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Posts Tagged ‘Devin Funchess’

Funchess, Clark drafted in second round

Friday, May 1st, 2015


Funchess

Michigan may have struggled on the field last fall, but they had a good night in Chicago on Friday as two former Wolverines found their way into the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Devin Funchess heard his name called first when the Carolina Panthers selected him 41st overall. A short time later, defensive end Frank Clark surprised everybody by getting selected by the Seattle Seahawks 63rd overall. It marks the first time since 2008 that Michigan has had two players drafted in the first two rounds of the same draft.

Funchess was projected to be a second or third round pick, so his position as the ninth pick of the second round was surprising, but not to the Panthers who traded up 16 spots to get him. The St. Louis Rams held the 41st pick, but Carolina traded their third-round (No. 89) and sixth-round (No. 201) picks in addition to pick No. 57.

The 6’5″, 232-pound Farmington Hills, Mich. native joins last year’s first-round pick, Kelvin Benjamin, in the Panthers’ receiving corps. Benjamin, who stands 6’5″, 240, was a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries last season, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera liked the possibilities despite Funchess’ less than stellar showing at the NFL Combine, per the Charlotte Observer.

“He plays fast. He’s a smooth, fluid big man,” Gettleman said. “We really like that about him…he’s a matchup issue.”

“You see a couple things that tell you this kid is a little bit different. He makes catches in traffic. He presents a big target in traffic and takes a lot of big shots, similar to what Kelvin does,” Rivera said. “And then you watch him go vertical, which was surprising. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I thought people talked about he was not a vertical threat.’ He was a vertical threat.”

In three seasons at Michigan Funchess caught 126 passes for 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns. He struggled with consistency last season while battling injuries, but caught a career-high 62 passes for 733 yards and four scores while wearing the famous No. 1 jersey. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection.

While Funchess going 41st was surprising, Clark being selected at all on Friday was a shock given the way his career at Michigan ended. Clark was kicked off the team with two games remaining last season after a domestic violence incident at a hotel in Sandusky, Ohio. But the Seahawks did their homework on Clark and decided the upside he brings was worth the risk he could pose off the field.

Clark, certainly thankful for the opportunity presented, released a statement to Seahawks fans.

“I’m honored to be a part of the Seattle Seahawks organization, and I want to thank coach Carroll and Mr. Schneider for believing in me enough to make me the team’s first pick. I loved Coach Carroll as a kid growing up in L.A., and I look forward to giving the 12th man more reasons to raise ruckus in the near future. I’m a West Coast kid at heart and I’m eager to make Seattle, and the great Northwest my home.”

Clark joins a Seahawks defense that led the league in total defense and pass defense, and ranked third in rush defense, a year ago. But the Seahawks ranked just 20th in the league with 37 sacks, and that’s something they hope Clark can improve.

Clark tallied 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss in 10 games last season. As a junior in 2013, he recorded 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, earning All-Big Ten second team honors.

Michigan still has a couple more players who hope to be drafted in rounds four through seven on Saturday. Linebacker Jake Ryan is projected as a mid-round pick and quarterback Devin Gardner — who will play receiver in the NFL — just hopes to hear his name called. Coverage begins at noon EST on ESPN.

Recruiting Profile: 2015 TE Chris Clark

Friday, January 16th, 2015


Chris Clark(Rivals.com)

Ed: Please welcome our newest writer, Alex Sibo, to the fold. Alex is currently a senior at UM-Dearborn and has a background in scouting and player evaluation, having learned from some of the best in the business. He will be contributing a weekly recruit profile/evaluation piece that for the time being will be posted every Friday. Visit our Meet the Staff page to read more about Alex. 

Chris Clark – TE | 6’6″, 247 | Avon, Conn. – Avon Old Farms
ESPN: 4-star, #4 TE, 83 grade Rivals: 4-star, #1 TE 247: 4-star, #2 TE Scout: 5-star, #1 TE
Other top offers: UCLA, Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Miami, South Carolina, USC

One of the top prospects that Michigan’s staff and fans have their eyes on is tight end Chris Clark from Avon, Connecticut. The imposing Clark was formerly committed to the North Carolina Tar Heels before decommitting and committing to Michigan, where he once again decommitted and opened up his options once more. Michigan is still considered one of the top schools in the running to win Clark back, but is still currently being wooed by UCLA, Texas, USC, and North Carolina, in addition to receiving offers from many of the top schools in the country. Let’s look into what traits Clark presents and how he could make an impact wearing the winged helmet.

Athleticism

Athleticism - Chris ClarkIt can be easy to say that players who are big are slow, and players who are small are fast. This is not necessarily the case with Clark, but the drawbacks to having a 6’6”, 250-pound frame are clear when watching him play. Clark possesses above average straight line speed for his size and for the tight end position, his agility, burst, and explosion hold him back as an athlete. He is a slow-starter who takes time to build up to his top speed and lacks great initial quickness out of his stance, in addition to the fact that he is slow to change directions and the ability to make sharp lateral cuts. Given that, Clark does possess some wiggle with the ball in his hands, but is much better when asked run through a defender than around him.

Catching

Catching - Chris ClarkIt takes more than just hands to be a successful pass catcher, and Clark is a great example of that, though he does possess the sticky fingers to snag the football. Clark demonstrates excellent body control, whether downfield, in the end zone, flying through the air, or reaching out for a one-hander. One of the more comforting things about the way Clark plays the ball is that he looks the pass in first before looking to turn things up field. Too often, players will concentrate on how they are going to get yards or where the defenders are before they even have possession of the football. While Clark’s vertical leap may be nothing to write home about, his frame and length more than overcome that fact to make him a high-end jump ball and end zone receiver.

Route Running

Route Running - Chris ClarkAs a senior, Clark played a lot more as a wide receiver than he did as a tight end, at least compared to previous years, eerily similar to the role of Devin Funchess during his last couple years in Ann Arbor. Unlike Funchess, Clark lacks the top flight athleticism to carry over to the college game as a wide receiver, but it did give him a different look and more experience in terms of running routes. The conundrum with Clark is that he runs best in a straight line, but not so well that he can consistently threaten the seam on vertical routes. Nonetheless, he has demonstrated that he can get open in his routes and stretch the middle of the field. Though his initial quickness leaves something to be desired, his frame will likely be enough to avoid getting jammed at the line much in college.

Blocking

Blocking - Chris ClarkOne of things that is apparent about Clark when watching him block is that he was physically superior in every way to his competition at Avon. Clark was as tall as his offensive linemen and taller than anyone else the defense could throw at him, not to mention bigger, stronger, and more physically mature at this stage. While able to control defenders and turn them out of running lanes, there was often a complacency to the manner in which he did so. While Clark would occasionally light up a defender and clear him out of the way, that fire that he will need to go up against defensive ends that are as big or bigger than him did not show up often enough. Clark will also need to work on his pad level, hand placement, and footwork — as most recruits do — in order to transition smoothly into the college blocking game.

Bottom Line

Aside from some long-term athletic limitations, Clark has what you look for in a tight end: the ability to cleanly catch the football and to block in the running game. Jim Harbaugh-coached teams at Stanford always produced very good tight ends, and Chris Clark can certainly join those ranks if he is able to be coached and work out his technical flaws as a blocker. Michigan already has depth at the tight end position with Jake Butt, Khalid Hill, A.J. Williams, and Ian Bunting, but Clark would make this position group all the more intriguing for Jay Harbaugh to work with. Overall, Clark has some NFL potential as well, and it’s not tough to draw some comparisons to former UCLA and current Detroit Lions red zone threat Joseph Fauria.

MG&B Grade (out of 10)
8.9 (4-star)

Clark is officially visiting Michigan this weekend where he could recommit, but he also has a visit to UCLA set for next weekend. Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr, who just lost tight end commit Alize Jones to Notre Dame, visited Clark last night and it looks to be a two-team race to land him.

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


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Congratulations to JustJeepGear.com 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


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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(MGoBlue.com)

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.

UM-Maryland-small-final-FINAL
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.

Just enough: Michigan 10 – Northwestern 9

Saturday, November 8th, 2014


UM-NU(MGoBlue.com)

Nobody expected an offensive shootout in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday afternoon, and Michigan and Northwestern, both of whom feature offenses in the 100s nationally, lived up to that expectation combining for 19 points and 13 punts in a 10-9 Michigan win.

Northwestern crossed midfield on the opening possession of the game, but a converted 3rd-and-1 with a 10-yards Justin Jackson run, got called back for illegal formation and the Wildcats punted.

Michigan got a quick first down on two Drake Johnson runs, but on 3rd-and-8 from the Michigan 43, Devin Funchess dropped a would-be first down. Michigan punted.

And so the game went, neither offense able to put together anything resembling a long drive. Jake Ryan picked off a Trevor Siemian pass at the Northwestern 47 and Michigan quickly moved into the Northwestern red zone. But De’Veon Smith was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Wildcat 16.

UM-Northwestern-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 10 9
Record 5-5, 3-3 3-6, 2-4
Total Yards 256 264
Net Rushing Yards 147 -9
Net Passing Yards 109 273
First Downs 13 18
Turnovers 3 4
Penalties-Yards 5-50 3-10
Punts-Yards 7-267 6-209
Time of Possession 25:49 31:51
Third Down Conversions 1-of-12 10-of-20
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-59 0-0
Field Goals 1-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-4 2-of-4
Full Box Score

Midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan took possession at the Northwestern 31 after a short punt and a nine-yard Amara Darboh return. Three plays later, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Matthew Harris. Northwestern gave it right back four plays later when Matt Godin intercepted Siemian at the Northwestern 35. But once again Michigan couldn’t convert. Matt Wile’s 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked and the teams went to halftime locked in a scoreless game, each offense barely over 100 total yards.

In the second half it was Northwestern’s turn to squander a great opportunity. A Michigan fumbled snap on its first possession gave the Wildcats possession a the Michigan 27. But three plays later, kicker Jack Mitchell pulled a 36-yard field goal to the left.

Michigan finally broke through midway through the third quarter thanks to another Northwestern mistake. Tony Jones fumbled a Will Hagerup punt and Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 21. Gardner connected with Funchess for 18 yards and Smith carried it into the end zone on the next play, putting Michigan ahead 7-0.

After forcing a Wildcat punt, Michigan’s offense looked to add more to the tally, but Gardner was picked off by safety Ibraheim Campbell at the Northwestern six. Campbell rumbled 79 yards to the Michigan 15. But yet again Northwestern’s offense imploded. Frank Clark stopped Jones for a five-yard loss on the first play, then back-to-back sacks by Brennen Beyer pushed the Wildcats out of field goal range. On 4th-and-38, Pat Fitzgeraldn had no choice but to punt.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, after forcing a Michigan punt, Northwestern put together its best drive of the game, marching 95 yards on 19 plays, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal to pull within four at 7-3.

Michigan rode Smith and a 16-yard completion to Jake Butt down the field and Wile kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Wolverines ahead by a touchdown once again with 3:03 remaining.

But Northwestern wasn’t finished, methodically marching down the field with a series of short passes. On 2nd-and-10 from the Michigan 22, Raymon Taylor was flagged for pass interference giving Northwestern a 1st-and-goal at the seven with less than a minute to play. After back-to-back runs by Jackson failed to reach the end zone, Siemian found Jones for a touchdown with three seconds left. Rather than kick the extra point and go to overtime for the third straight season, Fitzgerald elected to go for the win. On the two-point conversation attempt, Siemian rolled out to his right, but Clark was right there waiting for him. Siemian lost his footing and fell to the ground sealing the Michigan win.

After the game, Michigan coaches and players alike said they were prepared for the two-point conversion play. Hoke credited the coaches in the booth for seeing it and the players credited their preparation during the week.

“I knew it was going to be a sprint out once I saw the double motion, and that’s how I went about it,” said Clark.

Ryan agreed, saying, “”We planned for it all week. We knew what they were doing.”

Michigan finished the game with 256 total yards, 147 of which on the ground. Gardner completed 11-of-24 passes for 109 yards and two interceptions, while Smith led the way with 121 rushing yards on 18 carries (6.7 yards per carry). Darboh led Michigan with four receptions for 41 yards.

Northwestern outgained Michigan with 264 total yards, but the Michigan defense held the Wildcats to minus-nine yards rushing thanks to six sacks. Siemian completed 32-of-49 passes for 273 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. After averaging 123 yards per game in his last four, Jackson was held to just 35 yards on 17 carries (2.1 yards per carry). Kyle Prater was the leading receiver with eight catches for 86 yards.

Ryan finished with 11 tackles, half of a tackle for loss, and one pick. Clark tallied seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack, but was a disruptive force for most of the game. Beyer and Mario Ojemudia each recorded a pair of sacks, while Willie Henry added one.

At 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, Michigan heads into its final bye week of the season. The Wolverines host Maryland (6-3, 3-2) on Nov. 22. The Terrapins were off this week and host Michigan State next Saturday. A Michigan win over Maryland would make the Wolverines bowl eligible heading into the season-ending trip to Columbus.

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, November 7th, 2014


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Michigan heads to Northwestern tomorrow, the site of their most exciting finish of the season a year ago. The last two meetings between the teams have been controlled by Northwestern, but stolen by Michigan in the closing seconds and overtime. Can Michigan top the Wildcats in regulation this time? Or will Northwestern finally get the best of the Wolverines? Here are our picks.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 20 17
Sam 21 20
Derick 28 13
Josh 20 24
Joe 28 24
M&GB Average 23 20

Justin: Neither team features a good offense and the forecast in Evanston tomorrow afternoon calls for high 30s and wind 15-20 miles per hour. This game has all the makings of an ugly, low-scoring affair similar to last year’s meeting that closed regulation tied 9-9.

Both teams will look to the ground, Michigan hoping the combination of De’Veon Smith’s power and Drake Johnson’s speed can get something going. Northwestern will hope true freshman Justin Jackson can carry the momentum from his last four games in which he averaged 123 yards against four solid defenses. In reality, neither team will string together many long scoring drives and whichever team limits the turnovers will likely win this one.

Two years ago, Michigan needed a Roy Roundtree circus catch on a bomb from Devin Gardner to get into field position for the game-tying touchdown and then won in overtime. Last season, Michigan needed a fire drill 44-yard field goal at the last second by Brendan Gibbons to force overtime and then won in triple overtime. This year it will probably be a Will Hagerup 100-yard fake punt scramble out of his own end zone for a game-tying touchdown and then Michigan wins in quadruple overtime.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan is on a roll, having won two of their last three games. Or, you can also view it as a free fall, with the Wolverines having lost four of their last six.

I tend to take the latter with a little more weight.

Last week, after Athletic Director Dave Brandon was shown the door by President Mark Schlissel, the Maize and Blue showed some life against the miserable Indiana Hoosiers, putting them away comfortably.

But the road has not been kind, and that’s exactly where Michigan will be this Saturday.

Michigan travels to Northwestern for an afternoon game outside of Chicago looking to inch within one game of bowl eligibility, and the Wildcats are struggling mightily as well, coming off three straight losses – two of which weren’t close – and showcasing a quarterback who simply can’t throw.

It should be another hard-to-watch battle, but give me Michigan.

Michigan 21- Northwestern 20

Derick:  A scheduling reshuffle hands Northwestern a chance to get even for kick-gate on their home turf Saturday with the triple-overtime loss on its mind. The Wildcats’ shocking upset over Wisconsin given way to three straight losses, and Michigan is perking up in recent weeks. The Wolverines have to win the next two games to earn an invitation to a bowl game, and I think the relief that came from the end of the Dave Brandon era has them playing with less on their minds. Michigan will top this offensively-challenged Northwestern squad.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 13

Josh: I said before the season I felt this was a potential loss. Not because I thought Northwestern would be any good or that Michigan would be so bad but simply because of luck. Michigan has had some incredibly lucky games against Northwestern and they’ve all gone the way of the Maize & Blue. Numerous dropped interceptions by the Wildcats, miracle catches (Roundtree) and sliding field goal holds at the last second are just plain dumb luck. With the way our season has gone so far I think that run ends this year, basically eliminating Michigan from bowl eligibility. Which I think is a good thing; we cannot wait until end of December to fire Hoke and begin a new coaching search for someone not named Jim Harbaugh (no, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell he leaves the NFL, sorry).

Northwestern 24 – Michigan 20

Joe: And down the stretch they come!!! One thing is for sure. These guys will play hard for their coach, even if it is only for a few more weeks. The goal should be simple. Win two more games and go bowling. I want to believe they have it in ‘em to put another solid performance together and get that fifth win, but doing so two straight weeks might be asking a bit much. I think the offense will continue to feed Johnson the ball and see if they can control the clock early. Devin will manage things well throwing the occasional deep ball but will not be able to pull away. This one will be ugly on both sides of the ball and may be tough to watch. Northwestern will slow things down like they did last week and mix in some up tempo every once and a great while. Look for a close game with Michigan pulling it out late.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 24

Michigan-Northwestern game preview

Friday, November 7th, 2014


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With three games left in the season Michigan is reduced to fighting for its postseason life, needing to win two to become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season. Indeed there are some fans rooting for that not to happen if only to speed up the seemingly inevitable coaching change, but there are seniors such as Devin Gardner and Jake Ryan and Frank Clark who are down to the final three games of their careers. Tomorrow is the first of those, and if they take care of business they’ll be one step closer to earning a fourth and final game.

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Quick Facts
Ryan Field – 3:30 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Northwestern Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (9th season)
Coaching Record: 58-51 (all at Northwestern)
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall (7th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz (7th season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 5-7 (1-7 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 29 – NU 17 3OT (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 55-15-2
Record at Ryan Field: Michigan leads 19-7
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Current Streak at NU:  Michigan 5
Last 10 Meetings:  Michigan 8-2
Last Northwestern Win: 2008 (21-14)
Last NU Home Win: 2000 (54-51)

But while Michigan owns the series history with Northwestern 55-15-2 and has topped Northwestern three years in a row, 11 of the past 15, and 30 of the past 34, the Wildcats have made Michigan really work for it in each of the past two years. In 2012, Michigan needed a Devin Gardner hail Mary to Roy Roundtree in the closing seconds to get into field position for the game-tying field goal and then won in overtime. Last season, it took an improbable last-second 44-yard field goal to tie the game and Michigan won in triple overtime.

This season, Michigan and Northwestern are essentially equals, underperforming their preseason expectations with bad offenses and decent defenses. But while Michigan doesn’t have a quality win Northwestern has beaten then-17th-ranked Wisconsin, and while Michigan doesn’t have a road win Northwestern dominated Penn State in State College. On the other hand, Northwestern has the worst loss, a 23-15 Week 2 home loss to Northern Illinois.

After a 10-3 season in 2012, Pat Fitzgerald had Northwestern the talk of the town. The Wildcats started 4-0 in 2013, moving all the way up to 16th nationally and landing ESPN College Game Day for the Oct. 5 showdown with 4th-ranked Ohio State. But that 40-30 loss kicked off a seven game losing streak that ended with a 37-34 win over Illinois on the final game of the season. Northwestern finished 5-7, which means in the past 16 games, the Wildcats are 4-12 — two games worse than Brady Hoke’s 6-10 in that same timespan.

But Fitzgerald is still beloved in Evanston and has even been thrown around as a possible candidate — if a long shot — to replace Hoke at Michigan. An argument can certainly be made that Northwestern has outplayed Michigan each of the past two years despite losing, and Fitzgerald won’t have to use much to motivate his team tomorrow. Can Northwestern finally finish the game? Or will Michigan get the best of the ‘cats once again? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Northwestern offense: When Northwestern has the ball

Northwestern’s offense ranks 113th nationally in scoring (19.1 points per game), 105th in rushing (124.8 yards per game), 88th in passing (205.2 yards per game), and 114th in total offense (330.0 yards per game). Comparatively, Michigan’s scores about a field goal more per game, rushes for 30 more yards, and passes for 30 fewer. Both teams average the exact same amount of total yards. Northwestern converts third downs at a clip of 38 percent compared to Michigan’s 41, has allowed five more sacks in one fewer game, and has scored three fewer touchdowns.

With Kain Colter gone, senior quarterback Trevor Siemian has attempted just 15 fewer passes than he did all of last season, but is 603 yards shy of last year’s pace and 3.5 completion percentage points behind. He has also thrown just four touchdown passes in eight games and compared to six interceptions. Even so, he has still thrown for more yards than Devin Gardner in one fewer game. He has topped 200 yards passing in four of eight games with a high of 269 on 32-of-50 completions against Minnesota. However, Iowa held him to just 8-of-18 for 68 yards last Saturday.

Siemian doesn’t have a standout receiver, but does have a group of solid pass catchers. The leading receiver is senior USC transfer Kyle Prater, who has 29 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown. At 6’5″, 225, he’s a similar size as Devin Funchess, but lacks the same type of game breaking ability. Junior super back Dan Vitale is the second-leading receiver with 26 catches for 282 yards and a score, while junior Miles Shuler has 23 for 190 yards, but has yet to find the end zone. However, Shuler, a Rutgers transfer, suffered a head injury on Oct. 18 and hasn’t played since. He’s out for tomorrow as well. Senior Tony Jones, a Flint, Mich. native, started the season with a seven-catch, 64-yard game, but has tailed off since then. He has 18 catches for 179 yards. Junior Cameron Dickerson is the only other receiver with double-digit receptions with 11 for 171 and one score.

The backfield has brought Northwestern fans some excitement this season, namely from true freshman running back Justin Jackson, who has been gaining steam as the season has gone along. In Week 1, he received just eight carries for 40 yards, and through the first four games, he averaged just 14 carries for 58.5 yards per game. But in the last four, his workload has increased to 25 carries and 123 yards per game. He has topped 100 yards in three of the last four, and the only one he didn’t was a 96-yard performance against Iowa last week. And he did that against four pretty good defenses — Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

Michigan offense vs Northwestern defense: When Michigan has the ball

Northwestern’s defense ranks 46th in scoring (23.9 points per game), 65th against the run (166.1 yards per game), 53rd against the pass (222.2 yards per game), and 60th in total defense (388.4 yards per game). The Wildcats allow 2.2 more points, 50 more rushing yards, 33 more passing yards, and 83 more total yards per game than Michigan.

Entering the season, the front seven was considered to be a strength, most notably linebackers Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis. Ariguzo, a senior, leads the team with 72 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss and one sack. Ellis moved from strong side to middle linebacker this season, but suffered a concussion against Minnesota and will not play tomorrow. In his place has been redshirt freshman Anthony Walker, who has recorded 24 tackles, two for loss, and one interception. The strong side spot has been split all season between junior Drew Smith and senior converted safety Jimmy Hall. The duo has combined for 55 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and one sack.

The line is led by junior end Dean Lowry, who leads the team with five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. The other end has been a rotation between juniors Deonte Gibson and Max Chapman, who have combined for 20 tackles, six for loss, and two sacks. The interior of the line received a huge setback prior to the season when fifth-year senior Sean McEvilly suffered a season-ending foot injury. Sophomore Greg Kuhar and junior C.J. Robbins have been the stalwarts inside, though senior Chance Carter has also seen quite a bit of time. All three, however, are listed on this week’s injury list, Kuhar and Robbins as probable and Carter as questionable.

The secondary has started junior Nick VanHoose and sophomore Matthew Harris at corner in every game this season. The two rank third and fourth on the team in tackles and lead the team with 11 and nine passes defended, respectively. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell has missed four straight games with a hamstring injury, and is questionable for tomorrow’s game. Redshirt freshman Godwin Igwebuike has done well in his stead, leading the team with three interceptions while recording 36 tackles. The other safety is junior Traveon Henry, who ranks second on the team with 56 tackles, including two for loss.

Special Teams: The other third

Sophomore kicker Jack Mitchell has made 7-of-8 field goals this season, but has attempted one field goal longer than 29 yards, a 44-yarder that he missed. Junior punter Chris Gradone‘s average of 37.8 yards per punt does not rank in the Big Ten’s top ten. Shuler is the main return man, averaging 19.8 yards per kick return and 14.0 yards per punt return. The latter would rank second in the conference if he had enough returns, but he has only returned three punts.

Prediction

Michigan and Northwestern are pretty similar and I would expect a close, low-scoring game like saw last year and like we saw three weeks ago against Penn State. Three of the past four opponents have rushed for over 220 yards against Northwestern and Michigan will try to do the same, combining the power running of De’Veon Smith with the speed of Drake Johnson. It could have some success, but don’t expect 200 yards.

With cold and windy weather expected in Evanston tomorrow, neither passing game will have much success, so it will be up to the ground games. As mentioned above, Northwestern has found success against good defenses the past few weeks with freshman Justin Jackson. Michigan’s rush defense, although 16th nationally, has given up big games to running backs this season. It kept Indiana’s Tevin Coleman in check a week ago because the Hoosiers posed no passing threat. Northwestern’s passing threat will be a bit better, but not much considering the weather. It will be an ugly offensive game and whichever team can avoid turnovers will win. Given Michigan’s recent history with Northwestern, I’ll take Michigan ever so slightly.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17, probably in quadruple overtime

Final Look: Indiana

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014


UM vs IU(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan got back on the winning track with a 34-10 victory over Indiana last Saturday thanks to breakout performances by a pair of redshirt sophomores, receiver Amara Darboh and running back Drake Johnson. Michigan now needs to win two of its last three to earn a bowl invitation and avoid a losing season and the Wolverines head to Northwestern this Saturday. But before we turn our full attention to the Wildcats, let’s take a look back at the advanced stats from Michigan’s win over Indiana.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Indiana
64 Total Plays 53
 41.5 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.8) 31.9
12 Possessions 12
6 Scoring Opportunities 3
 5.7 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 3.3
 66.1% Leverage Rate (68.2%) 67.3%
 48.4% Success Rate (41.8%) 34.6%
 57.1% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.5%) 11.8%
 43.9% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.1%) 45.7%
 53.3% Success Rate Passing (40.1%) 40.0%
43.8% Success Rate Rushing (43.4%) 33.3%
1 Turnovers 2
26.3 Equivalent Points 10.4
0.42 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.20

As I’ve said before, 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.

Unlike the previous two games that we have broken down the advanced stats for, Michigan ran considerably more plays than Indiana, 64 compared to 53. Michigan also had a major advantage in average starting field position, and while both teams had the same number of possessions, Michigan had double the scoring opportunities. Indiana actually had a better leverage rate*, and that’s largely because the Hoosiers did well on first down, but both were slightly below the national average of 68.2 percent.

Michigan had a 14 percent better success rate** (48.4 percent to 34.6 percent). It was Michigan’s second-best success rate of the season, behind the 57.4 percent it achieved in the season opener against Appalachian State. The only other category that Indiana bested Michigan was success rate on standard downs***, and that goes back to the Hoosiers’ success on first down, limiting the third- and fourth-and-longs. Michigan was above the national average on passing downs (57.1 percent), success rate passing (53.3), and success rate rushing (43.8). Michigan’s success rate on passing downs and success rate passing were both also the second-highest of the season behind Appalachian State. Michigan’s one turnover matched its fewest of the season, along with the Appalachian State, Rutgers, and Penn State games. Basically, this was Michigan’s best offensive performance of the season against a Power-5 team and second-best of the season overall.

*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 Indiana
6.3 Yards Per Play 3.6
 48.4% Success Rate 34.6%
41.5 Avg Starting Field Position 31.9
5.7 Points Per Opportunity 3.3
+1 Turnover Margin -1

Michigan won all five factors. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play (weighted 35%)
- Michigan +2.7 = 95 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 23.9 (Michigan’s was 24).

Success Rate (25%)
- Michigan +13.8% = 91.5 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 17.3 (Michigan’s was 24).

Average Starting Field Position (15%)
- Michigan +9.6 = 78.3 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 15.7 (Michigan’s was 24).

Points Per Opportunity (15%)
- Michigan +2.4 = 82.3 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 18.4 (Michigan’s was 24).
Michigan had more scoring opportunities (six to three) and a better scoring percentage, which equates to a 98.4 percent chance of winning.

Turnover Margin (10%)
- Michigan +1 = 64.5 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 8.1 (Michigan’s was 24).

Michigan won all five — Yards per Play (35 percent), Success Rate (25 percent), Field Position (15 percent), PPO (15 percent), and Turnover Margin (10 percent). Added together, that equates to a 100 percent overall chance of winning, which they did.

Drive Chart
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU
UM
IU

*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

19: Consecutive wins for Michigan over Indiana, dating back to 1988

87-27: Michigan’s all-time record on Homecoming, including 4-0 under Brady Hoke

122: Michigan held Indiana 122 yards below its season rushing average of 289.9 yards

62: Michigan held Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, the nation’s leading rusher, 62 yards below his season average of 170.3 yards

220: Michigan’s 220 passing yards were a season high

7: Jake Ryan’s career forced fumbles after forcing two against Indiana. He moved into a tie with Brandon Graham for second in Michigan history

44: Jake Ryan’s career tackles for loss, moving into a tie for seventh place in Michigan history with Larry Foote (1998-2001)

10: Jake Ryan’s 10 tackles against Indiana were a career high, topping his previous high of eight against Rutgers

6,695: Devin Gardner’s career total yards, which rank fourth place in Michigan history, behind John Navarre (9,031), Chad Henne (9,400), and Denard Robinson (10,769)