’s hometown of Deerfield Beach, Fla. Finally, Alexandra showcased some great maize and blue fashion that you can find in and around Ann Arbor to look great on gameday.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Black Shoe Diaries as well as their roundtable predictions.