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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Norfleet’

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 (

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

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


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.


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 (

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.

First look: UConn

Monday, September 16th, 2013

When then-Michigan athletic director Bill Martin scheduled a matchup with UConn in 2010 it came with a return trip to Connecticut. Current Michigan AD Dave Brandon tried to convince the Huskies to move the game to MetLife Stadium, but UConn AD Warde Manuel – a Michigan alum – was unwilling to move it. So Michigan will travel to East Hartford and play in a stadium smaller than some Texas high school stadiums, barely more than one-third the size of Michigan Stadium.

Regardless of how many fans will actually be in the stadium, the game will go on and both teams will have something to prove. While Michigan is unbeaten, the Wolverines struggled to beat Akron on Saturday and players and coaches alike vowed for a better performance next week. UConn on the other hand has started 0-2 with losses to Towson and Maryland. A week ago, most Michigan fans would have written off the Huskies with a resume like that, but it’s alarmingly similar to the one Akron brought into Ann Arbor.

Should Michigan be on upset alert? Or will this be the walk in the park most expected last week to be? Let’s take a look at the Huskies and how they compare to Michigan so far this season.

UConn Statistics & Michigan Comparison
UConnMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 19.5 | 42.7 101 | 23 32.5 | 21.0 95| T-48
Rushing Yards 115585 425 | 269
Rush Avg. Per Game 57.5 | 195.0 122 | 52 212.5 | 89.7 104 | 12
Avg. Per Rush 1.9 | 5.0 4.6 | 3.4
Passing Yards 555763 469 | 769
Pass Avg. Per Game 277.5254.3 37 | 50 234.5 | 256.3 94 |23
Total Offense 6701,348 894 | 1,038
Total Off Avg. Per Game 335.0449.3 103 | 52 447.0 | 346.0 101 | 45
Kick Return Average 19.7 | 22.5 87 | 45 26.1 | 24.5 109 | T-95
Punt Return Average 1.0 | 8.2 T-118 | 59 4.0 | 9.3 34 |76
Avg. Time of Possession 27:4431:41 94 | 35 32:17| 28:19
3rd Down Conversion Pct 29% | 51% 105 | 24 35% | 45% 63 | 98
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 10-65 | 3-21 121 | T-18 0-0 | 5-31 120 | T-62
Touchdowns Scored 4 | 17 8 | 6
Field Goals-Attempts 3-3 | 3-4 3-4 | 7-9
Red Zone Scores (4-4)100% | (12-14)86% T-1 | T-57 (7-7)100% | (7-11)64% T-91 | T-17
Red Zone Touchdowns (1-4)25% | (11-14)79% (5-7)71% | (3-11)27%

UConn’s stats through the first two games are eerily similar to Akron’s. National rankings-wise UConn’s total offense ranks 103rd while Akron’s was 106th. UConn’s total defense ranks 101st whereas Akron’s was 111th. Both teams feature pass-heavy offenses, though UConn’s is even more so. The Huskies average 277.5 yards per game through the air and just 57.5 on the ground, but it’s not as if the offensive coordinator TJ Weist has simply abandoned the run. UConn has thrown the ball 74 times and rushed 60 times for just 1.9 yards per carry – a total that ranks last nationally.

Chandler Whitmer ranks 28th nationally in passing yards per game (Bob Stowell)

While the running game has been atrocious, the passing game has been pretty good. UConn passed for 349 yards on Saturday against a Maryland defense that had allowed just 250 in its first two games combined. That’s not ideal for a Michigan defense that has given up a lot of yards through the air the last two weeks to Notre Dame and Akron.

The good news for Michigan’s defense is that UConn has allowed 10 sacks through two games so far. Only Idaho has allowed more per game. For Michigan’s struggling pass rush, that’s a welcome sight.

On the defensive end, UConn isn’t much better. Maryland put up over 500 yards on Saturday and Towson, an FCS school, rushed for over 200. Both opponents had a 100-yard rusher. Towson running back carried 36 times for 156 yards and a pair of scores, and Maryland running back Brandon Ross fell five yards short of 100, but Maryland quarterback CJ Brown did the real damage to the UConn defense. He rushed 16 times for 122 yards and a touchdown to go along with 277 yards and a touchdown through the air. That bodes well for Devin Gardner this Saturday who can do damage with his arm or legs.

The Husky defense hasn’t gotten to the quarterback yet this season, and Michigan has allowed just one sack per game so far, so Gardner should have plenty of time to throw.

UConn has converted just 29 percent of its first downs, but has done a pretty good job of holding opponents to just a 35 percent conversion rate. In the red zone, UConn has scored all four times, but only one of those has been a touchdown. Michigan’s defense has allowed just three touchdowns in 11 red zone trips so far this season.

On special teams, the UConn kick coverage unit hasn’t been good, allowing 26.1 yards per return, which ranks 109th nationally. Michigan has been pretty good at returning kicks with Dennis Norfleet’s ability to break one at any time. I’ll continue saying that until he does.

Overall, Michigan will face a team on Saturday that is very similar to the one it just faced, so it will be interesting to see if the Wolverines take care of business they way they should have this past Saturday.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Chandler Whitmer 45-74 555 3 3 75
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Lyle McCombs 36 129 1 22 3.6
Deshon Foxx (WR) 3 21 0 12 7.0
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Shakim Phillips 15 255 3 75 127.5
Geremy Davis 10 154 0 24 77.0
Deshon Foxx 4 54 0 28 27.0
Lyle McCombs (RB) 8 36 0 17 18.0
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Yawin Smallwood (LB) 9 21 30 0-0 0-0
Obi Melifonwu (S) 7 8 15 1.5-2 0-0 (1 INT)
Taylor Mack (CB) 8 6 14 0-0 0-0 (1 INT)
Tim Willman (DE) 3 6 9 1.5-5 0-0
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Chad Christen 3 3 34 2 2
Full Stats

Final Look: Central Michigan

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013


Before fully moving on to Notre Dame, it’s time to take one last look at the Central Michigan game. This will be a new weekly feature that looks back at the big plays, numbers that stand out, and key stats and observations from the previous game.

Three big moments

1. Dymonte makes his mark

Central Michigan opened the game with a 17-yard pass for a first down at the 42-yard line. But Michigan stuffed the next three plays, forcing a Chippewa punt. Brady Hoke had planned leading up to the game to rush the first punt and it paid off. True freshman Dymonte Thomas, in his first career game, came around the left side of the CMU line, extended, and blocked the punt. Senior receiver Joe Reynolds picked it up and raced 30 yards for Michigan’s first touchdown of the season.

2. Defense holds strong

Michigan forced another Central Michigan punt on its next possession and took over on its own 7-yard line. Coaches, players, and fans alike were eager to see the Michigan offense in action for the first time this season, but after an incomplete pass to Devin Funchess, Devin Gardner was intercepted by defensive back Jarret Chapman. This gave the Chips possession at the Michigan six.

The defense looked fast, strong, and deep despite being young (

On the first play, quarterback Alex Niznak rushed for a yard. On the second, Zurlon Tipton rushed for three to the Michigan two. On third and goal, Tipton was stopped at the one. While trying to decide whether or not to go for it, Central was assessed a delay of game penalty, moving them back to the six and resulting in a field goal. Instead of tying the game at seven, Central pulled within four at 7-3 and that was as close as the Chips would get all night.

3. Freshmen march down the field

With the game in hand midway through the third quarter, Hoke pulled the starters and put in the heralded freshmen. Shane Morris took over under center and the running back duo of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith took turns in the backfield. It was the moment Michigan fans had been waiting for as the Big House crowd cheered loudly when they took the field.

Starting on the Michigan 45, Morris proceeded to hand the ball off 10 straight times and Green and Smith did the work. Five yards for green, then two yards, then a 30-yard romp to the CMU 18 on 3rd-and-3. Then it was Smith’s turn, going for four yards, then three, then Green again on 3rd-and-3, picking up a yard. On 4th-and-2 it was time to see if Green’s big frame was all it was cracked up to be. He picked up seven, setting up a 1st-and-goal. Smith rushed twice for three yards each to the CMU 1-yard line and the battering ram, Green, hammered it in for his first career score. It put Michigan ahead 49-6, but it might have been the most fun drive of the day.

The feat will be much harder against the likes of Notre Dame, and no one wants to see Morris taking snaps this season in meaningful situations, but for a season opener, watching the heralded freshmen march right down the field was a sight to behold. With the loss of Drake Johnson for the season, Green and Smith moved up the depth chart going forward.

The numbers game

110-21-3: Michigan’s all-time record in season openers

3-4: Brady Hoke’s career record against Central Michigan after Saturday’s win

Nov. 20, 2010: Michigan’s last loss at Michigan Stadium, a span of 15 straight games

6: The number of players that started their first career game on Saturday (Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Keith Heitzman, Josh Furman, and Jarrod Wilson)

27: The number of players that played in their first career game on Saturday (Blake Bard, Ben Braden, Chris Bryant, Jake Butt, Taco Charlton, Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Clark, Brian Cleary, Bo Dever, Ben Gedeon, Ryan Glasgow, Matthew Godin, Derrick Green, Willie Henry, Delano Hill, Michael Jocz, Drake Johnson, Jourdan Lewis, Erik Magnuson, Shane Morris, Ben Pliska, De’Veon Smith, Channing Stribling, Tom Strobel, Dymonte Thomas, Csont’e York)

59: The most points Michigan has scored in a season opener since beating Ohio Wesleyan 65-0 in 1905

213: The number of career points scored by Brendan Gibbons, passing Rick Leach and Ali Haji-Sheikh for 14th all-time

105: Consecutive extra points made by Brendan Gibbons

14: Consecutive field goals made by Brendan Gibbons, tying a Michigan record

27: Consecutive games in which Jeremy Gallon has recorded a catch

2009: The last time Michigan blocked a punt for a touchdown

4: The number of sacks recorded by the Michigan defense, which equaled last season’s best against Ohio State

Drive Chart

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Depth

One of the most notable aspects of Michigan’s win was the depth the Wolverines have at most positions. Hoke’s great recruiting classes are starting to pay off, and while there’s still a long way to go to reach Alabama levels of depth, it’s nice to see so many players rotating in and out without a noticeable drop off in talent or production.

However, most of that depth is still very, very young. Hoke said in the postgame press conference that 36 of the 68 players that dressed on Saturday were either first or second year players. In total, 61 of Michigan’s 82 players on scholarship are freshmen or sophomores and 11 true freshmen saw the field. That means there may be some regression as the year goes on, especially in big games, but the future of this team is virtually limitless.

Despite two interceptions, Devin Gardner has a lot of upside (

2. The running game still has work to do

Michigan rushed for 242 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, both of which are better than Central Michigan allowed last season. Both are also better than Michigan State managed against CMU last season (173 yards on 4.2 ypc). But Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged just 4.1 yards per carry in two and a half quarters of work, and Michigan’s 5.1 average was aided by several big runs.

Removing Devin Gardner’s rushing, the three other 20-plus-yard runs, Michigan’s running backs averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 36 runs. Toussaint had a 20-yard gain, Green had a 30-yard romp, and Dennis Norfleet raced 38 yards, all of which helped balloon the rushing numbers. Obviously, big plays are part of the overall total, but you don’t want the run game to be dependent on big runs. It worked against Central Michigan, but will it work against the Notre Dames, Michigan States, and Ohio States of the world? We’ll find out this Saturday.

3. Devin Gardner’s decision-making

A lot has been made about Gardner’s tendency to make poor decisions, especially in the wake of a two-interception game on Saturday. But I’m not as down on him as most are at this point. The first pick was a bad decision, especially in Michigan’s own red zone, and thankfully didn’t cost the team like it likely would have against a better opponent. But Gardner said himself that he was pretty nervous at the beginning of the game. Michael Schofield also said Devin seemed to settle down on the third drive. I chalk that one up to first game nerves and expect that Gardner will have a better handle on those going forward.

On the second interception, Gardner had Jehu Chesson wide open on the right side of the field, but didn’t look his way, choosing to throw deep to a covered Jeremy Gallon instead. I kind of expected this at the beginning of the season with Gallon – and to some extent Drew Dileo – as Gardner’s crutch until other receivers step up. Gardner has a lot of trust in Gallon to make plays, and in circumstances like this one, he might force the ball to Gallon when he should look him off and find someone else. That will come in time when Chesson, Joe Reynolds, and others develop chemistry with Gardner.

In addition, Gardner will continue to develop. Let’s not forget that was just his sixth career start. He will progress as the season goes along and this Saturday will be his a great chance to show that.

First Look: Notre Dame

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Notre Dame and Michigan both opened the season with wins over lesser opponents on Saturday, setting up the first big game of the season for both teams. First games are always difficult to gauge with new starters being broken in, rust being shaken off, and plays and formations being tested against actual competition. Add in the quality of opponent and there isn’t a whole lot that can be gleaned from Michigan and Notre Dame’s first games.

But there is a game to be played in Week 2, and it’s a remarkably important one for both teams, regardless of how Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly views the rivalry. The reality is that it is college football’s most historic rivalry, dating back to 1887, and the two teams rank first and second in all-time wins. This week’s matchup will be the last in Ann Arbor for at least the near future, which means, aside from this season’s implications, both teams have a lot at stake in terms of bragging rights.

Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Notre Dame compare through the first week of the season.

Notre Dame Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Notre DameMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 28.0 | 59.0 T-59 | 7 6.0 | 9.0 11 | 22
Rushing Yards 188252 134 | 66
Rush Avg. Per Game 188.0 | 252.0 50 | 29 134.0 | 66.0 49 | T-12
Avg. Per Rush 5.4 | 5.1 4.6 | 2.3
Passing Yards 355221 228 | 144
Pass Avg. Per Game 355.0221.0 13 | 57 228.0 | 144.0 65 |21
Total Offense 543463 362 | 210
Total Off Avg. Per Game 543.0463.0 T-18 | 42 362.0 | 210.0 T-50 | 10
Kick Return Average 20.0 | 26.5 63 | 23 29.3 | 21.6 102 | 66
Punt Return Average 7.7 | 10.0 37 | 30 2.0 | 0.0 T-47 | T-7
Avg. Time of Possession 31:5334:16 35 | T-13 28:07| 25:44
3rd Down Conversion Pct 38% | 67% T-61 | 10 40% | 29% T-62 | T-30
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 1-5 | 1-3 T-21 | T-21 1-4 | 4-22 T-59 | T-9
Touchdowns Scored 4 | 8 1 | 0
Field Goals-Attempts 0-21-1 0-2 | 3-3
Red Zone Scores (1-2) 50% | (7-7) 100% T-96 | T-1 (1-3) 33% | (3-3) 100% T-1 | T-41
Red Zone Touchdowns (1-2) 50% | (6-7) 86% (1-3) 33% | (0-3) 0%

Three stats stand out most from Notre Dame’s first game of the season. First, the 355 passing yards against Temple, 346 of which were put up by quarterback Tommy Rees. What’s more is that he did it on just 16 completions, averaging 21.6 yards per, and he completed 70 percent of his throws. The past three seasons, Rees completed 63.6 percent of his throws and averaged 11 yards per completion. It’s impossible to tell whether the increase in completion percentage and yards per completion are indicative of Rees’ progression or the quality of opponent, but we will get a much better idea this Saturday.

Tommy Rees threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns against Temple (Matt Cashore, USA Today Sports)

Second, the Notre Dame defense gave up 228 passing yards and 362 total yards to a Temple team that averaged just 120.8 passing yards and 322 total yards per game last season. Temple quarterback Reilly Connor threw it 46 times, completing half, and was sacked just once. Last season, Notre Dame’s defense was one of the best in the nation, allowing just 305 yards per game, and recording 34 sacks. With most of the starters returning, it’s a little troubling that Temple, which went just 4-7 in 2012, was able to move the ball so well against the Irish.

Finally, Notre Dame’s special teams were underwhelming. The Irish missed both field goal attempts, a 39-yarder by Nick Tausch in the second quarter and a 44-yarder by Kyle Brindza in the fourth. In addition, the kick coverage unit gave up an average of 29.3 yards per return, including a long of 39. In a rivalry like Michigan-Notre Dame, when three of the last four meetings have come down to the final minute, a missed field goal or a big return given up could make the difference. Michigan has a kicker who is currently tied for the school’s consecutive field goals made record, and if the Irish can’t shore that up before Saturday, Dennis Norfleet could give Michigan great field position all day.

With all the yards the Irish accumulated in the opener, the ND offense put up only 28 points against a team that allowed 31 in 2012. Maryland, USF, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, Army and Syracuse each put up more points against the Owls. In fact, after Notre Dame’s first two possessions, which covered 164 yards in just six plays, the Irish offense went punt, punt, missed field goal, touchdown, touchdown, missed field goal, punt, punt, fumble. Nine possessions that resulted in two touchdowns. Rees’ big numbers through the air are a little bit hollow, but even so, the Notre Dame faithful is giddy about a 28-6 win over a team that likely won’t reach a bowl game again this season.

Regardless, we’ll find out a lot about both teams by the time midnight hits on Saturday. A Michigan win will likely catapult the Wolverines up the polls, while a Notre Dame win will set up a big showdown with Michigan State two weeks later. Michigan has won the last three in Ann Arbor and three of the last four (and five of the last seven) overall.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Tommy Rees 16-23 346 3 0 66
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average
Amir Carlisle 7 68 0 45 9.7
Cam McDaniel 12 65 0 18 5.4
George Atkinson III 8 34 1 14 4.2
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average
TJ Jones 6 138 0 51 23.0
DaVaris Daniels 3 69 2 32 23.0
Chris Brown 3 57 0 33 19.0
Troy Niklas (TE) 1 66 1 66 66.0
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Dan Fox (LB) 5 5 10 1-2 0-0
Carlo Calabrese (LB) 2 7 9 0-0 0-0
Jarrett Grace (LB) 4 3 7 0-0 0-0
Stephon Tuitt (DE) 2 1 3 1-4 1-4
Full Stats

Predicting Michigan: The special teams

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

To wrap up our Predicting Michigan series, Derick takes a look at what to expect from the special teams this season. Previously, we previewed the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive linelinebackers, and the secondary.

The New Mr. Reliable

In 2010, Michigan’s kicking game was one of the most embarrassing displays of football the maize and blue faithful had ever witnessed. As a team, Michigan went 4-of-14 in field goal attempts, and by the end of the season former coach Rich Rodriguez wouldn’t even consider attempting a field goal outside of 35 yards.

After a rocky RS freshman campaign in 2010, Gibbons has become Mr. Reliable (AP photo)

One of the culprits of the 28.6 percent success rate was then-redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons missed four of his five field goal attempts, converting only a 24-yarder in the blowout win against Connecticut in week one, in which he also missed an extra point. Following two more misses the next week against Notre Dame, Gibbons surrendered the starting job to Seth Broekhuizen, who wasn’t much better (3-of-9).

In 2011, Gibbons regained the starting job and was much better, converting 13-of-17 field goal attempts. Going into the Sugar Bowl, he was only 2-of-5 on kicks of 40-yards or more, so there were still many questions about his reliability. He answered them all in New Orleans. The redshirt sophomore converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a game-winning 37-yarder in overtime. He then won the fans over by admitting he kept his cool by “thinking about brunette girls” before punching the winning kick through the uprights.

Last season, Gibbons did the best work of his career, and earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention at place kicker. His conversion rate of 88.9 percent (16-of-18) was truly incredible considering the low point in his career just two years earlier. Gibbons had several pressure-packed kicks, but he confidently cashed them in, including the 38-yard game-winner with five seconds remaining to defeat Michigan State and the game-tying 26-yarder against Northwestern with two seconds left to send the game into overtime.

Also during his redshirt junior season, he converted all 45 extra-point attempts, running his streak to 97, which is second in Michigan history to J.D. Carlson’s record of 126 straight. Though the Wolverines lost to the Cornhuskers, Gibbons also answered questions about his leg strength in Nebraska by nailing a 52-yarder in the second quarter.

This offseason, Michigan fans can finally stop worrying about the kicking game, as Gibbons figures to battle Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien for the Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year award in the Big Ten. Seniors Drew Dileo and Jareth Glanda will be the holder and long-snapper, respectively, so this group should have no problems after working together for so long.

Career Stats – Gibbons
Year FG Made FG Att FG % Long Blocked PAT Made PAT Att PAT %
2010 1 5 20.0 24 0 13 14 92.8
2011 13 17 76.5 43 1 54 55 98.2
2012 16 18 88.9 52 0 45 45 100.0
Totals 30 40 75.0 52 1 112 114 98.2

Lack Of Discipline

Kickoff/long field goal specialist Matt Wile takes over punting duties during Will Hagerup's suspension

Michigan figured to have one of the best kicker-punter duos in the entire country coming into 2013, until 2012 Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award-winner Will Hagerup was suspended for the third time in his Michigan career. The suspension originally kept Hagerup out of the 2013 Outback Bowl, but was later extended to include the entire following season.

Hagerup will redshirt this year, as Head Coach Brady Hoke tries to work with the young man to figure out some personal issues and get him back on the field. If the senior can clean up his act, he will be one of the best punters in the country upon his return. Hagerup set a University of Michigan record in 2012 with an average of 45 yards per punt. Just a few years after seeing kicker Zoltan Mesko similarly dominate the punting game, Hagerup separated himself as one of the best punters in the history of the Big Ten. His loss will be Matt Wile’s gain, however, as the junior tries to take advantage of a new opportunity.

Filling in for a suspended Hagerup is nothing new for Wile, as he has done so six times in his young career. Though Mesko and Hagerup are hard acts to follow, Wile is similarly gifted with a big leg in the punting game. His power numbers are skewed by his ability to come in and pooch punt for Brady Hoke, which is another valuable skill. Wile has 13 career punts inside the 20-yard line, which emphasizes his ability to put the ball where he wants to.

Along with his precision, Wile averaged 39.2 yards per punt in his career, which is around two yards shorter than Hagerup’s career rate. To get an idea of how strong Wile’s leg really is, fans can look to his most recent performance in the Outback Bowl, when he averaged 48.8 yards in three punt attempts.

Walk-ons J.J. McGrath and Kenny Allen will round out the kicking roster.

Career Stats – Wile
Year Kickoffs Avg TB Punts Avg TB In 20 Long
2011 79 64.0 19 17 41.6 0 4 58
2012 77 60.5 28 12 35.9 1 9 56
Totals 156 62.3 47 29 39.2 1 13 58

Speed Is Exciting

Michigan has been one of the worst teams in the country at returning kicks since the days of Steve Breaston, even finishing as low as 117th out of 120 teams in total kick returns during the 2011 Sugar Bowl season.

Last year, Brady Hoke brought in true freshman Dennis Norfleet to solve the returning woes alongside receiver Jeremy Gallon. Hoke hopes that the speedy playmaker will emerge as the lone returner during his sophomore campaign, as he definitely has the most potential on the team in that regard.

Returning kicks is immensely important, because it can dictate the field position battle throughout the game. Denard Robinson was often able to make up for poor field position during his career by busting huge runs and finishing drives with long touchdown plays, but Michigan would prefer not to rely on such plays. Norfleet is one of the quickest players in the country, and if he gets past defenders they have no chance to catch him. This season he will need to learn how to run with his blockers, and use his elusiveness at the right times to give the offense a short field and possibly end the Michigan kick-return drought.

Career Stats – Norfleet
Year Kick Ret Avg Long TD Punt Ret Avg Long TD
2012 35 23.6 38 0 2 26.5 42 0
Totals 35 23.6 38 0 2 26.5 42 0
Career Stats – Gallon
Year Kick Ret Avg Long TD Punt Ret Avg Long TD
2010 27 21.8 47 0 10 4.3 15 0
2011 3 15.3 20 0 19 10.1 32 0
2012 2 11.5 12 0 12 5.5 26 0
Totals 32 20.6 47 0 41 7.3 32 0

Wrapping Up

Since Brady Hoke has taken over as Head Coach, Michigan has done an outstanding job of preaching the little things that are important to winning football games. Special teams doesn’t get as much glory as the great offensive or defensive groups in the country, but games are won and lost on special teams plays every week.

If Michigan can continue the strong kicking game they demonstrated during 2012, and improve in the kick and punt return categories, it can shift momentum more easily with short fields and easy scores. The loss of Hagerup is a tough one to swallow for this unit, but the rest of the group will have to pick up the slack and put the offense and defense in positions to succeed.

Predicting Michigan: The running backs

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Last week we previewed what the quarterback and offensive line positions will look like this season. Today, it’s Fred Jackson’s group that gets the honor.

2012: What Happened?

Going into the 2012 season, high expectations swirled around the Michigan rushing attack. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was fresh off of a breakout year in 2011 and seemed poised for an enormous season next to Denard Robinson and behind a veteran offensive line. The results couldn’t have been more disappointing. Toussaint failed to rush for 100 yards in each of the 10 games he played in and ended the season with less than half of his 2011 yards. Against Iowa on November 17, the frustrating season came to an end when he took an early exit due to a serious ankle injury.

Once again, Michigan was saved by Robinson, who willingly jumped into the backfield and became the most effective running back of the season. Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith were unable to make up for the loss of Toussaint’s meager production, rushing for a combined 20 yards in the final two games of the season.

Michigan rarely flirted with other options during the season, giving a few carries to Justice Hayes and all of two to speedster Dennis Norfleet. When the season came to an end, fans were left to remember a disaster as far as the non-Denard running game was concerned.

As Brady Hoke transitions the offense back to a more traditional Michigan style, the performance of the running backs are going to be absolutely crucial. The battle for starting snaps in 2013 appears to be wide open.

Returning Players: Bouncing Back

Toussaint will look to return to his 2011 form

Toussaint figures to start the 2013 campaign with expectations somewhere between where they were heading into the last two seasons. In 2011, Michigan had a trio of backs fighting for starts in Smith, Toussaint and Michael Shaw. Toussaint was able to grab the starting job and run with it to the tune of 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns. Fans will likely have a difficult time predicting what to expect from Toussaint in the upcoming season, given the wide range of results the past two seasons.

Rawls may have cemented his role as the goal-line back in the final four weeks of last season, failing to rush for three yards per carry in each contest. At times, it seemed like the Flint product was going to take advantage of Toussaint’s struggles and win the starting job. In the end, inconsistency killed Rawls and his lack of big-play potential resulted in more carries for Robinson in big moments.

Hayes and Norfleet have yet to get real shots at big carries. Ten of Hayes’s 18 carries came in the 45-0 blowout of Illinois, and Norfleet was used mostly as a returner on special teams. Both backs are known for their quickness in space, so as the offense moves in a more physical direction, expect both players to remain primarily on special teams and in slot receiving roles.

The final two returning running backs on the roster took redshirts last year. Bobby Henderson joined the team out of New York and will have a hard time seeing the field in 2013. Drake Johnson created a little more buzz when he signed, mostly because he came from right across the street at Pioneer High School. Johnson will likely be used sparingly as well this year, considering the number of running back options Hoke has at his disposal.

Prediction: Despite the rough 2012, Toussaint wins the starting job to start the season. Rawls continues to see regular time in short-yardage situations due to his ability to push the pile. He may also take some snaps at fullback when Borges decides to use one. Hayes and Norfleet will see most of their time as returners and in formations as slot receivers, while Johnson and Henderson rarely see the field.

Projected Stats – Toussaint
Attempts Yards YPC Long TD YPG
155 700 4.5 9 58.3
Career Stats
2012 130 514 4.0 50 5 51.4
2011 187 1,041 5.6 65 9 86.8
2010 8 87 10.9 61 1 14.5
Totals 325 1,642 5.1 65 15 58.6
Projected Stats – Rawls
Attempts Yards YPC Long TD YPG
45 150 3.33 4 12.5
Career Stats
2012 57 242 4.2 63 4 30.3
2011 13 79 6.1 25 0 26.3
Totals 70 321 4.6 63 4 29.2

Recruits: Filling The Hole

A good recruiting class is one that has highly-ranked players, but a great recruiting class also fills a team’s specific needs. After such a disappointing year for Michigan running backs, the 2013 class is a great class. Michigan’s inability to run the ball without Denard Robinson forced Brady Hoke to focus on running backs for the upcoming season, and the results were better than anyone expected. In fact, they even brought Hoke to tears.

Michigan has high expectations for the nation's top incoming running back

Derrick Green revealed that when he committed to Michigan the Head Coach was extremely emotional, which is all fans need to know when learning about the number one running back recruit, according to both Scout and Rivals. Green is a powerful running back that can carry defenders and will break out of any arm tackle. Green is the perfect fit for the Michigan offense of the future, as he prefers to run between the tackles. Don’t expect Green to be fancy, but that doesn’t mean he can’t break a big run. If defenders don’t wrap him up, the freshman will make them pay by shrugging them off and lumbering downfield.

Michigan also signed DeVeon Smith, another highly-rated recruit out of high school. Like Green, Smith will break tackles and punish defenders inside. The duo of Smith and Green should have defenses dreading Saturdays against the Wolverines in the coming years, but with the number of guys fighting for snaps this season, Smith may find himself with a redshirt. Hoke will take into account the many similarities between the two freshman, and it makes sense that he would save one of them a year of eligibility while the backfield is so crowded.

Wyatt Shallman is an interesting recruit, as he signals the unofficial return of the fullback to the Michigan offense after the Rich Rod era eliminated it completely. Shallman was one of the top fullback recruits in the nation this year, and figures to play exclusively at that position at Michigan, since Hoke brought in two talented running back recruits as well. Shallman is a big back at 6’3″, 245 pounds, but can still contribute on offense in many ways. While the fullback will be used mainly for blocking, he has some rushing ability and can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Prediction: Green battles Toussaint for the starting job and has a realistic shot to win it, but in the end he enters the season as the backup. If Toussaint fails to play better than he did in 2012, look for Green to snatch the starting job and hold his own as a true freshman in the Big Ten.

Projected Stats – Green
Attempts Yards YPC TD YPG
125 500 4.0 5 41.7

Wrapping Up

Michigan’s running game is going to look very different in 2013. The most exciting runner in Michigan history has graduated and the void has been filled by several ground-and-pound guys. Robinson improvised with his speed and broke enormous runs during his career at Michigan, but the recruiting class Brady Hoke brought in will spend the majority of its time rushing between the tackles and using a strong offensive line to push ahead for more consistent, conservative gains.

Ideally, Toussaint will return to the running back we saw in 2011. Realistically, we can hope for him to be somewhere in the middle of that and his shaky 2012 campaign, which would give the Maize and Blue steady contributions from the running back position. However, if he fails to produce this year, Michigan is better prepared. Green is ready to handle rushes on the big stage right now, and will be there to push Toussaint every step of the way. Either way, Michigan appears to be in better shape at running back heading into the 2013 season.

The 2nd Annual Maize and Go Blue Awards

Monday, December 24th, 2012

In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.

Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.

To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.

Click here to revisit last year’s awards.

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

(Ann Arbor News)

This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.

Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also  led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”

It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.

Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.

“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)

While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.

“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”

Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.

As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.

“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan led Michigan in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles

Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.

To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”

He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.

Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)

Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison

Greg Mattison has done wonders for the Michigan defense

For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.

In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.

“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.

Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).

“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State

Brendan Gibbons hit the game-winning field goal to beat MSU (Detroit News)

After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.

Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.

In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.

It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.

“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)

Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern

Roundtree's circus catch saved Michigan from a sure loss (Ann Arbor News)

When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.

Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.

It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.

Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force

Denard scored four touchdowns against Air Force (Detroit Free Press)

After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.

The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.

“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)

Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)

Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson share our QB award (Ann Arbor News)

Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.

While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.

“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”

Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*

Denard led Michigan with 1,166 rushing yards (Detroit Free Press)

Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.

Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.

No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.

As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.

Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.

“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)

Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon

Jeremy Gallon led Michigan in receptions and yards (

The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.

“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.

The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.

“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan

Taylor Lewan was the Big Ten's best offensive lineman and a first-team All-American (

Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.

In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.

“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”

Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell

Will Campbell was named All-Big Ten honorable mention (

William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.

The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.

“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan was an All-Big Ten second team performer this season (Ann Arbor News)

Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.

He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.

“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

Jordan Kovacs was an All-Big Ten second team selection (Detroit News)

When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.

Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.

“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)

Dennis Norfleet averaged over 23 yards per kick return (Detroit Free Press)

Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.

“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”

Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.

He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.

“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess

Devin Funchess led Michigan in touchdown receptions (Getty Images)

Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.

Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.

“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ‘em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson

Denard will be remembered as one of the all-time Michigan greats (Detroit Free Press)

Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.

“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”

“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner

Devin Gardner improved immensely from 2011 (Getty Images)

Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.

In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.

Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.

“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)

* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.