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Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

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

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

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

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

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

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will catch passes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the line shape up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Signing Day: Visualizing Michigan’s 2014 class

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014


2014 Class Visualization

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


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

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

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

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

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Heston Running Back of the Year None

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

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

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

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

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

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

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

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

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

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

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

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

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

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

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Nussmeier introductory press conference transcript

Friday, January 10th, 2014


Michigan officially welcomed new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier with a press conference on Friday morning. Below is the full transcript. You can watch the full presser on MGoBlue.com.

Brady Hoke

Opening statement
“First I would like to say we addressed what we were going to do as a program on Wednesday and I want to thank Al Borges and his family for their commitment that they’ve made to Michigan and at San Diego State. It’s not easy when you’ve spent five years with a coach and a family and all those things, but we consider him more than just a colleague.

“But as you know, as you go through coaching and the profession itself, we took this job three years ago to make Michigan better. And we took this job knowing that every decision that’s going to be made by me is going to be made what’s best for Michigan and the kids in this program and the legacies and 134 years of teams that have come before. So it’s an exciting day because this change I think is going to be one that we’re all going to benefit from.

“As we look forward and as you move forward, the direction of where we want to go is, we have a vision, we know what that is, and that’s why Doug is here today. It’s a great day for Michigan football in a lot of ways and we’re excited to have Doug here and what we’ll do as an offense and as a football team. A couple things: Doug and I first crossed paths when I was the head football coach at Ball State. We have a mutual friend that I played with and also just happened to be the guy who was representing Doug while he was playing in the National Football League. So Doug and I had a brief conversation and I have tracked his career, obviously, for a long time.

“He’s a great fit and will do a tremendous job with what we’re doing offensively. With Doug himself, number one, he’s got a great family. Christie and Derrick and Ashlan and Colton are a great fit to our football family. We’re excited about that, excited about Doug and his background.

“Obviously, it’s a guy with national championship experience which is the highest goal that we all have, coached in the National Football League, coached in college, and and developed some outstanding quarterbacks. AJ McCarron, Jake Locker, Marc Bulger, at every level, and his tutoring of those guys is excellent.

“I think what’s also exciting is the balance from an offensive perspective that Doug brings. He’s had six 1,000-yard rushers over the last six years and obviously that’s something that we want to do as a program – we want to have that balance and we want to be able to run the football. We’ve talked about that since day one and we will improve that game and what we’re doing. Developing quarterbacks, developing young talent as an offense is something he’s done and proven, and we are a team that is young in a lot of ways but we’re getting older and we’re getting better every day. So we’re excited about that.

“He was a finalist for the head coaching job at the University of Washington. Tells you a little bit about nationally how people think of Doug and his character and what he represents. But the passion that he has for the game of football, the passion that he has for the young men he leads is really what being a coach is all about and having him here to lead our offense and to be a part of this great university and this program and having his family being a big part of it we’re truly excited.

“Today is about Michigan and it’s about Doug in a lot of ways and what he brings, so we couldn’t be more excited and I’m going to have Doug come up here and share. But we’re excited, and we’re excited because of what the Nussmeier family brings to Michigan and also we’re excited because of the fit that we feel we have.

“Doug Nussmeier, please.”

Doug Nussmeier

Opening statement
“I want to say first off, this is a really special day for our family and I can’t say enough how special it is that we are here together, my beautiful wife Christie, my sons Colton and Garrett, my daughter Ashlyn. I want to thank you guys for all that you sacrifice day in and day out.

“We’re very very blessed to be here and I want to say a special thanks to Coach Hoke for giving us this opportunity. Dave Brandon, our athletic director, thank you very much. This is a special place, a special, special place, and that’s why we’re here. We talk about 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships, three Heisman Trophy winners. It’s Michigan football and when you say the word Michigan everybody knows about Michigan football.

“I was fortunate enough to be in this conference before. I have a great amount of respect for this league and for all the things that Michigan football stands for. I just can’t say enough about how excited we are to be here, to be a part of the family, and really look forward to working with a great coaching staff.

“Talking about Coach Hoke and how we met each other a long time ago, the respect that I’ve developed over the years for what he’s accomplished as a head football coach. To watch him start at Ball State and to go onto San Diego State and to come here at Michigan, not only as a quality coach when you talk about wins and losses and being a coach of the year in the nation, but you talk about the type of man that he is, the type of person that he is.

“When you talk about Coach Hoke with other people in our profession you hear nothing but class, family, all the right things, cares about his players, as we all do – we want to win – but he also sees the big picture about developing young men both on and off the field. To have the chance to be a part of that, like I said before, we just feel so blessed, and to work with such a great quality of staff. I’ve known Greg Mattison for a long time and what he’s accomplished and the defensive staff, great coaches. To have the ability to come here and work with Heck and Doug and Dan and Fred, just really really excited about that opportunity and I want to thank, once again, coach and Dave for them believing in us as a family and the commitment they’ve made to us and we’re just very very excited to be here. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”

You’ve talked about the direction and vision with Coach Hoke. In your interpretation, what is that?
“Tough. Physical. Explosive. That’s what we want to be. We want to be able to run the football and we want to be able to put points on the board. We want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game.”

How much do you know about the Michigan offense? The biggest issue was the offensive line. How quickly do you think you can fix it?
“Well, correct me if I’m wrong but we’re 11 points away from being 11-1, so this is a good football team here with good young talent. If Coach Hoke recruits players, which I know he does because you look at our recruiting rankings over the last years, as well as he recruits coaches – he recruited me – we’re going to do really good with our young players and developing and moving toward the future.

“There is young talent on this team. We’ve got to develop it. We’ve got 45, 46 days before we go to spring football, so getting those young players on the same page, and player development is all about how you view it, and with any young player there’s a steep learning curve. So day to day continuing to improve, that’s going to be the focus. We’ve got to get better each and every day and focus on that day and what that holds and get the players focused on what we’re going to get better at today.”

What does Michigan provide that you didn’t have at Alabama? Why go from Alabama to Michigan?
“Well, obviously I can’t say enough about Coach Saban and the opportunity that we had there at Alabama. It was a great opportunity. Like I said, Michigan football, the opportunity to be here in the Big Ten, to be a part of the winningest program in all of college football, to have the opportunity to integrate into a staff and to take this program to where we all want to go. You talk about the quarterback position, the great quarterbacks that have played here, you go down the list: Brady, Griese, Denard Robinson, Chad Henne. It’s Quarterback U so to say, and the ability to be a part of that room here and help those guys develop and grow, I’m just really really excited about that opportunity.”

What’s your challenge in getting the players as ready to go in the spring as you can?
“I think that communication is essential. It’s essential in anything you do, and it starts with that. We’ve got great communicators on this staff and the biggest thing is for us as we sit down as a staff to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, set like I said a clear path every day for these young men and how we’re going to get better and the things we want to achieve on a day to day basis. As we grow daily, then the end product will evolve.”

Schematically, what are your plans, what do you want to install?
“We’re going to put our playmakers in the best possible position we can to make plays. That’s the goal. What that means is we want to control the tempo of the game on offense, whether that means we need to go fast, we need to go slow, whatever it may be, we want to control the tempo of the game on offense and give our guys an opportunity to make plays. Schematically, look at ways that we can create competitive advantages for our players. So what that means is you could see us in one formation one week running one play and a different one the next week. But like I said, the identity is we’re going to be physical, we want to play fast, we want to be explosive.”

What are your head coaching aspirations? How does becoming offensive coordinator at Michigan fit into your long term career arc?
“I’ve said it before, I’d love to be a head coach in the right situation. As that relates to being here today, I’m excited about the opportunity to learn from Brady Hoke, who in my opinion is one of the best coaches in all of college football. To learn the system here that he has in place, to get into a room with who I feel are very, very good football coaches. Anytime you get a new group of guys together when it comes to football there are so many different ideas and so many different avenues and ways you can go. It’s a really really exciting time for us as a family, I’m really excited, and can’t wait to get here and really get grinding.”

With the perception that Nick Saban likes to control things, do you feel like at Michigan you’ll have some freedoms that maybe you didn’t have at Alabama?
“Coach and I talked about his philosophy. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t all in on what Coach Hoke and I discussed and what he wanted to do on offense, how we wanted to be and how we wanted to move forward. So part of coming here was us being on the same page with what we want to do offensively, and we both agree on the identity we want like I talked about before. As far as schematically how we’ll approach that, we’ll adapt with our personnel. That’s something he and I will work with the offensive staff on a day to day basis.”

When you were at Michigan State, what kind of things did you learn about the Big Ten and how did you view the Michigan program?
“Well, I watched a lot of touchdown passes right here in this corner to Braylon Edwards the one year when we thought we were going to get a W. I have a lot of respect for that program. We had a wonderful time there in the three years we were there. But I said it before, when you say Michigan it’s synonymous with football, and I don’t care if you go to a mall in California, Texas, Florida, you’re going to see somebody wearing Michigan. When you get an opportunity to coach at a place like this and to be a part of this, and let me say this, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about coaching, it’s always about the players. The type of people that come to Michigan, the quality of kids, what they’ve achieved, not only on the field but look at the achievement off the field, it is a special, special place and there’s not many of them. So to have the opportunity to come here and be a part of that was something that after we discussed it as a family was something that we felt was the right move for us.”

What’s the key to being able to run the football even in an era where you see a lot of stacked defenses?
“Obviously, you’re always trying to identify the best way to do things. What’s the best way we can create a fair box count for our linemen to get people blocked, or can we use a receiver with this type of motion to create a numbers advantage? Those are all schematical issues, and there are times too when our players have got to know that there may be a loaded box but you know what, we are who we are, we’re tough, we’re hard-nosed, we’re physical, and we’re going to come downhill and run the ball at people.”

Have you had a chance to talk to any of the players?
“A little bit. Got to see a couple of them and great kids. Can’t say enough about the look in their eye and like I said the quality of student athlete that we have here at Michigan is second to none in the country.”

You’ve had success with quarterbacks. How quickly do you think it can take you to make Devin Gardner a very efficient passer?
“The biggest thing I think from a quarterback standpoint is trying to simulate a game type environment for them Sunday through Friday. When you get out on the field on Saturday, things happen fast, and if you’re not prepared you can get exposed very quickly. So you never want to put a quarterback on the field who’s not prepared and the way you prepare them is try to simulate as much as you can a gameday experience Sunday through Friday.

“The biggest thing is the amount of time we spend together in that media room, and obviously we’re limited by NCAA rules, and I think it’s really important at that position that the players possess a quality of self-determination. They’ve got to be self starters, they’ve got to be driven, because you’ve got to do more on your own because we just don’t have the time that you would like with the NCAA rules. But we’ll prepare our quarterback to play and play successfully, and we’ll do whatever we need to do schematically to put him in the best position to have success.”

On the timeline of the hiring
“Coach Hoke reached out to me recently and the conversations we had, like I said, having followed his career, knowing what type of football coach he was and what type of person he was, it escalated quickly. It’s a great opportunity. We’re fortunate to be here and like I said really looking forward to doing big things.”

When did you and Hoke meet?
“We met, shoot coach, it was a long time ago…”

When did you start talking about the job?
“Just recently we spoke.”

When will you get the ball rolling?
“Well, ideally as soon as possible. Obviously we’re in the heart of recruiting season, it’s important as they say, it’s about Jimmies and Joes, not Xs and Os. So the first thing is on the recruiting front. Football will take care of itself. I’m really excited just to get to know these guys more and really dive in and integrate. As soon as we can we’ll get going. Obviously we’re in a little bit of a dead period here, so the convention’s coming up next week and then after that we’ll get rolling.”

Have you sat down with Coach Hoke and discussed other assistants and what your recruiting role will be? Any specific regions or anything?
“I can tell you right now, it’s got to be tropical, coach. No, I’m just kidding [laughter]. Just joking. No, we haven’t and like I said I want to integrate into the staff and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make Michigan football be successful, whatever that may be to recruit I’m all for that. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet. We did have a brief recruiting meeting this morning as a full staff, but wherever I’m needed I’m willing to go.”

How soon do you think this team can be all the things you want it to be?
“Well, like I said and coach talked about, we need to run the football. Just briefly look at statistically where we’re at, we’ve got to eliminate the sacks. We can’t have lost yardage plays, number one thing we’ve got to eliminate that. We can’t have undisciplined penalties, pre-snap penalties. Any time you’re trying to find consistency on offense you’ve got to start from the basis of we’re not going to go backwards. So we’re not going to have lost yardage runs, we’re not going to take sacks, we’re not going to have penalties. So that’s the first thing we’ll start from, as long as the ball’s moving forward and we’re ending every series in a kick we’ll have a chance. That’s where we want to start from, but that will be the key point of emphasis to start.”

How confident are you now that you have the pieces in place to make this work quickly?
“Very confident. Like I said, this football team is 11 points away from being 11-1. That’s a darn good football team and the young players on this roster, having known some that we recruited – Derrick Green and David Dawson and Wilton Speight and Shane Morris and those guys – I don’t know the whole roster, haven’t had a lot of time to familiarize myself with everybody, but knowing the players that we recruited when I was at Alabama that are here and part of this team, really feel good about where we’re headed, and we need to get there quickly.”

How far is this team from being SEC caliber?
“I can’t answer that. I didn’t see a lot of Big Ten football this season, obviously. We didn’t really cross paths anywhere. I know this, when we prepared to play this football team last season down there in Dallas, I thought it was a very, very good football team we were getting ready to play. There were a lot of sleepless nights thinking about Coach Mattison and his blitzes and all the things that we might see the next day.”

Inside the Numbers: What went wrong?

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014


(MGoBlue.com)

On September 7, 2013, there was an excitement—a buzz—around the Michigan football program. The #17 Wolverines toppled #14 Notre Dame, 41-30, at Michigan Stadium. Offensively, Devin Gardner lit up the Fighting Irish, accounting for 376 total yards and five touchdowns. Many believed Gardner had just jumpstarted his Heisman campaign. Defensively, U-M allowed 30 points, but ND’s offense mustered only two touchdowns. The Wolverines nearly played a flawless game.

As a result, the Wolverines were 2-0, jumped to #11 in the Associated Press Poll, and were given 12-to-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship. On that date, only three teams had better odds to win the national championship: Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon. Playing in a subpar Big Ten and having the luxury of hosting the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale, Michigan seemed to be in prime position to make a run at a historic season.

What went wrong?

After Michigan beat Notre Dame, only three teams had better odds to win the BCS National Championship (MGoBlue.com)

One-hundred-and-twelve days later, the Wolverines were smacked around by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and ended the 2013 season with a 7-6 record. After starting 5-0 for the third time in four years, the Maize and Blue lost five of its last six games and six of its last eight. Not only did Michigan not contend for a national championship, U-M was eliminated from the Big Ten Legends Division race after only five conference games. The season—filled with so much promise in early September—completely fell apart.

What went wrong?

Initially, Michigan seemed to be a very good football team with one glaring weakness: ball security. In its first two non-conference games, U-M maintained a neutral turnover margin, outclassing Central Michigan, 59-9, and beating a top-15 Notre Dame squad. Then, in their next two non-conference games, the Wolverines committed eight turnovers and posted a minus-five turnover margin. Yet, Michigan still eked out two wins because U-M’s two opponents—Akron and Connecticut—were considered two of the worst FBS teams.

The Wolverines’ non-conference performances suggested that, if U-M could stop committing turnovers so frequently, U-M would play complete games and be a championship contender. Support for this theory became stronger after the Wolverines’ next performance. In its Big Ten opener, Michigan forced two Minnesota turnovers and, most importantly, was turnover-free for the first time in 26 games. Accordingly, U-M routed the Gophers—a team that would finish with an 8-4 regular-season record—by a 42-13 score. The Wolverines seemed to be back on track and ready to make a title run.

Then, disaster struck. Everything fell apart. As the following table shows, the Wolverines transformed from a team that outscored opponents by almost three touchdowns and outgained them by almost 100 yards per game into a team that opponents outscored and outgained, on average, for the rest of the season:

Michigan Statistical Breakdown – First Five Games vs Last Eight Games
First Five Games Last Eight Games
Record 5-0 2-6
Points Per Game 38.80 28.13
Points Allowed Per Game 19.40 31.50
Total Yards Per Game 396.00 358.75
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 305.00 413.00
Yards Per Play 6.07 5.06
Yards Allowed Per Play 4.66 5.65

Most expected there to be some decline in Michigan’s numbers because U-M’s competition would be much stiffer in the Big Ten than in non-conference play. But a decline that extreme? Highly improbable.

And what is even more improbable is how little turnovers affected Michigan’s regression. Notwithstanding a minus-three turnover margin in their first five games, the Wolverines had a plus-eight turnover margin in their final eight games. Further, U-M’s turnover margin was minus-five in non-conference play and plus-10 in conference play. Yes, the Wolverines committed a few turnovers during Big Ten games in critical moments. But, overall, turnovers prevented Michigan’s statistical regression from being even more significant.

Michigan was battered and bruised in East Lansing (MGoBlue.com)

So the theory that Michigan would be a contender if it stopped turning over the football? Kaput. The Wolverines’ ranks in key statistical categories plummeted, even though U-M’s turnover margin continued to improve. U-M’s issue with turnovers in non-conference play only masked what truly went wrong for Michigan football in 2013. The mask started to crack in Happy Valley and was finally ripped off in East Lansing.

What went wrong?

Here is what went wrong for Michigan—a program with a 7-6 record in 2013 and a fan base beginning to question whether Brady Hoke is the man to lead it: U-M was the epitome of inconsistency in 2013. Both U-M’s offense and defense displayed flashes of greatness in different games throughout the season. However, the problem was that both units also displayed that they could be just as bad.

For months, many Michigan fans have been campaigning for Hoke to fire his offensive coordinator, Al Borges. Those fans likely will be shocked to learn that the 419 points Michigan scored in 2013 were the eighth most since 1905. Michigan also topped 600 total yards in two separate games. U-M’s 751 total yards against Indiana were the most in a single game in school history. U-M’s 603 total yards against Ohio State were its most ever in The Game.

Yet, those U-M fans that want a new offensive coordinator are not unjustified. In a three-game stretch against Michigan State, Nebraska, and Northwestern, Michigan’s offense scored only 28 points total in regulation. No U-M offense had scored that few points in three straight regulations in 48 years. Additionally, the Maize and Blue gained less than 300 yards in five games and less than 200 yards in three of those.

That is the definition of inconsistency. And, to further prove that point, as the following table shows, Michigan averaged about four more touchdowns and 240 more total yards in about half of its games in 2013 than it did in the other half:

Michigan Offense – Six Highest Scoring Games vs Seven Lowest Scoring Games
Six Highest Scoring Games Seven Lowest Scoring Games
Points Per Game 47.67 19.00
Total Yards Per Game 502.33 262.29
Yards Per Play 6.85 4.05

If the Wolverines’ offense produced as much throughout the season as it did in its six highest scoring games, U-M would be ranked #3 in scoring offense, #12 in total offense, and #10 in yards per play. Conversely, if the offense produced as little throughout the season as it did in its seven lowest scoring games, U-M would be ranked #112 in scoring offense, #122 in total offense, and #123 in yards per play. Those ranks are out of 125 FBS teams, including those which reclassified to FBS in 2013.

One week, Michigan would have one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation. And the following week, U-M would look like it had never learned the modern offensive concepts of football.  For example, this is an offense that set a school record for total yards in a single game and then failed to net positive rushing yards in each of its next three halves.  This Michigan offense was one of the most inconsistent offenses in Michigan history, if not the most.

Although not as extreme as the offense, Michigan’s unit on the other side of the line of scrimmage was inconsistent, too. Through its first five games, the Wolverines’ defense allowed opposing offenses to score only seven touchdowns. Only Louisville, Florida, and Oregon had allowed fewer offensive touchdowns at that point of the season. And U-M allowed only six offensive touchdowns total to three other opponents later in the year.

But in the other five games? Michigan’s defense allowed 24 offensive touchdowns. Thus, it allowed an average of 1.63 offensive touchdowns in eight games and an average of 4.80 offensive touchdowns in the other five games. And, therefore, as the following table shows, U-M’s defense, like the offense, experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows with little in between the two.

Michigan Defense – Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games v. Six Worst Defensive Scoring Games
Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games Six Worst Defensive Scoring Games
Points Allowed Per Game 18.14 37.00
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 302.43 452.00
Yards Allowed Per Play 4.43 6.25

If the Wolverines’ defense performed as well throughout the season as it did in its seven best defensive scoring games, U-M would be ranked #10 in scoring defense, #7 in total defense, and #5 in yards allowed per play. On the other hand, if it performed as poorly throughout the season as it did in its six worst defensive scoring games, U-M would be ranked tied for #111 in scoring defense, #101 in total defense, and #106 in yards allowed per play. Those ranks are out of 125 FBS teams, including those which reclassified to FBS in 2013.

Michigan’s six worst defensive scoring games dragged down U-M’s statistics significantly. Michigan’s scoring defense regressed from #6 in 2011 and #20 in 2012 to #66 in 2013. The 349 points and 4,829 total yards U-M allowed in 2013 are each the second worst in program history. So, although Michigan’s defense played very well for about half the season, it performed so poorly when it did have a clunker that U-M’s record book will list it as one of the worst defenses in program history.

What went wrong?

This was not a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation for Michigan, when the whole team would either be very good or very bad. It was much more complicated than that. Both Michigan’s offense and defense were inconsistent, but they consistently were inconsistent in separate games:

Breakdown of Michigan’s Best Offensive and Defensive Performances
Six Highest Scoring Games Seven Best Defensive Scoring Games
Central Michigan X X
Notre Dame X
Akron X
Connecticut X
Minnesota X X
Penn State X
Indiana X
Michigan State
Nebraska X
Northwestern X
Iowa X
Ohio State X
Kansas State

Michigan played only three complete games this season. The table above provides that two of those were against Central Michigan and Minnesota. The third was against Notre Dame because ND’s 30 points overshadow that U-M’s defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns. On the other hand, U-M also had two clunkers as a team: Michigan State and Kansas State.

By season's end Hoke found himself squarely on the hot seat (MGoBlue.com)

Therefore, there were eight games this season in which one of Michigan’s offense or defense played well and the other unit completely fell flat. As the table above notes, U-M’s offense laid eggs against Akron, Connecticut, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, while its defense disappeared against Penn State, Indiana, and Ohio State.

Michigan went 4-4 in these games. All four of U-M’s wins in these games—against Akron, Connecticut, Indiana, and Northwestern—were against opponents that finished with below-.500 records. The Wolverines had enough talent on the unit that was playing well in those games to compensate for the absence of the other and pull out a victory. This is why Michigan still managed to open the season with a 5-0 record despite its offense stumbling against Akron and Connecticut.

However, the total absence of one of its units was too much to overcome when Michigan played teams with winning records, losing to all of Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio State. Each of those losses was by no more than four points. If Michigan’s missing unit had shown up for each of these games, it is very likely that Michigan would have won those games.

What went wrong?

Michigan had the talent to be a championship contender, but was unable to consistently showcase that talent in each and every game. As a result, the Wolverines played only three complete games in a 13-game season. U-M survived against lesser competition when one of its offense or defense performed poorly. But when that happened against teams with winning records, U-M suffered heartbreaking losses. That’s the difference between a disappointing 7-6 season and an acceptable 9-4 or 10-3 season.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB staff predictions: Kansas State

Friday, December 27th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21

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

Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21

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

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

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

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

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

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

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

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

Michigan vs Kansas State game preview

Friday, December 27th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other third: Special teams

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Friend vs Foe: Kansas State

Thursday, December 26th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

On Special Teams:

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

Prediction:

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

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

First Look: Kansas State

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013


Entering the conference championship weekend, most assumed Michigan would receive an invitation to either the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl or the Gator Bowl. For most of the weekend it appeared the Wolverines were headed to Jacksonville to face Georgia, but the BWW Bowl, which selected before the Gator, somewhat surprisingly chose Michigan over Nebraska to fill its Big Ten slot. The Wolverines will face Big 12 foe Kansas State in their first Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Copper Bowl) appearance.

It will also be the first ever meeting between to two schools, which does create some intrigue as opposed to another SEC opponent, and will be only the fourth time ever Michigan has faced a Big 12 opponent in a bowl game. All three of the previous meetings resulted in losses: the 1995 Alamo Bowl against Texas A&M, the 2005 Rose Bowl against Texas (following the 2004 season), and the 2005 Alamo Bowl against Nebraska.

So what does Kansas State bring to the table? The Wildcats have the same 7-5 record as Michigan, but went 5-4 in conference compared to Michigan’s 3-5. A closer look, however, reveals that KSU has beaten just two teams that finished the season with a winning record: Louisiana Lafayette (8-4) and Texas Tech (7-5). The Wildcats also opened the season with a 24-21 loss to North Dakota State of the FCS, which finished the regular season undefeated and faces Coastal Carolina this Saturday in the FCS Tournament quarterfinals.

Three of Kansas State’s five losses were by ten points, but none was a blowout. Texas led K-State 24-7 entering the fourth quarter before the Wildcats outscored the Longhorns 14-7 in the fourth. KSU led Oklahoma State 29-23 midway through the fourth before falling 33-29. The Wildcats also led Baylor at the end of the third quarter 25-21, but the Bears scored 14 in the fourth. Finally, Kansas State trailed Oklahoma by just three entering the fourth, but back to back touchdowns, including a 74-yard pick-six allowed the Sooners to pull away.

So as you can see, K-State has at least been in each game into the fourth quarter, but the final period hasn’t been good to them. So what can we make of a team that has wins over six FBS opponents with a combined record of 30-54 and lost to every good team they played? Let’s take a look at how the Wildcats compare statistically.

Kansas State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Kansas State | Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 33.4 | 33.8 37 | 36 23.7 | 26.5 36 | 63
Rushing Yards 2,1651,569 1,743 | 1,673
Rush Avg. Per Game 180.4 | 130.8 53 | 100 145.2 | 139.4 38 | 28
Avg. Per Rush 4.5 | 3.2 3.9 | 3.8
Passing Yards 2,6503,025 2,661 | 2,736
Pass Avg. Per Game 220.8252.1 73 | 43 221.8 | 228.0 46 | 60
Total Offense 4,8154,594 4,404 | 4,409
Total Off Avg. Per Game 401.2 | 382.8 72 | 83 367.0 | 367.4 T36 | 38
Kick Return Average 22.6 | 22.2 42 | 47 20.4 | 22.4 47 | 91
Punt Return Average 15.3 | 6.7 3 | 87 12.8 | 7.1 111 | 51
Avg. Time of Possession 31:2731:49 33 | 29 28:33 | 28:11
3rd Down Conversion Pct 48% | 39% 16 | 71 41% | 38% 79 | 51
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 23-138 | 35-268 T63 | 108 27-138 | 23-171 T46 | T66
Touchdowns Scored 52 | 51 34 | 36
Field Goals-Attempts 13-16 | 16-23 16-21 | 23-29
Red Zone Scores (38-44)86% | (45-53)85% 39 | 50 (37-41)90% | (35-41)85% 114 | 88
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-44)64% | (36-53)68% (24-41)59% | (21-41)51%

Offensively, Kansas State averages less than half a point fewer than Michigan, but gets it done with a much more balanced attack. Statistically, it’s pretty similar to Northwestern’s offense heading into that matchup with a running game around 50th nationally and a passing game in the 70s. The similarity continues with a dual-quarterback based offense featuring one that is a passer (a la Trevor Siemien) and one that is the runner (a la Kane Colter). Must be the purple.

But before we go to far with the comparison, Kansas State is a better team than Northwestern plain and simple. The Wildcats have scored more than 40 points just four times all season, but were never held below 21. Contrast that to Michigan, which scored 40 or more six times – including in two losses – but was also held to just 19 combined points in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska. K-State has been more consistent but doesn’t necessarily have the ceiling or the ineptitude Michigan does.

Running back John Hubert is 32 yards away from 1,000 (Matthew Emmons, US Presswire)

The running game ranks 53rd nationally, averaging 180.4 yards per game, but hasn’t been overly consistent. The Wildcats topped 200 yards rushing five times and 300 yards twice, but were also held below 50 yards twice. North Dakota State held them to 41 yards on 23 carries, while Oklahoma limited them to just 24 yards on 22 carries. Their big ground games came against Baylor (327 yards) and UMass (329). Those were also two of their three highest games for rushing attempts all season, 58 and 46, respectively.

The passing game ranks 73rd with seven games over 200 yards and two over 300. One of those big passing games was against Oklahoma, which boasts the nation’s 14th-best pass defense in terms of yards allowed.

Kansas State also has a near-1,000-yard rusher in John Hubert and a 1,000-yard receiver in Tyler Lockett. Hubert will likely top the 1,000-yard mark against Michigan.

Defensively, KSU allows about three fewer points per game than Michigan. During their three-game losing streak in the first half of the season, they gave up 31, 33, and 35 to Texas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor. The 35 that Baylor scored was their second-lowest of the season behind only the 30 they scored against Texas the last week of the regular season.

Their rush defense is slightly better than their pass defense, allowing 145.2 yards per game on the ground. The Wildcats held eight of 12 opponents below 125 rushing yards and three of those below 100. However, three teams topped 200, most notably Oklahoma which rushed for 301 yards. Six opponents passed for fewer than 200 yards, but the K-State secondary was torched by Baylor (332 yards) and Texas Tech (354).

KSU converts third downs at a 48 percent rate, which ranks 16th nationally, but allows third down conversions at a rate of 41 percent, which ranks 79th. The Wildcats also allow a bunch of sacks, albeit nowhere near as many as Michigan. They rank middle of the pack nationally with 23 sacks allowed – nearly two per game. They have recorded four more sacks than Michigan’s defense has.

Overall, it looks to be a pretty evenly matched game between two teams that had disappointing seasons. Stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the game.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Rating
Jake Waters 138-233 2,198 15 9 152.0
Daniel Sams 38-52 452 4 4 156.1
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
John Hubert 182 968 9 63 5.3
Daniel Sams (QB) 148 784 11 37 5.3
Jake Waters (QB) 106 270 6 24 2.5
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Tyler Lockett 71 1,146 8 90 104.2
Curry Sexton 36 409 0 32 34.1
Tramaine Thompson 28 495 5 79 49.5
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Blake Slaughter (LB) 68 35 103 6.0-23 (1INT) 3.0-16 (1FF)
Jonathan Truman (LB) 54 31 85 4.0-5 0-0 (2FF)
Ryan Mueller (DE) 52 9 16 18.5-82 11.5-66 (4FF)
Travis Britz (DL) 23 10 33 5.5-13 3.0-5
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Jack Cantele 13 11 44 41 40
Punting Punts Yds Avg. TB In 20
Mark Krause 47 1,941 41.3 4 17
Full Stats