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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Norfleet’

Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


UM win vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

With their backs up against the wall, facing a fourth straight loss and a likely losing season, Michigan put together a spirited effort in front of 113,000 strong and knocked off Penn State 18-13. Despite the glam of the lights, the game was far from pretty — for either team — but Michigan gutted out a much needed win.

Penn State’s offense came out buzzing in the first quarter, but not on the big arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Instead, it was with the legs of running back Bill Belton, who rushed for 51 yards in the first quarter after coming into the game with just 189 yards through the first five games. But Penn State managed just two Sam Ficken field goals on its first two possessions, from 35 yards and 32 yards out.

UM-PennState-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 18 13
Record 3-4, 1-2 4-2, 1-2
Total Yards 256 214
Net Rushing Yards 64 54
Net Passing Yards 192 160
First Downs 12 16
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 3-30 5-23
Punts-Yards 5-219 5-167
Time of Possession 29:00 31:00
Third Down Conversions 6-of-15 6-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 6-40 3-14
Field Goals 3-for-3 2-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 1-of-2 3-of-3
Full Box Score

Michigan wasted no time putting points on the board, taking its first possession of the game 75 yards in six plays for a touchdown. On the drive, Michigan converted a 3rd-and-3 with a 14-yard pass to Amara Darboh, and three plays later, Gardner lofted up a deep ball for Devin Funchess. While it was in the air, it appeared to be an easy interception for the Penn State defensive back, but Funchess raced in front of him at the last minute, grabbed the ball and scored.

Michigan’s second possession, however, wasn’t as fortunate. After Penn State kicked its second field goal to pull within 7-6, Michigan started on its own 29. On 3rd-and-13, Gardner found Darboh again, this time for 21 yards. A Kyle Kalis holding penalty on the next play pushed Michigan back 10 yards, and two plays later, on 2nd-and-20, Gardner tried to lob a screen pass over the defender’s head. Instead, Penn State’s Anthony Zettel picked it off and returned it five yards to the Michigan 28. Penn State punched it in on 3rd-and-goal from the 10 when Hackenberg fired a laser to DaeSean Hamilton across the middle to take a 13-7 lead.

Michigan then put together an 11-play drive that included yet another Gardner-to-Darboh third down conversion, this time a 20-yarder on 3rd-and-11. But the drive stalled at the Penn State 28 and Michigan was forced to kick a field goal, which Matt Wile made from 45 yards out. Neither team was able to do anything the rest of the half, and Penn State took a 13-10 lead into the locker room.

The third quarter was a display of poor offense from both teams as Michigan mustered just 53 total yards and Penn State just 41 in the quarter. But Michigan created the break it needed when, on 3rd-and-4 from the Penn State 32, Jourdan Lewis intercepted Hackenberg. Michigan’s offense was unable to pick up a first down with Russell Bellomy taking the snaps after Gardner left the game with an injured foot on the previous series. Wile converted a 42-yard field goal to tie the game at 13.

Michigan started the fourth quarter with possession at the Penn State 49 after forcing a 26-yard punt. On the second play, Gardner, who returned to the game with a considerable limp, connected with Dennis Norfleet along the left sideline for 24 yards. Yet again, the drive stalled, but Wile booted a 37-yard field goal to give Michigan a 16-13 lead.

The Michigan defense held strong after Penn State crossed midfield. Penn State punted it back to Michigan with 7:04 remaining. The Wolverines took to the ground to eat up the clock. Justice Hayes rushed for five yards and then four. On 3rd-and-1, De’Veon Smith moved the chains with a seven-yard run. After two more runs by Hayes and an incomplete pass on third down, Michigan was forced to punt, but it had eaten up half of the remaining time.

Penn State was called for an illegal block on the punt return, which gave the Nittany Lions possession on their own 8-yard line, needing to drive 92 yards with 3:44 remaining. Hackenberg completed a 17-yard pass on the first play, but was sacked by Jake Ryan two plays later and was called for intentional grounding. On 3rd-and-19 from the 16, Frank Clark sacked Hackenberg at the three, forcing 4th-and-32 with less than two minutes to play. Penn State head coach James Franklin elected to snap the punt out of the end zone for a safety rather than kick it back to Michigan or try to make an impossible conversion. That made the score 18-13 Michigan.

Penn State lined up for an onside kick and converted it, but Jesse Della Valle was flagged for offside on the kick and the Nittany Lions had to retry. This time, Blake Countess covered it up and Michigan was able to run out the clock.

Michigan’s defense held Penn State to a season-low 214 total yards and Hackenberg to a season-low 160 passing yards. Hackenberg completed 21-of-32 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Michigan’s defense also recorded six sacks, the most since the first game of 2008. With sack yardage included, Penn State managed just 54 yards rushing.

Offensively, Michigan totaled just 256 yards and only 64 on the ground, but Gardner was an efficient 16-of-24 for 192 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Bellomy threw just two passes and neither was completed. Funchess caught a team-high seven passes for 69 yards and a score, while Darboh caught four for 66. Smith led the way on the ground with 24 yards on 12 carries. Jake Ryan led the defense with 10 total tackles, three for loss, and one sack. Brennen Beyer recorded two sacks, while Clark and Ben Gedeon each had one, and Mario Ojemudia and Chris Wormley had a half a sack each.

Michigan is now 3-0 in night games at Michigan Stadium. Tonight’s win was the first home night game against a Big Ten foe. At 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten, Michigan has a much-needed week off before traveling to East Lansing to face rival Michigan State (5-1, 2-0).

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Miami (Ohio)

Monday, September 8th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

The only good news that can come out of a humiliating loss like Michigan suffered on Saturday is that somebody will still win a $20 gift card to The M Den. This week, that person is Bigboyblue, whose point differential of 152 beat second-place Hazel Parker by 21 points. Bigboyblue wasn’t the closest on any single answer, but was the most consistent with all five.

Everyone overestimated Derrick Green’s rushing yards. Green finished with just 25 yards on 13 carries. MichiganMack and scoon both predicted Green would rush for 50, so they were the closest. Chris12qb‘s prediction of 100 receiving yards for Devin Funchess was the closest on that question, just seven short of Funchess’ total of 107, while MichiganMack and Bigboyblue were both just 12 away.

The third and fourth questions, Everett Golson’s total yards (212) and Michigan’s combined punt and kickoff return yards (16), were what tripped most contestants up. KashKaav was only five short of Golson’s total yards, while MEKMichigan was the closest to Michigan’s return yards, 29 away. Notre Dame’s special teams did a great job of limiting Michigan’s chances, holding the Wolverines to just one kick return and no punt returns. Finally, the longest touchdown of the game went for 24 yards and WarN‘s prediction of 26 was only two away.

As you can imagine, no one was close to correctly predicting the final score. In fact, the lowest anyone predicted Michigan scoring was 17. The average score prediction was Michigan 33 – Notre Dame 25. All 25 contestants picked Michigan to win. The largest spread was 25 points (Michigan 45 – Notre Dame 20) and the closest was one point (Michigan 31 – Notre Dame 30).

The Week 2 results and Overall Standings are on the right sidebar.

Michigan returns home to face a Miami (Ohio) squad riding an 18-game losing streak this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Miami lost to Eastern Kentucky 17-10 on Saturday and Marshall 42-27 in Week 1.

Here are this week’s questions:

Not this time: Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 14

Sunday, August 31st, 2014


Funchess TD vs App State(MGoBlue.com)

Seven years ago one of the best collections of senior talent in recent Michigan history suffered the most embarrassing loss in program history. This time around, a Michigan squad entering the season with plenty of questions made sure it didn’t suffer the same fate. Football was back in the Big House and Michigan left no doubt, sending Appalachian State back to Boone, N.C. in a much different fashion than it did in 2007 with a 52-14 loss.

After forcing a three-and-out on App State’s first possession, Michigan didn’t take long to find the end zone. Devin Gardner pitched the ball out to Devin Funchess for 11 yards on the first play, and nine plays later, found Funchess in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown. On the opening drive, Dennis Norfleet caught a 10-yard pass and Jehu Chesson caught a 19-yard pass.

Michigan’s defense forced another App State punt and the second drive began and ended just like the first. Gardner connected with Funchess for 18 yards, and after four De’Veon Smith runs, Gardner hit Funchess for a 34-yard catch and run touchdown to put Michigan ahead 14-0.

Michigan’s offense stalled a bit at the beginning of the second quarter. The Wolverines forced another punt, but couldn’t do much on their third possession of the game. Derrick Green busted a 19-yard run on the possession’s second play, but Gardner was sacked two plays later and Michigan punted. After another App State punt, Gardner hooked up with Amara Darboh for 26 yards to the App State 30. The drive stalled and Matt Wile missed a 48-yard field goal.

UM-AppSt-small-final-final
Final Stats
Michigan App State
Score 52 14
Record 1-0 0-1
Total Yards 560 280
Net Rushing Yards 350 153
Net Passing Yards 210 127
First Downs 24 17
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 4-44 8-69
Punts-Yards 1-46 8-287
Time of Possession 30:08 29:52
Third Down Conversions 5-of-8 5-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 2-9 1-8
Field Goals 1-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 7-for-7 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 2-of-2
Full Box Score

App State still couldn’t muster any offense, punting it right back to Michigan and the Wolverines’ offense finally clicked once again. Green ripped off a 59-yard run on the first play and Gardner found Funchess for nine yards on the second. A facemask penalty moved the ball to the ASU 8-yard line and Gardner lobbed up a jump ball for Funchess in the back of the end zone on the next play. Funchess leaped over two defenders, caught the ball, and got a foot down to give Michigan a 21-0 lead.

Michigan’s next possession was all on the ground as Smith rambled for 61 yards on the first play and a 12-yard touchdown on the next and it appeared that Michigan would take a 28-0 lead into the half. But the special teams had different plans. After forcing App State to punt once again, Mike McCray blocked the punt and Ben Gedeon picked it up and raced 32 yards for the score. Through one half of play, Michigan had out gained Appalachian State 334-74.

In the second half, Michigan picked up right where it left off, this time letting Green do the work. Green carried the ball on all six plays, yet again breaking a big one, this time for 62 yards, and finishing it off with a one-yard touchdown run.

Appalachian State finally got in on the action, putting together its first extended drive of the day. The Mountaineers went 75 yards in 11 plays, capped off by an eight-yard touchdown pass from Kameron Bryant to Simms McElfresh. The scoring drive was aided by a 34-yard pass from Bryant to Jaylan Barbour.

App State fooled Michigan with an onside kick recovery, but the kicker inadvertently touched the ball before it went 10 yards and Michigan took over at the ASU 44-yard line. Gardner led off the drive with a 17-yard pass to Norfleet, then rushed twice for three and eight yards. After a three-yard pass to Chesson, Smith punctuated the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead 49-7.

Michigan forced another App State punt and Shane Morris came in to relieve Gardner. On the drive’s third play, Morris connected with Keith Heitzman for 26 yards, but on the following play, Morris was intercepted at the App State 4-yard line.

The Mountaineers took advantage, marching 96 yards in 19 plays. Marcus Cox carried it in from a yard out for App State’s second touchdown of the game. Matt Wile kicked an 18-yard field goal on Michigan’s next possession and the Wolverines won 52-14.

Gardner passed Tom Brady for seventh on Michigan’s career touchdown list, going 13-of-14 for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Funchess caught seven passes for 95 yards and three scores, becoming the first player in Michigan history to score three touchdowns in the season opener. Green led Michigan with with 170 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (11.3 yards per carry), while Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries (14.4 yards per carry).

As a team, Michigan amassed 560 total yards and averaged 10.2 yards per play, while holding Appalachian State to just 280 total yards — mostly with the second-team defense in. Michigan converted 5-of-8 third downs and held App State to just 5-of-17. Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley each recorded a sack, while Desmond Morgan and James Ross led the team with six tackles apiece.

Michigan travels to South Bend next Saturday for the final meeting with Notre Dame. The Irish beat Rice 48-17 in Week 1.

Notes: 

Devin Funchess switched from No. 87 to No. 1 prior to the game, marking the first time the number has been worn since Braylon Edwards in 2004.

 The Michigan Stadium attendance of 106,811 was the 252nd consecutive game with more than 100,000 fans.

 Michigan is now 111-21-3 all-time in season openers and Brady Hoke is now 9-3 (4-0 at Michigan).

 The game captains for Michigan were Brennen Beyer, Frank Clark, Devin Gardner, Desmond Morgan, and Jake Ryan.

 Jabrill Peppers was injured in the first quarter, but played the rest of the half. He did not play the second half. Hoke said afterward that he could have gone if needed, but they wanted to keep him healthy for next week.

 Gardner’s 92.8 completion percentage was second in program history with a minimum of 10 completions, behind only Tate Forcier’s 100 percent (12-of-12) versus Bowling Green on Sept. 25, 2010.

• Gardner also passed Tom Brady for ninth in career passing yards (5,280).

 Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith both eclipsed 100 yards, the 38th time two backs have done so in the same game in program history. It was the first time since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor did so against Minnesota on Oct. 27, 2007.

 Michigan’s streak of 15 consecutive games with a forced turnover ended.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Return specialists

Friday, August 8th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-ReturnSpecialists

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the top special-teams performers in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed here are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily those who have performed the best in previous years. On Wednesday, we ranked who will be the five best kicking specialists—placekickers or punters—in the conference. Today, we reveal who will be the five best return specialists in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two |
Special Teams: Kicking Specialists,

5. Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa (WR) | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 205 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 0 0 0 0 20 15.7 83 2
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 4 20.5 23 0 0 0 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 4 20.5 23 0 20 15.7 83 2
(Denny Medley, US Presswire)

(Denny Medley, US Presswire)

So what criteria should be used to determine who will be the best return specialists in the Big Ten? Are the better returners the ones that are more likely to break one for a touchdown on any given return, even if they have fewer returns because they field either only kickoffs or only punts, like Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Purdue’s Akeem Hunt? Or should players that are not only explosive but also expected to pull double duty and return both kickoffs and punts, such as Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Wisconsin’s Kenzel Doe, be given priority? Although all four of the aforementioned players were not ranked on this list, we decided to focus more on the latter group because they will have a larger overall impact on special teams. But this does not mean that a player that specializes in only one type of return cannot crack the top five.

Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley has made a name for himself as a premier punt returner, but this was not the case until recently. After redshirting in 2010, his first two seasons spent on the field were devoted to his true position of wide receiver, where he was quite productive. Martin-Manley turned in a 30-catch, 323-yard campaign as a freshman before becoming Iowa’s leading receiver with 52 receptions for 571 yards as a sophomore. But, during these first two years, he took zero reps as a punt returner, playing only sparingly as a kickoff returner as a freshman. Instead, at that time, the punt returner job belonged to defensive back Micah Hyde, who fielded 29 of the 30 punts Iowa returned in 2011 and 2012. However, Hyde graduated after the 2012 season, and Iowa needed to locate his successor for the following season. Martin-Manley was the choice.

So how did Martin-Manley perform as a punt returner despite having not played the position since he was a high-school senior in 2009? Pretty, pretty good. He led the Big Ten with 314 yards on 20 punt returns for an average of 15.70 yards per punt return. Not only was his average the second-best in the Big Ten, it was the eighth-best nationally. These praiseworthy numbers can mostly be attributed to one spectacular performance against Western Michigan early in the season. In that matchup, he returned four punts for an astonishing 184 yards, averaging 46 yards per return. But the most remarkable feat of the day was Martin-Manley scoring two touchdowns on back-to-back punt returns about a minute apart—an 83-yarder and a 63-yarder. He became the first Big Ten player to ever return back-to-back punts for touchdowns and just the second player in the past decade to return two punts for touchdowns in the same quarter. This achievement alone was sufficient to earn himself a spot as a specialist on last year’s All-Big Ten first team by multiple media outlets.

As a fifth-year senior this fall, Martin-Manley should resume his role as Iowa’s punt returner. Although it is unlikely that he again will have the type of performance he had against Western Michigan, he should still be one of the most feared punt returners in the Big Ten. What makes Martin-Manley such a dangerous returner is not his speed—even head coach Kirk Ferentz admits that Martin-Manley is not a “burner”—but his vision. He is a smart runner that can see the hole before it materializes and set up his blocks accordingly. This is a valuable trait for any returner to have, yet so few possess it. This is why it would not be a surprise to see Martin-Manley return one or two more punts for a touchdown in 2014.

4. Marcus Jones, Minnesota (DB) | Senior – 5’8”, 173 lbs.
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 25 24.9 98 1 11 10.5 65 1
2012 4 18.8 22 0 3 15.7 22 0
2011 13 28.5 92 1 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 42 25.4 98 2 14 11.6 65 1
(Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

(Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

It takes time for some football players to discover their niche on a team. Minnesota’s Marcus Jones is a great example. In all honesty, he should have found his niche as a true freshman. Notwithstanding his status as a former two-star cornerback recruit, Jones impressed the Minnesota staff as a wide receiver the moment he stepped on campus, which led to him starting in the opener against USC. After seeing Jones’ athleticism in action, the staff asked him to start returning kickoffs as conference play began. In his first three Big Ten contests, Jones electrified the crowds in that role. He returned 13 kickoffs for 370 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown against Purdue. If he had maintained his average of 28.46 yards per kickoff for the remainder of the season, it would have been the third-best in the Big Ten. Jones may have been a productive receiver, but his potential as a special-teams star was enormous.

The potential seemed like it would never be fulfilled, though. In a practice after that third Big Ten contest, Jones blew out his left knee, tearing an ACL, which forced him to miss the rest of his freshman year. Then, he had far less of an impact on offense and special teams the following season. The staff rarely utilized him as a returner—he fielded only seven total kicks in the first 11 games—and he played many fewer snaps at wideout. To compound matters, Jones then tore his other ACL near the end of his sophomore campaign, creating another significant setback he would need to overcome. Many began to question whether Jones would lose a step after two serious knee injuries or ever regain the form he had early as a freshman.

Those questions were answered quite swiftly in 2013. In Minnesota’s season opener against UNLV, Jones caught a kickoff at his own two-yard line and exploded through a hole for a 98-yard sprint to pay dirt. The following week, Jones proved that his return touchdown in the opener was not a fluke. In the second quarter against New Mexico State, he hauled in a punt, broke a tackle as soon as he secured the football, and sped 65 yards for his second special-teams touchdown in as many weeks. Jones’ status as Minnesota’s starting kickoff and punt returner was cemented. He finished the season with an average of 10.45 yards per punt return—the third-highest among Big Ten players that returned at least 10 punts—and 24.88 yards per kickoff return. Not too shabby for a player coming off two knee surgeries in successive seasons.

In 2014, there are no more concerns, questions, or doubt about Jones and what is capable of performing on special teams. Although Minnesota has some talented speedsters on its roster, such as Antonio Johnson, KJ Maye, and Berkley Edwards, none of them will supplant Jones as the starting kickoff and punt returner. For the first time since he arrived in Minneapolis as a true freshman, Jones will not be beginning the season after suffering a significant injury the year prior. Accordingly, he should be able to shine more than ever as a special-teams specialist. He may not have the shiftiness that some of the others on this list have, but he will thrive as a cut-and-go returner. This will be his only role for Minnesota this season. It took three years, but Jones finally found his niche.

3. William Likely, Maryland (DB) | Sophomore – 5’7″, 175 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 28 26.0 51 0 16 12.8 63 1
Career Totals 28 26.0 51 0 16 12.8 63 1
(G. Fiume, Getty Images)

(G. Fiume, Getty Images)

This is William Likely’s second appearance in the 2014 Big Ten Position Rankings series. Two weeks ago, Likely was ranked as the No. 9 cornerback in the Big Ten after recording 70 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and eight passes defended in 11 starts as a true freshman last year. He is expected to make a sophomore leap like many have before him and shore up a Maryland secondary that, quite frankly, was only mediocre in 2013. However, this is not the only area where Likely will contribute this season.

In 2013, before he was inserted into the starting lineup as a cornerback, Likely made his debut on special teams, starring as Maryland’s kickoff returner. He proved immediately how exhilarating he could be in that role for the Terrapins, taking the first career kickoff he fielded 43 yards against Old Dominion. He then followed that up with a 45-yard kickoff return versus Connecticut, a 50-yard kickoff return versus Boston College, and a career-long 51-yard kickoff return versus North Carolina State. With the help of four 40-plus-yard kickoff returns, Likely averaged 26.04 yards per kickoff return, which was the third-best in the ACC and would have been the fourth-best in the Big Ten. Likely’s performance as a kickoff returner, along with limited assistance from Stefon Diggs before he suffered a season-ending injury, propelled Maryland to the sixth-best Kickoff Return Efficiency rating nationally according to FEI. But Likely’s impact on special teams did not end there.

Likely’s abilities as a punt returner were just as effective. He returned 16 punts for 205 yards and an average of 12.81 yards per return. His per-punt-return average was the fourth-highest in the ACC and would have been the third-highest in the Big Ten. This can be credited to returning three punts 20-plus yards, including a 63-yarder that he took to the house against Virginia Tech after one shifty juke and a burst of speed. It was not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Likely did muff one punt in the opener against Florida International and admitted he had trouble tracking very high punts. Nonetheless, Likely improved throughout the season and finished as one of the most dynamic returners in the ACC.

Likely should reassume his duties as Maryland’s kickoff and punt returner this fall. As a sophomore, he should be as productive in the return game as he was last season. Not only does Likely possess great speed and lateral quickness, his 5’7” stature makes him a small target for coverage units to bring down. However, the reason he is not higher on this list is because Maryland may rotate other players at both positions. Diggs, a former five-star athlete that averaged 28.52 yards per kickoff and returned two kickoffs for a touchdown as a freshman in 2012, is healthy again, although it is unclear how much he will play there because he took a backseat to Likely before the injury last year. Other options also include brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs, the latter of which was a member of the United States Junior Olympic Track and Field team. While Maryland has lots of pieces with which to work, ultimately, Likely should be featured at both return positions and continue to produce on both defense and special teams.

2. V’Angelo Bentley, Illinois (DB) | Junior – 5’10″, 190 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 10 663 100 1 10 189 67 1
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 10 663 100 1 10 189 67 1
(Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

(Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

Similar to Maryland’s William Likely, Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley is a cornerback and a return specialist. Dissimilar to Likely, though, Bentley is not near being one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Last season was the first time Bentley saw extensive action in the defensive backfield, starting eight games at cornerback. He tallied an impressive four tackles-for-loss but recorded only 22 tackles and three passes defended. Although fewer tackles is not necessarily a slight against cornerback play, Bentley still was a starting defensive back for what advanced statistics considered to be the 108th-ranked pass defense in the country. Bentley has much upon which to improve when it comes to his performance as a cornerback. As a return specialist, though? Not so much.

Last season, Bentley was one of, if not the, best punt returners in the Big Ten. Among all Big Ten players that returned a minimum of 10 punts, no one had a better per-punt-return average than Bentley’s 15.75 yards, which was also the seventh-highest in the nation. It certainly helped that 25 percent of his 12 punt returns gained at least 25 yards. He had a 26-yarder against Cincinnati and a 50-yarder against Miami (OH), but none compared to his 67-yard touchdown return against Ohio State. Not only was the return itself a dandy, but it is even more impressive that he did it against the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s punt coverage unit was exceptional last season. Through its first nine games, it allowed only two punts to be returned for three yards. That is it. But Bentley just shrugged that off and returned three punts for 82 yards against the Buckeyes, scoring the only punt-return touchdown they allowed all season. This feat speaks to the type of talent Bentley has as a punt returner.

However, Bentley needs to work out some kinks as a kickoff returner. Whereas he had the highest per-punt-return average in the Big Ten, he had the second-lowest per-kickoff-return average among Big Ten players with a minimum of 10 kickoffs (21.39 yards). Too many times he would receive the kickoff at the goal line or just in front of it and fail to bring the ball out past the 20-yard line. While some of this is due to poor blocking by his teammates on the kickoff return unit, some of this also is due to Bentley dancing around in an attempt to reel off the big play. Although Bentley can provide that big play every once in a while, like this 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Illinois that features an excellent cutback, he needs to be more patient when there is no hole and power forward for yards to give Illinois better starting field position. If Bentley can make this adjustment next season, he very well could be the best return specialist in the conference given his prowess as a punt returner.

1. Janarion Grant, Rutgers (WR) | Sophomore - 5’11″, 175 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 21 24.6 100 1 17 9.2 58 1
Career Totals 21 24.6 100 1 17 9.2 58 1
(Tom Ciszek, NJ Sports Photo)

(Tom Ciszek, NJ Sports Photo)

There are ridiculously few college football players that can honestly claim that they scored a touchdown the very first snap of their career. As all Michigan fans know, former quarterback Denard Robinson is one. What Michigan fans do not know—until now—is that Rutgers’ Janarion Grant is another. In Rutgers’ season opener against Fresno State last season, Grant made his collegiate debut when he stepped onto the gridiron to return a kickoff after Fresno State scored on its opening drive. Grant received the kickoff with the soles of his feet on the goal line, spotted a hole, and hit the turbo button as he sprinted 100 yards untouched into the end zone. In just 12 seconds, a special-teams stud was born.

As a true freshman, Grant was one of the best return specialists in the AAC last season. Among all AAC players that returned a minimum of 10 kickoffs or 10 punts, Grant had the second-best per-punt-return average (9.18 yards) and the fourth-best per-kickoff-return average (24.64 yards) in the AAC. While these yardage averages may not seem as impressive in comparison to the averages other returners on this list have earned, it is imperative to remember that not all coverage units that a returner faces are created equal. The AAC had some of the best punt and kickoff coverage units in the nation, and, unlike the specialists in the Big Ten, Grant had the challenge to return against all of them. Accordingly, notwithstanding Grant’s low yardage averages, Rutgers’ FEI rating for Punt Return Efficiency and Kickoff Return Efficiency was ranked second and 13th nationally, respectively. There were few schools, if any, that had a better overall return unit than Rutgers. And Grant was the star of the special-teams show.

Grant likely will produce even better numbers as a return specialist next season. First, Grant likely will face coverage units in the Big Ten that are not as strong as the one he went against in the AAC. The only exceptions are Ohio State, Michigan State, and maybe Michigan only if it scraps its traditional punting formation. Second, Grant should field more kickoffs and punts this season than last. In 2013, he shared his return responsibilities with then-senior Quron Pratt. With Pratt gone, the majority of those remaining returns should be allocated to Grant. This will provide him with more opportunities to score special-teams touchdowns like this punt he returned 58 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. So Big Ten opponents should not be surprised if Grant breaks off a huge return when they face Rutgers this season. He demonstrated from the very first play of his career that he is a threat that cannot be taken lightly.

What do you think? Do you think Rutgers’ Janarion Grant will be the best return specialist in the Big Ten this season? Or do you think it will be someone else? Do you think it was unfair to leave returners like Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Purdue’s Akeem Hunt off the list because they specialize in only one type of return? And do you think any of Michigan’s potential return specialists, whether it is Dennis Norfleet or Jabrill Peppers, should have cracked this top five? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week, we will bend our definition of the word “position” and rank the best Big Ten coaching staffs.

Predicting Michigan: The special teams

Thursday, August 7th, 2014


Predicting-Michigan-SpecialTeams

Will Hagerup(Adam Glanzman, The Michigan Daily)

Special teams never receives the same attention as the offense or defense, but this unit has a major impact on every game and how the field position battle is determined. Young players use special teams reps to earn time at their natural positions early in their careers, so the athletes that Michigan has brought to Ann Arbor in recent recruiting classes bodes well for coach Dan Ferrigno. In 2014 Michigan will feature a new-look core of specialists despite an array of familiar faces.

Kicker

Special teams utility man Matt Wile will take over the primary kicking duties during his senior year after an up-and-down campaign as the starting punter. Wile gives Michigan an added dimension to the offense, as his power makes longer field goal attempts much more of a reality.

Wile showed flashes of greatness during 2013, including a 49-yard field goal through the rain in East Lansing to give Michigan a temporary 3-0 lead. The junior also booted one of the finest punts in school history: A 69-yard blast that pinned Nebraska on its own three-yard line on Nov. 9.

As a senior Wile has a chance to be an excellent place kicker for Doug Nussmeier, whose pro-style offense will attempt field goals more often than take a chance in a fourth-down situation. Wile has converted five field goals on eight career attempts and is a perfect 4-of-4 inside 50 yards. He has has also made all five extra points he has attempted in his career.

Career Stats – Wile
Year FGM FGA FG % Long 1-39 40-49 50+ PAT
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 2 3 66.7 52 0-0 1-1 1-2 0-0
2013 3 5 60.0 49 2-2 1-1 0-2 5-5
Totals 5 8 62.5 52 2-2 2-2 1-4 5-5

Punter

Michigan’s 2012 Big Ten Punter of the Year returns from a year-long suspension to resume punting duties for his final season of eligibility. Will Hagerup is one of the finest punters that Michigan has ever seen on the field, and if he can keep his act together off the field he could be one of the top special teams performers in the country this season.

When Hagerup last played for the Wolverines, he led the Big Ten with a school-record 45 yards per punt and added 13 punts of over 50 yards. Though punters are often overlooked, Hagerup was the most valuable player for Michigan at times during his junior season, including the opening game against Alabama when he averaged 51.3 yards on six punts and crushed his season-long 62-yarder.

In Hagerup’s absence, Wile struggled with consistency as punter in 2013, kicking several attempts off the side of his foot and straight out of bounds. Hagerup will give Michigan a reliable option that flips the field on the opposing offense nearly every punt. Expect Brady Hoke to punt more often on fourth down because of the consistency Hagerup offers.

Career Stats – Hagerup
Year Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20 Blk
2010 33 1,440 43.6 72 2 6 11 1
2011 29 1,043 36.0 50 1 8 5 0
2012 33 1,486 45.0 62 4 4 3 0
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 95 3,969 41.8 72 7 18 19 1

Returners

Michigan lost one of its top kick return options when Jeremy Gallon graduated and entered the NFL Draft, but a star recruit is coming to Ann Arbor to try to revive a Wolverine return game that has lain dormant since Steve Breaston last donned the Maize and Blue.

For the past two seasons, the speedy Dennis Norfleet has been largely considered the best return option for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, reality has shown that the 160-pound junior struggles to follow his blockers and break big returns. Norfleet has shown brief glimpses of potential as a returner — such as a 42-yard punt return against Illinois in 2012 — but he has shaky hands and averages just 23.6 yards per return on kicks.

While Norfleet will likely hold the starting job out of camp, incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers offers an intriguing second option. Peppers will play predominately in the secondary as a Wolverine, but he also owns the skills to be a valuable specialist. His pure athletic ability and strong build equip the five-star with the tools to be an electric kick and punt returner. If Norfleet has an average start to the 2014 season, expect Michigan to give Peppers an opportunity as a freshman because of his enormous breakout potential.

Michigan also gave sophomore Jourdan Lewis a look at punt returner during the spring game. Lewis is an athletic defensive back and could start the season on punt returns if the coaching staff is hesitant to hand the reins to Norfleet, who has returned just five punts in his career.

Career Stats – Norfleet
Year Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2012 35 23.6 38 0 2 26.5 42 0
2013 40 23.4 44 0 3 -0.3 2 0
Totals 75 23.5 44 0 5 10.4 42 0
Career Stats – Lewis
Year Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 1 18.0 18 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 1 18.0 18 0 0 0 0 0

Overall, while neither kicking specialist will be the same as last season, there is still plenty of talent returning, and if Peppers can live up to the hype that has surrounded him since his commitment, Michigan’s special teams could be a big strength this fall.

M&GB Roundtable talks freshmen, but not THAT freshman

Friday, August 1st, 2014


Roundtable-Freshmen

Canteen

So far this offseason we have discussed the status of Hoke’s hot seat (we pretty much all agreed this is not a make or break season for him) and the Michigan Football Legends jerseys program (we’re all in agreement that we like them, but they need a few guidelines). As we continue our offseason staff roundtable series today, we’re providing our thoughts on freshmen. You may have heard about this incoming defensive back named Jabrill Peppers, but we’re not talking about him. Here’s the question:

Which freshman — true or redshirt — are you most excited about this season, not named Jabrill Peppers? Who, other than Peppers, do you think will have the biggest impact this fall, and why?

Justin-banner

Jabrill Peppers is undoubtedly the freshman everyone is excited about. At Big Ten Media Days, it seemed that every other question for Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and Frank Clark was about Peppers. The amount of hype for an 18-year-old kid that hasn’t played a down of college football yet is unreal, and while we all hope it’s warranted, it was clear that Hoke and Michigan’s player representatives were tired of talking about it.

The only other freshman that has received a good amount of hype is receiver Freddy Canteen, and he’s who I’m most excited about. He was the talk of spring practice, showing off great speed, agility, and explosiveness — a combination Michigan has lacked at receiver for years. Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, and Junior Hemingway have been very good receivers the past few years, but they were all different types of receivers than Canteen. Michigan hasn’t had the Mario Manningham or Steve Breaston type of receiver (yes, I know Manningham played outside) that can complement the bigger possession receivers. And with the 6’5″, 230-pound Devin Funchess out wide, a speedy Canteen in the slot would be the perfect complement.

The big question mark for the receiving corps is redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh, who was the offseason hype machine and in line to start last season before breaking his foot in fall camp. That allowed Jehu Chesson, who was behind Darboh at the time, to work his way into the lineup. Chesson had an okay season (15 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown), but didn’t show the consistent playmaking ability. He flashed it — a catch-and-run across the middle touchdown against Akron and a jump ball in double coverage at Michigan State — but averaged barely over one catch a game. His blocking ability — a very important trait for a receiver, especially in Michigan’s offense — will keep him in the rotation, but he’ll likely battle with Darboh for the second outside spot opposite Funchess.

Canteen will likely battle with Dennis Norfleet for the slot job, and if they spring hype is accurate, has the leg up. Norfleet is just 5’7″, 169-pounds, and although shifty, has yet to fulfill the hype many expected of him. He was used sparingly on offense last season, and to mild success, because when he was on the field, it was a tell-tale sign that he was getting the ball on a trick play. Canteen’s size and game-breaking ability will allow him to stay on the field and be available for those trick plays without giving them away.

With Funchess playing the Gallon, Roundtree, and Hemingway role as The Man, Darboh and Chesson providing consistency and reliability on the other side, and Canteen giving big-play potential in the slot, this could be a very good receiving corps. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ but the potential is there, and for the first time in several years, there doesn’t appear to be a weak link in the group. The ideal situation would be for Darboh to return to the level he was pre-injury and start opposite Funchess with Canteen in the slot and Chesson rotating in for Darboh. Of course, the possibility exists that Canteen grabs the No. 2 receiver job on the outside — opposite Funchess — but that would leave Norfleet in the slot and both Darboh and Chesson coming off the bench, so that’s not ideal.

Drew-banner

There really are only a few legitimate candidates that can be considered. For the first time in a few seasons, Michigan finally will have experienced depth at most positions this fall thanks mostly to Brady Hoke’s work on the recruiting trail. In 2012 and 2013, the years he brought in his first two full recruiting classes, Hoke received commitments from 53 prospects. Currently, 52 of them still are on scholarship at Michigan, with only linebacker Kaleb Ringer transferring after he suffered a significant knee injury. The superb retention rate and lack of attrition in the 2012 and 2013 classes have allowed talented juniors and sophomores to flood Michigan’s depth chart. Accordingly, there are very few spots where Michigan needs freshmen—true or redshirt—to contribute immediately.

The only freshmen—other than Jabrill Peppers—that have an opportunity to start or see extensive playing time on either offense or defense are wide receiver Freddy Canteen and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr. There are a few other freshmen that could make notable contributions, though. Tight ends Khalid Hill and Ian Bunting may be valuable assets early in the season while Jake Butt completes his recovery from an ACL tear. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone, an early enrollee, may work his way into the defensive-line rotation by season’s end. And there are multiple offensive linemen with freshman eligibility that may be promoted to first string if the presumed starters—four sophomores and a junior—cannot improve upon what was arguably the nation’s worst offensive line last season, but Michigan fans are hoping this development does not come to fruition. Nevertheless, no freshman other than Peppers will have the impact that Canteen or Hurst, Jr. will have.

Although Hurst, Jr. may have a bigger impact as a plausible starter on the defensive line, the freshman not named Peppers that I am most excited about undoubtedly is Canteen. Canteen was a complete unknown when he committed to the Wolverines shortly after participating in Michigan’s summer camp in 2013. However, it was clear that he was unheralded only because his high school team played just three games his junior season. Once Michigan fans saw his game film and Vines of his terrific footwork, they started buzzing. Then, after he enrolled early last January, the coaching staff and his teammates began buzzing, too. Canteen provided a small taste of what he is capable of in the “spring game” when he flashed his swift speed and brisk footwork for what should have been two long completions, including one where he burned All-Big Ten first-team cornerback Blake Countess deep. With his crisp routes, he has the ability to be a playmaker immediately.

Canteen may not start, but he will play many snaps as a true freshman. Michigan lost four wide receivers, including record-setter Jeremy Gallon, to graduation in the offseason. Although the Wolverines still have arguably the Big Ten’s best wideout in Devin Funchess, they will need the younger guys to step up as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Canteen will compete with sophomores Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson for those spots and already may have the edge on both. Plus, Michigan always could slide him in at slot receiver ahead of Dennis Norfleet. Either way, few freshmen will earn as much playing time in 2014 as Canteen, and he should dazzle all of us with his moves.

Josh-banner

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be asking this question. Personally, I would like to see ALL first year players get redshirted, sit and learn and pack on some weight without any pressure to perform. Sadly we don’t live in that world and so here we are. At first I wanted to say Freddy Canteen after his spring game showing. I mean c’mon it makes perfect sense, with Jeremy Gallon in the NFL and Jake Butt sidelined, someone has to catch the balls not thrown to Funchess. But after I thought about it a while a certain press conference came to mind, and to paraphrase of one of the greatest sports rants ever; “We talkin’ bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin’ about practice.”

I’m going to head to the other side of the ball and go with Bryan Mone. The defensive line struggles, as with all of Michigan’s struggles in ’13, were well documented. They didn’t generate sufficient pass pressure, didn’t stop the run (to put it lightly) and overall were just, well not that good. Mone is a big boy, a very big boy, and by all accounts the kid can move quite well. A guy who can eat up space and occupy more than one blocker can be devastating, and if he can get into the backfield all the better. Now I won’t go so far as to say I think he’ll be Vince Wilfork, he’s a once in a lifetime player, but I do think given the chance Mone can make some noise and help get Michigan’s defense back to being a Michigan defense.

Derick-banner

I’m hoping I don’t jinx him by choosing another wide receiver this year (Darboh didn’t exactly break out last season), but how can fans not be excited about Freddy Canteen? The freshman wide receiver stormed onto the stage during the Spring Game, offering one of the few bright spots in what turned out to be a sloppy performance.

Canteen separated himself from a loaded group of young wide receivers and should line up with the starters along with captain Devin Funchess. His speed will give the offense another dimension that it badly needed after the loss of both Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation.

Canteen isn’t the most talented freshman receiver in Ann Arbor, but unlike classmates Drake Harris and Maurice Ways, the youngster has the offensive coaching staff buzzing about his ability as the calendar turns to August. Look for Canteen to give quarterback Devin Gardner a second option to Funchess early in the nonconference season.

_________________________________________________________________________________

So what do you think? Is Canteen your guy as well, or are you more excited about another freshman? Do you think any other freshmen will make a big contribution to the team this fall? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-Receivers

Devin Funchess, Jake ButtWhen wide receiver Jeremy Gallon walked off the field in Arizona after Michigan’s loss to Kansas State, the Wolverines lost 42.6 percent of their receiving yards for the season and the top playmaker on the team.

Michigan’s receiving corps was a one-man wrecking crew in 2013, with Gallon averaging 15.5 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His departure leaves room for a deep group of young wide outs to grow with the rest of the Wolverine offense.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

The Starters

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Devin Funchess represents Michigan’s top returning receiver after transitioning from tight end to wide out during the 2013 season. Funchess was moved to receiver officially after playing a tight end-wide receiver hybrid position that highlighted the tall sophomore’s downfield skills.

As a junior, Funchess will be asked to show more consistency in the receiving game. Though he was one of the more explosive options for Devin Gardner in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards, he struggled with concentration lapses that turned into dropped passes. Funchess holds all the tools to be a dominant receiver in the Big Ten, as his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for virtually every defender in the conference.

Funchess is more valuable to the Michigan offense as a wide receiver because of a 6’5″, 230 pound frame that makes him a huge red zone target. The former tight end has done his best work in the end zone for the Wolverines, catching 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Michigan entered spring camp with a second wide receiver position wide open until a true freshman charged out of the pack to grab the spot. Freddy Canteen dazzled the coaching staff the day he stepped on campus and has been the talk of the team ever since. The lightning-fast receiver turned heads with his quick feet and athleticism, leaving no doubt that he will line up opposite Funchess for the Wolverines on August 30.

Canteen and Funchess give Michigan a receiving duo with a remarkably high ceiling. Funchess can only benefit from an offseason exclusively dedicated to becoming a wide receiver, and Canteen’s quick rise up the depth chart offers him the opportunity to blossom with first-team reps.

Projected Stats – Funchess
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
65 900 13.8 8 69.2
Career Stats
2013 49 748 15.3 59 6 57.5
2012 15 234 15.6 30 5 18.0
Totals 64 982 15.3 59 11 37.8
Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 600 17.1 5 46.2

Veteran Depth

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Depth at wide receiver is one of the biggest questions facing the Michigan offense as it prepares for the 2014 season. Jehu Chesson is the only returning wide receiver that recorded over 100 yards in 2013, doing so on just 15 receptions.

Chesson was the forgotten man for much of his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games but catching three or fewer passes in each one of them. Despite his inconsistency last season, the sophomore will be asked to provide stability to an otherwise young group of wide receivers in 2014.

Chesson’s struggles can be largely attributed to the circumstances that thrust him into the regular rotation last season. Amara Darboh was well on his way to earning a starting position last fall before suffering a foot injury in August and missing the entire season. The explosive sophomore has been rehabbing his injury throughout the past eight months and appears ready to make a return to a unit that sorely needs him.

Darboh sat out the spring game, but announced that he feels 100 percent and hopes to be a full participant in fall camp. If he regains his previous form, Darboh will be a huge asset to the offense, as his hands were the surest of the young receivers in camp last offseason. His pure catching ability offers Michigan a Junior Hemmingway-type player that can beat defenders to the ball.

If Doug Nussmeier decided to utilize a slot receiver, then junior Dennis Norfleet is the most likely candidate to earn that role. Michigan regularly features the speedy Norfleet as a kick returner because of his big-play potential; but the junior’s quickness could make him a valuable weapon in the passing game, in which he caught six passes for 46 yards last season.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 350 14.0 3 26.9
Career Stats
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
18 200 11.1 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Norfleet
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
12 100 8.3 0 7.7
Career Stats
2013 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5

Newcomers

Brady Hoke added a major piece to the receiving corps when Drake Harris committed to the Wolverines out of Grand Rapids. The consensus four-star turned heads during his junior season in high school, catching 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris was considered one of the top recruits in his class before missing his entire senior season with a hamstring injury.

Harris sat alongside Darboh in the spring game, continuing a quiet offseason for the talented receiver. At 6’4″, Harris could be a valuable target during his freshman campaign, but health concerns will continue to surround the youngster until he steps foot on the field.

Michigan’s roster also features a host of young receivers hoping to crack the lineup this fall. Da’Mario Jones was blocked by Chesson last season after Darboh’s injury figured to bring him into the mix. Former three-star recruit Jaron Dukes is eligible in 2014 after redshirting his freshman season and could earn playing time with a strong spring.

Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
22 300 13.6 2 23.1

Five-spot challenge: Nebraska

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013


Congratulations to Hazel Parker, our first multiple winner of the season. His total deviation of 234 was 24 better than Myrick55 who finished second. Interestingly, Hazel Parker won the Minnesota week, then came in last place each of the past two weeks before winning again this week. I guess that means he’s unbeaten after the bye weeks. He was only 10 away from Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess’ combined receiving yards and was also the closest to Devin Gardner’s completion percentage (one away). He was also second away from Michigan’s rushing yards, which means he was the second-least confident in Michigan’s rushing success coming into the game (159 away). First time contestant gmaierha was the closest at 138 away, predicting Michigan to rush for just 90 yards.

Fellow new contestants Vienna Jack and awana81 were each the closest to Dennis Norfleet’s longest return (one away), while ebenszac was the closest to Connor Cook’s passing yards (44 away).

Hazel Parker wins his second $20 M Den gift card of the season.

Yet again, nobody correctly picked the final score. The 17 contestants this week picked Michigan to win by an average score of 25-19. Only three picked Michigan to lose.

The weekly results and overall standings are updated. Ebenszac still holds a narrow lead overall, but with four games plus a bowl game there are still several contestants within reach of the overall title.

Michigan returns home to face Nebraska this Saturday. Here are this week’s picks:

Inside the Numbers: Beating the odds you don’t want to beat

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013


(John T. Grellick, Detroit News)

Michigan’s soul-crushing, quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State last Saturday has sent much of its fan base into panic mode. Despite Michigan being one of 17 unbeaten teams prior to last weekend, many fans and national media personalities have given up on the Wolverines after just one loss, some even going so far as to predict that Michigan will stumble to a 2-4 or 1-5 regular-season finish. The changes in expectations are not because Michigan lost to a far inferior team—the Nittany Lions were only a 2.5-point underdog. Instead, the changes in expectations are because Michigan was on the wrong end of the last-minute luck it benefited from in its first two seasons under head coach Brady Hoke.

What is last-minute luck? It is a term that embodies a rare combination of coaching miscues, lack of execution, bad bounces, and missed opportunities that allows a left-for-dead opponent to steal a win in the final minute. The more popular term for this type of collapse is “choking.”

In 2011 and 2012, Michigan benefited from such last-minute luck in two contests: Notre Dame in 2011 and Northwestern in 2012. This stroke of last-minute luck was not going to continue to work in Michigan’s favor. Sooner or later, there would be a game in which the Wolverines would fall victim to it. This is the nature of football, especially at the collegiate level. It happens to all teams. No team is immune. Unfortunately, it happened to Michigan in the worst possible way this past Saturday in Happy Valley.

After a sloppy start, which saw Michigan commit three turnovers and fall behind, 21-10, the Maize and Blue dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half, outscoring the Nittany Lions, 24-3, to take a 10-point lead. Proceeding from this point, Michigan encountered seven situations in which it could have sealed its second consecutive road victory for the first time since 2010. The Wolverines needed to capitalize on only one of these seven to escape with a 6-0 record. However, the last-minute luck got the best of the Wolverines, and the victory slipped through their fingers.

Here is a breakdown of just how much needed to go wrong for Michigan to lose this game:

Situation 1: Fourth quarter, 9:22 left, Michigan leads 34-24. Penn State ball

Breakdown: Penn State needed to cut Michigan’s lead to one score to stay in the game. For the second series of downs, which referees granted to PSU by calling a ticky-tacky defensive pass interference penalty against Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan, the Nittany Lions faced fourth and one on the PSU 47-yard line. If Michigan—which had allowed only one fourth-down conversion to opponents in six tries before this play—would have forced a turnover on downs, the Wolverines would have maintained a two-score lead for the win and remained unbeaten .

Instead, Penn State running back Bill Belton dove through the pile for a two-yard gain and extended the drive, which led to kicker Sam Ficken’s 43-yard field goal, closing Michigan’s lead to seven.

Situation 2: Fourth quarter, 0:57 left, Michigan leads 34-27. Michigan ball

Breakdown: Michigan lost eight yards on back-to-back plays, one of which was an untimely delay of game penalty, setting up fourth and 17 at the outskirts of kicker Brendan Gibbons’ range. Hoke had two options: (1) go for the win and attempt a 52-yard field goal; or (2) try to pin Penn State deep in its own territory with a pooch punt. If Hoke would have opted to go for the win, and Gibbons would have converted the 52-yard field goal, which would have matched the career long he set against Nebraska in 2012, Michigan would have secured a 10-point lead for the win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, given that field goals no less than 52 yards in the fourth quarter or overtime are good only 40 percent of the time, Hoke chose to have punter Matt Wile kick a pooch punt to force PSU to drive 90-plus yards for a game-tying touchdown with no timeouts and less than a minute remaining. However, Wile—who had dropped inside the 20-yard line 83.3 percent (10-for-12) of his punts that were snapped in opponent territory in 2012 and 2013—punted the ball one yard deep in the end zone for a touchback, which meant Michigan exchanged a chance to seal a win for only 15 yards of field position.

Situation 3: Fourth quarter, 0:50 left, Michigan leads 34-27. Penn State ball

Breakdown: With no timeouts and less than a minute remaining, Penn State needed to travel 80 yards in a hurry to score a game-tying touchdown and force overtime. Since 2003, only six teams have scored a touchdown under these circumstances, one of which was Michigan against Notre Dame in 2011. If the Maize and Blue would have prevented Penn State from scoring a type of touchdown that has happened only once almost every two seasons of college football, on average, for the past decade, Michigan would have maintained a seven-point win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Penn State receivers Brandon Felder and Allen Robinson made three spectacular catches in four plays to move the Nittany Lions to the U-M one-yard line. Further, on the second and third of these receptions, Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling was in perfect position to intercept both passes, but he mistimed both of his jumps, allowing Felder and Robinson, respectively, to jump over him and make the grab as he was falling back to Earth. Penn State proceeded to punch in the first rushing touchdown Michigan had allowed on the following play to tie the game.

Situation 4: Fourth quarter, 0:02 left, game tied 34-34. Michigan ball

Breakdown: After a long kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet, Michigan reached the outer limit of Gibbons’ field-goal range with a few seconds remaining in regulation. Hoke sent out Gibbons for a potential game-winning, 52-yard field goal, which, as aforementioned, would have matched his career long. If Gibbons would have made the field goal, it would have been his fifth career game-winning or game-tying kick in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime, and Michigan would have earned a three-point win and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Gibbons’ kick was dead straight, but he did not muster enough power to push it over the crossbar as the ball landed a few yards short, sending Michigan to its third overtime game in the last 20 contests.

Situation 5: Overtime, game tied 34-34. Michigan ball

Breakdown: Penn State’s offense took the field to start the first overtime session and failed to score points when Ficken missed a 40-yard field goal wide right. Since 2007, in 287 overtime periods, the team with its offense on the field first has failed to score 79 times. Only 13 of those 79 times the second team has failed to score, too. Michigan went to the ultra-conservative strategy it deployed in the same situation in overtime against Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl: three straight runs in heavy formations and then kick for the win. If the same result as the 2012 Sugar Bowl would have occurred in Happy Valley, Michigan would have won and remained unbeaten.

Instead, the Nittany Lions blocked Gibbons’ 40-yard attempt—the first Gibbons’ field goal to be blocked in 25 games, dating back to Northwestern in 2011—and forced a second overtime.

Situation 6: Third overtime, game tied 37-37. Michigan ball

Breakdown: This will be the situation that will forever be burned in Michigan fans’ memories. Like the first overtime, Penn State went scoreless during the first possession of the third overtime, fumbling the football on a wide-receiver end around. Since 2007, no team had failed to score in an overtime period after the opponent went scoreless during the first possession of that period twice in one game. On second down, quarterback Devin Gardner threw a nine-yard hitch to wide receiver Jeremy Gallon that was spotted one yard shy of a first down, despite replay evidence that Gallon moved the ball past the first-down marker. On third and one, rather than using Gardner’s feet or arm to pick up a first down, Michigan handed the ball to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint—who averaged a school-record low of one yard per carry on 27 attempts—out of the I-formation, which led to no gain.

Although a first down would have allowed Michigan to shorten the distance of a field-goal attempt for Gibbons, he still had the opportunity to end the game with a 33-yard field goal from between the hashes. Under Hoke, Gibbons had made 29-of-31 field goals from less than 40 yards away (93.5 percent), including his last 22, before lining up for this try. If Gibbons would have continued his streak, Michigan would have won and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Gibbons missed a field goal from less than 40 yards away for the first time in 22 games, pushing it wide left and sending Michigan to its first ever four-overtime marathon.

Situation 7: Fourth overtime, Michigan leads 40-37. Penn State ball

Breakdown: Penn State faced fourth and one on the 16-yard line. Rather than attempt a 33-yard field goal to force a fifth overtime, PSU head coach Bill O’Brien opted to go for the victory. At this point, Michigan had allowed opponents to convert only two of seven fourth-down attempts this season. If Michigan would have stuffed the Penn State offense here, despite all the previous miscues and missed chances, the Wolverines would have won, improving their all-time overtime record to 9-1, and remained unbeaten.

Instead, Belton, who initially was stuck behind his offensive line, budged his way past the line of scrimmage for a three-yard gain to keep the Nittany Lions’ drive alive. Four plays later, Belton finished off the Wolverines with a two-yard touchdown run, capitalizing on Penn State’s first chance to win the contest.

Many of the critical issues that Michigan needs to fix—ball security, the performance of the offensive line, and offensive play calling—contributed to the collapse. It would be understandable if fans and media were pessimistic about Michigan’s success for the rest of the season because of these issues.

However, it would not be as understandable if the reason for pessimism was just the fact that Michigan lost. It took an unfathomable amount of bad breaks and last-minute bad luck to prevent Michigan from defeating a team it was favored to beat by only 2.5 points on the road, and becoming one of only 15 unbeaten FBS teams left. Don’t expect a chain of events like this to happen again to Michigan for a very long time, and certainly not again this season.

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Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Indiana

1. Trends in the Michigan-Indiana series favor the Wolverines heavily. Michigan holds a 52-9 record against the Hoosiers and has won the last 17 contests. Further, Michigan is a perfect 18-0 at home under Brady Hoke, while Indiana is only 2-22 in its last 24 conference road games.

2. Despite turning over the football 13 times this season, which is more than the number committed by 93 FBS teams, Devin Gardner leads the Big Ten in total offense (285.8 yards per game) and most points responsible for (17.0 points per game).

3. Through the first six games of the season, Michigan has scored three non-offensive and two defensive touchdowns. Further, the Wolverines have scored defensive touchdowns in back-to-back games—Blake Countess’ 72-yard interception return against Minnesota and Frank Clark’s 24-yard fumble return against Penn State. This is the first time since 2004 that the Maize and Blue has scored defensive touchdowns in two straight games.

If you are interested in more stats, notes, and nuggets, you can follow me on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Friend vs Foe: Penn State

Thursday, October 10th, 2013


This week we are pleased to have the tag team duo of Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation site Black Shoe Diaries to answer some questions about the matchup, how Penn State fans view Michigan, their expectations during the sanctions, and more. They also provide a game prediction. You can follow them on Twitter @bflip33 and @JaredSlanina and the main feed @BSDtweet. Representing the good guys, like usual, is Josh on what Michigan needs to do to beat Penn State.

1. Michigan and Penn State haven’t played the past two years. Prior to the Rich Rodriguez era Michigan had your number with eight straight wins, but Penn State took advantage of the Rich Rod years. Now six years removed from the last time Michigan beat Penn State, how do Penn State fans view the Michigan program?

I think Penn State fans view Michigan as a rival. The weird thing about Penn State is we don’t really have a “rival” in the way that Michigan has OSU, Oklahoma has Texas, or anything like that. We have Michigan State, although nobody in Happy Valley views Sparty as anything more than a good team in the Big Ten. We also have Pitt, but we haven’t played them in 13 years.

With all that in mind, people at Penn State view two teams as “rivals”: Ohio State and Michigan. Of course, it’s dumb to think their hatred of us is reciprocated, because they have each other. But in our eyes, both schools are evil institutions that freely break NCAA violations and pay off officials to screw us out of games. Sounds like a rival to me.

2. What is the current mindset of Penn State fans about their program, having gone through what you did the past couple of seasons? Do most expect to still compete for the Big Ten title each year, or are they resigned to hoping to make it through the sanctions without getting hopes too high?

It’s a fairly even split between those who have lowered their expectations because of everything that has occurred the past two years, and those who still think Penn State should win every Saturday regardless of any type of circumstances. As far as the latter goes, I was shocked by the amount of Monday-morning QBs after the loss to Central Florida who thought that game could have been won if a couple things went differently. From what I saw, it was clear that Penn State was just defeated by the better team. Penn State is playing with 24 fewer scholarship athletes than their opponents, and have no B10 Championship or bowl game to play for. On the other hand, there are many like myself who support the team, hope for the best and look forward to seeing what happens in a few years once all the sanctions are behind us.

At just 18 years old, Christian Hackenberg has shown plenty of potential to be a star (Mark Selders)

3. What happened last week against Indiana? Most Michigan fans probably didn’t watch that game and most probably haven’t seen Penn State play yet this season. Fill us in on what went wrong against IU.

Things went wrong in every facet of the game so there’s not really one person or unit to place blame. The defense has trouble covering the perimeter and opposing offensive coordinators are starting to take notice. The secondary is inexperienced and has regular lapses in coverage, and will likely continue to struggle against teams with a solid passing game. Penn State whiffed on two field goal attempts thanks to a bad snap and allowing a second one to be blocked. Christian Hackenberg had a good game when you look at the numbers, but never got into a rhythm to keep the offense on the field. Hackenberg also set a Penn State record for most passing attempts in a single game, which has many Nittany Lion fans scratching their heads since Indiana has one of the worst run defenses in the nation.

4. Christian Hackenberg: is he the real deal? Five games into his career, what are his current strengths and weaknesses?

Christian Hackenberg is the real deal. He has regressed a bit in his past two games, but if “throwing for four touchdowns and more than 500 yards in two games” is regressing, then I don’t know if anyone can be too upset. His biggest strength is absolutely his poise. He doesn’t turn 19 until February, although you wouldn’t know that watching him. He looks comfortable and never lets the moment get to him, which at his age, is remarkable. He also has an excellent arm and is incredibly intelligent, you don’t come into college and pick up a system as complex as Bill O’Brien’s system in four-ish weeks without being a smart dude.

As for weaknesses, I am a Penn State fan, so he is perfect in my eyes. However, others have told me that he still has to figure out when to hold onto the ball and take a sack/throw it away, he isn’t the most mobile guy, and his accuracy has looked a bit iffy these last two or three games. Despite this, he should overcome every issue to win the Heisman this year, next year, the year after, and the year after that en route to three national titles and being selected by the Raiders with the #1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

5. In what area(s) do you see advantages against Michigan?

I don’t see many at this point as it seems Michigan has more overall talent and experience. The one advantage Penn State will have over any team is Allen Robinson. in my humble opinion, Robinson is the top receiver in the nation and will leave as the best all-time at his position at Penn State. Teams have struggled to cover him even though they know he will be getting the ball. He’s the complete package and is especially good at escaping the first one or two would-be tacklers. He’s a junior, but I’m pretty much assuming he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.

6. What’s your prediction? How will it happen?

I somehow convince myself that Penn State will win by the time the game kicks off, but that hasn’t happened yet with this game. I’ll say Michigan 31, Penn State 20. I think Penn State can keep it close with a few adjustments and the home field advantage, but Michigan will be good enough to take care of business and stay undefeated. I’m hoping Devin Gardener has one of his turnover-prone games, but Penn State has struggled to force turnovers this season so I just don’t see that happening.

After taking care of the Golden GOOOOphers (that was in my fake-Minnesotan accent) last week in the conference opener Michigan gets to head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in a night game. Happy Valley is not an easy place to play and they will almost assuredly have one of their famous ‘white outs’ but they don’t play the games on paper for a reason. We’re going to shift gears from what we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and instead of telling you what I’d like to see I’ll tell you what Michigan needs to do to win. Let’s get started.

On offense

Keep the play calling simple. Last week Al Borges and Co. broke out their KISS playbook, and I don’t mean the band. It worked. The run game got going early and often and Devin Gardner didn’t attempt a pass until the second quarter. Part of that was due to Minnesota’s consuming drive but it was also clear that Borges and Hoke wanted to take as much pressure off Gardner as possible. One can assume that PSU will look to bring pressure and rattle Gardner, making him leave the pocket and hope that Akron/UConn Gardner shows up and throws some bad picks. Michigan knows this will be coming so I’d expect them to come out and be ultra-conservative. If they can control the clock they shouldn’t have much trouble coming away with the win.

Keep Devin Gardner’s jersey clean. The change on the offensive line appeared to pay dividends but Minnesota is, well, Minnesota so we really don’t know how much of a difference it made. Regardless, if Michigan’s new line can keep Gardner upright (and in the pocket) he will have ample opportunity to pick apart a secondary that gave up 44 points and 336 yards through the air to Indiana. Yes, Indiana. No matter how far they may have come under Kevin Wilson it’s still IU football.

It will be important for Brennen Beyer and others to get pressure on the young Hackenberg (MGoBlue.com)

Don’t turn the ball over. I’ll keep harping on this one all year. You win the turnover battle you usually win the game. In Michigan’s case they need to do a little more than just win it, they need to dominate it. PSU is a better team than Akron and UConn and turning the ball over on the road to a team who is probably a bit upset about losing to IU last week would be bad. As I mentioned, one can assume the Nittany Lions will be trying to pressure Gardner into making bad decisions, so it is of utmost importance that Michigan protect the ball.

On defense

Pressure the heck out of Hackenberg with the BLITZ. We’d all like to see the front four deliver some great pressure without them but they haven’t and without Pee Wee Pipkins the depth is shallow. So let’s dial up those NFL-style blitzes that Greg Mattison loves. We know Bill O’Brien is going to throw it, a lot. Hackenberg’s attempted at least 28 passes in every game with a high of 55. And, luckily for us, he doesn’t like to take off and isn’t really much of an athlete so sending five or six (or seven) probably won’t hurt us since he isn’t going to beat us with his legs.

Get off the field. As in lots of three and outs and/or short drives/turnovers. Getting the Nittany Lions’ offense off the field opens the door for time killing Michigan drives, giving fewer chances for Hackenberg to get into a rhythm. Bear with me with this analogy, I promise it makes sense. The only ‘defense’ that has been able to stop Peyton Manning this year is the other team’s offense being on the field. Now, Christian Hackenberg is no Peyton Manning (I’ll take him over Eli though) but he can’t hurt us if he’s not on the field.

On Special Teams

We’ve all been waiting for Dennis Norfleet to take one to the house since opening day 2012. Every time he touches the ball he’s always seemingly just one man away from taking it to the house. And every time he just can’t make it past that one guy. Now a return touchdown would definitely take the crowd out of it, at least for a time, but I think all we need is just a handful of good returns that set up great field position and aid in winning the field position game. I know, I know, that’s not very sexy at all; winning the field position game. But it’s an overlooked aspect that can have huge ramifications, especially for a game like this on the road. The coverage teams need to prevent big returns and the return teams just need to get some decent ones. Again, simple really.

It appeared as though Michigan got a bit of their swagger back last week and the shake up on the offensive line could be the beginning of something special but they will really get tested this weekend in Happy Valley. Shutting down a pretty potent Gopher rushing attack and lighting up the scoreboard was the shot in the arm this team’s confidence needed. Now all they need to do is carry it forward and keep it rolling. Michigan wins if they can get most of the above facets taken care of. Not turning it over may be enough on its own, but I’d like to see a couple more for good measure.