Previously: Michigan offense
Posts Tagged ‘J.T. Floyd’
They arrived in Ann Arbor four or five years ago, to a program in a state of flux that no incoming class had seen in nearly 40 years. Unlike last year’s graduating class, none came to Michigan under the old regime of Lloyd Carr prior to his retirement. The 18 [Edit: 23] players that will play their last game in Michigan Stadium on Saturday came to Michigan full of promise with a new coach. While the first couple years of their careers didn’t go as planned, they laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Michigan football that we have seen last season and this. While they still have two games left and a bowl game, let’s take a look back at the careers of each of Michigan’s graduating seniors.
No player has meant more to Michigan over the last four years than Denard Robinson. His career began with an electric 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 2009 and has produced enough highlight-reel plays and legendary performances to assure that he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue.
Denard currently ranks fifth in career rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in 100-yard rushing games, sixth in pass completions, fourth in passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, and first in total yards in the Michigan record books. He also ranks first all-time in Big Ten rushing yards by a quarterback, third in NCAA career quarterback rushing yards, and seventh in Big Ten career total yards. If he’s able to play the final two games and bowl game, he will surely move up even higher in most of those categories.
He arrived in Michigan a soft-spoken kid and became the face of Michigan football through the roughest patch in the past 40 years. Even when Michigan was barely competitive, Denard gave us a reason not only to watch but to be excited. This August, he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Media Day and serves as team captain. This is all the more remarkable considering that Rich Rodriguez was virtually the only major coach that wanted him as a quarterback.
Denard will remain a Michigan legend long after he plays his final game, whether or not his number gets official legends status.
While Denard has been the face of the team and put up all the offensive stats over the past four years, Jordan Kovacs has been the face of the defense. And his story is even more improbable. A hardly recruited defensive back out of Clay High School in Ohio, Kovacs chose to walk on at Michigan instead of go to the only other school that showed any interest in him – Toledo.
In his first season, he was named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team and was named Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. As a redshirt sophomore he finished second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He also earned a scholarship. Last season, he was again named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and currently has 54 tackles through 10 games in his senior campaign. He also became a captain this season. From walk on to captain, he’s everything Rudy wasn’t.
Last weekend, Kovacs was awarded the Wistert brothers’ No. 11 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of his career. He has started 43 career games and has brought hard-nosed, high-energy defense every game. Every walk on from now on will aim to be the next Jordan Kovacs and he will be missed next season.
A skinny kid from Dayton, Ohio, Roy Roundtree committed to Rich Rodriguez on his first National Signing Day. After redshirting his freshman year, Roundtree led Michigan with 32 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 while starting four games. He was named a CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention and Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. In 2010, he broke out with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second in the Big Ten in yards and was named to the All-Big Ten second team by the media.
Last season, his production fell off considerably in Brady Hoke’s first season, but he provided one of the highlights of the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in Michigan’s improbable comeback against Notre Dame. This season, Roundtree has 20 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown through 10 games, but no catch has been more important than the 53-yarder he hauled in in the final seconds last week against Northwestern to set up the game-tying field goal.
Although he won’t go down as one of the best receivers in Michigan history, he has shown a knack for big plays and won’t soon be forgotten. For the past two seasons, he has worn Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legends jersey, which was the first one given such status.
Craig Roh was a big pickup for Rich Rodriguez when he committed on Sept. 18, 2008. The seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation out of Scottsdale, Ariz. held offers from USC, Stanford, and Nebraska to name a few, but chose to make the journey east.
As a freshman in 2009, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception, earning CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention honors, as well as Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. He upped his tackle numbers to 43 in 2010 and then was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media last season. He ranked second on the team with four sacks a year ago.
This season, he’s on pace for his best season yet with 37 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks through 10 games thus far. He has consistently represented Michigan well off the field and was named 2011 Academic All-Big Ten. He has started 48 consecutive games, 20 at linebacker, 26 at defensive end, and two at defensive tackle, showing his versatility and willingness to do what is needed to help the defense improve.
#73 – William Campbell
Will Campbell was one of the most highly touted in recent memory, a consensus five-star defensive tackle. He arrive din Ann Arbor weighing 356 pounds and never lived up to the hype through his first three seasons. At one point in 2010, he moved to offensive line, but that was short lived when Hoke took over. As a senior, he has finally earned a starting spot and done well with 32 tackles and a sack so far.
#2 – Vincent Smith
The diminutive back from Pahokee, Fla. was recruited for Rodriguez’s system and had a promising freshman season with 48 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown, as well as 10 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He earned the starting job in 2010, carrying the ball 136 times for 601 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 130 yards and two more TDs. When Hoke arrived, Smith lost the job as the starter, but became the third down back. Against Minnesota last season, he became the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and passing touchdown in the same game. This season, he has just 24 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but has always shown an ability to pick up yards when needed.
#57 – Elliott Mealer
Mealer’s road to Michigan was filled with heartache when a car accident killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother Brock permanently paralyzed. But he has overcome the tragedy with a solid career as a backup offensive lineman. This season, he earned the starting nod at center, replacing David Molk and may be best known for his mountain man beard.
#25 – Kenny Demens
Demens was a highly sought after linebacker recruit in the midwest in 2008 but chose to come to Michigan at a time when linebacker play was less than stellar. He grabbed a starting spot midway through the 2010 season and never looked back, helping to solidify a position that had been a weak point for a couple of years. He was the team’s third leading tackler as a sophomore with 82 tackles. Last season, he led the team with 94, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the coaches and media. This season, he currently ranks second on the team with 67 tackles and five for loss.
#52 – Ricky Barnum
Barnum spent his first couple of seasons as a reserve offensive lineman before coming onto the scene a year ago. He started three games at left guard and finally earned a true starting spot this season, starting all 10 games thus far.
#65 – Patrick Omameh
Omameh has started 39 consecutive games at right guard over the last three seasons while being named Academic All-Big Ten twice. He was also one of 11 players nationally to be named to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team for his regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital.
#8 – J.T. Floyd
Floyd wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but has been a fixture in the Michigan secondary for the past three seasons, starting 32 games at cornerback and playing in 40. In 2010, he finished sixth in the conference in tackles per game, and last season he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he has 29 tackles so far for the nation’s top-rated pass defense. He has recorded three career interceptions and two career forced fumbles.
#89/87 – Brandon Moore
Moore hails from the same high school as Roundtree and former Wolverine Michael Shaw and came to Michigan as the nation’s eight-best tight end. He has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career, but has recorded two receptions for 28 yards. On Sept. 15, he was given Ron Kramer’s No. 87 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of the season.
#7 – Brandin Hawthorne
Hawthorne came to Michigan from Pahokee, Fla. as a three-star player and has spent the majority of his career on special teams. Last season, he started five games, recording 43 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. So far this season, he has 14 tackles, seven of which came against UMass.
Other seniors who will be playing their last games in Michigan Stadium are #14 Jack Kennedy, #20 Steve Wilson, #23 Floyd Simmons, #31 Paul Gyarmati, and #81 Mike Kwiatkowski. [Edit: Also, Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Garman, and Charlie Zeller].
Make sure to get into the stadium early on Saturday to salute each of these Michigan men for their hard work an dedication of the last four or five years. Give them a standing ovation to thank them for coming in during tumultuous times, sticking it out, and helping turn the program around.
For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.
Tomorrow: Record Watch
Friday: Schedule Predictions
Last week was supposed to be a big test for Michigan. Just like Western Michigan in 2009 and Connecticut last year, Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State, was supposed to give Michigan a scare. But just like those two previous occasions, Michigan rose up to the challenge and proved the “experts” wrong.
The 28-7 win over San Diego State closed out the non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated for the third consecutive year. Tomorrow, the Wolverines begin the hunt for the Big Ten title, although they might as well be playing another directional school.
|#19 Michigan v. Minnesota
|Saturday Oct. 1
12 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
|Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
|Wins||Miami (OH) 29-23|
|Losses||#25 USC 17-19
New Mexico St. 21-28
North Dakota St. 24-37
|156||Rush Defense YPG||104.8|
|195||Pass Defense YPG||278.5|
|351||Total Defense YPG||383.2|
|19-of-40 (48%)||Third-down Conv.||20-of-53 (38%)|
|1-for-2 (50%)||Field Goals||5-for-8 (62.5%)|
|36.6||Net Punt Avg.||42.5|
Minnesota enters the game battered, bruised, and bewildered. Head Coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized last week for the second time this season for a seizure condition he struggles with. He spent a few days at the Mayo Clinic this week, but was back at practice on Wednesday. He will reportedly continue coaching, and even though he’ll be on the opposing sideline, our hearts and prayers will be with him.
The Gophers are 1-3. The season started promising by nearly upsetting USC, but falling 19-17. Then the Gophers went back to being the same old Gophers. Losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State (!) with a 29-23 win over Miami of Ohio sandwiched in between give Minnesota fans no reason for hope this weekend. Compound that with a foot injury to quarterback MarQueis Gray, the Gophers’ Denard Robinson, and the Little Brown Jug might as well just stay on its perch in Schembechler Hall.
Does Minnesota have any chance at all? Let’s see.
If you think Denard Robinson is Michigan’s whole offense, you’ll be familiar with Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray. He only accounts for 62 percent of the Gophers’ offense, but he’s talented. Unfortunately for Minnesota, he’s likely out on Saturday due to a toe injury.
So who will guide the Gopher offense in the Big House? Freshman Max Shortell has seen action in three of the four Minnesota games thus far and will start if Gray can’t go. He has completed 13-of-28 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was a three-star recruit by Rivals and Scout and two-stars by ESPN coming out of high school. Getting the first start of your career as a true freshman on the road in the Big House is probably not a recipe for success.
Everybody knows his counterpart, Denard Robinson. He accounts for 72 percent of Michigan’s offense and is on pace for nearly exact same numbers as last season. His passing game has struggled so far this season, but he leads the nation in rushing, averaging 138 yards per game (his numbers from the rain-shortened Week 1 game don’t count towards NCAA statistics, so he technically ranks fifth…but who’s counting?).
Some Minnesota players this week quipped that Denard isn’t anything special because they go up against Gray every day in practice. Tomorrow, they’ll find out how wrong they are.
With Gray out, Minnesota’s leading rusher is fifth-year senior Duane Bennett. He has carried the ball 44 times for 164 yards and a touchdown this season (just 3.7 yards per carry). Freshman Donnell Kirkwood leads the team in touchdowns with three and is the only other Gopher with more than 100 yards.
For Michigan, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith are the go-to backs. Toussaint is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and leads all running backs with three touchdowns. Smith is averaging 8.5 yards per carry and is dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield as well. Interestingly enough, Michigan has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards in the first four games. Expect that total to increase significantly tomorrow.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
Senior Da’Jon McKnight is a big and talented receiver, leading the Gophers with 19 receptions for 260 yards and a touchdown. He’s been just mediocre in three of the four games, but had a big game against New Mexico State, hauling in nine passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. With Shortell at quarterback, more of a passer than Gray, look for McKnight to get plenty of targets trying to exploit the Michigan secondary. The rest of the receiving corps isn’t anything special with smallish Malcolm Moulton and Marcus Jones and tight end Eric Lair.
Michigan’s receivers have been underused so far, but they really haven’t been needed except for the Notre Dame game. With Robinson struggling hitting his targets, Michigan doesn’t have a single receiver with double-digit receptions yet. However, the Wolverines do have plenty of talent on the outside, and if Robinson does find his accuracy, watch out.
Minnesota is giving up nearly three sacks per game and is just above average in rush offense. That doesn’t bode well against a Michigan front seven that is steadily improving.
Michigan’s line has given up just one sack all season and paved the way for the nation’s 12th-best rush offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has yet to record a penalty and this experience unit keeps getting better. Guard Ricky Barnum is likely to miss the game due to injury, but it shouldn’t matter this week.
Just like the Gophers haven’t been able to block for its quarterback, they haven’t been able to get to the opposing team’s quarterback either. The Gophers rank nearly last in the nation in sacks, recording just one through four games. The rush defense isn’t terrible – it ranks 33rd nationally – but the pass defense is bad enough that the line hasn’t really had to stop the run. It will get its toughest test of the season tomorrow.
Michigan’s line keeps getting better. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Criag Roh were unstoppable last week against San Diego State’s explosive offense. This week should be more of the same.
This is probably the strongest position group for the Gophers, if you can call it strong. Senior Gary Tinsley is the leader of the unit, having led the Gophers in tackles in 2010.
Michigan’s linebackers have been surprisingly solid so far this season. Kenny Demens is the leader, while Jake Ryan has been up and down, but he’s just a true freshman. He makes plays getting to the quarterback, but struggles with contain on the edge.
Minnesota’s leading tacklers are both defensive backs. Senior Kim Royston leads the team with 42 tackles, while sophomore Brock Vereen is second with 27 tackles. Vereen also has an interception. However, this secondary ranks 108th nationally in pass defense. Three of the four opponents have thrown for more than 275 yards against the Gophers. This game could be as good as any to fine-tune Denard’s passing before heading into the tough portion of the schedule.
Michigan’s secondary has been much better than the past couple of seasons. Most importantly, it has depth and stability. Troy Woolfolk continues to be hampered with injuries, but J.T. Floyd has been consistent and freshman Blake Countess played well in Woolfok’s stead last week. The coaches said he should continue to get more playing time as the season progresses. The safeties, Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon have been steady, especially last week against an offense that was supposed to be high-powered.
If there’s one edge Minnesota does have, maybe it’s in special teams. Kicker Chris Hawthorne is 5-of-8 on field goals, with two of those misses coming from 40-plus against USC. Punter Dan Orseske ranks eighth in the nation in net punting with a 42.5 average. Return-wise, Minnesota boasts the nation’s second-best punt return team, averaging 30 yards per return.
For Michigan, kicker Brendan Gibbons is 1-of-2, having made a 21-yarder and missed his only attempt last week. Punter Matt Wile has been okay, considering he’s a true freshman, averaging 36.6 yards per punt. Michigan gets punter Will Hagerup back from suspension this week, which should help in that aspect.
Gopher head coach Jerry Kill was brought in from Northern Illinois to try to turn the program around. He was the best man in TCU head coach Gary Patterson’s wedding and suffers from seizures, which has happened a couple times this season. By all accounts, he’s a good, hard-working head coach, but he has his work cut out for him if he wants to succeed at Minnesota.
Brady Hoke is quickly rising to legend status in Ann Arbor. Virtually everything he’s done since he took over back in January has been positive. If he continues to win, he’ll be the most popular coach since Bo Schembechler to grace the sidelines in the Big House. He has shown adeptness at game management (going for it on fourth and short instead of punting) and his sideline demeanor puts Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly (and Rich Rodriguez, for that matter) to shame.
It’s going to be a chilly day tomorrow in Ann Arbor with temperatures in the low 50s but feeling like the mid 40s. That should suit the Gophers, but like I mentioned above, a true freshman making the first start of his career on the road in the Big House is not a recipe for success. Michigan is calling it a “Maize out” so it should have a good gameday atmosphere even though it is Minnesota.
And last but not least, who can forget about the Little Brown Jug? It’s the oldest trophy in college football, dating back to 1899. Michigan has dominated the Gophers over the past century, especially as of late. Minnesota has had the jug just three times since 1967, the last being in 2005. Don’t expect to see it leaving Ann Arbor anytime soon.
Yes, this is a Big Ten game, but this might be the easiest game Michigan plays all season. The defensive front will harass Shortell all day, forcing turnovers and mistakes, and Denard will get some work on his passing game. It should be over early and Michigan will keep the jug for the 41st time in the last 44 years.
Prediction: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 17
Good to Know:
Brady Hoke has done something even Bo didn’t do: win his first four games as head coach. He’s the fifth Michigan head coach to do so, joining the ranks of Fielding Yost (1901), Tad Wieman (1927), Bennie Oosterbaan (1948), and Lloyd Carr (1995).
With one more rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie for 14th in total touchdowns with Huckleby and Jamie Morris (1984-87). With two, he will tie Rob Lytle (1973-76), Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-73), and Ron Johnson (1966-68). With four, he will tie Gordon Bell (1973-75).
Since defense has been historically bad the past couple of years, and was the downfall of Rodriguez and the ultimate reason for the hiring of Hoke and Mattison, we’ll meet the defensive commits first.
|Defensive Line (3)|
Hometown: Canton, Mich. (Plymouth)
Rivals Ranking: #16 Strongside Defensive End (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #12 Defensive End (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #24 Defensive End, 79 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Michigan State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, UCLA, Stanford
How He Fits In: Beyer doesn’t have the size or strength to compete right away, but could develop into a solid performer for Brady Hoke’s defense. His strengths are his quickness and initial burst, but at just 220 lbs., he will need a year or two to bulk up. He has a similar build coming out of high school as Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who wasn’t highly rated, but developed into one of the best defensive ends in the nation. That’s a pretty high expectation, but I think he compares to current Wolverine Craig Roh.
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio (DeSales)
Rivals Rank: #50 Strongside Defensive End (3-star)
Scout Rank: #70 Defensive End (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #34 Defensive End, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Stanford
How He Fits In: Rock has a big body and a good motor, but needs to add some strength for Big Ten competition. Not as highly-rated as Beyer, Rock gives depth to the defensive line and projects to redshirt next season and spend a year or two on special teams before pushing for playing time in his redshirt sophomore or junior season.
Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio (Hilliard Davidson)
Rivals Rank: NR (3-star)
Scout Rank: #63 Tight End (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #157 Defensive End, 75 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Vanderbilt, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Toledo
How He Fits In: Like Beyer and Rock, Heitzman needs to add some bulk and strength to be a Division 1 defensive end. He’s quick off the ball and may end up at tight end, which he also played in high school. Either way, he’s headed for a redshirt in 2011 and will contribute on special teams for a year or two before seeing meaningful action. He probably fits best at tight end, which is a position of need for Michigan when Kevin Koger graduates, but with Chris Barnett in the fold, Heitzman will probably at least start out on defense.
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio (Winton Woods)
Rivals Ranking: #26 Outside Linebacker (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #13 Outside Linebacker (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #41 Outside Linebacker, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Miami, Purdue, Kansas
How He Fits In: Poole was one of Hoke’s first commitments after he took over and could see the field early on given the lack of experience at the linebacker position. Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh (who lost his starting spot) are gone, and some scouts say Poole is ready to play immediately. He’s very athletic and a strong tackler, both of which are needed on Michigan’s defense. Poole has a chance to be a star for Michigan in the next few years.
Hometown: Holland, Mich. (West Ottowa)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #42 Middle Linebacker (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #24 Inside Linebacker, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Northwestern, Akron, Buffalo, Bowling Green
How He Fits In: Morgan is a very physical run-stopper with great instincts and lateral movement. He’s a little undersized right now, but that should change with a year or two in the weight room. He’s the type of guy that Ohio State always seems to find and turn into a solid Big Ten linebacker, a la A.J. Hawk or James Laurinaitis. He most likely won’t play right away, using a redshirt year and a special teams year to bulk up and learn the position at the college level. By his third season, he could push for playing time and become a good inside linebacker for the Wolverines.
Hometown: Houston, Texas (St. Pius X)
Rivals Ranking: #29 Inside Linebacker (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #12 Middle Linebacker (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #35 Outside Linebacker, 79 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Texas A&M, Arkansas, Stanford, Arizona, Baylor
How He Fits In: Jones is a fast, athletic linebacker that could play inside or outside, but will probably end up outside. He’s shown a great ability to get to the quarterback on blitzes and shed blocks, though at 6-1, 209, he could stand to put on some more bulk. Still, he could see playing time on special teams this season and challenge for a linebacker spot within a couple years.
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio (Glenville)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #33 Tight End (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #83 Defensive End, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Michigan State, North Carolina
How He Fits In: Clark is a huge pick up for Hoke as he cut into Ohio State pipeline Cleveland Glenville. Although Ohio State wasn’t going hard after Clark, he opens the door to potential future recruits in Ted Ginn Sr.’s talent-rich program. Clark could play tight end or linebacker, but Hoke stated in today’s presser that he will play linebacker. Hoke compared Clark to Michigan’s last Glenville product, linebacker Pierre Woods, who played for the Wolverines in the early 2000s and currently plays for the Buffalo Bills.
|Defensive Backs (5)|
Hometown: Owings Mills, Md. (Our Lady of Good Counsel)
Rivals Ranking: #10 Cornerback, #133 Overall (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #20 Cornerback (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #14 Cornerback, 80 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Maryland, Georgia Tech, Louisville, N.C. State, Virginia
How He Fits In: Countess is one of the top pick-ups for this class and could have an immediate impact in a young and thin secondary that was the source of Michigan’s struggles last season. He’s a good cover corner with good hips and won’t shy away from a hit. He’s still a bit thin at 171 pounds and could probably use a redshirt year to add some strength. He has the potential to be a very good cover corner for Michigan.
Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (Highland Park)
Rivals Ranking: #14 Athlete (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #49 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #95 Athlete, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Cincinnati
How He Fits In: The recruiting analysts differ as to how good Taylor actually is and what position he fits best. He could end up as a slot receiver, but will most likely jump into Michigan’s secondary. He’s a great athlete with the speed and toughness to be a good corner, but like most of the other commitments needs to add some strength before he’s ready to cover the Big Ten’s best receivers. He could play instantly as a return man, however.
Hometown: Fremont, Ohio (Ross)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #50 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #35 Cornerback, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: The only 2011 commit to enroll in Ann Arbor early, Brown probably has the best chance of seeing the field early in Michigan’s secondary. He’s already participating in winter workouts, so he will benefit from spending time around the rest of the team and the extra few months of bulking up. He should compete for the two-deep this season and become a starter within a couple years.
Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech)
Rivals Ranking: #25 Cornerback (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #40 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #15 Cornerback, 79 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State, Central Michigan
How He Fits In: The recruiting sites seem to agree that if Hollowell had a little bit more size, he would be considered an elite corner. Scout says he has track speed and can play well in press coverage or off the line. Like Taylor, Carter, and Countess, he will likely redshirt and spend some time on special teams before working his way into the lineup.
Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #103 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #154 Athlete, 74 rating (2-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Minnesota, Iowa, Arizona, Stanford, Air Force
How He Fits In: Carter is probably the biggest project of the defensive back haul that Hoke pulled in, though he has the best size at six-feet. He’ll certainly redshirt this season and spend some time on special teams before competing for a spot. Don’t expect him to outperform Countess, Taylor, Brown, or Holloway, but he could become a decent supporting player in the secondary.
Hoke and his staff hit the recruiting trails hard in the two weeks between his hiring and National Signing Day. As he said in today’s presser, he personally visited all but two of the 20 commits. The class is defense-heavy, as it should be considering the state of Michigan’s defense the past couple seasons.
I feel like the three defensive ends are essentially the same player, as are most of the defensive backs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Building depth is vital to the success of the defense in the coming years, as we saw this past season when Donovan Warren went to the NFL, Troy Woolfolk missed the season with injury, and J.T. Floyd missed half the season. The one position that was missed was defensive tackle. Tim Jernigan, who ended up at Florida State, would have been a huge pickup for the class, but it will have to be a position of focus for the 2012 class.
I’m most excited about Poole, Morgan, and Countess on this side of the ball. They’re probably best suited to become All-Conference contributors during their careers.
I’ll give the defense a C because, while it did fill needs for future depth, the highest-rated player was Countess, which ESPN rated #133 overall. Michigan wasn’t even a factor on National Signing Day for the ESPN 150. Some of that was due to the coaching swich, while some can be attributed to Michigan’s record. I believe that will change next season with Hoke and Mattison focusing on defense.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the offensive commitments.
Eleven games into the season, I’ve either gotten this Michigan team figured out or I’ve become so desensitized to losses that it’s what I’ve come to expect against teams not from the Mid-American Conference or the state of Indiana.
All three of my predictions came true on Saturday, and while they weren’t too far out on a limb, they were right on, and save for a late touchdown by Wisconsin, the final score would have been exactly right too.
I don’t want to be right on those predictions, so it’s not exactly something I’m proud about. I’d much rather be completely wrong and Michigan win, but unfortunately, that’s where we are right now.
While defensive progress appeared to have been made last week in a 27-16 win over Purdue, window dressing is all it really was. Purdue was essentially playing with its second-team offense and the game was played in poor weather conditions, making good offense the exception rather than the norm.
So when Wisconsin came to town with its steamroller offense, everybody knew what the Badgers’ offensive strategy would be: run, run, run, and sprinkle in a pass here and there. Quarterback Scott Tolzien completed 14-of-15 passes for 201 yards, all of one of those passes coming in the first half when Wisconsin jumped out to a 24-0 lead.
From there on, Wisconsin ran the ball on 33 out of 34 plays in the second half, and Michigan was helpless to stop it as the Badgers rolled up 357 rushing yards.
The loss dropped Michigan to 7-4 on the season, 3-4 in the Big Ten, and set up a chance to play spoiler, and salvage the season, this Saturday in Columbus. I won’t go as far as to say this is the most important game in Rich Rodriguez’s three-year tenure at Michigan, since I think he’s returning next season no matter the outcome, but if Michigan wins it would certainly be his biggest win during that time.
Ohio State sits in a three-way tie for first with Wisconsin and Michigan State. Wisconsin beat Ohio State 31-18 on Oct. 17, and Ohio State doesn’t play Michigan State this season, so if Ohio State beats Michigan, it will claim a share of the Big Ten title and likely receive a BCS bowl game since it’s ranked higher than Michigan State in the BCS standings.
A Michigan win would keep Ohio State from reaching its sixth straight Big Ten title and a sixth straight BCS bowl. It would also give Rodriguez his first win over a ranked team since 2008 when Michigan beat No. 9 Wisconsin. That Wisconsin team was vastly overrated at the time and finished the season with a 7-6 record, so beating Ohio State on Saturday would easily top that one.
But most importantly, it would end Michigan’s six game losing streak to the Buckeyes, the longest in the rivalry since the 1920s. After dominating the 90s, Michigan has seemingly forgotten how to beat Ohio State since Jim Tressel took over. Ohio state fans love to point out that it has been two thousand and something days since Michigan has beaten Ohio State. Beat Ohio State on Saturday and Rodriguez will regain much of the Michigan fan base heading into the bowl game.
Ohio State is by far the better team this season and will be heavily favored, but just ask the 1993, ’95, and ’96 Buckeye teams if the better team always wins. The beauty of the rivalry is that you can throw out the records. Let Buckeye week begin!
Hats off to Denard Robinson for breaking Beau Morgan’s record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. His 121 rushing yards against Wisconsin also made him the first 1,500 yard rusher and passer in NCAA history, not to mention the first player to have 1,500 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing in a single season.
The sophomore in his first season as a starter has been electrifying for Michigan this season and gives the Wolverines a lot of hope for the next two years.
He’s now 403 yards short of the all-college football quarterback rushing record, which was set by Chris Sharpe of Div. III’s Springfield (Mass.) College. He would have to average 202 yards per game to break that record, which is a tall task considering Ohio State’s rush defense which ranks third in the nation.
Injuries are hitting Michigan hard in the last few games of the season. Already having lost starting receiver Martavious Odoms and cornerback J.T. Floyd, and nose tackle Mike Martin and center David Molk having missed all or parts of the past few games, Michigan suffered another blow on Saturday. Receiver Darryl Stonum was inured returning a kick late in the game and running back Vincent Smith and defensive end Craig Roh each suffered what appeared to be concussions.
Stonum ranks second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards with 493. He also has four touchdowns. Smith is the leading running back 571 yards and five touchdowns. Roh has been more effective as a defensive end since moving there from linebacker.
All three of those guys will be needed this Saturday if Michigan has any shot to win. Hopefully Stonum is healthy enough to keep returning kicks, because at this point, he’s light years better than Jeremy Gallon, who has been Michigan’s returner most of the season.
After the game, Stonum tweeted, “hopefully I’m ok (I think I am) but its gonna take a whole lot to keep me out of this next game.”
Roy Roundtree’s 114 yards against Wisconsin put him within striking distance of becoming Michigan’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Mario Manningham in 2007. For the season, he has 839 yards, just 37 behind Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert for the Big Ten lead. With two games remaining, at Ohio State on Saturday and a bowl game, Roundtree needs to average 80.5 receiving yards to eclipse 1,000.
He would join the ranks of Manningham, Jason Avant (2005), Braylon Edwards (2002, ’03, ’04), Marquis Walker (2001), and David Terrell (2000) as the only Michigan receivers to reach 1,000 yards since 2000.
|Roy Roundtree vs. Jeremy Ebert
After losses to Michigan State and Iowa in weeks six and seven, I assumed those were simply because those two teams were much better than Michigan this season, but Michigan was catching up. After last week’s dismantling at the hands of a very injured and average Penn State squad, it’s apparent that this Michigan team isn’t quite as far a long as most had thought.
The offense has done its part, ranking 19th in points per game (35.4), 4th in total offense (518.4 yards), and 8th in rushing yards (275.5). But the defense has been the Achilles heel, surrendering 30 points per game.
|Michigan vs. Illinois
|Sat. Nov. 6
12 p.m. ET
Notre Dame 28-24
Bowling Green 65-21
|Wins||S. Illinois 35-3
N. Illinois 28-22
Penn State 33-13
|#17 Mich. State 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
#2 Ohio State 13-24
#13 Mich. State 6-26
|149.8||Rush Defense YPG||117.5|
|290.5||Pass Defense YPG||183.9|
|440.2||Total Defense YPG||301.4|
|47/101 (47%)||Third-down Conv.||39/103 (38%)|
|36.8||Net Punt Avg.||40.2|
It’s not going to get any better this week as Michigan lost sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd to a season-ending ankle injury. The already young and thin safety is now left with toddlers. True freshman Courtney Avery will most likely fill Floyd’s starting spot, meaning at least three true freshmen will be in the starting lineup against Illinois.
We can talk about excuses or who’s fault it is that Michigan is in this predicament all we want, but the fact of the matter is, in the Big Ten or any other conference, starting multiple true freshman is not a recipe for success. Yet, that’s what has to be done in order for Michigan to win at least another game to become bowl eligible and perhaps save head coach Rich Rodriguez’s job.
Time is running out for Rodriguez to achieve bowl eligibility, with only four games to play, and only the next two seem even remotely winnable at this point: Illinois and Purdue.
Illinois is an interesting comparison to this year’s Michigan squad. Last year, the Illini went 3-9 and many in Champagne were calling for head coach Ron Zook’s head. A year later, Zook has the nation’s 15th-ranked defense leading a 5-3 record.
In the first week of the season, when Illinois lost to Missouri 23-13, I figured this would be another typical Illini team. But no one knew at that time that Mizzou would become a top-ten team, which in hindsight, makes that loss look a little better.
Illinois’ defense makes up for an average offense, which averages 337.5 yards and 26.9 points per game. The offense is lead by freshman quarterback Nate Scheelhaase and junior running back Mikel Leshoure. Both are dynamic players that could tear up Michigan’s defense.
LeShoure is the conference’s fourth best rusher, with 97.5 yards per game and six touchdowns. He had 100-plus yard rushing games in four of the first five games, but had just 23 yards on 15 carries last week against Purdue.
Prior to last week, I would have said that Scheelhaase didn’t scare me, given that he ranks last in the Big Ten in passing with just 137.4 yards per game. But if Penn State walk-on Matt McGloin can shred Michigan’s defense, then Scheelhaase could be in for the game of his life.
Michigan will have its hands full tomorrow and will have to play flawlessly on offense if it wants to gain that ever-elusive sixth win.
In its five wins, Michigan’s offense averaged 565 yards and 41.4 points per game, turning the ball over just five times. But in three losses, the offense has averaged slightly less, as 440.7 yards and 25.3 points, turning the ball over seven times.
Much of that can be attributed to starting the Big Ten schedule, but the turnovers and mistakes that the Wolverines did such a good job avoiding in the first five games have plagued the offense as of late.
Michigan turned the ball over three times against Michigan State and four times against Iowa. For a team with such a porous defense, the offense can’t afford to squander opportunities, and that’s especially important this week against a top-20 defense.
Before the season, I penned this as one of Michigan’s seven wins, but when I compare the two teams now, I’m not nearly as confident. Last week’s beatdown in Happy Valley shook any confidence I had about this team.
Illinois played Ohio State tough a few weeks ago, then thumped Penn State 33-13, but then got hammered by Michigan State 26-6. In that game, Illinois led 6-3 at halftime before Michigan State woke up and outscored the Illini 23-0 in the second half.
Leshoure will run for 100 yards and Scheelhaase will be effective enough to put some points up. Illinois did a pretty good job of stopping Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor a few weeks ago (he did run for over 100 yards, but threw for just 76) and will hold Denard Robinson in check. He’ll still get his yards but I wouldn’t expect the type of game we came to expect from Shoelace in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Michigan won’t be able to find the end zone enough to keep up with the Illini.
Illinois 33 – Michigan 24
From Their View….
Hail to the Orange better be careful what it wishes for, The Daily Illini features some quotes from Scheelhaase that indicate he thinks Michigan actually has a defense, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells what to watch for tomorrow, The Sports Bank on Chicago Now predicts an Illini blowout and says Stephen Schilling is following in the footsteps of Jake Long and Obi Ezeh “will get some looks” (WTF?).
Michigan passed the non-conference test with flying colors the past four weeks and travels to Indiana tomorrow looking to kick off the Big Ten schedule in the same fashion.
Indiana also enters the matchup undefeated, although the quality of the opponents is hardly anything to write home about.
|Michigan vs. Indiana|
3:30 p.m. ET
Notre Dame 28-24
Bowling Green 65-21
W. Kentucky 38-21
|135.2||Rush Defense YPG||177.0|
|264.8||Pass Defense YPG||161.3|
|400.0||Total Defense YPG||338.3|
|31/54 (57%)||Third-down Conv.||18/34 (53%)|
|31.6||Net Punt Avg.||35.1|
According to the Sagarin Ratings, the highest rated opponent IU has played so far was No. 144 Western Kentucky, which is 0-4. The other two opponents were Akron (0-4, No. 175) and Towson, an FCS school, and not even a good one (1-3, No. 195).
Against those three, the Hoosiers have averaged 41.3 points per game and 304.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation.
On paper, it would seem they are a legitimate threat to upset Michigan in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but when you look at their rush defense, it tells a different story.
It ranks 92nd in FBS, surrendering an average of 177 yards per game to teams that are a combined 1-11. Only 14 teams in the nation allow more yards per carry than Indiana (5.16).
Michigan features the nation’s second-best rushing offense, averaging a whopping 331.3 yards per game (6.63 yards per carry), meaning it could be another Playstation-like offensive performance for Denard Robinson and company.
Only Air Force averages more yards on the ground per game (394) and only TCU has scored more rushing touchdowns (18) than Michigan’s 17.
On the opening weekend of the season, Towson running back Chris Hart rushed for 123 yards on 16 carries against the Hoosiers. The next three weeks combined, he was held to a total of 146 by Coastal Carolina, Villanova, and Columbia.
Needless to say, expect Michigan to run a lot, not that that’s much of a surprise, given the way the running game has dominated with Robinson leading the charge.
Robinson is the nation’s leading rusher, with 60 yards more than Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Michael Shaw has emerged as Michigan’s go-to running back, and ranks 91st in the nation in rushing with just over 61 yards per game, but probably won’t play on Saturday due to a knee injury.
Expect Vincent Smith to carry much of the load and Fitzgerald Toussaint, if healthy, to get some carries as well. If not Michael Cox will probably split the carries with Smith.
That said, Michigan is going to have to get some stops defensively against a good passing offense, one that it had trouble stopping a year ago.
Senior quarterback Ben Chappell comes in as the nation’s sixth best passer in terms of efficiency, having completed 72 percent of his passes for 890 yards, nine touchdowns, and no interceptions. Again, that’s against a trio of teams that are a combined 1-11 and giving up an average of 41 points per game, but impressive nonetheless.
Five receivers have over 100 yards each so far this season, with 6’5” Demarlo Belcher leading the way with 284 yards and two touchdowns. He could be a matchup problem for Michigan corners J.T. Floyd and James Rogers.
The running game hasn’t been great, but sophomore running back Darius Willis gashed Michigan for 154 yards and two touchdowns a year ago on just 16 carries.
What to watch for:
–The health of Denard Robinson. By now, everybody knows that Robinson has had to miss plays in three of Michigan’s four games so far due to injury. Against UConn and Notre Dame, he was only out a couple of plays, but last week, he sat out the remainder of the game.
Rich Rodriguez said he could have gone back in had he been needed, but with a 21-0 lead at that point, the wise choice was to let him rest and heal.
Provided he doesn’t get knocked out of this game, Robinson should have a field day and continue to pad his Heisman numbers.
Over/Under – 149 rushing yards. I think he goes well beyond because of the week IU rush defense, even though he won’t get the number of carries he got in the first couple of games.
–The corners covering Belcher and Tandon Doss. In last year’s meeting, it was Doss who Michigan couldn’t cover. He racked up 104 yards on just five catches. Doss is still around, and the emergence of Belcher means Michigan’s young and thin secondary will have its hands full.
Over/Under – 3 touchdown receptions for Belcher and Doss. I’ll go under on this one, and here’s why: Indiana has a tight end. Freshman Ted Bolser leads the team in touchdown receptions with four. Michigan has done fairly well covering receivers this season, but has had trouble covering tight ends, giving up a 95-yard touchdown to Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph.
–The defense forcing turnovers. While Michigan’s defense has received a fair amount of ridicule for giving up big plays and being the weakness of the team, it has been opportunistic with turnovers. Six interceptions and two fumbles have Michigan at a plus-four turnover differential.
Chappell hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season (again, consider the opposition) and IU has only fumbled once. That’s pretty darn good ball possession no matter who you’re playing against.
Over/Under – 1.5 turnovers forced. I’ll go with over. The Hoosiers’ offensive line features three returning starters from last year, but it’s relatively young. It’s only allowed two sacks so far, but without a proven running game, Michigan’s defensive line should be able to put some pressure on Chappell.
I really think Michigan can put up a lot of points in this one, but will also give up more than it would like to. It may start out as a shootout, but Michigan’s ball possession and running game will keep the ball away from Chappell and Michigan pulls away in the second half.
Michigan 51 – Indiana 31
From Their View…
The Indiana Daily Student claims that IU fans actually care about their football team this year and also says the Hoosiers are just taking this week as business as usual. What, Michigan’s coming? Oh, ho hum. The Crimson Quarry details the Hoosiers’ inglorious history against UM.
Michigan enters Saturday’s matchup with UMass in a position it hasn’t been in very often in the past couple of seasons: the prohibitive favorite. You can go back to the Delaware State game last October 17 for the last time Michigan was a lock to win a game.
|Michigan vs. UMass|
12 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
|146.0||Rush Defense YPG||76.5|
|293.0||Pass Defense YPG||195.5|
|439.0||Total Defense YPG||272.0|
|36.1||Net Punt Avg.||24.1|
After throttling favored UConn and outlasting Notre Dame in South Bend, Michigan is the talk of college football with electric quarterback Denard Robinson leading the nation in rushing and total offense. The schedule sets up nicely to go 5-0 with UMass, Bowling Green, and Indiana on the slate before rival Michigan State comes to Ann Arbor.
So what does Michigan have to do in the next couple of weeks to get ready for the grind of the Big Ten schedule?
It all starts with staying and getting healthy. The last thing you want to have happen in cakewalk games is an injury to one of your starters.
Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.
As dynamic as the offense has looked thus far, it’s still missing two players that figured to be big-time playmakers this season, wide receiver Junior Hemingway and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Hemingway has battled injuries his entire career, but when he has been on the field, he has stretched defenses as Michigan’s best deep threat.
Toussaint had a good camp and many considered him to be the best all-around back on the team.
Neither has played yet this season, but may return as soon as this weekend.
On defense, freshman safety Carvin Johnson suffered a knee sprain in the opener, and despite his lack of experience, Michigan needs him back sooner than later, especially given Cam Gordon’s propensity to give up the deep ball.
Secondly, Robinson needs to establish the passing game.
Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.
He has shown great command of the offense so far this season, completing 69 percent of his passes, but has yet to show he can throw an accurate deep ball.
Rodriguez said the offense will flow depending on how the defense is playing them, so if teams are allowing the run, which is the bread and butter of the spread-n-shred offense, Robinson could keep on running.
But as the season goes along, teams will stack the box to try to stop Robinson, making the passing game all the more important.
Thirdly, find a running game outside of Robinson.
Michigan has a plethora of running backs competing for playing time, but so far Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith have carried the load. They have done okay, but neither has shown much of anything, averaging just 3.0 and 3.2 yards per carry, respectively.
The only other running back to get a carry was freshman Stephen Hopkins who scored from one yard out against Notre Dame.
Michael Cox and Toussaint (if healthy) should at least be given a chance to show what they can do. Michigan desperately needs a back to shoulder some of the load. Shaw, Smith, Hopkins, and receiver Kelvin Grady have combined for 44 carries, compared to Robinson’s 57.
Finally, Michigan needs to find consistency in the secondary.
The defensive line is solid and the linebackers have played well, especially senior Jonas Mouton, but the majority of the big plays given up have been on the thin and inexperienced secondary.
J.T. Floyd and James Rogers have performed admirably on the outside, but safety Cam Gordon has been the culprit for the big plays. It’s not necessarily a reflection on his talent, given that he is a converted wide receiver starting in his first season at safety, but he will only get better with time and experience. The more games he plays, the more he will figure out the position and the more comfortable he will get.
UMass has a pretty good running game, with Jonathan Hernandez averaging 101.5 yards per game and John Griffin averaging 77.5 so far, and quarterback Kyle Havens has completed 65 percent of his passes for 516 yards and three touchdowns. But those two games were against Holy Cross and William & Mary.
The Minutemen find invade Ann Arbor ranked 16th in the Football Championship Subdivision, while Michigan finds itself ranked for the first time in a year, at 20th in the big boy division, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime. Robinson will work into the third quarter before giving way to Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner.
Michigan 41 – UMass 21
From their view…
MassLive breaks down what UMass has to do to pull off the upset and also estimates that UMass will bring 2,500 fans to Ann Arbor. The Daily Collegian has UMass coach Kevin Morris declaring, “We’re going to win,” while also talking about how hard it will be to stop Robinson.
The Daily Collegian also features this winner depicting the Minutemen mascot fighting a comic book character with the same name as Michigan’s mascot.
While offenses around the country struggled to shake off the rust of the offseason, Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson led touchdowns on three of his first four possessions en route to a 30-10 win over UConn.
Robinson, who got the start over last year’s starter, Tate Forcier, looked poised and confident all afternoon. The sophomore rushed 29 times for 197 yards and a touchdown and completed 19-of-22 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown against an experienced Husky defense.
He became just the fifth quarterback in the past five years to exceed 185 yards both on the ground and through the air, and if that’s an omen of what’s to come, things are certainly looking up in Ann Arbor. The others were West Virginia’s Pat White (under Rich Rodriguez), Texas’ Vince Young (twice), Missouri’s Brad Smith, and UAB’s Joseph Webb.
So is the performance against UConn what we can expect from the offense all season? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
It was certainly a great start to the season and refreshing for Michigan fans to see an offense that was virtually unstoppable for 60 minutes, but we have to be cautiously optimistic.
Last year started off with a bang as well, dominating Western Michigan and jumping out to a 4-0 record before falling back to earth in conference play and going just 1-7 the rest of the season. The true test of whether this offense is for real will be determined in conference play.
That being said, there were some very positive signs that point toward a much improved offense from a year ago.
1. Drive sustainability
Michigan had four touchdown drives of more than 70 yards, as well as a 75-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. Perhaps none was more important than the very first one.
After forcing a three-and-out on UConn’s first possession, Michigan took over just four yards in front of its own end zone. Fourteen plays later, sophomore running back Vincent Smith carried it in from 12 yards out, putting Michigan ahead 7-0. Call it a statement drive: 96 yards (plus 13 yards that Michigan lost on a personal foul committed by guard Patrick Omameh), 12 runs, two passes, and seven points.
Robinson rushed six times on the opening drive for 58 yards and completed both passes he threw for 23 yards. Just like that, questions of whether Robinson was ready to run the offense were answered.
Last season, Michigan had just 13 scoring drives of over 70 yards all year against FBS opponents (Michigan had four against Delaware State). For the Michigan offense to go out there with a quarterback making his first career start and put together five long scoring drives against an above average defense, it was quite a statement.
2. Ball possession
Robinson’s ability to move the ball kept Michigan’s suspect defense off the field. Michigan won the time of possession battle 36:52 to 23:08, the best since Rodriguez took over at Michigan in 2008. The next closest was in last season’s opener against Western Michigan, when Michigan held the ball for 34:20. In fact, that was the only game that Michigan won the time of possession battle last season and just the fourth time in his 25 games at Michigan.
While having the ball for longer than your opponent doesn’t necessarily lead to a win, it’s no secret that Michigan’s weakness this season is the defense. When UConn had the ball, it was able to move pretty effectively against the Michigan defense. Fortunately for Michigan, the Husky receivers didn’t help out quarterback Zach Frazer, dropping several open passes, and Michigan cornerback J.T. Floyd was able to force a fumble inside the five-yard line.
Make no mistake about it, the 10 points given up was not indicative of how well the defense played. It allowed eight plays of 15 yards or more and the game should have been much closer than it was.
The offense’s ability to keep the ball out of Frazer’s hands kept the defense off the field and the strength of the team on the field.
3. Ball security
Turnovers have plagued Rodriguez’s offenses the past two seasons. In 2008, Michigan committed 30, and in 2009, it gave the ball away 28 times. Saturday was the first time since Rodriguez’s second game in Ann Arbor on Sept. 6, 2008 that Michigan has gone turnover-free.
It was great to see Robinson hold onto the ball on his 29 carries and throw perfect passes to his receivers. His decision-making looked far better than last year and if he keeps making the right reads, the offense will continue to plow ahead.
The offensive line is definitely a strength this season and that was no more apparent than on the first drive of the season. Center David Molk, guards Stephen Schilling and Patrick Omameh, and tackles Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge constantly opened up huge holes for Robinson and running backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith to run through.
Molk is definitely the heart and soul of the line, providing solid snaps and great protection. When he went down midway through the season last year was when Michigan’s offense started to struggle because it meant juggling the rest of the line to replace him. Provided the line stays healthy this year, it will remain a huge strength for the running game.
In a Rich Rodriguez offense, the receivers have to be just as adept at blocking downfield as they are running routes and catching passes. On several runs, the great blocking by Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree, and Kelvin Grady sprung more yards than what should have been. That’s the reason Rodriguez starts Odoms, at just 5’8” and 175 pounds at outside receiver. Despite his small frame, he’s not afraid to throw a block to help earn extra yards.
5. Third-down conversions
Michigan converted 14-of-19 third-down conversions on Saturday, eight of them of more than six yards. Last season, Michigan averaged just under 40 percent on third-downs, which was exactly middle-of-the-pack in the national rankings.
That certainly won’t happen every week, but with a quarterback like Robinson, who can beat you with his feet and his arm, converting third downs is a little bit easier. In fact, this might be the most important aspect of the offense this season, since converting third downs keeps the ball in your hands, keeps your defense off the field, and gives you a chance to score.
It will be interesting to see how the offense handles adversity this season when forced to come from behind. Saturday’s game was never in doubt, as Michigan jumped out to a 21-0 lead before UConn closed the gap to 21-10 at halftime.
Michigan came out in the second half and used a 19-play, 74-yard field goal drive that took 8:05 off the clock. Robinson was effective when he established the running game, both on his own and with Shaw and Smith. That opened up the receivers, which made his throws that much easier. But what happens when Michigan is down 10 in the fourth quarter and can’t afford to keep running? I think that’s the biggest question at this point.
Rodriguez said after the game that he doesn’t plan to let Robinson run 29 times a game, and that’s a good thing. He took some hits and even had to come out of the game for a few plays with a hip bruise. According to Rodriguez, that’s what worked for this game, and Robinson didn’t need to throw more. But that won’t be the case for every game, especially since Michigan’s defense won’t be able to hold every opponent to 10 points.
Overall, it was a great way to start the season and even more encouraging than last season’s opener for a couple of reasons: because UConn is a good team, picked by many experts to win the Big East this season, and because while Robinson is a first-year starter, this is his second year in the system.
I’m certainly not knocking Tate Forcier, but last year no one knew what to expect. As a true freshman he came out of the gates hot, leading Michigan to a 4-0 record, but then everything caught up to him when conference play began and he fell back to earth.
This year, Michigan has a quarterback with a year of experience under his belt, so the performance was much more expected.
I still think a 7-5 record is where the team is headed this season, but next weekend’s opponent, Notre Dame, is one of the opponents I picked to beat Michigan. We’ll find out next Saturday if this week’s performance was indicative of the rest of the season or if it was just an upswing on the pendulum.