Posts Tagged ‘Greg Mattison’

Ryan drafted in 4th; Gardner, Beyer sign free agent contracts

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015


Jake Ryan(Tony Ding, AP)

A day after former Michigan standouts Devin Funchess and Frank Clark were drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft, Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan found a home in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers as the 129th overall pick.

Ryan, who played defensive end and outside linebacker before moving to middle linebacker for his senior season at Michigan, fits the mold of recent Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews, in number, looks, and talent. While some viewed Ryan as an outside linebacker in the NFL, the Packers had a need for an inside linebacker after Hawk signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and Brad Jones signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“His instincts are something that really stand out,” said Eliot Wolf, the Packers’ director of pro personnel. “He can get through traffic and make plays on the outside, penetrate and make plays on the inside run. He’s pretty good in coverage. Kind of an all-around guy who adds really good value to our team.”

Ryan collected 267 tackles during his five-year career at Michigan that included an injury-shortened junior season. He tallied 45.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and an interception. As a middle linebacker last season, Ryan led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo), to go along with 14 tackles for loss and two sacks, earning All-Big Ten first team honors by both the media and coaches.

After the draft ended, two other former Wolverines signed undrafted free agent contracts. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who entered the draft as a wide receiver, joined fellow former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady on the New England Patriots, while defensive end Brennen Beyer signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

Gardner started 27 games at quarterback for Michigan, passing for 6,336 yards and 44 touchdowns, but his struggles at the position — due at least in part to playing for multiple head coaches and offensive coordinators and behind a poor offensive line — caused him to change positions. He started the 2012 season at receiver, catching 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns, until Denard Robinson went down with an injury that forced Gardner to move back to quarterback.

The good news for Gardner is that his new team has a precedent for quarterbacks-turned-receiver. Julian Edelman started at quarterback for three seasons at Kent State before being drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He caught 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown his rookie season, but it wasn’t until the past two seasons that his career as a receiver took off. In 2013 and 2014 Edelman caught 197 passes for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a nine-catch, 109-yard one-touchdown performance against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

At 6’4″, 218, Gardner has a much different body type than the 5’10″, 200-pound Edelman, but he’ll have a chance to earn a roster spot on a team that has had trouble drafting receivers the past few years. Aside from Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have lacked a true outside receiver as of late. Last season, Brandon LaFell came on with 74 catches for 953 yard and seven touchdowns, but the three receivers the Pats added from the 2013 draft — Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins — were non-factors.

Beyer will likely have a tougher job securing a roster spot with the Ravens. Like Ryan, Beyer played both defensive end and linebacker for the Wolverines over the past few years, but while he was a solid contributor, he didn’t have the same type of impact Ryan did. The Ravens feature one of the league’s best defenses and aren’t exactly thin at either position. Still, he came highly recommended by Greg Mattison — a former Ravens defensive coordinator — and that was enough for John Harbaugh to give him a chance.

Fourth annual M&GB HAIL Awards

Monday, January 12th, 2015


HAIL Awards banner

The 2014 college football season officially comes to an end tonight, and while Michigan’s season has been over for a month and a half and everybody is swept up in Harbaughmania, we’re going to close the book on 2014 with one more look back at Michigan’s season by handing out our annual HAIL Awards for the top players, plays, and moments.

Despite coming off of a 7-5 season, the team entered the season with high expectations, most ranging from 8-4 to 11-2. With the majority of the offense back, an expected leap forward from the two Devins, a new offensive coordinator, and an offensive line that had nowhere to go but up, most assumed the offense would avoid the pitfalls that the 2013 season saw. And with the majority of the defense back, an offseason shuffling of position coaches, switching Jake Ryan to middle linebacker, and a predicted senior season breakout of Frank Clark, most assumed the defense would be among the nation’s best.

But following a season-opening blowout of Appalachian State, it quickly became clear that those preseason expectations would need to be tempered as Michigan visited South Bend and left embarrassed by a 31-0 defeat. A 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) did nothing to turn the season around as Michigan dropped three straight to Utah, Minnesota, and Rutgers, and suddenly a season that began with hope was relegated to simply hoping for a winning record.

A controversy over the handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris and his “probable, mild concussion” suffered against Minnesota further clouded the season and set the wheels in motion for a coaching change. Michigan responded with an Under the Lights win over Penn State that offered a brief respite, but was summarily mopped off the field by rival Michigan State two weeks later. Needing to win three of four to make a bowl game, Michigan topped Indiana and Northwestern, but fell to Maryland, making a season-ending trip to Columbus a must-win. And while Michigan held its own for the better part of three quarters, even holding a halftime lead, it was unable to stop the Buckeyes, and the season ended at 5-7.

Brady Hoke was fired following the season, and exactly four weeks later, Harbaugh was hired as the 20th head coach in Michigan history. But before we turn our attention completely to Harbaugh, let’s relive the top moments of Team 135.

To revisit previous years awards: 20132012, 2011, or click here for a breakdown of each award.

Harmon Player of the Year Jake Ryan

RyanThe first three years of our HAIL Awards produced offensive players as Michigan’s player of the year. But in 2014, it was only fitting that a defensive player win it for the first time. Michigan’s offense sputtered to 112th nationally in total offense, 109th in scoring, 110th in passing, and 62nd in rushing.

Jake Ryan switched positions in the offseason, moving into the middle of the linebacking corps in order to stay on the field for more plays and keep opposing offenses from game planning away from him. It paid off with a team-leading 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“For a team that relied so heavily on the defense to keep the game close, Jake Ryan was the anchor and leader from the linebacker position,” said Derick.

“Hands down rock star on this team,” said Joe. “He may have started slow, but came on strong as the season progressed. His presence on the field will be missed!”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year  Devin Gardner & Devin Funchess (tie)

Gardner-FunchessMichigan’s offense stunk this season. There’s no denying it. It finished second to last in the Big Ten in scoring, last in total offense, eighth in rushing, 11th in passing, second to last in first downs, eighth in third down conversions, and tied for last in turnovers. Does anyone really deserve to be named offensive player of the year? Alas, we had to vote, and the Devins each received two.

“The lone bright spot (at least for a few games) was junior Devin Funchess, whose physical skillset on the outside went underutilized,” Sam said. “Funchess still had fewer receiving yards than he did in his breakout sophomore campaign, but his fireworks in the first few games were pretty much the lone bright spot on the year.”

Joe made the case for Devin Gardner:

“Okay, stick with me on this one. His numbers weren’t great, but he showed tremendous heart and never gave up on this team in spite of all the adversity. Love him or hate him, he is a heckuva young man.”

Votes: 2 each
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs Miami OHHad Frank Clark not had an off-the-field incident and been kicked off the team, he would have been in the running for defensive player of the year. But Ryan was the best player on a defense that was pretty good but never really lived up to expectations. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss and recorded two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“Jake Ryan made some head-scratching mistakes in his role as middle linebacker, but he also reminded us how great of a player he can be on more than one occasion,” said Sam. “He was the unforgettable heart and soul of a very forgettable team.”

“Easy pick, and we look forward to watching him play on Sundays,” said Joe.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jourdan Lewis (1), The field (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Greg Mattison

MattisonThe defense brought high expectations into the season, and although it finished a very respectable seventh nationally in total defense, no one would consider it one of the top seven defenses in the country. The failures of the offense had a lot to do with that, putting the defense in tough spots time and again and forcing the defense to carry the team, but the defense often struggled to get key stops and takeaways. Even so, there’s no question who the most important coach on the staff was this season.

All told, it ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, third against the run, sixth against the pass, seventh in sacks, second in opponent first downs, and eighth in opponent third-down conversions.

“Greg Mattison’s defense was underrated because of the massive amount of time it spent on the field,” said Derick. “The offense constantly put them up against a wall, and the defense still ranked among the best in the conference.”

“The defense was the one bright spot of the team this year, if there was one,” said Josh.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeff Hecklinski
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights III win over Penn State

UTLIII winFor the second straight year a loss to Ohio State nearly won this category. What does that say about the state of the program the past couple years? Instead, Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State took the cake. The third night game in Michigan Stadium history was a festive occasion amidst an otherwise forgettable season, and although Penn State wasn’t anything special in 2014 either, it was a big win at the time.

Wearing all blue uniforms for the first time ever, Michigan held Penn State to just 214 total yards and sacked Christian Hackenberg six times. Devin Gardner went 16-of-24 for 192 yards and a touchdown, Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and Matt Wile made field goals of 37, 42, and 45 yards. Michigan moved to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in the Big Ten, but remained perfect under the lights in the Big House.

“The night game against Penn State was the only game that really brought magic to the Big House,” said Derick. “Penn State was considered a solid team at the time.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Sticking with Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Frank Clark stops Northwestern two-point conversion

Frank Clark vs NorthwesternHis Michigan career ended unceremoniously, but Frank Clark gets the nod for play of the year. It ended up being the last play of his career, and at the time kept Michigan in postseason contention. For the third straight season, Michigan and Northwestern played an ugly, down-to-the-wire game. Michigan had won the previous two in overtime, and this time Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted no extra football to be played.

When the Wildcats scored a touchdown with three seconds to play, Fitzgerald kept the offense on the field instead of kicking the extra point that would have tied the game. Quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled to his right, planning to stop and throw back to his left, but Clark shot right through the blockers to cut him off. As Siemian tried to stop, he lost his footing and fell to the ground untouched to end the game. After the game, Clark and other Michigan defenders said they knew exactly what play was coming.

“Frank Clark’s stop looked like the play that would get Michigan into a bowl game,” said Derick. “Even though that didn’t happen, it did essentially win a game on its own.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry fat-guy touchdown (1), Ben Gedeon blocked punt return vs App State (1)

Past Winners:
2013: Fire drill field goal to force overtime at Northwestern
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’s 254 yards, 2 TDs vs Ohio State

Devin Gardner vs OSULike the season as a whole, there weren’t many individual performances that stood out. Drake Johnson’s 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against Indiana won two votes, while Devin Funchess’ seven-catch, 95-yard, three-touchdown performance and Derrick Green’s 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State were nominated. But for the second straight year, Devin Gardner’s performance against Ohio State gets the nod.

Gardner finished his career with his best game of the season, completing 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns to keep the game much closer than anyone expected. He began the game with an interception that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown, but shook it off and found Jake Butt for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. On Michigan’s next drive, Gardner ran for 10 yards on third down to keep the drive alive and set up a Drake Johnson touchdown run. Late in the game, Gardner connected with Freddy Canteen for another touchdown.

“The most impressive performances come in the biggest games, and the fact that Gardner kept this Michigan team in the game for nearly three quarters against a national championship game participant was nothing short of a miracle,” said Derick.

“Once again, Michigan looked to be toast heading into The Game, and once again, the Wolverines hung around long enough to tease the Michigan faithful,” said Sam. “Surprisingly, it was Devin Gardner who had his best game of a miserable season, picking apart the Buckeye defense in the first half to give the Maize and Blue a fighting chance.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drake Johnson’s 122 yards, 2 TD (7.6 ypc) vs Indiana (2)

Past Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner’s record-setting performance against Ohio State
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

GardnerGardner had his struggles this season, but his heart and commitment to Michigan can never be questioned. He lost his starting job to Shane Morris five games into the season, but kept his head up and fought hard the rest of the way. Morris’ woeful performance and injury against Minnesota let Gardner retain the job the rest of the season and he closed his career with a good performance against Ohio State.

He finished the season 174-of-283 (61.5 percent) for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, and rushed 98 times for 258 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He finished his career sixth in career touchdown passes (44), fourth in career passing yards (6,336), and fourth in career completions (475).

“Gardner wasn’t great, but the Minnesota game made it painfully obvious that he was the best Michigan had,” said Derick.

“As previously mentioned, he really did play his tail off for this team and left it all on the field,” said Joe. “Despite the results, you have to admire this young man’s character and work ethic.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson vs IULast season, Michigan’s running back situation was so bad that we didn’t even award a Running Back of the Year. This season, the running back play was much better and there were breakout performances by multiple backs, but injuries kept one back from running away with it. Derrick Green opened the season with a 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State. Two weeks later, he rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against Miami (Ohio). But midway through the season he broke his clavicle and missed the rest of the season.

Not to be outdone, DeVeon Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the season opener, and while he stayed healthy, he managed just one more 100-yard game the rest of the way, an 18-carry, 121-yard, one-touchdown game against Northwestern. He finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 519 yards and six touchdowns.

But anyone who watched Michigan over the last half of the season would be hard-pressed to say anyone looked better than Drake Johnson. The redshirt sophomore began 2013 as the backup, but tore his ACL in the season opener. He returned behind both Green and Smith, but once Green went down, he filled in nicely. Against Indiana, Johnson rushed 16 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, then he closed the season with 14 carries for 94 yards against Maryland and 15 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State before tearing his ACL once again in the third quarter. While he finished third on the team in rushing with 361 yards and had the fourth-most carries (60), he led all backs in yards per carry (6.0) and tied Gardner for second with four rushing touchdowns.

“With Green hurt and Smith never really breaking out, I believe that Johnson’s performance earned him this award,” said Joe. “If he had not have been sidelined in the Ohio game, who knows how that one could have turned out.”

“Forget recruiting rankings, Drake Johnson was the only running back who hit holes hard enough to pick up consistent gains, and he did it against OSU before the injury,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: De’Veon Smith (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: None
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Devin Funchess

FunchessAfter losing Jeremy Gallon to graduation, Michigan’s receiving corps looked to Devin Funchess to carry the load. He officially made the full-time switch from tight end to receiver and switched his jersey number from 87 to 1, the first Michigan receiver to wear the iconic number since Braylon Edwards. And he opened the season in style with seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns against Appalachian State. Of course, no one expected him to match those numbers the rest of the season, but it was fun to project his stats out over the course of 13 games: 91 catches, 1,235 yards, 39 touchdowns.

He followed it up with 107 yards on four catches against Notre Dame, but Michigan was shut out and Funchess suffered an injury that kept him out the following week. It took until the seventh game of the season — the Under the Lights game against Penn State — for Funchess to catch his fourth touchdown and then he was held without another the rest of the season. He closed with 108 yards on seven catches against Ohio State, but with no other breakout receivers stepping up, Funchess struggled with consistency and concentration all season.

He finished the season with a team leading 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, but while he caught more passes than 2013, his yards fell by 15 and touchdowns decreased by two, and after that first game he was never the dominant threat he should have been. Still, with enviable size, he will enter the NFL Draft this April.

“Funchess could be a force in the NFL with his lethal combination of size, speed, and athleticism, and he could have been a dominant college receiver on a better team,” said Sam. “Unfortunately, Michigan simply wasn’t able to get him the ball much, even if he did make some crazy how-did-he-do-that catches (like against Penn State) and some my-grandma-could-have-caught-that drops.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Mason Cole

Mason ColeThe biggest reason for Michigan’s offensive ineptitude a year ago was the offensive line. Brady Hoke mixed and matched lineups, trying to find the right combination to protect his quarterback and pave the way for something resembling a running game, but often to no avail. Despite losing two tackles to the NFL — Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield — the line grew up a little bit in 2014. But it was a newcomer that took home the award.

Mason Cole became the first true freshman in Michigan history to start a season opener on the offensive line, replacing Lewan at left tackle from Week 1, and while he made his share of mistakes throughout the season, he generally made people forget he was in high school a few months prior. Michigan’s line allowed 25 sacks, which ranked eighth in the conference, but was 11 fewer than last season. It paved the way for an improvement of an improvement of 37.1 rushing yards per game. And Cole was a major reason why.

“Mason Cole was thrown into the fire as a true freshman left tackle and managed to not be a glaring weakness,” said Sam. “That’s a huge win in my book.”

“Cole has a bright future after a decent redshirt freshman season,” said Derick. “I was impressed with how he hung in there during the Big Ten season.”

Votes: 5

Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Taylor Lewan
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Willie Henry

Willie HenryDue to Frank Clark’s dismissal from the team with two games left in the season, this category suffered from a lack of standout performers at the position, which split the vote. Had Clark finished the season, his 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks — totals that would have had two more games added to them — would have won the award going away.

Instead, Willie Henry was the only lineman that received multiple votes, while Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Mario Ojemudia garnered one apiece. Henry finished the season with 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and three sacks, but he made one of the most memorable plays of the season. Trailing Utah 10-3 midway through the second quarter, Michigan needed a big play and Henry provided it. On 3rd-and-12 from their own 13, Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson dropped back to throw a screen pass, but Henry leapt up and snagged it at the 6-yard line and rumbled into the end zone to tie the game.

“Tough pick here, but since Clark dug his own grave, I was quite impressed with Henry,” said Joe. “His ceiling looks to be quite high and I look forward to watching him pressuring opposing quarterbacks in the future.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Glasgow (1), Brennen Beyer (1), Mario Ojemudia (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Frank Clark
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs NorthwesternAfter winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, this one was a lock, although it wasn’t unanimous. James Ross III received one vote after recording 32 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Sam explains his decision to vote for Ross:

“I know, I know…Jake Ryan wins MVP and Defensive MVP and isn’t even the best linebacker? My vote is probably a lie here, but I feel that James Ross deserves some recognition for a couple bone-crushing hits on opposing linemen. This was the best unit on the entire team, and Ross should have an excellent senior season.”

The other four votes went to Ryan, giving him the Linebacker of the Year award for the third time in four years. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss, and added two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries. His 112 tackles were the most for a Michigan defender since Jonas Mouton recorded 117 in 2010, but Mouton did so in 13 games. It was the most in a 12-game season since Jarrett Irons recorded 115 tackles (80 solo) in 1994.

“Ryan moved over to middle linebacker despite being one of the top outside linebackers in the country. He anchored one of the top defenses in the Big Ten,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Desmond Morgan
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan LewisLast season’s winner, Blake Countess, took a step back this season as Michigan’s secondary was constantly tested by opposing offenses. And while freshman Jabrill Peppers was expected to make the biggest impact, an early-season injury kept that from happening and it was another youngster that rose to the occasion. Sophomore Jourdan Lewis started seven of 12 games, and after being picked on in a Week 2 loss to Notre Dame, proved to be Michigan’s best corner as the season progressed.

Lewis finished the season with 39 tackles (28 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, and a team-leading two interceptions and six pass breakups. His third-quarter interception of Christian Hackenberg led to a game-tying field goal in Michigan’s win over Penn State, and he also made a touchdown-saving tackle against Utah in which he out-raced everyone across the field to bring down Ute running back Bubba Poole at the 25-yard line. That kind of effort was there all season from Lewis.

“Jourdan Lewis can guard any receiver in the Big Ten with his speed and coverage skills, but his work ethic is what sets him apart,” said Derick.

“Tough year for the defensive backs overall, as the passing game seemed to hurt when it counted,” said Joe. “However, Jourdan Lewis looks to have a promising future in Ann Arbor, and when matched up alongside Peppers, perhaps a few more interceptions will be in his future.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Dennis Norfleet

NorfleetThe Special Teams Player of the Year vote was close between return man Dennis Norfleet and senior punter Will Hagerup, but Norfleet edged it out. Michigan’s special teams were a disaster for much of the year, often failing to even get 11 men on the field, but Norfleet was always a constant. Although he is still looking for his first return touchdown, he is reliable at catching kicks and punts and holding onto the ball, and he had a punt return called back against Maryland.

He finished the season with a 23.1-yard average on kick returns — which ranked sixth in the Big Ten — and a 3.8-yard average on punt returns. This season, he also moved into first place in Michigan career kick returns (90) and yards (2,203), and third place in career total return yards (2,293). He also fired up the home crowd with his dance moves while awaiting kicks and punts.

“Dennis Norfleet dances, and dances well. He wins,” said Sam.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Will Hagerup (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Brendan Gibbons
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake JohnsonAlthough a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Drake Johnson was a newcomer since he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2013 season. The Ann Arbor native began the year behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, and after getting three carries for 28 yards in mop-up time against Appalachian State, didn’t see a carry again until the Michigan State game after Green was lost for the season. The following week, he ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Indiana, and then finished the season with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (5.8 yards per carry) against Maryland and Ohio State.

“Tough choice between Mason and Drake, but Drake came alive late and provided a much needed spark to an otherwise sputtering offense,” said Joe. “I look forward to seeing him take snaps in a rotation with Isaac and Green.”

“Before the injury, Drake Johnson was looking like the running back Michigan’s been looking for over since the Sugar Bowl win,” said Derick.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Mason Cole (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jake Butt
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake RyanRyan came to Michigan as a three-star recruit from Cleveland St. Ignatius, choosing Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines over a handful of Mid-American Conference offers. Four years and a different coaching staff later, Ryan leaves Michigan as one of the top linebackers in program history. Despite missing the first five games of the 2013 season following a torn ACL in spring practice, his 44.5 tackles for loss rank seventh in Michigan history and his seven forced fumbles rank second. He started 41 career games and earned Bennie Oosterbaan’s #47 legends jersey.

“A model student athlete for the University of Michigan,” said Joe. “He has seen the ups and downs of this program as well as his own personal uphill battle with injury. In spite of it all, he was always a dominant playmaker on the field and the face of the defense as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll be sad to see all of these seniors go,” said Sam. “All had their moments, and though each of them leave the University of Michigan on a sour note, they played their hearts out for four or five years on the team. I will always be particularly fond of Jake Ryan’s wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks early in his career though, and his leadership was tangible even watching on TV. Ryan was a gritty linebacker, an athletic rusher, and a guy that defenses were afraid of, and for that, he’s my Senior of the Year.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis vs Miami OHMichigan entered the season with plenty of experience in the secondary, led by Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and a true freshman — Jabrill Peppers — who most expected to be a breakout star. But injuries plagued Peppers’ season and it was another youngster who rose to the occasion.

Jourdan Lewis played in eight games as a reserve defensive back in 2013, recording 17 tackles and two pass breakups, but broke out in his sophomore campaign with 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss, six passes defended, and two interceptions. He got better as the season went on and proved to be a good cover corner, leaving fans excited for him to team up with Peppers in 2015.

“If Lewis can become more of a ball hawk, he’ll become one of the better cornerbacks in the country,” said Derick. “His speed and coverage skills were the best on Michigan’s roster this season.”

“Lewis is making strides in his game, basically doubling all of his stats from last year with similar playing time,” said Joe. “As mentioned before, it’ll be fun to see him playing in the same backfield as a healthy Jabrill Peppers.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Joe Bolden (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Funchess
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Overmatched: Michigan State 35 – Michigan 11

Monday, October 27th, 2014


Michigan-MSU(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


UM win vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan-Rutgers game preview

Friday, October 3rd, 2014


Game Preview_Rutgers_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan defense vs Rutgers offense: When Rutgers has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Rutgers defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special teams: The other third

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Rutgers 24 – Michigan 20

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams: The other third

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

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

Prediction:

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

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

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

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Washed out: Utah 26 – Michigan 10

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


Michigan vs Utah(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M&GB staff predictions: Utah

Friday, September 19th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utah 27 – Michigan 24

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 31 – Utah 24

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

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

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

Michigan 31 – Utah 28

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

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

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

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

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

Utah 31 – Michigan 24

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

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

Michigan 31 – Utah 27
_______________________________________________________________________________

Links: 

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

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

Michigan-Utah game preview

Friday, September 19th, 2014


Game Preview_Utah_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at the match ups.

Michigan defense vs Utah offense: When Utah has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Utah defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other third: Special teams

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

Utah 27 – Michigan 24

Michigan-Miami (Ohio) game preview

Friday, September 12th, 2014


Game Preview_Miami_banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan defense vs Miami offense: When Miami has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Miami defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other third: Special teams

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Michigan 42 – Miami 17