Posts Tagged ‘Devin Funchess’

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


It’s that time of year again – time to take one final look back at the football season that was and hand out our awards for the top players, plays, and moments. The past two years we posted this on Christmas Eve, but this year decided to wait until after the bowl game.

Team 134 held high expectations by most, coming off of a disappointing 8-5 season. With Devin Gardner at the helm, most assumed the pro-style, power running offense was about to take flight. And through the first two games there was nothing to make anyone think otherwise. Michigan throttled Central Michigan to start the season and then beat Notre Dame in style under the lights. At that point, Michigan fans were certain this team could win the Big Ten and possibly compete for a national title.

But back-to-back scares at the hands of Akron and UConn tempered those expectations quickly, and after a good win against Minnesota, Michigan suffered its first defeat of the season in quadruple overtime at Penn State. From there, it was pretty much all downhill save an offensive explosion against Indiana and a triple overtime win at Northwestern. Michigan State and Nebraska held the Wolverines to a combined negative-69 yards rushing. Iowa held Michigan to just 158 total yards and 10 first downs and the regular season culminated with a fantastic performance that ultimately came up just short against rival Ohio State. In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan was completely outclassed by Kansas State and the season ended with an even more disappointing 7-6 record.

The underachievement prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges and the hiring of Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to the delight of Michigan fans everywhere. The doom and gloom of 2013 finally, briefly, gave way to hope for 2014. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s relive the top moments of Team 134.

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Everyone knew entering the season that Jeremy Gallon was in for a big year. He came alive at the end of the 2012 season when Denard Robinson went down and Devin Gardner stepped in at quarterback. But no one expected a record-breaking season.

His 1,373 yards broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record of 1,330 which was set in 2004. He also shattered the single-game receiving record (and the Big Ten’s) with his 14-catch, 369-yard performance against Indiana.

“For decades, the prototypical wide receiver at Michigan has been 6’3″, 210 pounds, and had an ability to outmuscle an opposing secondary,” said Drew. “Yet, despite being listed at a minuscule 5’8″, Jeremy Gallon completed of the best statistical seasons for a wide receiver in the 134-year history of Michigan football. Although opposing defenses knew U-M could not run the football and that Gallon would be Devin Gardner’s go-to target, Gallon still broke record after record after record.”

“Was the leader on an offense that struggled to do much of anything this season,” said Chris. “Was consistently reliable any time the team needed him.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Gallon finished the season with 89 receptions, 1,373 yards, and nine touchdowns. The next closest receiver, Devin Funchess, had 49 for 748 and six. No running back did much of anything this season, and only Devin Gardner could be considered for the offensive player of the year award in terms of production.

Gallon had big-time performances against Notre Dame, Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State and came close to 100 yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He caught at least four passes in all but one game (Minnesota).

“Record setting year and pretty much the only consistent player on the team,” said Josh. “Without him we might have had a losing record.”

“Devin Gardner and Taylor Lewan each had great seasons that will be overlooked because of turnovers and Michigan’s record, respectively,” said Drew. “But this is an easy choice. Jeremy Gallon was Michigan’s best offensive player. Not only did Gallon have the most receiving yards and second-most receptions in a single season in school history, he also caught at least four passes in 12 of 13 games in 2013. On an offense that was wildly inconsistent, Gallon was one of the few constants.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

No Michigan defender truly stood out this season, especially with last year’s winer, Jake Ryan, sidelined for the first half of the season. But Blake Countess recorded a team-high six interceptions, including one in the end zone against Notre Dame to seal the win. He had a 72-yard interception return for touchdown against Minnesota and also picked off Braxton Miller.

Countess also tied for the lead among the secondary with two tackles for loss and recorded four pass breakups. He was named first team All-Big Ten by the media.

“After missing the 2012 season with a knee injury, there were some questions whether Blake Countess would be able to return to his form from his freshman season,” said Drew. “Thankfully, for Michigan fans, Countess not only returned to form, he improved upon it. Countess was one of the few playmakers on U-M’s defense in 2013. His six interceptions were tied for third-most in program history and the most by a Wolverine since Todd Howard’s six picks in 2000. And once Countess made those picks, he knew what to do with them, garnering 169 interception return yards – the third-most in the nation and the second-most in U-M history.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III, Raymon Taylor, Desmond Morgan (1 each)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

After a season in which Michigan underperformed all around and offensive coordinator Al Borges was let go, voting for Coach of the Year was not an enviable task. But alas, one position group did perform well and that was the receivers, so Jeff Hecklinski gets the honors.

Jeremy Gallon set the all-time Michigan single-season receiving record and combined with Devin Funchess to set the record for most receiving yards by a duo in school history (2,121). In addition, Jehu Chesson developed into a solid blocking receiver.

“Hecklinski wins for me because his receivers showcased big play ability, were a consistent bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season, and laid some big-time hits (see: Jehu Chesson vs. Notre Dame),” said Sam. “Hecklinki’s unit was all the more impressive considering one of the two presumed starters, Amara Darboh, went down late in fall practice with a season-ending injury and didn’t play a game.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Greg Mattison (1), None (2)

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

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame

Had Michigan converted the two-point conversion against Ohio State, that would have been the hands-down favorite, but instead the big early September victory over Notre Dame takes the cake.

The season still held high hopes and a win over the defending BCS runner-up in the final meeting between the two storied schools in the Big House was a surreal scene to behold.

“It was the second night game in the history of Michigan Stadium,” Drew said. “It had the largest attendance to ever witness a football game. And, most importantly, it was Michigan’s most complete performance of the season. Devin Gardner lit up the Fighting Irish for five touchdowns, throwing three to Jeremy Gallon, and the Wolverines’ defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns.”

“Gardner was both spectacular and spectacularly bad all in the frame of one half, Gallon was outstanding, and the season seemed oh-so-promising on that warm September night,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Near upset of Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Fire drill FG to force OT at Northwestern

For the second straight year our play of the year involves a game against Northwestern. Last year, Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch to set up the game-tying field goal got the honors. This year, it is the fire drill field goal at Northwestern to get Michigan into overtime that gets top billing.

With 18 seconds remaining, trailing by three, facing 3rd-and-23, Michigan snapped the ball at the Northwestern 44-yard line. Devin Gardner dropped back and fired a bullet to Jeremy Gallon at the 26 near the right sideline. But he was hit immediately and couldn’t get out of bounds.

As the clock ticked down, the field goal unit ran onto the field. Holder Drew Dileo slid into position and kicker Brendan Gibbons simply took a few steps back as the snap went. He then booted it through the uprights sending the game into overtime where the Wolverines won.

“Incredible effort and execution to save the game, and essentially a winning season,” said Josh.

“Even though it shouldn’t have been needed after poor clock management by the Michigan coaches, the field goal unit did a great job of getting out on the field quickly and Brendan Gibbons did a great job to make a rushed, pressure packed field goal in a less than ideal situation,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Desmond Morgan’s game-saving one-handed INT at UConn (1)

Past Winners:
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 against Ohio State

This one may be semi-controversial since it came in a losing effort, but the vote was nearly unanimous. In the biggest game of the season, Devin Gardner put together a performance for the ages. Battling injuries, the junior shredded the Ohio State defense, passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for another. Had he completed the two-point conversions it would have gone down as one of the greatest performances in Michigan history.

“Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon broke school and conference records with their spectacular performances against Indiana,” said Drew. “But Gardner’s 451-passing-yard, five-touchdown performance against one of the best defenses in the nation in Ohio State was absolutely sensational. Not only did Gardner shred OSU’s defense, he continued to do so after he broke his foot. After suffering the injury in the third quarter, Gardner fought through it, completing 18 of 27 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, and was a two-point conversion shy of leading Michigan to its biggest upset win over its bitter rival from Columbus since 1969.”

“After a season of inconsistent performance following the Notre Dame win, Gardner came on strong against Ohio State to give the team and fans hope for a stronger senior season next year,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Jeremy Gallon’s 14-catch, 369-yard, 2-TDs vs Indiana (1)

Past Winners:
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

Devin Gardner struggled early in the season, but his decision making and accuracy improved as the season went on. He finished second in the Big Ten with 246.7 yards per game, as well as second in total offense (286.9) and fourth in pass efficiency. His total yards (3,443), passing yards (2,960), and total touchdowns (32) are second best in school history and he didn’t even play the bowl game. He had dynamic performances in big games against Notre Dame and Ohio State and committed a total of just seven turnovers in his final eight games.

“His heart and toughness helped lead this team, though not always consistently, to a winning record,” said Josh. “He was just shy of only the second ever 3,000-yard passing season in history and bailed out the team time and time again despite an inept line. Without Gardner this team would be 4-8, or worse.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Heston Running Back of the Year None

For the first time in the short three year history of the M&GB Hail Awards, we are leaving one award on the table. It’s no secret that Michigan’s running game was subpar this season, and it wasn’t all the fault of the running backs, but four of our six writers voted to award it to no one at all.

“None of the three Wolverines that carried the football at least 30 times this season – Toussaint, Devin Gardner, and Derrick Green – averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry,” said Drew. “Only three Wolverines averaged more than five yards per carry: Dennis Norfleet, Shane Morris, and Devin Funchess – a wide receiver, a backup quarterback, and a hybrid tight end-wide receiver, respectively. Further, Morris notched U-M’s longest run of the season with a 40-yard draw on U-M’s final drive of the season. That is depressing.”

“When your leading rusher recorded 648 yards on 3.5 yards per carry and the longest run of the season came in a blowout bowl game by your backup QB, no running back deserves this award,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (2), Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

What else is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Gallon swept the player of the year, offensive player of the year, and now receiver of the year awards thanks to a record-setting season. He also won this award last season.

His 1,373 receiving yards, 105.6 yards per game, and 6.8 receptions per game each ranked second in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s Allen Robinson. His nine touchdowns ranked third. He also recorded a catch in 39 straight games. Remarkably, he was edged out by Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis for first team All-Big Ten despite Gallon having better numbers in every receiving category.

“Gallon is the only Wolverine to be ranked in the Top 3 in Michigan’s record book for most catches and receiving yards in a game, season, and career,” said Drew. “No, not even Braylon Edwards, Desmond Howard, or Anthony Carter can say that.”

“What Gallon did in the Indiana game was incredible, but it was just one sample of his incredible season,” said Derick.

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

Everyone knows that most of Michigan’s struggles this season stemmed from the offensive line. It’s hard enough to break in the entire middle of your line in one season, let alone doing so with walk-ons and freshmen. But Taylor Lewan was not part of the problem. Sure, he let his emotions get the better of him against Michigan State, but he performed arguably better than he did last season.

For the second straight year, Lewan was named the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year for the Big Ten. His decision to return for his senior season didn’t pay off with a Big Ten title or a trip to Pasadena, but his mentoring of the young linemen will pay dividends in the years to come.

“It’s very difficult to evaluate individual linemen without a trained eye, and even more so when the whole line appears to be a sieve, but Taylor Lewan will be a top-15 NFL draft pick for a reason,” said Sam. “Re-watch a few games and only pay attention to Lewan and you will see why…and wonder how the line could be so bad.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

Michigan fans have been waiting for Frank Clark to break out, and while he still hasn’t shown his full potential, he did have a solid season on an underwhelming defensive line. He started all 13 games and recorded 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He was named All-Big Ten second team by the coaches. In the loss to Penn State, Clark had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown.

“The one ‘bright’ spot on the line,” said Josh. “He was not always consistent, a theme for the whole team, but he showed progress and appeared to make some significant improvement as the season wore on.”

“In a six-game stretch from the Minnesota game to the Iowa game, Clark accumulated 9.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks,” said Drew. “In that span, Clark also recovered two fumbles, including one he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Clark’s playmaking ability made him Michigan’s best defensive lineman in 2013, but Clark needs to showcase that ability consistently as a senior in 2014.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry (2)

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

This was the closest vote of all the awards, but Desmond Morgan narrowly edged out James Ross III. Morgan started all 13 games and finished third on the team with 79 tackles, recorded one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He’s not the most athletic player on the field, but is more often than not in the right place at the right time and fundamentally sound. His one-handed interception against UConn saved the game and was likely the difference between a winning season and a losing season.

“James Ross III may have had more tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks than Desmond Morgan, but Morgan made fewer critical mistakes throughout the season,” said Drew. “Morgan was the rock in the middle of the defense that Michigan could count on each game to make thumping tackles at the line of scrimmage. Ross III improved as the season progressed, but sometimes his aggressiveness would throw him right out of the play. Plus, without Morgan’s amazing one-handed interception against Connecticut, Michigan likely would have suffered one of its worst upset losses in school history.”

“More often than not, when Michigan stopped an opposing running back for fewer than four yards, Morgan was in on the tackle,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross (3)

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

Countess also won our Defensive Player of the Year award. He came back from a torn ACL and recorded 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, four passes defended, and a team-high six interceptions. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors from the media and second team from the coaches.

“Raymon Taylor led Michigan with 86 tackles, nine pass breakups, and added four interceptions of his own,” said Drew. “But Taylor had better statistics than Blake Countess only because opposing offenses consistently attacked Taylor’s side of the field, avoiding Countess in the progress. Not only did quarterbacks avoid targeting Countess’ side of the field, when those quarterbacks did try to attack Countess, he made them pay. Countess made great plays on the ball on each of his six interceptions, which are tied for the most by a Wolverine this millennium.”

“Countess seemed to always be making plays on the ball on his way to a Big Ten-high six interceptions and All-Big Ten honors,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons had quite the career in Ann Arbor, going from a freshman unable to hit the broad side of a barn to Mr. Clutch and Michigan’s all-time most consistent field goal kicker. He finished his career having made 45-of-60 with a record 16 straight and a 141 straight extra points. This season he converted 15-of-20 field goal attempts and finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring.

“Northwestern game tying FG saved the season,” said Josh. “We’d easily be 6-7 without it.”

“After making only one of five field-goal attempts as a freshman in 2010, Brendan Gibbons made 29 of 35 field-goal attempts (82.9 percent) during his sophomore and junior seasons,” said Drew. “Gibbons was close to maintaining that conversion rate in his final season, making 15 of 20 field-goal attempts for a 75 percent conversion rate. And, most importantly, Gibbons oozed reliability at the position. Gibbons set school records for most consecutive field goals (16) and most consecutive PATs (141) this season. Further, Gibbons made three game-tying field goals in the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime in 2013. Gibbons may never have had had a booming leg, but Michigan fans will learn they took him for granted next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Dennis Norfleet (1)

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

For the second straight year this award goes to a tight end. Jake Butt stepped in as a true freshman and worked his way onto the field, ultimately becoming a key piece of the offense by season’s end. He started eight games and played in all 13, recording 20 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest game came against Ohio State when he caught five passes for 85 yards and a score. He also made a great one-handed touchdown catch in overtime against Northwestern.

“When Brady Hoke stepped on campus, he made it clear that tight ends would play a pivotal role in his offense,” said Drew. “In his first full recruiting class, Hoke reeled in Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams. However, both has had trouble maintaining blocks, which led to Funchess’ transition to wide receiver. Enter: Jake Butt. Butt, as a true freshman, was not only Michigan’s third-leading receiver with 20 catches, 235 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, but he also displayed an ability to block that Funchess and Williams have not. If Butt can add a few more pounds in the offseason, expect him to contend for All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jeremy Gallon

This is always a hard one to pick each year because there are usually two or three departing seniors that have left their mark on the program and will be missed. A case could certainly be made for Lewan here, but six of the seven of us went with Gallon.

When the diminutive slot receiver from Apopka, Fla. first stepped foot on campus no one could have imagined he would finish his career as one of the best receivers in Michigan history. But that’s just what he did. He broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record, caught a pass in 39 straight games, and set the Big Ten record for receiving yards in a game.

He finished his career third in receptions (173) and yards (2,704) in Michigan history.

“From RichRod’s leftover to Michigan record holder,” said Josh. “He was the one bright spot in an otherwise disappointing and depressing season filled with inconsistency and baffling play/play calling. He made an impact on the program that no one could have imagined and will remain in the record books for years to come.”

“Consistently counted on to make big plays, always stepped up when it mattered, provided good leadership for the rest of the team,” said Chris.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Taylor Lewan (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

Last season, Devin Funchess won the Newcomer of the Year award. This year, he adds the Most Improved Player of the Year award. While he burst onto the scene in Week 2 of his freshman year, he was one-dimensional and faded in the second half of that season, finishing the year with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he was a consistent receiving threat all season, upping his numbers to 49 receptions for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

“His blocking left much to be desired but his ability as a pass catching nightmare match-up stood out,” said Josh. “A few too many drops for someone with his skill set but still made a major jump from 2012 to 2013.”

“Funchess had some bad drops toward the end of the year, but after finally moving to wide receiver for good, Funchess wreaked havoc on some opposing defenses on his way to a solid 49-catch, 748-yard season,” said Sam.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), James Ross (1)

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

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

If season’s end had come on Nov. 30 Michigan would have entered the offseason with at least some semblance of hope. No, the Wolverines didn’t beat Ohio State and no, there are no moral victories, but their inspired performance left reason for hope. Instead, the season officially, mercifully, came to a close on Saturday with a game it didn’t want to be in and a lackluster performance that did nothing but erase any goodwill earned in the game prior.

Michigan and Kansas State entered with identical 7-5 records, but it was painfully obvious that not all 7-5s are equal. One team played like it was there to take care of business while the other like it had already mailed it in.

Final Stats
Michigan Kansas State
Score 14 31
Record 7-6 8-5
Total Yards 261 420
Net Rushing Yards 65 149
Net Passing Yards 196 271
First Downs 15 21
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-39 6-64
Punts-Yards 5-204 1-45
Time of Possession 24:56 34:00
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 7-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 1-2
Field Goals 2-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 0-for-0 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 4-of-4
Full Box Score

By late fourth quarter, Michigan fans were reduced to simply hoping the Wolverines would get the ball back one more time to allow Jeremy Gallon to break Michigan’s single-season receiving record. But even that felt hollow in the face of an underachieving season.

Gallon and Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield finished their careers surrounded on offense by kids as Devin Gardner looked on from the sidelines, supported by crutches.

Shane Morris, making his first career start – just the sixth true freshman quarterback to do so in Michigan history – looked poised and showed off a strong arm. Sometimes he was a second late, sometimes his throws were a little off, but many times he went through his progressions, stepped up into the pocket, and delivered a strike in a way that looked more like a seasoned veteran than a kid less than a year removed from high school.

That was one of few bright spots. There was no running game. Michigan’s running backs combined for 13 yards on eight carries. Morris finished as the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 43 yards, 40 of which coming on a long run late in the fourth. It was Michigan’s longest run of the season.

The defense gave up touchdown drives of 14 plays, 75 yards; five plays, 60 yards; and four plays, 59 yards in the first half. All culminated in touchdown passes from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, who routinely burnt Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor en route to 116 yards on 10 receptions. John Hubert had wide open holes up the middle all night long, just like Carlos Hyde did a month ago, finishing with 80 yards on 16 carries. Waters had all day to throw, calmly completing 21-of-27 for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and when things broke down, he picked up yards – and first downs – with his legs.

When all was said and done, Michigan ended its season with a thoroughly disappointing 7-6 record, continuing the decline through Hoke’s first three seasons from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Michigan finished the season with the eighth highest point total in program history, but while it averaged nearly 48 points per game in its top six scoring games, it averaged a meager 19 in its other seven. Defensively, Michigan started the season with just seven touchdowns allowed through five games, but gave up 30 in the final eight, resulting in the second most points allowed in program history.

Aside from individual accolades like Gallon’s receiving record and Lewan’s Rimington-Pace award, the season was a failure by every measure. The good news is that aside from Gallon and Lewan, the vast majority of Michigan’s key players return next season. The bad news is the schedule sends the Wolverines to South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus and Michigan hosts a Utah squad that knocked off Stanford this season.

Hoke will have some big decisions to make in the offseason, likely choosing between moving in another direction at offensive coordinator with hopes of saving his own job or sticking with Al Borges for better or worse. And three years removed from the Rich Rodriguez era, that’s not a good place to be. But at least, mercifully, this season is over.

M&GB staff predictions: Kansas State

Friday, December 27th, 2013


On Thursday morning, the Phoenix Zoo set out two boxes with equal amounts of ground beef in each one in the Sumatran tiger habitat. On one box was the Michigan logo and on the other was the Kansas State logo. With a large crowd looking on, the tiger went straight to the K-State box and devoured the beef. Last year, she was 2-0 with his picks, so if her prediction prowess holds true, K-State should win. Let’s just hope Shane Morris isn’t as easily devoured by the Wildcat defensive line. Let’s take a look at our predictions:

Justin: Shane Morris makes his first career start against one of the nation’s best defensive ends, Ryan Mueller, who ranks in the top ten nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. It will be up to Taylor Lewan, making his 48th and final start, to neutralize Mueller, and the rest of Michigan’s much-maligned offensive line to do the rest. Unfortunately, Kansas State’s defense is solid and that’s not good for a true freshman signal caller.

Defensively, Michigan will need to force turnovers and hold the Wildcats below their season average of 33 points. In five losses, K-State was held to an average of just 25 points. That’s about what it will take for Michigan to have a chance. But the Wildcats have a good running back, John Hubert, and a very good receiver, Tyler Lockett, as well as a two-headed monster at quarterback, both of which are capable runners. That’s enough to keep Michigan’s defense off balance.

Expect a close game, but K-State will be too much down the stretch.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Kansas State
Justin 27 33
Chris 21 30
Josh 38 24
Sam 17 31
Derick 21 28
Katie 21 31
Drew 17 27
M&GB Average 23 29

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21

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

Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24

Sam: With the recent news that Devin Gardner broke his foot playing against Ohio State and will not play against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Michigan will be the underdog once again come Saturday night.

Michigan’s run game, which has struggled mightily for large portions of this season, will be the focus of a Kansas State defense that gives up just 23.7 points per game, and if the Wolverines are to have any chance, true freshman quarterback and first-time starter Shane Morris will need to live up to his recruiting projections quickly. I think running back Derrick Green will be able to find some holes to run behind after Michigan has had nearly a month to prepare for their Big 12 foe, but his increased production will probably be evened out by a less dynamic passing attack.

As in most bowl games, expect to see some trickery thrown in. Michigan will continue to run play action often, especially in this game, but they should also be playing without fear and trying plenty of new stuff. Kansas State could run away with it, but turnovers could also be a calling card for the Maize and Blue. A plus-two turnover margin or better and the Wolverines should find a way to stay in it til the very end.

Either way, I simply think Michigan’s inexperience at the quarterback position will prove too much to overcome. I’ll take the Wildcats.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17

Derick: With Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense, who knows how the team will look. Morris has sat out basically two years of football after missing most of his high school senior season with mono. His return will be on the biggest stage of his life.

Michigan is also headed in the opposite direction as Kansas State, who finished the year winning five of six while the Wolverines dropped five of seven.

The outstanding effort against Ohio State has put Michigan fans back in a hopeful frame of mind, but beating a hot team with a true freshman quarterback is a tall order.

For better or worse, Michigan fans will get their first real look at Shane Morris (MGoBlue.com)

Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21

Katie: Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to watching Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense. Devin Gardner played so well against Ohio State, it’s true. But that does not erase the mistakes and fumbling around that was most of the season (and I do realize that the O-line was a terrible liability, and made Gardner’s job much more difficult). Morris had little to no playing time this season because the Wolverines couldn’t close out a game with enough time to put in a backup. Well, he’s got his chance now.

As for how he’ll do. I’m hopeful. Am I expecting a win? No. And after coming so close to beating the Buckeyes a win at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl isn’t all that appealing. Yes, I want to win. However, I would rather give the kid a shot and have a more seasoned backup for next year.

All in all, if Michigan can play a game like the last one, they’ll come away with a win. If Morris looks like a deer in the headlights, it’s likely that the Maize and Blue will end up a disappointing 7-6. The only question is what team will show up? The one that played OSU to within a point, or the one that nearly lost to Akron.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21

Drew: The main headline entering tomorrow’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is that starting quarterback Devin Gardner will be unable to play with a broken left foot. This is absolutely devastating news for the Wolverines. Gardner has been the target of many U-M fans’ criticism this season—some of it deserved, most of it not. Those fans would be foolish not to realize that he has been the catalyst for the Wolverines’ offense.

Gardner had one of the best statistical seasons in program history. His 3,443 total yards are the second-most by a Wolverine, trailing only Denard Robinson’s 4,272 in 2010. His 2,960 passing yards also are the second-best, trailing only John Navarre’s 3,331 in 2003. Gardner also accounted for 32 total touchdowns and 21 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most and sixth-most in school history, respectively. Very few backups, if any, can replace the production U-M will miss with Gardner’s absence.

Enter: true freshman Shane Morris. Morris will be the sixth true freshman to start at quarterback in Michigan history. Morris may be inexperienced, attempting only nine passes this season, but he has the potential to be a star. Recruiting services considered Morris a Top 100 recruit in the 2013 class. The question will be if Morris can show that promise tomorrow.

The good news for Morris is precedent. Michigan is 4-1 when one of its true freshmen makes his first career start at quarterback, 3-0 in such situations since 2004. Further, in the past decade, not only did U-M win those games, those three true freshmen played very well, throwing for a total of 411 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception.

The bad news for Morris is that he likely will have little help, which the previous three true freshman starters had. Michigan’s rushing offense is ranked #100 out of 123 NCAA FBS teams, averaging only 130.8 yards per game. And that includes the 40.2 rushing yards that Gardner averaged each game. Also, U-M’s offensive line has allowed more tackles-for-loss than any other FBS team. A poor rushing attack and a leaky offensive line? Not the situation a head coach wants to throw his true freshman quarterback into.

Ultimately, to win tomorrow against a Kansas State squad that has won five of its past six games, Michigan will need Morris to carry most of the load by himself. Morris will show flashes of the potential that made him an elite high-school recruit. But it will not be enough. Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout before the Wildcats put it away with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, dropping U-M’s bowl record to 20-23.

Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Kansas State game preview; a First Look at Kansas State; the Kansas State edition of Friend vs Foe with John Morse of the K-State blog Bring on the Cats; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) detailed Michigan’s custom of January bowl games and why the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is rare territory for the Wolverines.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Maize and Blue Nation.

From the other side, game preview from Bring on the Cats, as well as their staff predictions.

Finally, I did a story for BTN Live B1G on the clothing company run by former Michigan basketball player David Merritt and the good cause it is helping fund. Check it out and consider purchasing some merchandise to help support underserved youth.

Michigan vs Kansas State game preview

Friday, December 27th, 2013


Nearly a month removed from a near upset of rival Ohio State, that 42-41 loss still stings in the minds of many Michigan faithful as it was the best performance of the season and the Wolverines were one play away from pulling off the thrilling upset. Instead, it sunk the Maize and Blue to a 7-5 regular season finish and left many wondering where that kind of performance had been all season.

Time heals most wounds, but losses to the Buckeyes always hurt. The one thing that can start the healing process is finishing the season with a win to head into the offseason on a high note, and the Wolverines will have a chance to do just that tomorrow.

Quick Facts
Sun Devil Stadium – 10:15pm EST – ESPN
Kansas State Head Coach: Bill Snyder (22nd season)*
Coaching Record: 177-90-1 (all at KSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Del Miller (17th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tom Hayes (3rd season)
Last Season: 11-2 (8-1, Big 12 Champion)
Last Meeting: First meeting
All-Time Series: First meeting
KSU Bowl Record: 6-10
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Fiesta Bowl (L to Oregon)
U-M Bowl Record: 20-22
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Outback Bowl (L to S. Car.)
*Did not coach from 2006-08

While the last game was full of tradition, when Michigan takes the field on Saturday night it will partake in a couple of firsts. In 134 seasons of football, the Wolverines have never played Kansas State, and since it became a bowl game in 1989, Michigan has never played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Copper Bowl).

The Wolverines have played in 10 different bowl games in 42 all-time appearances prior to Saturday, but none of them have been the BWW Bowl. Thirty-three different teams have played in the game since ’89, including five Big Ten schools, and the conference has a 4-5 all-time record in the bowl. Kansas State, meanwhile, has played in the b0wl twice before, beating Wyoming 52-17 in 1993 and falling to Syracuse 26-3 in 2001.

The Wildcats enter the matchup with an identical 7-5 overall record, but had a winning record (5-4) in the Big 12 Conference. The other loss came in the season opener against defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. K-State blog Bring on the Cats sees a lot of similarities to this year’s KSU team and Michigan circa 2007.

But Kansas State is a much different team now than the one that started off the season with a loss to an FCS school. In fact, the Wildcats either lead or were within one score of Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma in the fourth quarter. All four resulted in losses, but that’s how close K-State was to a much better season. Let’s take a closer look at the Wildcats.

Michigan defense vs Kansas State offense: When Kansas State has the ball

K-State averages 33.4 points per game, about half a point fewer than Michigan, but is much more balanced offensively with a solid running game (53rd nationally) and a decent passing game (73rd).

The star of the offense is junior receiver Tyler Lockett. He ranks 17th nationally with 1,146 receiving yards and averages just three yards per game fewer than Jeremy Gallon. At 5’11″, 175 pounds he basically is K-State’s version of Gallon. He had two monster games – 13 receptions for 237 yards at Texas and 12 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma – but also had two games in which he was held to a combined 3 catches for 14 yards.

No other receiver on the team has half as many yards as Lockett. Senior Tramaine Thompson has 495 yards and five touchdowns on just 28 receptions, while junior Curry Sexton has 409 yards on 36 receptions, but has yet to find the end zone. Freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski, the younger brother of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, has the third-most receiving touchdowns on the team with three on just four receptions.

The man throwing them the ball is quarterback Jake Waters. The junior transferred from Iowa Western Community College where he was named the 2012 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year last season. This season he has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The 6’1″, 210-pound signal caller had a big game against Oklahoma, completing 17-of-29 for 348 yards and three touchdowns. But he also had five games in which he completed less than 10 passes, three of which resulted in less than 100 yards.

Taylor Lewan will have his hands full protecting his freshman quarterback from Ryan Mueller (Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports)

Waters has split time with sophomore Daniel Sams, who is much more of a running quarterback. Sams has thrown just 52 passes all season, completing 38 of them for 452 yards, four touchdowns and four picks, but has averaged 5.3 yards per carry and leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had three 100-yard rushing games against Oklahoma Sate (118 yards), Baylor (199) and TCU (109), however, was limited to just five rushes for zero yards in the last two games against Oklahoma and Kansas.

Running back John Hubert picked up the slack against Kansas, carrying the ball 30 times for 220 yards and a score. The 5’7″, 190-pound senior is 32 yards shy of 1,000 on the season while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He has four 100-yard games including the big one against KU, but if there’s one thing that stands out it’s his performances against better teams. Against the four best rush defenses on the schedule – TCU (21st), Oklahoma State (23rd), Baylor (25th), and Oklahoma (27th) – Hubert carried the ball six fewer times per game for about half as many yards per game while averaging a yard less per carry. Michigan’s run defense ranks 28th.

Michigan offense vs Kansas State defense: When Michigan has the ball

The Kansas State defense allows about a field goal less per game than Michigan. The Wildcats held Baylor to its third lowest scoring output of the season (35 points) and gave up over 40 points just once (41 to Oklahoma). K-State held four opponents to 12 or fewer. Like the offense, KSU’s defense is pretty balanced, ranking 38th nationally against the run and 46th against the pass.

There’s no question that the leader of the defense is junior end Ryan Mueller. The former walk-on ranks in the top 10 nationally in both sacks (seventh with 11) and tackles for loss (10th with 18.5). He ranks fifth on the team with 61 total tackles and also has four forced fumbles, one recovery, and six pass breakups. The rest of the line, however, is a bit underwhelming. The other end, sophomore Marquel Bryant, has just two sacks and three tackles for loss. The tackles, sophomore Travis Britz and Chaquil Reed, have a combined 66 tackles, five sacks and 10 tackles for loss. By comparison, Willie Henry and Jabreel Black have combined for 55 tackles, three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.

At linebacker, the Wildcats have a lot of experience led by senior middle linebacker Blake Slaughter. Despite standing just 5’10″, he leads the team with 103 tackles and also has three sacks, six tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. The team’s second leading tackler is weakside linebacker Jonathan Truman. Also small at 5’11″, 193, the junior has 85 tackles, four for loss and two forced fumbles. At strongside is senior Tre Walker who doesn’t feature the numbers as the other two, but is a good run stopper.

The secondary gets a boost from the return of Ty Zimmerman. The senior free safety missed the final two games of the regular season after injuring his leg against TCU, but is set to play tomorrow. He ranks third on the team with 69 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. The other safety is sophomore Dante Barnett, who also has three picks to go along with 67 tackles and two fumble recoveries. The corners are all upperclassmen, junior Randall Evans and senior Dorrian Roberts. Evans has 59 tackles, two interceptions, and leads the team with 10 pass breakups and 12 passes defended. Roberts had three picks, eight pass breakups and 11 passes defended.

The other third: Special teams

Sophomore kicker Jack Cantele made 11-of-13 field goals with a long of 44, although an injury may keep him out for the game. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman Ian Patterson, who made 2-of-3 with a long of 31, will be relied on. Senior punter Mark Krause averages 41.3 yards per punt with 17 of 47 downed inside the 20. Lockett handles the kick return duties and averages 25.5 yards per return, while Thompson is the main punt returner with an average of 20.2 yards per return.

Prediction

Michigan will be without its quarterback that could have set most single season passing records had he played the bowl game. In his place is true freshman Shane Morris who, while a five-star recruit, has thrown just nine career passes, all in mop-up duty late in games this season. The lefty certainly has the tools to be a great quarterback for the maize and blue, but is he ready yet? The good news is he has received all of the first team reps for the last month, so he will be prepared. But he will be just the sixth true freshman quarterback to start a game in Michigan history. Of the other five, four won their first start.

Michigan’s line, which has struggled to protect Devin Gardner all season, has to face Mueller, but Taylor Lewan will surely draw that matchup. If he can neutralize Meuller, the line should be able to keep Morris clean. Unfortunately, the Wildcat defense was good enough to hold Baylor’s Bryce Petty to one of his most pedestrian performances of the season.

I mentioned above that Michigan’s run defense ranked 28th nationally, but that number is somewhat misleading. Carlos Hyde shredded it and Iowa’s Mark Weisman did too. Expect similar results from Hubert.

The combination of he and Lockett as well as the run threat from Waters and Sams will keep Michigan’s defense off balance like Ohio State and Indiana did and the offense will need a great performance from Morris in order to keep up. Michigan will hang around because Morris will distribute the ball to his playmakers in a simplified scheme, but K-State will be a bit more complete on both sides.

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Friend vs Foe: Kansas State

Thursday, December 26th, 2013


For the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl edition of Friend vs Foe we would like to welcome Jon Morse of the Kansas State SB Nation blog Bring on the Cats. Jon was gracious enough to answer some questions about how K-State fans view the matchup, the two-headed monster at quarterback, what has held the Wildcats back late in big games this season, where he sees advantages, and more. You can follow Jon on Twitter at @jonfmorse and the blog’s main feed at @BringOnTheCats.

1. How do K-State fans view this bowl game and the matchup? Most Michigan fans are apathetic towards it because this season has been a disappointment, it’s not a New Year’s Day bowl game, and K-State isn’t exactly a “sexy” matchup (no offense). I mean, we barely sold half of our ticket allotment. What’s the view from your side?

From the perspective of moving up in the bowl selection order, they’re pretty pleased, and while a good segment of the fanbase wanted a shot at the Huskers, nobody’s really complaining about K-State getting their first-ever meeting with Michigan. Ticket sales haven’t been particularly great from the Wildcat side of the fence either, but if we’re all being honest… well, almost NOBODY is selling tickets at a brisk pace this bowl season outside of some outliers whose destinations are able to break through the ceiling for fairly obvious reasons. (Auburn, Florida State, Michigan State, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma all seem to be doing fairly well, and it’s not hard to understand why each of those cases is bucking the trend.)

2. The majority of Michigan fans haven’t seen K-State play this season. Tell us about the offense, especially the two-headed monster at quarterback. What are their main strengths and weaknesses?

You’ll mostly be seeing Jake Waters at quarterback, and he’s the passer of the two. I’ll get back to him in a moment, because discussing Daniel Sams first lets me go back and explain how things work with Waters a little more easily. Sams is a tremendous athlete with a somewhat unorthodox running style. He can be very slippery and deceptive, and if he finds open space he’s going places.

The problem K-State has had is that when Sams is in the game, defenses are generally pretty capable of seeing what’s coming. Sams is not a terrible passer, but he’s not a GOOD one; he’s also had some turnover issues which haven’t corrected themselves (unlike with Waters). Worse, with Sams in the game the play-calling on running plays has been painfully transparent. Is Hubert on the field? If not and it’s a run, it’s almost certainly a Sams keeper.  If Hubert IS on the field, it’s almost always an option play, and Sams has shown little tendency to do anything other than keep the ball in that situation. These are not slams on Daniel Sams; it’s a scheme failure.

Jake Waters has thrown for 2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions this season (Ronald Martizez, Getty Images)

With Waters, Hubert becomes much more effective as a runner because defenses can’t key on the run. Further, Waters has major big-play capability in the air as long as his two deep threats are on the field. (In quite possibly the worst game of Waters’ season, both Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were out with health issues.) Waters did have a major problem holding onto the football early in the year. That seems to have fixed itself. He’ll still fall into stretches where he’s not throwing the ball well at all, however, and that’s prevented him from making a solid claim to be THE quarterback as opposed to just being the starter.

3. Similarly, tell us about the defense. Statistically, it seems like a pretty solid unit against both the run and pass and allows about three fewer points per game than Michigan does. Michigan hasn’t been able to run the ball, but had a great gameplan and executed almost flawlessly against Ohio State. Do we have a chance to move the ball and put up some points? Why or why not?

The K-State defense is schizophrenic. Getting pass defense out of the way quickly, they’ve been good against the pass all year. Baylor had three huge pass plays, but that’s Baylor; outside of those three plays, Bryce Petty was kept in check for the most part. Nobody else had a particularly wonderful day throwing the ball.

The run defense, on the other hand, has been maddening. Early in the season, it was a strength, and they were especially effective against Baylor, absolutely shutting down Lache Seastrunk. More recently, they were embarrassed by Oklahoma and even gave up a ton of real estate on the ground against Kansas — but in both of those games, Ty Zimmerman was standing on the sideline with crutches. It’s not often that a safety is the key to a team’s run defense, but in this case it’s accurate. Luckily, Zimmerman should be on the field Saturday.

You’re also, I’m sure, aware of Ryan Mueller, who is an extremely disruptive force. However, it’s possible Michigan can move the ball if we see Mueller tied up with Taylor Lewan and the rest of the Michigan line can control the other three Wildcat linemen. They’re not a bad unit, but Zimmerman’s absence wasn’t the only factor in the rush defense’s problems the final two weeks of the season. Oklahoma and Kansas both basically decided they were facing Jadaveon Clowney or something; their line game plans both leaned on “neutralize Mueller” as a basic principle.

4. You guys have just two wins over teams that finished the season with winning records, but were in every game in the fourth quarter, leading Baylor at the beginning of the fourth, leading Oklahoma State midway through the fourth, and trailing Oklahoma by just three at the beginning of the fourth. What has held the Wildcats back in those big games?

Turnovers, baffling play-calling on offense, and critical defensive failures on the final drive in two of those games may well have been the difference between 7-5 and 10-2. North Dakota State and Oklahoma State were the two failures; with the lead, the defense just couldn’t stop either team from getting into the end zone. A lot of that was that the bend-don’t-break philosophy only works if you don’t bend all the way down to the 10-yard-line; both teams used quick, short plays to move the chains rapidly rather than trying to go for the big play. We have no idea what the coaching staff was thinking against Texas, either; that was just a mess in pretty much every possible aspect of the gameplan.

5. What specific matchups do you see K-State holding an advantage, and what specific matchups are you concerned about?

I’m concerned about Michigan’s multiple-personality disorder. I didn’t get to actually see them very much this year, but my impression is that as the season’s progressed the offense has gotten less muddled while the defense has gotten less effective. The Wolverine team that showed up the first 23 days of November, I wouldn’t be particularly worried about. K-State would be able to move the ball, and Michigan’s offense didn’t appear to be any threat. If K-State can make a team give the ball up on downs repeatedly, K-State is going to beat them. The team that showed up against the Buckeyes terrifies me, however. That Michigan offense would wreak havoc on this defense, and while the defense the Wolverines showed against Ohio State is certainly one the Wildcats can light up… well, K-State’s just not built to win games that way.

IF, however, Michigan’s defensive flaws are on display Saturday, then K-State’s passing offense against the Michigan secondary could be very much an advantage. K-State’s secondary should be an advantage against the Michigan receivers as well, although I’m no less concerned about Jeremy Gallon even as I say that. And if Devin Gardner can’t go, that’s going to be a huge advantage in and of itself.

6. What’s your prediction and how will it happen?

Before I really started getting into what Michigan was like, I was foolishly predicting a 14-point win. That’s not going to happen, even with Zimmerman playing and Gardner out. But I do think that combination is going to make it very hard for the Wolverines to truly outplay K-State. I’m looking at something in the neighborhood of 31-24 Wildcats now.

It seems like its been forever since Michigan took the field and was one play away from upsetting the #2-ranked Buckeyes, dashing their national championship hopes. The offense was clicking on all cylinders and the line played inspired ball, the defense left much to be desired but I’m sure Greg Mattison will have his boys ready for Kansas St.

Unfortunately, it looks like Devin Gardner won’t be playing due to his turf toe injury, or as some have suggested, even worse. For those that do not know, turf toe is in fact a serious injury. It has ended NFL careers and for a more recent example look west to Nebraska and Taylor Martinez’s senior year. So that leaves us with the heir apparent, Shane Morris. The highly touted lefty with an NFL-strength arm and prototype size. Since we don’t know what to expect from Morris I’ll just touch on what I’d like to see from the offense and then shift gears for defense and touch on what they need to do for Michigan to win.

On Offense:

I’d really like to see the offensive line improve upon the OSU game. Yes, improve. They played inspired ball and it was their best game of the year but Devin Gardner bailed them out a lot with his mobility and quick releases. Morris, while talented, is not quite the athlete Devin is so the line will need to hold their blocks a little while longer to give the true freshman time and added confidence.

Sticking with the line, I’d also like to see some more aggression. Nastiness is paramount when playing offensive line and if Michigan wants to establish the run they need to be nasty. Make no mistake about it, these are very talented kids but they haven’t quite reached the level of nastiness that is required of Michigan lineman.

Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon have proved themselves this year, though Funchess could due without all the drops, so there’s not much else I need to see from them. Just give us the same old and we’ll be fine. Get open, create some mismatches and give Shane Morris some extra help.

Jeremy Gallon has a chance to set Michigan's single-season receiving records but will have Shane Morris throwing to him (MGoBlue.com)

KSU has some solid pass rushers on the edge, but the interior of their d-line is nothing to write home about. If Michigan can get some solid push up front and Green and Smith can get to the linebackers then the run game should put extreme pressure on the Wildcats. Not that their LB’s aren’t good, because they are, it’s just that they are rather small and Derrick Green and Deveon Smith are rather large. This could be the game we finally see the downhill, power run game break out big time.

Al Borges has been much maligned and, fair or not, he is the o-coordinator and will continue to be so we need to just deal with it and move on. It’s not that he is a bad coordinator (see: Cade McNown at UCLA and Auburn in 2004) it just seems at times he refuses to adjust his play calling to the talent on the field. That all changed against OSU. He got some screens and quick throws to keep the Buckeyes off balance and it opened up the run game and Michigan went wild, compiling over 600 yards of total offense. Kansas State doesn’t have the athletes OSU does but they are a very solid team with a Hall of Fame coach. If Al can adjust his play calling to put Shane in the best position to succeed then, win or lose, I’ll be pleased. From all accounts Morris is a smart kid who has made some great strides over the season. A full month of practicing as the No.1 quarterback should be good for his confidence but again we really have no idea what to expect.

On Defense:

Kansas State runs a two-quarterback system, somewhat similar to Northwestern. With one being the passer and the other the runner. Their option offense worries me a little with Michigan’s “bend but don’t break” style of defense which has struggled against mobile QB’s/option attacks. Kansas State has a very balanced attack so Michigan will need to be mindful of both the run and the pass at any given moment. Daniel Sams is less likely to pass, but he is a capable passer. The opposite holds true for Jake Waters.

Jake Waters likes to hold onto the ball longer than need be at times so Michigan needs to not only generate pressure but be able to stay in coverage the entire time too. Especially on Tyler Lockett, KSU’s version of Jeremy Gallon. If the front seven can flush Waters and/or make him hold on to the ball they can force him into some bad throws.

This puts more pressure on the safeties, be they Jarrod Wilson, Thomas Gordon, Dymonte Thomas, etc., to make sure NO ONE gets behind them. Michigan’s safeties have given up far too many 50-yard touchdown passes because someone was out of position and the receiver got behind them, if they want to win they cannot allow Lockett to do this. No big plays would be nice but I think Lockett is far too good to not make at least one big play, maybe more.

Daniel Sams will be called upon the run game, though he will toss it up a few times as well. He does not present the same challenge someone like Braxton Miller does (pass and run) but he will be a rested player when he comes into the game. Michigan needs to keep him contained while still being mindful of the deep pass. If they can limit his running ability and force KSU into definite passing downs, giving them the upper hand in play calling, Michigan should be able to win.

Both running backs, John Hubert (5’7″) and Robert Rose (5’4″) are diminutive, but not quite Darren Sproles. They aren’t game breakers but both are very solid players. Hubert will take the bulk of the carries but is not all that great as a pass blocker. If Michigan can exploit this weakness when Waters is in the game they can gain another advantage, if they maintain their pass coverage while doing so.

On Special Teams:

Field position, field position, field position. Matt Wile has been solid all year so if he can just keep it up he’ll be fine. KSU is not the kind of team you want to give short fields, their balanced attack is all the more effective in short yardage situations. If Michigan can make them drive long fields it will limit their scoring opportunities. If this game comes down to a long field goal to win it we might be in trouble as Brendan Gibbons is out, but in a pinch Matt Wile is good enough. I won’t mention our diminutive KR because every time I do he doesn’t quite take one to the house, it’s not that I’m being superstitious though. OK, maybe a little.

Prediction:

If Devin Gardner was playing and at least 80 percent healthy, Michigan wins fairly easily. With Shane Morris, I’m not so sure. Not because I don’t like him but because we have basically nothing to base it off except optimistic speculation. If the o-line can create holes for Green, Smith and Fitz to run through, I like our chances. If the run game cannot get going I don’t think we stand much of a chance. If the defense can keep Lockett from beating them more than once deep then I think we’ll be fine. If, however, we allow big plays like we did against OSU, it’s not going to end well for Wolverine Nation.

I have faith in Shane Morris’ arm and decision-making ability, plus we get Jarrod Wilson back so I see no reason Michigan can’t walk away with the win. It’ll be a good one and close throughout but I think Michigan pulls away late.

Five-Spot Challenge: Kansas State

Monday, December 23rd, 2013


Congratulations to BigHouseBrandon for winning the Five-Spot Challenge from the Ohio State game. His total deviation of 491 was by far the best since he seemed to have the most confidence in Michigan. He was one of three contestants to correctly predict that Devin Gardner would score Michigan’s first touchdown (Jim Mackiewicz and HTTV134 were the others). His prediction of 81 yards was only three away from the longest play of the game, which was the 84-yard catch-and-run by Jeremy Gallon on Michigan’s first series. Bluwolf77 was the second closest with a guess of 76.

BigHouseBrandon was also the closest to Michigan’s yardage on its first drive of the game. He predicted 75 yards and the Wolverines drove 99. The next closest was Myrick55 who guessed 68. In addition, BHB was second most confident in Michigan’s total yards output compared to Ohio State’s. He predicted that the Buckeyes would only outgain Michigan by 12, when in reality Michigan outgained OSU by 77. Kashkaav was the closest with a prediction of zero. For the win, BHB gets a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Kashkaav came in second for the week with a total deviation of 707, while HTTV was a close third at 713.

Yet again, no one correctly predicted the final score. Kfarmer16 was the only one to get Ohio State’s 42 correct, but thought Michigan would only score 13. The average combined score among the 14 contestants was Ohio State 33 – Michigan 19. Three of the 14 picked Michigan to win by an average score of 25-21.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated. Maizenblu62 holds the lead, but Jim Mackiewicz, HTTV134, and freezer566 are all within striking distance.

Michigan travels to Tempe, Ariz. to battle Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday night. Most of us likely aren’t very familiar with the Wildcats, so it will be interesting to see the results of the Five-Spot this week. Like the past two years, we are going to offer a chance for anyone to get back into it with a stroke of luck. If you get the final question (predict the combined offensive yards for both teams) exactly right, you will get an extra five points for each person entered this week. So if there are 20 contestants you would get an extra 100 points added to your score in the overall standings. Good luck and Go Blue!

Blow for blow: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 41

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


Braxton Miller completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman to put Ohio State ahead 35-21 with a minute remaining in the third quarter. Michigan was as good as dead. The Wolverines, 15-point underdogs, hung around valiantly through the first half, but we’ve seen this story before. The game was starting to slip away and everyone in the stadium and watching at home could feel it. Except the players in the maize and blue.

“I think the lasting impression you should take from Brady Hoke’s team is these guys are going to fight no matter what,” said Taylor Lewan after the game. “We’re bred to fight. We’ll fight, claw, scratch, get knocked down, but we’ll keep moving forward no matter what.”

Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 41 42
Record 7-5 (3-5) 12-0 (8-0)
Total Yards 603 526
Net Rushing Yards 152 393
Net Passing Yards 451 133
First Downs 31 23
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 4-35 3-25
Punts-Yards 3-132 3-134
Time of Possession 33:21 26:39
Third Down Conversions 8-of-14 3-of-8
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-12 3-24
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-7 2-of-2
Full Box Score

And fight they did. Ten minutes later, the game was tied and Michigan kicked the ball back to the Buckeyes. Suddenly, the team that was given no chance had taken its punches – figuratively and literally – and gotten right back up.

Ohio State marched right down the field to re-take the lead with 2:41 remaining. But a Michigan offense that had been on life support the previous four weeks still had some fight left.

Gardner to Funchess, 14 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 13 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 11 yards. Gardner to Reynolds, 13 yards. Gardner to Hayes, seven yards. Gardner to Toussaint, 29 yards. Gardner to Funchess, two yards, touchdown.

Michigan was an extra point away from taking the untouchable Buckeyes to overtime. But on this day, in this situation, Hoke had other plans.

“Ohio State’s head coach called timeout,” Lewan said. “We went over and he (Hoke) asked us seniors, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ and I don’t think there was one guy that said no. Every single person said yes.”

Kicking the extra point would have been the conservative route and on any other day the smart choice. Instead, Hoke sent the offense back out for one final play to decide the game.

Gardner dropped back as three receivers stacked to the right started their routes. Funchess, the front man, raced toward the post. The middle man, Gallon, ran to a corner route. The back man, Dileo, ran a curl, sitting down a yard inside the goal line. Gardner, with a man in his face, fired it towards him. A completion sends shockwaves throughout the college football landscape, derailing Ohio State’s national title hopes and 23-game winning streak, and salvaging Michigan’s season.

Instead, Dileo never had a chance to catch it as a Buckeye corner stepped in front and picked it off, ensuring Ohio State a 24th straight win overall and a 10th win in the last 12 meeting with Michigan.

“We play the game to win,” Hoke said afterward. “I thought about it and we did it…we wanted to go win the football game.”

Michigan didn’t win the game and finishes the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record. But on a day in which 17 seniors were honored – none of which came to Michigan to play for the current coaching staff – the Wolverines rose to the occasion and put a scare into its most bitter rival. Michigan matched the vaunted Buckeyes blow for blow, got knocked down, fought its way back, and fell one play short.

When Michigan is back to the Michigan of old, winning Big Ten championships and vying for national titles, whether it be next year or sometime in the near future, we can look back at this game as the catalyst. And we have guys like Lewan and Gallon and Dileo – the seniors of Team 134 – for saying yes, and Hoke, the coach who entrusted the game’s most important decision to his leaders, to thank.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Michigan has lost three of four. Ohio State has won 23 straight. Most around the country don’t give Michigan a chance. The huge Vegas spread is evidence of that. One would think that a Michigan blog would be the most optimistic, so do any of us give the Wolverines a shot? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Now that The Game is finally here, Al Borges can finally open up his playbook that he has kept under wraps the past few weeks. No more letting defenders run through the line forcing Devin Gardner to think quickly. No more confounding runs ending up in loss of yards. No more three-and-outs. Michigan will move the ball with ease, torching an overmatched Buckeye defense and putting up 40 points in a big win.

Ok, so that would be fantasy land, right? In all reality, it will be more of the same as what we saw the last few weeks. Michigan will score some points, but the offense won’t simply move in spurts. The defense will do a good job of slowing down the Buckeyes, but it simply won’t be enough. Ohio State is the much better team and, while Michigan will put up a fight, the disparity will show.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 24 38
Chris 17 31
Josh 13 31
Sam 3 31
Derick 14 47
Katie 21 35
Drew 13 34
M&GB Average 15 35

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Chris: Ohio State 31 – Michigan 17

Josh: Let me set the table before we dig into this week’s prediction. I hate Ohio State, I always have and I always will, that’s a given. I never root for Ohio State, even if it’s in Michigan’s best interest, on those occasions I just hope they don’t lose so it benefits us but I never root for them, ever.

I lived in Ohio for almost two years and it made me hate them even more. I’ve been to Columbus for Michigan games on several occasions and those fans make me hate them more still. I hate that they have lying cheating coaches who skirt the rules and yet are still heralded by the school as if they did nothing wrong.

However, this year my hatred has seemed to fade a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man in my mid-30′s and I shouldn’t be harboring hatred towards a school and kids I don’t even know. But more likely it’s because a snowball has a better chance in hell (not the one in Michigan) than Michigan does this weekend. In the end I think I am just trying to temper my expectations and hatred so I don’t get too upset if we play horribly and lose by a ridiculous amount.

And now on to what I’d like to see from Michigan this week. Whether we see it is another story.

On Offense:

Michigan is pretty bad at protecting Devin Gardner and giving up sacks. Ohio is pretty good at sacking the QB. I’d just like to see Michigan keep Devin Gardner from getting hurt. We still have a bowl game to play and getting this offense more practices with their starting QB over the next month will only add to their growth heading into the offseason. If Gardner is injured and can’t practice much or at all I think that might slow down any progress this offense might make. I could be wrong but at the very least you don’t want a kid like Devin Gardner to get hurt.

Keep Fitz Toussaint on the bench. I know this sounds harsh especially since he’s a senior but with the line the way it is we cannot afford to have him dancing around and being tentative behind the line when he should just hit a hole and power through it. Derrick Green has shown some flashes of what he can be in the future and right now he needs as many touches as possible. He hits the hole and isn’t someone who can be arm tackled. Even when he doesn’t get much, as long as he gets back to the LOS, he falls forward and gets more yardage. The same cannot be said for Fitz.

Yes, he is a senior and yes not all of his issues are his fault but Michigan football is about putting the best eleven guys on the field and letting them play. He has yet to show me he is one of those eleven.

Find someone not named Jeremy Gallon or Devin Funchess when the going gets rough. Early on Jeremy Gallon was Gardner’s security blanket and for good reason but it became too predictable. As soon as he was in trouble he looked for #21. Once Funchess emerged he became a second outlet, then the top option for a while. But last week Gardner again went back to Gallon when he was pressured and flustered. Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell know this and will key on it. If Michigan is to stand a chance they need to get Jehu Chesson and others involved in the offense.

Take advantage of any positive situations. Michigan has been awful on third down and has failed to punch it in the end zone on numerous occasions when they’ve had short fields. Field goals won’t beat OSU, plain and simple. Michigan needs to take advantage of short fields, turnovers, even just solid field position and make it count.

Throw out the record and past failures of the season and play like this is our bowl game. No, it’s not really but it might as well be since we’ll end up with some mid major team in the bowl most likely. Ohio has locked up their Big Ten title game slot but a Michigan win would give them zero chance at the BCS title (if FSU and/or Bama lose) and that alone would be awesome.

This is not to say they won’t give their hearts and play with full effort, because I feel they already have been, but they need to bring out some nastiness and play like Michigan. I’ll spare you the Brady Hoke intro press conference reference but you know what I mean. If there ever was a game this year for them to play like Michigan, this is it.

On defense

Contain Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Far easier said than done but if anyone can do it it’s Greg Mattison. By contain I don’t mean shut down, I mean slow down and limit their big plays. Big plays, as we all know, have hurt Michigan this year. The Buckeyes have an explosive offense and stopping all big plays is a tall task, but if Michigan can limit them they increase their chances of hanging with them.

Disrupt their rhythm. When high octane offenses, or any offenses for that matter, get in a rhythm they can be very tough to stop. Getting a few early stops and/or turnovers could slow down the OSU attack and give Michigan a chance to put some points on the board.

Play with reckless abandon. Michigan is already assured a bowl game and a winning season even if they lose their last two games. So why not throw out all the stops and play every down like it’s their last. The defense playing well may be Michigan’s only chance to win this game. Being aggressive and going for the pick instead of the deflection is risky but now is the time to be risky and go for gold. The defense is solid but they need to bring their A-game on every single play and go all out if they want to give the offense a chance.

On Special Teams

If there ever was a game where field position mattered it would be this one. This OSU team is going to score, they’re just too good not to, but at least make them work hard for it by driving the length of the field.

This may tie in more to the offense’s general ineptness than the special teams’ ability but giving OSU good field position all afternoon will spell doom and frustration for Wolverine nation.

From the Fans

I added this section because I think it’s important. I’ve been as hard on this team as anyone this year, and it’s because I expect a lot of Michigan. All through my grade school and high school years Michigan was a dominant team against OSU. They upset good OSU teams and then went on to win the national championship my senior year of high school. Those years led me to expect top defenses, punishing running games and Rose Bowl or bust. I’ve been critical of Al Borges, we all have, and even Devin Gardner and others but at the end of the day I still love Michigan football.

These kids ARE playing their hearts out, they ARE giving 100% effort and for anyone to question that is just disgusting. Expecting more from Michigan is one thing, but calling out players on Twitter or other media and questioning their heart and acting like jerks (or a more colorful word) isn’t cool. And it isn’t the Michigan way.

Win or lose I want Michigan fans to take the high road and not act like fools. Be disappointed if we lose, I will be, but don’t say hateful things to the players. These are 18-22 year old kids, they don’t need constant criticism from people outside the program, they need our support. And win or lose, that is what we should give them.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say this I don’t think Michigan stands a chance. Yes, miracles do happen and I’ve seen bad Michigan teams beat good OSU teams before but I’m just not feeling that way this year. Unless the offensive line becomes great all of a sudden I’m not so sure we sniff the end zone much. Inability to convert on third downs, or even long downs could spell very short fields and numerous scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. Above all else, OSU needs a statement win to impress the voters and Urbs will be looking to keep pouring it on a hated rival.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 13

Sam: Do yourself a favor and try to stay away from the TV on Saturday if at all possible. The Game will not be much of a game this season in the blistering cold in Ann Arbor as Ohio State hammers one final nail into Al Borges’s coffin with a big win.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 3

Derick: After completely forgetting about the second half of the game against Iowa,  Michigan has lost all confidence in it’s ability to move the ball. Though they put up 21 points in the first half, the team had less than 150 yards as a whole.

Unfortunately, an underrated and underrecognized defense is suffering from the offense’s  inability to get first downs, and it spends far too much time on the field.

Ohio State is the best team on Michigan’s schedule, and Michigan hasn’t handled the other 11 games well.

Discounting the first two Rich Rod years, this game would be the most surprising in my years as a Michigan fan if we pulled off an upset.

Ohio State 47 – Michigan 14

Katie: Maybe because this isn’t in The Shoe the Buckeyes won’t be lucky this weekend. Michigan could pull off the upset, but without a bit of good fortune and the full support of the crowd I don’t see it being a favorable outcome for the Wolverines. No, The Buckeyes have too potent an offense, and too resilient a defense. Miller is a great QB and a mobile threat as well. Their backup, Kenny Guiton, isn’t too bad either. That in combination with a powerful running game could mean some rather large issues for Michigan. If they have a weakness Michigan can exploit though, it will be in the passing game. The Maize and Blue will have to play their best defensive game of the year not only to keep OSU in check points wise, but to make sure that their fumbling offense won’t have too much of an uphill battle to overcome.

In this game I’m always for retaining that glimmering hope even when the outlook seems bleak. And if we get beat and beat badly, I hope that it will at least mean a change in coaching staff.

Ohio State 35 – Michigan 21

Drew: This week’s “Inside the Numbers” column detailed Michigan’s odds to upset third-ranked Ohio State in “The Game” tomorrow. To summarize those odds in one word: bleak. OSU has won a school-record 23 straight games. Michigan has lost four of its last six. Accordingly, OSU is a 15-point road favorite against U-M. Since 2000, the Wolverines are only 2-10 against the spread versus the Buckeyes. And, in the past three seasons, Big Ten teams that have been more than a two-touchdown underdog have won only five percent of their games.

In rivalry games, though, there is a general attitude that all rational thought and reason should be thrown out the window and that one should expect the unexpected. Michigan fans have experienced this many times before, witnessing the Wolverines record monumental upsets against their bitter rival from Columbus in 1969, 1993, 1995, and 1996 among others. So if Michigan was to surprise the world by handing Ohio State its first loss and salvage its season, it would not be a first.

But do not hold your breath, Michigan fans. It hurts to say it, but it will not happen tomorrow. The Wolverines will fight, claw, and do everything in their power to win tomorrow, but it will not be enough. The Wolverines will keep it close in the first half as Greg Mattison unleashes defensive schemes that confound Braxton Miller. However, an offense as explosive and dynamic as Ohio State’s will not remain dormant all game. The Buckeyes will blow it open in the third quarter, and Michigan’s offense—the one that has scored only 42 in its past four regulations—will not be able to keep pace. A long month of hardship finally will cease for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, it will be on a sour note.

Ohio State 34 – Michigan 13

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Ohio State game preview; Monday’s First Look: Ohio State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Katie took a look back at Michigan’s big upset of Ohio State 20 years ago; Drew (@DrewCHallett) says screw the numbers, beat Ohio; and a Thanksgiving salute to the seniors that will be playing their final game in Michigan Stadium tomorrow.

Yours truly participated in Yahoo Sports The Post Game’s The Loyalty Report. I provided the Michigan side of why Michigan will win tomorrow, while Johnny Ginter of Eleven Warriors did the Ohio State view.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Eleven Warriors, as well as a roundtable.

Finally, tomorrow is the last day to donate to the indiegogo campaign for Vincent Smith, Martaveous Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne’s Pahokee garden project. Help out a group of Michigan Men who are working to make their hometown a better place.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Twelve times in the history of college football’s greatest rivalry have the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the annual season-ending showdown unbeaten. In nine of those they came away with defeat. Tomorrow will be lucky number 13 for the scarlet and gray, and with a school record 23-game winning streak Urban Meyer’s squad has its sights set on a national championship.

On paper it’s easy to see why the Bucks have had such success. They rank third nationally in points scored, eighth in points against, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in total offense, seventh in third down conversions, fourth in red zone percentage, sixth in rush defense, 12th in total defense, and second in sacks. Statistically, they’re about as complete a team as there is in the country. But there’s a reason they find themselves ranked third in the BCS standings entering the final week of the regular season: their strength of schedule.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12pm EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 127-23 (23-0 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell (9th season)
Last Season: 12-0 (8-0, 1st Leaders)
Last Meeting: OSU 26 – Michigan 21 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-45-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 31-20-4
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 23-18-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 1
Last Michigan Win: 2011

Michigan isn’t likely to help in that regard given that the Wolverines come in just 7-4, 3-4 in Big Ten play, having dropped three of their last for and four of their last six. Yet according to the Sagarin Ratings, Michigan (46th) is the third best team Ohio State has faced this season, behind only Wisconsin (4th) and Iowa (35th). Three Buckeye opponents are just downright terrible. California (117th) ranks near the bottom of the FBS; Purdue (157th) is behind several FCS schools; and Florida A&M (224th) is near the bottom of the FCS.

While Ohio State boasts an average winning margin of just over 30 points, the Bucks aren’t quite so invincible as it appears. Against teams ranked in the top 70 that winning margin is cut in third, to just over 20 points. Against teams ranked in the top 50, it drops to just 8.5, and both of those opponents were either tied or within one score in the fourth quarter.

Michigan falls within the top 50 and despite four losses has had a chance to win all but the Michigan State game down the stretch. The 15-point Vegas line may be too high.

Much has been made this week about the comparisons to 1969 when a 6-2 Michigan team upset a heavily favored unbeaten Ohio State squad. Comparatively, that Michigan team was better than this one, but the fact that the Wolverines pulled it off and did so again in 1993, ’95, and ’96 shows that anything can happen. Brady Hoke knows that which is why he played up the ’69 game this week, to instill confidence in a team that has lacked it the last few weeks.

Can Michigan pull off what would be an even greater upset than it was in ’69? Will Ohio State dominate as most are predicting? Or will the result lie somewhere in between – a great game that goes down to the final minutes? Honestly, all three are possible, but let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

The offense is what makes the Buckeyes go, averaging nearly 50 points per game. It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Miller’s improvement since Michigan’s win in 2011 has allowed the entire offense to keep expanding. He’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes, taking care of the football (only four interceptions), and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Hyde missed the first three games of the season due to suspension but last week became the first 1,000-yard rusher of Urban Meyer’s career. He has 1,064 yards in eight games, averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. He has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last six games.

Philly Brown and Devin Smith are talented receiving targets for Miller. Brown leads the Buckeyes with 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine touchdowns, while Smith has 40 for 591 and seven. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is the third leading receiver with 22 catches for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is the jack of all trades that Meyer loves. He has 28 carries for 226 yards and a touchdown as well as 21 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. He also averages 25.8 yards per kick return. Meyer likes to get the ball in his hands in space to use his athleticism.

The offensive line is a veteran group that has done a great job of paving the way for the running game and has also protected Miller, allowing just 13 sacks. It is led by senior left tackle and captain Jack Mewhort who has started 36 straight games.

The Buckeye offense is versatile enough to run spread or power and also utilizes a lot of tempo. Michigan’s defense has struggled against tempo this season – most notably against Indiana – and hasn’t seen an offense this talented. You can bet Greg Mattison will be prepared to at least slow the Buckeyes down. But if the Michigan offense isn’t able to string together drives and give the defense some rest it could be in for a long day.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks highly statistically in all areas except pass defense, but has been prone to giving up yards and points. Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34 – the most they scored all season against FBS opponents -, Northwestern scored 30, and Illinois scored 35.

The defense is led by linebacker Ryan Shazier who leads the team with 108 tackles, 47 more than the next best. He has 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line doesn’t have a single senior but is a very talented group that has a chance to help break the school’s single season sack record. The Bucks have 36 sacks so far and the school record is 47. End Noah Spence is the leader with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, Joey Bosa, has 5.5. The tackles, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett, have 7.5 combined.

The secondary has been the one unit that has been picked on this season. Cornerback Bradley Roby is the one that gets all the attention. He could have gone pro last season but came back and has had an up and down season. The safeties, Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett, are also veterans, but Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Wisconsin. That has certainly caused some of the problems in the secondary.

Michigan can move the ball on the Buckeyes if and only if Al Borges utilizes a quick passing game with short and intermediate routes from the start. Long drops will put Devin Gardner in the same position he has found himself in the past few weeks: in the face of pressure, resulting in either sacks or poor decisions.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker Drew Basil has three years of experience as the starting kicker. He has made 8-of-9 field goals this season with a long of 45. Punter Cameron Johnson averages 43.5 yards per punt with 21 of 34 ending up inside the 20.

Prediction

There’s no doubt about it, Michigan needs to play a perfect game in order to win. Even then, it will need some Ohio State mistakes and a bit of luck as well. Gardner has to be smart with the ball, not throw it away as he has been prone to, and not lose unnecessary yards when faced with pressure. The offensive line has to call the right protections and give Gardner time. Derrick Green has to hit the holes hard and run with a purpose. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, and Drew Dileo have to catch everything thrown their way. The defense has to prevent the big play but also take the pounding from Hyde without breaking.

The chance of all of these things happening is extremely low. I do expect Michigan to play inspired football, hoping to recapture the magic of 1969, but that will only carry them so far. It will come down to execution and playcalling. Will Borges feature a short passing game early on to keep the linebackers back? If not, Gardner will be running for his life like he has the past few weeks. Can Mattison have his defense ready at the time of snap when OSU goes into its tempo offense, but at the same time defend both the edge and the thumping it will receive from Hyde?

How the first quarter goes will determine the outcome of this one. If Michigan can have some offensive success and get a stop or two early on the Wolverines will gain confidence that they can compete. If they turn the ball over, get a couple of three-and-outs, and fall behind early, the floodgates will open. I think Michigan hangs around just enough into the second half to give some hope but is simply overmatched when all is said and done.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24