photo Michigan-Display-Ad-728x90-Die-Hard-Fans-only_zpskcnarkrk.jpg  photo MampGB header 2015 v6_zpsdluogxnr.jpg

Posts Tagged ‘Doug Nussmeier’

Citrus Bowl preview: #14 Michigan vs #19 Florida

Thursday, December 31st, 2015


Game Preview_Florida_banner

More than a month after a humbling loss to rival Ohio State, Michigan returns to the field looking to make a statement heading into a seven month football slumber. Jim Harbaugh can capture the 27th double-digit win season in program history with a victory over the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon.

UM-Florida-small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st season)
Coaching Record: 32-19 (10-3 at UF)
Offensive Coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Geoff Collins (1st season)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)
Last Meeting: UM 41 – UF 35 (2008)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 2-0
Record in Bowl Games: Michigan 2-0
Record in Citrus Bowl: Michigan 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2008 (41-35)
Last Florida win: N/A
Current Streak: Michigan 2

Michigan and Florida have faced each other twice before, both in Florida-based bowl games. In the 2003 Outback Bowl Michigan topped Florida 38-30 to close out a 10-3 season. Five years later, Michigan topped the Tim Tebow-led Gators 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Citrus Bowl to close out Lloyd Carr’s career with a 9-4 season. Win or lose this one, Michigan will finish with one of those two records.

Florida won the Southeastern Conference East division this season, losing only to LSU in-conference (35-28) and rival Florida State in the regular season finale (27-2). The Gators then faced Alabama in the SEC Championship game and lost 29-15, which means they ride a two game losing streak heading into this one.

Florida’s best win was a 38-10 throttling of Ole Miss on Oct. 3, but they also nearly lost to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21, needing overtime to top the Owls, who finished the season just 3-9. Their only wins came over Charlotte, Florida International, and Old Dominion.

So which Florida team will show up in Orlando on New Year’s Day — the one that started 10-1 and was ranked as high as eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings or the one that needed overtime to beat FEI’s 99th-ranked team and scored just 17 points in its last two games? Let’s take a look at the Gators.

When Florida has the ball

Michigan fans will be familiar with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who held the same position at Michigan last season. His offense ranks 109th nationally and 11th in the SEC in total offense (338.7 yards per game), 98th and 11th in scoring (24.5 points per game), 113th and 13th in rushing (127.6 yards per game), 76th and 6th in passing (211.1 yards per game), and 61st in passing efficiency (130.58). FEI ranks Florida’s offense 60th nationally with an opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency of -.03. By comparison, Michigan’s OFEI is .36.

Quarterback Treon Harris opened the season as the starter after starting the final six games of 2014, but lost the job to redshirt freshman Will Grier, who went 5-0 and completed 65.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But Grier was suspended for a year for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, so McElwain and Nussmeier were forced to turn back to Harris. The sophomore hasn’t performed as well as Grier, completing just 51.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five picks. In fact, since taking over for Grier, Harris has completed just 49.2 percent for seven scores and five picks.

While the running game hasn’t been dynamic — better than just 14 teams nationally — it does have a decent running back in Kelvin Taylor. The junior form Belle Glades, Fla. has 248 carries for 985 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns so far this season, averaging 75.8 yards per game. By comparison, De’Veon Smith has 155 carries for 644 yards (4.2 ypc) and six scores. Harris is the team’s second leading rusher with 183 yards on 85 carries (2.2 ypc), but he has yet to find the end zone on the ground. The second leading running back, freshman Jordan Scarlett, was suspended for the Citrus Bowl for marijuana possession, which leaves Taylor and freshman Jordan Cronkite — 41 for 140 (3.4 ypc) — as the only two running backs with over 100 yards rushing on the season.

The passing game is better statistically, but Harris is not Grier in that category. Harris completed 17 of 32 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, but managed to break 200 yards just once in his final six games, averaging just 165 yards per game during that span. Freshman Antonio Callaway is the leading receiver with 603 yards and four touchdowns on 30 receptions. Junior Demarcus Robinson leads the team with 47 receptions, but is less of a big play threat with a yards per catch nearly half of Callaway’s. Fifth-year senior tight end Jack McGee has 41 receptions for 381 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Brandon Powell has 28 for 364 and three scores. Sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby is the only other pass catcher with more than 100 yards (17 for 277 and one) but hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game since Oct. 10.

The offensive line suffered a hit last week when fifth-year senior right tackle Mason Halter was declared academically ineligible. He started all 13 games. Freshman Fred Johnson will likely fill in. The other tackle, Jordan Sharpe is one of the elder statesman along the line as just a sophomore, as freshmen Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan will be the starting guards. Sharpe started all but the Vanderbilt game this season, while Ivey has started seven at left guard and Jordan two at right guard. Ivey was the nation’s top offensive tackle and No. 2 overall player according to 247 Sports in the 2015 recruiting class. The center is redshirt sophomore and Canton, Mich. native Cameron Dillard.

When Michigan has the ball

Defense is the reason Florida has had such a good season. The Gators rank 6th nationally in total defense (295.4 yards per game), 9th in scoring defense (16.5 points per game), 17th in rush defense (120.6 yards per game), 10th in pass defense (174.8 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (106.61).

Only one team — LSU (35) — scored more than 30 points on Florida this season, while the Gators held five opponents — Kentucky (9), Ole Miss (10), Missouri (3), Georgia (3), and Vanderbilt (7) — to 10 or fewer points. By comparison, Michigan’s defense also held five opponents to 10 or fewer points, but three of those were shutouts.

Florida’s defensive line is led by senior rush end Jonathan Bullard, whose 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss are both team highs. The former No. 6 overall player in the 2012 class recently said that his intention to return to Gainesville for his senior season was the best decision of his life, and now he figures to be a first or second round NFL Draft selection. He was named first team All-SEC and second team All-American. The other end is redshirt junior Bryan Cox Jr, who has 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Caleb Brantley and junior Joey Ivie form the middle of the line. The duo has combined for 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. True freshman Cece Jefferson has also impressed at defensive end, recording 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, earning freshman All-American honors, while redshirt junior rush end Alex McCalister is tied with Bullard for the team lead with 6.5 sacks. However, McCalister was dismissed from the team two weeks ago. Still, that’s a lot of production for a defensive line unit.

Senior middle linebacker Antonio Morrison leads the team with 97 tackles and ranks second with 12 tackles for loss. Junior weak side linebacker Jarrad Davis is the second leading tackler with 94, 11 of which have gone for loss. Redshirt junior Jerami Powell is the strong side linebacker missed a few games with a torn meniscus, but and has just 12 tackles on the season. Fifth-year senior Anthony Harrell and junior Daniel McMillan also factor into the linebacker rotation with a combined 37 tackles.

The secondary is Florida’s strength with two of the best players in the nation, junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor. Hargreaves joined Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis as a first team All-American, becoming Florida’s first consensus All-American since Joe Haden 2009. He’s regarded as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft after leading the team with four interceptions along with 31 tackles, four pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Tabor recorded an SEC-leading 14 pass breakups in addition to four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Junior free safety Keanu Neal is the team’s third leading tackler with 85, while redshirt junior strong safety Marcus Maye is fourth with 73 and also has two interceptions. Senior nickelback Brian Poole has 36 tackles.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin has made just five of 14 field goal attempts this season with a long of 43 after making seven of 12 last season. He has missed his last five attempts. Redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend leads the SEC with an average of 44.92 yards per punt. He has booted 26 of his 79 punts over 50 yards and downed 29 inside the 20.

Powell averages 21.55 yards per kick return, which ranks 13th in the SEC, while Callaway ranks third in the SEC with a 14.5-yard punt return average.

Prediction

A matchup of two of the top defenses in college football calls for a low scoring affair and I think that will hold true. Michigan will have trouble running the ball, which isn’t a surprise after the last few games, but will need to find success through the air against Hargreaves and Tabor. That’s not an easy task, but Michigan’s passing game grew leaps and bounds as the season went on. If Jabrill Peppers is healthy enough to play, expect him to play a similar role to what he did against Ohio State, giving the offense another dynamic playmaker.

Defensively, Michigan will need to slow down Taylor on the ground, but shouldn’t be too worried about Harris beating them through the air. Ohio State’s offense this is not. Nor is it Indiana’s, and those are really the only two offenses that gave Michigan’s defense fits this season.

Michigan has the advantage on special teams, especially if it becomes a game of field goals, so I give Michigan the slight edge to pull this one out and carry momentum into the offseason.

Michigan 23 – Florida 17

Overmatched: Michigan State 35 – Michigan 11

Monday, October 27th, 2014


Michigan-MSU(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan went to East Lansing as the heavy underdog Saturday afternoon hoping to pull off a big upset the way Michigan State did from time to time over the past few decades. But while the Wolverines remained close on the scoreboard into the second half, the game was far from being closely contested and Michigan fell 35-11.

Michigan won the coin toss, but that would prove to be the only thing it would win all day. Michigan State made an early statement, taking the opening possession right down the field for an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The drive was highlighted by a pair of long passes, a 24-harder from Connor Cook to Tony Lippett on the second play, and a 28-yarder to Keith Mumphery on 3rd-and-8. Two plays later, Cook scrambled for 13 yards, bowling through Michigan safety Delano Hill in the process. Hill was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Cook after the play. Jeremy Langford got the touchdown from two yards out. Message sent.

UM-MichiganState-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Michigan State
Score 11 35
Record 3-5, 1-3 7-1, 4-0
Total Yards 186 446
Net Rushing Yards 61 219
Net Passing Yards 125 227
First Downs 13 22
Turnovers 3 2
Penalties-Yards 4-27 8-88
Punts-Yards 6-254 4-150
Time of Possession 26:14 33:46
Third Down Conversions 5-of-14 6-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-8 2-13
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-1
PATs 0-for-0 5-for-5
Red Zone Scores-Chances 1-of-2 3-of-4
Full Box Score

The Michigan offense went three-and-out, but the defense held strong on State’s second possession. On the first play of Michigan’s second possession, Devin Gardner fumbled the exchange with De’Veon Smith and State recovered at the MSU 38. The Spartans strung together 12 plays, moving down to the Michigan 5-yard line before Cook was stopped in the backfield and then sacked on consecutive plays. Michael Geiger missed a 36-yard field goal.

Needing to find some offense, Doug Nussmeier dialed up an end-around to Dennis Norfleet on the first play, but he was tackled in the backfield for a four-yard loss. A false start backed Michigan up five more yards. On second down, Gardner threw a screen pass to Justice Hayes that had potential for a big gain, but MSU linebacker Ed Davis got by two Michigan linemen to stop Hayes for just a 4-yard gain. On 3rd-and-15, Gardner connected with Amara Darboh for 24 yards and a first down. But the Michigan drive stalled at the 45-yard line.

The two teams traded punts, neither offense able to get much going until Michigan got the break it needed. Jarrod Wilson forced tight end Josiah Price to fumble and Michigan recovered at Michigan State 31-yard line. But the Michigan offense was unable to gain a yard and Matt Wile booted a 48-yard field goal.

Michigan State took possession with 3:22 remaining in the first half and immediately got to midfield thanks to a 24-yard Langford run. The Spartans punched it in eight plays later to take a 14-3 lead into the locker room. It was the fifth time this season that Michigan’s defense has given up a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half and although it was only an 11-point deficit, it felt unreachable.

Michigan started the second half with possession and a chance to make a statement like State did to start the game, but after gaining one first down, Michigan was forced to punt. Michigan State punted it right back, but on 3rd-and-11, Gardner was intercepted by R.J. Williamson, who raced 29 yards for a touchdown. After another Michigan punt, Cook found Lippett along the sideline and he beat Hill for a 70-yard touchdown to break open the game at 28-3.

Michigan managed to avoid a third straight game against the Spartans without a touchdown after Frank Clark recovered a Langford fumble to give the Wolverines the ball at the MSU 33. On 3rd-and-10, Gardner connected with Funchess for 24 yards to the 9-yard line. Gardner then found Freddy Canteen for eight yards and Smith ran it in on the next play. Michigan completed the two-point on a pass from Gardner to Jake Butt.

A failed onside kick attempt gave MSU the ball at the Michigan 48. Needing only to run out the clock with a 17-point lead, Michigan State pounded the Michigan defense with Langford. In seven plays, he rushed for no gain, eight yards, three yards, 27 yards, two yards, three yards, and on 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, a five-yard touchdown.

Michigan State racked up 446 total yards compared to Michigan’s 186. The Spartans had a balanced attack with 227 yards passing and 219 rushing, while Michigan managed just 121 passing and 65 rushing. As it has done all season, Michigan State controlled time of possession, 33:46 to 26:14. Gardner completed 13-of-28 passes for 121 yards and two interceptions. Funchess had five catches for 64 yards while Darboh caught two for 41. Smith rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Langford rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries for the Spartans, while Cook went 12-of-22 for 227 yards and a touchdown.

At 3-5, Michigan returns home to face Indiana (3-4, 0-3) next Saturday. With Ohio State looming at season’s end, the Wolverines have to beat Indiana to have a chance to become bowl eligible and avoid a third losing season in seven years.

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

Derrick Green out for season

Monday, October 6th, 2014


Derrick Green vs Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

For those who thought Michigan has already hit rock bottom, today is proof that it can get worse. Brady Hoke announced in his Monday press conference that starting running back Derrick Green will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken clavicle late in the game on Saturday, leaving an already struggling offense without one of its few bright spots.

Green leads the team with 471 rushing yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry through six games. Despite a six-carry, six-yard performance against Minnesota in Week 5, Green was on pace to become Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011. He had two 100-yard games, 170 yards against Appalachian State and 137 against Miami (Ohio).

De’Veon Smith, who split carries with Green, will assume the starting role the rest of the season and third-down back Justice Hayes will see an increased workload. Smith has 282 yards on 47 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. The Rutgers game was the only game this season in which he has received double-digit carries (10). Hayes has 19 carries for 101 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and five receptions for 47 yards. Sophomore Drake Johnson will also likely get more carries.

Michigan (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) hosts Penn State (4-1, 1-1) this Saturday at 7 p.m. EST in the first ever Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium.

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.

Can Michigan’s offense improve? A case study on in-season improvement

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Michigan offense(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s offense has been the subject of great concern through the first third of this season. It looked great against Appalachian State in Week 1, but of course, that was against Appalachian State, a first-year FBS school and a team nowhere close to the three-time FCS champion team it was when it beat Michigan in 2007. The offense was exposed against Notre Dame in Week 2, failing to reach the Irish red zone or score a single point, resulting in Michigan’s first shutout in 30 years. While it sputtered a bit in the first half against Miami (Ohio) in Week 3, the end result showed a solid performance. But the problems came back last week against Utah as the offense once again failed to reach the red zone or score a touchdown.

So what gives? Is there any hope for a turnaround as the season goes on, or is it simply a lost cause? Let’s take a look at a recent comparison that could provide a sliver of hope.

Offensive Comparison through four games
Team 1 Team 2
22.0 Offensive points per game 20.5
10 Offensive touchdowns 10
1,363 Total yards 1,617
340.8 Total yards per game 404.2
748 Rushing yards 844
187.0 Rushing yards per game 211.0
4.6 Rushing yards per carry 5.6
615 Passing yards 773
153.8 Passing yards per game 193.2
6 Turnovers 12

We need to look no further than our friends 60 miles up Interstate-96 for a recent example of an inept offense turning things around over the course of a season. A year ago at this time we were all mocking the Michigan State offense for its inability to move the ball and find the end zone.

In the chart above, Team 1 is last year’s Michigan State offense through its first four games. Team 2 is this year’s Michigan offense through its first four games. As you can see, they compare rather favorably. Both offenses scored 10 touchdowns, but Michigan State made two more field goals than Michigan’s has. Michigan’s offense averaged 64 more yards per game, 24 more rushing yards, a whole yard more yard per carry, and 40 more passing yards. The main difference is that Michigan’s offense turned the ball over twice as many times as Michigan State’s did.

But how did the quality of opponents compare? I’m glad you asked. Actually, the four teams Michigan has played this season have been tougher than the four Michigan State opened with in 2013. Michigan State played Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, and Notre Dame, four teams that finished the season with a combined record of 20-29. Essentially, three cupcakes and Notre Dame.

Youngstown State was an FCS program and can be compared to this year’s Appalachian State. Western Michigan, which finished 1-11, can be compared to this year’s Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame is obviously the only shared team, although this year’s Notre Dame is likely a little bit better than last year’s. So that leaves last year’s South Florida compared to this year’s Utah. South Florida went 2-10 last season with wins against Cincinnati (26-20) and UConn (13-10). They lost to McNeese State and Florida Atlantic. Utah is a top-25 caliber team that would likely be in the top third of the Big Ten this season. Much better than last year’s South Florida.

So now that we’ve established that Michigan’s offense has actually been better than 2013 Michigan State’s through four games, and has done so against better competition, let’s look at three factors that could bring about improvement.

1. New quarterback

It appears that Brady Hoke will turn to sophomore Shane Morris this Saturday. Morris has one career start under his belt — the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and an interception. In spot duty so far this season, he has completed just 7-of-20 for 79 yards and two interceptions. Those numbers don’t suggest much, but given the start to the season, it can’t hurt to give him a shot as the starter and see if he can provide a spark.

One of the main keys to Michigan State’s offensive turnaround last season was the progress of quarterback Connor Cook as the season went on. He didn’t begin the season as the starter, but once he officially won the job, he took it and ran with it. After that Notre Dame game, the job was fully his, and he finished the season with 200-yard passing games in seven of the final 10 games, including back-to-back 300-yard passing games against Ohio State and Stanford.

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

We know that Devin Gardner is capable of putting up big numbers (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State in 2013). But we’ve also seen him struggle with consistency, decision-making, and footwork, which have led to turnovers galore. Whether his issues are physical or mental, perhaps it will help him to watch from the sidelines for a bit. Morris doesn’t have the baggage that Gardner has — three different offensive coordinators in five years, switch to receiver, beaten up thanks to a porous offensive line last season — and thus, could show the same type of progression throughout the season that Cook showed a year ago.

2. Growth of Nussmeier’s offense

After three years of Al Borges running the offense, Hoke fired him and brought in Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The early returns on his offense have been underwhelming, but the towel shouldn’t be thrown in just yet. Keep in mind that it has only been four games. Everyone wants to win and win now, especially after the last six years, but installing a new offense takes time.

“[The offense is] still in infancy stages here, we’re still learning to play consistently well,” Nussmeier said after the Notre Dame loss. “It’s about 11 guys on every play, doing the right thing…If it’s 10 guys doing the right thing, and one guy doing the wrong thing, you’re doomed. We’ve got to get 11 guys, on every play, doing the right thing.”

The offense has shown that it can move the ball, but it has been plagued by untimely mistakes — a sack here, a holding penalty there — that have stalled drives, created third-and-longs, and led to turnovers. As Drew Hallett pointed out this afternoon, every team in college football in 2013 combined to score either a touchdown or field goal or reach the red zone 69 percent of the time they crossed midfield. Based on that data, the odds of an offense crossing midfield 12 times and failing to score or reach the red zone 11 of those times was 0.002 percent. Yet that’s what this Michigan offense has done against Notre Dame and Utah.

Eventually, that’s going to improve. As players get more comfortable with the offense and it continues to expand throughout the season, drive-killing mistakes won’t continue to happen — at least with as much frequency. And as that improves, Michigan will score more points.

We’ve already seen Derrick Green show improvement from last season. He has 391 yards through four games. Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford, who finished last season with 1,422 yards — fifth-best in the Big Ten — had just 268 through his first four games last season. In addition, we know the explosiveness Devin Funchess can bring, but much of Gardner’s problems had to do with locking onto Funchess. Perhaps Morris will go through his progressions more than Gardner has and find receivers other than Funchess, which is important for the offense to continue to grow, and allow fellow receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh to take on a larger role. Keeping with the Michigan State theme, no one thought much of Michigan State’s receivers heading into last season, but Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings, and Keith Mumphrey played a big part in their success as the season went on.

3. Turnovers evening out

Michigan has averaged three turnovers per game so far this season. It’s impossible to beat good teams when that happens. To make matters worse, the defense, as solid as it has been, only has two takeaways, which means it isn’t setting the offense up with field position that it can take advantage of. Michigan currently ranks last nationally in turnover margin (minus-10). Those numbers are bound to even out during the final two-thirds of the season.

Interceptions are, most of the time, the fault of the quarterback, but which team recovers fumbles is largely a result of luck — the luck of the bounce or being in the right place at the right time. Michigan has lost four of the six times it has fumbled and hasn’t recovered either of the two opponent fumbles. So that’s six of eight fumbles that have bounced the wrong way. Turn those around and the turnover issues aren’t quite as grim. That’s why, as the season goes on, the numbers are bound to equal out.

Conclusion:

Of course, Shane Morris might end up being farther behind than we hope, the team might not get a good grasp of Nussmeier’s offense, and it might continue turning the ball over and failing to force turnovers defensively. And just because Michigan State’s offense turned around last season, it doesn’t mean Michigan’s will follow suit. But at the very least, there is recent precedent for it happening and signs that it could. As long as Michigan’s defense continues to play at the high level it has been, any improvement by the offense as the season goes on will give Michigan a chance to win every remaining game.

Washed out: Utah 26 – Michigan 10

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


Michigan vs Utah(MGoBlue.com)

It took more than two hours longer than expected, but the result was what no one rooting for the maize and blue wanted. No, that’s not a riddle; it describes Michigan’s 26-10 loss to Utah on Saturday, although Michigan’s offense remains a riddle no one except opposing defenses can solve.

For the second time in three weeks, Michigan’s offense failed to run a play in the opponent’s red zone and failed to score a touchdown, this time resulting in a 16-point loss despite out-gaining the Utes 308-286. The game was delayed two-and-a-half hours midway through the fourth quarter, but the outcome remained the same and Michigan fell to 2-2.

The game didn’t start poorly, however, as Michigan took an early 3-0 lead on a 42-yard Matt Wile field goal on the first possession on the game. Michigan’s defense then forced a three-and-out and the offense marched into Utah territory once again. This time, after back-to-back completions to Devin Funchess of 19 yards and 24 yards, the drive was stalled by a holding penalty on Erik Magnuson. Instead of 1st-and-10 from the Utah 43, Michigan faced 1st-and-20 from the 43 and was unable to get the first down. Outside of field goal range, and facing 4th-and-13, Michigan punted and downed the ball at the Ute 3-yard line.

UM-Utah-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Utah
Score 10 26
Record 2-2 3-0
Total Yards 308 286
Net Rushing Yards 118 81
Net Passing Yards 190 205
First Downs 13 19
Turnovers 4 1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 6-50
Punts-Yards 5-194 5-213
Time of Possession 33:32 26:28
Third Down Conversions 9-of-19 6-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 3-30 4-22
Field Goals 1-for-1 4-for-5
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 0-of-0 2-of-3
Full Box Score

Utah got a big play on 3rd-and-5 from its own eight when quarterback Travis Wilson found running back Bubba Poole wide open for a screen pass and Poole raced 67 yards before he was brought down by Jourdan Lewis. Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a field goal to tie the game at three.

Michigan’s offense went three-and-out, but Ute receiver Kaelyn Clay returned Will Hagerup’s punt 66 yards for a touchdown — his third return touchdown of the season. Suddenly, Michigan was down 10-3.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Wilson scrambled to his right and tried to hurdle a Michigan defender. Instead, he was hid mid-air by Joe Bolden, flipping over and landing awkwardly on his head. He was taken to the locker room and Michigan took advantage of his replacement, Kendal Thompson. On Utah’s next possession, Willie Henry sacked Thompson on 3rd-and-4, forcing a punt. Gardner was picked up on Michigan’s ensuing possession, but on 3rd-and-12, Henry made Michigan’s play of the game, picking off Thompson and carrying it into the end zone to tie the game at 10.

Utah responded with a 16-play, 54-yard field goal drive to take a 13-10 lead into the half, then went 67 yards in just five plays on its first possession of the second half. The drive was capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass from Wilson, who returned after getting stitches in his nose, to Dres Anderson.

After the two teams traded punts, Michigan moved the ball into Utah territory. On 3rd-and-8 from the Utah 45, Gardner completed a five-yard pass to Amara Darboh, setting up a 4th-and-3. Instead of punting to pin the Utes deep once again, Hoke elected to go for it, but Gardner’s roll-out came up a yard short. Utah took advantage of the short field position and kicked a 48-yard field goal to take a 23-10 lead.

Gardner was intercepted for the second time on the second play of Michigan’s next possession and Utah kicked another field goal, this time from 50 yards out to go ahead 26-10.

Shane Morris replaced Gardner, but threw an interception of his own that was returned 59 yards to the Michigan 17. A sideline penalty on Utah moved it back 15 yards, but then the skies opened up. The game was suspended for a total time of 2:24, and when it resumed with only a few hundred fans remaining — most wearing red — Utah missed a 41-yard field goal.

Morris lead what looked to be a promising drive, converting two long third downs, but fumbled at the Utah 47 and any hopes Michigan had of a comeback were dashed.

For the game, Gardner completed 14-of-26 for 148 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Morris went 4-of-13 for 42 yards, one touchdown, and one fumble. Funchess led all receivers with four catches for 82 yards, while Derrick Green led the way on the ground with 59 yards on 14 carries (4.2 yards per carry). Green was also Michigan’s second-leading receiver with two catches for 26 yards.

Wilson completed 14-of-20 for 172 yards and one touchdown, while Utah’s two star receivers, Anderson and Kenneth Scott, combined for 10 catches for 78 yards and a score.

Michigan’s defense held Utah to 81 yards rushing (2.2 yards per carry) and just 286 total yards — 271 yards below its season average — and just one touchdown and four field goals. Jake Ryan led the way with 13 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. Frank Clark added 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while Mario Ojemudia recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and Henry had the sack, interception, and score.

Michigan enters Big Ten play at 2-2, having out-gained every team it has played, but tormented by turnovers. The offense has yet to reach the red zone or score a touchdown against power-five teams, Notre Dame and Utah. The defense, however, has yet to allow an opponent to reach 300 yards of offense.

Minnesota (3-1) comes to town next Saturday looking to take back the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers have beaten Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State, and lost to TCU. The game will be televised by ABC at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Final Look: Notre Dame

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Gardner vs ND(MGoBlue.com)

Last season, Michigan pulled off a big win over Notre Dame in the Big House, a performance that garnered some (premature) national championship talk. A week later, lowly Akron came to town and nearly pulled off a monumental upset. In fact, Michigan needed a last second goal line stop to stave off defeat.

This time around, Michigan heads into a matchup with lowly Miami (Ohio) with its tail between it legs, fresh off of a humiliating 31-0 defeat in South Bend. Before we fully turn our attention to Miami, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s loss last Saturday.

Three key moments

Typically, this will feature three big moments that helped Michigan win the game, but that doesn’t mean they will always be positive. In the case of Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame, there isn’t much positive to glean, so here are three key moments that shaped the game.

1. Matt Wile’s missed field goals

Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive, thinking that they could set the tone of the game by marching down the field and scoring. But Michigan’s defense held firm and forced a punt. The Michigan offense took the field full of confidence and wasted no time moving the chains. On the second play, Devin Gardner hit Devin Funchess for 12 yards. On the next play, Dennis Norfleet rambled 13 yards and Michigan was already to midfield. Michigan converted a fourth down and then Funchess caught a seven-yard pass at the ND 30. But the drive stalled there as a pass to Norfleet lost two, and on 3rd-and-5, Derrick Green picked up three. Matt Wile trotted onto the field to attempt a 46-yard field goal to give Michigan an early three-point lead. But it missed wide right. Notre Dame answered with an eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead.

Matt Wile's missed field goals on Michigan's first two drives were demoralizing in a tough road environment (MGoBlue.com)

Matt Wile’s missed field goals on Michigan’s first two drives were demoralizing in a tough road environment (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan got the ball back, and on the third play, Gardner found Funchess for 27 yards to get into Irish territory again. On first down from the ND 34, center Jack Miller false started, moving Michigan back five yards. Three plays later, Michigan faced 4th-and-6 instead of 4th-and-1, so Wile came in to attempt another field goal, this time from 48 yards out. His plant foot slipped and the kick never had a chance. Six points left on the field.

Notre Dame didn’t score on its next possession, instead punting it back to Michigan, but this time the offense was unable to string together a drive. We will never know how the game would have changed had Wile made those two field goals, but Michigan would have at the very least led 3-0, trailed 7-3, then pulled within 7-6 early in the second quarter. In reality, it snowballed from there and Michigan’s offense that moved the ball fairly well on its first two possessions went into desperation mode. Even after the Irish scored again, heading into the half down 14-6 would have been much more manageable, until…

2. Notre Dame’s third touchdown

After Notre Dame went up 14-0, Michigan got a seven-yard run by Norfleet on the first play of its ensuing possession. But then the Devin Gardner tuck rule that wasn’t the tuck rule fumble occurred and Michigan lost 12 yards. Facing 3rd-and-20, Nussmeier elected to go the safe route with a Justice Hayes draw that gained 10. Michigan punted back to Notre Dame.

A 12-yard punt return gave the Irish possession on their own 44 with 1:24 remaining in the half. A few plays later, on 3rd-and-1 at the Michigan 24, Golson lofted a perfect pass into the end zone and William Fuller leapt over Blake Countess for the touchdown. That play was essentially the death blow. At halftime, trailing 21-0, the game felt completely insurmountable. Had that pass gone incomplete and Michigan held ND to a field goal, 17-0 would have somehow felt better. And had Michigan made its two field goals, 17-7 would have felt even better, especially since Michigan was getting the ball to start the second half. But that’s a lot of ifs.

3. Gardner’s first interception

While the 21-0 halftime lead felt more like 49-0 because Michigan’s offense hadn’t put up any points and the defense was allowing Golson to pick it apart, there was still a sliver of hope for most Michigan fans because of the comebacks the Wolverines have pulled off against the Irish in recent years. But that was all dashed when Gardner was picked off on the fifth play of the third quarter.

Michigan had picked up a first down on a nine-yard Gardner run and a two-yard Derrick Green run. Gardner then ran for six yards, but on second down, Green was tackled for a three-yard loss, setting up 3rd-and-7 at the Michigan 39. Gardner dropped back to pass and fired across the middle for tight end Khalid Hill, but safety Max Redfield stepped in front and picked it off. He returned it 17 yards to the Michigan 38, and although the Michigan defense forced ND to punt, the Irish downed the punt at the 2-yard line. The interception flipped field position and it paid off for the Irish on their next drive as they punched it in for a 28-0 lead.

Given the ifs above, and if Gardner hadn’t thrown that interception and instead Michigan scored, it could have been 17-13 and we would have had a ball game. But again, if there are that many ifs in a game, you’re not going to win, especially on the road against a good opponent.

The numbers game

365: Michigan’s consecutive games without being shutout, dating back to Oct. 20, 1984, prior to last Saturday’s 31-0 loss at Notre Dame

24-17-1: Michigan’s all-time record against Notre Dame

172: The number of passes Devin Gardner had thrown since his last interception on Nov. 3, 2013 against Michigan State

9: Devin Gardner’s rank on Michigan’s career completions list, passing Steve Smith

Drive Chart
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM

 

*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

Vote for the performance of the game

Obviously it was a putrid performance all around, but hey, let’s vote for Michigan’s top performance of the game!
People Lists on Ranker

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

It was a dreadful week for the Big Ten as a conference, as the top teams crumbled against strong competition and the rest of the teams struggled against weak teams. Purdue and Northwestern both fell to MAC schools and Iowa barely escaped Ball State. Nebraska, Illinois, and Maryland were favored by multiple scores but all only won by a single possession. At night the conference’s supposed top three teams lost by a combined 64 points in a week that may have eliminated the Big Ten from playoff contention.

East Division
1. Penn State (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Akron 21-3 This Week: Sat at Rutgers, 8pm, Big Ten Network

What could be better than crushing Akron to move to 2-0 on the season for Penn State? How about learning that, after an offseason resigning themselves to literal championship irrelevance, the team will be eligible to play in the postseason after all? The news comes for a Penn State team that looks dangerous behind sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and could make a run at the East Division crown.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Oregon 27-46 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Eastern Michigan)

Very few teams in the country have the talent to beat Oregon on its own turf, and Michigan State is not one of those groups. But that doesn’t mean the Spartans can’t make a run at the first college football playoff. Losing by 19 points should never satisfy a fan base that hopes to support an elite program, but Michigan State certainly looked like the class of the Big Ten when it led 27-18 in Autzen.

3. Maryland (2-0, 0-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat South Florida 24-17 This Week: Sat vs West Virginia, 12pm, Big Ten Network

After demolishing James Madison in Week 1, Maryland still had everything to prove in its first year as a member of the Big Ten conference. On Saturday it was more of the same as the Terrapins went on the road and beat a South Florida team that finished 2-10 last season.

4. Indiana (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Bowling Green, 12pm, ESPNU

Scheduling a bye may have been the best possible move for Indiana in a week when nearly every Big Ten powerhouse lost by more than 10 points. The Hoosiers go on the road to face Bowling Green this week before a big matchup in Missouri.

5. Rutgers (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Howard 38-25 This Week: Sat vs Penn State, 8pm, Big Ten Network

Following a huge road win in Washington State to bring in the new season, Rutgers struggled with Howard when it returned back home. In the end, four touchdown passes from Gary Nova was enough to move Rutgers to 2-0.

6. Ohio State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 21-35 This Week: Sat vs Kent State, 12pm, ABC/ESPN2

Week 1 against Navy was just a fluke, right? Unfortunately for Urban Meyer, his team proved that notion wrong on Saturday night when Virginia Tech walked into the Horseshoe and stomped his Buckeyes 35-21. J.T. Barrett was 9 for 29 with three interceptions in what turned out to be a disastrous performance. Would Ohio State be the best team in the conference with Braxton Miller? It’s certainly possible, but without the former Heisman candidate the team is revealing massive holes at more than just backup quarterback.

7. Michigan (1-1, 0-0) – Down 5
Last Week: Lost to #16 Notre Dame 0-31 This Week: Sat vs Miami (Ohio), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

In the final matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday night, Michigan proved how much a team can change over the course of a week. After a nearly perfect showing against Appalachian State in the opener, the team completely collapsed in South Bend. Doug Nussmeier’s offense posted the school’s first scoreless effort in 30 years while Greg Mattison’s ‘more aggressive defense’ sat back and let Everett Golson pick it apart like a thoracic surgeon. One loss can’t derail an entire season, but the 31-0 shelling fans witnessed Saturday is as close as it gets. Brady Hoke’s best road win in four seasons at Michigan is over an Illinois team that finished 7-6 after scraping out a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011. Nothing short of wins in East Lansing or Columbus should save this coaching staff.

West Division
1. Minnesota (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Middle Tennessee 35-24 This Week: Sat at TCU, 4pm, Fox Sports 1

Minnesota’s presence atop the West Division standings says more about the rest of the conference than it does about the Golden Gophers. Minnesota has played two cupcake opponents at home, but through Week 2, beating those teams by double digits is enough to earn the top spot.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 37-3 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Bowling Green)

Blowing a 17-point lead to LSU on the national stage almost came back to bite Wisconsin again, as it led Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime. But the Badgers came back in the second half and scored 28 unanswered points and are the obvious favorite in the West Division.

3. Nebraska (2-0, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat McNeese State 31-24 This Week: Sat at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30, CBS SN

Nebraska highlights a host of teams that struggled to beat inferior opponents on Saturday. McNeese State fought the Cornhuskers to the bitter end in Lincoln, losing by just a touchdown.

4. Illinois (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Kentucky 42-34 This Week: Sat at Washington (2-0), 4pm, FOX

Though Illinois beat Western Kentucky by only eight points, quarterback Wes Lunt has emerged as a leader of the offense. Lunt has thrown for 741 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two weeks.

5. Iowa (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 17-13 This Week: Sat vs Iowa State (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Iowa was a popular pick to challenge Wisconsin for the West Division title at the beginning of the season, but two poor showings have buried that belief despite a 2-0 start for the Hawkeyes. Ball State nearly upset Iowa in Iowa City, but fell just four points short.

6. Purdue (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Central Michigan 17-38 This Week: Sat vs #11 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC

Former Michigan running back Thomas Rawls shredded Purdue for 155 yards and two touchdowns as Central Michigan absolutely rolled the Boilermakers 38-17 in West Lafayette. Purdue trailed the whole game and is clearly inferior to mid-level MAC schools at this point of the season.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Northern Illinois 15-23 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Western Illinois)

Two losses to start the 2014 season have left Northwestern with a 2-9 record since the middle of last season as the program continues to unravel underneath Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are the only team in the conference without a win.

Michigan-Appalachian State game preview

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Game Preview_AppSt_banner

The last — and only — time Appalachian State visited the Big House, the Mountaineers gained a lot of new fans from Columbus and East Lansing. Michigan fans would love to forget that day ever happened, but thanks to tomorrow’s rematch we all get to talk about it yet again. After tomorrow, unless lightning strikes twice, we can all move on to bigger and better things, but for now the focus is on App State.

UM-AppSt-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Appalachian St. Head Coach: Scott Satterfield (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 4-8 (all at App State)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Dwayne Ledford (2nd season)
Frank Ponce (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Nate Woody (2nd season)
Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 4-8 (4-4 SoCon)
Last Meeting: ASU 34 – UM 32 (2007)
All-Time Series: App State leads 1-0
Record in Ann Arbor: App State leads 1-0
Michigan vs Sun Belt Conf: 0-0 (First meeting)
Michigan in season openers: 110-21-3

Raise your hand if you’re excited about this rematch. Anyone? The only positive of playing this game is bringing the all-time series out of the red — a rare position for a Michigan opponent. Appalachian State is one of just 14 current Division 1 opponents with a winning record against Michigan. Only two of those 14 — Cornell (12-6) and USC (6-4) — have more than a one-game lead over the Wolverines all-time. Beating App State tomorrow would eliminate one of the 14, and while that may not seem like a big deal, it means something because of our classic Michigan arrogance. Another one of those can be eliminated next season when Michigan hosts Brigham Young.

That 2007 game of which we don’t want to discuss marked the beginning of the fall for Michigan, and while no one could have seen it coming, it took a disgustingly perfect confluence of events. That App State team was an FCS powerhouse, beginning a third-straight FCS championship run with the type of explosive quarterback Lloyd Carr defenses could never stop.

The current version of Appalachian State is far less proven and talented as it makes the transfer to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Jerry Moore, the coach at the time, and a member of this year’s College Football Hall of Fame class, has since retired. The Mountaineers are coming off of a 4-8 season in which they ranked 76th in FCS in scoring offense (23.6 points per game) and 69th in scoring defense (28 points per game). Two of those wins came against Elon and Western Carolina, which had a combined record of 4-20, and 2-14 in the Southern Conference. Sixteen starters do return, but as App State makes the move to FBS this fall, the talent isn’t where it was seven years ago. Let’s take a look at the Mountaineers.

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

Marcus Cox App St.

If healthy, Marcus Cox will be a good early test for Michigan’s run defense (Keith Cline, Appalachian State Athletics)

Eight starters are back, including the quarterback, a breakout running back, and the entire offensive line. But head coach Scott Satterfield needs to find replacements for his top two receivers, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington, who combined for 142 catches for 1,645 yards, and six touchdowns.

The leading returning true receiver is Malachi Jones, who caught 31 passes for 293 yards. The only other returning receivers that caught a pass are a pair of all-name contenders, Simms McElfresh (20 for 269 and two touchdowns) and Bobo Beathard (three for 28). Tight end Barrett Burns is also back after catching 22 passes for 205 yards and a score last season. One player to watch is former four-star recruit Tacoi Sumler, who started his career at Oregon before transferring to ASU in 2012. He was ranked as the 11th-best receiver in the 2011 class and redshirted in his only season at Oregon. He played some in 2012, but missed last season with a knee injury.

Running back Marcus Cox is the leading returning receiver in terms of receptions (43), yards (559), and touchdowns (six). He also led the team with 1,250 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. To top it all off, the 5’10”, 180-pound Dacula, Ga. native was just a true freshman. He has been hampered by a knee injury, but should be ready to go. If he’s not up to full speed, look for junior Ricky Fergeson, who was the only other running back over 100 yards last season, with 215 on 55 carries, to carry the load.

Quarterback Kameron Bryant had a solid sophomore campaign, completing 71.2 percent of his passes for 2,713 yards and 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions in eight starts. He also scored three rushing touchdowns, though he’s nowhere near the runner Edwards was. The job is his full-time after the graduation of Jamal Londry-Jackson, who started the other four games a year ago.

The offensive line has 143 career starts between the eight returning linemen, including left tackle Kendall Lamm, a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.

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

In addition to giving up 28 points per game, Appalachian State’s defense allowed 220.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked 105th nationally in FCS, and an average of 4.9 yard per rush. The pass defense was much better — 17th nationally — with an average of 180.2 yards allowed. But, because the rush defense was so porous, opposing offenses didn’t need to throw very much, attempting an average of 24 passes per game. In fact, only nine teams in FCS had fewer passes attempted against them, and three of those were in fewer games played.

Just like the offense, eight starters return. Leading tackler, linebacker Karl Anderson, who tallied 113 tackles — 40 more than the next best — is gone. But two other starting linebackers are back. John Law and Kennan Gilchrist combined for 130 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery as true freshmen.

Defensive end Deuce Robinson led App State with seven tackles for loss last season (Keith Cline, Appalachian State Athletics)

Defensive end Deuce Robinson led App State with seven tackles for loss last season (Keith Cline, Appalachian State Athletics)

Along the defensive line, virtually everyone is back return with the exception of end Adam Scott. Senior defensive end Deuce Robinson and junior end Thomas Bronson combined for 51 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles, but Scott, who graduated, led the team with 8.5 tackles-for-loss. The Mountaineers recorded just eight sacks all season, so getting to the quarterback will be a big area for improvement. There are plenty of bodies back on the interior, most notably 6’2″, 325-pound nose tackle Tyson Fernandez.

Free safety Alex Gray, who led the secondary with 73 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, and is the only member of the secondary to record a sack, is gone. Two other safeties, Doug Middleton and Kevin Walton are back, however. The pair combined for 102 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, and three interceptions. Cornerback Joel Ross, who started nine games in 2013, is also back, as is Dante Blackmon, who started six. In addition, ASU received a junior college transfer, Jordan Ford, from Monroe College (N.Y.) who should factor into the discussion.

The other third: Special teams

Field goal kicker Drew Stewart has moved on, but junior Zach Matics had a good spring and is in line to win the job. Sophomore punter Bentlee Critcher ranked second in FCS with a 45.9 average. He also downed 15-of-51 (29.4 percent) inside the 20, compared to just five touchbacks, and booted 18 over 50 yards. ASU must replace main kick returner Tony Washington, but Beathard averaged 22.1 yards on seven returns last season. Washington also handled punt return duties, so that role will need to be filled. Sumler should factor into the return game if he’s fully recovered from his knee injury.

Prediction

Maize and Go Blue wasn’t around back in 2007, but if it would have been, we would have predicted a big Michigan win, because at the time, who wouldn’t? This time around we’re still going to predict a big Michigan win. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will want to flex his muscles a bit and get the offense rolling. And while tomorrow’s performance won’t really prove anything for the rest of the season, it will be important to develop some confidence with the offensive line, get Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith going on the ground, and find some chemistry between Devin Gardner and his talented but largely unproven receiving corps. Opposing offenses ran at will on Appalachian State and Michigan will do the same.

Defensively, Michigan will focus on shutting down Cox and the Mountaineer running game, forcing Bryant to try to make big plays with his arm. He’s certainly capable of doing so, but without his top two receivers from last season, Michigan’s secondary could be in for a big day. It will also be the first look at Greg Mattison’s new aggressive defense. Look for the line to put plenty of pressure on Bryant and force several turnovers.

Just like last year’s season opener against Central Michigan, look for Shane Morris and the second team to play much of the fourth quarter as Michigan takes care of business and moves on to Notre Dame.

Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 10