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Posts Tagged ‘Devin Gardner’

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


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

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

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

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

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

Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


UM win vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB Staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 10th, 2014


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Michigan has lost three straight games and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s Penn State game. Many fans are planning a protest of kickoff and more than 150 former players are coming to town in solidarity of the current team. Can Team 135 rally around the adversity and pull off the magic that it created in the previous two Under the Lights games? Or will Penn State hand Michigan a fourth straight loss, essentially ensuring a third losing season in seven years? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 24 23
Sam 21 20
Derick 20 24
Josh 17 38
Joe 14 30
M&GB Average 19 27

Justin: Christian Hackenberg will get his yards like he does every week against a Michigan pass defense that made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning a week ago. But the Penn State offense has had trouble finding the end zone this season, instead settling for field goals. Kicker Sam Ficken has attempted more field goals than any other kicker in the conference.

Michigan’s offense will struggle to move the ball on the ground against a Penn State defense that leads the nation in opponent yard per carry (1.99), especially without Derrick Green. Penn State has allowed two of five opponents to break 100 yards and both of them barely got there. The most an individual rusher has gained against the Nittany Lions is 51 yards by Rutgers running back Paul James. So don’t expect De’Veon Smith to have a big game. It will be up to Devin Gardner to make the right decisions through the air and pull the ball down and run when there is space. Penn State is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Jake Butt to be targeted often.

Overall, I expect a fairly low-scoring affair. Penn State will win the yardage battle, but if Michigan can force them to settle for field goals, that won’t matter. Michigan will play with a spirited effort in a home game under the lights with 150-plus former players behind them for support. Michigan pulls it out by a hair.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23

Sam:When will this nightmare end? I don’t think anyone could have predicted this football season would get this bad this fast, but here we are at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play. Sure, Hoke may still believe that there’s a chance to add to those 42 Big Ten championships, but do his players? Does anyone?

Heading into the season, tomorrow’s Under the Lights game was supposed to be the big shebang. Now I think most Michigan fans are just hoping that prospective recruits aren’t watching. Penn State is not good…as in very bad not good. They eked out a three-point win at Rutgers (something Michigan barely failed to do) and got trounced by a Northwestern team that seemed like it was also very not good until last week they proved that they were maybe not that bad not good by beating Wisconsin at home.

Anyway, I am excited about a couple things. We all know who our quarterback is, and it seems like Michigan is starting to deploy Gardner a little bit as a running weapon, and I think De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes should fill in for Derrick Green’s unfortunate season-ending injury nicely. I really thought the defense had top-10 (overall, not Big Ten) potential this season, but that unit has really let the team down over the past few weeks. Penn State is also coming off a bye that makes things a little more interesting.

Lastly, can we please get Devin Funchess the ball? PLEASE?!

I actually like Michigan to pull it off at home this week in a game that will only be fun because it’s close.

Michigan 21 – Penn State 20

Derick: With three straight losses to average opponents, the 2014 season has started to slip away from Brady Hoke and his 115 sons. Michigan has lost in a variety of ways during the stretch, struggling to score against Utah and Minnesota and falling apart in pass coverage against Rutgers.

The most important matchup to watch Saturday night is perhaps the most talented quarterback in the conference against one of the most underperforming cornerbacks in the conference. Christian Hackenberg has taken the reins of this Penn State offense as a sophomore, and he will likely throw toward Blake Countess all game. Countess allowed all three touchdowns against Rutgers, so his play will likely be the most important factor for the defense.

Michigan will battle hard against a night game crowd, but the PSU offense will outlast the Wolverines for a win.

Penn State 24 – Michigan 20

Josh: Well, I really don’t know what to say anymore. This team is bad, very bad. The good news is Penn State doesn’t look all that great either, although their record is much better than Michigan’s. Last week we saw some fight in this team and were it not for a catch that was ruled not a catch (and they even reviewed it!) Michigan may have pulled out a win. Alas, it was not to be. I would love to see this team come out with some fight again and I expect them to come out pumped up. It’s a night game and they’ll be sporting some hideous uniforms that shame the classic Michigan maize and blue, but I digress.

Tesm 135 will come out hyped and ready to play. Sadly, they are quite possibly the worst-coached team in the country, have a starting cornerback who is routinely beat deep (Countess gave up all 3 touchdowns last week) and face Christian Hackenberg and his rocket arm. It’ll be close for a quarter or two then the floodgates will open and then we can officially kiss a bowl game goodbye (I never thought they’d beat Michigan State or Ohio State, and I KNOW they won’t now). This will be the third losing season in the past seven years, after going 33 years without a losing season. Sad days for Michigan football and it will get worse as I expect several of the 2015 commits to jump ship with uncertainty surrounding Hoke and Co., though I’m not sure why there’d be uncertainty, the odds of Hoke keeping his job are slim to none. How many days until basketball?

Penn State 38 – Michigan 17

Joe: I am having a tough time with the predictions lately as it’s starting to get a little depressing. I wanted to focus on the running game with Derrick Green last week and that turned out to be a curse. The defense has sprung a leak and is not able to stop anyone at the key point in games. I fear that this may get even worse when Michigan faces off against a quarterback averaging over 300 yards a game in Christian Hackenberg. Granted, he has not thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games and is tossing in a few interceptions along the way, but he still scares me. He carved us up last year and unfortunately, I expect the same this week. The defense is injured and seems to have lost a lot of confidence that it had in the early going. Without a solid running game, I think the Nittany Lions offense can run and pass at will and will put pressure on Gardner to keep up from the get go. This could spell doom if the offenssive line continues to let guys waltz on through. As much as I would like to predict a big Wolverines victory, I will go with Penn State.

Penn State 30 – Michigan 14

Michigan-Penn State game preview

Friday, October 10th, 2014


Game Preview_Penn State_banner

Prior to the season most assumed that if Michigan could get by Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 2, tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State would be a huge game. In a season in which all three rivals are road games, the night game against Penn State — the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium history — was supposed to be the marquee game on the home slate.

Instead, Michigan has lost three in a row, four of its last five, and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s matchup with Penn State. When Michigan traveled to State College last Oct. 12, the Wolverines were 5-0, ranked 18th nationally, and Penn State was just 3-2 and coming off a 44-24 loss to Indiana. What a difference a year makes.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Rutgers Head Coach: James Franklin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 28-16 (4-1 at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan (1st season)
Defensive Coordinators: Bob Shoop (1st season)
Brent Pry (1st season)
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: PSU 43 – UM 40 3OT (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 10-7
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 5-3
Current Streak: Penn State 4
Last Michigan Win: 2007 (UM 14 – PSU 9)

At this time last year, there were certainly concerns after Michigan squeaked by Akron and UConn, but the vast majority of the fan base was still on board. Now, exactly a year later, the Michigan family is fractured. After a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally on the Diag two weeks ago, some students and fans have planned a boycott of kickoff tomorrow in order to project an empty stadium on the national televised broadcast. On the other side of the coin, more than 150 former players are descending upon Ann Arbor in a show of support for the current team.

Penn State, meanwhile, started the season 4-0 before getting stomped at home by Northwestern, 29-6 two weeks ago. In that game, Northwestern’s defense held Penn State to just 266 total yards, 50 rushing, and only two field goals. Not exactly the first home Big Ten game that first-year head coach James Franklin envisioned.

Penn State opened the season with a  26-24 win over Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland on a last-second 36-yard field goal. The Nittany Lions returned to the states with a sluggish 21-3 win over Akron that wasn’t really put away until the fourth quarter, and then scored 13 unanswered second half points to hand Rutgers its first Big Ten loss, 13-10. In Week 4, Penn State got its first convincing win of the season, rolling over UMass 48-7, but UMass is 0-6 and just yielded Miami (Ohio) its first win in 22 games. So while Penn State has a better record than Michigan and beat the only common opponent so far, Rutgers, the gap between the two teams is very minimal.

Like Brady Hoke, Franklin has his own share of issues to deal with stemming from a sexual assault case at his previous stop, Vanderbilt. That Franklin had to testify again on Wednesday is surely not the kind of distraction he wanted heading into a road night game against a team fighting for its postseason life.

Michigan has lost its last four to Penn State after winning nine straight from 1997 to 2007. Last season’s meeting took four overtimes and three Brendan Gibbons missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime to decide the outcome. So what is in store tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the match ups.

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

Offensive coordinator John Donovan has been with Franklin for a while. At Vanderbilt, he put together three of the top four offenses in program history with a school record 4,936 total yards in 2012. That was also the first season in school history in which the Commodores averaged 30 or more points per game. He still has work to do at Penn State with an offense that currently ranks 96th nationally in points per game (22.8), 72nd nationally in total offense (407.8 yards per game), 25th in passing (306.8 yards per game), 113th in rushing (101.0 yards per game), and 104th in sacks allowed (14).

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

He has a great piece to build around in sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg who is going through a bit of a sophomore slump so far this season, but has all the tools to be a star for years to come. After finishing third in the Big Ten with 246.2 passing yards per game last season, Hackenberg has raised that number to 295.4 through the first five games of 2014, second only to Illinois’ West Hunt. But despite the yards, Hackenberg has thrown just four touchdown passes and six interceptions. His touchdown per pass attempt ratio of 48.8 is second-worst among the conference’s top 10 passers, behind only Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian (58.7). For comparison, Devin Gardner’s ratio is 24.0. Hackenberg’s six interceptions are also the second-most among the top 10 passers, better than only Rutgers’ Gary Nova (seven). In terms of efficiency, Hackenberg ranks 10th in the Big Ten, two spots behind Gardner.

Hackenberg has been held below 200 passing yards just once through five games, but that was in the blowout of UMass when he attempted just 23 passes and the Nittany Lions rushed for 228 yards. He has eclipsed 300 yards in three of five games with a high of 454 in the opener against UCF. But his completion percentage has gone down in each game, from 68.1 to 61.1 to 56.8 to 52.2 to 48.9. In that most recent game, the loss to Northwestern, Hackenberg completed 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. His quarterback rating for the game was 84.8, lower than any game Devin Gardner has had this season.

Hackenberg has a pair of good receivers in redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis. Hamilton leads the conference in receptions per game (7.2) and ranks second in yards per game (100.4). He has caught 36 passes for 502 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown pass. Lewis is tied for third in receptions per game with Devin Funchess (5.8) and ranks third in yards per game (99.0). He has caught 29 passes for 495 yards and one score. Tight end Jesse James is the only other pass catcher with double-digit receptions. The junior has caught 15 passes for 178 yards and leads the team with two touchdowns.

While the passing game is racking up yards, the running game is second worst in the Big Ten, ahead of only Illinois, averaging 101 yards per game, and has the worst yards per carry (3.1) in the conference. Senior running back Bill Belton hasn’t even sniffed 100 yards, his best performance being a seven carry, 76-yard, two touchdown game against UMass. He carried 10 times for 16 yards against UCF and 15 times for 36 yards against Rutgers. He is the team’s fourth-leading receiver, however, with 14 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch and fifth-year senior Zach Zwinak are the other ball-carriers with 133 and 105 yards, respectively. Lynch has been much more efficient, doing so on just 18 carries (7.4 yards per carry), but Zwinak, who is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, is tied with Belton for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

The starting offensive line has been the same all season with the exception of right guard against UMass when redshirt sophomore Derek Dowrey got the start instead of redshirt sophomore Brian Gaia, who moved from defensive tackle this season. The leader of the line is redshirt junior left tackle Donovan Smith, who has 25 career starts. He’s by far the most experienced member of the line. Left guard Brendan Mahon and right tackle Andrew Nelson both redshirted last season and center Angelo Mangiro is a first year starter who served as the top reserve the last two years. The group ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 104th nationally in sacks against (14), and as mentioned above, hasn’t paved the way for much of a running game at all.

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

Despite a struggling offense, Penn State’s defense has been one of the best in the Big Ten and the nation so far this season. Like Donovan, co-defensive coordinators Bob Shoop and Brent Pry were with Franklin at Vanderbilt, where they guided the Commodores to Top 25 defenses all three seasons. Last season, Shoop’s defense ranked 10th nationally with 30 forced turnovers, and in 2012, it ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense. This year, the two have Penn State’s defense ranked 10th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (288.8 yards per game), second in rush defense (60.2 yards per game), 58th in pass defense (228.6 yards per game), and eighth in red zone defense (11-17, 65 percent).

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Much of the reason the defense is so good this season is because it’s an experienced group with only one full-time starter that has less than three years in the program, outside linebacker Brandon Bell, a true sophomore. While he has started all five games, he’s the least productive linebacker of the group with just 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and an interception. Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Mike Hull finished fifth in the Big Ten last season with 9.1 tackles per game in conference play and currently leads the Nittany Lions with 53 total tackles and leads the conference with 10.6 tackles per game. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The other starting linebacker is redshirt sophomore Nyeem Wartman, who missed the Northwestern game two weeks ago with an arm injury. Still, he’s the third-leading tackler on the team with 20 tackles, and will be back in the lineup tomorrow. True sophomore Von Walker filled in for Wartman against Northwestern and finished with three tackles, while true freshman Jason Cabinda also saw his first extended time and recorded eight tackles. But that’s about it for depth.

The defensive line is a big reason Penn State has been so stout against the run, holding opponents to a Big Ten and national best 1.99 yards per carry. Redshirt junior three-tech Anthony Zettel leads the team with seven tackles for loss and three sacks and ranks fourth with 17 total tackles. The nose tackle is mammoth redshirt sophomore Austin Johnson, who at 6’4″, 313-pounds, has 15 tackles and 2.5 for loss, but more importantly, draws consistent double-teams. The ends are senior C.J. Olaniyan and redshirt junior Deion Barnes, who have a combined 29 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and four sacks.

The secondary is a group that has been around a while, led by junior cornerback Jordan Lucas, who leads the team with four pass breakups to go along with 17 tackles, one for loss, and one sack. He will likely draw the main coverage responsibilities on Devin Funchess. However, Doug Nussmeier would be smart to try to get Funchess matched up on the other corner, junior Trevor Williams, who isn’t nearly as good, although he does have two picks. Senior safety Ryan Keiser, a former walk-on, is the team’s second-leading tackler with 23 and also has an interruption and three passes defended, while fellow senior strong safety Adrian Amos has two picks and three passes defended.

Special teams: The other third

Senior kicker Sam Ficken is one of the best in the conference. He made 29-of-44 (65.9 percent) in 2012 and ’13, including a school record 15 straight, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. He began this season in dramatic fashion with a 36-yard game-winner as time expired to beat UCF, his fourth field goal of the game. He’s 10-of-12 on the season, leading the Big Ten with an average of two made field goals per game. He also has a big leg, having made a 54-yarder last season.

Redshirt freshman punter Chris Gulla averages 38.3 yards per punt, which ranks outside the top 10 in the conference. Of his 19 punts, six have been downed inside the 20, seven have been fair caught, four have gone for more than 50 yards, one has been blocked, and only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback.

The return game is average nationally, led by fifth-year senior safety Jesse Della Valle, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 10.5 yards per punt return. True freshman kick returner Grant Haley ranks 10th in the conference with an average of 22.0 yards per return. Punt and kick return coverage is an area where Michigan could hope to take advantage of as Penn State ranks 100th nationally, allowing 12.0 yards per punt return, and 111th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten, allowing 24.7 yards per kick return.

Prediction

The first two night games in Michigan history, against Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013, both produced thrilling victories for the Wolverines, and Michigan hopes the bright lights can do the same tomorrow. The team has its back up against the wall, but will get a boost of confidence that it has been lacking from a big group of former players who will form a “welcome line” on the field for t he current team. As Howard put it, “former players told me that the ‘current players need to know we are here for them even if nobody else is.”

Last year’s matchup produced a high-scoring, four-overtime shootout, but neither team is setting the world on fire with its offense this time around. Michigan will have trouble moving the ball against Penn State’s defensive front, especially without running back Derrick Green, who is out for the season with a broken clavicle. It will be up to De’Veon Smith to carry the load, but only two opponents have topped 100 yards against Penn State so far — Rutgers with 102 yards and Northwestern with 103. Rutgers’ Paul James is the only individual running back that has topped 50 yards (51). So it will be up to Gardner to make the right decisions in the passion game. Penn State’s defense is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Gardner to hook up with Jake Butt often.

Defensively, it’s hard to see Michigan slowing down Hackenberg and the Penn State passing game, considering the Wolverines made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning last week. But while Hackenberg will get his yards like he has all season, Penn State has struggled putting the ball in the end zone, and Michigan will hope to force Ficken, who has attempted more field goals than anyone else in the conference, to kick often. In addition, this game provides a great opportunity for Michigan’s defensive line to have a big game, putting pressure on Hackenberg and forcing him to make mistakes.

Michigan’s offense has been pretty good in the first quarter this season, and Penn State’s inability to score touchdowns make it hard for the Nittany Lions to come back, although they did come back from a 10-point second half deficit against Rutgers. If Michigan can score a touchdown or two on its first two or three possessions, I like the Wolverines’ chances in this one. But if Michigan falls behind by halftime, it will be very hard to come back against such a strong defense. I’ll go with the Big House night game magic in this one and take a narrow Michigan win.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23

Final Look: Rutgers

Thursday, October 9th, 2014


Taco Charlton vs Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

I’m beginning to change up the Final Look to dive a bit more into the advanced stats to give us a better and more in-depth look at the previous week’s game. This will be a work in progress as it takes much more time than the way we previously did it, so bear with me. I have removed the top plays section and added an advanced stats section. This is the part that will be fine tuned each week with the hopes that by next season I’ll have it down pat.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Rutgers
57 Total Plays 70
 27.7 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.7) 25.7
11 Possessions 11
5 Scoring Opportunities 6
 4.8 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 4.3
 74.5% Leverage Rate (68.4%) 54.5%
 47.3% Success Rate (42.2%) 39.4%
 28.6% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.7%) 43.3%
 53.7% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.5%) 36.1%
 37.5% Success Rate Passing (40.7%) 39.0%
 53.3% Success Rate Rushing (43.6%) 40.0%
1 Turnovers  0
21.3 Equivalent Points 28.3
0.37 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.40

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

As you can see from the advanced stats above, Michigan had 13 fewer plays than Rutgers, but had slightly better starting field position, scored more points per scoring opportunity (a first down inside the opponents 40 or a touchdown scored from outside), had a better leverage rate*, a better success rate**, a better success rate on standard downs, and a better success rate rushing. However, Rutgers won the turnover battle, even though it was only 1-0, and it was turned into a touchdown. Rutgers also had a full touchdown more equivalent points.

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

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Rutgers
5.7 Yards Per Play 6.8
 47.3% Success Rate 39.4%
27.7 Avg Starting Field Position 25.7
4.8 Points Per Opportunity 4.3
-1 Turnover Margin +1

So Michigan won three of the five factors, but lost the game by two points. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play
- Rutgers +1.1 = 86.2 percent chance of winning

Success Rate
- Michigan +7.9% = 76.2 percent chance of winning

Average Starting Field Position
- Michigan +2 = 54.1 percent chance of winning

Points Per Opportunity
- Michigan +0.5 = 51.8 percent chance of winning
- However, despite having a lower points per opportunity, Rutgers had more scoring opportunities (six compared to five), which equates to a 64.8 percent chance of winning

Turnover Margin
- Rutgers +1 = 64.5 percent chance of winning

Football Study Hall weighs Yards per Play at 35 percent, Success Rate at 25 percent, Field Position and PPO at 15 percent each, and Turnover Margin at 10 percent. Rutgers won Yards per Play (35 percent) and Turnover Margin (10 percent) outright, and also slightly won PPO because they had more opportunities (15 percent). Added together, that equates to a 60 percent overall chance of winning, which they did.

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

The numbers game

5,351: Devin Gardner’s career passing yards after throwing for 178 yards against Rutgers, putting him in a tie for seventh with Tom Brady on the career passing list

624: Devin Gardner’s career pass attempts, passing Brian Griese and Jim Harbaugh for eighth on the career list

37.5: Jake Ryan’s career tackle for loss total, passing Mike Hammerstein (1981-85) for 15th on the career list

77.8: Devin Gardner’s pass completion percentage in the first quarter so far this season (28-of-36)

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Penn State

Monday, October 6th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to MEKMichigan for his first win of the season. His point deviation of 38 was the lowest of any contestant so far this season and was 13 points better than TheZachster. MEKMichigan tied with chris12qb and MacNCheese for the closest to Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo’s receiving yards (73), just three away. He was third-closest to Gardner’s total yards (218), fourth-closest to the total receiving yards by everyone except Devin Funchess (107), fourth-closest to Michigan’s longest run (26 yards), and second-closest to Michigan’s third-down conversion percentage (36 percent). He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Tooty_pops was the only one to correctly predict Michigan’s third-down percentage. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Michigan’s longest run, only one away. Hazel Parker‘s perdition of 103 yards was the closest to Michigan’s receiving yards by everyone except Funchess. Thezachster and new contestant Quentin Tedesco both predicted that Devin Gardner would record 215 total yards, so they were the closest at three away.

No one correctly predicted the final score, although 15 of the 25 contestants predicted Rutgers to win. The average score was Rutgers 23 – Michigan 20.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

Michigan returns home to face Penn State (4-1, 1-1) this Saturday in a nationally televised night game. The Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week and a 29-6 loss to Northwestern two weeks ago. Here are this week’s questions:

Jersey Short: Rutgers 26 – Michigan 24

Sunday, October 5th, 2014


Michigan at Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

A trying week for the Michigan football program following a loss to Minnesota, complete with a concussion controversy that gained national mainstream media attention, a student rally calling for the firing of athletic director Dave Brandon, and increased calls for Brady Hoke’s head, was bookended with yet another loss. This time, the Wolverines came up just short in a 26-24 defeat at Rutgers on Saturday night.

It was the first ever meeting between the two oldest schools in FBS and it resulted in the first ever Big Ten Conference victory for the team that won the first ever college football contest over the school with the most wins in college football history.

Michigan started the game with a nine-play, 57-yard drive that stalled on the Rutgers 22-yard line. But Michigan managed three points on a 39-yard Matt Wile field goal. Rutgers countered with a seven-play, 58-yard drive and a 35-yard field goal to tie the game at three.

UM-Rutgers-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Rutgers
Score 24 26
Record 2-4, 0-2 5-1, 1-1
Total Yards 336 476
Net Rushing Yards 158 74
Net Passing Yards 178 402
First Downs 18 18
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-30 9-85
Punts-Yards 4-190 3-146
Time of Possession 29:14 30:46
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 8-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-21 3-18
Field Goals 1-for-2 2-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 3-of-3
Full Box Score

Michigan went three-and-out and Rutgers went 47 yards in eight plays and took a 6-3 lead on a 45-yard Kyle Federico field goal. But Michigan responded with the first touchdown of the game. Devin Gardner kicked off the drive with a 23-yard pass to Devin Funchess and then the two connected for eight yards. Three plays later, Gardner lofted the ball up across the middle and Jake Butt made a one-handed catch for 20 yards to give Michigan a first-and-goal at the Rutgers five. Gardner tried to sneak it in, but was stuffed. On second down, Gardner ran to the right and outran the defense to the end zone giving Michigan a 10-6 lead.

After trading punts, Rutgers took over on its own 20-yard line. Quarterback Gary Nova found a wide open Andrew Turzilli for an 80-yard touchdown catch and run. Michigan blocked the extra point and Rutgers led 12-10.

Michigan couldn’t do anything with its next possession and punted it back to Rutgers, who took possession at their own 12. Nova connected with Desmon Peoples for 33 yards on the first play, but Michigan’s defense held strong to force fourth-and-10. Rutgers ran a fake punt, but Michigan stopped it for a loss of two yards and took over on the Rutgers 43. Six plays later, De’Veon Smith scored from a yard out and Michigan regained the lead, 17-12.

Rutgers got to work with 1:43 remaining in the half and marched right down the field. Facing third-and-goal at the Michigan 7-yard line, Nova dropped back to pass. But Frank Clark shot through the middle untouched for a sure-fire sack. However, Nova shooed him away with a stiff-arm and found John Tsimis in the end zone to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 19-17 and re-take the momentum heading into the half.

Neither team was able to score in the third quarter, but on Michigan’s second possession, Gardner was intercepted at the Rutgers 41. The Scarlet Knights capitalized, going 59 yards in 10 plays, and capping it off with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Turzilli.

Michigan wasn’t dead yet, however, as offensive coordinator turned to the run game to pound the ball down the field. Derrick Green ran for eight yards, eight yards, and 21 yards to get to the Rutgers 32. Gardner rushed for eight and Smith five giving the Wolverines a first down at the 19. Gardner rolled to his right, eluded several defenders and raced into the end zone to pull Michigan within two at 26-24 with 9:17 remaining.

Michigan’s defense forced a punt and got the ball back hoping to drive the field for a game-winning score that could take some of the heat off the program. Smith rushed for nine yards and then four for a first down. Gardner hit Khalid Hill for a 12-yard gain, and two plays later, connected with Funchess for 17. On third-and-eight at the Rutgers 38, Gardner completed a pass to Amara Darboh on the right sideline. Darboh took two steps and dove out of bounds just past the first down marker. But as he hit the ground, the ball squirted out and the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Hoke challenged and it was upheld, giving Michigan a fourth-and-eight from the Rutgers 38 instead of first down at the 28. Hoke elected to attempt a 56-yard field goal, but Wile’s kick was blocked, allowing Rutgers to run out the clock for the victory.

Rutgers finished the game with 476 total yards, 402 through the air. Both of those numbers are the most Michigan has allowed this season and the most Rutgers has gained this season. Michigan gained 336 yards with a balanced effort of 178 through the air and 158 on the ground. Gardner completed 13-of-22 for 178 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed 10 times for 40 yards and two touchdowns. Green led the way on the ground with 74 yards on 12 carries, while Smith had 31 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Funchess caught five passes for 71 yards, while Jehu Chesson caught two for 34.

Michigan has now won just three of its last 12 games and hasn’t beaten a power-five school since topping Northwestern in triple-overtime last November 16. The two teams Michigan has beaten since then — Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio) — are a combined 2-9 this season with one of those two wins coming against an FCS school (Campbell) and the other just a one-point victory over 0-6 UMass.

The Wolverines fall to 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967. The Wolverines return home to face Penn State (4-1, 1-1) at 7 p.m. EST next Saturday.

Michigan-Rutgers game preview

Friday, October 3rd, 2014


Game Preview_Rutgers_banner

It has been a trying week for the Michigan football program after a loss to Minnesota — just the fourth in 46 years — and the controversy that has followed from a hit taken by quarterback Shane Morris that resulted in a concussion. It has been talked about not only on ESPN, but NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, and more. For the players and coaches, Saturday can’t get here soon enough, but the big question is whether the team can use the adversity as a galvanizing force or whether the distractions will sink the team even further.

UM-Rutgers-small-final
Quick Facts
High Point Solutions Stadium – 7 p.m. EST – BTN
Rutgers Head Coach: Kyle Flood (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 19-12 (all at Rutgers)
Offensive Coordinator: Ralph Friedgen (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Rossi (1st season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)
Last Meeting: 1st meeting
All-Time Series: 0-0
Michigan in New Jersey: Michigan leads 2-0
Brady Hoke vs Rutgers: 0-1 (Ball St. lost 52-30 in 2008)

The road has been a thorn in Hoke’s side since he arrived in Ann Arbor and that’s just where the team is headed this week. Perhaps it can become a place of calm away from the circus that Ann Arbor has become. The venue, however, will be anything but calm, as Rutgers announced its second sellout of the season and just the fifth since 2009. It’s also a night game and has been denoted as this season’s “blackout game”, which means although small compared to the Big House (52,454 capacity), High Point Solutions Stadium will be electric.

It’s the first ever meeting between college football’s two oldest FBS programs. Michigan calls itself Team 135 because this is the 135th season of Michigan football. But Rutgers began playing in 1869, 10 years earlier, known then as the Queensmen. Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in the first game and then lost to Princeton 8-0 a week later. Those were the only two games played between the only two college football teams at the time, and both claim a national title.

Head coach Kyle Flood is in his third season at Rutgers and his third straight season in a different conference. The former offensive line coach and assistant head coach under Greg Schiano took over in 2012 when his predesessor left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first season, Rutgers tied for first in the Big East, but the caveat would be that four of the eight teams in the conference shared the title, all with 5-2 records. Rutgers had a chance to win it outright by beating Louisville in the final week, but the Cardinals won 20-17 and ultimately earned the conference’s BCS berth. Rutgers then lost to Virginia Tech 13-10 in the Citrus Bowl. Flood shared Big East Coach of the Year honors with then-Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

Flood lost both of his coordinators following the 2012 season and brought in former Kansas State head coach Ron Prince to run the offense. After a 52-51 overtime loss at Fresno State to open the season, Rutgers won four straight, including a four-point win over Arkansas and a 55-52 triple-overtime thriller over SMU. But then the wheels fell off. They went 2-6 the rest of the way with a 29-16 loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl to end the season.

Prince’s time in Piscataway would be short-lived as he jumped to the Detroit Lions following the season, and Flood replaced him with former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. Flood also fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, who had been promoted from linebackers coach prior to the 2013 season, and promoted special teams coach Joe Rossi. Needless to say, Flood has faced plenty of turnover in his short tenure thus far and hopes the move to the Big Ten will provide more stability.

Rutgers comes into this game with a 4-1 record, but is still looking for its first Big Ten win. Penn State came to New Jersey and beat the Scarlet Knights 13-10 in Week 3 in their first ever Big Ten contest. Rutgers has wins over Washington State (41-38), Howard (38-25), Navy (31-24), and Tulane (31-6). Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Rutgers offense: When Rutgers has the ball

Friedgen’s offense currently ranks 66th nationally in scoring (30.2 points per game), 67th in total offense (416.8 yards per game), 56th in rushing (176.2 yards per game), and 63rd in passing (240.6 yards per game). They also rank 73rd in third-down conversion percentage (40.3).

Gary Nova threw five interceptions against Penn State but has just two in the other four games (Mel Evans, AP)

Gary Nova threw five interceptions against Penn State but has just two in the other four games (Mel Evans, AP)

Quarterback Gary Nova has been a hot and cold quarterback his entire career and that’s no different this season. He has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,197 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But five of those interceptions came in a 13-10 loss to Penn State, a game in which he completed just 15-of-30 passes and no touchdowns. Aside from that game and a Week 4 win over Navy in which Rutgers rushed for nearly 300 yards, Nova has thrown for an average of 285 yards with 10 touchdowns and just to picks in the other three games.

Like Michigan with Devin Funchess, Nova has one very good receiver to throw to and a bunch of others. Junior Leonte Carroo is already just three yards short of his 2013 season total with 475 receiving yards on 25 receptions and five touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard-plus games, including a six-catch, 140-yard, three-touchdown performance last week against Tulane. The only other player on the team with double-digit receptions is sophomore Janarion Grant, who has 10 catches for just 90 yards. Fellow sophomore John Tsimis has nine for 110 yards and two scores, while senior Kansas transfer Andrew Turzilli is second on the team in receiving yards with 182 yards on just four catches. His total is aided by a 93-yard touchdown. Junior tight end Tyler Kroft entered the season as one of the Big Ten’s best, but has been held without a catch in three of the first five games and played just six snaps last week due to an injury. He should be healthy and ready to go tomorrow, however.

The Rutgers offense took a huge hit when starting running back Paul James tore his ACL against Navy two weeks ago. He had 363 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns to go along with 120 receiving yards and two more touchdowns prior to his injury. Last season, James rushed for 868 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing four games with a leg injury. This is a huge loss to the Scarlet Knight offense. In his place is 5’8″, 175-pound sophomore Desmon Peoples, who has 288 yards (4.3 yards per carry) but no touchdowns so far this season. His production has picked up since James went down, as he is averaging 82.5 yards, but just 4.1 yards per carry the past two weeks. Fellow sophomore Justin Goodwin filled in for James in the four games he missed last season, but moved to cornerback in fall camp. He started the season opener and recorded an interception, but switched back to his old position in Week 3. In two games played at running back the past two weeks, Goodwin is averaging 93 yards and 4.9 yards per carry.

The offensive line is an experienced unit that returned all five starters from last season with 99 career starts between them.

Michigan offense vs Rutgers defense: When Michigan has the ball

The defense returned just five starters from last season and currently ranks 66th nationally in scoring defense (30.2 points per game), 80th in total defense (408.8 yards per game), 49th in rush defense (130.4 yards per game), and 105th in pass defense (278.4 yards per game). And while the Rutgers defense allows opponents to convert third-downs 43.4 percent of the time (91st nationally), it leads the nation with 21 sacks.

Tackle Darius Hamilton leads Rutgers with 3.5 sacks and will be a big test for Michigan's offensive line (Rich Kane, Icon SMI)

Tackle Darius Hamilton leads Rutgers with 3.5 sacks and will be a big test for Michigan’s offensive line (Rich Kane, Icon SMI)

A year ago, Rutgers had the fourth-best rush defense and fourth-worst pass defense in the country. The disparity isn’t so stark through the first five weeks of this season, but as you can see from the rankings above, the Scarlet Knights are still much more adept at defending the run than the pass. The sack yardage certainly helps the rush defense numbers, but it also shows that when they can’t get to the quarterback, they’re vulnerable through the air.

The defensive line is anchored by junior tackle Darius Hamilton. The 6’4″, 255-pounder has 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss so far. Joining Hamilton in the middle is nose guard Kenneth Kirksey, who has nine tackles and one for loss. Fifth-year senior David Milewski and redshirt junior Djwany Mera are the ends. Milewski has three sacks and six tackles for loss, while Mera has a half sack.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Steve Longa is the leading tackler with 37 in addition to 1.5 for loss and one sack. The strong side linebacker, redshirt junior Quentin Gause, has 27 tackles, three for loss, and a sack, while the middle linebacker, sophomore L.J. Liston and senior Kevin Snyder, have a combined 27 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Fifth-year senior strong safety Lorenzo Waters is the leader of the secondary with 24 tackles, four for loss, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. Fellow fifth-year senior Gareef Glashen is one starting cornerback and has 29 tackles, one interception, and leads the team with seven passes defended. The other corner spot is a rotation between sophomores Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, and freshman Dre Boggs. The three have combined for 22 tackles, two for loss, and two passes defended.

Special teams: The other third

Junior kicker Kyle Federico has converted 6-of-8 field goals with a long of 42. He made 12-of-18 last season with a long of 48. Junior Tim Gleeson and redshirt junior Joseph Roth have shared the punt duties, averaging 40.8 and 37.2 yards per punt, respectively. Gleeson’s total ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

Grant is the main return man for both kicks and punts. He’s averaging 20.5 yards per kick return and seven yards per punt return, although Rutgers has just three punt returns all season.

Prediction

Michigan received a big send off from the coaches and athletes of other Michigan teams as they left for New Jersey. With all the animosity swirling around the program after its third loss of the season and a concussion controversy, perhaps the one place Brady Hoke has struggled to win the most — the road — can serve as a rallying point and a springboard for the rest of the season.

Something tells me Devin Gardner will come into the game with a renewed purpose, similar to what we saw when he came in in relief of Shane Morris in the fourth quarter last week. We know he’s capable of putting up big numbers, and the Rutgers secondary provides a great opportunity to get back on track. But he will need protection from the nation’s leader in sacks.

Defensively, Michigan will need to find a way to put pressure on Nova and force him into the mistakes he is prone to make. The loss of James puts more pressure on Nova and the young running backs to step up. If Michigan’s offense doesn’t put the defense in tough positions, it should be able to hold Rutgers offense in check.

When all is said and done, I’m not confident in the line being able to protect Gardner well enough to allow the offense to sustain drives, especially since Rutgers’ defense has been pretty good against the run. Expect a close, back and forth game that goes down to the wire, but Michigan comes up just short. I hope I’m wrong.

Rutgers 24 – Michigan 20

M&GB staff predictions: Rutgers

Friday, October 3rd, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

After losing the Little Brown Jug to Minnesota, Michigan now hits the r0ad where they have struggled under Brady Hoke. Tomorrow, they travel to New Jersey, where they haven’t played in nearly a century, to battle college football’s oldest program, Rutgers, who they have never faced.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Rutgers
Justin 20 24
Sam 17 29
Derick 21 27
Josh 13 38
Joe 20 28
M&GB Average 18 29

Justin: The adversity swirling around the program right now will serve as a galvanizing force that the team will rally around in New Brunswick. Devin Gardner will play with a purpose like he showed in his brief time last Saturday in relief of Shane Morris, and the Michigan offense will look better than it has all season against power-five teams.

Unfortunately, it won’t be enough. Rutgers leads the nation in sacks and Michigan’s offensive line hasn’t shown it is capable of protecting the quarterback yet. While the offense will move the ball, it will get bogged down by untimely sacks. The defense will look to capitalize on Gary Nova mistakes, but the home crowd will carry Rutgers to a narrow win.

Rutgers 24 – Michigan 20

Sam: It’s amazing what a couple weeks of college football can do, eh? Just about a month ago, Ann Arbor was a frenzy of excitement, a melting pot of hope for the football team. Fast forward five games and we have easily the most discontent fan base in America, a massive concussed-player-left-in-the-game controversy on our hands, an athletic department and coaching staff that contradict each other on every possible occasion, a petition with more than 11,000 signatures calling for Dave Brandon’s removal making the rounds, and students marching on the (U of M) president’s lawn. And, oh yeah, Brady Hoke is the deadest of dead men walking.

With two straight embarrassments on the football field, Michigan faces what looks to be a serious uphill battle to even make a bowl game. What’s even worse is that Devin Funchess and Jabrill Peppers’ statuses are still up in the air. With a road game at Rutgers this Saturday, I’m not hopeful at all despite a growing sentiment that the players will certainly be fired up for this one. I’ll take the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers 29 – Michigan 17

Derick: Michigan needs to get away from Ann Arbor, where the fans and media are up in arms about the team’s actions both on and off the field. Though the team has struggled on the road under Brady Hoke, it may benefit from getting away from the distractions and playing far from home.

That being said, the Michigan team that showed up each of the last two weeks is nowhere near strong enough to compete with teams in the Big Ten, and Rutgers finished off an unbeaten non-conference slate last weekend. I think Michigan will fall in New Jersey, despite a much cleaner performance with Devin Gardner back under center.

Rutgers 27 – Michigan 21

Josh: I want to believe Team 135 has some fight in them and will rally around their coach and go out and win one for the Hokester. I want to believe but what we’ve seen on the field is just about the polar opposite of fighters. The offense has regressed at a pace no one thought possible and now even the defense is stepping back. Rutgers isn’t all that great, but Michigan’s road woes (and offensive woes this season) spell doom for our beloved Wolverines.

The good news is Rutgers’ defense isn’t all that great, yardage wise anyway. The bad news is they can get to the quarterback, which basically means Michigan will lose. More good news is one of Rutgers’ running backs (Paul James) is out for the season so that might help ease the pain of the beating they’ll get. Aside from the monstrosity that was the Penn State game (five interceptions) the Knights’ quarterback, Gary Nova, has been pretty solid and I expect more of the same against a Michigan secondary that will likely be without its best player, Jabrill Peppers, who Desmond Howard said was the only kid on the roster who looked like he wanted to be great and wasn’t just going through the motions.

If the Penn State version of Gary Nova (turnover happy like Gardner can be) shows up, then Michigan might actually stand a chance. How much of a chance is anyone’s guess and at this point I’d be willing to bet there aren’t many of us going out on a limb to say it’s a good one.

Michigan can win this one. I know I was down on this team heading into the season (8-4) and I’ve been vocal on Twitter that Hoke may be in over his head and can’t develop these kids to save his life and Devin Gardner is basically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but hear me out. We’ve seen what Devin Gardner can do when he’s on (Notre Dame and Ohio State last year). If, and it’s a BIG IF, he’s on he could single-handedly win this one. However, when he’s bad he’s so bad it’s like a car wreck you can’t look away from. That said, Gary Nova was Devin Gardner bad against Penn State. So if that Nova shows up AND good Gardner shows up Michigan can win this game.

That said, I don’t think either of those happen and Michigan falls farther into the abyss. Sadly, it’ll just make the Harbaugh supporters even louder. Honestly, I don’t see why either of them would come to Michigan and I’ve set my sights on more realistic (though still optimistic) targets, like Dan Mullen. Anyway….Michigan loses and we all look forward to basketball season and another potential Final Four run. Thank God for John Beilein. This must be how Sparty felt until recently: great basketball and horrendous football.

Rutgers 38 – Michigan 13

Joe: This is becoming more and more difficult to predict, watch and ultimately, enjoy on my Saturday afternoons. As much as it hurts to watch this team go through their offensive struggles and defensive lapses, I’m still a die hard fan and will pull for them no matter what.

I’m looking for something to hang my hopes on each week and have decided to concentrate on two of the young guns. Derrick Green on offense and Jabrill Peppers back on defense. They have shown some promise, in bunches at times, and they will need to keep it up this week against a “pumped up” Rutgers squad.

Rutgers senior quarterback Gary Nova has been extremely accurate at times but can also turn it over when pressured. The key for Michigan will be to get some pressure from the defensive line and mix in some corner blitzes. If they are not able to get in his face, it will be a long night. I think this will be a close game but will only make Hoke’s seat even hotter. As much as it hurts to say, I thing the Scarlet Knights pull one out over our Wolverines.

Rutgers 28 – Michigan 20

The Michigan Medley breaks silence on the Brady Hoke/Shane Morris situation

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Hoke

I have refrained from posting or commenting about the fallout from the Minnesota game, both on this site and on Twitter to this point. It’s not because I didn’t want to or had nothing to say. As happens every now and then the real world stole my time, and since this is such a hot-button topic, I felt I would be doing it a disservice by commenting on it if I couldn’t commit my full attention to it. What a week for that to happen, huh?

Unlike the chorus of sudden Twitter doctors I wasn’t going to rush to conclusions and shout accusations without facts. And unlike other sites I wasn’t going to post controversial snippets and rumors just for clicks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging those in the know for answers, but I believe in doing due diligence before speaking, especially on a subject such as this.

That said, here’s my stance on everything that has transpired over the last few days.

On Brady Hoke and the Shane Morris injury

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hoke’s results on the field, but the criticisms about his character are flat out wrong. We have seen some of his former players come out publicly in support of Hoke and to defend his character and love for his players:


Other former players I’ve talked to since Saturday have backed that up as well. One didn’t agree with the way Hoke prepared him for the next level, but stood up for Hoke’s character, describing Hoke and his staff as “some of the most kind-hearted people you can meet…loving and very welcoming.” I have yet to find a former player who didn’t share that sentiment.

It’s easy from a fan’s point of view to watch what transpired on TV on Saturday and claim that Hoke knew Morris was concussed and put him back in. We had the benefit of instant replay and commentators stating their disgust for the handling of the situation. I was listening to the radio broadcast in the car at the time and had no idea there was even the possibility of a concussion until I got home and looked on Twitter. Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf said nothing about a head injury or a hit to the head and kept talking about him limping because of his ankle.

Shane Morris

Morris is held up by Ben Braden after getting hit (Getty Images)

On the field, Hoke and the rest of the staff didn’t see the close-ups and replays that were shown on TV. So when Hoke says he was following the pass down the field and didn’t see the hit, that makes complete sense. And in the aftermath of the play, going from would-be fourth down to now first down because of a roughing the passer penalty, the likeliness of Hoke not knowing about the head injury, or seeing Morris stumble into Ben Braden, is very, very probable. Like he said in his Monday press conference, it’s his job to coach, and regardless of whether or not anyone feels he’s doing a good job at that, it’s the medical staff’s job to determine and evaluate injuries.

So if you take Hoke’s word that he didn’t see the hit and Morris stumble into Braden, then when Morris waved off offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it would have been assumed that he felt he could still play based on his ankle injury. They pulled him one play later and he was evaluated by the trainers on the sideline.

As The Concussion Blog points out, coaches and trainers don’t step out onto the filed to remove a player that got up and “shook it off.” Had Morris stayed down, warranting an injury time out, the trainers would have come out, evaluated him, and removed him from the field. Or if he had come out after the hit and told the trainers his head hurt, this situation could have been avoided. But he didn’t. That’s not to say this was all his fault; that’s just the mindset of a player, especially when you consider that he was the backup quarterback getting his first start of the season, fighting to win the job. In retrospect, Morris should have stayed down or taken himself out in this instance, but you can’t fault him for not doing so. I have personally suffered a concussion in a high school soccer game many years ago and stayed in and finished the game. It’s in a player’s nature to shake off an injury and try to play through it.

So if Hoke didn’t see the Morris hit or see him stumble into Braden, and Morris waved off the staff trying to get him to come out of the game, when Devin Gardner had to come out for a play because of his helmet coming off, Hoke didn’t put Morris back in for a play to hand the ball off knowing he had a concussion. So let’s put to rest the vitriol directed towards Hoke about willingly playing a concussed player. If you want to argue whether or not he’s the right coach for Michigan, fine. But stop the baseless attacks on his character.

That said, there certainly was a breakdown in communication as someone should have seen the hit and stumble and relayed that to the training staff on the field. According to the statement released by Dave Brandon (more on that below), the team neurologist didn’t see the hit, but did see Morris stumble, and “determined he needed to head down to the sideline to evaluate Shane.” The breakdown appears to have been between the neurologist who saw the symptoms (stumble) and the team physicians who evaluated Morris for his ankle injury when he was taken out of the game a play after the big hit and determined he was okay to go back in the game for one play when Gardner’s helmet came off.

Brandon has promised changes to improve that communication in the future, such as having a dedicated physician staff in the box to review each play and look for injuries, and then be in contact with the on-field training staff about them. Hoke wearing a headset or not is irrelevant in the situation that occurred last Saturday. That, like this whole situation, is blown out of proportion because of the results on the field.

The public relations aftermath

The program did itself no favors in the aftermath of the situation, allowing it to balloon into a national story instead of getting out in front of it and killing it right away. Had the program or Brandon released a statement Saturday night or Sunday morning admitting the mistakes and promising to put new processes in place to prevent it from happening again, and allowed Hoke to be forthright in the Monday press conference, the story wouldn’t have gained so much traction.

As former Michigan athletic director Don Canham used to say, and John U. Bacon pointed out on Twitter, never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Michigan turned it into a story that is still all over the mainstream media by waiting until after midnight on Monday to release the statement. It became less about the situation that happened, and more about the final straw for those already wanting Brandon and Hoke ousted. Waiting more than two days to release the statement, and allowing Hoke to go into a press conference not answering questions about the injury and promising a statement from the medical staff, lost the public’s trust and made it look like Michigan was trying to cover it up.

By not killing the story up front, they allowed people to speculate about Brandon trying to persuade the medical staff to lie, Brandon and Hoke’s job status, secret meetings between the regents, and more. And it led to a student petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal and a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally in the Diag, which culminated outside the house of new university president Mark Schlissel. Then, of course, ESPN sent Joe Schad to campus to report throughout the day from in front of Schembechler Hall.

All of it has amounted to a major black eye for the university and the football program that could have been avoided — or at least greatly reduced — if handled properly.

The student rally

Rally at the diag(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Our own Derick Hutchinson attended the rally on Tuesday and wrote the following:

Hundreds of students milled around the diag on Tuesday evening to protest the actions of an athletic department that faces national scrutiny in the wake of Shane Morris’ handling against Minnesota. Students began the rally with chants of “Fire Brandon,” “We want Harbaugh,” and “Down with Dave.” By 6:20 there were at least 1,000 frustrated students in the small section of the Diag near the Graduate Library, some yelling and others walking around with signs.

Students rally outside president Schlissle's house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Students rally outside president Schlissel’s house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Perhaps the most noticeable fan stood in the center of the crowd with an Ohio State sweatshirt on in protest of his team’s AD, holding a standard “Fire Brandon” sign. Others brought bottles of Coke to mock the university’s ‘buy two Cokes get two tickets to Minnesota’ promotion.

Finally, the mass made its way over to the home of university president Mark S. Schlissel. Once there, the chants increased in intensity and frequency as one student took to the front steps with a megaphone. A police officer stood to the right of the steps, but the rally remained peaceful throughout as the students tried to make their points heard. At around 7:10 p.m. the students cleared out.

Though the turnout from the rally was substantial, the president’s statement that no further action will be taken has not changed. It’s strange that after doing nothing on the field started this mess, and doing nothing afterwards until 1 a.m. Tuesday made it much worse, that the president’s response to the national outrage is to do exactly nothing.

Moving forward

Michigan just released a statement outlining the new player-safety measures that will be in place beginning this Saturday at Rutgers. The new system will incorporate three measures:

1. Putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box to view the entire field and identify players that might need evaluation by a trainer on the field. This person will have access to the television video feed and direct communication with the trainers on the field.

2. Added two-way radio communication, which includes mandatory radios possessed by the individual in the press box and the trainers on the field, with hard-line phones and cell phone communication as backups.

3. Taking helmets from players determined to be unable to continue playing. The medical team will take the player’s helmet to ensure he cannot return to the game.

Those safety measures will hopefully ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again. Saturday cannot get here soon enough and hopefully the players rally together around the adversity and do the only thing that can turn down the heat: win.