photo GoBlueBowlGIF_zps854becd4.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Jake Ryan’

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014


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

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

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

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

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

Heston Running Back of the Year None

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

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

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

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

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

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

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

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

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

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

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

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

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

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

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

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

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

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

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

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen: Iowa 24 – Michigan 21

Sunday, November 24th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Following last week’s triple-overtime victory at Northwestern, Michigan had a chance to continue to build momentum heading into the big showdown next week with unbeaten rival Ohio State. Instead, with wind chills hovering around zero in Iowa City, Michigan’s offense remained frozen and Iowa handed the Wolverines their fourth loss of the season, 24-21.

The game started on a high note when, on Iowa’s first play of the game, Jake Ryan got pressure on quarterback Jake Rudock and Brennen Beyer picked it off at the Iowa 7-yard line. He carried it into the end zone to put Michigan ahead 7-0.

Final Stats
Michigan Iowa
Score 21 24
Record 7-4 (3-4) 7-4 (4-3)
Total Yards 158 407
Net Rushing Yards 60 168
Net Passing Yards 98 239
First Downs 10 21
Turnovers 1 4
Penalties-Yards 2-20 3-31
Punts-Yards 10-354 4-150
Time of Possession 26:35 33:25
Third Down Conversions 4-of-14 4-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 1-4 1-14
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 3-of-5
Full Box Score

On their next possession, Iowa drove down the field, but kicker Mike Meyer missed a 36-yard field goal. Michigan wasn’t able to do anything with its possession and Matt Wile’s punt into the stiff wind went just 19 yards. Iowa took over at Michigan’s 45, and punched it in seven plays later on a 5-yard pass to tight end CJ Fiedorowicz.

Michigan went three-and-out, and once again, Wile’s punt into the wind gave Iowa possession on Michigan’s side of the field, this time at the 42. But Iowa couldn’t do anything with it and failed to convert a 4th-and-4.

At the beginning of the second quarter Michigan punted again, this time with the wind, and Iowa was forced to start at its own three. On 3rd-and-8, Blake Countess picked off Rudock at the Iowa 30, and Michigan took advantage of the short field. Six straight runs put Michigan at the Hawkeye two, and on 2nd-and-goal, Devin Gardner connected with tight end AJ Williams to put Michigan back ahead at 14-7.

Late in the second quarter, Iowa punter Connor Kornbrath found out what Wile had to deal with in the first. His punt went just 27 yards into the wind and Michigan took possession at the Iowa 47. Ten plays later, Gardner completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon to give Michigan 21-7 halftime lead.

Despite a 14-point lead, Michigan’s offense had just 113 total yards in the first half, taking advantage of a defensive touchdown and good field position.

The second half, however, was a different story. On the third play of the third quarter, Rudock found Tevaun Smith across the middle, who raced 55 yards for a touchdown. Michigan’s four offensive possessions in the quarter went three plays, five yards; three plays, zero yards; three plays, six yards; four plays, minus-one yard.

It was only a matter of time before Iowa would capitalize, and they did so on their first possession of the fourth quarter, driving 60 yards on nine plays, culminating with a 9-yard Mark Weisman touchdown run to tie the game at 21.

The interception forced by Jake Ryan was the highlight of the game for Michigan (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s ensuing possession lost four yards in three plays and the Wolverines punted it back to Iowa. Nine plays later, Meyer hit a 34-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game, 24-21.

Needing some late-game magic like a week ago, Michigan mounted its first positive drive of the second half. On 3rd-and-8, Gardner completed a pass to Jeremy Jackson for 18 yards to the 50. After a loss of one, Fitzgerald Toussaint took a screen pass 13 yards to the Iowa 38. Toussaint lost a yards on the next play, and on 2nd-and-11, Gardner rushed to his left for eight yards, which would have set up a short third down already in field goal range. But Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens stripped the ball from Gardner’s right hand and recovered it along the sideline.

Iowa needed just to run out the clock to seal the win. Michigan’s defense held the Hawkeyes on first and second down, but on 3rd-and-10, Rudock completed a 12-yard pass to Fiedorowicz to end the game.

Michigan finished the game with just 158 total yards of offense – fewer than it had in the losses to Michigan State and Nebraska – and just 10 first downs. Gardner completed 13-of-28 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Green rushed for 27 yards on 11 carries, while Toussaint carried the ball just six times for 12 yards. Gallon caught six passes for 47 yards and Devin Funchess, who dropped three or four catchable passes, was held to just one reception for two yards.

The only positive to come out of the loss – and it’s a hollow one at that – is that Michigan set the all-time NCAA record for consecutive games without being shut out, breaking a tie with BYU. It was Michigan’s 362nd straight game putting points on the board, dating back to a 1984 game at Iowa.

Michigan now heads home to close out the regular season with Ohio State, who has won 23 straight games and has already locked up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. The Buckeyes, ranked third in the BCS standings, still have hopes of a national championship if either Alabama or Florida State stumbles. Michigan will surely be a heavy underdog, but stranger things have happened.

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Friday, November 1st, 2013


Last season Michigan got the Michigan State monkey off its back with a 12-10 win in the Big House. But tomorrow’s meeting carries even greater implications since Michigan already has a conference loss. There is no margin for error left if the Wolverines want to win the Big Ten Legends Division as a loss would effectively put Michigan two-and-a-half games behind the Spartans with four games remaining. It would also be Michigan’s fifth loss in the past six matchups with the hated rival, something nobody in maize and blue wants to face.

Fans in East Lansing want to believe the tide is turning, or has already turned. They’ll tell you that Michigan no longer owns the state. But this isn’t the first time Michigan State has gained a brief upper hand in the rivalry. Yes, Michigan holds a 68-32 advantage (plus five ties), but from 1950 to 1968 MSU went 13-4-2. Enter Bo Schembechler.

He replaced a coach who was, at the time, the worst in program history. Sound familiar? Bo promptly lost to Michigan State in East Lansing his fist season – Michigan’s fourth loss in five meetings. But from there, Michigan won the next eight against the Spartans and went on a 30-8 run under Bo, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr.

The series finally turned back in State’s favor when Rich Rodrigeuz took over, and by the time Brady Hoke was hired to replace the new worst coach in program history Michigan had lost three straight. Like Bo, he lost his first meeting in East Lansing, but turned the tables a year later.

Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (7th season)
Coaching Record: 76-46 (58-29 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (7th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (3-5, 4th Legends)
Last Meeting: Michigan 12 – MSU 10 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 68-32-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-12-1
Current Michigan Streak: Won 1
Last MSU Win: 2011
Last Michigan Win at MSU: 2007

Our neighbors up I-96 want you to believe they own the rivalry now, but if Michigan could regain the series dominance once after a few lean years there’s no reason to think it can’t do so again.

Michigan State comes in as the leaders of the Legends Division with a 7-1 record overall and 4-0 record in conference. The lone loss was a 17-13 defeat at Notre Dame on Sept. 21 in which the Michigan State offense was limited to just 254 total yards – their lowest of the season.

The seven wins, however, have come against six FBS opponents with a combined record of 15-30 and an FCS foe. Not exactly a formidable group of opponents.

The nonconference slate included wins over Western Michigan (26-13), South Florida (21-6), and Youngstown State (55-17) in addition to the Notre Dame loss, while the Spartans opened conference play with with four of the worst teams in the Big Ten – Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois. If any team in the top half of the Big Ten was anything worse than 7-1 at this point it would be a major disappointment.

Michigan has the advantage of coming into this one off a bye, which means Hoke and staff had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. But Hoke’s teams have struggled to win on the road since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Can Michigan pull off the win and put themselves in the Legends Division driver’s seat? Or will Michigan State regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the fifth time in the last six years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

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

Offense is not what wins the games for Mark Dantonio’s squad this season, but after a sluggish start to the season, it has shown some signs of life the past few weeks. Early on, it seemed the Spartan offense was struggling to find its identity after losing Le’Veon Bell to the NFL. Dantonio and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Bollman shuffled through quarterbacks trying to find the right one to simply move the ball without an every down workhorse to carry the load.

In the first two games of the season, Michigan State’s offense scored just 19 points combined (two touchdowns, a missed extra point, and two field goals) against Western Michigan and South Florida. The 26 total points MSU scored against WMU are the lowest the Broncos have allowed all season, and 14 of those came from the Spartans’ defense. The 21 total points MSU scored a week later are the third fewest scored against USF this season, but again 14 of those came by way of the MSU defense. The two teams that scored fewer than 21 points against USF – Cincinnati (20) and UConn (10) – did so with their offense, which means no offense has scored fewer points agains the Bulls than Michigan State.

Connor Cook's arm has been inconsistent, but he has avoided turnovers (Rey Del Rio, MSU Athletic Communications)

The Spartan offense seemed to get going, scoring 55 against Youngstown State, 26 against Iowa, 42 against Indiana and Illinois, while being held to 13 by Notre Dame. But then Purdue came to town and the MSU offense of the first two games returned. Purdue’s defense allows 34.4 points per game but Michigan State’s offense mustered just seven. Even Indiana State of the FCS, which hasn’t won a game against Division 1 competition, scored more offensive points against the Boilermakers.

As mentioned above, much of the early season scoring troubles originated from the quarterback position. Last year’s starter, Andrew Maxwell, began the season as the starter but completed just 15-of-30 passes for 114 yards in the first two games. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor got a shot, but was equally as ineffective, failing to record a touchdown. Dantonio finally settled on redshirt sophomore Connor Cook who fully grabbed the reigns against Youngstown State and has been up and down since, but has proven most capable of managing the offense.

Cook has completed 59.9 percent of his passes this season for 1,238 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Against Notre Dame, he completed just 16-of-32 for 135 yards and against Purdue he connected on just 13-of-25 for 107, but in the other four games he has completed 68.1 percent of his passes. The most impressive performance was last week against Illinois when he missed on just one of 16 throws for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

The Spartans don’t throw downfield a lot, instead using the run to set up a lot of crossing routes and underneath passes, which is a big reason for Cook’s rather pedestrian but mistake-free numbers. He also doesn’t have a many standout targets to throw to, but redshirt sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr is his favorite target. Kings leads the team with 26 receptions for 303 yards and has big play ability on crossing routes. Senior Bennie Fowler is the second leading receiver with 20 catches for 278 yards and leads the team with four touchdowns. He had a big game against Iowa, catching nine passes for 92 yards and a score, but hasn’t caught more than three passes in any other game. Redshirt junior Tony Lippett is the tallest receiver at 6’3″, while Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphrey are the only others that have double digit receptions.

The running game is headlined by redshirt junior Jeremy Langford who has really come on in Big Ten play. After failing to reach 100 yards in each of the first five games, the 6’0″, 206-pound back has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last three. He leads the team with nine touchdowns, and his 141 carries are third-most in the Big Ten behind Fitzgerald Toussaint (155) and Iowa’s Mark Weisman (149). He has averaged 23 carries a game in the last three.

The only other back that has more than 50 carries is redshirt junior Nick Hill, who has 55 for 289 yards. True freshman Delton Williams is the bruiser of the bunch at 6’1″, 220. He saw his first action once Big Ten play started and leads the team with a 7.2 yards per carry average. Against Indiana he ran 12 times for 92 yards and he had five rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown last week against Illinois.

While there aren’t a lot of big time playmakers on the Spartans’ offense, the line might be its best unit. It has paved the way for a respectable running game and most importantly has protected Cook, allowing a conference best six sacks, which is half as many as Michigan has allowed. The main reason for the consistency is the lack of major injuries which have plagued the MSU offensive line the past few years. The line is anchored by fifth-year seniors, right guard Dan France and left guard Blake Treadwell who have a combined 50 starts on the line.

Overall, Michigan State’s offense is the definition of conservative and that’s by design. With such a strong defense and a first-year starter at quarterback, there’s no reason to take too many risks offensively. Michigan hasn’t had much success at getting to the quarterback this season, so don’t expect many blitzes to try to attack the stellar offensive line. Look for Michigan to sell out to stop the run and force Cook to make throws to beat them. That’s essentially what Notre Dame and Purdue did and Cook wasn’t very accurate.

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

Defense is the reason for the excitement in East Lansing as Pat Narduzzi’s group leads the conference and ranks in the top three nationally in most defensive categories. As mentioned above, the Spartan defense has scored five touchdowns, singlehandedly keeping MSU in some games early on. They give up just 12.3 points per game and have allowed just three total points in the past two weeks. Only Indiana’s high-powered offense has scored more than 17 points, but the 28 the Hoosiers scored were still well below their season average and 19 fewer than they scored against Michigan two weeks ago.

Michigan's line will have its hands full with Marcus Rush and the rest of the MSU defense (MSU Athletic Communications)

It’s an aggressive defense that doesn’t do anything outrageous, but is well coached and plays good fundamental football. Despite losing two very good players on the defensive line, tackle Jerel Worthy and end William Gholston, the unit might be even better this season. Redshirt sophomore Shilique Calhoun is certainly an upgrade to Gholston. He currently has eight tackles for loss and four sacks and leads the nation with three defensive touchdowns. The other end is redshirt junior Marcus Rush who has started 34 career games and has three sacks of his own this season. Nineteen game starter Tyler Hoover is also a veteran on the line and redshirt sophomore Damon Knox rotates in as well.

The linebackers are a very smart and talented group led by seniors Denicos Allen and Max Bullough who are the team’s leading tacklers with 48 and 47, respectively. Allen has three sacks and is tied for the team lead with eight tackles for loss, while Bullough has one sack and 6.5 TFL. Junior Taiwan Jones is another experienced player who starts at the Star linebacker position.

The secondary may be the best, and certainly the most aggressive unit on the team. The corners play press coverage and are prone to pass interference penalties, but are a big reason the defense is so good. Darqueze Dennard may be the best cover corner in the Big Ten and has two interceptions and seven pass breakups to show for it. The senior has started 34 career games and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season. Redshirt sophomore Trae Waynes has performed well despite being a first year starter. Safeties Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond have a combined 49 career starts and 13 interceptions.

There’s no question this will be the best defense Michigan will face all season, and for an offense that struggled against the likes of Akron and UConn, that’s more than a bit worrisome. But the problems that plagued the Michigan offense in those games – most notably turnovers – have been more under control since Michigan’s last bye week, and this offense has more weapons than any team Michigan State has faced yet this season.

Michigan has had trouble moving the ball against the Spartans the past couple of years, but it was also much easier to defend with Denard Robinson’s inability to make the throws that Devin Gardner can make. State was able to load the box and force Denard out of his comfort zone. With Gardner, that can lead to big plays.

The other third: Special Teams

Michigan State has used a pair of kickers for field goals this season and they have combined to make 10-of-13. Senior Kevin Muma made 4-of-6, but was replaced by true freshman Michael Geiger who has made 6-of-7 with a long of 49. Muma handles kickoffs and has a touchback rate of just under 50 percent. Redshirt junior punter Mike Sadler is one of the Big Ten’s best, currently second with a 43.1-yard average.

Nick Hill and Macgarrett Kings handle the kick returns, which have been few and far between this season. The Spartans have only returned nine kicks through eight games for a meager 17.4-yard average. Receiver Andre Sims Jr shares punt return duties with Kings. Sims has 15 returns for an average of 8.6 yards, while Kings has 11 for 8.5.

Prediction

Gardner will pick up yards with his feet but if he takes care of the ball Michigan will win (MGoBlue.com)

The absolute biggest key to this game will be turnovers. If Gardner avoids the bad mistakes that he made against Akron, UConn, and at the end of the Notre Dame game, Michigan will have a very good shot to win this game. If he feeds right into the Spartan defense, it will likely spell doom. Michigan State’s offense likely isn’t going to put together many long scoring drives, so the last thing Michigan can afford is to give up a defensive touchdown or turn the ball over in its own territory giving MSU a short field.

It’s vitally important for Michigan to get off to a quick start. Michigan State’s offense isn’t built for playing from behind and its defense gains momentum as the game goes on. If Michigan falls behind and has to get out of its normal offense, State’s defense can tee off on Gardner. A couple of early scores will change the game and force the Spartans back on their heels, opening things up, and take the crowd out of the game.

Look for Michigan to start the game with the shotgun and pistol looks and try to dictate the way the game goes before settling into its more traditional under center offense. As Drew pointed out in his Inside the Numbers post earlier in the week, Michigan has had twice as much success running the ball out of the shotgun/pistol than under center, but it will need to run about half of its offense from under center simply to have a balanced offense. Michigan State hasn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards yet this season, but I think Michigan will eclipse that mostly because if there is one thing State’s defense has struggled with the past couple of years it’s dual threat quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez both had big games last season, and Indiana’s Tre Roberson had a good game a couple weeks ago. Gardner is less one-dimensional than Denard Robinson and will be able to extend plays with his legs while making throws Denard couldn’t make.

Defensively, Michigan will force Cook to pick apart the defense. Jake Ryan, who is in line to make his first start of the season, will be key in stopping the quick screens and jet sweeps that Bollman likes to run. This isn’t a big play offense, so as long as Michigan can stop the run it shouldn’t have much trouble holding the Spartans to less than 20 points, which will be enough to allow Michigan to win the game.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 17

Friend vs Foe: Indiana

Thursday, October 17th, 2013


For this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe we welcome Adam Johnson of the Indiana SB Nation blog The Crimson Quarry. He was kind enough to answer questions about how the Hoosiers got shut down by Michigan State last week, how IU fans view Michigan, where he sees advantages in individual matchups this week, and more. He also provides his prediction. You can follow him on Twitter at @johnsoad and the main feed @crimsonquarry.

1. Last week was strength against strength – Michigan State’s defense against Indiana’s offense – and they got the better of you. How were they able to slow down IU’s high-powered passing game?

This is going to sound like a homer answer, but I’m not certain Indiana didn’t slow down, Indiana’s passing game. Nate Sudfeld just didn’t have a very good game. He overthrew several open receivers on deep passes and in general had a case of happy feet that caused a lot of passes to sail on him. I guess the credit goes to Michigan State in keeping the pressure up on Sudfeld and never making him feel comfortable. Still, despite the relatively lack luster performance, Indiana was able to tack 28 points on the board.

2. From an IU perspective, how do you view the current state of the Michigan program? Having lost 17 straight times and 32 of the last 33, how confident are you that this might be the year to beat Michigan, given the way Michigan struggled to beat Akron and UConn and blew the game against Penn State – a team IU beat?

Michigan State's defense kept Nate Sudfeld uncomfortable all day last Saturday (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

The Michigan program is a bit of a mystery to me. Of course, I view them as a traditional power house program especially in conference, but they’ve certainly had their share of head scratchers this year. I don’t think anyone is super confident at winning but a lot are confident we have a good shot. The last two times Indiana and Michigan have met it has been shootouts that were probably closer than they should have been. Indiana is now in a position where they’re going to win more of those style games than they lose. If we can get this one into a tic for tack scoring battle, I feel confident of this one going down to the last possession or two.

3. Indiana’s defense gives up a lot of yards and a lot of points. How was it able to hold Penn State to just 24 points? Also, Michigan’s offense has struggled most of the season but still averages 39 points per game (23rd nationally). Can IU’s defense slow down Michigan or will this game be a shootout?

IU’s defense probably played to their ceiling with the talent they have against Penn State. They probably played close to their floor against Michigan State. We’re just hoping for something consistently in between. Michigan is going to put up points. That’s a given. However, Indiana does have it in them to string together a couple stops in a row. If they can force punts or turnovers in 2-3 consecutive drives there’s a good chance that the offense can put Michigan in a bad spot. But yes, it would be smart to take the over in this one.

4. What individual matchups do you think Indiana can take advantage of this week?

Most of the match-up pluses for Indiana are obviously going to be on defense. The entirety of the young Michigan secondary better be ready for an aerial assault. WR Cody Latimer and TE Ted Bolser are both going to be playing on Sundays next year and they’re smart receivers too. A lot of teams when the QB is flushed will run to the passer to find space. Indiana likes to leak receivers down field. I expect Indiana to have some roll out passes to tempt the young Michigan secondary to try and come up to the line to make a play while their man flies up field. It’s a big reason Indiana is top 10 in the nation in big plays. Sudfeld leaves the pocket and everyone on defense starts looking for that big play. Sometimes Sudfeld leaving the pocket is actually by design instead of him running for his life behind a nearly full 2nd string offensive line now.

5. What will it take for Indiana to win this game? What’s your prediction?

Indiana has to get some stops on defense. Not a ton, but some. I expect Indiana’s offense to come out and get a pretty good start. We’ll see multiple quarterbacks to keep Michigan on its toes and IU will put up points. The defense just has to get one or two stops a quarter to make it very interesting. Still, on the road in the big house I can’t confidently say that’s going to happen. I’m going to go with Indiana 42 – Michigan 52. A field goal might as well be a turnover in this game.

Well Michigan finally lost a game, but at least it wasn’t Akron or UConn. Hats off to Penn State, they deserved to win. Now we take a look at Indiana, a high-powered passing attack that annihilated Penn State 44-24 then proceed to fall to Michigan State 42-28 the following week. One thing we do know about Kevin Wilson’s team is they love to throw the rock. Let’s take a look at what Michigan needs to do to win.

On Offense

IU isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart but if you turn the ball over enough anyone has a chance (see Akron/UConn). Usually I’d rather not see any turnovers, but Devin Gardner is going to turn the ball over. It’s just a fact. In 11 games as a starting quarterback he’s only had one, yes ONE, turnover free game and has averaged more than an interception per game and has had several fumbles. That is completely unacceptable. Despite his propensity to turn it over he is still by far the best option at quarterback, so let’s move on. Since we cannot reasonably expect Gardner to not turn it over let’s say Michigan needs to not turn it over on their side of the 50 or in the redzone. I guess we could call this one, ‘not turning it over and putting the defense in a poor position’ for lack of a better phrase.

Next, Michigan must move the ball, no matter what that entails. I read a good deal about how Hoke needs to go back to the read option because that’s the only time this team has run the ball. And while it is a great point, that is not going to happen so I’m not going to say it should. What I will say, however, is that they need to find something that’s working to get the ball moving, period. If it’s the short passing game, screen passes, draws or some end arounds, whatever. If they move the ball good things, usually, happen. Now this is easier said than done because of the issues with the big uglies up front. Which brings me to my next point…

Jake Ryan and the rest of the defense will have its hands full with IU's high-powered passing game (MGoBlue.com)

The offensive line needs to play angry. Yes, we have an All-American left tackle and a senior right tackle, but they don’t look like a Michigan line at all. They need to stop thinking and just start playing. Don’t worry about the next play or about missing an assignment. Just go out, get angry and maul people. The game is won in the trenches, and if Michigan can own the trenches they will win.

On Defense

First off, Allen Robinson is a phenomenal receiver and Channing Stribling is a true freshman. That said, Stribling couldn’t have played better coverage than he did when Robinson set PSU up for 1st-and-goal at the end of regulation. He, and the rest of the secondary need to keep their poise because IU is going to throw it.

The Hoosiers can put up some serious points, to the tune of almost 42 per game. Michigan needs to bring their A-game if they want to walk away the victors valiant.

The defense showed a bit more moxie last week but they’ll need to step up their game if they want to keep IU out of the end zone. Nate Sudfeld isn’t a threat to run the ball but Tre Roberson is, and they both played last week. We don’t know which quarterback we’ll see Saturday but Michigan needs to be ready for either one. Last week against MSU they combined for 259 yards passing. I don’t need to tell you this but Sparty’s defense is better than ours, so Michigan needs to be ready to roll.

Pressure the quarterback, whichever one it is. Michigan hasn’t been all that great getting to the QB but they showed some promise last week. If they can keep that momentum going they should be able to harass IU’s quarterbacks all day. And they can do this by…

Bringing pressure and bringing it from all angles. If Michigan can keep IU guessing at where the pressure is coming from it should pay off with some bad passes and sacks. But the key is to bring pressure with five or six guys. Michigan’s defensive line is not good enough (at least we haven’t seen proof they are) to get to the quarterback without the aid of a linebacker or other blitzer. So keep blitzing away.

Special Teams

Win the field position game. Good returns and solid coverage are often overlooked but are almost always a major factor. The shorter the field the offense has to work with, the better the chances of winning. Same is true on the defensive side. The longer IU has to consistently drive, the less chance Michigan has of giving up a ton of points.

I hate to say it but Michigan needed to lose a game. They needed to get that “not apologizing for being undefeated” attitude out of their locker room. Sometimes losing is the best thing for a team, and I think that will hold true with Team 134. I’m not saying they’ll win out but I think they’ll come out with a newfound passion and purpose moving forward because of it.

Final Look: Penn State

Thursday, October 17th, 2013


(John T. Grellick, Detroit News)

The way Michigan had been playing in recent weeks, it was inevitable. They were going to lose sooner or later. Most didn’t expect it to happen at Penn State, but alas, it did and meltdown has ensued. Calls for the firing of Brady Hoke, Al Borges, and/or Darrell Funk; for starting Shane Morris over Devin Gardner;  for making Gardner the lead rusher; for completely abandoning the run in favor of the spread; and for any number of “solutions” one can come up with. Some are more outrageous than others, and some actually make sense, but the reality is Michigan lost a game it should have won and the Michigan faithful aren’t happy.

Now, Michigan returns home to face an explosive Indiana team before getting a bye week to prepare for the final stretch of the season. But before we fully turn our attention to Indiana, let’s take a final look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 43-40 quadruple overtime loss to Penn State.

Three big moments

1. Frank Clark’s scoop and score

Michigan wasn’t able to muster much offense in the first half and found itself trailing 21-10 at the half. Penn State started the second half with possession and a chance to stretch the lead to three scores. On the first play of the half, running back Zack Zwinak took the handoff, was hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage, and bounced off to the left. James Ross III got his hand on the ball and knocked it out. Frank Clark scooped it up at the 24, evaded a tackler at the 15, and raced the rest of the way to the end zone to pull the Wolverines within four. It was exactly what Michigan needed to kickstart a comeback.

Jake Ryan's return is sure to lift the Michigan defense (CentreDaily.com)

2. Devin squared…twice

Entering the season, everyone knew Devin Funchess had the ability to be something special. But through the first four games he made just eight catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. After the bye week, however, Michigan began lining him up at receive and he went off for 151 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions against Minnesota. Many wondered whether he could do it again against Penn State, and he did.

In the first quarter, he got Michigan’s scoring started with a 59-yard touchdown reception from Devin Gardner. It was Michigan’s third possession of the game after the first one went three-and-out and the second resulted in an interception. The drive began with a 12-yard run by Fitzgerald Toussaint and a 15-yard run by Gardner. On the third play, Gardner faked the handoff and stepped up into the pocket. He pump faked to hold the safety and then unloaded a bomb down the middle of the field to a wide open Funchess who had slipped behind the safety. He caught it at the 13 and easily trotted into the end zone to tie the game at seven.

In the fourth quarter, he did it again. Michigan had taken a 27-24 lead on its final possession of the third quarter and Penn State missed a 47-yard field goal that would have tied it. Michigan took possession on its own 30-yard line. Five plays later, Funchess got behind the Penn State secondary once again. On 1st-and-10 from the PSU 37, Gardner faked the handoff and dropped back. He got great pass protection allowing him to step up into the pocket and heave the ball towards the goal post. It was right on as Funchess hauled it in in the back of the end zone to put Michigan ahead by 10.

3. Jake Ryan’s return

Because Michigan lost and because there were a lot more big plays made by Penn State than by Michigan, Jake Ryan gets the honor for his performance in his return from a torn ACL. He finished with just three tackles, one for loss, but his presence was a welcome sight and Michigan had its best pass rush of the season so far. He played over 30 snaps and said afterward that he felt good and it didn’t bother him a bit. That should lead to an increased work load going forward, especially after the next bye week. Michigan will need his athleticism and experience for the stretch run in November.

The numbers game

4: The number of overtimes, marking the longest game in Michigan history

2004: The last time Michigan scored a defensive touchdown in consecutive games before it did so against Penn State on Saturday

32: Consecutive games with a reception for Jeremy Gallon. It is the third longest streak in Michigan history behind Braylon Edwards (38) and Jason Avant (35)

207: Days from the time Jake Ryan tore his ACL to returning to action against Penn State

127: Consecutive extra points made by Brendan Gibbons. He passed JD Carlson (1988-91) for first in Michigan history

Drive chart
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
PS
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
UM
PS
PS
UM
UM
PS
PS
UM
UM
PS

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Record Watch

Instead of three observations this week, since everything has already been played out more than enough, I’m going to highlight where some current Michigan players currently rank in the record books and what they still need to keep moving up the charts. We will keep this as a part of the weekly Final Look feature to show the movement week-to-week.

Career Receiving Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Braylon Edwards (2001-04) 3,541 1,748
2. Anthony Carter (1979-82) 3,076 1,283
3. Amani Toomer (1992-95) 2,657 864
4. David Terrell (1998-2000) 2,317 524
5. Mario Manningham (2005-07) 2,310 517
6. Roy Roundtree (2009-12) 2,304 511
7. Tai Streets (1995-98) 2,284 491
8. Marquise Walker (1998-01) 2,269 476
9. Jason Avant (2002-05) 2,247 454
10. Greg McMurtry (1986-89) 2,163 370
11. Desmond Howard (1989-91) 2,146 353
12. Mercury Hayes (1992-95) 2,144 351
13. Derrick Alexander (1989-93) 1,977 184
14. Jack Clancy (1963-66) 1,917 124
15. Jeremy Gallon (2010-present) 1,793
Career Rushing Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Mike Hart (2004-07) 5,040 2,974
2. Denard Robinson (2009-12) 4,495 2,429
3. Anthony Thomas (1997-2000) 4,472 2,406
4. Jamie Morris (1984-87) 4,393 2,327
5. Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) 4,178 2,112
6. Butch Woolfolk (1978-81) 3,861 1,795
7. Chris Perry (2000-03) 3,696 1,630
8. Rob Lytle (1973-76) 3,317 1,251
9. Billy Taylor (1969-71) 3,072 1,006
10. Gordon Bell (1973-75) 2,900 834
11. Tim Biakabutuka (1993-95) 2,810 744
12. Lawrence Ricks (1979-82) 2,751 685
13. Harlan Huckleby (1975-78) 2,624 558
14. Ricky Powers (1990-93) 2,554 488
15. Russell Davis (1975-78) 2,550 484
16. Ron Johnson (1966-68) 2,440 374
17. Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-73) 2,343 277
18. Tony Boles (1987-89) 2,247 181
19. Stan Edwards (1977-81) 2,206 140
20. Rick Leach (1975-78) 2,176 110
21. Fitzgerald Toussaint (2010-present) 2,066
Career Field Goals Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 64 27
2. Remy Hamilton (1993-96) 63 26
3. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 57 20
4. JD Carlson (1989-91) 38 1
5. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 37
6. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 31
7. Bob Bergeron (1981-84) 29
8. Hayden Epstein (1998-01) 26
9. Mike Lantry (1972-74) 21
KC Lopata (2007-08) 21
Career Point-After-Touchdowns Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 162 11
2. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 141
3. JD Carlson (1989-91) 137
4. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 130
5. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 117

Happy Valley Heartbreak: Penn State 43 – Michigan 40

Saturday, October 12th, 2013


Through the first two-plus years of the Brady Hoke era he has shown a willingness to roll the dice at times. Les Miles he is not, but he appeared to be at least a bit more bold than the coach he cut his teeth with, Lloyd Carr. But on a beautiful Saturday night in front of a raucous white-out Beaver Stadium crowd, shades of Carr emerged – and not the good ones.

Up seven with 6:35 remaining, Michigan got the ball back needing to run out the clock or score to put the game away. They did neither. The Wolverines were able to move the chains three times and run 5:45 off the clock, but it wasn’t enough. A delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-9 from the Penn State 27 moved the ball back five yards, and a three-yard loss by Fitzgerald Toussaint left Hoke with a decision of whether to punt the ball back to Penn State with a minute left or attempt a 52-yard field goal to seal the game. He chose the former but Matt Wile booted into the end zone resulting in just a 15-yard net gain.

Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 40 43
Record 5-1 (1-1) 4-2 (1-1)
Total Yards 389 390
Net Rushing Yards 149 85
Net Passing Yards 240 305
First Downs 21 24
Turnovers 3 4
Penalties-Yards 7-62 5-56
Punts-Yards 6-245 4-179
Time of Possession 36:13 23:47
Third Down Conversions 4-of-18 3-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 4-16 3-22
Field Goals 4-for-7 3-for-5
PATs 4-for-4 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-3 5-of-6
Full Box Score

Penn State went 80 yards in just five plays, getting completions of 14 yards, 29 yards, and 36 yards, and ultimately punching it in with 23 seconds remaining on a one-yard run by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Michigan had one more chance to win it in regulation after a 34 yard kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet gave the Wolverines good starting field position. Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for 25 yards and then got another five-yard completion to Justice Hayes to give Brendan Gibbons a 52-yard attempt to win it. But the kick fell a few yards short and the game went into overtime.

In the first extra period, Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a field goal attempt. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed the 40-yards try and all Michigan had to do was score to win the game. Instead of playing aggressively to move closer to the goal line, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges elected to run Toussaint twice, each for a yard, and then have Gardner position the ball for a Gibbons field goal attempt. But Penn State blocked it sending the game into a second overtime.

This time Michigan started with the ball and got a 25-yard field goal out of it. Penn State couldn’t move the ball and kicked a 36-yard field goal to send the game into a third extra period.

Head Coach Bill O’Brien, who also calls the plays, went with an end-around on the first play, but Allen Robinson fumbled the pitch and Frank Clark recovered. Once again, Michigan just needed a score to win the game. Two Toussaint rushes for no gain bookended a nine-yard completion to Gallon forcing Michigan to attempt yet another field goal. This time, from 33 yards out, the usually reliable Gibbons missed and the game went on.

In the fourth overtime, Michigan was once again unable to move the chains and had to settle for a field goal. Gibbons connected from 40 yards out to put the Wolverines ahead 40-37. Penn State ran it three straight times to get to 4th-and-1 from the 16. O’Brien decided it was time to put the game on the line and go for it. It worked as running back Bill Belton gained three yards. After an incomplete pass and a two yard gain, Penn State faced 3rd-and-8. Hackenberg fired a pass incomplete to the middle of the end zone, but safety Jarrod Wilson was flagged for pass interference giving Penn State the ball on the two. One play later, Belton rushed to the left and into the end zone for the win.

Frank Clark's big game and Jake Ryan's return weren't enough to get the win (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan had several opportunities to win the game but failed to both execute, both on the field and on the sidelines. Not once in the four overtime periods did Michigan throw the ball into the end zone. The closest was a lob to freshman tight end Jake Butt around the 2-yard line, which was knocked away by a Penn State linebacker. Instead, Hoke and Borges went the conservative route, content to ride a running game that went backwards more often than it went forward and settle for field goal attempts.

Michigan gained 149 yards on the ground, but 121 of them were by Gardner. Toussaint had 27 carries for 27 yards and Derrick Green had three for one yard. That’s less than a yard per carry by Michigan’s running backs. Yet time and again Gardner handed off just to see Toussaint run into a face full of tacklers at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Gardner completed 15-of-28 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions to go along with his 121 yards on 24 carries. Devin Funchess led all receivers with four catches for 121 yards and two scores. Gallon caught seven passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Michigan’s defense got a great game from Frank Clark who scooped up a Penn State fumble on the first play of the second half and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. He also recorded two sacks, recovered a fumble in overtime, and nearly had an interception. Jake Ryan, playing for the first time this season after tearing his ACL in April, recorded three sacks, one for loss.

The Wolverines held Penn State to just 85 yards rushing on 44 carries, an average of just 1.9 yards per carry, and the Hackenberg touchdown at the end of regulation was the first rushing touchdown Michigan has allowed all season. But in the end, is was Penn State that made the right calls and executed at the right time to earn the victory.

Michigan falls to 5-1 on the season, 1-1 in the Big Ten and returns home to face Indiana (3-3, 1-1) next Saturday. A lot of work needs to be done if Michigan wants to win the Legends Division with a brutal schedule coming up, but the good news is the division is still within reach. Stay tuned for more analysis in the coming days and previews of the Indiana game.

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 11th, 2013


If not for Blake Countess’ pick-six last Saturday, my score prediction would have been dead-on, but I’ll gladly take an extra seven points and a defensive touchdown over getting my prediction exactly right. Now if it had been a Minnesota score to ruin my pick that would be a different story. But Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota was exactly what the Wolverines needed to put the Akron and UConn games behind them.

Now, Michigan gets a chance to make a statement with a big win on the road. Penn State certainly isn’t a powerhouse at this point, but they are better than every team Michigan has faced this season save Notre Dame and the Wolverines’ recent road woes – 10-18 since 2008 – make nothing a sure bet. Is Michigan in danger of its first loss of the season? Let’s take a look at our picks:

Justin: Jake Ryan returns from injury and immediately turns Michigan’s defense into a juggernaut. He leads the Wolverines with 15 tackles, two sacks, and picks off a pass and Michigan cruises to a 42-0 win.

Ok, so that probably won’t happen, but it will be great to see Ryan back on the filed even if only briefly to start getting him re-acclimated to game action before the brutal November schedule hits. He likely won’t play enough to make much of an impact on the game, but if Michigan plays the way it’s capable of playing it shouldn’t need him in this one anyway.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 31 20
Chris 28 21
Josh 38 17
Sam 31 24
Derick 31 24
Katie 35 21
M&GB Average 32 21

Michigan has more weapons to go around, especially with the move of Devin Funchess to wideout, opening up the field for Devin Gardner. His big game last week will force opposing defenses to respect the downfield passing game in a way they haven’t had to until this point, which means the running game will be more effective. The insertion of Chris Bryant into the lineup last week gave Michigan the ability to run more of a power running game and Indiana had some success running right at Penn State last week when it wasn’t throwing the ball.

Defensively, Michigan will give Hackenberg the short, underneath throws and try to prevent the big plays to Allen Robinson. Look for Greg Mattison to dial up some pressure to force the young quarterback to make quick decisions and ultimately lead to turnovers.

The team that wins the turnover battle will win this game and with the expanded offense Gardner has at his disposal combined with the youth of Hackenberg, I think that will be Michigan.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20

Chris: Penn State recovers from their loss last week and plays well at home, but it’s not enough.

Michigan 28 – Penn State 21

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

Michigan 38 – Penn State 17

Sam: With the non-conference season in the rearview mirror and one win already in the books, the Michigan Wolverines take to the road for the second time in their 2013 football campaign. Three weeks and two games ago, Michigan made the trip to East Hartford, Connecticut for a night game against UConn that proved to be much closer than expected. With a record crowd of 42,704 watching at Rentschler Field, Devin Gardner overcame four awful turnovers and a 14-point third quarter deficit to lead the Maize and Blue to a 24-21 nail-biting win.

This Saturday, the visiting Wolverines will once again be playing under the lights (for the third time already this season), but in an environment that figures to be much crazier this time around in Happy Valley against Penn State. With a putrid crowd of nearly 93,000 against Eastern Michigan earlier this year, one of the smallest since 2001, and an all-time record of 110,753 in 2002, Beaver Stadium will be rocking in white-out fashion.

Luckily for Brady Hoke and his Michigan squad, Penn State is struggling through their second year of heavy sanctions to the tune of a 3-2 record. Already with a loss to Central Florida four weeks ago and a 44-24 beatdown suffered at Indiana last week, the once-proud Lions are certainly beatable this year. But if you combine Michigan’s inconsistency, a Bill O’Brien-coached offense at Penn State, and a raucous night crowd, you will find a game that will likely be up for grabs.

With Devin Funchess warranting attention outside, look for a big game from Jeremy Gallon and others (MGoBlue.com)

Christian Hackenberg, O’Brien’s star freshman quarterback, has been very good at times and sports a 60 percent completion mark and a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio; unfortunately experience is not on his side, and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be throwing different looks at Hackenberg all night. Penn State will also have a trio of running backs in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch who have big-play ability and all gain more than four yards per carry, but Michigan has been solid against the run for the better part of the year.

Last week’s insertion of Chris Bryant into the starting lineup at left guard seemed to open up some running lanes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but even more surprising was a stacked offensive look with Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield, and Bryant all lined up to the left of center Graham Glasgow.

If Michigan trots out in that power formation again, expect to see some play action open up deep for quarterback Devin Gardner. On paper, Michigan has been the much better team so far, but these two squads should be battling into the fourth quarter with a critical win on the line. Vegas opened the books favoring Michigan by just one point, and still Michigan is giving less than a field goal to the Nittany Lions with a -2.5-point margin.

Michigan’s confidence should be back, however, after a big win over Minnesota last week, and Penn State is still playing for pride alone. Hackenberg will throw for two touchdowns but will also lose a crucial second half turnover that Michigan will take advantage of on the way to a Wolverine win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 24

Derick: Michigan will face it’s toughest opposing crowd of the season Saturday after nearly failing the first road test in Connecticut. If Rentschler Field was a tough venue for Team 134 to play in then Beaver Stadium will provide a very rude awakening.

Fortunately for the Wolverines the running game perked up after the  shift in the offensive line and stabilized a struggling offense. Devin Gardner looked comfortable running both the play action and bootleg screens with Fitzgerald Toussaint picking up solid gains on first and second down. If he can take care of the football and make the easy passes then the defense should be able to carry the Maize and Blue to victory.

Though Happy Valley proves a tough test, I think Greg Mattison will have something prepared for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Michigan wins the turnover battle and as a result, improves to 6-0.

Michigan-31 Penn State-24

Katie: So the Wolverines are 5-0 but it doesn’t quite feel that way. After two tough weeks where backups should have seen playing time but instead were left to watch as their teammates played for their B10 Championship lives, a win against Minnesota doesn’t exactly cleanse the palate.  It was a good win, but a victory in Happy Valley is a most necessary followup. And considering that the Nittany Lions are 3-2, with a loss last week to the Hoosiers, the outlook is rather good for the Wolverines to continue undefeated.

But the Nittany Lions have been amassing more than a fair share of offensive yards per game, averaging 475. With a starter out for Michigan in Ondre Pipkins, the Wolverines could certainly use someone who is arguably the best player on the defense, Jake Ryan. to return. The counter to racking up so many yards per game however, is how many the Penn State defense is allowing.  Against Indiana, the Lions gave up 486 yards and lost 24-44. If Michigan can put Penn on its heels early, with consistent throws and a good running game, they should be able to dig the Lions into a pit they can’t claw out of. The key for the Wolverines will be to do better on 3rd down percentage defensively. If the Nittany Lions aren’t able to rack up a series of long drives, it isn’t likely that their defense will be able to hold Michigan.  I’ve got the Wolverines winning this one, even given the hostile crowd they will be playing in front of (fingers crossed that Gardner doesn’t get rattled, or that Morris would be ready at the helm if he is).

Michigan 35 Penn State 21

____________________________________________________________________________
For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Penn State game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation blog Black Shoe Diaries; Monday’s First Look: Penn State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. We also featured a new urban garden campaign by Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne to expand their Pahokee garden and build one in Denard Robinson’s hometown of Deerfield Beach, Fla. Finally, Alexandra showcased some great maize and blue fashion that you can find in and around Ann Arbor to look great on gameday.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Black Shoe Diaries as well as their roundtable predictions.

Friend vs Foe: Penn State

Thursday, October 10th, 2013


This week we are pleased to have the tag team duo of Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation site Black Shoe Diaries to answer some questions about the matchup, how Penn State fans view Michigan, their expectations during the sanctions, and more. They also provide a game prediction. You can follow them on Twitter @bflip33 and @JaredSlanina and the main feed @BSDtweet. Representing the good guys, like usual, is Josh on what Michigan needs to do to beat Penn State.

1. Michigan and Penn State haven’t played the past two years. Prior to the Rich Rodriguez era Michigan had your number with eight straight wins, but Penn State took advantage of the Rich Rod years. Now six years removed from the last time Michigan beat Penn State, how do Penn State fans view the Michigan program?

I think Penn State fans view Michigan as a rival. The weird thing about Penn State is we don’t really have a “rival” in the way that Michigan has OSU, Oklahoma has Texas, or anything like that. We have Michigan State, although nobody in Happy Valley views Sparty as anything more than a good team in the Big Ten. We also have Pitt, but we haven’t played them in 13 years.

With all that in mind, people at Penn State view two teams as “rivals”: Ohio State and Michigan. Of course, it’s dumb to think their hatred of us is reciprocated, because they have each other. But in our eyes, both schools are evil institutions that freely break NCAA violations and pay off officials to screw us out of games. Sounds like a rival to me.

2. What is the current mindset of Penn State fans about their program, having gone through what you did the past couple of seasons? Do most expect to still compete for the Big Ten title each year, or are they resigned to hoping to make it through the sanctions without getting hopes too high?

It’s a fairly even split between those who have lowered their expectations because of everything that has occurred the past two years, and those who still think Penn State should win every Saturday regardless of any type of circumstances. As far as the latter goes, I was shocked by the amount of Monday-morning QBs after the loss to Central Florida who thought that game could have been won if a couple things went differently. From what I saw, it was clear that Penn State was just defeated by the better team. Penn State is playing with 24 fewer scholarship athletes than their opponents, and have no B10 Championship or bowl game to play for. On the other hand, there are many like myself who support the team, hope for the best and look forward to seeing what happens in a few years once all the sanctions are behind us.

At just 18 years old, Christian Hackenberg has shown plenty of potential to be a star (Mark Selders)

3. What happened last week against Indiana? Most Michigan fans probably didn’t watch that game and most probably haven’t seen Penn State play yet this season. Fill us in on what went wrong against IU.

Things went wrong in every facet of the game so there’s not really one person or unit to place blame. The defense has trouble covering the perimeter and opposing offensive coordinators are starting to take notice. The secondary is inexperienced and has regular lapses in coverage, and will likely continue to struggle against teams with a solid passing game. Penn State whiffed on two field goal attempts thanks to a bad snap and allowing a second one to be blocked. Christian Hackenberg had a good game when you look at the numbers, but never got into a rhythm to keep the offense on the field. Hackenberg also set a Penn State record for most passing attempts in a single game, which has many Nittany Lion fans scratching their heads since Indiana has one of the worst run defenses in the nation.

4. Christian Hackenberg: is he the real deal? Five games into his career, what are his current strengths and weaknesses?

Christian Hackenberg is the real deal. He has regressed a bit in his past two games, but if “throwing for four touchdowns and more than 500 yards in two games” is regressing, then I don’t know if anyone can be too upset. His biggest strength is absolutely his poise. He doesn’t turn 19 until February, although you wouldn’t know that watching him. He looks comfortable and never lets the moment get to him, which at his age, is remarkable. He also has an excellent arm and is incredibly intelligent, you don’t come into college and pick up a system as complex as Bill O’Brien’s system in four-ish weeks without being a smart dude.

As for weaknesses, I am a Penn State fan, so he is perfect in my eyes. However, others have told me that he still has to figure out when to hold onto the ball and take a sack/throw it away, he isn’t the most mobile guy, and his accuracy has looked a bit iffy these last two or three games. Despite this, he should overcome every issue to win the Heisman this year, next year, the year after, and the year after that en route to three national titles and being selected by the Raiders with the #1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

5. In what area(s) do you see advantages against Michigan?

I don’t see many at this point as it seems Michigan has more overall talent and experience. The one advantage Penn State will have over any team is Allen Robinson. in my humble opinion, Robinson is the top receiver in the nation and will leave as the best all-time at his position at Penn State. Teams have struggled to cover him even though they know he will be getting the ball. He’s the complete package and is especially good at escaping the first one or two would-be tacklers. He’s a junior, but I’m pretty much assuming he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.

6. What’s your prediction? How will it happen?

I somehow convince myself that Penn State will win by the time the game kicks off, but that hasn’t happened yet with this game. I’ll say Michigan 31, Penn State 20. I think Penn State can keep it close with a few adjustments and the home field advantage, but Michigan will be good enough to take care of business and stay undefeated. I’m hoping Devin Gardener has one of his turnover-prone games, but Penn State has struggled to force turnovers this season so I just don’t see that happening.

After taking care of the Golden GOOOOphers (that was in my fake-Minnesotan accent) last week in the conference opener Michigan gets to head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in a night game. Happy Valley is not an easy place to play and they will almost assuredly have one of their famous ‘white outs’ but they don’t play the games on paper for a reason. We’re going to shift gears from what we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and instead of telling you what I’d like to see I’ll tell you what Michigan needs to do to win. Let’s get started.

On offense

Keep the play calling simple. Last week Al Borges and Co. broke out their KISS playbook, and I don’t mean the band. It worked. The run game got going early and often and Devin Gardner didn’t attempt a pass until the second quarter. Part of that was due to Minnesota’s consuming drive but it was also clear that Borges and Hoke wanted to take as much pressure off Gardner as possible. One can assume that PSU will look to bring pressure and rattle Gardner, making him leave the pocket and hope that Akron/UConn Gardner shows up and throws some bad picks. Michigan knows this will be coming so I’d expect them to come out and be ultra-conservative. If they can control the clock they shouldn’t have much trouble coming away with the win.

Keep Devin Gardner’s jersey clean. The change on the offensive line appeared to pay dividends but Minnesota is, well, Minnesota so we really don’t know how much of a difference it made. Regardless, if Michigan’s new line can keep Gardner upright (and in the pocket) he will have ample opportunity to pick apart a secondary that gave up 44 points and 336 yards through the air to Indiana. Yes, Indiana. No matter how far they may have come under Kevin Wilson it’s still IU football.

It will be important for Brennen Beyer and others to get pressure on the young Hackenberg (MGoBlue.com)

Don’t turn the ball over. I’ll keep harping on this one all year. You win the turnover battle you usually win the game. In Michigan’s case they need to do a little more than just win it, they need to dominate it. PSU is a better team than Akron and UConn and turning the ball over on the road to a team who is probably a bit upset about losing to IU last week would be bad. As I mentioned, one can assume the Nittany Lions will be trying to pressure Gardner into making bad decisions, so it is of utmost importance that Michigan protect the ball.

On defense

Pressure the heck out of Hackenberg with the BLITZ. We’d all like to see the front four deliver some great pressure without them but they haven’t and without Pee Wee Pipkins the depth is shallow. So let’s dial up those NFL-style blitzes that Greg Mattison loves. We know Bill O’Brien is going to throw it, a lot. Hackenberg’s attempted at least 28 passes in every game with a high of 55. And, luckily for us, he doesn’t like to take off and isn’t really much of an athlete so sending five or six (or seven) probably won’t hurt us since he isn’t going to beat us with his legs.

Get off the field. As in lots of three and outs and/or short drives/turnovers. Getting the Nittany Lions’ offense off the field opens the door for time killing Michigan drives, giving fewer chances for Hackenberg to get into a rhythm. Bear with me with this analogy, I promise it makes sense. The only ‘defense’ that has been able to stop Peyton Manning this year is the other team’s offense being on the field. Now, Christian Hackenberg is no Peyton Manning (I’ll take him over Eli though) but he can’t hurt us if he’s not on the field.

On Special Teams

We’ve all been waiting for Dennis Norfleet to take one to the house since opening day 2012. Every time he touches the ball he’s always seemingly just one man away from taking it to the house. And every time he just can’t make it past that one guy. Now a return touchdown would definitely take the crowd out of it, at least for a time, but I think all we need is just a handful of good returns that set up great field position and aid in winning the field position game. I know, I know, that’s not very sexy at all; winning the field position game. But it’s an overlooked aspect that can have huge ramifications, especially for a game like this on the road. The coverage teams need to prevent big returns and the return teams just need to get some decent ones. Again, simple really.

It appeared as though Michigan got a bit of their swagger back last week and the shake up on the offensive line could be the beginning of something special but they will really get tested this weekend in Happy Valley. Shutting down a pretty potent Gopher rushing attack and lighting up the scoreboard was the shot in the arm this team’s confidence needed. Now all they need to do is carry it forward and keep it rolling. Michigan wins if they can get most of the above facets taken care of. Not turning it over may be enough on its own, but I’d like to see a couple more for good measure.

Predicting Michigan: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013


(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

Today we continue our position preview and predictions series with the linebackers. For previous positions, see quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight ends, and defensive line.

Wounded Warrior: Jake Ryan

Brady Hoke and his staff have had an extremely successful offseason. They brought in a second straight top-10 recruiting class, convinced star left tackle Taylor Lewan to return for his senior season and even found a way to force students to show up to games earlier. However productive the team has been since the Outback Bowl, the news that Jake Ryan had torn his ACL and would miss some of the 2013 season has lingered like a dark cloud over the optimism in Ann Arbor. Ryan, who is possibly the best player on the entire team, let alone the defense, is recovering quickly but doesn’t figure to play for at least the first several games of the year.

When he is on the field, the redshirt junior has a knack for finding the ball. Ryan was a savior for the Michigan defense many times during the 2012 season, making open-field tackles to limit big gains. He is a versatile defender who can get pressure on the quarterback or stay back and cover his zone. Ryan was a nightmare for offenses in the backfield, recording 16 tackles for loss last year alone. While his ability to stuff the running back is impressive, what separates Ryan is his added ability to make the big play. He added 4 forced fumbles to his 4.5 sacks last year, and fans got used to seeing their long-haired leader celebrate flashy plays on a weekly basis.

It’s unfair to expect Jake Ryan to be the type of player he was in 2012 immediately after his return from injury, but something about the fire and intensity he plays with gives Ann Arbor hope that he will. Ryan is the reliable defensive leader that Michigan couldn’t afford to lose, and until he returns it will be a challenge for Greg Mattison to fill that hole.

Career Stats – Ryan
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 20 17 37 3.0 11.0 1 2 0
2012 56 32 88 4.5 16.0 4 1 0
Totals 76 49 125 7.5 27.0 5 3 0

Picking Up The Slack

Fortunately for the Wolverines, a couple of veteran linebackers are returning to the defense this season to help dull the pain of losing Ryan. The temporary leader of this unit will likely be redshirt senior Cam Gordon, who has played all over the field in his career. Gordon’s time at safety makes him a very useful linebacker to have on the field against the pass. He converted to outside linebacker in the spring of 2011 after an incredible first season in which he recorded 77 tackles and picked off three passes. Since that great year, Gordon’s career has hit a bit of a lull. A back injury in 2011 put his season on hold and he didn’t appear in a game until week seven in East Lansing. Gordon could never really catch up after getting such a late start to the season, and played mostly on special teams finishing the season with just four tackles.

Cam Gordon looks to step up in Jake Ryan's absence (Scott Kennedy, Scout.com)

Last season similarly failed to live up to the standard that Gordon set for himself in his redshirt freshman year, but it was significantly better than the injury-riddled 2011. Gordon was a reserve linebacker and starred on kick coverage for the special teams. He finished the season with 17 tackles, including three of those for losses. If the linebackers are going to be an effective group without Ryan on the field, Gordon is going to have to be a playmaker like he was at safety in 2010.

Coaches are also expecting big things from junior Desmond Morgan. Morgan accepted the responsibility of being one of the defensive leaders on the team when he changed his number to 48 in honor of former Michigan legend Gerald Ford. Morgan, like Ryan (#47 for Bennie Oosterbaan) have earned the right to play with the Michigan Legends patch on their jersey. This season, Morgan will get a chance to prove his worth. He will be the lone returning starter to take the field at linebacker to open the season, and does so as one of the most productive defenders on the squad. Morgan fell just shy of leading the team in tackles last season with 81, which was seven less than the injured Ryan. The most impressive part about his tackle total is that he almost matched one of the best linebackers in the country, playing in only 11 games, missing two with an injury.

In 2013, Mattison will count on Morgan to be even more of a ball-magnet. The linebackers without Ryan aren’t one of the stronger groups on the team, so a standout player like Morgan will be absolutely crucial until his return. The junior has dealt well with pressure in his young career at Michigan, notching a career-high 11 tackles in both the Ohio State and Michigan State games last season. If he continues to play his best football in the big games, he will find himself right next to Jake Ryan in the fans’ hearts.

Career Stats – Gordon
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2010 40 37 77 0.0 3.5 0 2 3
2011 3 1 4 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
2012 13 4 17 0.0 3.0 0 0 0
Totals 56 42 98 0.0 6.5 0 2 3
Career Stats – Morgan
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 26 37 63 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
2012 41 40 81 0.5 5.5 0 0 0
Totals 67 77 144 1.5 9.5 0 1 0

Battle To Start

Gordon and Morgan will likely be starters at linebacker when the Wolverines take the field against Central Michigan on the last day of August. However, in Greg Mattison’s 4-3 defense, there is one more spot up for grabs while Ryan recovers from injury. At this point, there are a few players that seem to have realistic shots to win that spot.

James Ross III worked his way into the lineup as a true freshman and looks to break out in 2013

One of the nice surprises on defense last year was freshman James Ross III’s play at linebacker. In 13 games, only two of those starts, Ross recorded 36 tackles, including 2.5 of them for losses. As a sophomore, Ross appears to be the early frontrunner to take over the third starting spot. When Desmond Morgan missed the UMass and Iowa games with an injury, it was Ross that the coaches called on to make the starts at linebacker. In that one Big Ten start, the fearless freshman lead the team in tackles with 12, which should be a major talking point while deciding the third starting linebacker in 2013.

Perhaps Ross’s toughest competition for the starting spot is fellow 2012 ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team linebacker Joe Bolden. Though both players received this honor, along with being named to the BTN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team, Ross gets a slight edge over his classmate because he was called on to make starts last season while Bolden played every game as a reserve. Though Bolden recorded five less tackles than Ross, he did spend a bit more time in the backfield. He had four tackles for losses on the year and a memorable 24-yard sack against UMass. The Cincinnati native will have every opportunity to earn big minutes in the upcoming season.

A third sophomore has an outside chance of starting, if he can have an exceptional camp. Royce Jenkins-Stone played 13 games on special teams last season, but only one at linebacker, the position he was recruited to play. The reason Jenkins-Stone has a chance to start is just because of pure ability. As a top-five linebacker recruit last season, the sophomore definitely has the talent to put on a show during practice and fight his way up the depth chart. If he doesn’t win a starting job, expect Jenkins-Stone to contribute more as a reserve linebacker than he did last season.

After moving to linebacker this season, junior Brennen Beyer probably has a chance to start as well. Though the talented sophomore class will likely dominate the linebacker position during the rest of Beyer’s Michigan career, coaches wouldn’t have moved him from his former position at defensive end if they didn’t believe he could get in the rotation. After playing as a reserve on the line, Beyer was moved to linebacker to help solidify the position this Spring. He is a big linebacker and would really strengthen the run-stopping ability if he wins the starting spot.

Career Stats – Ross III
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 21 15 36 0.5 2.5 0 0 0
Totals 21 15 36 0.5 2.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Bolden
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 16 15 31 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
Totals 16 15 31 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 3 3 6 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 3 3 6 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Beyer
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 5 6 11 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
2012 9 10 19 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Totals 14 16 30 0.0 0.5 1 0 0

Fresh Faces

Hoke’s 2013 recruiting class also brought in a couple for four-star linebackers to help this group. Mike McCray is a really strong player that is also solid fundamentally.  Athletically, there is room for improvement for this freshman, who would potentially be a better fit playing on the line because of his lack of outstanding speed or agility. That being said, the Ohio native was ranked highly as a linebacker in recruiting and will likely contribute to the team somehow this season; either on special teams or as a substitute on defense.

Fellow freshman Ben Gedeon will also battle to get in the rotation at linebacker, after being recruited as a linebacker out of high school. Gedeon also played running back and tight end before college, but was brought to Ann Arbor to play on the defensive side of the ball. His versatility will likely land him a spot on the special teams unit during his first season, but if he does see some time at linebacker, fans will fall in love with his old-school toughness and all-out mentality. Expect Gedeon to be one of the better defenders on the team before his time at Michigan ends.

Wrapping Up

Though there don’t seem to be many standout players in the linebacker core after the injury to Jake Ryan, Hoke and Mattison have several young players that are seemingly ready to make a big difference on defense. A strong sophomore group will likely be the X-factor for this unit in 2013, as they battle for the final starting spot. Depth shouldn’t be a problem with the linebackers, as eight or more players will likely contribute upon the return of Ryan.

Team 134 faces many questions as fall camp opens

Monday, August 5th, 2013


Team 134 hits the practice field for the first time this afternoon to begin its preparation for the season opener on Aug. 31. And while many questions have already been answered, there are still plenty that will have to play out over the next three weeks before Central Michigan comes to town. Only 12 starters return, but expectations remain high. Let’s take a look at the questions that loom large as camp opens.

Offense

Who will step up in the backfield?

Toussaint's ability to rebound from a broken leg will go a long way towards the success of Michigan's offense in 2013

Toussaint was a revelation in 2011 when he rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. It was assumed that he would pick up in 2012 right where he left off, but after being suspended for the season opener, he was unable to get going, failing to eclipse 100 yards in a single game and ultimately seeing his season end early with a broken leg. He’ll be back to 100 percent this season, but whether he’s able to get back to his sophomore level is anyone’s guess.

Thomas Rawls showed flashes of potential at times, averaging 9.5 yards per carry in back-to-back games against Illinois and Purdue, but failing to do much the rest of the way.

The man who most expect to eventually win the job is incoming freshman Derrick Green. The No. 1 running back in last year’s recruiting class has the size to come in and play right away and running back is widely regarded as the easiest position on the field to pick up for a true freshman. His level of contribution won’t be known until fall camp gets underway.

There is plenty of talent at the position. It’s just a matter of who will grab the reigns in the new offense. If Green doesn’t seize the starting job in fall camp, he’s sure to at least split carries with Toussaint from Week 1.

Where will the depth at receiver come from?

Roy Roundtree’s departure leaves Michigan without an experienced typical outside receiver, but that doesn’t mean the position is devoid of talent. Gallon developed a great rapport with Gardner over the final five games of 2012. He caught at least four passes in all five, something he did just once in the first eight with Robinson at quarterback, and if his yardage production is extrapolated over an entire season, he would have led the Big Ten by a long shot with 1,328.6 yards – an average of 102.2 per game. It’s safe to say that despite being just 5’9”, Gallon is perfectly capable of being a No. 1 receiver.

Drew Dileo, who is consistent and reliable, will serve as the slot guy, but it’s the rest of the group where the questions lie. Sophomores Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both fit the mold of the classic Michigan receiver and if even one of them can replace Roundtree’s production, the offense will be in good shape. There’s a good chance that both will have success with Gardner behind center, as each features a different skillset – Chesson being the speed guy that can stretch defenses and Darboh the stronger guy that can go up and get a jump ball a la Junior Hemingway.

Will the interior of the line hold up?

Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield form a solid pair of bookends to the offensive line, but it’s the interior that needs to be replaced following the graduation of Ricky Barnum, Elliott Mealer, and Patrick Omameh. That’s a lot of bodies to replace, but fortunately, building quality depth on the line has been Brady Hoke’s focus since he arrived. His first two offensive line hauls are now entering their second and third seasons in the program and the players from those classes are expected to fill the interior.

Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller is pushing to man the center spot, although that’s far from a certainty, while redshirt freshmen Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden should seize the left and right guard positions. All three will surely benefit from Lewan’s leadership and guidance, and the performance of the line will determine just how good the offense can be.

As you can see, each position group has major questions with the exception of quarterback – unless of course, Gardner goes down, in which case all bets are off. With Bellomy sidelined with a torn ACL, it will be up to redshirt freshman Brian Cleary or true freshman Shane Morris to guide the offense – something no one wants to rely on.

The offense will get a chance to click right away with an opener against Central Michigan, but the first real test will be the following week when Notre Dame comes to town with its stingy defense that forced six Michigan turnovers last season. If Gardner and Co. can put up points and move the ball against the Irish, Michigan might be in for a special season.

Defense

Who will replace Jake Ryan’s production at linebacker?

With Ryan, Michigan' most experienced defender sidelined by a torn ACL, young linebackers must step up for Mattison's defense

Michigan returns 63 percent of its tackles, 74 percent of its tackles for loss, and 68 percent of its sacks from 2012. However, with Jake Ryan out for at least the first half of the season, those percentages drop to 53, 54, and 52 percent, respectively. The increase in lost production when Ryan’s name is taken out of the equation is stunning. He led the team with 88 tackles, 16 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. As a third-year starter, he would have been one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten this season. But when he suffered a torn ACL this spring, it meant that the defense would get even younger.

Desmond Morgan is a known commodity and will slide over into the Mike spot, while veterans Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer will share the Sam. Beyer spent last season as a defensive end, but Ryan’s injury necessitated the switch to linebacker. That leaves the Will spot open for Michigan’s youthful ‘backers. Sophomore James Ross is the likely candidate after an impressive freshman season.

The coaching staff has said all along that Ryan may be able to return in October, but that’s not something to count on, so the staff will need Morgan and Beyer to produce in their new positions and Ross to live up to the expectations he set last season.

If Ryan does return for the final few games of the season, how will it affect the chemistry of the group? If Morgan is struggling, he could slide back to Will, but what if Ross is dominating that spot? It’s managing issues like these that separate the good coaches from the great ones.

Can the Wolverines get to the quarterback?

Michigan had trouble getting to the quarterback last season, finishing with just 22 sacks, which tied for eighth in the Big Ten. Despite losing tackle Will Campbell and end Craig Roh, this year’s line has the potential to be better than last year’s. But will that potential be realized?

Jibreel Black is the leading returning defensive lineman in terms of sacks with three, while Frank Clark had two. Both are in line to start and will need to increase that production to make up for what was lost when Ryan went down.

The other possibility for sack production is a host of young pass rushers that will battle for playing time this fall. Chris Wormley, who missed last season with a torn ACL, Mario Ojemudia, and freshman Taco Charlton are all talented enough to turn some heads.

Who will replace Jordan Kovacs’ leadership in the secondary?

Kovacs’ story has been told a million times: from walk-on to multi-year starter and captain. He was never the most athletic guy on the field, but his football IQ, work ethic, and leadership helped the secondary go from horrible in 2010 to pretty darn good in 2011 and ’12. His 46 starts over the past four years provided great stability, but that will need to be replaced this season.

The good news is that Thomas Gordon has 26 starts under his belt and, as the elder statesman of the group, will fill the leadership void. He will hold down one safety spot, opening the door for either sophomore Jarrod Wilson, redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark, or incoming freshman Dymonte Thomas to step into the other. All three bring a wealth of talent and athleticism, but will need to rely on Gordon’s leadership.

Defensive Backs coach Curt Mallory singled out Thomas and fellow senior Courtney Avery as the two that have stepped up vocally as leaders and that should help the young guys succeed. And for his part, Avery likes the way the young guys have risen to the occasion to push the veterans.

“It definitely helps having a lot of depth,” Avery said in the spring. “You know you have to bring it every day because there’s a guy behind you waiting for his opportunity. So it’s just a mixture of helping those guys out and also competing every single day you come in.”

There’s no question that with Mattison and Hoke overseeing the defense, it’s only a matter of time before it is consistently atop the Big Ten. If the current group can avoid any further injuries, find a way to get to the quarterback, and rely on the leadership of the veterans, it could very well be a formidable unit this fall – one that Michigan fans are used to seeing.

“We’re not a Michigan defense yet,” Mattison said in April. “I think for the first time, every man in there knows what that means when you say we have to be a Michigan defense. I think they’re understanding that better and better.”