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Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


UM win vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan-Rutgers game preview

Friday, October 3rd, 2014


Game Preview_Rutgers_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan defense vs Rutgers offense: When Rutgers has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Rutgers defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special teams: The other third

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Rutgers 24 – Michigan 20

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Washed out: Utah 26 – Michigan 10

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


Michigan vs Utah(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB staff predictions: Utah

Friday, September 19th, 2014


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Michigan let Miami (Ohio) hang around for a little over two quarters last week before stepping on the gas. Now Utah comes to town with an offense that make Michigan pay if the Wolverines turn the ball over. It seems most Michigan fans are equating Utah to a far inferior opponent, but the Utes are much better than we’re giving them credit for. Could they come into the Big House and win just like they did in 2008? Or will Michigan take care of business and head into conference play 3-1? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Utah
Justin 24 27
Sam 31 24
Derick 31 28
Josh 24 31
Joe 31 27
M&GB Average 28.2 27.4

Justin: Utah’s spread passing offense has scored 56 and 59 points in its fist two games and ranks 14th nationally with 557.5 total yards per game. It hasn’t faced a defense anywhere near as good as Michigan’s yet, but will the Wolverines be able to slow it down?

Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott will be a big test for Michigan’s secondary that may still be without Raymon Taylor. While Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers are talented, they’re young compared to the experienced Ute receivers. Quarterback Travis Wilson had a knack for committing turnovers when being pressured last season — he threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions — but he hasn’t really been challenged yet this season. If Michigan’s front seven can apply pressure and force some bad decisions the defense can slow down Utah’s offense. However, if it gives him time to throw, he can pick apart the defense just like Everett Golson did two weeks ago.

Michigan faces the same challenge on offense. Utah leads the nation with 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss per game. We all know Devin Gardner’s inconsistencies when facing pressure, so a lot will fall on the shoulders of the young offensive line and its ability to handle Nate Orchard and the Utah pass rush. If it can give Gardner time to throw, Utah’s secondary is vulnerable. Gardner hooked up with Amara Darboh quite a bit last week, but if Devin Funchess is still out tomorrow, can he do it again?

I think this will be a back-and-forth battle that will ultimately be decided on turnovers and special teams. Unfortunately, Michigan has been turnover-prone this season and has had lackluster special teams play, while Utah has a big advantage in that category with a near automatic kicker, a big-footed punter, and a home run threat return man. I hope I’m wrong.

Utah 27 – Michigan 24

Sam: It’s a testy time in Michigan Football history right now. The Wolverines have not won a Big Ten Championship in a decade, the Notre Dame series ended on the most rotten of notes, and Brady Hoke is looking like an embattled coach in his fourth season as the figurehead of the Maize and Blue.

Luckily for Hoke, the pitiful Big Ten is still up for grabs this season, and Michigan has one more week to shore things up on the field…but it doesn’t look like a week to relax. The Utah Utes, winners of two blowouts so far despite a shaky outlook before the season started, are less-than-a-touchdown underdogs and don’t seem to be fazed at all for this Saturday’s game. Junior quarterback Travis Wilson leads an aerial attack averaging more than 10 yards per pass attempt on the season that is set up by a ground game averaging a not-so-impressive-considering-the-competition five yards per carry.

Michigan’s run defense has proved extremely effective in the early going while the secondary play has left much to be desired. If Raymon Taylor and/or Jarrod Wilson sit again, I’ll be…worried. Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Frank Clark are anchoring a tough front seven, but the cornerbacks will need to stick with their guys long enough to let the pressure get to the QB. Wilson is not a major threat to run, though back-up Kendal Thompson will see a few change-of-pace snaps, so it is imperative that Taylor, Jabrill Peppers, Blake Countess, Jourdan Lewis, and company are on their games.

I certainly have no idea what will come of this game. Nationally, pundits love Utah after seeing Michigan struggle out of the gates. The big question mark will be Michigan’s offense of course. The Wolverines should hold Utah under 25, so if Devin Gardner can stay calm in the pocket, step up under pressure, and fire bullets to (hopefully) Devin Funchess and company, I like the home team.

A close game will be no shocker, but I believe a blowout would go Michigan’s way. Ultimately, give me the Wolverines.

Michigan 31 – Utah 24

Derick:  Michigan hasn’t shown a flash of the performance it demonstrated against Appalachian State in the past two weeks, and if Brady Hoke’s team comes out slow against Utah it may fall to 2-2 in the non-conference season.

Derrick Green put another strong performance together against Miami (Ohio), and the offense will need him to shoulder the load again against this Pac-12 defense. If he can take pressure off of Devin Gardner, then Michigan has a great chance to control the game.

Michigan should bounce back from the adversity of the last two weeks and squeak out a win heading into Big Ten play.

Michigan 31 – Utah 28

Josh: This ain’t Urban Meyer’s Utah Utes but they are an explosive, high scoring team, to a point. Fresno State has give up 50-plus in all three of their games this year and Idaho St is a mid-level FCS team, so of course Utah has put up some crazy numbers. I circled this game as a toss-up and called it as one of my potential losses coming into the season. I haven’t changed my mind and depending on how the injuries play out Michigan may end up on the wrong end Saturday.

Before I go any further let me say I am a big fan of Blake Countess, he is a damn good ZONE cornerback but he is just awful as a press corner, especially against speedy receivers. He’s just not athletic enough to do it. His gift lies in baiting quarterbacks to think a receiver is open and then jumping the route for a nice pick or pass break-up. If he is made to play anything but zone against Utah I don’t like his chances. However, if some form of the combo of Lewis/Taylor/Peppers play the boundary, as we saw last week with Lewis and Peppers, I feel good about Michigan’s chances to lock down Utah’s receivers. The run defense has been rather stout thus far and I think that holds serve here against the Utes. The defense doesn’t concern me as it has been pretty solid through three game. For me, this game all boils down to the cornerback play. If Peppers/Lewis/Taylor are the guys pressing we’re in good shape, but as soon as Countess is called upon to play press odds are he’s gonna get beat and Utah will test him.

Offense is where I think we can run into some trouble. Every single team in America knows the formula to beat Michigan: pressure Devin Gardner and he will eventually turn it over. Utah is aggressive on defense and will pressure Gardner. Utah will be able to take advantage of turnovers and that could spell doom. If the offense can run the ball well, enough to keep the chains moving, then this shouldn’t be an issue, but if Gardner is put in third-and-long situations the offense will sputter. If Gardner can not turn it over, something that he struggles with immensely, the offense should be okay. But that is a big IF as we still have not seen the run game do anything against a decent opponent.

Devin Funchess may or may not be out, and I wouldn’t expect Brady Hoke to tip his hand regarding injuries, especially with his stud receiver. To be honest, I like our chances better if Funchess is out. Wait, what?! Yes, I like our chances better if Funchess is out. No, I’m not crazy…well, maybe. But hear me out. Gardner has a tendency to lock on to his No. 1, and then he has another tendency to force it to his No. 1. Funchess is a monster, we all know that, but when Gardner is under pressure (which he will be a lot come Saturday) he makes ill-advised (to put it lightly) throws and forces it to Funchess, which in turn leads to turnovers, which in turn often lead to bad losses. Without Funchess, Gardner (in my mind) will be less likely to force it to another receiver with whom he doesn’t have unfailing faith, as he does with Funchess. So somehow in my roundabout logic I think we’re better off without Funchess because Gardner won’t force so many bad passes and will be less likely to turn it over. On second thought, maybe I am crazy.

As with most games the better team does not always win, usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. With Gardner at quarterback (I’ve all but lost faith in him, way too inconsistent to be trusted week to week) that is always a likelihood and I hate to be the guy who picks us to lose again but I’m going to do it anyway. Gardner will be pressured non-stop, he will turn it over one too many times, Utah will capitalize and win a close one.

Utah 31 – Michigan 24

Joe: I am starting to get the same feeling I had last year as Michigan battled a string of inferior programs. It’s not a good feeling! I want to see that killer instinct from a hungry group of Wolverines. I want to see something from this team that screams “things will be different this year.” I think I’m starting to see a little bit of this in the defense and hope they continue the upward progression this week. Let’s finally get the offense to join in and hit the Big Ten schedule running next week.

Utah likes to run an up-tempo offense and score in bunches, so keeping their offense off the field will be key. If Michigan is able to establish the run game early and control the clock, they will be just fine. I can see Green going for 150 and two touchdowns and Gardner mixing in another two through the air. The defense will force a few timely turnovers and hold on late for a close win. Michigan pulls this one out and look forward to Minnesota.

Michigan 31 – Utah 27
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Links: 

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Utah game preview; a First Look at the Utes; our Week 3 Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, grilled ravioli; a Q&A with Steve Bartle of the Utah blog Light the U; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Touch the BannerMGoFish provides a list of Michigan targets visiting tomorrow. Also, roundtable predictions from Maize n Brew.

Michigan-Utah game preview

Friday, September 19th, 2014


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Just like Miami (Ohio) last week, the last time Michigan faced Utah, the Wolverines were just beginning a new era. Lloyd Carr had retired following the previous game, a 41-35 Capital One Bowl win over Florida, and Rich Rodriguez took over with hopes of bringing Michigan’s old school offense into the 21st century.

The very first game of his short-lived tenure in Ann Arbor was against a Utah team coming off of a 9-4 season. What wasn’t known at the time of Michigan’s 25-23 loss to the Utes was just how good that team would be. While Michigan slogged its way to a 3-9 season, Utah finished the year 13-0, ranked second nationally, and beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl.

UM-Utah-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Utah Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (10th season)
Coaching Record: 76-39 overall (all at Utah)
Offensive Coordinator: Dave Christensen (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Kalani Sitake (6th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12)
Last Meeting: Utah 25 – Michigan 23 (2008)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Record vs Pac-12: Michigan leads 48-24-1
Last win over Utah: 10-7 (2002)
Brady Hoke vs Utah:  0-2 (both at San Diego State)

There wasn’t anywhere to go but down from there and that’s just what the Utes have done in the five years since, from 10-3 in 2009 and 2010 to 8-5 in 2011 and 5-7 in 2012 and 2013. But last year’s 5-7 record is worse than the team really was, and this year’s team is certainly not the pushover most Michigan fans thought they would be prior to the season.

Last season, Utah handed Stanford the first of its three losses, but lost to Oregon State by three, 51-48, had a chance to tie at the end of a loss to UCLA, and gave up a 12-point fourth quarter lead in a loss to Arizona State. No, close losses don’t count for anything, but they do show how close the team was to a much better season, especially considering that starting quarterback Travis Wilson missed the final three games and played sparingly in the three before that. Five of those six were losses.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham demoted co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson and brought in former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen to run the offense. Christensen didn’t have the same success at Wyoming as a head coach — though he was named Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2011 — as he did in his previous stop as Missouri’s offensive coordinator from 1997-2008. At Missouri, he guided one of the top offenses in the country. Erickson, meanwhile, was demoted to running backs coach and Johnson to quarterbacks coach.

Christensen’s offense has been a hit in Salt Lake City so far this season as Utah has beaten Idaho State 56-14 and Fresno State 59-27. The starters played only about a half in both games, but both were at home. The Utes haven’t had to travel yet, let alone all the way across the country. They lost four of five road games in 2013 and the only one they won was just down the road at BYU.

Let’s take a look at the match ups.

Michigan defense vs Utah offense: When Utah has the ball

The 57.5 points per game is third-best nationally, behind only Baylor (59.3) and Cincinnati (58). The running game ranks 24th (248 yards per game), the passing game ranks 29th (309.5), and the total offense ranks 14th (557.5).

Dres Anderson is as good a receiver as Michigan has faced so far (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Dres Anderson is as good a receiver as Michigan has faced so far (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

The aforementioned Travis Wilson is back from a head injury that nearly cost him his career last season. After suffering a concussion against Arizona State on Nov. 9, Wilson had a CT scan that showed an enlarged intracranial artery. He was shut down from football for three months. He was re-evaluated in February and doctors ruled he could return to football, but he was still held out of contact in the spring. Now that he’s back in action, he’s making the most of his second chance. In the opener, Wilson completed 13-of-18 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown in just two quarters of work. He followed that up by going 11-of-20 for 181 yards and five touchdowns in two-and-a-half quarters in Week 2. Perhaps most importantly, he hasn’t thrown an interception yet after throwing 16 a year ago.

Wilson has a pair of dangerous targets to throw to in senior Dres Anderson and junior Kenneth Scott. Anderson has 25 career starts under his belt and was honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season. He leads the Utes with 195 receiving yards through two games on seven catches (27.9 yards per catch). Two have gone for touchdowns, both against Fresno State. Although Scott doesn’t have the yards Anderson does (134) he leads the team with 10 receptions and three touchdowns. He missed the 2013 season after injuring his ankle in the first quarter of the first game, but has been Wilson’s favorite target thus far in 2014.

The only other pass catcher with more than five catches is senior tight end Westlee Tonga, who has six for 85 yards and a score. Senior receiver Andre Lewis has just one catch but it went for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Fresno State blowout, while sophomore Delshawn McClellan has three catches for 15 yards.

The running game is a three-headed attack along with Wilson’s ability to use his feet. Juniors Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole are the horses. Booker, a junior college transfer, leads the team with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries (7.3 yards per carry). Poole, who lead the Utes with 607 yards last season, has 19 carries for 96 yards (5.1 ypc) and a score. At 5’9″, 172-pounds, redshirt freshman Troy McCormick adds a different dimension than the bigger Booker and Poole. McCormick has 21 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown. Wilson is a capable runner as well, although his sack yardage hurts his average.

The line has a good amount of experience on the left side in junior left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (24 career starts) and senior left guard Junior Salt (14). The rest of the line, however, is less experienced. Junior Siaosi Aiono started eight games at right guard in 2013, but started the Fresno State game at center. Sophomore Hiva Lutui started the opener, the first of his career, in Aiono’s absence. Redshirt sophomore Isaac Asiata started four games last season — three at right tackle — is the starting right guard, while redshirt sophomore J.J. Dielman got the first two starts of his career in the first two games at right tackle.

Michigan offense vs Utah defense: When Michigan has the ball

While the Utah offense has put up numbers in droves, the defense has done its part as well. It’s hard to really paint a true picture of the Utes defense at this point given the level of opponent they have faced so far and that the first team defense didn’t play much more than a half in each game.

What we do know is that the defensive line is one that could give Michigan’s young and embattled offensive line fits. It starts with senior defensive end Nate Orchard, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection last season, who has 25 career starts. He leads the team with 14 tackles, three for loss, and 2.5 sacks so far. The other end is redshirt sophomore Hunter Dimick, who started four games last season and also has 2.5 sacks this year. Redshirt junior Clint Shepard is one starting tackle and has three tackles for loss and a sack so far, while redshirt junior Viliseni Fauonoku (four tackles) and senior Sese Ianu (three tackles) have each started a game this season at the other tackle spot. Combined, the unit leads the nation with 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss per game.

Nate Orchard was a high school teammate of Bryan Mone and Sione Houma and is the leader of Utah's defense (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Nate Orchard was a high school teammate of Bryan Mone and Sione Houma and is the leader of Utah’s defense (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Orchard played some linebacker against Fresno State and will likely line up there at times on Saturday, but juniors Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham are the true linebackers. Norris started seven games in 2013 and finished fifth on the team in tackles. He’s currently tied for the team lead with 14 and has two for loss. Whittingham was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection last season and has nine tackles so far this season. True sophomore Uaea Masina is in the rotation and has 10 tackles so far, but beyond those three it’s not a very deep unit.

The secondary has allowed 220.5 yards per game through the air thus far, including 283 to Fresno State’s offense that managed just 160 against USC in Week 1. Senior free safety Eric Rowe is the leader of the group with 37 starts under his belt. He has 14 tackles, a pass breakup, and a blocked kick so far. Senior strong safety Brian Blechen missed 2013 with an injury, but like Rowe, has 37 career starts. The cornerbacks are a grab bag with sophomore Reginald Porter, senior Davion Orphey, senior Wykie Freeman, redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas, and sophomore Dominique Hatfield each starting one of the two games. Orphey, a junior college transfer, has the most starting experience among the group, having started eight games in 2013. Senior Tevin Carter, also a junior college transfer, can start at safety and allow Rowe to play corner. He has 11 tackles, one for loss, so far, while Hatfield leads the team with two pass breakups. Utah hasn’t recorded an interception yet this season and has recovered just one fumble.

The other third: Special teams

Redshirt sophomore kicker Andy Phillips is a good one and also an interesting story. He was a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 2007-11 before joining the Utes. He had never played football before walking on, and in his first season — last season — he made 17-of-20 field goal attempts, earning third-team Freshman All-America honors. He has only attempted one field goal so far this season, a 47-yarder, which he made.

Junior punter Tom Hackett led the Pac-12 last season with a punt average of 43.4 yards and is averaging a whopping 51.1 yards per punt so far this season. Of his 10 punts, six have gone more than 50 yards, five have been downed inside the 20, and only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback.

Senior receiver Kaelin Clay has already returned a punt and a kick for a touchdown this season. He’s averaging 15 yards per punt return and has only returned one kick, which he took 100 yards for the touchdown. Booker is the main kick returner, averaging 22.5 yards.

Prediction

Prior to the season, I, like everyone else, chalked this game up to a win. But three weeks into the season I’m not so sure. Utah has looked great, but hasn’t been tested. Michigan laid an egg in its only real test of the season and let lowly Miami (Ohio) hang around far too long last week. Plus, Utah had two weeks to prepare for Michigan.

For Michigan offensively, it will all come down to how well the line can handle the pass rush. Notre Dame stopped the run and pressured Gardner into mistakes, and Utah’s line has the ability to do the same. Will Doug Nussmeier have a better game plan in place to counter that?

Defensively, Michigan’s secondary will be tested with Anderson and Scott. Everett Golson was able to pick apart the Wolverine secondary and he lacked receivers with the type of skill those two have. It sounds like Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers will be the starting corners with Blake Countess at nickel. While that puts Michigan’s best press corners on the field, they also give up a lot of experience to the Utah receivers. If the line isn’t able to put pressure on Wilson, and instead allows him time to pick apart the secondary, it could be the Notre Dame game all over defensively.

Finally, if special teams comes in to play, Utah has the decided advantage with a reliable kicker, a punter that can change field position, and a return man that has already taken two to the house.

I don’t like that formula for a young Michigan team still searching for consistency. Perhaps the home environment will help Hoke’s squad pull it out, but I’m not convinced. I hope I’m wrong.

Utah 27 – Michigan 24

Michigan-Miami (Ohio) game preview

Friday, September 12th, 2014


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The last time Michigan faced Miami (Ohio) the Wolverines were beginning anew. Rich Rodriguez had taken over from Lloyd Carr and excitement surrounded the program, full of visions of sugar plums and high-flying spread offenses. The 2008 team opened the season with a 25-23 loss to a Utah squad that went 13-0 and finished ranked No. 2 nationally by the Associated Press. Rodriguez picked up his first win the following week against Miami (Ohio), 16-6.

Tomorrow when Miami comes to town, Michigan is in a much different spot. No longer are Mid-American Conference-level teams scared to step foot in the Big House. Since that 2008 win, Michigan is just 41-35 overall with a loss to Toledo and a near loss to Akron.

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Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – Big Ten Network
Miami Head Coach: Chuck Martin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 74-9 overall (0-2 at Miami)
Offensive Coordinators: George Barnett (1st season)
Eric Koehler (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Matt Pawlowski (1st season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 0-12
Last Meeting: UM 16 – Miami 6 (2008)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 5-0
Record vs MAC: Michigan leads 33-1
Largest win over Miami: 55-0 (1924)
Closest win over Miami:  16-6 (2008)
Brady Hoke vs Miami:  2-2
Brady Hoke vs MAC: 32-21

Miami, on the other hand, isn’t exactly the class of the MAC. The school that once sent Michigan its most beloved coach, Bo Schembechler, and is known as the cradle of coaches, is still searching for its next big-time coach. After three years of decline under former Michigan State offensive coordinator and Jim Tressell protege Don Treadwell, the RedHawks turned to Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

Unlike Treadwell, Martin isn’t a first-time head coach. He succeeded Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State in 2004 when Kelly left for Central Michigan and continued Kelly’s success, winning two national championships and setting a Division II record with 40 straight wins. In six years, he compiled a record of 74-7 before rejoining Kelly at Notre Dame in 2010.

In South Bend, Martin served as defensive backs coach his first two seasons before taking over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012 and 2013. The Irish weren’t exactly known for their offense those two seasons — they ranked 54th and 67th in total offense those two seasons — but the success was impressive enough to land his first Division 1 head coaching job.

Miami had a 10-1 season in 1998 under Randy Walker and a 13-1 season in 2003 under Terry Hoeppner, finishing ranked 10th nationally that season. But in the 10 years since, the RedHawks have had just three winning seasons. Michael Haywood put together a great turnaround in 2010, transforming a 1-11 team in his first season into a 10-4 squad in year two, but then he bolted for Pittsburgh, where he never coached after being arrested for domestic violence. Treadwell took over and went 4-8 in each of his first two seasons and started 0-5 last season before being fired on Oct. 6. Miami finished the season 0-12.

Miami opened this season with a 42-27 loss to Conference-USA favorite Marshall and then lost to FCS foe Eastern Kentucky 17-10 a week ago. Against Marshall, Miami fell behind 28-3 by halftime, but pulled within 28-20 at the end of the third quarter. The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth, but Marshall scored again to put it away with two minutes remaining. Against Eastern Kentucky, Miami dominated the game statistically, but had trouble finding the end zone. Miami scored on its first drive and held a 7-3 halftime lead, then widened it to 10-3 midway through the third. But EKU scored two touchdowns down the stretch to hand Miami its 18th-straight loss.

Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Miami match up.

Michigan defense vs Miami offense: When Miami has the ball

Martin’s offense will look similar to Notre Dame’s without the talent, though it certainly helps that he has one of his quarterbacks along with him. Andrew Hendrix spent four seasons at Notre Dame, where he played in 16 games in backup duty. He went 25-of-58 for 360 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions and also set the Notre Dame single game quarterback rushing record with 111 yards against Air Force in 2011. He graduated from Notre Dame last December and elected to follow Martin to Oxford for his grad-year season.

Chuck Martin knows Michigan well and will try to replicate what his former boss did last week (Miami University Athletics)

Chuck Martin knows Michigan well and will try to replicate what his former boss did last week (Miami University Athletics)

Despite being a former four-star recruit, Hendrix never could beat out Tommy Rees and Everett Golson in South Bend. Still, his familiarity with Martin’s offense makes him the best choice for the job this fall. And he has certainly been called on. Through the first two games, Hendrix has completed 49-of-101 passes for 677 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. By comparison, Devin Gardner has only attempted 46 passes so far — three fewer than Hendrix has completed.

Miami’s offense currently ranks 18th nationally in passing, averaging 338.5 yards per game. Only 15 teams in the country have thrown for more yards so far and only four teams have attempted more passes. However, Miami has fewer touchdown passes than the other four, and only four of the 17 teams with more passing yards per game have fewer touchdown passes than the RedHawks.

With such an active passing game, Miami naturally has a pair of receivers averaging over 100 yards per game in senior David Frazier and redshirt sophomore Rokeem Williams. Frazier has caught 13 passes for 215 yards, but no touchdowns, while Williams has caught nine for 204 yards and one touchdown. They’re both decent sized receivers at 6’0″, 180 and 6’1″, 204, respectively. Then there’s 5’10″, 180-pound sophomore Jared Murphy, who has five receptions for 83 yards and a score, and tight end Alex Welch, who has six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.

While the passing game is moving the chains, the running game is stuck in neutral. Miami ranks 116th nationally in rushing, averaging just 80 yards per game. Only eight teams in the country are averaging fewer, but none of them have attempted as many rushes as Miami has (74). Only five teams have fewer yards per carry than Miami’s 2.16.

Redshirt sophomore running back Spencer McInnis leads the team with 54 yards on 11 carries (4.9 yards per carry), while redshirt junior Spencer Treadwell has 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 ypc). Hendrix has the most carries on the team (36), though if you remove sacks, his 27 carries for 40 yards are just 1.4 yards per carry. Receiver Dawan Scott actually has the most non-quarterback carries with 13, but has just 36 yards (2.8 ypc).

The line brought a combined 99 career starts into the season, but allowed 49 sacks a year ago. Already through two games this season, Miami has allowed nine.

Michigan offense vs Miami defense: When Michigan has the ball

Last season, Miami’s defense ranked 115th nationally in total defense, 113th in rush defense, and 106th in pass defense. So far this season, those numbers are far improved, but level of competition plays into that — namely, playing Eastern Kentucky. Miami ranks 60th in total defense, 55th in rush defense, 75th in pass defense, and 91st in scoring defense.

Quinten Rollins, a star for Miami's basketball team, is moonlighting at cornerback this season (Stephan Savoia, AP)

Quinten Rollins, a star for Miami’s basketball team, is moonlighting at cornerback this season (Stephan Savoia, AP)

Marshall put up 432 yards of offense in Week 1, 261 through the air and 171 on the ground. Marshall running back Devon Johnson ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (7.9 ypc), while quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 20-of-32 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Week 2 was a different story as Miami’s defense limited EKU to 280 total yards and just 82 on the ground.

The front four consist of redshirt sophomore defensive end J’Terius Jones (6’3″, 245), junior defensive end Bryson Albright (6’5″, 243), junior defensive tackle Mitchell Winters (6’5″, 285), and redshirt sophomore nose tackle Jimmy Rousher (6’2″, 288). Jones currently ranks third on the team with 11 tackles, second with 2.5 tackles for loss, and tied for the lead with two sacks. He also has a fumble recovery, while Albright has eight tackles and a sack.

Another Notre Dame transfer is featured on defense, grad-year senior outside linebacker Lo Wood, who played in 32 games for the Irish. He has eight tackles so far. The other outside linebacker is redshirt junior Joe Donlan, who has 16 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a sack. Junior Kent Kern, a second-team All-MAC selection last season, is the middle linebacker and leads the team with 23 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks, and also has two pass breakups.

The secondary includes a converted Miami basketball player who ranks second in Miami history and 12th in MAC history in steals. Quinten Rollins switched sports and is now a starting cornerback and continued his penchant for thievery as the only player on the team with an interception so far this season. Opposite him is redshirt sophomore Jay Mastin, who has five tackles and half of a tackle for loss. The safeties are senior Jarrell Jones, who has 10 tackles, and redshirt sophomore Marshall Taylor, who has five tackles and two pass breakups.

The other third: Special teams

Junior kicker Kaleb Patterson has made 3-of-5 field goals with a long of 24 and one blocked. He has made 22-of-29 the last two years with a long of 52. Redshirt junior punter Christian Koch is averaging 44.3 yards per punt with a long of 60 and two downed inside the 20. Redshirt sophomore receiver Fred McRae IV is the main man in the return game, averaging 13.5 yards per kick return and 10.5 yards per punt return.

Prediction

There are a couple of scenarios coming into this game. One is that Michigan still feels the weight of last week’s embarrassment, has no confidence, and effectively lets Notre Dame beat them twice. The other is that Michigan shakes off last week’s loss, uses it as a spark, and devours a MAC snack. I think the later is more likely.

You can be sure Martin has spoken to Kelly this week to try to figure out how he was able to have such success last Saturday, but the fact of the matter is Martin lacks the talent Kelly had. Everett Golson played a flawless game and I wouldn’t expect Hendrix to do the same. Will he make some big plays? Probably. Especially if Jabrill Peppers is still out and Raymon Taylor can’t go. Michigan’s secondary is vulnerable right now and the Miami passing game will be a good test. However, this could be the game that gets Michigan’s pass rush going, given that Miami is allowing 4.5 sacks per game.

The Michigan offense will move the ball just like Marshall did, and while Miami doesn’t have anyone that can cover Devin Funchess, it would be nice to see Devin Gardner develop more cohesion with his other receivers. It would also be nice to see Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith put together a rushing performance more like Week 1 than last week. We certainly won’t see 350 rushing yards, but should hope for at least 200.

Michigan will be much more efficient than it was last week, and while Miami will make a few big plays, it will be too one-dimensional to really challenge the Wolverines.

Michigan 42 – Miami 17

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB season preview roundtable

Friday, August 22nd, 2014


Roundtable-banner

It has become our tradition at the beginning of each season to preview the upcoming season via a staff roundtable. We answer several questions with our predictions and expectations for what the season will bring. Drew has moved on, but we still have Justin, Sam, Derick, and Josh. We also invited our partner at MmmGoBluBBQ, Joe, to join us for the roundtable. We also invite you to give your answers in the comments below. Tell us what you agree with or disagree with. Next week we will begin our game week coverage.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: I’m most excited about what should be a very good defense. With so much talent and experience returning, it should be one of the top defenses in the Big Ten and may have to carry the team, at least in the early going. The best Michigan teams in recent history have featured stifling defenses — most notably 1997 and 2006 — and I think I can speak for most Michigan fans when I say I miss the days of Michigan having a dominating defense. It’s a major stretch to say this year’s unit could be as good as the 1997 one, but anywhere close would make for a very good season.

Michigan's defense won't be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

Michigan’s defense won’t be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

With most of the big questions on the offensive side of the ball, the defense is going to need to be very good, and if it is we have two recent examples that could foreshadow the upcoming season: Notre Dame in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013. Notre Dame’s offense ranked 80th nationally in scoring, 38th in rushing, and 72nd in passing that year but still made it to the national title game thanks to its defense. Last season, Michigan State’s offense ranked 63rd in scoring, 59th in rushing, and 84th in passing but still won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl thanks to its defense. I’m excited for the possibility that Michigan’s defense, which should be more aggressive this fall, could carry the Wolverines to a special season.

Sam: I’m most excited about…football! After last year’s dreadful, seemingly never-ending season, I never thought I’d be so excited to see the Maize and Blue on the field just a season later, but I suppose hope reigns eternal right now. As far specific excitement about this team goes, I am really looking forward to seeing the whole defense working to live up to its enormous expectations. Every single position has an extremely strong two-deep, and every unit has at least one potential game-changer. With names like Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, James Ross III, and Jabrill Peppers, there’s no telling how good this defense could be. A consistent pass rush could mean a top-10 or even top-five defense nationally.

Derick: The most exciting storyline has to be the beginning of Jabrill Peppers‘ career in Ann Arbor. The No. 2 overall recruit has a chance to be a difference maker on defense and revive a kick return game that has been dormant since Steve Breaston left Michigan.

Josh: The defense and its personnel and scheme changes. I’d much rather see an aggressive, menacing defense with an average offense than an average defense with a high octane/high scoring offense. Luckily for Michigan it appears as though we just might get that menacing defense in 2014. That is something to be very excited about after we had to watch last year’s ‘bend but don’t break’ defense sit back and give up big gain after big gain.

Joe: I have a feeling that Coach Nussmeier will focus on building a strong run game with Green and Smith and help control the ball a little more than in recent years. Michigan has the horses to build an above avg. run game with these 2 and it will be fun to see if we can get back to a little smash mouth football at the big house. I’m also looking forward to some great BBQ on “Tailgate Tuesdays”.

What worries you most entering the season?

Justin: Okay, so this question is pretty rhetorical this year. The offensive line has to be the answer after last year’s meltdown and the loss of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. If it’s as bad as last season, even a high-caliber defense won’t save the team. But I really don’t think it will be. Do I expect it to be a mauling, classic Michigan offensive line? Absolutely not. But I do think it will be more cohesive than last season and more sound with a simplified playbook. Even so, until we see it in action, the worry is there.

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O'Haren, USA Today Sports)

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

Sam: If anyone’s biggest concern at this point is not the offensive line, he or she may want a quick crash course in foot-ball (American style). I can say with a straight face that Michigan has some sort of chance of having a First Team All-Conference player at every single position on the field (yes, this is still optimistic, but it’s at least feasible in some universe) besides the offensive line, where Michigan may not have a single Third Team-caliber performer, feasibly. The line is replacing two senior tackles who will most likely start one day in the NFL; even with those stars, Michigan’s big uglies up front last year were atrocious. Most people have been taking the glass-half-full approach in saying that there’s no way it can get any worse; it’s hard for me to look at the names on paper and wonder how in the world it could get any better.

Derick: After watching the spring game and the ‘Under the Lights’ scrimmage, how can the offensive line not be the No. 1 concern? Michigan’s defensive line was average for much of 2013, but looked like an elite unit against their offensive teammates. If Doug Nussmeier can’t improve this group, it won’t matter how much Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith have progressed.

Josh: The entire offense. They say that on defense 10 guys can fail as long as one guy makes the play. But on offense 10 guys can be doing their job and if one fails, then the play is lost. While the o-line clearly needs to be a cohesive unit that plays well, it’s not all on them and there are too many variables to work out before they can be a solid unit. Devin Gardner needs to be consistent and the running backs (whomever they may be) need to run with vision and be decisive. I see Michigan in a similar situation as Michigan State was coming into 2013; a potentially great defense that would be enough to carry them but no identity on offense. Last year the defense played well but faded late in the season as it was completely worn down after carrying the offense all year and it really showed in losses to Ohio State and Kansas State I fear we’ll see more of the same this year.

Joe: The offensive line is a HUGE concern due to the loss of both Schofield and Lewan. It wasn’t exactly a strong point last year and now it looks even more troubling. This group needs to gel quickly and improve on the “tackles for loss” that plagued them last year. 114 is way too many!

Who will be the breakout player on offense?

Justin: I would absolutely love to look into the crystal ball and pick a lineman that breaks out and puts together an all-conference season, and while it’s certainly possible, it’s impossible to predict. I also think Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith will split the workload, keeping either from truly breaking out. Therefore, it has to be a pass-catcher, and I’m going to go with Jake Butt. He’s out for the first couple of games at least, but is progressing very well in his return form a torn ACL. We got a taste of what he’s capable of last season — 20 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns — and once he returns, he could put up some solid numbers.

We all know Devin Funchess will be the go-to receiver for Devin Gardner, but he’s going to have to find others to distribute the ball to so opposing defenses can’t simply game plan Funchess out. It’s very likely that either Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh breaks onto the scene, but as a tight end, I see Butt becoming a crutch for Gardner. Butt fits right into Nussmeier’s offensive system and could be primed for a big season as long as he fully recovers from his injury.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me. I don’t think the offensive line is going to be good enough for Michigan to have a star running back, so I immediately look to the outside. There I find Amara Darboh, a gentlemanly sized 6’2″, 211-pound redshirt sophomore wide receiver who was held out all of last season with a foot injury. Devin Funchess is the closest thing the Wolverines have to a sure thing this year, so Darboh should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of cheating defenses, and his nice hands, solid size, and football IQ should make him a favorite of Devin Gardner.

Derick: Freddy Canteen will probably have one of the greatest impacts on the offense, but I think Devin Gardner will be the breakout player. Gardner struggled for much of the 2013 season, but pressure from the defense and a non-existent rushing attack made his job much harder. A healthy Gardner should take advantage of a deeper receiving core and become the quarterback fans saw for a few games at the end of 2012.

Josh: I’m really down on the offense heading into this season. True, I’m not in Schembechler Hall, but nothing I’ve seen or read since last season has given me any indication that this offense will be any better than last year’s. A simplified system and zone blocking schemes will help but they haven’t had much time with Nussmeier and development takes time and many reps. Plus the mere fact that a TRUE freshman is in line to start at left tackle tells me that this line is still in shambles and that could derail the entire offense, again. That said, I think Jake Butt (once he returns) is prime for a breakout season. I foresee Gardner looking for a safety valve as he runs for his life behind an inept line and Butt should be that safety valve. We saw glimpses of what Butt could do late in 2013 and I expect him to pick up where he left off.

Joe: I am hoping that an in shape and focused Derrick Green turns into the five-star tailback we recruited two years ago. If he can pound the ball and help control the clock, this offense can put up some big numbers. An effective Green would free up some young receivers and an elite Funchess down field.

Who will be the breakout player on defense?

Justin: Yeah, it’s a pretty generic answer that I’m sure others will give, but I’m going with Jourdan Lewis. The hype coming out of the spring and fall camp is too much to ignore. The coaching staff has talked about being more aggressive defensively, and Lewis fits that mold at corner. If he truly has beaten out either experienced corners like Raymon Taylor or Blake Countess, he’s earned it and it will only make the secondary better.

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Sam: Defensive breakout players are a little bit harder for me to predict, and I admittedly don’t even know who would rightfully qualify as a “breakout” player this year. Would a senior Frank Clark, who has been solid but never great, qualify? How about a junior linebacker who has been playing plenty of snaps for two full seasons? I’ll assume I’d get picked on for taking either of those guys, so let me go with Jourdan Lewis, a 5’10″, 175-pound sophomore cornerback from Cass Tech. If preseason reports and practices are to be believed, it seems that Lewis has managed to wrestle away a starting spot from either senior Raymon Taylor or redshirt junior Blake Countess, both of whom were pretty solid contributors a season ago. The coaches have been emphasizing increased physicality and aggressiveness on defense, particularly from the cornerbacks, which fits right into Lewis’s strengths. If he indeed plays the first snap on defense against Appalachian State next week, Jourdan Lewis must have something going for him.

Derick: It has to be Jabrill Peppers. If he can’t contribute in the secondary then Michigan will be vulnerable to the pass all season, since Blake Countess is the only proven cornerback that can cover Big Ten recievers.

Josh: Jourdan Lewis, and it’s not even close. Yes, I do think Jabrill Peppers will show us why he was one of the best incoming recruits in recent memory but my money is on Lewis to really make massive strides from last season. He got his feet wet last year while relying on great athletic ability but now he has the technique and mental aspect to add to it. I fully expect him to be an All-Big Ten performer, and one of the best defenders in the conference, by season’s end.

Joe: Can I say Jake Ryan as my breakout player? I know he is a team captain and a stud at linebacker, but after missing five games last year due to a torn ACL, he will shine all season if healthy. He is a must for this team to keep pace defensively.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: The offensive line improves to simply average and the defense is as good as advertised. The defense will have to carry the team early on while the offense finds its feet, but I truly believe this is a team that has a lot of potential. It will all rely on improvement from the offensive line, but like I said above, if the defense lives up to the hype, a 2012 Notre Dame or 2013 Michigan State season is not out of question.

Sam: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the defense doesn’t allow a single point. In all seriousness, the defense has to be elite (probably allowing 15 or fewer points a game in Big Ten play) and the offensive line has to be above-average for Michigan to compete for their first conference championship since 2004. I think the defense can be elite, but I still think the offensive line is going to struggle a little bit too much for the team to reach Pasadena or beyond.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the quarterback pressure we saw throughout camp was actually because of the elite defensive line Greg Mattison has assembled. If the offensive line can actually protect Gardner and create holes for the running game then the rest will fall in place.

Josh: Michigan State and Ohio State completely implode and each have multiple conference losses, a miracle happens with the offensive line’s development early on, Devin Gardner finally becomes the consistently good QB we know he can be all while Jabrill Peppers exceeds the hype, plays both sides of the ball and becomes the first true freshman to win the Heisman (read: I don’t think it’s even remotely possible for Michigan to win the B1G Ten this year). I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, Michigan won’t be ready to legitimately compete for the B1G Ten until 2015.

Joe: We can get strong and smart play up front, as well as from our quarterback position. We must eliminate the untimely sack or tackle for loss that killed us on important drives last season. C’mon O-line, make it happen!

What’s your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: Regardless of how much improvement the offensive line shows, I don’t see Michigan winning less than eight games this season. But I think they’ll win more than that and finish the regular season 10-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State. I don’t think Notre Dame will be that great this year, but early on Michigan will still be trying to get its offense up to speed, and despite a valiant effort from the defense, bad things just happen in South Bend. The latter because Michigan State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten this season and, while Michigan will play closer than they have the past two years, it will be extremely tough to pull one out in East Lansing.

I do think Michigan will go into Columbus at season’s end and pull off a big win, leaving a three-way tie atop the East Division, but Michigan State will get the nod into the Big Ten Championship game. Michigan will go to the Capital One Bowl. I never predict the outcome of bowl games before the season because so many variables come into play about who the opponent will be.

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

I’m optimistic about this season and think this team will be very close to having a really special season that will surprise some people, but in the end it will come up just short, setting up big expectations for 2015.

Sam: My final prediction for the 2014 Michigan football season is as follows:

Record: 10-2, losses at Michigan State and at Ohio State
Bowl game: Wherever generic 10-2 Big Ten teams end up this season (too many to keep track of).

I think it will be a successful season overall that falls just short of the ultimate goals of conference and national championships. Michigan State’s defense should be able to wreak havoc on the offensive line yet again, and though Ohio State will be without Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller all season, their backup will have enough time to gel by the end of the season that the Buckeyes will edge the Wolverines once again at home.

Derick: I think Michigan’s season should be pretty straightforward. The Maize and Blue are great in Ann Arbor, so an easy home schedule should translate into seven wins. But tough road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State make me shudder, and Brady Hoke’s resume on the road should turn all three games into losses. Michigan should take care of Northwestern and Rutgers on the road, giving it a 9-3 record for the season. Two Big Ten losses isn’t going to cut it for a trip to Indy, so Michigan will end up in the Capital One Bowl. Could Michigan win every single game on its schedule? Absolutely. But until fans see this team play solid football, there’s little reason to believe that more than nine wins are on tap.

Josh: My heart wants to be optimistic but my gut says this team’s lack of sufficient development spells doom in 2014. The offense has too many question marks for me to feel comfortable about having anything but very low expectations for them, which in turn puts more pressure on the defense to carry the team, again. The schedule does not set up in Michigan’s favor, with both MSU and OSU on the road (both of which are all but guaranteed losses in my mind). And as we’ve seen in the past Hoke’s teams consistently lose games they shouldn’t, mostly on the road (at Iowa in ’11, at ND and Nebraska in ’12 and atPSU, Nebraska and Iowa last year). They’ve gotten incredibly lucky against Northwestern the past two seasons and something tells me that luck may run out in 2014. Notre Dame, while losing several key players, is still on the road and that tilts the odds slightly in favor of the Irish. Utah could be a very dangerous trap game, sandwiched Miami (Ohio) and perennial bottom feeder Minnesota. Throw in the perennial inexplicable loss we’ve come to expect from Hoke’s Michigan teams and we’re sitting at 4 or 5 losses.

Right now I don’t see this team being better than 8-4, and not in the hunt for the East division. I see losses to MSU, OSU and then two more out of Notre Dame, Utah, Penn St. and Northwestern. They’ll still end up in a decent bowl because they’re Michigan, so something along the lines of the BWW Bowl like last year. Of course, I hope I’m completely wrong and the offense can come together and prove me horribly wrong but I won’t hold my breath.

Joe: I am predicting a 9-3 record for the Maize and Blue with losses at MSU, Northwestern and Ohio. Don’t ask me to explain the Northwestern loss, I just have a bad feeling. This will put them in the Outback bowl on Jan 1. 

Big Ten Media Day Transcript: Brady Hoke (podium)

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Hoke at podium

Day one of Big Ten Media Days is in full swing and Brady Hoke was the fifth coach to take to the podium on Monday morning. He delivered an opening statement and then answered questions about Jabrill Peppers, the offensive line, the competition for positions, Ty Isaac, and more. Below is the full transcript, as provided by the Big Ten and ASAP Sports.

Opening statement

COACH HOKE: We’re all excited for another season to get started and looking forward to the start of fall camp on Sunday. Our football team has come together this summer and worked very hard. I think they’ve worked hard and I think a lot of that is the foundation that’s been laid over the last three years and the depth that we have on our football team, it’s as competitive as a team that I’ve been around at all positions.

And I think that is exactly what, as Michigan, the leaders and the best, we should have. And so the way they’ve come together, the things they’ve done, we’re excited about. You never know what kind of team you’re going to have until the season’s over.

But the one thing I can tell you, that we’re encouraged by the qualities we have seen from our football team and throughout the spring and throughout the summer. Again, I believe the foundation has been laid. And you’re going to talk with three of our great representatives in Jake Ryan, Frank Clark, and Devin Gardner who have represented Michigan in a positive way.

We’re excited for August. We need to have a good August camp. And I think every coach in here will tell you that. You need to stay healthy, but you better be competitive and you better be good. And you better have a great camp. And so excited about that coming up.

We’ve got a great schedule. Okay. It’s a good schedule. But the schedule starts on August 30th with Appalachian State, and that’s where our focus will be, because you can’t win all your games unless you win the first game.

And expectations at Michigan are what they are and what they should be. They’re high. And so we’re excited about getting that started.

Staff-wise, Doug Nussmeier, who has come in and done a tremendous job offensively, came in with a championship pedigree, came in with a pedigree of molding quarterbacks. And what I’ve seen, and his track record speaks for itself, but it’s not just something that speaks for it, he’s doing it on a daily basis.

The moves that we made in the secondary and on defense, allowing Coach Mattison to be more involved from the middle of the defense instead of up front only has been very positive.

The movement of Jake Ryan to the inside of our defense has been very positive. I think Roy Manning coaching our corners and Curt Mallory coaching the safeties, because of the variables with the offense you face, I think has been something very positive for our football team and positive for our players.

Last, and I’ll take questions, we’re very proud of who we are, and we will continue to be proud of what kind of young men, student-athletes we have at Michigan.

Q&A

I just want to know, back in June, you had done the interview I believe with Bonnie Bernstein talking about Jabrill and the fact that he would come in at nickel. You’ve had the summer; you’ve probably talked to some of your players about what they’ve seen out of him. Is the plan still to play him at nickel or safety or corner when you open fall camp?
“That hasn’t changed. The plan hasn’t changed. I think we’ve got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career, but that’s where he will start.”

Your program has a very great storied tradition. Your stadium has a great storied tradition. On Saturday, I believe the big house is supposed to break the record for the highest attended soccer game in American history. That’s two of the biggest storied traditions of clubs. Are you going to take your team? Have you been involved with that at all or any –
“I’d like to be, but I won’t be, simply because our freshmen, that’s their first day coming in as far as some of the administrative details we need to take care of.

“But I think we’re going to break a record.”

You’re in the East Division. How daunting is that division? How do you think it kind of shakes out?
“I think it’s a great competitive division. How it shakes out, we’ll find out. But as far as the competitiveness of the division, and at the end of the day, you know, it’s whatweallwanttodo,andweallwanttodoiswe want to compete. We want to compete on every Saturday.

“So as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking forward to it.”

Coach, how far into fall camp do you anticipate going before determining an offensive line for the sake of consistency and seeing those guys play together as a unit?
“I think we’ll start camp with a lineup that we’ve come out of spring with, and that will be based some things on what has been done during the course of the summer and when you see the work ethic and all those things, but a lot of it will be based on coming out spring football obviously.

“So we’ll go through that lineup, but at the same time what will change it up every day a little bit to see where the pieces fit. But I wouldn’t say — take two weeks maybe at the most.”

Considering how last season ended, has the pressure become bigger heading into this year for you to perform?
“You know, why do you coach? I mean, why do you really coach? If we’re doing everything we can for 115 guys, sons on our roster, from the graduation, since we’ve been there, 69 of 69 seniors have graduated. That’s important.

“Because football’s only going to last so long. So the only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football. Competition, hard work and all that, that’s part of it. But socially and academically, that’s a big part of it.

“So when you talk about that, that’s the only pressure as a coach that I’ve ever felt – making sure we’re doing it for the student-athletes.”

We’re going into a new era with college football with the playoff in the ’14 playoff, last year the Big Ten kind of struggled in the marquee non-conference games. This year the list of them is top to bottom you play Notre Dame and Michigan State’s playing Oregon. How important for the Big Ten and its champion, whoever gets out of this conference, will it be for the conference as a whole to do better in those non-conference games?
“First and foremost, we’re very proud of the Big Ten Conference. Very proud of the schools and the competition and the way our teams play and how our schools from an academic standpoint graduate student-athletes.

“Do we want to win every game? There’s no question every guy who is going to be at this podium, they want to win every game. And when you talk about the non-conference schedule, we welcome those challenges. I know our conference does and I think our conference is going to play very well in those games.”

You mentioned about having as much competition at every position that you’ve ever been a part of or that you’ve seen in the foundation that you’ve laid there. So usually the first step toward narrowing the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
“You know what, ask that one more time because I missed some part of it.”

The competition, the amount of competition that you have at every — is that really the first step toward narrowing the gap from where you are and where you want to be in any place you’ve been in the past?
“Yeah, I think so. I think that’s always been part of it. We had a very good year in 2011, ’11-12. We played in the Sugar Bowl. But because of depth, Mike Martin played 82 plays as a nose tackle. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, because that’s playing a lot of snaps and that’s taking a lot of hits.

“But if it was today, Mike Martin would play 50 plays. So that’s what we have now.”

Michigan has a history of playing the MAC early on. What sort of relationship does that program have with the Mid-American where you can have those non-conference games scheduled so easily?
“Well, I think it’s always been a nice — I was head coach of Ball State and we played Indiana twice. We played Purdue twice. Played Michigan once. I think it’s great for the Mid-American Conference, which I have a ton of respect for, and I think it’s great for regionally for families. I think it’s both for both schools, and obviously you’ve seen the Mid-American Conference teams come in and play awfully well and beat some of the Big Ten teams.

“So I think it’s a great partnership because of the competitive base.”

You mentioned Doug and what he’s done so far. But where have you seen the difference that he’s made, tangible changes he’s made? And also as far as Peppers, when can we anoint him?
“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right? I mean, let’s see what he can do.

“What Doug has done, is I think when you watch the practice in the spring, you watch the tempo of the offense, you watch the physicalness every day that guys are playing with, I think that’s where it starts.”

Is there any update right now on Drake Harris’s health, and are there any players you expect –
“Drake Harris, he’s fine.”

Any players you expect will be limited going into camp?
“No, not yet, not that I can think of or that I want to share at this time.”

Curious if you know anything about Ty Isaac and his potential eligibility.
“As far as the hardship and everything, we don’t know of anything. We expect Ty to report on August 3rd, and we’re still going through the hardship with compliance and all those things.”

Could you talk about the last — in the foreseeable future, your match-up with Notre Dame this year, and is that a little more emphasized with your players this year?
“It definitely will be an emphasis, simply because it’s a national rivalry. It’s a shame that that series is over with, because of the national rivalry that it carried with it.”

They changed the divisions obviously in the Big Ten this year, Ohio State and Michigan now in the same division. Obviously that game means so much, but now as a division game with what you thought, were you happy to see that change made?
“Yeah, I mean as long as those two great programs, you know, with their storied history, are still playing.”page3image27128page3image27288page3image28056