Posts Tagged ‘Devin Gardner’
Sadly, another Michigan football season has come to an end. It ended with a tough, last-second loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. As with any game, there were areas of Michigan’s performance which can be looked at as both positives and negatives as we start looking ahead to next season.
As has been pointed out by a number of folks during the past week, the Wolverines played pretty well overall but were hurt throughout the game by the big chunk plays which South Carolina was able to get on offense. Michigan dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 15 minutes more than the other side. Also, the running game, although it didn’t look like Michigan’s traditional style, was effective in keeping the South Carolina defense off-balance. Because of this, the passing game opened up some and quarterback Devin Gardner was able to hit some big passes, including three touchdowns. Lastly, the Wolverines converted all five of their opportunities in the red zone into points.
Let’s be honest. The offense MUST find a running game next season. Michigan will not be bailed out by Denard Robinson any longer just because the running backs aren’t running the ball effectively. And using Devin Gardner as a running threat will not be part of the offensive play-calling as Al Borges moves back toward his more traditional style of offense. My first hope is that Fitz Toussaint is able to both physically and mentally recover from last season and return to the form of the 2011 season. If not, the running game could rest on the back of a true freshman (Derrick Green?!) and sophomore Justice Hayes.
While some may be worried that the loss of Denard Robinson to graduation will be a major blow to the Michigan offense, I choose to look at it in a more positive light. Yes, Denard was a force which defenses had to prepare for every week. However, the injury which he sustained to his elbow midway through the season may have been a blessing in disguise when it comes to 2013. Had he not been injured, neither the coaches nor the fans would have seen the offensive possibilities of Gardner at quarterback. Most had assumed that Gardner would continue to play wide receiver for the rest of his career with incoming freshmen quarterback Shane Morris set to arrive in Ann Arbor next season. Now, after seeing the possibilities, it would be foolish to move Gardner back to receiver. Yes, Michigan is set to be thin at that position next season. But as we saw early in the year, he wasn’t as much of a threat when he had to rely on the quarterback to get him the ball before he could do anything. And he certainly isn’t likely to be a threat when a true freshman (Morris) is lining up under center. I know Morris is good and all, but freshmen are rarely able to come into major college football and make a major impact right off the bat. Unless, of course, you are Johnny Manziel, which Morris is not. With Gardner likely to receive a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA, that means two more seasons of Gardner at QB. That also means that Morris can redshirt for a year and by the time it’s his time to play, he will still have three years of eligibility. Michigan is looking good at quarterback for the near future.
A moment ago I touched on Borges and his play-calling. Over the last two seasons, we have all been frustrated at times with his inability to use Denard in ways which would take advantage of his unique skill set. Well, with Denard not a consideration any longer, Borges won’t have to spend time building a game plan each week for Denard. Instead, Borges can use his time to game plan only one offensive style. Not multiple. Being an offensive coordinator at a major college football program is not an easy job I’m sure. But if Borges is able to spend less time on something that wasn’t really in his nature to use anyway, the Michigan offense may be better off. In no way am I advocating that the loss of Denard is a good thing, just saying that it may be better for a coordinator like Al Borges. Only time will tell.
The biggest holes that will need to be filled this offseason are at receiver and on the offensive line. Since it is often easy for young players to make an impact at receiver, the bigger worry for me is the line. This season, the line wasn’t great, even with Taylor Lewan. With his departure for the NFL, Michigan loses three starters that will likely be replaced with younger players. Guys like Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, and any one of the five or six incoming freshmen will have to step up and play well for the Michigan offense next season.
How about the other side of the ball? For the past two seasons, the defense has been consistently good, due in large part to the schemes of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. In 2012, according to the numbers, its strength was its pass defense. They were weaker while trying to defend the run due to less talent on the defensive line. Throughout the season, I wasn’t convinced that the Michigan defense was truly a Top 5 pass defense. I think those numbers were due in large part to the competition they were playing. All but one of their opponents this season (Alabama) ran a run-first offense, and even Alabama ran a very balanced attack. The Outback Bowl proved this to be true. South Carolina gashed the Wolverines through the air, consistently getting behind the deepest level of the secondary and finding the open holes in the defense.
The bottom line is that Michigan must get faster in the secondary. Losing J.T. Floyd due to suspension because he cared more about doing drugs than being there for his team didn’t make a difference. He wasn’t that good anyway. And Jordan Kovacs, while an important leader for the team as a whole, was not a coverage guy. He thrived playing at the line of scrimmage and aiding in the run defense. More speed in the secondary, and the continued development of guys like Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and the incoming group of freshmen will help. Certainly, the return of Blake Countess will be a huge plus as well.
With the loss of only William Campbell and Craig Roh, the defensive line should be as good or better next season. Guys such as Frank Clark, Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins, and Jibreel Black all made impacts this year. There are also a number quality defensive line recruits from the last two seasons who have been waiting for their opportunity to play, including Tom Strobel and Chris Wormley.
We all know that the linebacking corps is the strength of the defense. Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden, and Desmond Morgan are the leaders. The loss of Kenny Demens will be felt somewhat, but in comes guys like Cam Gordon, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and James Ross to earn the privilege of playing for the Michigan defense.
The prospects for 2013 are bright. Head Coach Brady Hoke has this team headed in the right direction and the Top 10 recruiting classes which he has managed to bring in will keep that momentum going. Next season should be an exciting one, as Michigan will be in a better position to play for the Big Ten title. Go Blue!
For the last four years, the Michigan offense, led by Denard Robinson has been a big play waiting to happen. On Tuesday afternoon, in Denard’s swan song, it was the South Carolina offense that took advantage of big play after big play to beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl. None was bigger than a 32-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left to serve as the winning score.
In the first quarter, it looked as if South Carolina was going to run away with the game, as Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a 56-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Michigan answered with a 39-yard field goal two drives later. Carolina forced Michigan to punt on its next possession, but Ace Sanders returned the punt 63 yards for a touchdown to put SC ahead 14-3. It was the first punt return Michigan had allowed for a touchdown since Ohio State’s Ted Ginn in 2004.
Michigan put together a 11-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Drew Dileo to bring Michigan within four. But South Carolina once again used a big play to set up a score. A 70-yard pass from Thompson to Nick Jones gave the Gamecocks a first-and-goal on the Michigan four, and on the next play, Thompson connected with Sanders for a touchdown to put SC ahead 21-10.
On South Carolina’s next possession, Mario Ojemudia forced a Kenny Miles fumble that was recovered by Jake Ryan at the SC 31. Michigan advanced to the 16, but Gardner was sacked on 3rd-and-6, forcing Michigan to kick a 40-yard field goal. On that drive, Michigan converted a fake field goal for a first down when Dileo ran seven yards on 4th-and-6. South Carolina took a 21-13 lead into the half.
Michigan went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and on South Carolina’s second play, Shaw rushed 64 yards to the Michigan 11. After three incompletions, the Gamecocks lined up for a 33-yard field goal and missed.
Michigan put together an 11-play drive that ended in a 52- yard field goal by Matt Wile to pull within 21-16. When South Carolina got the ball back, it faced a 4th-and-7 on the Michigan 35 and Steve Spurrier elected to go for it. The Michigan pressure forced Shaw to roll to his right, and as he tried to pump fake, the ball slipped out of his hands and went out of bounds. Michigan took over and drove 65 yards in nine plays and took the lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines converted a 4th-and-1 on the drive, when Gardner romped through the middle for a 19-yard gain. The two-point attempt failed and Michigan held a 22-21 lead as the fourth quarter began.
South Carolina put together a 10-play drive to open the fourth, but Michigan blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt. Michigan then faced a 4th-and-4 from its own 37 and ran a fake punt that appeared to be just millimeters short. But the refs ruled it a first down, and after reviewing the play, upheld the call. On the very next play, All-American SC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made the biggest play of the game, bolting untouched into the backfield and slamming Vincent Smith just as he received the handoff. The hit knocked Smith’s helmet into the air and the ball to the ground, and Clowney recovered, giving the Gamecocks the ball at the Michigan 31.
One play later, Shaw found Sanders for a 31- yard touchdown pass to give SC the lead once again. The two-point conversion was no good and SC led 27-22 with 8:06 remaining.
Not to be outdone, Michigan mounted a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Gallon on 3rd-and-13. Once again, the two-point conversion attempt failed, and Michigan held a 28-27 lead with 3:29 to play.
South Carolina too over on its own 30, and three plays later found itself facing a 4th-and-3. But Shaw connected with Sanders for a six-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Six plays later, SC was had a 2nd-and-10 at the Michigan 32, and that’s when Thompson connected with Ellington for the winning touchdown.
Michigan’s last second comeback attempt failed when Gardner’s pass was incomplete, and South Carolina won 33-28.
Gardner finished the day 18-of-36 for 214 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Denard led all rushers with 23 carries for 100 yards, while Gallon caught nine passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. As a team, Michigan gained 355 yards, but gave up 426.
Denard finished his career as the all-time FBS leader for rushing yards by a quarterback and also second in Michigan career rushing yards behind only Mike Hart. Roy Roundtree finished his career sixth in career receiving yards, just behind Mario Manningham.
Michigan falls to 20-22 all-time in bowl games and 23-8-1 all-time against SEC schools. Stay tuned for continued coverage, analysis, and a look ahead to next season in the days and weeks to come.
Last time Michigan took the field, Sam was almost exactly right with his prediction of 27-21 Ohio State. The actual score was 26-21. It was Sam’s second win of the season, moving him into a tie with Chris, Josh, and Katie for second. If any one of them win this week, he or she will tie Matt for the weekly title. If not, Matt will win it outright. This is a tough one to pick because nobody really knows how Denard will be utilized and we aren’t that familiar with South Carolina. The Gamecocks are favored to win, so let’s take a look at our picks:
Justin (1): I’ve said it several times already, but I think Al Borges will determine who wins this game. South Carolina has a very good defense led by outstanding pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and if Michigan’s offense is as predictable as it was in the second half of the Ohio State game, Michigan doesn’t stand a chance. I do think Michigan has the advantage of getting five weeks to prepare. Yes, both teams get that amount of time, but the way the offense changed when Denard was replaced at quarterback by Devin Gardner negates any advantage South Carolina’s defensive staff has to look at film. Nobody truly knows how Denard will be utilized and it’s up to Borges to call a great game, using Denard all over the field in a variety of packages and giving him the threat of throwing it. That’s the only way to keep South Carolina’s defense on its heels.
The Gamecocks will look to run right at Michigan and exploit J.T. Floyd’s replacement, Courtney Avery. Steve Spurrier will employ a two-quarterback attack to try to keep Michigan’s defense off balance. Connor Shaw is a dual threat, while Dylan Thompson is a more traditional passer.
It will take a flawlessly executed game by Michigan’s offense to win and I don’t see that happening. It will be a close game, but South Carolina’s defense will be too much for Michigan to execute perfectly. For more, see the First Look, this morning’s Game Preview, Friday’s Friend vs Foe, or my Q&A with Garnet and Black Attack.
South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20
Chris (2): This bowl matchup presents an interesting matchup for the Wolverines. South Carolina started the season with stud running back Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, but he was lost to a gruesome knee injury mid-way through the year. Since then, the Gamecocks have lacked a real threat in the running game and have gone to a more wide-open spread attack with mobile QBs Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. For being a Steve Spurrier coached team, South Carolina doesn’t pass as much as you would think.
On the other side, Michigan has lacked a true running game all season. Other than when Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner has run the ball, Michigan has been unable to move the ball on the ground. Like South Carolina, Michigan only really throws the ball when they have to. Once Denard injured his elbow during the Nebraska game, Gardner was able to provide a spark in the passing game despite not having played the position much so far in his Michigan career.
In 2012, defenses led both of these teams. Michigan led the NCAA in total pass defense for the majority of the season but was not very good against the run. South Carolina, on the other hand, looked to have one of college football’s best total defenses early on, but they were exposed in back-to-back weeks against LSU and Florida. Still, they are good against both the run and pass due to their overall defensive talent and speed. They also feature an outstanding pass rush, led by a freak of a player in All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
I think Michigan is going to have their hands full in this game. Without a running game to keep the defense honest, South Carolina will be able to focus on containing Robinson and Gardner in the backfield. As long as they don’t rush too quickly upfield, they should be able to limit their ability to escape the pocket. Even if they do get out in space, South Carolina is fast enough to limit their total yardage. I do think Michigan will be able to limit South Carolina in the passing game, but it won’t matter as that’s not the focus of the Gamecock offense. South Carolina will feature a balanced attack with a mobile QB and a lot of overall speed. While I’ll be cheering for the Wolverines, I think South Carolina wins.
South Carolina 30 – Michigan 17
Josh (2): Michigan has a chance to once again beat an SEC team. Something the rest of the Big Ten can’t seem to do lately; I’m talking to you Ohio St.
With Devin Gardner solidified as the starting QB, Michigan has gained a legit passing threat and Denard will no doubt be featured at various positions in his Wolverine finale. Just what those positions may be is yet to be determined, but rest assured he’ll be out there doing everything he can to help Michigan win another bowl game for Brady Hoke. Given Al Borges’ tendency for crappy play calling in big games recently I am not so optimistic heading into this match up. South Carolina isn’t as explosive on offense as they were with Marcus Lattimore but they aren’t anything to scoff at. However, Michigan’s defense should be able to keep the Gamecock’s offense in check giving the offense a chance to put some points on the board.
With the recent addition of a passing game Michigan know only needs to find its running game. With Fitz out that task rests on the shoulders of Denard Robinson, Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith. I’m not sure who will step up, if anyone, but someone needs to help Gardner out with a rushing attack. Given what we’ve seen thus far, I’d say Denard is our only chance of having a rushing game though. If he can stay healthy and on the field, Michigan has a chance to win the game. But the Gamecock defense will be doing everything they can to hit Denard and hit him hard every time he has the ball. If Denard isn’t out there every play Michigan’s chances of winning this game drop dramatically. The Gamecock’s defense is not one you want to face with a one-dimensional offense.
The heart of that defense is what scares me (and most other teams) the most, Jadeveon Clowney. For me this game will come down to Michigan’s ability to keep Clowney from being a disruptive force as he has been all season. I just don’t see that happening. Taylor Lewan is an All-American, but I’m not so sure he’s even worthy of being an All-Big Ten lineman. I expect South Carolina to move Clowney around the defensive front to give Michigan different looks and to exploit mismatches as often as possible. Gardner and Denard are both great athletes and not prone to taking sacks, and Clowney may not rack up any sacks or TFL’s but I still think he will leave his fingerprints all over the outcome of this game.
Gardner is mobile and can definitely make plays but I just don’t see Michigan coming out of this one with a win if they cannot get the run game going as well. South Carolina’s defense is better than OSU’s, and poor play calling aside, the Buckeyes shut us down in the 2nd half of that game. The Ole Ball Coach is a wily veteran and as much as it pains me to predict a Michigan loss, that is what I am doing. I sure hope I’m wrong though!
South Carolina 31 – Michigan 21
Matt (3): What a great time of year this is. Although the end of the season always brings disappointment, knowing we won’t get that college football experience until next August, bowl games and the National Championship are always something to get excited for.
We Michigan fans haven’t had the greatest year, seeing as Michigan lost four games. Although, when you look at the losses, it’s not as bad as it seems. Losing to Alabama and Notre Dame, who are currently ranked #1 and #2 and will be meeting on January 7th in the National Championship Game, isn’t something to be too down on. The loss against Ohio State hurts, but they did go undefeated. The Nebraska loss was tough, and many feel if Devin Gardner came in instead of Russell Bellomy that it would have been a whole different ball game. But enough about that.
Michigan will be playing a New Year’s Day bowl game, the Outback Bowl, against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Another Big Ten vs SEC matchup.
If you compare ratings, these teams are similar. South Carolina gets the edge in rushing yards per game, but they are without Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks get the edge in passing yards per game as well, with Connor Shaw leading the team. Shaw has had an impressive year.
Michigan still has the dual-threat combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner at quarterback, although we aren’t sure how Al Borges will decide to use them in the bowl game. Will they both be on the field at the same time? Or will they split snaps?
Looking at stats, South Carolina has held teams to less points compared to Michigan, but not by that many.
I think the key to Michigan gaining this victory is how Al Borges decides to play Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. If you have both of these incredible athletes on the field, you have the defense spread thin, having to cover both men very heavily.
Both are a huge threat at any position they play, although I prefer seeing Gardner at quarterback while Robinson is at running back or receiver.
It’s going to be a tough game for the Michigan Wolverines. South Carolina plays in the SEC. We all know the SEC is a top notch conference. Their only losses were at the hands of Florida and LSU. Michigan is definitely going to have their hands full. But I see Brady Hoke, Al Borges and Greg Mattison having these guys ready. And at the end of the 4th quarter, I see Michigan winning by a small margin.
Write it down folks! Michigan wins this one, 31-28. Go Blue!
Michigan 31 – South Carolina 28
Sam (2): [Sam didn't get a chance to submit a full write-up, but submitted his score prediction].
South Carolina 27 – Michigan 17
Katie (2): The outlook for this game looks to be pretty even. South Carolina is ranked just out of the top ten, and Michigan just inside the top twenty. Their defenses are #12 and #11, respectively. As for the offensive side of the ball, neither are in the top fifty, though the Wolverines do rank in at #6 in third down conversion, while the Gamecocks are a considerably lower #43. Michigan is also #40 in rushing offense, and while their opponent can’t better that they also lost their leading rusher Marcus Lattimore to a horrific knee injury this season. Michigan however, was able to bring back their wounded star for the Ohio State game, and though Robinson won’t likely be passing he still has the potential to be lethal with his feet, and perhaps even deadlier in some type of wildcat offense alongside Devin Gardner. But the Gamecocks won’t be any pushover even against a potent Michigan backfield, as they have a formidable rush and red zone defense, and a long tally of intercepted passes that will test the Wolverines oft scoring offense.
With the defenses being on par with each other, this match-up will be about how the offenses break down the opposing side. And Michigan should look to keep South Carolina to under 21 points, as only two losses were when they scored three touchdowns or less, and because they scored 30 or more points in seven games. With an average of just over 13 yards a catch offense, Carolina will keep Michigan’s #2 pass defense on their toes. Which means that the coaches will have to know what to dial in to switch up the game plan in case their team finds itself in a rut.
Overall, it looks to be a great New Year’s day game.
Michigan 30 – Ohio State 24
A month has passed since Michigan last set foot on the gridiron, yet the sour taste of defeat from that post-Thanksgiving Saturday has not escaped. Because of the rivalry nature of the game and the way it went down, it will continue to sting, but there’s one thing that can at least wash it down until next season: Gamecock.
Michigan is historically average in bowl games (20 wins in 42 appearances), but has won two of its last three and also won the last Outback Bowl it played in 10 years ago.
Raymond James Stadium - Tampa, Florida
In the grand scheme of things, this game won’t have much significance for the program, win or lose, since it’s still in the process of being rebuilt, but it goes without saying that a win would give the team some momentum heading into the offseason.
Perhaps the main thing riding on the game is Denard Robinson’s legacy. The lovable, dreadlocked highlight-reel waiting to happen will long be remembered as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue, but can he shed the perception that he can’t win big games? To go in depth on the topic is for another story, but a great performance against a great defense on the national stage would be a fitting sendoff for the man who has given the program the face of a Michigan Man through the tumultuous times.
South Carolina will be the fourth team in the AP top 11 that Michigan has faced (would be BCS Top 10 if Ohio State were eligible). Michigan lost to the other three. The Gamecocks are statistically very similar to Michigan, but lost just two games, to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks in October. The Gamecocks avoided playing Alabama and Texas A&M, and played a non-conference schedule of East Carolina (8-5), UAB (3-9), Wofford (9-4 FCS), and Clemson (10-2).
When South Carolina has the ball
As we showed in our First Look, South Carolina averages about a point more than Michigan and gives up about a point less. Michigan has the better rushing game by about 45 yards per game, while South Carolina has the better passing game by about 30.
One of the most interesting aspects to watch will be how Steve Spurrier utilizes his two quarterbacks. Connor Shaw was the starter for most of the season and completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,732 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards, but averages just 2.8 yards per rush, sacks removed. His 173.2 passing yards per game ranked 11th in the SEC, but he avoided making mistakes for the most part. His best game of the season came against Tennessee when he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns. His worst game was a 9-for-20, 72-yard performance against Florida.
The other quarterback in the equation is sophomore Dylan Thompson who started two games, against East Carolina and the season finale against Clemson. In those two, he completed 44-of-78 passes for 640 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. He also played considerable time against Florida, completing just 8-of-20 passes for 83 yards and an interception. He’s not the runner Shaw is, but obviously has the better arm.
Shaw is accurate when given time to throw, but will either take off or throw off balance if faced with pressure. Thompson has the ability to pick Michigan’s defense apart. Spurrier has said that both will play, but what is unclear is how much of each we will see.
The running game is average at best without Marcus Lattimore who missed the final three games of the season after tearing his ACL. Lattimore had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry through the first eight games, but the leading rusher now is senior Kenny Miles who has 358 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Miles’ rushing totals in the three games he was the feature back mirrored his season ypc average, but if you remove the game against FCS Wofford, it dips to just 2.7. Freshman Mike Davis split time with Miles late in the season and averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 28 attempts.
The receivers are mostly little guys of the Jeremy Gallon variety. The most dangerous is Ace Sanders, a 5’8″, 175-pound slot man who has 36 receptions for 439 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. He’s coming off his best game, a six-catch, 119-yard performance against Clemson. Bruce Ellington (5’9″) leads the team in receptions (38) and yards (564) and also has six touchdowns. He had back-to-back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas. Lattimore had the third-most receptions on the team prior to going down, while Miles has 16, 10 of which came in the final three games. Tight end Rory Anderson is third on the team with five touchdowns, though he has caught just 13 passes, while fellow tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 receptions for 287 yards.
The offensive line is ok but not great. They are big and athletic, averaging about 320 pounds, and are built to manhandle defensive linemen. But they have allowed 35 sacks on the season and haven’t given the Gamecocks much of a rush offense once Lattimore went down. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines have recorded just 19 sacks all season and may not be able to take advantage of this weakness.
Look for Carolina to try to force Michigan to stop the run at first, to see if Michigan’s defensive line can stop an SEC rushing game. Also expect the old ball coach to let Thompson try to pick apart the Michigan secondary with an underneath passing game, getting the ball to playmakers in space. Also, expect them to test Courtney Avery often, who is filling in for the suspended J.T. Floyd.
When Michigan has the ball
Defensively, SC has the better rush defense and Michigan has the better pass defense and Michigan gives up an average of just one fewer total yards per game. Both defenses hold opponents to 36 percent third-down conversion rate.
All of the talk heading into the game centers around the matchup between Michigan All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and SC’s All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney led the nation 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss and is already talking about contending for the Heisman Trophy next season. He’s the type of freak athlete that NFL teams will love to get their hands on when he enters the NFL Draft following the 2013 season. A lot of pressure will be on Lewan to hold him in check, which virtually no one has been able to do all season, and keep the combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner upright.
But Clowney isn’t the only good player the Gamecocks have on defense. The other end, Devin Taylor, has three sacks and eight tackles for loss and is a good athlete. The interior is merely average, although Michigan’s interior offensive line is just average as well, which will negate any advantage in the interior run game.
The linebackers, led by senior middle linebacker Reggie Bowens, are solid. DeVonte Holloman is a playmaker at the Spur position and free safety D.J. Swearinger is good in run support. The rest of the secondary is made up of aggressive ball hawks that are good cover men, but tend to try to make the big play or strip the ball rather than make the tackle, which leads to extra yards.
For Michigan’s offense to have any success at all, it’s going to have to feature the creativity that Al Borges displayed in the Iowa game. Michigan isn’t going to be able to line up and run right at the Gamecocks or simply rely on Gardner dropping back to pass often. He’ll have Cloweny or Taylor in his face all day. Denard is going to have to line up all over the field and be used in several different ways, both as a playmaker and a decoy. Most importantly, Borges has to show, or at least make the defense believe that Denard can and will pass the ball anytime he has it in his hands. That wasn’t the case against Ohio State and the Buckeyes shut him down in the second half.
The other third
Rushing Attempts: 19 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Kicker Adam Yates made 11 of 15 attempts with a long of 51. He also had two blocked. Punter Tyler Hull averaged just 39.4 yards per punt, which ranked last in the SEC. Where the Gamecocks are dangerous is on punt returns. Ace Sanders ranks fourth nationally with an average of 14.5 yards per punt return. By comparison, Gallong averages just 5.5. Sanders returned one for a touchdown and is capable of doing so at any time. Ellington is the kick returner and is merely average at 22.2 yards per.
The outcome of this game rests squarely on Borges and his ability to find enough offensive creativity to negate Clowney. The good thing is he had five weeks to gameplan and practice with Denard in various packages and formations, as opposed to trying to throw him in during a normal game week. Denard should be much more familiar with the offense from a variety of spots than he was against Iowa or Ohio State. I think this gives Michigan an advantage over South Carolina because the Gamecocks really don’t know how Borges will utilize Denard. It’s not like they have 12 games worth of tape to study.
There won’t be much scoring in this one and. Expect a similar score as last year’s Sugar Bowl. Borges’ offense may work well early in the game, giving Michigan hope, but it will be important to sustain it as Carolina adjusts. If Lewan and Michael Schofield can’t keep Clowney and Taylor out of the backfield, it could be a long day for Michigan.
Defensively, there likely won’t be many big plays given up as SC will run right at Michigan and dink and dunk underneath. Aside from the Lewan-Clowney matchup, the Spurrier-Greg Mattison matchup will be very intriguing as both are considere masterminds on their respective side of the ball. Will Mattison be able to adjust to a multiple quarterback offense?
Overall, it will be a close game with neither team pulling away, but short of Michigan executing flawlessly on offense, it’s hard to see the Wolverines pulling it out. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20
For the final Friend vs. Foe of the season, we are proud to welcome John Havard from the South Carolina SB Nation blog, Garnet and Black Attack. He will provide his perspective on how or why the Gamecocks can beat Michigan on Tuesday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.
Michigan and South Carolina have played each other twice, splitting a home-and-home in non-consecutive seasons in the early 1980s. Interestingly enough, Carolina won the Ann Arbor game, while Michigan won in Columbia. The former occurred during George Rodgers’s Heisman season, the latter during a good 10-1-1 season for Bo Schembechler and the Wolverines. Given the sparse history between the two schools, I’m assuming most Michigan fans don’t know a whole lot about South Carolina and haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to us this year, other than perhaps during the couple of weeks during mid-season when Carolina was briefly considered a national title contender by the national media. Therefore, I’ll provide a quick rundown on what kind of team we have prior to making my prediction.
At its best, South Carolina fields a dominant, disruptive defense and a competent but no-frills offense that tries to keep the defense in a good position so the defense can dictate the nature of the game. Defensively, the team is keyed by the Gamecocks’ most recognizable player, Jadeveon Clowney. The pass rush is by far the strength of the South Carolina defense, and Clowney is likely the best in the nation where rushing the passer is concerned. The Gamecocks are also solid against the run, with good tackles and an experienced, although not spectacular linebacking corps. The main weakness is pass coverage, but the pass rush negates this weakness to a certain degree, and the secondary has played very well at times, it must also be said. The benchmark game for the Carolina defense came against Georgie, when the Gamecocks more or less completely shut down one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. This game also showcased the desired performance from the Carolina offense. The Gamecocks built a lead early on and proceeded to work the running game throughout the evening, both out of the I and in read-option spread sets. Carolina definitely passes the ball–we’re coaches by Steve Spurrier, after all–but it’s more a team that likes to pass to keep the opposing team on its toes and to strike against a gassed defense than one that lives by the pass. The exact run-pass ratio, though, depends on certain factors. We’re first of all a bit more pass-happy since Marcus Lattimore went down against Tennessee. We’re also more pass-happy when Dylan Thompson is in the game, whereas you’ll see more read-option calls with Shaw in. Both QBs will likely play, although Shaw will start.
South Carolina isn’t always at its best, though. The defense has shown weaknesses at times, particularly against excellent passing teams like Tennessee, which was able to block the pass rush competently and exploit the weaknesses in the secondary. The offense has been shut down by LSU and Florida. (One thing that should be noted about Florida, though, is that the Gators didn’t really dominate Carolina as badly as the score suggests. The Gamecocks committed several costly turnovers in that game, mostly on special teams.) If Michigan can make hay in one of these regards, it significantly increases its chances to win the game.
Can Michigan do that, though? My impression–which isn’t worth a whole lot in this particular case–is that Michigan is a team with a solid defense and an unpredictable and all-in-all unsatisfactory offense. Defensively, I see a team that’s solid in the middle but that was exploited on the perimeter against some of the better offenses it played. Offensively, the Wolverines have some great weapons, but it wasn’t able to produce consistently against the better competition. To me, Michigan’s offense against South Carolina defense favors South Carolina. I could see the Wolverines getting some big plays here and there, either with Devin Gardner passing or Denard Robinson running, but if you can’t establish a consistent running game, you’ll have trouble negating our pass rush, which will allow our defense to dictate the game. I could definitely see Michigan’s defense having success against Carolina’s offense, but if the game ends up being a defensive battle, I like South Carolina’s defense to create more turnovers, which could help us get things started offensively. If that doesn’t work, I like us to win the battle of longevit and to wear Michigan out over the course of the game. Sans turnovers, this will likely be a very close game for most of the afternoon, but I predict we pull away late in that scenario.
This is a much better matchup for Michigan than the likely opponents the Wolverines would have faced in the Capital One Bowl, Texas A&M or Georgia. Obviously the danger man is Jadeveon Clowney, and without Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, the South Carolina offense is much less formidable.
If Michigan is to win, it will be by employing an expanded version of the offense it ran against Iowa and in the first half of the Ohio State game. Denard should be fully healthy, or at least much closer to it than he was at any point in the final two weeks of the regular season, and that should add the element of his throwing ability into the mix. Imagine him lined up at tailback, slot, split wide, and quarterback at various points in the game, with the option to pass on any given play. It would certainly make the offense much less predictable than it was in the second half of the Ohio State game when the Buckeyes admitted afterward they knew that every time Denard was in Michigan ran it, and every time Gardner was in they threw it.
I see the five-week layoff between the OSU game and the Outback Bowl as a big advantage for Michigan because it gives Al Borges so much time to gameplan and so much practice time to incorporate Denard into it. When Denard returned against Iowa and Ohio State, he didn’t have much week-to-week time to get immersed into his new offensive role, so the play-calling was limited when he was in. The extra time to prepare benefits Michigan because it can get Denard involved in more plays and packages, while South Carolina doesn’t have much tape to look at for the way Michigan’s offense has evolved late in the season.
Of course Clowney can reek havoc on offenses, so if Michigan lets Gardner or Denard sit in the pocket and try to make throws, it won’t be pretty. Some of Gardner’s biggest plays this season have come when he had what seemed like hours to move around and find an open receiver, but that’s not going to happen with Clowney coming after him.
Defensively, Michigan matches up pretty well. Most of South Carolina’s receivers are little Jeremy Gallon types, so there isn’t a dominant deep threat that can beat them. In the backfield, without Lattimore, Carolina has been merely average. In the three games since Lattimore went down, SC’s backs have averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Take out the game against FCS opponent Wofford and the number drops to just 3.2.
The offensive line is big and decent, but has given up 35 sacks on the year, an average of about three per game, which is 104th nationally. Greg Mattison should be able to utilize some stunts and blitzes to get some pressure on whichever quarterback Steve Spurrier chooses to utilize.
Connor Shaw started most of the season, but an injury forced him to miss the finale against Clemson. His replacement, Dylan Thompson, who also saw extended time early in the season, turned in an impressive performance that earned him playing time in the Outback Bowl. How much is yet to be determined. He’s much more of a classic drop-back passer, and may be the better option for beating Michigan. He could pick apart the Michigan secondary like Trevor Siemien, James Vandenberg, and Braxton Miller were able to do late in the season. Shaw is a dual-threat and ranks third on the team in rushing. He completes 67 percent of his passes, but had horrible days in the two losses to LSU and Florida.
Overall, the teams are fairly evenly matched and it will all come down to Michigan’s ability to contain Clowney. If Taylor Lewan can hold him in check, and Borges’ play-calling is like that of the Iowa game and the first half of OSU, Michigan should be able to put up enough points to win. If not, Michigan will have a hard time outscoring the Gamecocks. Regardless, don’t expect a lopsided victory either way.
In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.
Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.
To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.
Click here to revisit last year’s awards.
|Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson|
This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.
Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”
It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.
Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.
“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)
|Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.
“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”
Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.
As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.
“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schulz Defensive Player of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.
To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”
He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)
|Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison|
For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.
In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.
“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.
Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).
“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)
|Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State|
After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.
Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.
In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.
It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.
“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)
|Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern|
When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.
Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.
It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.
Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)
|Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force|
After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.
The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.
“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)
|Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.
While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.
“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”
Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*|
Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.
Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.
No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.
As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.
Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)
|Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon|
The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.
“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.
The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.
“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)
|Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan|
Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.
In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.
“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”
Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell|
William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.
The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.
“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)
|Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.
He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.
“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)
|Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs|
When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.
Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.
“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)
|Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)|
Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.
“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”
Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.
He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.
“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess|
Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.
Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.
“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ‘em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson|
Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.
“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”
“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner|
Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.
In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.
Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.
“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)
* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.
Prior to the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday night, all signs pointed towards Michigan facing probable Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Capital One Bowl. But the stunning 70-31 beatdown that Nebraska took at the hands of Wisconsin changed that. Instead, it’s the Cornhuskers who are heading to Orlando and Michigan gets a more favorable matchup against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
|8-4 (6-2)||Tuesday, Jan. 1 – 1pm – ESPN||10-2 (6-2|
Steve Spurrier’s squad went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, finishing third in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida. The only two losses were in back to back weeks to Florida and LSU, coming on the heels of a 35-7 win over Georgia – the Bulldogs’ only loss prior to the SEC Championship game. The loss to LSU was close (23-21) when the Gamecocks had climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings. The following week, however, SC was throttled by Florida 44-11. Despite allowing 44 points, Carolina’s defense held Florida to just 183 total yards.
The only other ranked team South Carolina beat was then-No. 11 Clemson in the final week of the season, 27-17. The rest of non-conference schedule featured 8-4 East Carolina, 3-9 UAB, and 9-3 Wofford – an FCS school.
With a very tough bowl slate due to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for postseason play, the Big Ten doesn’t stand much of a chance this bowl season, but can Michigan do its part? Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.
|South Carolina 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison|
|South Carolina | Michigan||Rank||Opponent||Rank|
|Points Per Game||31.4 | 30.0||43 | 57||17.4 | 18.8||13 | 16|
|Rushing Yards||1,715 | 2,248||1,428 | 1,872|
|Rush Avg. Per Game||142.9 | 187.3||84 | 39||119.0 | 156.0||15 | 57|
|Avg. Per Rush||3.6 | 4.9||3.1 | 3.8|
|Passing Yards||2,754 | 2,377||2,319 | 1,862|
|Pass Avg. Per Game||229.5 | 198.1||65 | 95||193.2 | 155.2||17 | 2|
|Total Offense||4,469 | 4,625||3,747 | 3,734|
|Total Off Avg. Per Game||372.4 | 385.4||87 | 80||312.2 | 311.2||12 | 11|
|Kick Return Average||20.9 | 22.1||73 | 54||23.5 | 23.1||97 | 92|
|Punt Return Average||13.4 | 8.6||15 | 63||4.0 | 7.6||12 | 59|
|Avg. Time of Possession||30:25 | 29:31||48 | 75||29:35 | 30:29|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||43% | 51%||43 | 6||36% | 36%||35 | 33|
|Sacks By-Yards||40-253 | 19-166||5 | 85||35-242 | 15-109||104 | 25|
|Touchdowns Scored||49 | 45||24 | 23|
|Field Goals-Attempts||11-15 | 15-18||14-17 | 21-28|
|Red Zone Scores||(38-46) 83% | (38-41) 93%||45 | 4||(28-39) 72% | (33-40) 82%||14 | 69|
|Red Zone Touchdowns||(30-46) 65% | (26-41) 63%||(17-39) 44% | (18-40) 45%|
On paper, Michigan and South Carolina are pretty comparable. Both have average offenses and very good defenses. Michigan scores 30 points per game, while SC have averaged a little over a point more. Carolina gives up 17.4 points per game, while Michigan gives up a little over a point more. Michigan has the better rushing game, the ‘Cocks have the better passing game, but total yards are only 13 more in Michigan’s favor. Defensively, the two allow nearly the exact same number of yards per game – Michigan gives up one yard less. It’s hard to get more evenly matched.
South Carolina’s offense was dealt a huge blow on Oct. 27 against Tennessee when star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury – for the second straight season. He had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry prior to the injury. His replacement, senior Kenny Miles, has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in his stead. However, that was helped out by a 127-yard game against FCS Wofford. In the three games against BCS competition, that number dips to 2.9.
Quarterback Connor Shaw is the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards on 112 carries and has completed 67.3 percent of his passes. He’s only averaging 173.2 yards per game through the air, which ranks 11th in the SEC, but he does have a 15-7 touchdown to interception ratio. Against Tennessee, he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns, but against Florida he was held to just 72 yards on 9-of-20 passing. However, Shaw didn’t start the team’s final game against Clemson due to a foot injury. That went to sophomore Dylan Thompson who chucked it up 41 times for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw will likely start against Michigan.
The receiving corps is mainly a two-man show with Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders getting the most receptions – 38 and 36, respectively. Ellington had back to back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas, while Sanders had a 119-yard game against Clemson and leads the team with seven touchdowns. Tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 catches for 287 yards but has yet to catch one in the end zone, fellow tight end Rory Anderson has just 15 catches but five have gone for touchdowns.
The offensive line has given up 35 sacks, which ranks 12th in the SEC, and has paved the way for just 142.9 yards per game on the ground. Michigan’s defensive front hadn’t gotten to the quarterback much all season, but played well against Ohio State, so that gives reason for optimism.
Defensively, South Carolina is one of the best in the country at getting to the quarterback and will present perhaps an even tougher challenge for Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. Led by sackmaster Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks lead the SEC and rank fifth nationally with 40 sacks. Clowney has 13 of them. To put that in perspective, Ohio State’s defense which sacked Michigan four times finished the season with 30.
Carolina is very good against both the run and the pass, ranking 15th and 17th nationally. The rush defense ranks fourth in the SEC, allowing just 119 yards per game, while the pass defense gives up 193. The ‘Cocks held seven opponents under 20 points and five to 10 or fewer. But in the second half of the season, when the schedule got tougher, they allowed a full touchdown more per game. Toss out Wofford and it’s nearly 11 points more than the season average.
Opposite of Clowney, end Chaz Sutton has five sacks, while another end, Aldrick Fordham, has 4.5. The leading tackler is Shaq linebacker Shaq Wilson with 77. He also has two sacks and two interceptions.
One thing South Carolina isn’t good at is punting. The Gamecocks rank last in the SEC with a net average of just 36 yards per punt as a team. Punter Tyler Hull averages 39.4. In the return game, Sanders handles the punt returns and has taken one for a touchdown. He’s the top returner in the conference, averaging 14.5 yards per.
It will be the first matchup between the two schools since 1985 when Michigan went to Columbia and won 34-3. The only other previous meeting was a 17-14 loss in 1980, so this will be the rubber match. Michigan is 23-7-1 all-time against schools from the SEC – 7-4 in bowl games – and will be looking to even its all-time bowl record at 21. Stay tuned for much more about the matchup in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Day.
It has been already been said by a number of people, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this. Something about losing to Ohio State doesn’t make me real interested in talking Michigan football. But I suppose it’s necessary to some degree, so here we go.
In my opinion, the Michigan coaching staff’s record against OSU is as follows: Brady Hoke and everyone except Al Borges: 1-0; Al Borges: 0-1. There is no explanation for the kind of play-calling skill (or lack thereof) that he displayed in the second half of the game on Saturday. For the first two quarters of the game, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner played on the field together. The Michigan offense got the ball out to players on the edge and forced the OSU defense to make tackles in space. Sometimes they made the tackle. More often they didn’t, and Michigan gained an extra 4-6 yards per reception/carry. The result was 219 yards and three touchdowns.
In the first half, Denard as an individual was spectacular. Officially, he had 10 carries for 122 yards, including a huge touchdown right at the end of the first half which put Michigan in a position to go up by 11 points had they converted a touchdown on the first possession of the second half. The smile on my face at the thought of this must have gone from ear to ear. Even without the extra seven points after halftime, I was still happy at the momentum that Denard had sucked from the mouths of every fan in that stadium and planted in the Michigan locker room and sideline. On the plays when Denard wasn’t touching the ball, OSU was forced to account for him, which opened up other options for the offense, such as Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
But Al Borges, in his infinite wisdom, took Denard off the field in the second half. The result: Denard had four carries for -2 yards; Michigan offense had 60 total yards and no points. I hope, I hope, that Denard sustained an injury that I don’t know about because there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for taking the BEST PLAYER on the team off the football field. The OSU coaches and players must have been loving life at that decision.
Not only was it a horrendous call to keep Denard off the field, but once the Michigan offense started facing some adversity in the second half, Borges went back to his “I’m afraid to make a call, so I’m just going to play it safe” approach. This is called ‘playing not to lose’ and Borges has displayed this tendency in the past. Playing this way is not how you win big college football games. It is much more acceptable for a team to lose if they were aggressive in the process. Yes, maybe a kid will make a mistake once in awhile, but at least the offense is out there trying to dictate to the defense how things are going to happen.
And no, aggressive is not going for a 4th-and-2 at midfield on your first drive of the second half. That was stupidity. The head coach is the one who makes this call, so the blame falls on Hoke. The correct call was to play field position and punt the ball deep and let the defense hold the opponent to their end of the football field. It was MUCH too early for a move like that. But let’s pretend that move was actually a good call. What kind of play did Borges call? An inside run with Robinson smack dab into the strength of the OSU defense, where they have been strong all season and don’t miss tackles. Why?! Why not call something outside, where you’ve been picking up good yardage all game?? Michigan hasn’t run the ball well inside all season. So all of a sudden, in the last week of the season, against your biggest rival, an inside run is the call? That’s not how it works. That play changed everything about the game. It was never the same again. And even though Michigan still had a chance to win on the last drive of the game, they lost all of the momentum they had and never got it back.
Some folks who are reading this may point out that it was the second half turnovers which cost Michigan the game. The players and coaches certainly, but what are they going to do, rip their offensive coordinator to the media? The turnovers were created because of the ultra-conservative play-calling which became predictable without the addition of Denard on the field. Without the defense playing on their heels and keeping an eye on the whereabouts of Denard, they were able to crash the pocket and force the offense into mistakes.
Ultimately, I didn’t expect Michigan to win the game. My prediction was 26-23 OSU. But I did think that Michigan had a good chance of coming away with a victory if they ran the offense that had been established in the Iowa game. They did this in the first half and won 21-20. They did not in the second half and lost 6-0. That’s all it took as OSU has now won eight of the last nine in the series.
One quick note on the Michigan defense: for the most part, I thought they did a good job of forcing the OSU offense into field goal opportunities instead of allowing touchdown – especially on several occasions on a short field. I said coming in that the Michigan defense was going to have to stop the run to win. On Saturday, OSU ran for a total of 207 yards. Not a recipe for victory. But I do give the defense credit for stepping up when it mattered and not giving up big points and keeping the team in the game.
I guess Michigan fans can take solace in the fact that OSU’s season is done. Their season is over and they have already begun handing in their equipment. As OSU fans gave a standing ovation to the man that put the program on probation and is the reason for which this 2012 team cannot play for any of the aforementioned honors, we don’t have to hear about a Big Ten Championship and maybe even a BCS National Championship coming to Columbus. Michigan will get an extra month of practice to improve before playing in their bowl game and another offseason to bring in a Top 10 recruiting class. The future of Michigan football is still bright and this team will be even better next season.