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Posts Tagged ‘Fitzgerald Toussaint’

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.

Drew’s Mailbag: Running backs, running backs, and more running backs

Monday, June 16th, 2014


It’s time for another installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run frequently throughout the offseason as Maize and Go Blue prepares for and previews the 2014 Michigan football season. The topics will cover more than just football, though. I will address any questions regarding Michigan athletics, including basketball, recruiting, etc., you may have. So fire away on Twitter (DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

Many of you submitted great questions this past week. However, with the recent announcement that former USC running back Ty Isaac has transferred to Michigan, the topic on everyone’s mind is Isaac and Michigan’s running back situation. Therefore, this installment will focus solely on Michigan’s running backs situation, and I will address your great questions on other topics in a future mailbag. With that said, let’s dive in:

Is it better if [Ty] Isaac is able to play right away or save his eligibility? –Zach (@ZachWoodruff3)

When running back Ty Isaac announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from USC to Michigan, the first question out of Michigan fans’ mouths was whether he would be eligible to play this season. Isaac transferred from USC because he desired to be closer to his mother, who has an inner ear problem due to recent complications related to a surgical procedure, in his hometown of Joliet, Illinois. Consequently, Isaac and Michigan will soon or already have submitted paperwork to the NCAA requesting a family hardship waiver. If the NCAA grants it, Isaac would be able to play for Michigan this fall, rather than sit out all of the 2014 season.

However, it seems like a longshot that the NCAA will approve Isaac’s family hardship waiver request. Whether or not the NCAA grants the waiver depends on the nature of the family member’s illness or injury, the type of care the athlete must provide, and the proximity of the athlete’s new school to his ailing family member. Although Isaac’s mother’s ear injury is undoubtedly a serious one, it does not seem to be an injury that requires constant care and assistance from Isaac on a daily basis. Further, the NCAA recently refined the rules to deny family hardship waiver requests from athletes who transferred to a school further than 100 miles away from the family member’s home. The NCAA’s rationale was that the athlete would be too far away from home to provide regular care for his ailing family member if outside this 100-mile radius. Ann Arbor is 250 miles away from Joliet. Thus, the odds are against Isaac that the NCAA grants his request and allows him to play for the Wolverines this season.

Isaac

Isaac is unlikely to receive a hardship waiver that would allow him to play this season

Yet, this would probably be the better outcome for Michigan. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver, there would be a logjam on Michigan’s depth chart at running back. The Wolverines already have three scholarship running backs entering their sophomore season of athletic eligibility—Derrick Green, Drake Johnson, and De’Veon Smith. Isaac would be the fourth if he is allowed to play this season. There are not enough carries to go around for four running backs on a squad, let alone four that would all be sophomores. At least two would be no better than Michigan’s third-stringer for the remainder of their careers. It would lead to their inevitable transfer from Michigan due to lack of playing time.

Further, not only would there be a logjam, Michigan would possibly not have any quality freshmen or sophomore running backs for the 2015 season. After taking both Green and Smith in the 2013 class, Michigan did not heavily pursue any running back targets in 2014, setting its sights on the running back corps in 2015.

Initially, all went as planned as Michigan received a commitment from five-star Damien Harris in late July 2013. But, after Michigan’s 7-6 record in 2013 and the subsequent firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges, Harris decommitted. Michigan has since fallen out of the lead with its other top running back targets and seems to be trailing by a considerable margin in all of those recruitments. There is a very real chance that the Wolverines strike out at running back in 2015 after passing in 2014. Therefore, if Isaac does not redshirt, there would be a giant gap in Michigan’s depth chart. It may not affect Michigan immediately, but it could be a major issue in the foreseeable future.

The counterpoint is that Michigan does not have the luxury to worry about its depth chart in 2017 and beyond. Coming off two seasons with 8-5 and 7-6 records which have head coach Brady Hoke feeling some heat, Michigan cannot afford another disappointing season. The Wolverines need to put together a successful season and that means winning games now. In order to do that, Michigan will need to have all of its best talent available to play immediately. This includes Isaac, who was a five-star recruit in high school. This is a great point, and I do not necessarily disagree with it.

This is why the best scenario for Michigan is the NCAA granting Isaac’s family hardship waiver request, but Michigan still planning to redshirt Isaac anyway. It would provide Michigan the opportunity to at least attempt to balance its depth chart at running back. Additionally, it would give Green and Smith—who also were heralded running backs in high school—another crack to live up to high expectations after a somewhat discouraging freshman season.

However, if Green and Smith do not produce as Michigan needs, then the Wolverines would still be able to shed Isaac’s redshirt and throw him in there this season. Isaac would then still be able to salvage Michigan’s running back situation for2014. This would be the best of both worlds for Michigan. This is the outcome that Michigan fans should root for, although the odds of Michigan still redshirting Isaac if the NCAA grants his waiver are slim to none.

If Ty Isaac gets a hardship waiver, what do you think the pecking order is at RB? –Steve (SteveCKays)

Even if Ty Isaac receives his family hardship waiver and is eligible to play this season, he still will be behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith on the depth chart. At least initially. Green and Smith have been No. 1a and No. 1b, respectively, on the depth chart since the end of last season. I do not think that changes with the addition of Isaac. Green was Hoke’s prized recruit in the 2013 class as a five-star prospect and the best player at his position. He had 83 carries as a freshman, which was the second-most by a Michigan running back behind the departed Fitzgerald Toussaint, and 42 of those were in Michigan’s final three regular-season games. Although Green had an underwhelming first year, reports are that he finally is back in the shape he was in when he was considered the best running back in his recruiting class. If Green can demonstrate that combination of size and strength that made scouts drool, he will be Michigan’s starting running back in 2014.

Nonetheless, Smith will be pushing Green for the starting job. Smith does not quite have the physical measurements that Green has, but Smith has shown flashes of a running back who has great instincts and can fight through tackles. He and Green split carries with the first-team offense throughout Michigan’s spring camp, and Smith actually worked with the first unit more during Michigan’s spring “game.” Nonetheless, I believe Smith still is slightly behind Green in this competition, but they both likely will see carries on first and second downs this season.

Where Isaac would enter the picture, at least initially, would be as Michigan’s third-down back. Prior to Isaac’s transfer, this role belonged to Justice Hayes. However, Isaac would be a perfect fit here. First, one of Isaac’s greatest assets is his hands. While Isaac can do a great job of taking a handoff, making one cut, and exploding through the line of scrimmage, he may even be a better safety valve by catching passes out of the backfield on screens and other routes. Further, Isaac is 6’3”. Although he still needs to work on his pass blocking, his size will better help him block opposing rushers than Hayes, who is 5’10”. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver request, this is where he would make his greatest impact for Michigan’s offense. However, if both Green and Smith struggle, Isaac would be the player given an opportunity to be the featured back in Michigan’s offense.

With only one RB slot in the 2015 class, is [Damien] Harris still the No. 1 target? –Zach (ZachWoodruff3)
Cass Tech's Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

Cass Tech’s Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

No, I think Cass Technical’s Mike Weber (Detroit, Mich.) has passed Madison Southern’s Damien Harris (Berea, Ky.) as Michigan’s No. 1 target at running back in the 2015 class. Before Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges, there was no doubt that Harris was the top guy on its recruiting board. Not only did Harris grow up rooting for the Wolverines, but he also was considered by many recruiting services to be the best running back in his class. In fact, at the moment, Rivals ranks Harris as the fourth-best player overall in the 2015 class. So it was a great recruiting win for Michigan when Harris chose to commit to the Wolverines in late July 2013.

However, one of the key reasons why Harris offered his verbal pledge to Michigan was Borges. With Borges no longer in Ann Arbor, Harris wanted to reconsider his options and see if Michigan still was the best place for him. So he decommitted. Although Harris reiterated over and over that Michigan still was his favorite school, it is very rare for a recruit to re-commit to a school after decommitting. Will Campbell and David Dawson are the exceptions, not the rule. As time has passed since Harris’ decommitment, his interest in Michigan seems to have waned, while he has become more intrigued with Ohio State, unfortunately. I think Michigan has realized this and adjusted its priorities.

On the other hand, Michigan’s relationship with Weber has improved tremendously since it hired Doug Nussmeier to replace Borges. After Harris’ commitment, Michigan and Weber fell out of contact as the Wolverines had their man at running back. But, since Nussmeier’s arrival in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s interest in Weber seems to have peaked. Weber has been quoted recently as saying that Michigan has made him a priority again and that he is interested in Michigan once again. He also added that no one at Michigan is recruiting him harder than Nussmeier.

Although the Wolverines still are outside Weber’s top three, which includes Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, Michigan has a great opportunity to jump back into the race. It certainly does not hurt that Weber has unofficially visited the Michigan campus twice in the past two weeks. All signs indicate that Weber is Michigan’s top running back target for the 2015 class. This is probably the right move because he likely is Michigan’s best chance at not striking out at the position in this recruiting cycle.

Predicting Michigan: The running backs

Friday, June 13th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-RunningBacks

Derrick Green(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

The most glaring hole in the Michigan offense during 2013 was the absence of a legitimate rushing threat. A porous offensive line and indecisive running backs combined to cripple the one-dimensional Wolverine offense and led to a 755-yard decrease in rushing yards from 2012. Fortunately for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, several players emerged as potential contributors in the backfield towards the end of the 2013 campaign.

Michigan’s worst rushing performance in the team’s 134-year history (minus-48 yards against Michigan State) came during a season in which a recruiting class loaded with running back talent took the field. Brady Hoke brought one five-star recruit and two four-star recruits to Ann Arbor in the class of 2013, only to watch his team rush for 3.3 yards per carry on the season. If Michigan hopes to steer the program back in the right direction, that number will have to improve drastically under Nussmeier.

Michigan did add USC transfer Ty Isaac last week, but this preview assumes that he does not receive a hardship waiver from the NCAA and has to take a redshirt this fall.

The Starters

When he arrived in Ann Arbor, Nussmeier announced that he will use two primary running backs during the 2014 season. Much as he did with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon in 2012 at Alabama, the new offensive coordinator will use the depth at his disposal to get the most out of his rushing attack.

De'Veon Smith showed promise at the end of 2013, rushing for 57 yards on seven carries against Ohio State

De’Veon Smith showed promise at the end of 2013, rushing for 57 yards on seven carries against Ohio State

One of the most important players to Michigan’s upcoming season was also one of the most disappointing during 2013. Sophomore Derrick Green gained just 270 yards on 83 attempts in his first college season after showing up to camp out of shape and struggling with discipline. Green was the most highly-touted recruit in Michigan’s top-five class after his commitment famously made Hoke cry with relief.

Green is perhaps the player with the most to gain under Nussmeier, as his ground-and-pound mentality that made him the top running back recruit in the country mirrors that of Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to a national championship under Nussmeier in 2012.

Green’s best game came in week one against Central Michigan, when he ran for 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. But as the season progressed, the offensive line’s struggles hurt Green more than any other running back as rushing between the tackles became nearly impossible.

Hoke’s star recruit learned from his freshman mistake and showed up to camp in better shape this season, looking faster and more confident than he ever did throughout his first season. Green gives Michigan the best chance to be an elite team as his ceiling is higher than possibly any other back in the Big Ten.

Despite the hype surrounding Green, his classmate De’Veon Smith appeared to play the role of starting running back during the spring practice on April 5. Smith rushed for the best average (4.5 yards per carry) of any regular running back in 2013 and saw his role increase late in the season. After carrying the ball just seven times in the first nine games, Smith’s number was called 15 times in the final three regular season games.

At 5’11″, 223-pounds, Smith features almost the exact same running style as Green, but demonstrated better instincts when plays broke down in 2013. Nussmeier is faced with a difficult decision between Smith and Green, but both players will likely see significant time throughout the upcoming season.

Projected Stats – Green
Attempts Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
160 650 4.1 11 50.0
Career Stats
2013 83 270 3.3 30 2 20.8
Totals 83 270 3.3 30 2 20.8
Projected Stats – Smith
Attempts Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
130 500 3.8 4 30.8
Career Stats
2013 26 117 4.5 38 0 9.8
Totals 26 117 4.5 38 0 9.8

Veteran Depth

Michigan’s depth took a small hit when Thomas Rawls decided to transfer in the winter, but there are still plenty of quality options at Nussmeier’s disposal.

Drake Johnson began 2013 as the No. 2 back, but tore his ACL in the season opener (Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Drake Johnson began 2013 as the No. 2 back, but tore his ACL in the season opener (Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Senior Justice Hayes has made some noise throughout the offseason, and played better than both sophomores during the spring game. Hayes was largely invisible during the 2013 season, carrying the ball twice for six yards. His most productive game came alongside Shane Morris in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, when he caught three passes for 22 yards.

Hayes is a very different running back than Smith and Green, relying on speed and reads more than strength and power. Despite weighing just 190 pounds, the senior demonstrated the best pass-blocking ability, which is valuable behind an inexperienced offensive line. Hayes will have to dazzle coaches to earn a starting position, but he will be an important member of the rotation during the fall either way.

The top returning running back from Michigan’s 2013 depth chart has yet to take any reps in training camp, as redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson continues to recover from a torn ACL in the season-opener. Johnson was listed second on the running back depth chart at the start of 2013 behind Fitzgerald Toussaint, but ran the ball just twice before his season ended while covering a kickoff.

Hoke said that the running back competition will be complete only when Johnson returns during fall camp, but it’s unlikely that the young back will have enough time to earn a starting spot by August 30. Look for Johnson to provide depth for Nussmeier if he returns from his injury on schedule.

Projected Stats – Hayes
Attempts Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 150 4.3 2 11.5
Career Stats
2013 2 6 3.0 7 0 0.5
2012 18 83 4.6 24 1 13.8
2011 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 20 89 4.5 24 1 4.7
Projected Stats – Johnson
Attempts Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
70 250 3.6 2 19.2
Career Stats
2013 2 9 4.5 7 0 9.0
Totals 2 9 4.5 7 0 9.0

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

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

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

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

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

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

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will catch passes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the line shape up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


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

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

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

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

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Winners:
2012: Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch against Northwestern
2011: Denard’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat ND

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

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

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

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

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

Past Winners:
2012: Denard recording 101% of offense vs Air Force
2011: Denard’s five TDs in win over Ohio State

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Heston Running Back of the Year None

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

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

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

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

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

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

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

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

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

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

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

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

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

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

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB staff predictions: Kansas State

Friday, December 27th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21

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

Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21

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

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

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

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

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

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

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

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

Michigan vs Kansas State game preview

Friday, December 27th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other third: Special teams

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Friend vs Foe: Kansas State

Thursday, December 26th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

On Special Teams:

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

Prediction:

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

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

Blow for blow: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 41

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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