Sadly, another Michigan football season has come to an end. It ended with a tough, last-second loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. As with any game, there were areas of Michigan’s performance which can be looked at as both positives and negatives as we start looking ahead to next season.
As has been pointed out by a number of folks during the past week, the Wolverines played pretty well overall but were hurt throughout the game by the big chunk plays which South Carolina was able to get on offense. Michigan dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 15 minutes more than the other side. Also, the running game, although it didn’t look like Michigan’s traditional style, was effective in keeping the South Carolina defense off-balance. Because of this, the passing game opened up some and quarterback Devin Gardner was able to hit some big passes, including three touchdowns. Lastly, the Wolverines converted all five of their opportunities in the red zone into points.
Let’s be honest. The offense MUST find a running game next season. Michigan will not be bailed out by Denard Robinson any longer just because the running backs aren’t running the ball effectively. And using Devin Gardner as a running threat will not be part of the offensive play-calling as Al Borges moves back toward his more traditional style of offense. My first hope is that Fitz Toussaint is able to both physically and mentally recover from last season and return to the form of the 2011 season. If not, the running game could rest on the back of a true freshman (Derrick Green?!) and sophomore Justice Hayes.
While some may be worried that the loss of Denard Robinson to graduation will be a major blow to the Michigan offense, I choose to look at it in a more positive light. Yes, Denard was a force which defenses had to prepare for every week. However, the injury which he sustained to his elbow midway through the season may have been a blessing in disguise when it comes to 2013. Had he not been injured, neither the coaches nor the fans would have seen the offensive possibilities of Gardner at quarterback. Most had assumed that Gardner would continue to play wide receiver for the rest of his career with incoming freshmen quarterback Shane Morris set to arrive in Ann Arbor next season. Now, after seeing the possibilities, it would be foolish to move Gardner back to receiver. Yes, Michigan is set to be thin at that position next season. But as we saw early in the year, he wasn’t as much of a threat when he had to rely on the quarterback to get him the ball before he could do anything. And he certainly isn’t likely to be a threat when a true freshman (Morris) is lining up under center. I know Morris is good and all, but freshmen are rarely able to come into major college football and make a major impact right off the bat. Unless, of course, you are Johnny Manziel, which Morris is not. With Gardner likely to receive a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA, that means two more seasons of Gardner at QB. That also means that Morris can redshirt for a year and by the time it’s his time to play, he will still have three years of eligibility. Michigan is looking good at quarterback for the near future.
A moment ago I touched on Borges and his play-calling. Over the last two seasons, we have all been frustrated at times with his inability to use Denard in ways which would take advantage of his unique skill set. Well, with Denard not a consideration any longer, Borges won’t have to spend time building a game plan each week for Denard. Instead, Borges can use his time to game plan only one offensive style. Not multiple. Being an offensive coordinator at a major college football program is not an easy job I’m sure. But if Borges is able to spend less time on something that wasn’t really in his nature to use anyway, the Michigan offense may be better off. In no way am I advocating that the loss of Denard is a good thing, just saying that it may be better for a coordinator like Al Borges. Only time will tell.
The biggest holes that will need to be filled this offseason are at receiver and on the offensive line. Since it is often easy for young players to make an impact at receiver, the bigger worry for me is the line. This season, the line wasn’t great, even with Taylor Lewan. With his departure for the NFL, Michigan loses three starters that will likely be replaced with younger players. Guys like Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, and any one of the five or six incoming freshmen will have to step up and play well for the Michigan offense next season.
How about the other side of the ball? For the past two seasons, the defense has been consistently good, due in large part to the schemes of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. In 2012, according to the numbers, its strength was its pass defense. They were weaker while trying to defend the run due to less talent on the defensive line. Throughout the season, I wasn’t convinced that the Michigan defense was truly a Top 5 pass defense. I think those numbers were due in large part to the competition they were playing. All but one of their opponents this season (Alabama) ran a run-first offense, and even Alabama ran a very balanced attack. The Outback Bowl proved this to be true. South Carolina gashed the Wolverines through the air, consistently getting behind the deepest level of the secondary and finding the open holes in the defense.
The bottom line is that Michigan must get faster in the secondary. Losing J.T. Floyd due to suspension because he cared more about doing drugs than being there for his team didn’t make a difference. He wasn’t that good anyway. And Jordan Kovacs, while an important leader for the team as a whole, was not a coverage guy. He thrived playing at the line of scrimmage and aiding in the run defense. More speed in the secondary, and the continued development of guys like Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and the incoming group of freshmen will help. Certainly, the return of Blake Countess will be a huge plus as well.
With the loss of only William Campbell and Craig Roh, the defensive line should be as good or better next season. Guys such as Frank Clark, Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins, and Jibreel Black all made impacts this year. There are also a number quality defensive line recruits from the last two seasons who have been waiting for their opportunity to play, including Tom Strobel and Chris Wormley.
We all know that the linebacking corps is the strength of the defense. Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden, and Desmond Morgan are the leaders. The loss of Kenny Demens will be felt somewhat, but in comes guys like Cam Gordon, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and James Ross to earn the privilege of playing for the Michigan defense.
The prospects for 2013 are bright. Head Coach Brady Hoke has this team headed in the right direction and the Top 10 recruiting classes which he has managed to bring in will keep that momentum going. Next season should be an exciting one, as Michigan will be in a better position to play for the Big Ten title. Go Blue!
Posts Tagged ‘Fitzgerald Toussaint’
Last time Michigan took the field, Sam was almost exactly right with his prediction of 27-21 Ohio State. The actual score was 26-21. It was Sam’s second win of the season, moving him into a tie with Chris, Josh, and Katie for second. If any one of them win this week, he or she will tie Matt for the weekly title. If not, Matt will win it outright. This is a tough one to pick because nobody really knows how Denard will be utilized and we aren’t that familiar with South Carolina. The Gamecocks are favored to win, so let’s take a look at our picks:
Justin (1): I’ve said it several times already, but I think Al Borges will determine who wins this game. South Carolina has a very good defense led by outstanding pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and if Michigan’s offense is as predictable as it was in the second half of the Ohio State game, Michigan doesn’t stand a chance. I do think Michigan has the advantage of getting five weeks to prepare. Yes, both teams get that amount of time, but the way the offense changed when Denard was replaced at quarterback by Devin Gardner negates any advantage South Carolina’s defensive staff has to look at film. Nobody truly knows how Denard will be utilized and it’s up to Borges to call a great game, using Denard all over the field in a variety of packages and giving him the threat of throwing it. That’s the only way to keep South Carolina’s defense on its heels.
The Gamecocks will look to run right at Michigan and exploit J.T. Floyd’s replacement, Courtney Avery. Steve Spurrier will employ a two-quarterback attack to try to keep Michigan’s defense off balance. Connor Shaw is a dual threat, while Dylan Thompson is a more traditional passer.
It will take a flawlessly executed game by Michigan’s offense to win and I don’t see that happening. It will be a close game, but South Carolina’s defense will be too much for Michigan to execute perfectly. For more, see the First Look, this morning’s Game Preview, Friday’s Friend vs Foe, or my Q&A with Garnet and Black Attack.
South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20
Chris (2): This bowl matchup presents an interesting matchup for the Wolverines. South Carolina started the season with stud running back Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, but he was lost to a gruesome knee injury mid-way through the year. Since then, the Gamecocks have lacked a real threat in the running game and have gone to a more wide-open spread attack with mobile QBs Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. For being a Steve Spurrier coached team, South Carolina doesn’t pass as much as you would think.
On the other side, Michigan has lacked a true running game all season. Other than when Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner has run the ball, Michigan has been unable to move the ball on the ground. Like South Carolina, Michigan only really throws the ball when they have to. Once Denard injured his elbow during the Nebraska game, Gardner was able to provide a spark in the passing game despite not having played the position much so far in his Michigan career.
In 2012, defenses led both of these teams. Michigan led the NCAA in total pass defense for the majority of the season but was not very good against the run. South Carolina, on the other hand, looked to have one of college football’s best total defenses early on, but they were exposed in back-to-back weeks against LSU and Florida. Still, they are good against both the run and pass due to their overall defensive talent and speed. They also feature an outstanding pass rush, led by a freak of a player in All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
I think Michigan is going to have their hands full in this game. Without a running game to keep the defense honest, South Carolina will be able to focus on containing Robinson and Gardner in the backfield. As long as they don’t rush too quickly upfield, they should be able to limit their ability to escape the pocket. Even if they do get out in space, South Carolina is fast enough to limit their total yardage. I do think Michigan will be able to limit South Carolina in the passing game, but it won’t matter as that’s not the focus of the Gamecock offense. South Carolina will feature a balanced attack with a mobile QB and a lot of overall speed. While I’ll be cheering for the Wolverines, I think South Carolina wins.
South Carolina 30 – Michigan 17
Josh (2): Michigan has a chance to once again beat an SEC team. Something the rest of the Big Ten can’t seem to do lately; I’m talking to you Ohio St.
With Devin Gardner solidified as the starting QB, Michigan has gained a legit passing threat and Denard will no doubt be featured at various positions in his Wolverine finale. Just what those positions may be is yet to be determined, but rest assured he’ll be out there doing everything he can to help Michigan win another bowl game for Brady Hoke. Given Al Borges’ tendency for crappy play calling in big games recently I am not so optimistic heading into this match up. South Carolina isn’t as explosive on offense as they were with Marcus Lattimore but they aren’t anything to scoff at. However, Michigan’s defense should be able to keep the Gamecock’s offense in check giving the offense a chance to put some points on the board.
With the recent addition of a passing game Michigan know only needs to find its running game. With Fitz out that task rests on the shoulders of Denard Robinson, Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith. I’m not sure who will step up, if anyone, but someone needs to help Gardner out with a rushing attack. Given what we’ve seen thus far, I’d say Denard is our only chance of having a rushing game though. If he can stay healthy and on the field, Michigan has a chance to win the game. But the Gamecock defense will be doing everything they can to hit Denard and hit him hard every time he has the ball. If Denard isn’t out there every play Michigan’s chances of winning this game drop dramatically. The Gamecock’s defense is not one you want to face with a one-dimensional offense.
The heart of that defense is what scares me (and most other teams) the most, Jadeveon Clowney. For me this game will come down to Michigan’s ability to keep Clowney from being a disruptive force as he has been all season. I just don’t see that happening. Taylor Lewan is an All-American, but I’m not so sure he’s even worthy of being an All-Big Ten lineman. I expect South Carolina to move Clowney around the defensive front to give Michigan different looks and to exploit mismatches as often as possible. Gardner and Denard are both great athletes and not prone to taking sacks, and Clowney may not rack up any sacks or TFL’s but I still think he will leave his fingerprints all over the outcome of this game.
Gardner is mobile and can definitely make plays but I just don’t see Michigan coming out of this one with a win if they cannot get the run game going as well. South Carolina’s defense is better than OSU’s, and poor play calling aside, the Buckeyes shut us down in the 2nd half of that game. The Ole Ball Coach is a wily veteran and as much as it pains me to predict a Michigan loss, that is what I am doing. I sure hope I’m wrong though!
South Carolina 31 – Michigan 21
Matt (3): What a great time of year this is. Although the end of the season always brings disappointment, knowing we won’t get that college football experience until next August, bowl games and the National Championship are always something to get excited for.
We Michigan fans haven’t had the greatest year, seeing as Michigan lost four games. Although, when you look at the losses, it’s not as bad as it seems. Losing to Alabama and Notre Dame, who are currently ranked #1 and #2 and will be meeting on January 7th in the National Championship Game, isn’t something to be too down on. The loss against Ohio State hurts, but they did go undefeated. The Nebraska loss was tough, and many feel if Devin Gardner came in instead of Russell Bellomy that it would have been a whole different ball game. But enough about that.
Michigan will be playing a New Year’s Day bowl game, the Outback Bowl, against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Another Big Ten vs SEC matchup.
If you compare ratings, these teams are similar. South Carolina gets the edge in rushing yards per game, but they are without Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks get the edge in passing yards per game as well, with Connor Shaw leading the team. Shaw has had an impressive year.
Michigan still has the dual-threat combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner at quarterback, although we aren’t sure how Al Borges will decide to use them in the bowl game. Will they both be on the field at the same time? Or will they split snaps?
Looking at stats, South Carolina has held teams to less points compared to Michigan, but not by that many.
I think the key to Michigan gaining this victory is how Al Borges decides to play Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. If you have both of these incredible athletes on the field, you have the defense spread thin, having to cover both men very heavily.
Both are a huge threat at any position they play, although I prefer seeing Gardner at quarterback while Robinson is at running back or receiver.
It’s going to be a tough game for the Michigan Wolverines. South Carolina plays in the SEC. We all know the SEC is a top notch conference. Their only losses were at the hands of Florida and LSU. Michigan is definitely going to have their hands full. But I see Brady Hoke, Al Borges and Greg Mattison having these guys ready. And at the end of the 4th quarter, I see Michigan winning by a small margin.
Write it down folks! Michigan wins this one, 31-28. Go Blue!
Michigan 31 – South Carolina 28
Sam (2): [Sam didn't get a chance to submit a full write-up, but submitted his score prediction].
South Carolina 27 – Michigan 17
Katie (2): The outlook for this game looks to be pretty even. South Carolina is ranked just out of the top ten, and Michigan just inside the top twenty. Their defenses are #12 and #11, respectively. As for the offensive side of the ball, neither are in the top fifty, though the Wolverines do rank in at #6 in third down conversion, while the Gamecocks are a considerably lower #43. Michigan is also #40 in rushing offense, and while their opponent can’t better that they also lost their leading rusher Marcus Lattimore to a horrific knee injury this season. Michigan however, was able to bring back their wounded star for the Ohio State game, and though Robinson won’t likely be passing he still has the potential to be lethal with his feet, and perhaps even deadlier in some type of wildcat offense alongside Devin Gardner. But the Gamecocks won’t be any pushover even against a potent Michigan backfield, as they have a formidable rush and red zone defense, and a long tally of intercepted passes that will test the Wolverines oft scoring offense.
With the defenses being on par with each other, this match-up will be about how the offenses break down the opposing side. And Michigan should look to keep South Carolina to under 21 points, as only two losses were when they scored three touchdowns or less, and because they scored 30 or more points in seven games. With an average of just over 13 yards a catch offense, Carolina will keep Michigan’s #2 pass defense on their toes. Which means that the coaches will have to know what to dial in to switch up the game plan in case their team finds itself in a rut.
Overall, it looks to be a great New Year’s day game.
Michigan 30 – Ohio State 24
In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.
Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.
To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.
Click here to revisit last year’s awards.
|Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson|
This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.
Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”
It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.
Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.
“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)
|Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.
“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”
Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.
As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.
“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schulz Defensive Player of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.
To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”
He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)
|Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison|
For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.
In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.
“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.
Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).
“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)
|Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State|
After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.
Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.
In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.
It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.
“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)
|Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern|
When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.
Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.
It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.
Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)
|Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force|
After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.
The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.
“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)
|Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.
While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.
“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”
Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*|
Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.
Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.
No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.
As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.
Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)
|Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon|
The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.
“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.
The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.
“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)
|Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan|
Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.
In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.
“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”
Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell|
William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.
The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.
“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)
|Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.
He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.
“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)
|Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs|
When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.
Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.
“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)
|Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)|
Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.
“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”
Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.
He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.
“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess|
Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.
Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.
“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ‘em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson|
Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.
“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”
“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner|
Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.
In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.
Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.
“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)
* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.
Michigan scored touchdowns on its first six drives and Devin Gardner had a career day as Michigan routed an Iowa team that had beaten it the past three seasons. Denard Robinson played his last game ever in the Big House, and boy was it a good one.
With his elbow injury still inhibiting his ability to throw Denard took the field as a running back. Most assumed it was just to let the senior get on the field one last time, but Al Borges had other ideas. In a glimpse of what he might be in the NFL, Denard played a little running back, wide receiver and quarterback, though he did not attempt any passes. He even managed to break a couple of his trademark runs; one came on a reception which he turned back and ran the entire width of the field en route to a big gain. While it was great to see Denard be Denard again it wasn’t all fun and games as Fitz Toussaint had to be carted off the field with a broken leg. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope he can be back to 100 percent come next spring.
Much like Ohio State has been the Braxton Miller show all year, this game was the Devin Gardner show as he accounted for all six Wolverine scores: three in the air and three on the ground. And while the Iowa defense isn’t anything to be feared, Gardner did what any good quarterback should do against a poor defense: torch it. Devin went 18-of-23 for a career high 314 yards passing and added 37 more yards on the ground to go along with the aforementioned six touchdowns.
The game appeared as though it might be a battle at first as Iowa moved within four points with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. But Michigan had other ideas and rattled off 28 unanswered after that and closed out the Hawkeyes in convincing fashion.
After Michigan scored to go up 7-0, Iowa mounted a 75-yard drive on the legs of Mark Weisman and it looked like Iowa was going to run all over Michigan. The Wolverines answered, scoring on a 37-yard pass to Roundtree, who has quite the chemistry with Gardner. Iowa added a field goal on its next possession to cut the lead to 14-10, but that would be as close as they got. Gardner ran in a score, then hit Vincent Smith on a great screen play to put Michigan up 28-10 at the half. The only mistake – if you want to call it that – that Michigan made all day was a Gardner pick in the fourth quarter.
It is yet to be determined whether Denard will resume his duties as quarterback next week against the Buckeyes. If I had to guess I’d say that Hoke and Borges will keep Gardner as the starter and continue to use Denard as a receiver/running back. Denard is the heart and soul of this team but there is no denying they are a much better offensive team with Gardner at the helm. Not to take anything away from what Denard means but Gardner is the better passer, plain and simple. That said, Denard is too deadly of an athlete and leader to keep off the field. The freak nerve injury to his elbow may be just what Michigan needs to get past the surging Buckeyes who are still chock full of elite talent, while Michigan is still rebuilding from its failed RichRod experiment. At the very least, we’ve seen a glimpse of what this offense will look like next season with Gardner as the full time starter. I am in no way saying this should have been the set up all year, but now that we’ve seen it I have to say I like it a lot.
Michigan travels to Columbus to take on the undefeated Buckeyes in what is essentially OSU’s bowl game. Before the season I predicted a Michigan loss, but with Devin Gardner under center and Denard Robinson being utilized in other ways I may just change my mind. I will save my prediction for our weekly staff picks later this week.
The final home game of the season is upon us and Michigan will be looking to send its seniors off in style with a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. At this point, the Hawkweys hold the longest winning streak of any opponent over Michigan – three games – and Brady Hoke would love to end that just as he did to the streaks Ohio State and Michigan State had accumulated.
For the third straight week, uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position as Denard Robinson has yet to be publicly cleared to play. Devin Gardner has filled in nicely the past two weeks and will likely be tasked to do the same tomorrow. Michigan remains in contention for the Big Ten Legends division title and a spot in the championship game, but must win out.
Michigan Stadium - Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa should provide a nice tune-up for the epic showdown that looms in Columbus a week from tomorrow. The Hawkeyes come in needing a win to stay alive for bowl contention. At 4-6, Iowa must win its last two to get a bowl bid. Iowa’s four wins were over Northern Illinois (18-17), Northern Iowa (27-16), Minnesota (31-13), and Michigan State (19-16 OT). The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State (9-6), Central Michigan (32-31), Penn State (38-14), Northwestern (28-17), Indiana (24-21), and Purdue (27-24). The latter four of those losses have come consecutively in the last four weeks following the overtime victory over MSU. Can Iowa somehow rekindle the magic it found in East Lansing? Or will Michigan ensure the ‘Hawks will be home for the holidays? Let’s take a look at the matchups.
When Iowa has the ball
As I explained in Monday’s First Look, Iowa’s offense has been downright anemic this season under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The man who coordinated Texas’ offense for 13 seasons hasn’t been able to get things going, but he also doesn’t have Vince Young at his disposal.
James Vandenberg is a competent quarterback, but doesn’t have much to throw to due to the departure of Marvin McNutt. Vandenberg has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. He hasn’t thrown for 250 yards in a game all season and hasn’t thrown multiple touchdowns in a single game either. Penn State held him to just 47.2 percent completions for 189 yards, a touchdown, and two picks and his numbers against Iowa State, Michigan State, and Purdue were similar.
As mentioned above, he lacks top-notch receivers like he had with McNutt. The leaders are Kennan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley who have 46 catches for 560 yards and 47 catches for 545 yards, respectively. But only Martin-Manley has multiple touchdown grabs (two). Mammoth tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz 31 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown. The main issue has been big plays. The entire offense has just 14 plays of 25 yards or more this season. McNutt had 15 by himself a year ago.
In the backfield, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has struck again. The leading rusher, Mark Weisman, had four straight 100-yard games, including a 217-yard performance against Central Michigan and 116 yards against Michigan State. But he left the Northwestern game with an ankle injury and has missed the last two games. He’s likely out this week as well. In his stead, sophomore Damon Bullock has been up and down. He rushed for 107 yards against Northwestern and 150 in the season opener, but has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the last two weeks. Purdue, who Michigan shredded for 304 yards rushing, held him to just 43 yards on 23 carries.
Davis’ offense is of the pro-style variety and calls for a zone running scheme and an underneath passing game. The offensive line has been through its share of injuries this season and has been a major factor in the lack of a run game. The lack of a true deep threat like McNutt has caused the underneath routes to be less effective. Expect Greg Mattison to unleash a blitz scheme designed to pressure Vandenberg into making quick decisions.
When Michigan has the ball
Like the offense, Iowa’s defense is guided by a new coordinator this season. Phil Parker has a solid group of linebackers but not much else. Despite the new coordinator it’s essentially the same defensive style as what Norm Parker ran, as Phil Parker was the team’s defensive backs coach for the previous 13 seasons.
While the Hawkeyes rank 29th nationally in points allowed, the total defense is a mediocre 51st. Each of the last four opponents have racked up over 400 yards of offense, and Penn State surpassed 500.
Junior linebacker Anthony Hitchens is the Big Ten’s leading tackler by a wide margin with 114, while James Morris ranks third and Christian Kirksey ranks 12th. Each of the three has more tackles than Michigan’s leading tackler, Desmond Morgan and they’re all solid linebackers.
The rest of the defense, not so much. Tackle Joe Gaglione has five sacks and nine tackles for loss, but no one else on the team has more than two sacks. The line has trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, ranking 111th nationally with just 11 sacks in 10 games.
The secondary has a pair of experienced corners in Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery. Hyde is the team’s fourth leading tackler with 67, has a pair of fumble recoveries, and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 12 pass breakups. The three-year starter doesn’t get beat often. Lowery, you might remember for knocking down Michigan’s final pass in the end zone last year, thwarting the comeback attempt.
The 4-3 defense employed by Parker isn’t overly aggressive and prefers to sit back and let the play come to it. The last four opponents have scored just an average of just over 29 points per game, and there’s no reason to think Michigan won’t do otherwise.
Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
The other third
Kicker Mike Meyer has converted 16-of-19 field goals on the season with a long of 50. He made 14-of-20 last season and 14-of-17 in 2010 for a career average of 78.6. Punter Connor Kornbrath has an average of 37.4, which ranks 10th in the conference. Former Michigan quarterback commit John Wienke has also punted a dozen times with similar results.
The return game is below average, although Jordan Cotton leads the Big Ten with a 27.9-yard kick return average with one touchdown. Hyde handles punt return duties with an average of 5.4 yards per return. The Hawkeyes do defend returns pretty well, ranking 31st and 27th nationally in kick and punt return coverage, respectively.
The biggest danger for Michigan in this one is overlooking the Hawkeyes for next week’s battle in Columbus. But a couple of factors exist that won’t allow that to happen. First of all, it’s Senior Day, so Denard, Jordan Kovacs, et al. will want to go off in style. Secondly, Michigan has the nation’s second longest home winning streak and hasn’t lost in the Big House since Hoke took over. Finally, Iowa has won the last three meetings and you can bet Hoke won’t let the team overlook that fact. Michigan will come to battle Iowa as if the Hawkeyes were the Buckeyes.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Denard didn’t play much. Michigan can win this one without him and needs him fully healthy for Ohio State, a possible Big Ten championship game, and the bowl game. There’s no use in letting him re-aggravate the elbow in this one. That being said, it is his final game in Michigan Stadium, so he may start and play a series or see a few plays here and there, but don’t expect him to play the full game.
With Gardner at quarterback, Michigan’s offense will look like it has the past two weeks. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will split time in the backfield, although Vincent Smith will likely get some time as well since he’s a senior. Gardner will have another big day throwing and Michigan will cruise to a win, setting up the big one next Saturday.
Michigan 35 – Iowa 17
Last week, none of us expected Denard to miss the entire game, but regardless it went about as expected. Katie picked up her first win of the season, nearly getting the score exactly right. Her 38-13 prediction was just three off of the 35-13 result. The rest of us were all close as well. This week, Michigan returns home to face Northwestern. Denard’s status is up in the air once again, but that shouldn’t change the outcome too much in this one.
Justin (1): Northwestern will put up its best effort, but Michigan will be too much in this one regardless of who pilots the offense. Look for more passing than usual, especially if Devin Gardner is behind center. Big games from Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, or Devin Funchess are in the crystal ball. The Wildcats will hang tough into the third quarter before Michigan seals the deal.
Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17
Chris (2): Northwestern enters this game with two losses (both in the Big Ten) and, like Michigan, is looking for help to make it to the Big Ten Championship. If they lose on Saturday, their chances of winning the conference are gone. Similarily, Michigan is also needing a win to stay in contention for the Big Ten title. However, the Wolverines only need Nebraska to lose one of its remaining games for them to make it to Indianapolis. So there is a lot on the line for both teams.
The strength of this Northwestern team is its rushing offense. They are ranked 13th nationally in total rushing behind Junior running back Venric Mark and dual threat quarterback Kain Colter. The passing game is a different story, however. The Wildcats rank #113 overall. So given this, the key for Michigan will be to stop Northwestern from moving the ball on the ground. I see Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison committing a safety down into the box to provide some extra run support and force Northwestern to the air where the Michigan defense excels.
Defensively, Northwestern is right in the middle of the pack in the NCAA total defense rankings at 60th. They do give up over 3 touchdowns per game and a lot of yardage through the air. This should bode well for either Michigan quarterback that starts the game. We know that Devin Gardner throws a nice ball and if Denard Robinson’s elbow is healthy, he will benefit from a young secondary which has been susceptible to the big play. Michigan will need to run the ball to win though. As we’ve seen with these guys, relying on only the pass to win is not a winning strategy. A good mix of run and pass should open up more plays and help move the ball down the field for the Wolverines.
On another note, expect an aggressive defensive game plan from Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, especially after seeing some of the holes which both Nebraska and Minnesota exposed in the Michigan offensive line. The line must play better than they have the last two weeks and keep the pressure from reaching either Denard or Gardner in the backfield before they can make a play.
I expect this game to be close as both teams are fighting for their seasons. I expect that the Michiagn defense will give up some points, but not more than what the much weaker Northwestern defense will. Northwestern will play on emotion and look to try to create some big turnovers to give their offense some extra possessions. But in the end, Michigan will win.
Michigan 27 – Northwestern 18
Josh (2): Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job in Evanston and Northwestern is not the pushover they once were. However, Michigan still has the better team and better coaching staff. Under Hoke Michigan is undefeated in the Big House and that trend should continue.
Northwestern doesn’t pass the ball much (just under 140 yards per game) but they have a versatile QB in Cain Kolter and they can run the ball very well. Kolter does not present the same type of threat Denard does but he is deadly with the ball nonetheless. His backfield mate, Venric Mark, is built from the Vincent Smith mold; small and quick but with more strength than you’d think.
It is yet to be determined if Denard will resume his duties in the backfield, but Devin Gardner is a capable backup and it shouldn’t matter which QB takes the field. If I had to guess, I’d say Gardner gets the nod as Hoke rests Denard for another week just to be safe. If that is the case look for Borges to try to air it out. This Northwestern defense allowed Taylor Martinez to go 27/39 for 342 yards and while improved he is not considered a great passer. Thomas Rawls should play more of a role as Michigan is still looking to get someone other than Denard going on the ground.
Michigan needs to win this game to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title game. Nebraska has Penn St. at home today, Minnesota next week and must travel to Iowa to end the season. Not the toughest road, but anything can happen.
Michigan takes control of this game late and pulls away in a closer than expected battle.
Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17
Northwestern has only lost two games this season. One to Penn State at Beaver Stadium, and one to Nebraska in Ryan Field. Of course we all know who Michigan has lost to, so let’s not even go there…
Michigan is ranked a little higher in passing than Northwestern, but the Wildcats are ranked higher in rushing. Northwestern has a duo of running backs that are really tearing up defenses. However, Michigan’s defense has turned into a beast this season. After playing horribly against Alabama, and not great against Air Force, our D has really stepped up. I don’t see it being any different this Saturday.
I think that Northwestern will come out being able to move the ball a little at the beginning of the game, but Michigan’s defense is going to wear them out. No matter how many running backs they want to use.
A big question about this game is, will Denard Robinson play? Last week we heard he was going to play. However he did not. Devin Gardner started in his place…and kicked some serious Golden Gopher tail. I heard Denard is day-to-day, which could mean anything. Will we see him Saturday? Not sure. But honestly, if Devin Gardner has to take the snaps as quarterback again, you won’t hear me complaining. But that’s just me.
Michigan comes off of an awesome victory against Minnesota, come into the Big House pumped, take down one of the best in the Big Ten, and never looks back. I predict Michigan will shut down Northwestern’s offense, only allowing a few scores.
Michigan by 25. And they are starting to get pumped for The Game in Columbus…
Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10
Sam (1): This Saturday’s Michigan-Northwestern football game is one big question mark as far as I’m concerned. Sure, Michigan has more talent overall, is the home team, and is playing for a conference championship. At the same time, however, Northwestern is a tough team to figure out, Denard Robinson’s status is up in the air, and the Wildcats won the last matchup between these two teams at the Big House back in 2008.
Still, the oddsmakers give the Wolverines nearly a double-digit edge for this weekend, perhaps because of Northwestern’s inability to close out the big game. And while Northwestern sits at 7-2 overall, with one loss coming at Penn State and another in a one-point heartbreaker against Northwestern, the best team they have beaten is one of Indiana, Vanderbilt, or Iowa – certainly no powerhouses this season. Nebraska and at Penn State are not bad losses for an average team by any means, but the fact that Northwestern blew fourth quarter leads in both of those games raises serious question marks about their ability to stay with and finish off better opponents.
Pat Fitzgerald’s team is quarterbacked by the dual-threat speedster Kain Colter, who has actually run for 100 yards and eight touchdowns more than he has thrown for. The likely reason for that, however, is Northwestern’s other quarterback, Trevor Siemian, who has attempted almost twice as many throws as Colter has but doesn’t have the legs to scare the defense. Fitzgerald will often utilize both of these guys on the field at once to maximize their speed of play and to give defenses a couple drastically different looks using the same exact personnel. Expect more of Colter than Siemian throughout, but I think we will see a decent dose of each.
In the backfield, the cat-like Venric Mark has been remarkable for the Cats, running for 1,072 yards on 166 carries (6.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns. As you may have guessed by now, Northwestern is a team that will keep the ball on the ground, having attempted exactly 150 more rushes than passes through nine weeks. Interestingly, their yards per attempt running (5.3) and passing (5.78) are very similar, hinting that Fitzgerald does a great job of spreading the field. In a running-spread offense, the point is to neutralize defenders and win the numbers game when pounding the rock, which Northwestern has clearly succeeded at so far. More yards per attempt passing would be ideal, but Northwestern just doesn’t have that go-to guy on the outside.
Four receivers for Fitzgerald have recorded at least 200 yards through the air, but no one has more than 266 yards or 26 catches, both fairly low numbers through nine games. Obviously the advantage in using this approach is that defenses need to focus on stopping the run first and cannot key in on any receiver when Colter or Siemian drop back to pass, but the disadvantage is that there isn’t that one reliable guy that can be counted on every night to have a serviceable game.
For Michigan, the receiving woes are quite familiar, as Jeremy Gallon leads the team with merely 22 receptions for 390 yards. The next-leading receiver is Devin Gardner with 16 catches. And Gardner will probably be throwing the balls instead of catching them this Saturday.
The big if for the Wolverines couldn’t be more obvious. If Denard Robinson can safely go, Michigan should have no problem running the ball, and the run should clear up the passing lanes a little bit. If Robinson cannot play, Gardner will step in at quarterback and likely throw and handoff a majority of the time despite his athletic ability because the coaches will do everything in their power to keep him protected; an injury to Gardner in the case of Robinson’s absence would likely see the non-fictional Jack Kennedy taking snaps.
Gardner, of course, will hand the ball off plenty, but the running backs haven’t exactly been a strength for the Wolverines either, as the once-touted Fitz Toussaint has yet to eclipse 100 yards a game, senior Vincent Smith averages just 2.8 yards per carry, and the remaining backs behind them are wildly unproven. This game plan could get very interesting very fast.
With all the uncertainties, a prediction is hard to come up with, but I suppose it’s a requirement to write for this blog. Northwestern has done an above-average job of stopping the run this season and only gives up a tick more than 22 points per game, but Michigan’s defense will be the difference in this game. Neither Colter nor Siemian are big enough passing threats to keep Michigan from stacking the box and slowing the effectiveness of the run. If Denard is back, Michigan has the game in hand going into the fourth quarter. If Gardner is quarterback, this game will come down to the last 10 minutes. Either way, Michigan wins.
Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17
Katie (1): This is where things get interesting. Nebraska and Michigan are tied for first in the Big Ten Legends division, but Michigan, having lost to the Huskers, needs to stay at one loss and see their rival at the top of the standings lose one of its next three conference games. This could very well be a problem if Nebraska goes to 5-1 this weekend by beating Penn State. After that they face a weak opponent in the Golden Gophers before going on the road to Kinnick Stadium to go up against a mediocre Hawkeye team that will likely be looking to play spoiler, and perhaps fighting to remain bowl eligible. That’s also saying that Michigan will finish the season with three more wins against Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State, which makes the loss to Nebraska look more and more like the crack that eventually leads to the breaking of the dam, and the washing away of the dream of a conference championship.
But there are still three weeks left of football to be played, and anyone who watches the top 25 rankings knows just how much can happen in one week, let alone three.
Northwestern is 7-2 (3-2) with losses to Penn State and Nebraska. They have yet to play a ranked team, and have built a record on beating Vanderbilt (the academic pride of the SEC), South Dakota, and a down and out Boston College team. However, their offense has been able to put up at least 21 points in every game. Defensively they have three linemen and a safety who all have more than 65 tackles, a pretty impressive statistic even when considering the caliber of teams they have faced. It’s those assessments that is likely why Northwestern has clawed its way into the AP polls at number 24.
The Wildcats also play two quarterbacks, and seem to do it relatively well. Mark Venric, their running back, has gone over a thousand yards on the season and has scored nine touchdowns, and their four top receivers are all over two hundred yards. Other than having a glorified running back as a QB who makes up much of our offense, Michigan fairs about the same statistically. However, with Hoke being tight lipped about who the starter will be in this weeks game, my vote is for Gardner who showed real determination and poise, albeit against Minnesota. It can’t be natural to switch position from game to game, and I want to give credit where it is due. That being said I think that either player will be able to do well under the helm, but as for passing ability I wouldn’t put the ball back in Denard’s hands just yet. I want to see what Gardner can do, especially when there seems to have been an agreement that he could shift back to the quarterback position next year. An offensive struggle seems to be in the cards this week.
This one should be close, and as the schools are academic rivals as well as athletic this match up should be fun to watch.
Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24
Needing a win to stay in the Big Ten title hunt, Michigan was dealt a blow when Denard Robinson was ruled out for the game. But no one told Devin Gardner that was a bad thing. After a slow start, the junior quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback put on a display that will ease concerns about next season’s quarterback situation.
|Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13|
|6-3, 4-1||Record||5-4 (1-4)|
|155||Net Rushing Yards||128|
|234||Net Passing Yards||147|
|7-69||Penalties – Yards||9-68|
|3-88||Punts – Yards||3-127|
|29:08||Time of Possession||30:52|
|7-of-12||Third Down Conversions||4-of-14|
|1-of-2||Fourth Down Conversions||2-of-4|
|1-4||Sacks By – Yards||3-23|
|3-for-3||Red Zone Scores – Chances||3-for-4|
Gardner completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, leading Michigan to a 35-13 win over Minnesota. It didn’t start out positively, however, as Michigan gained just nine yards on eight plays in the first quarter.
The Gophers got the scoring started with a 10-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Philip Nelson to tight end John Rabe. Michigan responded with a 12-play, 91-yard scoring drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The touchdown was a 45-yard pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo that seemed to be straight out of the playbook from a backyard football game. Gardner dropped back, stepped up, rolled to his right, then back all the way across the field to his left, and heaved it up to a wide open Dileo in the end zone.
After a Minnesota three-and-out, Gardner put together another long drive, marching 90 yards on 13 plays, capping it off with a two-yard Thomas Rawls touchdown run. It was the first time in Michigan history that the team scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 90 yards or more, and just the third time it has ever been done in the same game.
Minnesota missed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and Michigan took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
A Minnesota sack forced Michigan to punt away its first possession of the second half and the Gophers mounted a 10-play drive into the Michigan red zone. On fourth-and-16 from the 19-yard line, head coach Jerry Kill elected to call a fake field goal instead of kicking a 36-yarder. It failed miserably, gaining only five yards, and Michigan capitalized with an 86-yard scoring drive. Jeremy Gallon did the heavy lifting on this drive, catching a 47-yard pass and a 10-yard touchdown grab to give Michigan a 21-7 lead.
Minnesota tried to fight back, driving to the Michigan three-yard line, but settled for a field goal to pull within 11. Michigan scored touchdowns on its next two possessions – a two-yard run by Gardner and a 41-yard run by Fitz Toussaint – to put the game away.
Toussaint led the Wolverines in rushing with 74 yards on 13 carries, but 41 of those came on that one play. Rawls had 43 yards on 16 carries for a meager 2.7 yards per. Without Gardner in the receiving corps, the receiving was well rounded. Gallon led the way with four catches for 72 yards, while Dileo had 69 and Roy Roundtree had 64.
For Minnesota, Nelson took a lot of chances downfield with little success. The best success he had was drawing a few pass interference calls against Michigan’s defensive backs late in the game. He completed 13-of-29 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. It will likely be good enough to keep Michigan atop the national rankings in pass defense. Donnell Kirkwood rushed 16 times for just 61 yards and Michigan held the Gophers to 3.4 yards per carry.
It was a game that Michigan was supposed to win, even without Denard, and the Wolverines did just that. The talk coming out of the game will likely center around Gardner’s performance and question whether he should start the rest of the season. Any talk of that kind should stop right there. I’ll get to it more later this week and so will Chris in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback segment, so stay tuned. But for now, enjoy the win and look forward to returning to the Big House against Northwestern next Saturday.
Last week, all predictions went out the window when Denard left the game with a nerve injury to his elbow. Russell Bellomy couldn’t get anything going on offense and Michigan was held without a touchdown for the second straight week. Denard is back this week and heaven forbid he get hurt again, we should have a pretty good idea of how this game will play out.
Justin (1): Michigan makes its first visit to TCF Bank Stadium for a noon (11am local time) kickoff against Minnesota. The time is important because the only chance the Gophers have of pulling this one out is if Michigan sleeps through its alarm because it’s so used to playing 3:30 (or later) games. As long as the Wolverines lay off the waffles and fake eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and come ready to play, they’ll get back on track for what is shaping up to be an epic clash with Ohio State at season’s end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time.
Michigan will be, as the Black Eyed Peas sing, runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will see lots of carries until Minnesota proves it can stop them – which the Gophers haven’t been able to do against anyone this season. Michigan will build a big lead and let Denard give way to Bellomy in a good scenario this time. For more analysis, check out this morning’s game preview, Friend vs. Foe, and Monday’s First Look.
[Edit: I should also add that the only other thing that could prevent a Michigan win is another significant injury to Denard. If that happens, all bets are off].
Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10
Chris (2): With four games left in the regular season, the Wolverines enter this game at Minnesota knowing that they need to win out and get help with a Nebraska loss in order to make it to the Big Ten Championship. However, I think that it’s important that the team not be thinking about it this way. It’s one game at a time. No scoreboard watching. Everyone does their job. Give your all EVERY play. I think if they do that, they can win these last four games and end up in Indianapolis on Dec 1.
First thing’s first though. Historically, Michigan has dominated the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. They have won 14 straight trips there, winning by an average score of 40-13. Last time at Minnesota was back in 2008 (29-6 win). Minnesota enters the game at 5-3 (1-3 Big Ten) and are looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.
Overall, this is a decent Minnesota squad that can sneak up on teams if they take them too lightly. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is their defense, especially when trying to stop the rush. In their three losses this season, they gave up big days on the ground to opposing running backs to the tune of 242 yards per game. Wisconsin’s running backs put up 337 by themselves. So far, this has been a season when Michigan has been unable to run the ball effectively with someone other than Denard Robinson. If there’s any hope for this running game, it will need to show on Saturday because it will provide the Wolverines with the best chance to win.
On offense, Minnesota has switched to true freshmen Philip Nelson at quarterback. Dynamic quarterback MarQueis Gray has been hampered by injuries this season, which prompted the switch. Just because Nelson is young and inexpereinced, the Wolverines can’t look past his skills. He earned Mr. Football honors in the state of Minnesota and they doesn’t hesitate to chuck the ball around when he’s under center. This bodes well for a Michigan pass defense which ranks as one of the best in the nation. Defensively, I don’t see the the Wolverines having much trouble. Minnesota isn’t going to control the line of scrimmage with three sophomores starting on the offensive line.
I like Michigan to win this game, but I don’t think it’s going to be by a large point differential.
Michigan 31 – Minnesota 14
Matt (2): We haven’t really taken Minnesota seriously. Overall, our record in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug, is 67-22-3. And Minnesota has only beaten us three times since 1968. However, looking past them is a big mistake.
Although the Golden Gophers seem to pale in comparison with the Wolverines, only being ranked higher than Michigan in passing by a small margin, and being ranked lower than Michigan in rushing yards, points for, and points against, the game is still being played in Minneapolis, and this is a rivalry game. You know what they say about rivalry games. Throw the records out the window.
However, is this really a rivalry? Is this anything like Michigan vs Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State? The answer is simple, no. But we still want to hold onto that Little Brown Jug, and we still want to win the Legends Division, which could happen, but we need Nebraska to lose too!
Minnesota is ranked higher than Michigan in passing, although if you compare QBs, Denard has thrown over 500 yards more and three more touchdowns (that’s not counting the six Denard has scrambled in). Minnesota’s rushing game isn’t that great either, averaging 162 yards a game while Michigan averages 206.
And as far as defense goes, Michigan allows 17 points a game. Minnesota allows 23.
The biggest factor to this game, is going to be Denard Robinson. Is he going to be able to play? He left the Nebraska game with an injured nerve in his elbow. From there we got to see Russell Bellomy come in, and have a horrible game. I’m not blaming the kid. He’s new to all this. He isn’t supposed to be the starting QB. He’s supposed to watch as Denard tears defenses apart. So when Denard went down, Bellomy had that deer in the headlights look, and tried. I heard many people asking (and begging) Brady Hoke to put Devin Gardner in as QB instead. He did not.
News at Michigan practice his week, is that Devin did however take snaps as QB, just in case Robinson doesn’t end up playing this Saturday. Maybe Hoke heard the people.
I think Denard will play this Saturday. Will he injure the elbow again? Not sure. I don’t think he’ll play all game. I think Hoke will play him, but pull him every now and again to let Devin, and maybe even Russell get some snaps (that is if the game is in hand). We really need to rely on Fitzgerald Toussaint this Saturday. Al Borges needs to let Fitz run straight at the Golden Gophers defense, and ram the ball down their throats.
I have not done the best job at guessing the score this season, but here we go…
I don’t see this one being that close. Michigan is going to take the lead, and never give it back. The Little Brown Jug will stay in Ann Arbor for another season. Denard scores a couple TDs, and so does Devin Gardner (as QB, NOT WR).
Michigan 38 – Minnesota 17
Sam (1): Michigan wins. End of story.
Michigan 31 – Minnesota 13
Katie: Last week didn’t turn out nearly as well as was hoped for, but there is a consolation, this week we play Minnesota and the poor Golden Gophers are at the bottom of the Legends Division. But hey, it could be worse, the Leaders has two teams without a Big Ten win, and Minnesota has notched a W against the Boilermakers to make them 1-3 in conference play. Michigan on the other hand is living in disappointing times. Granted, the preseason polls were overestimated, the Wolverines have still lost three games so far this season, and while that’s not quite a debacle it will be if we go 5-3 in Big Ten play. Northwestern I’m sure would love nothing more than an upset at the Big House after what will likely be a safeguarding of the Brown Jug. Not to mention Ohio State, who will welcome Michigan into the ‘Shoe for the first time since coach Urban Meyer was instated, and with a definite chip on their shoulder due to their inability to play in the conference championship or a bowl game.
I’m not trying to overlook Minnesota. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I do know however, that one has to make the catch before running with it, and that the play can’t go down field until the ball is secured. Really though, did last years score against Minnesota have to look like a MAC team rollover. 58-0?
So while that sort of bullying hasn’t happened to the Gophers this year, they also have yet to play a ranked team. Though it is true that they played the Wildcats, who are now second in the Legends, within a touchdown. Now I am going to make the assumption that if we can’t beat Minnesota that the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. But on a positive note I’m not envisioning much of a problem. That is unless the offense collapses without Denard, and Devin Gardner, who could see a return at quarterback, looks worse than Bellomy. Not that the red-shirt freshman would look quite as bad as he did against Nebraska. I think that with more than a few minutes notice, and an away crowd that hasn’t been getting pumped for a night game for hours in advance, he should be able to pass more efficiently. With that being said I still would not hesitate to say that Gardner was our starting QB if number 16 wasn’t ready.
As for the stats, Minnesota’s aren’t too bad on either side of things, but they don’t look as good on paper as Michigan does, and Michigan has been fumbling around this season. The Wolverines best bet is on a strong defense that gives its offense as many opportunities to score as possible. Without Denard’s fleetness of foot Michigan could need time for some extended drives. Look for a Wolverines victory, but without last year’s margin.
Michigan 38 – Minnesota 13
Michigan’s los to Nebraska last weekend put the Wolverines in a must-win scenario for every game the rest of the season. And it all starts tomorrow with the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It’s our very own Matt’s favorite rivalry.
Minnesota enters with a 5-3 record, but has won just one of four since Big Ten play started. The Gophers munched on douglas-firs – UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse – before dropping three straight to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Last week, Minnesota got back in the win column with a 44-28 win over Purdue.
TCF Bank Stadium - Minneapolis, Minn.
Minnesota is fighting for bowl eligibility, needing at least one more win in its four remaining games. That will likely come next week against Illinois, but the Gophers would like to become bowl eligible this week and take back the Little Brown Jug. Can they? Let’s take a look at the matchups.
When Minnesota has the ball
Minnesota will be starting freshman quarterback Philip Nelson for the third straight week. He turned in rather pedestrian numbers against Wisconsin in his first start (13-of-24 for 149 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns) but had a good game against Purdue last week (15-of-22 for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks). He can also run a little bit, having carried the ball 25 times for 104 yards.
He will be throwing to junior A.J. Barker and a bunch of other guys. Barker leads the Gophers with 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. The next best receiver is Isaac Fruechte who has just 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. MarQueis Gray, who converted from quarterback to receiver, has caught seven passes for 73 yards in the past two weeks. He’s a great athlete, so he’s always dangerous with the ball in his hands.
In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse with 138 carries for 609 yards and three touchdowns so far. He had his best game of the season last week, rushing for 134 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. No other running back has done much – Gray and Nelson are second and third on the team – but freshman Rodrick Williams Jr has been getting more carries each of the last three weeks.
The Gophers are only scoring 25 points per game and were held to 13 by Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. You might recognize that as the magic number Michigan has allowed a few times this season. Michigan’s defense has been outstanding the past six weeks, giving up an average of 9.8 points per game. The Wolverines held Nebraska well below its season average despite an offense that couldn’t stay on the field in the second half without Denard Robinson. Minnesota shouldn’t hurt Michigan at all with the run game, so look for Nelson to challenge Michigan’s secondary downfield. Even though Michigan features the top-ranked pass defense in the country, the corners have still been susceptible over the top.
When Michigan has the ball
Minnesota has the 7th-ranked pass defense in the nation but the 82nd-ranked rush defense. That shows that teams have been able to run all over the Gophers. The best rush offenses Minnesota has faced, Wisconsin and Northwestern, put up 337 and 208 rushing yards, respectively. Iowa also had a 100-yard rusher.
Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Safety Troy Stoudermire and cornerback Derrick Wells are the leading tacklers, while Wells also has a pair of interceptions. Linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are returning starters from last season and rank third and fourth on the team in tackles.
The defensive line found a pair of guys to step up after being a disaster last season. DL Wilhite leads the team and ranks second in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks and also has nine tackles for loss. RaShede Hageman has also made an impact in the backfield, ranking sixth in the conference with four sacks.
Expect Michigan to run the ball just like it did against Purdue and Illinois. With a healthy Denard, Michigan should be able to eat up chunks of yards on the ground and only pass a handful of times.
The other third
Kicker Jordan Wetterstein is just 9-of-16 this season with a long of 44, while punter Christian Eldred averages just 37.4 yards per punt, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. The Gophers don’t have much in the way of a return game. Barker handles punt returns and averages 7.1 yards per, but no one ranks in the top ten in the conference in kick returns.
As I mentioned above, look for Michigan to run the ball. Denard better go out of bounds when necessary to avoid big hits, and hopefully the game can be well in hand by the end of the third quarter so he can rest and give Russell Bellomy some more game action. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota may connect a couple long balls, but shouldn’t be able to move the ball very much against Michigan’s defense. Michigan will retain control of the Jug for the fifth straight year.
Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10
Bonus: After Michigan’s win, root hard for Michigan State. Yes, I said it and I know it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but Michigan’s only chance of winning the Legends division is for Nebraska to lose one if its remaining game, and this is their best chance. So go Sparty!