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Posts Tagged ‘Deveon Smith’

Five-Spot Challenge: Iowa

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


Congratulations to Maizenblu62 for a narrow victory over JustJeepGear.com. His total deviation of 135 was just three points better than JJG.com’s thanks in large part to being the least confident in Michigan’s ability to score a touchdown. Every other contestant this week predicted Michigan to score a touchdown in the first half, with none later than 23 minutes into the game. But Maizenblu62 predicted Michigan to score in the 48th minute, or three minutes into the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Wolverines didn’t score one at all in regulation.

The winner from the Minnesota and Michigan State games, Hazel Parker, was the closest to the combined uniform number of all Michigan touchdowns. His prediction of 138 was 48 away. With Jake Butt (88) and Devin Gardner (98) scoring the two touchdowns, it was about as high as it could possibly get for a two-touchdown total. Bluwolf77 was the closest to Michigan’s rushing total, just four away, while JustJeepGear.com and kashkaav were both just two away from Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemien’s passing yards. JJG.com was also the closest to Matt Wile’s total punt yards, just three away.

Nobody correctly predicted the final score. The average combined score was Michigan 25 – Northwestern 22. The widest margin of victory predicted in Michigan’s favor was 31-17, while only one participant predicted Northwestern to win and that was by a score of 35-17.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

Somehow: Michigan 27 – Northwestern 19, 3 OT

Saturday, November 16th, 2013


(USA Today Sports)

In a driving wind and rain along the shores of Lake Michigan, a Michigan offense that struggled to move the ball with any consistency for 60 minutes suddenly came alive in overtime.In the first extra period Devin Gardner connected with freshman tight end Jake Butt for the first touchdown of the game by either team. After Northwestern responded with a touchdown of its own, and then a field goal on its next possession, Michigan answered with a field goal. In two overtime periods both teams topped their regulation point totals.

Michigan started with the ball again in the third stanza and found the end zone once again, this time on a 5-yard run by Gardner. Forced to go for two, Michigan was able to convert as Gardner ran it into the left corner. Michigan’s defense held the Wildcats and the Wolverines escaped Evanston with an ugly but much-needed victory.

Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 27 19
Record 7-3 (3-3) 4-6 (0-6)
Total Yards 337 304
Net Rushing Yards 137 141
Net Passing Yards 200 163
First Downs 26 18
Turnovers 0 1
Penalties-Yards 1-15 3-20
Punts-Yards 6-255 6-180
Time of Possession 27:20 30:22
Third Down Conversions 2-of-18 5-of-19
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-23 5-40
Field Goals 4-for-5 4-for-4
PATs 1-for-1 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-5 4-of-4
Full Box Score

But the game would have been over in regulation if not for a controversial play in the final seconds. Michigan was trying to drive down the field to tie or win the game, trailing 9-6. After converting two fourth downs, Gardner connected with Jeremy Gallon for 16 yards on 3rd-and-23. But Gallon was tackled in bounds. Michigan’s field goal unit sprinted onto the field. Luckily, holder Drew Dileo was already on the field on the previous play and slid into position. Kicker Brendan Gibbons didn’t mark off his steps as a kicker normally would, but instead lined himself up approximately where he should be just as the snap went to Dileo. Gibbons booted a line drive through the uprights for the improbable game-tying 44-yard field goal as time expired.

It can certainly be argued that Gibbons – and possibly others – weren’t set when the ball was snapped, but the play stood and the game went to overtime. Credit should be given to the coaching staff for having the field goal unit ready to spring onto the field with no timeouts remaining.

Michigan may not have needed the heart-stopping field goal if Hoke had kicked a field goal to tie the game at nine on the previous drive. Instead, he chose to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Northwestern 4-yard line. Gardner was tackled for a loss of one  and Northwestern took over.

Michigan started the game on offense and looked good marching 63 yards on 12 plays, but the drive stalled in the red zone and the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal. After opening with completions of 17 yards to Gallon and 13 yards to Devin Funchess, Al Borges turned to freshman running back Derrick Green who started instead of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Green rushed for eight yards and then three to pick up the first down. After a Gardner run for eight, Green again picked up three yards and a first down. De’Veon Smith then came in and picked up seven and then five to put Michigan 1st-and-goal.

Derrick Green rushed for 79 yards on 19 carries in his first career start (MGoBlue.com)

For the remainder of the first half, Michigan was unable to move the ball. The next four drives went 28 yards, one yard, 20 yards, and eight yards and Michigan went into the locker room trailing 6-3.

The third quarter was much of the same with Michigan’s three drives going 12, 39, and 27 yards. Northwestern wasn’t much better, but was able to put together a 10-play, 77-yard drive that ended in a field goal to take a 9-3 lead.

At the beginning of the fourth, Michigan downed a punt on the Northwestern 1-yard line. The Wildcats were only able to move the ball two yards on the next three plays and had to punt it back to Michigan. But Brandon Williams’ punt into the strong wind was shanked and went out of bounds at the 11-yard line, just an 8-yard punt. Michigan was in prime position to capitalize, but the Wolverines managed just a field goal. It pulled Michigan within three at 9-6, setting up the crazy sequence of events on the final two possessions.

Michigan finished the game with 337 total yards, its best offensive performance since setting a school record against Indiana four weeks ago. After being held to negative rushing yards in back-to-back games, the Wolverines ran for 137 on 45 carries.

Gardner finished 24-of-43 for 226 yards and a touchdown. Green led all backs with 79 yards on 19 carries – an average of 4.2 yards per carry. Smith added 41 yards on nine carries, averaging 4.3. Gallon became the first Michigan receiver since Mario Manningham in 2007 to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. He caught 10 passes for 115 yards. Funchess added seven receptions for 61 yards. James Ross led the way defensively with 11 tackles and a sack.

It was anything but pretty, but it assures Michigan a winning record for the season and could give the team back some of the confidence it lost the last two weeks. The Wolverines travel to Iowa City next Saturday to face an Iowa team coming off a bye week and then host unbeaten Ohio State to close the regular season on Nov. 30.

M&GB staff predictions: Akron

Friday, September 13th, 2013


Last week, Derick was the closest to the final score of the Notre Dame game with his prediction of 35-31. None of us expected Michigan to put up 41 points on the Irish defense, but like I said last week, if Michigan doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s much better that they exceed our expectations rather than not live up to them. Tomorrow’s game will be completely different, so let’s take a look at our staff predictions.

Justin: A decade ago a MAC-level school would never be expected to compete with Michigan, but then Appalachian State and Toledo happened and now nothing can be taken for granted. But App State was a perfect storm and Toledo was under the current regime. Akron isn’t anywhere close to that and Michigan isn’t the same team it was for those heartbreaking losses either. In short, this one will be over by the end of the first quarter.

Devin Gardner will lead the offense up and down the field for the first half, hopefully getting receivers other than Jeremy Gallon involved in the offense, especially Jehu Chesson. The defense will give up some yards but should be able to get to quarterback Kyle Pohl enough to keep him from doing much.

The backups will play most of the second half and continue to move the ball. Akron might punch it in the end zone late in the game, but it will be over by the time it takes to eat a glazed donut.

Michigan 63 – Akron 10

Staff Predictions
Michigan Akron
Justin 63 10
Chris 48 6
Josh 56 3
Sam 52 3
Derick 59 6
Katie 48 6
M&GB Average 54 6

Chris: A slightly sluggish start would be expected, but Michigan starts rolling by the time the second quarter begins. Gardner and Co. rack up the scores and yardage, then give way to the younger guys to get some playing time. Derrick Green and Shane Morris look good in the fourth quarter.

Michigan 48 – Akron 6

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

Michigan 56 – Akron 3

Sam: After a 41-30 thrilling victory over Notre Dame last week that felt relatively comfortable from start to finish but had enough tense moments to cause some nerves, Michigan welcomes the lowly Akron Zips to the Big House this weekend. Fortunately there is just not much to say here. Akron was throttled by UCF 38-7 in week one before squeaking by FCS opponent James Madison last week after a late missed two-point conversion attempt by the Dukes.

While coach Brady Hoke and Co. will do everything they can to keep this Michigan team focused, there is no denying the fact that the rest of the nation has taken notice of the Wolverines after two impressive outings to date. Many pundits are already penciling Michigan in for a 7-0 start to the season before heading into East Lansing, and the schedule certainly seems favorable over the upcoming month and a half.

In sports, however, we all know that anything can happen. And yes, if this Saturday’s game were played 1,000 times, Akron might win enough to make you count their victories with BOTH of your hands (that is, if you are missing a few fingers), but I’ll stick with the odds here. Devin Gardner will continue his white-hot start to the year with five touchdowns before exiting midway through the third quarter and six different Wolverines score, including De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, and Jehu Chesson, before the clock reads a Michigan win in the end.

Michigan 52 – Akron 3

Derick: There may be a drop in excitement in the Big House this weekend, but Michigan’s near top-10 ranking should be motivation enough to put a real hurt on the Zips.

Saturday’s game offers the perfect opportunity to fix some of the kinks in the offense, like getting Fitzgerald Toussaint on track and Jehu Chesson involved in the offense. Devin Gardner should be out of the game early in the second half and the defense will likely keep Akron out of the end zone completely.

Michigan rolls Saturday afternoon and hits the road with a 3-0 record and a top-20 offense.

Michigan 59 – Akron 6

Katie: After the Notre Dame theatrics this week is going to look mighty calm for Michigan. Akron is a major underdog and will need quite a bit of luck to beat the Wolverines. And seeing as the Irish couldn’t produce enough luck I’m not envisioning that it’s in the cards for the Zips. Michigan is going to outplay and outmatch Akron, and while they will probably have some extended rallies, maybe make a few plays on Michigan’s second and third string players, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. What I’m looking forward to this week is seeing a bit more of Morris and Green, two freshmen who will likely have a great impact in the coming years, if not this season as well.  The Wolverines take this one without much trouble.

Michigan 48 – Akron 6

____________________________________________________________________________
For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Akron game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Matt Eliason of the MAC SB Nation blog Hustle Belt; and First Look: Akron.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, Maize n Brew, The Big House Report, UMGoBlog, Touch the Banner, and The M Block.

Final Look: Central Michigan

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

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 (MGoBlue.com)

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
CMU
CMU
M
C
UM
C
UM
CMU
M
CMU
UM
CMU
UM
CMU
UM
CMU
UM
CMU
UM
CMU
M
CMU
UM
CMU
UM
CMU

*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 (MGoBlue.com)

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.

Michigan 59 – Central Michigan 9

Sunday, September 1st, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

True freshman Dymonte Thomas didn’t take long to make his name known to those who don’t follow recruiting as ardently as others. In fact, true freshmen contributing was the theme of the game as Brady Hoke’s latest recruiting class displayed just why it was ranked so highly.

After picking up a first down on the first play of the game, Central Michigan was stuffed on three straight plays and forced to punt. Thomas came around the right side of the line and blocked the punt, which was picked up by receiver Joe Reynolds who raced 30 yards for Michigan’s first touchdown of the season.

Final Stats
Michigan Central
Score 59 9
Record 1-0 0-1
Total Yards 463 210
Net Rushing Yards 242 66
Net Passing Yards 221 144
First Downs 22 12
Turnovers 3 2
Penalties-Yards 7-55 8-74
Punts-Yards 7-277 1-51
Time of Possession 34:16 25:44
Third Down Conversions 10-of-15 4-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 4-22 1-3
Field Goals 1-for-1 3-for-3
PATs 8-for-8 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 7-of-7 3-of-3
Full Box Score

Hoke said afterward that the game plan was to rush the first punt and it fired up the team. It was Michigan’s first blocked punt since Brandon Graham blocked one in 2009.

But the excitement didn’t last long as Michigan forced another punt, and on the Wolverines’ second offensive play of the season, Devin Gardner was picked off by Jarret Chapman at the Michigan 6-yard line, setting up first and goal for CMU. The defense held strong, forcing a field goal, and Michigan never looked back from there.

Gardner led a six-play, 77-yard drive with a 36-yard pass to Drew Dileo followed by a 22-yard touchdown run. After another Central punt, Michigan mounted a 10-play, 73-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard Fitzgerald Toussaint touchdown run to grab a 21-3 lead.

Bad Gardner reared its head once again on Michigan’s next possession as his deep ball to Jeremy Gallon was intercepted and returned 36 yards to the Michigan 29. But the defense held Central to a field goal yet again. Michigan finished the half by finding the end zone twice more, an 11-play, 79-yard drive that covered 6:09 and a 3-play, 12-yard drive set up by Raymon Taylor’s first interception of the season.

Michigan took a 35-6 lead into the locker room and came back right where it left off, marching 75 yards in six plays, most of which came on a 45-yard pass from Gardner to Reynolds. Toussaint carried it in from two yards out.

After a CMU three-and-out, Michigan turned to its freshmen running backs for its next drive. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith carried the ball on all 10 plays, covering 55 yards and resulting in Green’s first touchdown of his career to put Michigan ahead 49-6. Green broke away for a 30-yard run on the drive and also converted a 4th-and-2.

That was the night for Gardner and the rest of the starters as Shane Morris took over under center on the next possession. The freshman phenom picked up right where Gardner left off, driving 81 yards in eight plays for Michigan’s eighth touchdown of the night. On the drive, Morris connected with fellow freshman, tight end Jake Butt, for eight yards on 3rd-and-3. He also found Devin Funchess over the middle for a 36-yard gain. Thomas Rawls got the touchdown from five yards out.

Derrick Green led the team in rushing with 58 yards on 11 carries (MGoBlue.com)

After another Central Michigan field goal, Morris threw the first interception of his career, but freshman defensive back Channing Stribling forced a fumble on the very next play and Michigan got the ball right back. For the first time all night, Michigan wasn’t able to punch it in the end zone, instead settling for a 30-yard Brendan Gibbons field goal to reach the final score of 59-9.

In all, 10 true freshmen played and nearly all of them produced. Gardner made a couple of mistakes, which he attributed to jitters and rust, but showed very good command of the offense and playmaking ability. Toussaint ran hard and the rest of the backfield showed off the depth Michigan has at the position. Dennis Norfleet displayed his game-breaking ability, taking a reverse 38 yards and nearly breaking two or three returns. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown, and there seemed to be no major injuries (we’ll see how bad Reynolds and Drake Johnson are hurt, but they didn’t appear to be too bad).

Green led Michigan with 58 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Toussaint added 57 yards and two scores on 14 carries. Gardner completed 10-of-15 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions while also rushing seven times for 52 yards and two scores. Jeremy Gallon (four receptions) and Devin Funchess (two) each tallied 47 receiving yards. Gallon also added a touchdown.

It was a good showing for the young Wolverines on an opening weekend in which nearly every other Big Ten team struggled with inferior competition. Michigan featured 460 yards of offense and a defense that held its opponent under 200 yards until mop-up time when Central barely inched over the mark. In the long run, it won’t mean much, but as for opening weekends go, it went about as well as one could have hoped.

The first true test is next week when Notre Dame comes to town with an offense that passed for 355 yards in a 28-6 win over Temple and a defense widely recognized as one of the nation’s best entering the season.

Stay tuned for continued breakdown and analysis of Michigan’s season opening win as well as preparation for Notre Dame.

Central Michigan postgame transcript: Devin Gardner and Fitzgerald Toussaint

Saturday, August 31st, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

On how Fitzgerald Toussaint felt out there, physically and mentally…
Toussaint
: “I’d say physically I felt great, but  if I’m not mentally prepared the mental part will take over that. I felt really good mentally and I’ll be ready to play more football.”

On the importance of getting off to a fast start with the blocked punt…
Gardner
: “It was very important because that’s what the game is about early. Coach Hoke always talks about special teams and starting fast. You don’t want to get behind. If you give a team like Central confidence they will give you a really good game. They were a good team and we just kept on pounding away so they didn’t even have an opportunity.”

On the efficiency of the offense and how they felt like they did in their first game of the season…
Gardner
: “It felt great for me. We ran the ball well which was our biggest emphasis over camp. Fitz ran well. All the running backs ran well and it felt great to see that.”
Toussaint: “I just want to start by giving credit to the offensive line. They’ve been building chemistry all throughout fall camp, we just all stayed together, so we just came out here and played good football.”

On what it’s like being ‘the guy’ now…
Gardner
: “I mean it was amazing. I can’t even describe how I was feeling. My heart was racing and I was just like don’t fall, I probably won’t even touch this banner. I mean, I really can’t describe how I feel. It felt great though.”

On how the freshmen handled the pressure, specifically the running backs…
Toussaint
: “I would say the older guys are a little more anxious over nervous, some of the younger guys are nervous over anxious. The guys were nervous and a little bit anxious, just ready to get out there and be ready for their opportunity, and I think they can, but they showed that they will.”
Gardner: “We talked in camp about how pressure, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, you can’t smell it. It’s not tangible, so it really doesn’t exist. And I feel like the freshmen put that on their back and ran with it. They were really confident and they ran well. The DBs, I loved watching those guys play because they’ve been giving me headaches all during camp so I knew they were ready as well. It was just amazing to see guys that are like your little brothers get an opportunity so early to contribute and do well.”

On how they feel Shane Morris did…
Gardner
: “He looked fine. He made the right checks. You guys watch the quarterback, you don’t see all the inside things like the different checks you’ve got to make, getting us in the right play and things like that, so I think he did really well. Obviously, we’ve got to watch the film and see the small things that he might have missed or that he did get where he might have gotten pluses and things like that, so you just got to watch the film and see.”

On the emotion of coming back from the injury and whether he feels like he has anything to prove…
Toussaint
: “I just want to say it’s an emotional feeling. I just want to show that I can contribute any way I can for this football team and protect Devin and run the football hard. And know when it’s time to come off the field to come off the field, and my confidence to step in and my preparation to step in and I’m just ready to go play football.”

On whether it felt like a long road coming back…
Toussaint
: “Yeah, it definitely felt like a long road, but I knew if I prepared right then I could come back.”

On what Devin felt like he did well, and whether this was a good game to shake the rust off before Notre Dame next week…
Gardner
: “I feel like I managed the game pretty well. The two things I didn’t do well was throw the two interceptions, but besides that, I feel like I was pretty efficient, getting us in the right play, and making throws, and making opportunities for myself when things broke down. So I feel like I did well in those aspects. I just have to take the turnovers away and I feel like those were like rust throws. I feel like this first game was a good opportunity to knock the rust off because I’m pretty sure everybody knows the test that we have next weekend, we’ll be ready.”

On whether the two interceptions were a result of decision making or rust…
Gardner
: “The first one was inexcusable. I didn’t execute at all. I made a read and threw a decent pass, it was just a bad read, so it got turned over. The next one, I got hit while I threw it so it kind of went as far as it went. You can somewhat control that but not as much as you’d like to, so I wish I had them both back. But they’re done now, we’ll move on to next week.”

On whether he enjoys scrambling when the play breaks down…
Gardner
: “I just like to stay calm, so when I’m running around my face is pretty straight and I’m not really chaotic, my head’s not spinning or anything. I feel like my calmness allows me to help my teammates be calm. When they see me running around, they’re like ‘is he scrambling or is he not?’ so it’s probably refreshing for them and when they get open I have the opportunity to hit them, and if they don’t I’ll just run.”

On how the three new starters on the offensive line performed…
Toussaint
: “I think they did really well. Just like I said before, they really worked in fall camp to have really good chemistry. With (Michael) Schofield and Taylor (Lewan) on the outside bring those guys inside together and do a really good job of that.”
Gardner: “Yeah, I think they did a really good job. I don’t know exactly how many yards we rushed for, but I feel like we had a pretty good day on the ground. Then through the air, I had time to throw the ball and made the throws I was supposed to make. The way they were playing, our linemen responded because it wasn’t what we saw on film as much. They showed a lot more pressure on second down and long distances and they didn’t do that this game, and they (the offensive line) adjusted. So that’s one thing that you might be scared of when you have three new interior linemen, to adjust on the fly when you don’t see exactly what you’ve seen on film, and they did a really good job of doing it and giving me time to throw the ball.”

On how it went between he and center Jack Miller in their first game together…
Gardner
: “It went well. No exchange problems. Those are big deals, pet peeves for the coach. Those are things where you can’t start the play because of the exchange and we had no problems like that. Our protections were on the same page, the changes in protections, or keeping the protections the same. So I feel like it was a great opportunity for us to show that we have a lot of future.”

M&GB staff predictions: Central Michigan

Friday, August 30th, 2013


Every Friday throughout the season last year we submitted our staff predictions, which involved a long-winded breakdown and then a score prediction from each of us. This season, we’re doing the same, but toplining the breakdown. We feel that while we aim to provide one consistent message throughout the site, the variety of opinions of each individual writer is important, so this is their opportunity to present those. We make it a contest internally, and we hope the varying opinions help make your viewing experience on Saturday more well-rounded.

Justin: Like I said earlier, I really like Central Michigan as a season opening opponent this season. Don’t get me wrong; the anticipation leading up to the Alabama game last season was fun, but the result wasn’t. I’m not opposed to season openers against high quality opponents, but let’s get back to that level ourselves first and then bring on all comers.

Central provides a matchup with a very solid running back and a receiver that will be tough to stop, which means Michigan will receive a bit of a challenge. But aside from that, there isn’t much else that can compete with the kind of depth and speed Michigan has. Throw in a quarterback making his first career start, and a retooling offensive line, and it’s a great opportunity for Michigan’s front four to get started on a high note.

Michigan will have the game well in hand by the third quarter, allowing Shane Morris and the rest of the young guys to gain some playing time. Expect a heavy dose of Fitz and the rest of the running back group. I’m most excited to see the rest of the backs, as well as Jehu Chesson’s debut.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Central Michigan
Justin 41 17
Chris 40 14
Josh 42 17
Sam 45 10
Derick 41 14
Katie 48 10
M&GB Average 43 14

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 17

Chris: Has been out of the country for the week, so no breakdown, but did provide a score prediction.

Michigan 40 – Central Michigan 14

Josh: Refer to yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full game breakdown.

Michigan 42 – CMU 17

Sam: This Saturday at the Big House, as Michigan kicks off its 134th season of college football, two in-state non-rivals will be breaking in two full-time starting quarterbacks – redshirt junior Devin Gardner for the Wolverines and junior Cody Kater for the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Maize and Blue figure to march up and down the field against a Central defense that gave up a putrid 32.4 points per game last season while playing a schedule peppered with MAC teams and just one ranked squad – Michigan State.

For Gardner, it’s a chance to prove that his five successful outings at quarterback to book-end last season were no fluke, and the matchup is seemingly perfect for him. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess should be next to unguardable for the Chippewa defense, and will find the end zone twice on the day. Michigan’s stable of running backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint, will also get plenty of light work, and highly-touted freshman Derrick Green figures to see a handful of carries as well. Pay special attention to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson, who will get the start opposite Jeremy Gallon in Amara Darboh’s year-long absence, and on defense keep a close eye on the play of the safeties. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson was being talked up all spring before nearly losing a starting spot recently to the now-injured Courtney Avery. If Michigan gets burned deep more than once, Brady Hoke will have a quick leash.

On Central’s side, there simply is not much to talk about other than running back Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and Titus Davis, the leading receiver on last year’s team with 860 yards and eight touchdowns on 43 catches. Both of those guys should figure to eclipse the 1,000-yard marks in rushing and receiving, respectively, but expect the bulk of their production to come after Greg Mattison’s defense shuts down the Central attack and forces three turnovers this weekend. Michigan will score first and never look back on the way to a rout.

Michigan 45 – Central Michigan 10

After an impressive freshman season Devin Funchess earned the #87 Legends jersey and is expected

Derick: Central Michigan gets the honor of showing the world what Michigan’s post-Denard offense can do. With the night game against Notre Dame on the horizon, Borges will likely want to use week 1 to test his new arsenal and prepare for that much bigger challenge. Devin Gardner will hopefully spread the ball around his receiving core, including new receiver Jesu Chesson and tight end Devin Funchess.

Michigan will showcase multiple running backs in this contest, as the preseason depth chart seemingly has four backs that could be anywhere from #2-#5 on the list. Along with starter Fitzgerald Toussaint, Drake Johnson, Thomas Rawls and De’Veon Smith will apparently receive carries before 5-star recruit Derrick Green. No matter who is on the field, the Michigan running game will be crucial this year, and they should be able to run over the Chippewa’s defense on Saturday.

Though Hoke, like many Michigan coaches before him, will probably refuse to run up the score, I think Michigan will put a pretty good beating on CMU with a balanced offensive attack. Hopefully the defense can hold a MAC offense off the board until the second string comes in.

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 14

Katie: Great to be back for another season of Michigan football.  I can’t wait to see what our Wolverines have in store for us this year.

Now to the home opener against an instate foe, the Central Michigan Chippewas. I know that they aren’t ‘Bama by any stretch of the imagination, and that most of us take for granted that this will be an easy tick mark in the win column. But the Chippewas could put up a few touchdowns if junior Cody Kater (who replaced last year’s starter Ryan Radcliff) can show that his skill is palpable even against a Big Ten secondary, a task I’m not sure he’ll be up to.

They beat the Iowa last year, but the Hawkeyes had already lost to Iowa State and would also lose to Indiana before going 4-8 on the season. So while Central has some firepower, the loss of Radcliff will hurt, and a Michigan defense that includes a fifth-year senior strong safety in Thomas Gordon, another fifth-year senior outside linebacker in Cam Gordon, and a sophomore safety with a lot of potential in Jarrod Wilson, won’t likely help them heal.

That being said, Central Michigan does return Zurlon Tipton, a senior running back who put up just under 1,500 yards rushing last year, and a wide receiver Titus Davis who averaged 71 yards a game. With two touted starters in the  offensive line, a powerful center and left guard, Central could look to keep Michigan on their feet.  And with the Chippewa defense seeing the return of three top play-makers, one of whom, Justin Cherocci, a linebacker, had 132 combined tackles last season to put him at 19th nationally, the visitors could cause some trouble for the Wolverines offense.

Some trouble. As in keeping the Wolverines under fifty points trouble. With Devin Gardner starting this season, protected by 6’8″ fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, with fifth-year wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and an up-and-coming tight end Devin Funchess as targets, as well as a long list of potential running backs, I’m not seeing the offense having trouble finding a comfortable rhythm and staying in it. If Gardner could amass 1,200 yards passing in five starts last year, there’s no telling what he may be able to accomplish as the designated leader of the Michigan offense. It’s a lot of pressure I realize, but from what I’ve seen he has a level head, and from backing up Denard Robinson, I assume he also picked up that winning spirit of never being down and out.

Michigan shouldn’t have a problem beating the Chippewas in their opener.

Wolverines 48, Central Michigan 10

Michigan-Central Michigan game preview

Friday, August 30th, 2013


Unlike last season’s opener, the national attention isn’t centered around Michigan’s game, but that doesn’t mean Brady Hoke will prepare any less for Central Michigan than he did for Alabama. As he said in his Monday press conference, it’s the fist chance to see where the team stands after a long offseason, with a new quarterback, and plenty of youth to go around.

After all, Central is the team that finished last season with four straight wins, the team that won its bowl game, the team that had the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, and the team that has a running back who has seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games. No other opponent on Michigan’s schedule can lay claim to more than one of those feats.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – Big Ten Network
Central Michigan Head Coach: Dan Enos (4th season)
Coaching Record: 13-24 (Overall and at CMU)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Cummings (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Tumpkin (4th season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 7-6, 4-4 MAC (4th West)
Last Meeting: UM 41 – CMU 17 (2006)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Michigan vs. MAC: 31-1
Michigan in Season Openers: 109-21-3
Michigan in Home Openers: 110-18-2

The last time these two teams faced off was the second game of 2006 when Michigan won convincingly, 41-17. Coincidentally, that game preceded a matchup with Notre Dame, which Michigan also won.

But times are different. Michigan is on its second different coach than the one who won that game, Lloyd Carr, and has suffered its first ever defeat at the hands of a team from the Mid-American Conference. Alas, MAC teams can no longer be taken for granted. Or can they?

Central returns 15 starters and both specialists from last year’s 7-6 squad, but this is still a team that finished fourth in the MAC West. Yes, the Chips finished the season with four straight wins, but they came against Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), UMass, and Western Kentucky – teams who finished with a combined record of 14-35. That sentence above about the claims to fame CMU carries into this game? Not looking so hot right now.

Let’s take a look at how the teams match up.

Michigan defense vs CMU offense: When Central Michigan has the ball

Eight starters return on offense, but the three that don’t are pretty big losses. As we discussed in Monday’s First Look, 99.6 percent of last year’s passing yards are gone with the departure of quarterback Ryan Radcliff. The man who represents the other 0.4 percent is junior Cody Kater who completed 2-of-4 passes for 12 yards last season. But he does have some college experience, albeit in a much smaller capacity. After spending a redshirt freshman season at Cincinnati, he transferred to Grand Rapids Community College, leading GRCC to an 11-0 record. Last season he transferred to CMU where he backed up Radcliff and now has won the opportunity to make his first every FBS start in the Big House.

At 6'2" Titus Davis will test Michigan's secondary (Tim Fitzgerald, CMU Athletics)

Another key departure was receiver Cody Wilson who finished second on the team with 840 receiving yards, which means Kater has one less proven target to throw to. The good news for him is the leading receiver, Titus Davis is back, and the 6-2, 190-pound junior from Wheaton, Ill. has big play ability. He averaged 20 yards per catch in 2012 with a long of 92 and caught eight touchdowns. He had a monster game against Western Michigan, catching 10 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Against a similar opponent, Michigan State, he caught four for 64 yards.

The third big loss from the CMU roster was left tackle Eric Fisher, who was the first pick in the NFL Draft. He helped pave the way for what was actually a mediocre running game, but a very talented running back. Zurlon Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He surpassed 100 yards in each of the final seven games, including a 243-yards performance against Michigan’s Week 3 opponent, Akron. Against Michigan State, he rushed 11 times for 62 yards, and while he averaged 19.4 carries per game throughout the season, his workload went up to 25.3 in the final six games.

Central was a very balanced team last season in terms of plays run with 415 rushing attempts and 413 passing attempts, but the passing game was much more successful. That might not be the case this season with a new quarterback, however, Kater did complete 68.3 percent of his passes for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns for GRCC last season. Yes, quality of competition is a major caveat, but this isn’t simply a kid straight out of high school.

With questions about Michigan’s defensive line yet to be answered, look for Central to feed the ball to Tipton early and often. In that same vein, expect Michigan to gear up to stop the run, forcing Kater to try to beat them with his arm. The matchup with Blake Countess or Raymon Taylor on Titus Davis will be one to watch. Phil Steele put Davis among his top 25 receivers in college football and CMU receivers coach Mose Rison compares Davis to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. At 6-2, he’ll have a good four inches on any of Michigan’s corners.

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

The Central Michigan defense is led by its duo of returning linebackers, Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton, who combined for 258 tackles a year ago. Chrroci ranked 19th nationally with 132 and led the nation with 89 assisted tackles. Benton ranked 24th nationally with 126 and led the team with 54 solo tackles.

The line returns both on the interior, including sophomore Jabari Dean, who amassed 28 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery as a freshman in 2012. Both ends have to be replaced, but Central got a transfer from Michigan State who will contribute right away. Senior Jeremy Gainer recorded 13 total tackles and two forced fumbles in 28 career games played for the Spartans, mostly on special teams, but he’ll be an instant upgrade for the Chippewas.

Shamari Benton forms a solid linebacking duo along with Justin Cherocci (CMU Athletics)

In the secondary, two starting corners and free safety Avery Cunningham are back, but the main guy who has to be replaced is All-MAC safety Jahleel Addae, who signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent. Cunningham tallied 88 tackles last season, while the other returnees, Jarret Chapman and Jason Wilson recorded 51 and 50, respectively. Wilson added a pair of interceptions.

The 4-2-5 defense that Enos runs relies on good play from the back seven, and that’s what they got last season. But the rush defense was the weak spot, giving up 192 yards per game, which ranked 93rd nationally. That means Michigan will feature a heavy dose of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the rest of his running mates.

However, Michigan State was a very run-heavy team in 2012 and only gained 173 yards on 4.2 yards per carry against CMU last September. Le’Veon Bell was held to 70, his third lowest output of the season behind Ohio State (45) and Michigan (68). Conversely, the Spartans torched Central’s secondary for 322 yards on 25-of-37 passing. It was quarterback Andrew Maxwell’s third-highest total of the season.

Central clearly doubled down on the run after seeing Bell run 44 times for 210 yards against Boise State the week before, and that allowed the Spartan passing game to go off. Expect similar results on Saturday, though Michigan’s offense figures to be a bit more balanced.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker David Harman is gone, and the replacement hasn’t been named as of yet. Redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi and sophomore Matt Cotiguala are battling it out. Senior punter Richie Hogan is back after finishing fourth in the MAC with a 41.8-yard average per punt. Titus Davis is the main man returning punts, while Courtney Williams will handle the kick return duties.

Prediction

Central will test Michigan’s defense with Tipton on the ground and Davis through the air, but don’t expect the Chips to hang around for more than a half. Michigan’s defense will flex its muscle, forcing Kater to try to beat it through the air. We’ll get a nice look at the ability of Frank Clark, Keith Heitzman, Chris Wormley, and Taco Charlton to get to the quarterback.

Offensively, Michigan will use a balanced attack, perhaps more balanced than Hoke would normally want in this type of game. The reason is that instead of simply running the ball at will against an inferior opponent, it will be important to work on the passing game with an unproven receiving corps (outside of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo) before Notre Dame comes to town next weekend. Look for Gardner to give Jehu Chesson some targets to get him involved and see what he can do.

The Wolverines will put this one away by the third quarter and get Shane Morris, Derrick Green, and DeVeon Smith some playing time.

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 17

Big Ten Football Coaches Teleconference transcript (Week 1): Brady Hoke

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013


Every Tuesday, the 12 head coaches from the Big Ten participate in a teleconference. Each coach gets 10 minutes to speak, which usually allows the media time to as five or six questions. As part of our expanding coverage this season, we will bring you Brady Hoke’s transcript as well as those from that week’s opposing coach once Big Ten play gets underway, and any stories that come out of these.

This week, Hoke answers questions about Central Michigan, his feelings on the offensive and defensive lines, why he gave Devin Funchess a Legends number, a defensive player winning the Heisman, and the new targeting rule.

Opening statement

“Obviously we’re all pretty excited. I think every team in the country (is excited) to get started. You’re tired of hitting each other. We’ve had a good camp. I think our team selected four very deserving captains the other night and I like the leadership that we’ve shown to this point. But as a coach, you’ve just got to keep trying to improve every time you take the field, the meeting room, or the weight room.”

Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: How far has the defense come since you took over at Michigan and how much further does it have to go to get to where you want it?

“There’s no question that we’ve made a little bit of progress, but I think the bar is set so high, not only by the coaches but by the players, how they go out every day in practice and the things that we’re doing. We’re trying to improve. We’re going to be a very young football team in a lot of ways. Sixty-one of the 85 guys are going to be first or second year players. You look at the defense, the four starters have a career (total) of 17 starts between them all. We’re dealing with a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot and so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: Ideally, how many running backs would you like to feature, and do you envision the college game featuring more two-back sets like the pros?

“I think there’s always that, in any team, any situation, you’ve got to have a multiple number of backs because of the physicalness of the position. I think Fred Jackson, our running backs coach, has done a great job throughout the fall camp to get the reps to some unknown guys, when you look at the two freshmen, Derick and DeVeon, but at the same time the older guys – Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls and Drake Johnson – have really done a nice job. Fitz is obviously the lead cow in the whole deal, so we hope to go one guy for most of the reps but also do a good job of getting the other guys into the football game.”

Dan Chalk, Midland Daily News: Can you talk about the challenges that CMU presents and assess the development of the CMU program the last four years under Dan Enos?

“Well, you know, Dan has done a really good job. I think you look at how they play and I know some of the coaches who are on that staff and have a lot of respect for them – Mike Cummings, up front – and you watch those guys play and the pad level. Then defensively, I think they do a nice job scheme-wise, and they do a nice job in the effort that they play with. They’ve got a veteran team, I think eight starters on one side of the ball and seven on the other, so they’ve got guys who have been in big games. They played a great bowl game, beat a very good Western Kentucky team, so obviously that program has continued to grow under Dan’s leadership.”

Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: How do you feel about the interior of the lines heading into the season?

“Well, we’re young on both sides, but it’s a good young. They’re willing. They’ve been physical in practice. They’ve been touch. I think we in the staff think that we’re going to probably make a mistake here or there where we don’t want to because of some youth, or maybe not play with the great technique that we want to play with early, but we like both lines. Offensively, I think there was great competition and I would say there was great competition defensively also.”

Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: What are the biggest things you’re looking to see out of Devin Gardner?

“Well, I think the improvement that he’s made in making good decisions. I think the improvement of how to lead from the quarterback position. I think he had part of that DNA in him, but you know, he was out of it a little bit. Now, the progress he’s made from decision-making and maturity has been really positive.”

Brandon Folsom, Maize n Brew: Why did you decide to give Devin Funchess, a sophomore, the Ron Kramer Legends jersey?

“Number one, Ron was a tremendous athlete – maybe the best athlete ever to play at the University of Michigan. Being a tight end, we wanted to try to keep it within that position. I think Devin and his growth, and if you look at the tight end position, we don’t have any older guys. I think his growth is something I’ve seen, and we’ve seen on this staff, has been something that’s been very special.”

USA Today Sports: Last year we had a defensive player finish second in the Heisman race. What does it take for a defensive player to win the Heisman?

“Well, obviously, Charles Woodson won the Heisman, so I don’t know (about) the ‘never had a defensive player win the Heisman trophy.’ I get a little confused when I hear that because if we go back and count the snaps that he played on defense they would far outweigh any snaps he played anywhere else.”

Todd Jones, Columbus Dispatch: What are your thoughts on how last year ended up and your expectations for this year?

“I think the expectation when you’re at Michigan is to win the Big Ten Conference championship. That’s never going to change. How we finished a year ago was very disappointing, how we coached and how we played fundamentally, so those things are all things that we need to do a better job, starting with me as the head football coach, help our kids so they can with the Big Ten championship.”

USA Today Sports: How has your staff talked to the defensive players about the targeting rule change this season and do you expect to see any ejections this weekend related to that?

“That’s a good question and one I don’t know as far as if we’ll see any this weekend. The targeting issue is not just a defensive issue. It’s a chop block or a block on a special teams play where someone comes back and blindsides a guy on an interception or an offensive lineman down the field. So we tried to educate our whole team on the safety ramifications that we want to have for our players first, and secondly, the penalties that are going to be pretty stiff, so it’s just not a defensive problem.”

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.