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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Norfleet’

Fourth annual M&GB HAIL Awards

Monday, January 12th, 2015

HAIL Awards banner

The 2014 college football season officially comes to an end tonight, and while Michigan’s season has been over for a month and a half and everybody is swept up in Harbaughmania, we’re going to close the book on 2014 with one more look back at Michigan’s season by handing out our annual HAIL Awards for the top players, plays, and moments.

Despite coming off of a 7-5 season, the team entered the season with high expectations, most ranging from 8-4 to 11-2. With the majority of the offense back, an expected leap forward from the two Devins, a new offensive coordinator, and an offensive line that had nowhere to go but up, most assumed the offense would avoid the pitfalls that the 2013 season saw. And with the majority of the defense back, an offseason shuffling of position coaches, switching Jake Ryan to middle linebacker, and a predicted senior season breakout of Frank Clark, most assumed the defense would be among the nation’s best.

But following a season-opening blowout of Appalachian State, it quickly became clear that those preseason expectations would need to be tempered as Michigan visited South Bend and left embarrassed by a 31-0 defeat. A 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) did nothing to turn the season around as Michigan dropped three straight to Utah, Minnesota, and Rutgers, and suddenly a season that began with hope was relegated to simply hoping for a winning record.

A controversy over the handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris and his “probable, mild concussion” suffered against Minnesota further clouded the season and set the wheels in motion for a coaching change. Michigan responded with an Under the Lights win over Penn State that offered a brief respite, but was summarily mopped off the field by rival Michigan State two weeks later. Needing to win three of four to make a bowl game, Michigan topped Indiana and Northwestern, but fell to Maryland, making a season-ending trip to Columbus a must-win. And while Michigan held its own for the better part of three quarters, even holding a halftime lead, it was unable to stop the Buckeyes, and the season ended at 5-7.

Brady Hoke was fired following the season, and exactly four weeks later, Harbaugh was hired as the 20th head coach in Michigan history. But before we turn our attention completely to Harbaugh, let’s relive the top moments of Team 135.

To revisit previous years awards: 20132012, 2011, or click here for a breakdown of each award.

Harmon Player of the Year Jake Ryan

RyanThe first three years of our HAIL Awards produced offensive players as Michigan’s player of the year. But in 2014, it was only fitting that a defensive player win it for the first time. Michigan’s offense sputtered to 112th nationally in total offense, 109th in scoring, 110th in passing, and 62nd in rushing.

Jake Ryan switched positions in the offseason, moving into the middle of the linebacking corps in order to stay on the field for more plays and keep opposing offenses from game planning away from him. It paid off with a team-leading 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“For a team that relied so heavily on the defense to keep the game close, Jake Ryan was the anchor and leader from the linebacker position,” said Derick.

“Hands down rock star on this team,” said Joe. “He may have started slow, but came on strong as the season progressed. His presence on the field will be missed!”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year  Devin Gardner & Devin Funchess (tie)

Gardner-FunchessMichigan’s offense stunk this season. There’s no denying it. It finished second to last in the Big Ten in scoring, last in total offense, eighth in rushing, 11th in passing, second to last in first downs, eighth in third down conversions, and tied for last in turnovers. Does anyone really deserve to be named offensive player of the year? Alas, we had to vote, and the Devins each received two.

“The lone bright spot (at least for a few games) was junior Devin Funchess, whose physical skillset on the outside went underutilized,” Sam said. “Funchess still had fewer receiving yards than he did in his breakout sophomore campaign, but his fireworks in the first few games were pretty much the lone bright spot on the year.”

Joe made the case for Devin Gardner:

“Okay, stick with me on this one. His numbers weren’t great, but he showed tremendous heart and never gave up on this team in spite of all the adversity. Love him or hate him, he is a heckuva young man.”

Votes: 2 each
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs Miami OHHad Frank Clark not had an off-the-field incident and been kicked off the team, he would have been in the running for defensive player of the year. But Ryan was the best player on a defense that was pretty good but never really lived up to expectations. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss and recorded two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“Jake Ryan made some head-scratching mistakes in his role as middle linebacker, but he also reminded us how great of a player he can be on more than one occasion,” said Sam. “He was the unforgettable heart and soul of a very forgettable team.”

“Easy pick, and we look forward to watching him play on Sundays,” said Joe.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jourdan Lewis (1), The field (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Greg Mattison

MattisonThe defense brought high expectations into the season, and although it finished a very respectable seventh nationally in total defense, no one would consider it one of the top seven defenses in the country. The failures of the offense had a lot to do with that, putting the defense in tough spots time and again and forcing the defense to carry the team, but the defense often struggled to get key stops and takeaways. Even so, there’s no question who the most important coach on the staff was this season.

All told, it ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, third against the run, sixth against the pass, seventh in sacks, second in opponent first downs, and eighth in opponent third-down conversions.

“Greg Mattison’s defense was underrated because of the massive amount of time it spent on the field,” said Derick. “The offense constantly put them up against a wall, and the defense still ranked among the best in the conference.”

“The defense was the one bright spot of the team this year, if there was one,” said Josh.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeff Hecklinski
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights III win over Penn State

UTLIII winFor the second straight year a loss to Ohio State nearly won this category. What does that say about the state of the program the past couple years? Instead, Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State took the cake. The third night game in Michigan Stadium history was a festive occasion amidst an otherwise forgettable season, and although Penn State wasn’t anything special in 2014 either, it was a big win at the time.

Wearing all blue uniforms for the first time ever, Michigan held Penn State to just 214 total yards and sacked Christian Hackenberg six times. Devin Gardner went 16-of-24 for 192 yards and a touchdown, Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and Matt Wile made field goals of 37, 42, and 45 yards. Michigan moved to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in the Big Ten, but remained perfect under the lights in the Big House.

“The night game against Penn State was the only game that really brought magic to the Big House,” said Derick. “Penn State was considered a solid team at the time.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Sticking with Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Frank Clark stops Northwestern two-point conversion

Frank Clark vs NorthwesternHis Michigan career ended unceremoniously, but Frank Clark gets the nod for play of the year. It ended up being the last play of his career, and at the time kept Michigan in postseason contention. For the third straight season, Michigan and Northwestern played an ugly, down-to-the-wire game. Michigan had won the previous two in overtime, and this time Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted no extra football to be played.

When the Wildcats scored a touchdown with three seconds to play, Fitzgerald kept the offense on the field instead of kicking the extra point that would have tied the game. Quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled to his right, planning to stop and throw back to his left, but Clark shot right through the blockers to cut him off. As Siemian tried to stop, he lost his footing and fell to the ground untouched to end the game. After the game, Clark and other Michigan defenders said they knew exactly what play was coming.

“Frank Clark’s stop looked like the play that would get Michigan into a bowl game,” said Derick. “Even though that didn’t happen, it did essentially win a game on its own.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry fat-guy touchdown (1), Ben Gedeon blocked punt return vs App State (1)

Past Winners:
2013: Fire drill field goal to force overtime at Northwestern
2012: Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch against Northwestern
2011: Denard’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat ND

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner’s 254 yards, 2 TDs vs Ohio State

Devin Gardner vs OSULike the season as a whole, there weren’t many individual performances that stood out. Drake Johnson’s 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against Indiana won two votes, while Devin Funchess’ seven-catch, 95-yard, three-touchdown performance and Derrick Green’s 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State were nominated. But for the second straight year, Devin Gardner’s performance against Ohio State gets the nod.

Gardner finished his career with his best game of the season, completing 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns to keep the game much closer than anyone expected. He began the game with an interception that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown, but shook it off and found Jake Butt for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. On Michigan’s next drive, Gardner ran for 10 yards on third down to keep the drive alive and set up a Drake Johnson touchdown run. Late in the game, Gardner connected with Freddy Canteen for another touchdown.

“The most impressive performances come in the biggest games, and the fact that Gardner kept this Michigan team in the game for nearly three quarters against a national championship game participant was nothing short of a miracle,” said Derick.

“Once again, Michigan looked to be toast heading into The Game, and once again, the Wolverines hung around long enough to tease the Michigan faithful,” said Sam. “Surprisingly, it was Devin Gardner who had his best game of a miserable season, picking apart the Buckeye defense in the first half to give the Maize and Blue a fighting chance.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drake Johnson’s 122 yards, 2 TD (7.6 ypc) vs Indiana (2)

Past Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner’s record-setting performance against Ohio State
2012: Denard recording 101% of offense vs Air Force

2011: Denard’s five TDs in win over Ohio State

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

GardnerGardner had his struggles this season, but his heart and commitment to Michigan can never be questioned. He lost his starting job to Shane Morris five games into the season, but kept his head up and fought hard the rest of the way. Morris’ woeful performance and injury against Minnesota let Gardner retain the job the rest of the season and he closed his career with a good performance against Ohio State.

He finished the season 174-of-283 (61.5 percent) for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, and rushed 98 times for 258 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He finished his career sixth in career touchdown passes (44), fourth in career passing yards (6,336), and fourth in career completions (475).

“Gardner wasn’t great, but the Minnesota game made it painfully obvious that he was the best Michigan had,” said Derick.

“As previously mentioned, he really did play his tail off for this team and left it all on the field,” said Joe. “Despite the results, you have to admire this young man’s character and work ethic.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson vs IULast season, Michigan’s running back situation was so bad that we didn’t even award a Running Back of the Year. This season, the running back play was much better and there were breakout performances by multiple backs, but injuries kept one back from running away with it. Derrick Green opened the season with a 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State. Two weeks later, he rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against Miami (Ohio). But midway through the season he broke his clavicle and missed the rest of the season.

Not to be outdone, DeVeon Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the season opener, and while he stayed healthy, he managed just one more 100-yard game the rest of the way, an 18-carry, 121-yard, one-touchdown game against Northwestern. He finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 519 yards and six touchdowns.

But anyone who watched Michigan over the last half of the season would be hard-pressed to say anyone looked better than Drake Johnson. The redshirt sophomore began 2013 as the backup, but tore his ACL in the season opener. He returned behind both Green and Smith, but once Green went down, he filled in nicely. Against Indiana, Johnson rushed 16 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, then he closed the season with 14 carries for 94 yards against Maryland and 15 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State before tearing his ACL once again in the third quarter. While he finished third on the team in rushing with 361 yards and had the fourth-most carries (60), he led all backs in yards per carry (6.0) and tied Gardner for second with four rushing touchdowns.

“With Green hurt and Smith never really breaking out, I believe that Johnson’s performance earned him this award,” said Joe. “If he had not have been sidelined in the Ohio game, who knows how that one could have turned out.”

“Forget recruiting rankings, Drake Johnson was the only running back who hit holes hard enough to pick up consistent gains, and he did it against OSU before the injury,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: De’Veon Smith (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: None
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Devin Funchess

FunchessAfter losing Jeremy Gallon to graduation, Michigan’s receiving corps looked to Devin Funchess to carry the load. He officially made the full-time switch from tight end to receiver and switched his jersey number from 87 to 1, the first Michigan receiver to wear the iconic number since Braylon Edwards. And he opened the season in style with seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns against Appalachian State. Of course, no one expected him to match those numbers the rest of the season, but it was fun to project his stats out over the course of 13 games: 91 catches, 1,235 yards, 39 touchdowns.

He followed it up with 107 yards on four catches against Notre Dame, but Michigan was shut out and Funchess suffered an injury that kept him out the following week. It took until the seventh game of the season — the Under the Lights game against Penn State — for Funchess to catch his fourth touchdown and then he was held without another the rest of the season. He closed with 108 yards on seven catches against Ohio State, but with no other breakout receivers stepping up, Funchess struggled with consistency and concentration all season.

He finished the season with a team leading 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, but while he caught more passes than 2013, his yards fell by 15 and touchdowns decreased by two, and after that first game he was never the dominant threat he should have been. Still, with enviable size, he will enter the NFL Draft this April.

“Funchess could be a force in the NFL with his lethal combination of size, speed, and athleticism, and he could have been a dominant college receiver on a better team,” said Sam. “Unfortunately, Michigan simply wasn’t able to get him the ball much, even if he did make some crazy how-did-he-do-that catches (like against Penn State) and some my-grandma-could-have-caught-that drops.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Mason Cole

Mason ColeThe biggest reason for Michigan’s offensive ineptitude a year ago was the offensive line. Brady Hoke mixed and matched lineups, trying to find the right combination to protect his quarterback and pave the way for something resembling a running game, but often to no avail. Despite losing two tackles to the NFL — Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield — the line grew up a little bit in 2014. But it was a newcomer that took home the award.

Mason Cole became the first true freshman in Michigan history to start a season opener on the offensive line, replacing Lewan at left tackle from Week 1, and while he made his share of mistakes throughout the season, he generally made people forget he was in high school a few months prior. Michigan’s line allowed 25 sacks, which ranked eighth in the conference, but was 11 fewer than last season. It paved the way for an improvement of an improvement of 37.1 rushing yards per game. And Cole was a major reason why.

“Mason Cole was thrown into the fire as a true freshman left tackle and managed to not be a glaring weakness,” said Sam. “That’s a huge win in my book.”

“Cole has a bright future after a decent redshirt freshman season,” said Derick. “I was impressed with how he hung in there during the Big Ten season.”

Votes: 5

Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Taylor Lewan
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Willie Henry

Willie HenryDue to Frank Clark’s dismissal from the team with two games left in the season, this category suffered from a lack of standout performers at the position, which split the vote. Had Clark finished the season, his 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks — totals that would have had two more games added to them — would have won the award going away.

Instead, Willie Henry was the only lineman that received multiple votes, while Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Mario Ojemudia garnered one apiece. Henry finished the season with 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and three sacks, but he made one of the most memorable plays of the season. Trailing Utah 10-3 midway through the second quarter, Michigan needed a big play and Henry provided it. On 3rd-and-12 from their own 13, Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson dropped back to throw a screen pass, but Henry leapt up and snagged it at the 6-yard line and rumbled into the end zone to tie the game.

“Tough pick here, but since Clark dug his own grave, I was quite impressed with Henry,” said Joe. “His ceiling looks to be quite high and I look forward to watching him pressuring opposing quarterbacks in the future.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Glasgow (1), Brennen Beyer (1), Mario Ojemudia (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Frank Clark
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs NorthwesternAfter winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, this one was a lock, although it wasn’t unanimous. James Ross III received one vote after recording 32 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Sam explains his decision to vote for Ross:

“I know, I know…Jake Ryan wins MVP and Defensive MVP and isn’t even the best linebacker? My vote is probably a lie here, but I feel that James Ross deserves some recognition for a couple bone-crushing hits on opposing linemen. This was the best unit on the entire team, and Ross should have an excellent senior season.”

The other four votes went to Ryan, giving him the Linebacker of the Year award for the third time in four years. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss, and added two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries. His 112 tackles were the most for a Michigan defender since Jonas Mouton recorded 117 in 2010, but Mouton did so in 13 games. It was the most in a 12-game season since Jarrett Irons recorded 115 tackles (80 solo) in 1994.

“Ryan moved over to middle linebacker despite being one of the top outside linebackers in the country. He anchored one of the top defenses in the Big Ten,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Desmond Morgan
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan LewisLast season’s winner, Blake Countess, took a step back this season as Michigan’s secondary was constantly tested by opposing offenses. And while freshman Jabrill Peppers was expected to make the biggest impact, an early-season injury kept that from happening and it was another youngster that rose to the occasion. Sophomore Jourdan Lewis started seven of 12 games, and after being picked on in a Week 2 loss to Notre Dame, proved to be Michigan’s best corner as the season progressed.

Lewis finished the season with 39 tackles (28 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, and a team-leading two interceptions and six pass breakups. His third-quarter interception of Christian Hackenberg led to a game-tying field goal in Michigan’s win over Penn State, and he also made a touchdown-saving tackle against Utah in which he out-raced everyone across the field to bring down Ute running back Bubba Poole at the 25-yard line. That kind of effort was there all season from Lewis.

“Jourdan Lewis can guard any receiver in the Big Ten with his speed and coverage skills, but his work ethic is what sets him apart,” said Derick.

“Tough year for the defensive backs overall, as the passing game seemed to hurt when it counted,” said Joe. “However, Jourdan Lewis looks to have a promising future in Ann Arbor, and when matched up alongside Peppers, perhaps a few more interceptions will be in his future.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Dennis Norfleet

NorfleetThe Special Teams Player of the Year vote was close between return man Dennis Norfleet and senior punter Will Hagerup, but Norfleet edged it out. Michigan’s special teams were a disaster for much of the year, often failing to even get 11 men on the field, but Norfleet was always a constant. Although he is still looking for his first return touchdown, he is reliable at catching kicks and punts and holding onto the ball, and he had a punt return called back against Maryland.

He finished the season with a 23.1-yard average on kick returns — which ranked sixth in the Big Ten — and a 3.8-yard average on punt returns. This season, he also moved into first place in Michigan career kick returns (90) and yards (2,203), and third place in career total return yards (2,293). He also fired up the home crowd with his dance moves while awaiting kicks and punts.

“Dennis Norfleet dances, and dances well. He wins,” said Sam.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Will Hagerup (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Brendan Gibbons
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake JohnsonAlthough a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Drake Johnson was a newcomer since he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2013 season. The Ann Arbor native began the year behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, and after getting three carries for 28 yards in mop-up time against Appalachian State, didn’t see a carry again until the Michigan State game after Green was lost for the season. The following week, he ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Indiana, and then finished the season with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (5.8 yards per carry) against Maryland and Ohio State.

“Tough choice between Mason and Drake, but Drake came alive late and provided a much needed spark to an otherwise sputtering offense,” said Joe. “I look forward to seeing him take snaps in a rotation with Isaac and Green.”

“Before the injury, Drake Johnson was looking like the running back Michigan’s been looking for over since the Sugar Bowl win,” said Derick.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Mason Cole (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jake Butt
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake RyanRyan came to Michigan as a three-star recruit from Cleveland St. Ignatius, choosing Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines over a handful of Mid-American Conference offers. Four years and a different coaching staff later, Ryan leaves Michigan as one of the top linebackers in program history. Despite missing the first five games of the 2013 season following a torn ACL in spring practice, his 44.5 tackles for loss rank seventh in Michigan history and his seven forced fumbles rank second. He started 41 career games and earned Bennie Oosterbaan’s #47 legends jersey.

“A model student athlete for the University of Michigan,” said Joe. “He has seen the ups and downs of this program as well as his own personal uphill battle with injury. In spite of it all, he was always a dominant playmaker on the field and the face of the defense as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll be sad to see all of these seniors go,” said Sam. “All had their moments, and though each of them leave the University of Michigan on a sour note, they played their hearts out for four or five years on the team. I will always be particularly fond of Jake Ryan’s wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks early in his career though, and his leadership was tangible even watching on TV. Ryan was a gritty linebacker, an athletic rusher, and a guy that defenses were afraid of, and for that, he’s my Senior of the Year.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis vs Miami OHMichigan entered the season with plenty of experience in the secondary, led by Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and a true freshman — Jabrill Peppers — who most expected to be a breakout star. But injuries plagued Peppers’ season and it was another youngster who rose to the occasion.

Jourdan Lewis played in eight games as a reserve defensive back in 2013, recording 17 tackles and two pass breakups, but broke out in his sophomore campaign with 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss, six passes defended, and two interceptions. He got better as the season went on and proved to be a good cover corner, leaving fans excited for him to team up with Peppers in 2015.

“If Lewis can become more of a ball hawk, he’ll become one of the better cornerbacks in the country,” said Derick. “His speed and coverage skills were the best on Michigan’s roster this season.”

“Lewis is making strides in his game, basically doubling all of his stats from last year with similar playing time,” said Joe. “As mentioned before, it’ll be fun to see him playing in the same backfield as a healthy Jabrill Peppers.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Joe Bolden (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Funchess
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Final Results

Monday, December 15th, 2014


Congratulations to for winning the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. JJG’s deviation of 135 was 40 points better than runner-up boggie. JJG was the closest to correctly predicting Devin Gardner’s total yards, just four away from his total of 254. JJG also tied for the closest to the game’s longest touchdown, which was Ezekiel Elliott’s 44-yard run on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. MichiganMack and Maizenblu62 were also only one away from that one. JJG wins the final $20 M Den gift card of the season.

Boggie was closest to Michigan’s total yards (372) with his prediction of 374. Kashkaav‘s prediction of 36 yards was the closest to the yards gained on Ohio State’s first possession (41). Kfarmer16 was exactly right with his prediction of 89 rushing yards for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, although had Barrett not gotten injured on the first play of the fourth quarter, that total likely would have changed. Freezer566 was just one away from Dennis Norfleet’s longest return (29) with his prediction of 30, while GrizzlyJFB was just one away from Jalin Marshall’s longest return (23) with his prediction of 22. Finally, no one predicted that neither team would make a field goal.

Congratulations is also in order for kfarmer16, who won the season-long prize, a pair of tickets to next year’s home opener against Oregon State. While this season was a huge letdown, next season’s home opener should come full of hope, especially if Michigan is able to lure Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL. Freezer566 came in second, just seven points behind kfarmer16, while Hazel Parker finished third despite missing two of the 10 weeks.

No one correctly predicted the final score, though Hazel Parker was the closest with his prediction of Ohio State 38 – Michigan 28. Four of the 16 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average of two points, and the average score prediction among all of the contestants was Ohio State 38 – Michigan 18.

I will be in touch with each winner via email this week regarding your M Den gift cards and the grand prize tickets. I hope they can make for some nice Christmas gifts. Thanks for playing this season’s Five-Spot Challenge. We may hold some random challenges during basketball season, so stay tuned for those. Otherwise, the challenge will return next football season!

The weekly results and final overall standings have been updated.

Five-Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


Sorry for the delay in getting this week’s Five-Spot Challenge posted. Two basketball games to start the week got us behind. But congratulations to Bigboyblue for picking up his second win of the season with a deviation of 136.5, topping Jaeschke by four. Bigboyblue was the closest to Michigan’s longest pass (23 yards) with his prediction of 22. He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Last week’s winner, Freezer566, was the closest to correctly predicting Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown’s total yards. His prediction of 250 was just two away. He was also the closest to correctly predicting the minutes until Michigan’s first touchdown. Michigan scored at the 10:25 mark in the third quarter (34.5 minutes into the game). Freezer566 predicted 35. Four contestants — MichiganMack, Hazel Parker, chris12qb, and Jaeschke — correctly predicted that Devin Gardner would score Michigan’s first touchdown. Four others predicted a touchdown pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess, and thus, were just one away. Finally, first time contestant Ray Weatherford was the closest to the total combined made field goals by both teams. His prediction of 167 was just 14 away from the actual total of 181.

Seventeen of the 18 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 24 – Maryland 16, which was almost the exact reverse of the actual score of Maryland 23 – Michigan 16. MichiganMack and kashkaav each were correct in their predictions that Michigan would score 16 points, but neither tabbed Maryland’s score correctly.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated. Unless Michigan beats Ohio State and gains bowl eligibility this will be the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. All M Den gift cards will be sent out next week to those who have not received them yet.

Here are this week’s picks. As is our custom, we have added a couple more questions for The Game. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

Senior day letdown: Maryland 23 – Michigan 16

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Senior Day 2014(

Twelve seniors took the field in Michigan Stadium on Saturday for the final time, but their senior day was spoiled by conference newcomer Maryland, who came away with its first ever win over Michigan, 23-16.

After forcing a Maryland three-and-out to start the game, Michigan’s offense took over on its own 36. On 4th-and-1, De’Veon Smith was flagged for a false start, moving the ball back five yards and forcing Michigan to punt. But fullback Joe Kerridge took a fake punt 52 yards to the Maryland 8-yard line, setting Michigan up 1st-and-goal. Michigan was unable to punch it into the end zone and had to settle for a 22-yard Matt Wile field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Neither team was able to muster any offense the rest of the quarter until Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown connected with Jacquille Veii for 21 yards to the Michigan 28 on the final play of the quarter. Michigan’s defense stiffened and forced a 38-yard Brad Craddock field goal to tie the game.

Final Stats
Michigan Maryland
Score 16 23
Record 5-6, 3-4 7-4, 4-3
Total Yards 398 312
Net Rushing Yards 292 147
Net Passing Yards 106 165
First Downs 23 17
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-24 4-30
Punts-Yards 2-86 4-154
Time of Possession 34:00 26:00
Third Down Conversions 5-of-13 3-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-3 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-17 2-19
Field Goals 3-for-4 3-for-3
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 4-of-5
Full Box Score

Dennis Norfleet returned the kickoff 31 yards, and Michigan quickly moved into Maryland territory. A 24-yard Devin Gardner run followed by a Maryland pass interference set Michigan up 1st-and-goal at the five. But back-to-back runs for no gain and a 11-yard sack on third down forced Michigan to settle for another field goal, this time from 33 yards. Maryland answered with a 41-yards field goal.

On the second play of Michigan’s next possession, William Likely intercepted Gardner at the Michigan 37 and returned it 29 yards to the Michigan eight. Yet again, the Michigan defense held strong and forced a 21-yard field goal to give Maryland its first lead of the game, 9-6.

Michigan got the ball at its own 16 with 1:50 remaining in the half. Five straight Drake Johnson runs gained 49 yards before Gardner found Jake Butt for four yards and 17 yards to the Maryland 9-yard line. But with time running out, Michigan had to kick its third field goal of the half, this time from 26 yards out, to knot the game at nine at the half.

The first drive of the second half was the Gardner show as he completed a 7-yard pass to Devin Funchess on 3rd-and-6, rushed for 22 yards to the Maryland 33, and then found the end zone on a 15-yard run a few plays later. Michigan led 16-9.

Michigan forced a Maryland punt and Norfleet returned it 69 yards for a touchdown, but A.J. Pearson was flagged for an illegal block. Instead of taking a 23-9 lead, Michigan’s offense moved to the Maryland 32, but couldn’t convert a 4th-and-6.

As the third quarter came to a close, Maryland caught the Michigan defense off balance with an up-tempo offense and entered the Michigan red zone. A 3rd-and-12 pass fell incomplete and Maryland had to settle for yet another field goal. But Jourdan Lewis was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Terrapins a 1st-and-goal. They took advantage on the next play with an 8-yard Brown touchdown run to tie the game at 16.

Michigan missed a 39-yard field goal on its next possession and Maryland marched right down the field for its second straight touchdown drive, this time a 1-yard Brown run, to take a 23-16 lead.

Johnson ran for 17 yards on the first play of Michigan’s ensuing possession, but the offense stalled. Justice Hayes lost three yards and a Gardner pass fell incomplete setting up 3rd-and-13. Gardner ran for 10 yards, but on 4th-and-3 from the 49-yard line, Funchess was unable to reel in Gardner’s pass and Maryland took over on downs. The Terps ran the clock out and sent Michigan to its sixth loss.

Gardner completed 13-of-24 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He also rushed 14 times for 82 yards and a score. Johnson led Michigan on the ground with 94 yards on 14 carries. As a team, Michigan racked up 292 rushing yards, its second-best performance of the season, and 398 total yards, good for fourth-best. For the third time this season, Michigan out-gained its opponent in total yards, but lost. Maryland gained 312 total yards.

Michigan fell to 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have to win at Ohio State next Saturday to gain bowl eligibility. A loss would give Michigan its third losing season in the last seven years and the first under Brady Hoke. The Buckeyes clinched the Big Ten East division with a 42-27 win over Indiana, but still have plenty to play for, including a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.

Final Look: Penn State

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Jourdan Lewis INT vs Penn State(

It seems like it was a lot longer than a week and a half ago that Michigan beat Penn State, but the bye week certainly came at the right time, allowing the team to heal up a little bit and gain an extra week of preparation for Michigan State. We took it pretty lightly last week as well and used that time to get started on some basketball previews, so today it’s time to take one final look back at Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Penn State
57 Total Plays 68
 38.3 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.8) 27.8
12 Possessions 12
4 Scoring Opportunities 4
 4.5 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 3.3
 58.2% Leverage Rate (68.3%) 58.8%
 32.1% Success Rate (42.0%) 35.3%
 26.1% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.5%) 25.0%
 37.5% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.3%) 42.5%
 26.1% Success Rate Passing (40.4%) 35.9%
36.4% Success Rate Rushing (43.5%) 34.5%
1 Turnovers  1
13.9 Equivalent Points 12.1
0.25 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.18

As I mentioned last week, I’m working to expand this section in the future, and hoping to put in some work to go back and calculate the previous games this season as well as last season so I can draw comparisons between this year’s offense and last year’s. The stats and formulas used are from Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

Like the Rutgers game, Michigan had considerably fewer plays, this time 11 fewer plays than Penn State. But Michigan had a 10.5-yard advantage in average field position thanks to the second half when neither offense could move the ball. Both teams had equal possessions and scoring opportunities. The leverage rates* were basically equal, but both were well below the national average of 68.3 percent. Penn State had a slightly better total success rate**, Michigan was slightly better on passing downs*** and success rushing, Penn State much better on standard downs and success passing. However, both teams were well below the national averages on all five of those success rate categories.

As far as how the offense’s performance against Penn State compares to the previous six games this season, Michigan’s average starting field position was its best so far, its 12 possessions were tied for the most (which they have done in three of the previous six games), and the one turnover matched the fewest in a game this season, along with the Appalachian State and Rutgers games. Michigan’s 12 first downs tied the Minnesota game for the fewest in a game this season. Michigan’s total success rate, success rate on standard downs, success rate passing, and success rate rushing were the second-lowest outputs of the season. Basically, this was Michigan’s second-worst offensive performance of the season behind the Minnesota game (yes, even worse than the Notre Dame game despite, you know, actually scoring points).

*Leverage Rate: Standard downs/(Standard downs + passing downs)
**Success Rate: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down
***Passing Down is considered 2nd & 7 or more, 3rd & 5 or more, 4th & 5 or more

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Penn State
4.6 Yards Per Play 3.1
 32.1% Success Rate 35.3%
38.3 Avg Starting Field Position 27.8
4.5 Points Per Opportunity 3.3
Even Turnover Margin Even

Michigan won three of the five factors, split the turnover margin, and Penn State won just one. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play (weighted 35%)
– Michigan +1.5 = 86.2 percent chance of winning

Success Rate (25%)
– Penn State +3.2% = 59.2 percent chance of winning

Average Starting Field Position (15%)
– Michigan +10.5 = 86.7 percent chance of winning

Points Per Opportunity (15%)
– Michigan +1.2 = 74.7 percent chance of winning

Turnover Margin (10%)
– Even = 50.0 percent chance of winning

Michigan won Yards per Play (35 percent), Field Position (15 percent), and PPO (15 percent). Added together, that equates to a 65 percent overall chance of winning, which they did.

Drive Chart

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half or turnover on downs, Shaded line = special teams or defensive touchdown

The numbers game

113,085: The game attendance, the largest this season and the eighth largest in Michigan Stadium history

5,543: Devin Gardner’s career passing yards, passing Tom Brady (5,351) and Jim Harbaugh (5,449) to move into sixth place in Michigan history

7: Devin Gardner’s spot in career pass attempts (648) and completions (392), passing Steve Smith and Jim Harbaugh, respectively

6,350: Devin Gardner’s career total yards, passing Elvis Grbac (6,221) for sixth in Michigan history

20: The number of consecutive games in which Devin Funchess has caught a pass, tying Anthony Carter for 10th in Michigan history

52: Dennis Norfleet’s 52 kickoff return yards set the school record in career kickoff return yards (2,029). That total also ranks seventh in Big Ten history

6: Michigan’s six sacks were the most in a game since the first game of the 2008 season against Utah

39.5: Jake Ryan’s career tackles for loss, moving into 10th place in Michigan history

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


Congratulations to Hazel Parker for picking up his first win of the season. He won twice last season and three times in 2011. He was the only contestant under 100 points last week with a deviation of 96, topping second place tooty_pops by 42. As is usually the case, Hazel Parker wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was third-closest to Christian Hackenberg’s passing yards (52 away), sixth-closest to Michigan’s rushing yards (28 away), second-closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover (three away), and third-closest to the longest field goal (three away). He wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Kashkaav correctly predicted that the longest field goal would be 45 yards, while Maizenblu62 was only one away. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Devin Gardner’s longest completion, only one away with his prediction of 44 yards. Bigboyblue and BigHouseBrandon were the closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover. It happened 16 minutes into the game and they both predicted 17. MEKMichigan’s prediction of 67  yards was the closest to Michigan’s rushing total (64), while Kashkaav’s guess of 180 was the closest to Hackenberg’s passing yards (160).

No one correctly predicted the final score, although MichiganMack was the closest with his prediction of Michigan 20 – Penn State 12. The average score prediction was Michigan 24 – Penn State 23 and 14 of the 21 contestants picked Michigan to win.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

After a bye week, Michigan heads up the road to face rival Michigan State. Here are this week’s questions.

Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

UM win vs PSU(

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Miami (Ohio)

Monday, September 8th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are this week’s questions:

Not this time: Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 14

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Funchess TD vs App State(

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Return specialists

Friday, August 8th, 2014


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


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

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

(Denny Medley, US Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

(Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

(G. Fiume, Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

(Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

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

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

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

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

(Tom Ciszek, NJ Sports Photo)

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

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

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

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