Sadly, another Michigan football season has come to an end. It ended with a tough, last-second loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. As with any game, there were areas of Michigan’s performance which can be looked at as both positives and negatives as we start looking ahead to next season.
As has been pointed out by a number of folks during the past week, the Wolverines played pretty well overall but were hurt throughout the game by the big chunk plays which South Carolina was able to get on offense. Michigan dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 15 minutes more than the other side. Also, the running game, although it didn’t look like Michigan’s traditional style, was effective in keeping the South Carolina defense off-balance. Because of this, the passing game opened up some and quarterback Devin Gardner was able to hit some big passes, including three touchdowns. Lastly, the Wolverines converted all five of their opportunities in the red zone into points.
Let’s be honest. The offense MUST find a running game next season. Michigan will not be bailed out by Denard Robinson any longer just because the running backs aren’t running the ball effectively. And using Devin Gardner as a running threat will not be part of the offensive play-calling as Al Borges moves back toward his more traditional style of offense. My first hope is that Fitz Toussaint is able to both physically and mentally recover from last season and return to the form of the 2011 season. If not, the running game could rest on the back of a true freshman (Derrick Green?!) and sophomore Justice Hayes.
While some may be worried that the loss of Denard Robinson to graduation will be a major blow to the Michigan offense, I choose to look at it in a more positive light. Yes, Denard was a force which defenses had to prepare for every week. However, the injury which he sustained to his elbow midway through the season may have been a blessing in disguise when it comes to 2013. Had he not been injured, neither the coaches nor the fans would have seen the offensive possibilities of Gardner at quarterback. Most had assumed that Gardner would continue to play wide receiver for the rest of his career with incoming freshmen quarterback Shane Morris set to arrive in Ann Arbor next season. Now, after seeing the possibilities, it would be foolish to move Gardner back to receiver. Yes, Michigan is set to be thin at that position next season. But as we saw early in the year, he wasn’t as much of a threat when he had to rely on the quarterback to get him the ball before he could do anything. And he certainly isn’t likely to be a threat when a true freshman (Morris) is lining up under center. I know Morris is good and all, but freshmen are rarely able to come into major college football and make a major impact right off the bat. Unless, of course, you are Johnny Manziel, which Morris is not. With Gardner likely to receive a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA, that means two more seasons of Gardner at QB. That also means that Morris can redshirt for a year and by the time it’s his time to play, he will still have three years of eligibility. Michigan is looking good at quarterback for the near future.
A moment ago I touched on Borges and his play-calling. Over the last two seasons, we have all been frustrated at times with his inability to use Denard in ways which would take advantage of his unique skill set. Well, with Denard not a consideration any longer, Borges won’t have to spend time building a game plan each week for Denard. Instead, Borges can use his time to game plan only one offensive style. Not multiple. Being an offensive coordinator at a major college football program is not an easy job I’m sure. But if Borges is able to spend less time on something that wasn’t really in his nature to use anyway, the Michigan offense may be better off. In no way am I advocating that the loss of Denard is a good thing, just saying that it may be better for a coordinator like Al Borges. Only time will tell.
The biggest holes that will need to be filled this offseason are at receiver and on the offensive line. Since it is often easy for young players to make an impact at receiver, the bigger worry for me is the line. This season, the line wasn’t great, even with Taylor Lewan. With his departure for the NFL, Michigan loses three starters that will likely be replaced with younger players. Guys like Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, and any one of the five or six incoming freshmen will have to step up and play well for the Michigan offense next season.
How about the other side of the ball? For the past two seasons, the defense has been consistently good, due in large part to the schemes of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. In 2012, according to the numbers, its strength was its pass defense. They were weaker while trying to defend the run due to less talent on the defensive line. Throughout the season, I wasn’t convinced that the Michigan defense was truly a Top 5 pass defense. I think those numbers were due in large part to the competition they were playing. All but one of their opponents this season (Alabama) ran a run-first offense, and even Alabama ran a very balanced attack. The Outback Bowl proved this to be true. South Carolina gashed the Wolverines through the air, consistently getting behind the deepest level of the secondary and finding the open holes in the defense.
The bottom line is that Michigan must get faster in the secondary. Losing J.T. Floyd due to suspension because he cared more about doing drugs than being there for his team didn’t make a difference. He wasn’t that good anyway. And Jordan Kovacs, while an important leader for the team as a whole, was not a coverage guy. He thrived playing at the line of scrimmage and aiding in the run defense. More speed in the secondary, and the continued development of guys like Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and the incoming group of freshmen will help. Certainly, the return of Blake Countess will be a huge plus as well.
With the loss of only William Campbell and Craig Roh, the defensive line should be as good or better next season. Guys such as Frank Clark, Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins, and Jibreel Black all made impacts this year. There are also a number quality defensive line recruits from the last two seasons who have been waiting for their opportunity to play, including Tom Strobel and Chris Wormley.
We all know that the linebacking corps is the strength of the defense. Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden, and Desmond Morgan are the leaders. The loss of Kenny Demens will be felt somewhat, but in comes guys like Cam Gordon, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and James Ross to earn the privilege of playing for the Michigan defense.
The prospects for 2013 are bright. Head Coach Brady Hoke has this team headed in the right direction and the Top 10 recruiting classes which he has managed to bring in will keep that momentum going. Next season should be an exciting one, as Michigan will be in a better position to play for the Big Ten title. Go Blue!
Posts Tagged ‘Jake Ryan’
For the last four years, the Michigan offense, led by Denard Robinson has been a big play waiting to happen. On Tuesday afternoon, in Denard’s swan song, it was the South Carolina offense that took advantage of big play after big play to beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl. None was bigger than a 32-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left to serve as the winning score.
In the first quarter, it looked as if South Carolina was going to run away with the game, as Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a 56-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Michigan answered with a 39-yard field goal two drives later. Carolina forced Michigan to punt on its next possession, but Ace Sanders returned the punt 63 yards for a touchdown to put SC ahead 14-3. It was the first punt return Michigan had allowed for a touchdown since Ohio State’s Ted Ginn in 2004.
Michigan put together a 11-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Drew Dileo to bring Michigan within four. But South Carolina once again used a big play to set up a score. A 70-yard pass from Thompson to Nick Jones gave the Gamecocks a first-and-goal on the Michigan four, and on the next play, Thompson connected with Sanders for a touchdown to put SC ahead 21-10.
On South Carolina’s next possession, Mario Ojemudia forced a Kenny Miles fumble that was recovered by Jake Ryan at the SC 31. Michigan advanced to the 16, but Gardner was sacked on 3rd-and-6, forcing Michigan to kick a 40-yard field goal. On that drive, Michigan converted a fake field goal for a first down when Dileo ran seven yards on 4th-and-6. South Carolina took a 21-13 lead into the half.
Michigan went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and on South Carolina’s second play, Shaw rushed 64 yards to the Michigan 11. After three incompletions, the Gamecocks lined up for a 33-yard field goal and missed.
Michigan put together an 11-play drive that ended in a 52- yard field goal by Matt Wile to pull within 21-16. When South Carolina got the ball back, it faced a 4th-and-7 on the Michigan 35 and Steve Spurrier elected to go for it. The Michigan pressure forced Shaw to roll to his right, and as he tried to pump fake, the ball slipped out of his hands and went out of bounds. Michigan took over and drove 65 yards in nine plays and took the lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines converted a 4th-and-1 on the drive, when Gardner romped through the middle for a 19-yard gain. The two-point attempt failed and Michigan held a 22-21 lead as the fourth quarter began.
South Carolina put together a 10-play drive to open the fourth, but Michigan blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt. Michigan then faced a 4th-and-4 from its own 37 and ran a fake punt that appeared to be just millimeters short. But the refs ruled it a first down, and after reviewing the play, upheld the call. On the very next play, All-American SC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made the biggest play of the game, bolting untouched into the backfield and slamming Vincent Smith just as he received the handoff. The hit knocked Smith’s helmet into the air and the ball to the ground, and Clowney recovered, giving the Gamecocks the ball at the Michigan 31.
One play later, Shaw found Sanders for a 31- yard touchdown pass to give SC the lead once again. The two-point conversion was no good and SC led 27-22 with 8:06 remaining.
Not to be outdone, Michigan mounted a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Gallon on 3rd-and-13. Once again, the two-point conversion attempt failed, and Michigan held a 28-27 lead with 3:29 to play.
South Carolina too over on its own 30, and three plays later found itself facing a 4th-and-3. But Shaw connected with Sanders for a six-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Six plays later, SC was had a 2nd-and-10 at the Michigan 32, and that’s when Thompson connected with Ellington for the winning touchdown.
Michigan’s last second comeback attempt failed when Gardner’s pass was incomplete, and South Carolina won 33-28.
Gardner finished the day 18-of-36 for 214 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Denard led all rushers with 23 carries for 100 yards, while Gallon caught nine passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. As a team, Michigan gained 355 yards, but gave up 426.
Denard finished his career as the all-time FBS leader for rushing yards by a quarterback and also second in Michigan career rushing yards behind only Mike Hart. Roy Roundtree finished his career sixth in career receiving yards, just behind Mario Manningham.
Michigan falls to 20-22 all-time in bowl games and 23-8-1 all-time against SEC schools. Stay tuned for continued coverage, analysis, and a look ahead to next season in the days and weeks to come.
In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.
Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.
To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.
Click here to revisit last year’s awards.
|Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson|
This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.
Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”
It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.
Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.
“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)
|Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.
“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”
Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.
As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.
“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schulz Defensive Player of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.
To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”
He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)
|Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison|
For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.
In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.
“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.
Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).
“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)
|Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State|
After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.
Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.
In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.
It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.
“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)
|Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern|
When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.
Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.
It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.
Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)
|Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force|
After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.
The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.
“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)
|Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.
While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.
“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”
Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*|
Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.
Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.
No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.
As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.
Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)
|Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon|
The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.
“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.
The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.
“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)
|Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan|
Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.
In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.
“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”
Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell|
William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.
The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.
“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)
|Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.
He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.
“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)
|Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs|
When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.
Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.
“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)
|Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)|
Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.
“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”
Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.
He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.
“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess|
Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.
Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.
“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ‘em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson|
Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.
“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”
“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner|
Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.
In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.
Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.
“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)
* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.
Tomorrow night, one of three men will be awarded college football’s most prestigious honor, the Heisman Trophy. Only three were invited to the ceremony this season instead of the usual five, but in reality only two of them have a chance of winning the award and only one is actually deserving. But in the wacky landscape of college football in 2012, it’s likely that the most deserving player, the one who fits the definition defined by the Heisman Trust, won’t take it home.
But that shouldn’t surprise anyone that has followed college football, especially over the last decade or so when the Internet, social media, and more televised games have allowed everyone to be an expert. The award voting involves more politics than Washington and that’s why Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o will likely win it tomorrow.
Te’o is a great player. He’s a great person. He has had a great career and he’s a great story. But none of that makes him the most outstanding player in the country whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.
His 103 total tackles are tied with Wyoming’s Corey Jones, Western Michigan’s Johnnie Simon, and Florida Atlantic’s Bret Harstad. Are any of those guys considered for the Heisman? How about the 51 players who had more tackles than him? Or the 58 who averaged more tackles per game?
But it’s not solely based on tackles is it? How about solo tackles? You know, tackles made by yourself without the help of a teammate. Te’o's 52 are fewer than at least 87 others. His average of 4.3 solo stops per game don’t even rank in the top 94.
Ok, so maybe it’s not simply about tackles, so how about tackles that mean something – tackles in the backfield? Te’o had just five-and-a-half (yes, 5.5) tackles for loss. That puts him far outside the top 100. Four Michigan players had as many or more, led by Jake Ryan’s 14.5.
So Te’o hasn’t been dominant in tackles, solo tackles, or tackles for loss; how about sacks? Surely the likely Heisman winner has been lethal in the backfield, right? Wrong. His 1.5 sacks are fewer than five Michigan defenders – and Michigan ranked 85th nationally in sacks.
So he’s clearly not one of the top 100 defenders in the country when it comes to tackles for loss or sacks, and barely cracks the top 100 for solo tackles. Are we sure we’re looking at the right player’s stats? Yep. So what other defensive categories are there that have him as the likely Heisman winner?
How about turnovers forced? Ding ding ding ding! Te’o collected seven interceptions this season, which are second nationally to Fresno State defensive back Phillip Thomas. So there you have it: the Heisman trophy is now the award for the linebacker who makes the most interceptions.
Look, Te’o is a great linebacker and will probably have a long NFL career, which is why he won the Nagurski (best defensive player) and Lombardi (best lineman) awards. But even those are debatable, given the numbers listed above. Let’s be real here: he has benefited greatly from a productive career at Notre Dame and a defense stocked with NFL talent.
If the trophy is truly for the most outstanding player, as the Heisman Trust mission statement reads, then Johnny Manziel is the winner hands down. He ranks second nationally in total offense and points responsible for, 18th in scoring, 16th in passing yards, 33rd in rushing, and 17th in pass efficiency. Name another player in the country that has had that much of an impact in that many categories. Here’s another exercise: name another player on Texas A&M’s team. If you’re not an Aggie fan, you probably can’t. His offense isn’t chocked full of next level talent and he still led it to be the nation’s third-best scoring offense – as a freshman.
Aaahhh, so there’s the main reason he likely won’t win the award. Many Heisman voters won’t vote for him simply because he’s a freshman (a redshirt freshman that is). No freshman has ever won the award, and the snooty voters who are willing to deny the most outstanding player the award simply to preserve that record should be stripped of their ability to vote. Manziel should be rewarded because he’s a freshman – a freshman that led what was previously a 7-6 team to a 10-2 record and an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the nation’s best conference. He shouldn’t be penalized for it. It makes what he has done this season that much more – wait for it – outstanding.
If Te’o wins the Heisman, it should officially be re-named the Popularity Contest Trophy. Te’o will earn the sentimental vote because of his career body of work, because he came back for his senior year, because of the personal tragedy he suffered mid-season, and because his team is ranked No.1. But it will completely render the trophy, as currently defined, illegitimate.
The only thing he has done spectacularly is intercept seven passes. Is that more impressive than scoring 43 touchdowns? Is it more outstanding than breaking the all-time SEC total offense record that was set by Cam Newton during his Heisman trophy-winning season? Year in school aside, there’s probably not a person outside of South Bend that would say yes to those questions. Which means that if Te’o wins the award for this season’s most outstanding player it will be because of those outside factors mentioned in the previous paragraph, which are not what the Heisman Trophy is for.
It’s too bad we’ll never see Manziel and Te’o battle it out on the field. It would be a good one to watch considering that entering this season (you know, since we’re apparently taking into account full careers now) Te’o couldn’t stop Denard Robinson. Instead, we’ll have to settle for the two battling it out on a stage in New York and hopefully the voters will uphold the integrity of the award by actually awarding it to the nation’s most outstanding player rather than one whose only distinguishing points among dozens of other linebackers are interceptions and a stellar career.
He’s as good as advertised
Last Friday night I had the chance to go see the nation’s top receiver, and one of Michigan’s top remaining targets, LaQuon Treadwell, play in person. His Crete Monee Warriors played previously unbeaten Glenbard South and came away with a dominating 45-7 win. Treadwell racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches through three quarters of play. With such a big lead, he didn’t play the fourth.
Treadwell’s team is loaded with talent, most notably linebacker Nyles Morgan, fellow receiver Lance Lenoir, and defensive back Jaylen Dunlap, but it was ever apparent that the offensive game plan could have simply been to throw it to Treadwell on every single play. And it would be just as effective. But in a team sport on a squad with other Division 1 prospects, they have to spread the wealth.
For a high school senior, he has perfect size, good hands, and enough shiftiness to turn a crossing route into a 75-yard touchdown. I was skeptical prior to the game. After all, how good can this kid be? But I was impressed. I guess that’s why the kid has offers from nearly every school in the country. Florida receivers coach Bush Hamdan (far right in photo) was on hand and Oklahoma State will be there this week. Treadwell visited Ole Miss on Saturday and would be a huge pick up if Brady Hoke is able to land him.
Treadwell also plays safety and kicker for the Warriors. At safety, he seemed to shy away from contact, and the one time he tried to make a big hit, he whiffed on the receiver who then ran untouched for an 84-yard touchdown. But that doesn’t take away from Treadwell’s receiving skills as he’s clearly a receiver first and foremost.
His teammate, Morgan, may have been the most impressive player on the field that night. He has offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Purdue, with interest from several others, including Michigan and Alabama. He’s currently just a junior, so he’ll be one to watch next season. He visited MSU last weekend. Please don’t end up there.
I’ve been meaning to pump the #Eating fundraiser for some time now, but it kept slipping my mind. Now that I’ve remembered, it has already reached its goal. But that doesn’t have to stop you from donating to this great cause.
If you’re not aware of it yet, it’s a project by former Michigan receiver Martavious Odoms. He’s trying to start a community garden in his hometown of Pahokee, Florida to “create jobs and provide job training, as well as provide positive activities for the youth.”
If you don’t know much about Pahokee, it’s a relatively poor town in south Florida with higher than average crime rates, but has produced an astonishing number of big time athletes. Unemployment rates are currently around nine percent and the percentage of college graduates is very low as well. Regardless of political affiliation, this is a cause to get behind since it involves one of our very own Wolverines serving and giving back to his community.
While the goal has already been met, there’s nothing that says Hope for Pahokee doesn’t need more. If you’re leery about where the funds will go, you can read about it on the Kickstarter page. Hope for Pahokee is using Urban Greenworks of Miami, which has successfully installed five urban gardens in Miami, to facilitate the project.
We’ve talked previously about the Legends jerseys that will be awarded this season and our view on them. I, like many others, thought Craig Roh was the logical choice to get Ron Kramer’s No. 87, but it was awarded to senior tight end Brandon Moore on Saturday afternoon. The previous week, Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 was awarded to sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan. This clears up a couple of things. First, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an upperclassman. Secondly, with Moore, it doesn’t have to be a star or a player who has made major contributions on the field.
It appears that the jerseys will be sought after by the players who get the distinction of wearing a jersey that commemorates a Michigan football legend and a special locker in the locker room. That means Desmond Howard’s No. 21, which was worn by Junior Hemingway last season and Roy Roundtree this year will likely be given to someone else next year, as will Kramer’s 87 that Moore will done for the remainder of 2012.
The next question is, who will be awarded Gerald Ford’s No. 48 and the Wistert brothers’ No. 11? Since it appears that each of them will, in fact, be awarded, my vote for 48 now goes to senior center Elliott Mealer. Unfortunately, unless Michigan can get the rules changed, which is highly unlikely, it has to go to a quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back, or linebacker. So how about Desmond Morgan? Like Ryan, he’s a young starting linebacker and plays the type of hard-nosed defense that would make ford, the former center, proud.
No. 11 also falls into the same number classification under NCAA guidelines, so my vote goes to Devin Funchess. Would the coaching staff give it to a freshman? Would they give it to another tight end? I’d say at this point it’s probably unlikely, but given the potential star ability of Funchess, it would be great to see. If not, how about sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy? He’s likely to be the starting quarterback next season and according to Sports Illustrated, the best player to ever wear No. 11 in the NFL was Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. But watching the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald pull down touchdown passes in No. 11, I can’t help but think how great it would look on Funchess before he makes a name for himself in 19.
Air Force was a trap game even before last week’s blowout loss to Alabama. The triple-option is not something many teams run and it is incredibly tough to defend, especially with only one week to prepare. The Falcons gave Michigan all they could handle and more but in the end came up just short of the upset.
Air Force looked very formidable up front on defense despite employing a 3-4 base look. On offense their up-tempo pace and multiple formations and movement confused Michigan to no end. However, most of the effective plays were those that went to the outside of the defense rather than up the middle.
|#19 Michigan 31 – Air Force 25
|214||Net Rushing Yards||290|
|208||Net Passing Yards||127|
|5-45||Penalties – Yards||5-35|
|3-114||Punts – Yards||2-107|
|24:38||Time of Possession||35:22|
|5-for-11||Third Down Conversions||12-for-21|
|0-for-0||Fourth Down Conversions||2-for-5|
|0-0||Sacks By – Yards||0-0|
|2-for-2||Red Zone Scores – Chances||4-for-6|
AF got the ball to start the game and used its unique offense to move the ball down the field with relative ease. The Falcons were stopped just inside the 30-yard line on third down by Jake Ryan and forced to attempt a field goal, which was missed wide left.
It didn’t take Michigan long to get on the scoreboard as Denard took the second play from scrimmage and bolted 79 yards for the touchdown. Fitzgerald Toussaint was neither effective, nor showcased in the game, but Denard more than made up for it with 218 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. The offense was reminiscent of the 2010 version of Rich Rodriguez’s read option.
Denard was also effective through the air, throwing for 208 yards and another two touchdowns. He did throw a pick, but overall he showed good poise in the pocket and mostly made the correct reads.
On defense, Michigan had trouble staying with its assignments and Air Force exploited it to the tune of 290 yards rushing. Running back Cody Getz had a three touchdown week, but Michigan held his rushing total to “only” 130 yards. The AF line looked dominant at the point of attack, despite being much smaller than Michigan’s defensive line, but I don’t know how much stock we should put in that. The triple-option is an unusual offense and hard to defend, so I would attribute the struggles to that rather than Michigan getting pushed around.
Air Force did dominate time of possession, 35:22 to Michigan’s 24:38. They controlled the ball by running it 71 times and it took its toll on the defense as the game wore on. But Michigan kept in the lead with its big plays – Denard’s 79-yard run in the first quarter and a 58-yard scamper to start the second half (on which he lost one of his untied shoes).
The Falcons kept the game fairly close throughout and threatened to take the lead late in the game, but Michigan stood tall and got some big stops to help seal the victory. Jibreel Black made one in the backfield on AF’s second to last possession and then Jake Ryan came up huge as he batted down the ball on AF’s final play on 4th-and-16.
On a “the future looks bright” note, true freshman Devin Funchess made quite a debut as he hauled in four catches for a team high 106 yards and one score. Funchess has great size and hopefully this is something we see more of as the year progresses. Michigan needs some more help at receiver and Funchess, along with Devin Gardner look like they could provide some. Speaking of, Devin Gardner also had a great showing as he grabbed a team high five receptions for 63 yards and a TD. But as per usual, it was Denard’s feet that helped win the game for Michigan.
The box score won’t tell the whole story and AF is a good team with a style that is unmatched. I didn’t expect the game to be so close, but in the end the Maize and Blue prevailed and that’s all that matters.
1. Denard Robinson
Passing: 14-25 208 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Rushing: 20 rushes for 218 yards, 2 touchdowns
Why? Denard accounted for 426 of Michigan’s 422 total yards. Yep, you read that right. He accounted for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense on Saturday and became the first FBS quarterback to record three 200-yard passing and 200-yard rushing games in a career. His touchdown runs of 79 yards and 56 yards electrified a Michigan running game that didn’t have much else. His lone interception went through the hands of Vincent Smith.
2. Devin Funchess
Receiving: 4 receptions for 108 yards, 1 touchdown
Why? The freshman tight end made a big splash in his first home game. He became the first Michigan tight end to record a 100-yard game since Jerame Tuman against Colorado in 1997. His size and athleticism make him a very tough matchup from the tight end position.
3. Jake Ryan
Defense: 11 tackles (7 solo, 4 assists), 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups
Why? Ryan became the first Michigan football player in 83 years to wear number 47 when he received the Bennie Oosterbaan “Legends” jersey. He led the team in tackles and pass breakups, the most important of which ended Air Force’s comeback attempt in the final minutes.
Check back Monday morning as Chris breaks down how Air Force was so successul against Michigan’s defense and what it means going forward.
With a few days remaining before Michigan opens up against Alabama, the excitement is building. We decided to take some time to have a little roundtable discussion about how we think the season will play out. You already know myself, Chris, Josh, and Matt from last season, but please welcome our newcomers, Katie and Sam. Visit our Meet the Staff page to get to know them. Below we discuss who we think will be the breakout players on each side of the ball, which games will give Michigan the most trouble, where we expect the most progression or regression, and our predictions for how the season will play out.
Who will be the breakout player on offense and why?
Justin: This is kind of a shot in the dark, but I’m going to go with freshman tight end Devin Funchess. We already know what receivers like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon can do, and same with running back Fitz Toussaint. The offensive line is pretty well established, but tight end is a position that needs someone to step up following the graduation of Kevin Koger.
While Funchess doesn’t yet have the frame to be an in-line blocking tight end, he’s extremely well built from a pass catching standpoint. The biggest trend in football over the past couple of years is athletic tight ends such as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski that can create matchup problems for a defense. Funchess has a chance to be just that. He’ll be a weapon in the red zone and will challenge the five touchdown catches that were posted by Benny Joppru in 2002, the most by a Michigan tight end since then.
Chris: Sophomore wide receiver Jerald Robinson. Robinson played in 11 games last year, primarily on special teams. He is a 6’1”, 206-pound prototype receiver more akin to the type of player Michigan fans are used to seeing out on the edge. He also has 4.5 speed in the 40 and is the second tallest receiver on the roster. With the departure of Daryl Stonum (who was dismissed), Robinson will likely be the third receiver, at a minimum, and I expect him to be a favorite target of Denard Robinson.
Josh: I think Thomas Rawls is primed to be the breakout player on offense. This is based on several factors and one major assumption. The assumption being Fitz Toussaint will be out at least a couple of games – I’m predicting three. In that case, Rawls is the “next guy” and will get the bulk of carries against Alabama, Air Force and UMass, and probably Notre Dame (or whomever Toussaint’s first game back is against).
We may not know much about Rawls on the field, but according to a friend of a friend who covered him while he was in high school in Flint, Rawls is a hard-working, humble kid who does not seem like the type to miss opportunities when given the chance. Fred Jackson has given high praise and Rawls has even drawn positive comparisons to another former Flint running back, Mark Ingram.
He is the type of back that Al Borges wants in this system – a powerful downhill runner who loves to dish out punishment as much as he relishes taking it from defenders. I think given the chance to be the number one guy, Rawls will make the most of it and not give it back once Toussaint returns. This quote by Borges sums it up for me and my case for Thomas Rawls:
“He’s reckless. He runs with a demeanor that’s aggressive,” Borges said. “That would probably be the best word. He looks like he’s mad when he runs sometimes. He’s a tough guy. You hit him, you’re going to feel him. I promise you that. You are going to feel him. There are times he is just simply not interested in avoiding you.”
Sounds like a true Michigan running back to me.
Matt: I think the offensive breakout star is going to be wide receiver Drew Dileo. With his speed and his ability to be able to pull in passes, watch him snag some great ones this year.
Katie: I’m going to go with receiver Drew Dileo. He is the third returning wide receiver on the depth chart, and while he does not have the height, Gallon is smaller and had three times as many yards receiving last season. Denard will be on the lookout for sure hands, and I think that Dileo will provide some peace of mind for our veteran quarterback. Robinson can’t favor one receiver – he doesn’t have the arm to thread the needle to a favorite. So I’m hoping Drew will become a key component to the offense this season.
Sam: For this team to be successful, or rather to be great, one of our receivers is going to need to show some consistency. Roundtree is probably the biggest name and Devin Gardner is receiving a lot of hype before he has ever lined up out wide, but I’m going in a different direction. Jeremy Gallon has always struck me as being very reliable despite not seeing a ton of targets and catching only 35 balls in his two seasons of seeing the field. He’s also very small, listed generously at 5’8″, 187 pounds, earning him the “Tiny Gallon” nickname I have bestowed upon him. Yes, I know Keith “Tiny” Gallon, formerly of Oklahoma, already stole that nickname, but it REALLY fits Jeremy well. Having said that, coaches have pointed out before that he plays bigger than what he is and usually catches the ball if it’s anywhere near his hands. He’s not a burner but he has plenty of speed and should be a terror if Denard can find him often. Bonus: He sometimes returns punts and you never know what can happen there.
Who will be the breakout player on defense and why?
Justin: I’m going to go with linebacker Desmond Morgan. Jake Ryan kind of had his coming out party last season and now it’s Morgan’s turn. Yes, he finished fifth on the team with 63 tackles, but I think this year he’s primed to dominate. Of his 63 tackles, 48 came in the final six games once he secured a starting spot. Project those over the full 13 game season and that’s 104 tackles. That’s more of what we can expect this year. Hoke had these kind words to say of Morgan in the spring:
“I think he’s a very instinctive football player. As a linebacker, I think that’s critical. He’s a guy who’s got a nice burst, will be physical at the point of attack.”
In his second year, he’s more comfortable – he admitted that he was terrified last season as a true freshman – and he’s had another year in Greg Mattison’s defense. Remember, Mattison coached Ray Lewis and the Ravens’ dominant defense, and his teaching is some of the best in football. Watch out for Morgan this season.
Chris: Sophomore defensive end Brennen Beyer. Like my breakout player pick on offense, Beyer is also a sophomore who played in 11 games last season at linebacker and recorded 11 tackles. He also runs a 4.5 40, which should provide good speed off the edge for the Michigan pass rush. Senior defensive tackle William Campbell comes in at a close second place. Campbell has not yet lived up to his highly touted rating coming out of high school, but this year he seems to be more focused in offseason workouts and fall camp. The defense will need him to step after heavy losses on the defensive line due to graduation.
Josh: I was torn between Blake Countess and Ondre Pipkins (I have zero confidence Will Campbell does anything of note this year and feel strongly that Pipkins is the guy who will step in when that happens) for my breakout defensive player but I finally decided on Countess, though it was very close.
Countess plays well in space and has shown he is not afraid to mix it up and lay a hit on someone, something I love to see in my corners. He has a good work ethic and has said his struggles last season came from “bad eyes” (poor reads) and has made it a point to study more film in the offseason. The biggest knock on Countess might be his lack of “ideal” size, though at 5’10″, 180 pounds, he’s not exactly diminutive.
As a true freshman, Countess appeared in 12 games and started the last six at corner, joining the ranks of Donovan Warren, Marlin Jackson and the great Charles Woodson as freshman who started at CB for Michigan. He was second on the team with six pass breakups (most by a frosh since Jackson over a decade ago) and recorded five or more tackles six times, including a career high eight total (six solo) against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Some games were good and some left something to be desired and he did not end the season on a high note against Ohio and Virginia Tech (despite his tackle total against VT). However, players often make large jumps from year one to year two, and I think Countess will be pushed enough by both himself and the staff to make a significant jump in his play. The fact that he got a lot of playing time and ended the season with six straight starts only fuels the fire of potential offseason improvement.
Early in the spring, AnnArbor.com quoted Brady Hoke saying to Countess, ”The dumbest guys on the team are the freshman, and the biggest problems are sophomores that played as freshman.”
Countess has taken that to heart and is using Hoke’s words as even more motivation to not become complacent.
I don’t expect him to be Charles Woodson, nor will I ever, but Countess should be much improved in year two, along with the rest of the defense, and I fully expect him to be a solid No. 1 CB for the next couple of years.
Matt: The defense is young, especially up front, and it’s going to be scary until it has gotten a couple of games under its belt, but the breakout star will be linebacker Jake Ryan. He’s a really good defensive player capable of racking up sacks and recovering fumbles. He hasn’t snagged an interception yet, but with his height, I would think it’s a good possibility that he can pull one or two in.
Katie: Defensive tackle William Campbell. He’s been a regular, but not as a starter. I think he’ll reach the potential we all saw in him when he came out of Cass Tech. We also need to bring pressure, and hopefully he will provide the burst we need in the middle.
Sam: I think Blake Countess or Desmond Morgan might be the popular choices here, and I have no qualms with that, but again I am looking at a position that should be crucial to Michigan’s defensive success – defensive line. And no, I’m not picking Craig Roh or Will Campbell. I am going with Jibreel Black. Black is big enough to take on blockers and quick enough to provide a good pass threat, but he has never really put together a string of successful games. I think that will change this year with his position move to the inside. Look for him to have a consistent impact on games this season with at least a few game-changing plays thrown in there.
What game(s) on the schedule concern you and why?
Justin: The obvious is the opener against Alabama and the finale at Ohio State, but I think the midseason trip to Lincoln will be a pivotal game. It’s the week after a tough battle against Michigan State and it’s a night game. Nebraska is notoriously tough to beat at home, especially at night, so it will be tough for Michigan to come away with a win. Michigan State and Notre Dame certainly won’t be easy, but I do think those are two that Michigan should win. The Nebraska game could be the game that decides the Legends division title.
Chris: October 27 at Nebraska. Michigan will be coming off a highly emotional game against Michigan State (who it has lost to four times in a row) and the game is in Lincoln, which is always a tough place to play. Nebraska returns 14 starters from last year, including all of their primary skill position players, and, as is the standard at Nebraska in most seasons, their defense should be stout. September 22 at Notre Dame will also be tough as ND will be looking for revenge. November 24 at Ohio State is always a tough game no matter which year The Game is being played, but this will be OSU’s bowl game.
Josh: Alabama is the obvious concern on the schedule so I won’t pick it. A loss wouldn’t particularly hurt Michigan’s season too much, if at all. We have Sparty at home this year and they will be tough, but I think these seniors will refuse to leave Michigan 0-4 against MSU. The game at Nebraska will be tough but I have little faith in Taylor Martinez and according to the Internet chatter, even Husker Nation is chalking this one up as a loss, for them!
At Ohio is my pick for game that concerns me the most. Not because they are a better team and definitely not because of Urban Meyer. I mean, the “greatest college recruiter” has been seriously lacking in his 2013 class while Michigan has completely raided all the best players in Ohio.
With no postseason in site because of “TatGate,” this will be Ohio’s bowl game. Both teams hate the other and always play hard, and no one wants to say they lost to their rival two years in a row. The ‘Shoe is a tough place to play for anyone and it is going to be a loud, raucous place come the end of November. I fully expect Ohio to come out and leave it all on the field. A win for Ohio could mean no Big Ten title game and BCS appearance for Michigan. Nothing would make Ohio fans happier than to dash Michigan’s hopes and leave Denard with no Big Ten titles in his four years.
This is Urban Meyer’s first Michigan game as head coach and he definitely understands the importance of The Game. I’m sure he will have his guys jacked up to beat Michigan at all costs, and that is what really scares me. This is a team with nothing to lose, against a hated rival who beat them last year. I’m not saying Ohio will play dirty, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Hoke will have his kids ready to play each and every week and more against Ohio, but playing a tough team in their house when they have nothing to lose worries me more than a little.
Matt: There are quite a few games of concern this season. Obviously, Alabama is a concern. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame will always be concerns. I also am a little worried about Iowa.
Katie: Ohio State and Michigan State. Ohio State is an away game and both teams have a long list of returning starters on defense. And, of course, both are huge rivalry games. Pride is on the line as well as a win or loss. I’m concerned also about the Meyer vs. Hoke culmination in The Game; will this be the start of another ten year war?
Sam: Obviously the schedule is quite a bit tougher this season than last, so this question isn’t too hard. Alabama scares me immensely right out of the gate, even though they did lose a ton of talent. Saban’s third string is probably good enough to win the Big East, and his first string will be faster, stronger, and tougher than just about any team out there. I just don’t know if we have the girth in the trenches or the talent everywhere else to play with them, but we shall see. Notre Dame will also be a tough game in South Bend, but it’s Notre Dame. Michigan State has beaten us four times in a row, but I expect us to have plenty of fire to put them back in their place. And Ohio State in Columbus will be no gimme.
Where do you expect to see the most improvement or regression from last year?
Justin: I certainly don’t expect much regression, except in the win-loss column. An 11-2 season is too much to expect from a team with questions on the defensive line and one of the toughest schedules in the nation. As for improvements, I think the offense will be more crisp. It’s the second year in Al Borges’ system, so Denard Robinson and company will have more ability to make plays as opposed to thinking about the offense. There will be more room for expanding the playbook as well.
Chris: I expect to see the most improvement on offense this season. This will be the second year in offensive coordinator Al Borges’ system and the players should be used to the terminology and play-calling. I also expect the running game to be even better and more developed as the running backs and linemen have had a year to better their skills in the power running game.
Josh: I think the offense will see the most progression over last year. Denard is not Tom Brady or Chad Henne and he will never be – he’s just not that type of quarterback and that’s fine. But the good thing is he doesn’t need to be. All he really needs to do is make better reads, not throw off his back foot, and just tuck and run when no one is open instead of waiting around. Better decision making and play recognition will do wonders for his passing game, and those will most assuredly come in year two under this system.
Denard Robinson is a smart young man, and he is not oblivious to the criticism about his passing game. He knows what areas need improvement. By all accounts, Denard has worked on those areas diligently. Much like I knew Michigan could only get better from 2010 to 2011, I am expecting the same from Denard and the offense. More experience in the system and an offseason to learn from your mistakes in year one bodes well for the Maize and Blue.
I don’t expect 50 points a game, but with an improvement in the passing game defenses will no longer be able to focus on stopping Denard’s running ability. And that my friends will open up the floodgates for Borges and his play calling.
Matt: I think the offense is going to only get better. As far as defense, we’ll really need the young guys to step up.
Katie: The passing game should improve with a senior Denard Robinson. I hope that Denard will finally show us that he is as capable a passer as a runner. Well, almost as capable, since comparing his scrambling and dashing skills to anything makes the order a tall one.
Sam: Probably another cookie-cutter answer from me here, but I think we will see the most improvement in Denard’s pass game and the biggest regression in the turnover battle. In his second year under Al Borges and his fourth season overall, Robinson is going to make better decisions and smarter throws. Or the other way around. Expect to see his interception totals dip just below double digits. Speaking of turnovers though, I just don’t see any way our plus-seven from last year holds up. And yes, I did just say I think our interception numbers will drop significantly. We recovered 20 fumbles and lost six fumbles in 13 games. While the former number probably had something to do with a better defense in general, I do not believe we will see more than 12 fumbles recovered this season. And, as much as it hurts to say, we could easily cough the ball up four or five more times than last season.
What is your prediction for the season (record, finish in the Big Ten, bowl game)?
Justin: Although I certainly hope for the better, I think Michigan will finish 9-3 in the regular season with losses to Alabama, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Nebraska will lose at Michigan State, Ohio State, and one more – perhaps the season ending game against Iowa. Michigan State will lose to Michigan and either Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Iowa. That will set up a tie for the Legends division title between Michigan and Michigan State, sending Michigan to the title game thanks to a head-to-head win over the Spartans to face Wisconsin. With three losses, Michigan likely won’t wind up in a BCS game unless it wins the Big Ten title game, so either the Rose Bowl or the Capital One Bowl are the likely destinations.
Chris: Michigan certainly has a chance to win the Big Ten this year, but they face a tough conference slate of games (at Nebraska, at OSU, vs MSU). They also face the defending national champions Alabama (in Dallas) and must play Notre Dame in South Bend under the lights in a revenge game. I see the Wolverines losing to Alabama in the opener, but in a closer game than most people expect. I like Michigan at home against MSU, but if UM does win this game, they will need to re-focus quickly for a tough test at Nebraska. Playing in Columbus against OSU will also be extremely tough in what I already mentioned will be OSU’s bowl game.
Josh: Predicting this season is quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve done in a long time – sports-wise anyway. I think any number of things could happen and without knowing how much Denard has progressed and how the defensive line is going to look and play, I’m not sure I can give you anything more than a couple shots in the dark. But here goes…
IF Denard improves enough to make the defense respect his passing ability AND the defense picks up where it left off last season, I think this is an 11-1 team heading to the Big Ten title game and most likely the Rose Bowl.
If neither of those two happen or if just one happens, I think this is more of a 9-3 team, with no shot at the Big Ten title game.
No one in the out-of-conference schedule scares me other than Alabama, and I would honestly be shocked if Michigan returned to A2 from the Jerry Dome 1-0. Sparty, Nebraska and Ohio will all be tough games and if Michigan is not at the top of their game for all three then losing two out of three is entirely possible, though I think it is unlikely they lose more than one of them.
Given what I know and how I feel about Team 133, I’d have to say 10-2, with losses to Alabama and, please forgive me, Ohio, still going to the Big Ten title game but no Rose Bowl. Ever the pessimist, I just don’t think they’ll be quite stout enough on defense to stop Wisconsin’s running game.
But hey, this team defied the odds last year and played with some incredible passion and pride that hadn’t been seen since Mike Hart and Chad Henne were in the backfield. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong about the Ohio and Big Ten title games and they’re 12-1 headed to the Rose Bowl to dash Matt Barkley’s dreams.
Matt: I’m predicting a 10-2 record. Who will the two losses be? I’m not sure yet, but I can definitely see Michigan going to the Big Ten Championship and taking on defending champion Wisconsin.
Katie: 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten. Hopefully a run for the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth.
Sam: I hate predicting football records. Period. I go through the games one at a time and have a hard time thinking Michigan will ever lose no matter how good our team is and how good the other team is. But if I must, I must. Without even looking at the schedule (or else the prediction would be 13-0), I am going to say 9-3 regular season with wins in the Big Ten Championship game and a win in a New Year’s Day bowl that is not also a BCS bowl. I just don’t see how we can get through a top-five SOS without a few chinks in the armor by season’s end. Whether we will have two losses in-conference or out-of-conference is anyone’s guess right now, but I think we will have at least one loss in Big Ten play and a loss to Alabama as well. Let’s all hope I’m wrong.
When Brady Hoke took over in January 2011, he stressed that his team would be tougher and would get back to playing Michigan football. He inherited a very talented offense, but it was the defensive side of the ball that would make or break the season. Hoke hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to lead the charge and it was the first indication that Hoke was the right man for the job.
Mattison had a tall task at hand, trying to turn one of the worst defenses in Michigan history into something resembling a Michigan defense of the past. But he had years of experience at the highest levels to draw from, including a stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 1995-96, erecting what would become a year later one of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen.
All he did was transform a team that allowed 35.2 points and 450.8 total yards per game the previous year into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense, giving up just 17.4 points and 322.2 yards per game. Even the most die-hard of Michigan fans didn’t see that coming.
With the majority of starters returning this season, and an offense expected to take a leap forward, is there any room for the defense to improve on last year? Let’s examine the players who will man the Michigan defense.
By far, the biggest question on defense is the line. The graduation of the big three – Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Will Heininger – leave the Wolverines with just one player who has started a game on the line. That player is senior Craig Roh who has started every single game since he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago.
This season, Roh is switching from weak-side to strong-side to fill the spot vacated by Van Bergen. Roh has put on about 20 pounds to get his weight up to 281, slightly less than what Van Bergen played at. He says it’s a more natural fit and he’ll need to have the same impact that RVB did for Michigan’s defense to be successful.
On the other side will be sophomore Brennen Beyer who is also new at the position. He played in 11 games at linebacker last season and is now taking over the weak-side end position. He was in a battle with Frank Clark for the spot, but Clark’s legal woes opened the door for Beyer.
In the middle, senior William Campbell’s time has finally come. He arrived at Michigan as a hyped-up five-star, but has disappointed so far. This offseason, he has trimmed down to a slim 308 pounds and has drawn praise from the coaches for his improvement and leadership. It’s probably too much to expect him to perform to Martin’s level, but if he can clog the middle well enough, it will go a long way towards forging a tough defensive line.
Joining Campbell is Jibreel Black, a junior who hasn’t yet started a game but has played in 26 career games. The last two seasons, he was a reserve defensive end, but Hoke asked him to add weight and move to the 3-tech position to replace Heininger. It has been a bit of an adjustment, moving from outside to inside, but after bulking up to 279, he still hasn’t lost his quickness.
“He’ll be the most quick 3-tech you’ll see in the Big Ten this year,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan.
If that’s the case, he’s in for a big year, but we’ll find out from the start when he goes up against what will likely be the best offensive line in the nation in week one.
Backups: The aforementioned Frank Clark is in line for major playing time at defensive end, but it largely depends on the outcome of his legal troubles. His pretrial date is Sept. 11 and it’s hard to imagine he’ll see the field before then. If and when he does, he’ll be a valuable asset. He played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recorded 10 tackles, and picked off a pass in the Sugar Bowl to set up Michigan’s second touchdown.
Richard Ash is a is a big bodied sophomore waiting to fill in in the middle. Freshman Ondre Pipkins is another. Pipkins was the subject of a scare last week when he had an apparent neck injury in practice and was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be nothing more than a stinger and he was back at practice a few days later. Both he and Ash have drawn praise throughout camp. Quinton Washington is another guy who will rotate in. He has about a dozen games worth of experience in his career.
For the first time in years heading into the season linebacker will be a position of strength for the Michigan defense. It helps that the guys playing the position were recruited as linebackers rather than as defensive backs and converted to linebacker.
The leader is senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens. An All-Big Ten honorable mention performer last season, Demens became a stalwart in the middle. He had his share of struggles in his first year in Greg Mattison’s defense, but became more consistent as the year went on. This year, with a full understanding of the defense and a lighter frame, he should thrive.
Jake Ryan had a good season as a redshirt freshman last year and is poised to break out in 2012. He made 11 tackles for loss last season and added 12 pounds since then to help him shed more blocks.
Desmond Morgan will get the nod at the weak-side spot. He impressed as a true freshman in 2011 and despite being slightly undersized has a great football mind. Better consistency should be expected this season with a year under his belt.
Backups: Most of the backups that will play key roles are freshmen, but before we get to them, let’s talk about a couple of upperclassmen who have experience. Redshirt junior Cameron Gordon and senior Brandin Hawthorne both have plenty of experience. Gordon is a journeyman who went from receiver to safety to linebacker. He has played in 20 career games, starting 13. He has enough athleticism to give Michigan a solid backup to Ryan. Hawthorne is also a converted safety with good playmaking ability.
A host of freshmen will push for time. Joe Bolden, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, will see snaps at middle linebacker. He has great football instincts and great potential. Kaleb Ringer and James Ross will likely push for action at weak-side linebacker to spell Morgan. Ringer also enrolled early and has a ton of potential. Ross will likely redshirt but you never know.
Michigan was known for putting out great defensive backs throughout the 90s and early 2000s, but the past few years have been a letdown due to a combination of injuries, poor recruiting, and attrition. This year, Michigan enters the season with the secondary full of veterans.
The leader is obviously Jordan Kovacs. You know his story – from walk-on to four-year starter. He’s on several preseason awards watch lists and has defied logic his entire career. He’s sure to be a team captain when Hoke announces them. He’s a great tackler, he’s smart, and he loves to blitz and disrupt the quarterback.
Thomas Gordon has started 14 games and is a hard-hitting safety who recovered a Big Ten-best four fumbles last season. He was the team’s third-leading tackler a year ago.
At the cornerback spot, Blake Countess is a rising star. He grabbed the starting job as a true freshman last year and had a great season all things considered. He struggled down the stretch against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but the experience should help him grow this season.
J.T. Floyd has started 22 games and is the most veteran cornerback on the team. He had a surprisingly good season last year and will look to cap off a pretty good career this season.
Backups: Marvin Robinson and Jarrod Wilson are the main backups at safety. Robinson came in with a lot of hype but has yet to make his mark. Wilson is a freshman who, like Bolden and Ringer, enrolled early. He has a lot of upside even if he doesn’t see the field much this season. Josh Furman is also an option, though like Robinson, hasn’t lived up to his recruiting hype to date.
At cornerback, Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Delonte Hollowell are the main players. Avery started some games two years ago before the new coaching staff came in, so he’s a pretty good third option. Taylor and Hollowell don’t have much experience – just spot duty last year – but could develop into decent corners in the next couple of years.
For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.
Tomorrow: Record Watch
Friday: Schedule Predictions
Michigan’s first half against Northwestern on Saturday was eerily reminiscent of the Rich Rodriguez tenure. The offense was able to move the ball almost at will but turned the ball over instead of scoring. The defense couldn’t stop Northwestern’s offense, missed tackles, and looked all-around sloppy.
But the second half was a different story. It proved that this year’s coaching staff with Brady Hoke at the helm and Al Borges and Greg Mattison leading the offensive and defensive units, respectively, is the antitheses of a Rich Rodriguez-coached team.
While Brian at MGoBlog doesn’t think coaching adjustments were the difference in the second half, or that they had any bearing on the outcome, I beg to differ. His premise is that the coaches telling Denard to throw the ball better and moving linebacker Jake Ryan to cover the slot were the reasons for the second half turnaround. Both of which are probably true, but also short-sighted.
First of all, moving Ryan to the slot is, in fact, a coaching adjustment to counter what Northwestern’s offense was doing in the first half. It took Michigan’s defense from this:
Admittedly, I’m not a coach and I wasn’t in the halftime locker room on Saturday, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that adjustments were made. It was more than just better athletes overtaking weaker athletes on the field over the course of 60 minutes. Sure, that’s probably some part of it, but the adjustments that were made at the half allowed those better athletes to make the plays they weren’t making in the first half.
One needs to look no farther than the plays pictured above. The Wildcats came out in the second half with Persa running an option to the left – the same play that worked over and over again in the first half – and Michigan strung it out for a one-yard loss. The defense was ready for it and hell-bent on keeping it from beating them again. That change that Brian said was made – moving Jake Ryan to the slot – was the one that caused that play to be made as Ryan cut off the pitch forcing Persa back into the line.
Over the course of the final 25 minutes of the game, Northwestern never went back to the option. The Wildcats ran it several times in the first half for with good results and all three touchdowns, but abandoned it after Michigan proved it could stop it in the second half. To me, that’s a significant adjustment.
Another adjustment made by Mattison was pulling the linebackers back off the line of scrimmage a bit in the second half, allowing them more time to read the option and clog the middle of the field on the short passes. Here are Northwestern’s three first half touchdowns:
Here are the linebackers in the second half:
In the first half, with the linebackers sucked up into the line, they had no chance to cut off the option on the edge, leaving it all to the safeties. In the second half, the linebackers had more room to survey the play and get into correct position.
Now the question becomes was it Michigan’s defensive adjustments that kept Northwestern from effectively moving the ball in the second half, or was it Northwestern’s playcalling that got away from what was working in the first? I submit that not only did Mattison’s adjustments force Northwestern out of its offensive game plan, but so did Michigan’s offensive adjustments.
On the offensive side of the ball, as Chris said in yesterday’s Monday Morning Quarterback, Borges stopped running so many two-back sets and went to the zone-read that Denard runs so well. In the passing game, he transitioned from a downfield passing game to a more methodical passing attack with shorter routes and play-action. The result was a more controlled clock-chewing offense.
Michigan had drives of 8 plays, 80 yards, TD (4:08); 12 plays, 80 yards, TD (6:29); 6 plays, 47 yards, TD (1:56); 6 plays, 28 yards, missed FG (3:43); and 9 plays, 53 yards, TD (4:43).
Five drives that took up 21 minutes of game time on 41 plays, keeping Northwestern’s offense off the field. Taking care of the football with a more controlled passing game and Denard-focused running game allowed Michigan to punch in four second half touchdowns and forced Northwestern to play catch-up, which isn’t the style of its offense. It’s not just telling Denard, “Hey man, how about you stop throwing interceptions.” It’s tweaking the offensive game plan to allow him to play confidently.
I like what Borges has done this season, trying different sets, formations, and plays to see what works, and if it’s not working, going back to the bread and butter. It feels strange to say this since Rodriguez was considered such an offensive innovator, but Borges seems to have much more creativity and proclivity for trying it out than Rodriguez did.
I don’t mind Borges keeping Denard in the pocket and allowing him to make reads at the beginning of games because he’s got to be able to do so in order to progress as a quarterback. But when it wasn’t working, he’s shown a willingness to get back to what Denard does best. Denard is absolutely capable of making good throws downfield, but to this point, he hasn’t shown he can make the right decisions when facing pressure. That’s when he tends to abandon his footwork and throw off his back foot or overthrow the receiver, and that’s what happened in the first half.
Maybe we are so jaded from the last three years of second half floodgates, but having a coaching staff capable of out-foxing the opposing team’s adjustments is a beautiful thing. It makes big games like Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State look entirely winnable, and like I said last week, even in loss, it will always keep Michigan in the game to the end.
[The Rear View Mirror is a column in which we will periodically reflect on certain aspects of Michigan's play, whether in the previous game or the season as a whole, and apply it to the bigger picture. The aim is to not just recap or preview a game, but to put everything into a bigger context.]
For the second consecutive week Michigan got off to a strong start, scoring on its opening drive en route to a dominating victory. This time, Minnesota was the foe, and while the Gophers aren’t exactly the class of the Big Ten, no other Michigan team has ever beaten Minnesota as badly as it did today.
Vincent Smith scored a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and threw a touchdown pass to lead Michigan to a 58-0 win, its first shutout since beating Notre Dame 38-0 in 2007, and its first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since a 20-0 victory over Penn State in 2001.
|#19 Michigan 58 – Minnesota 0
|363||Net Rushing Yards||73|
|217||Net Passing Yards||104|
|3-24||Penalties – Yards||9-74|
|2-75||Punts – Yards||10-363|
|36:22||Time of Possession||23:38|
|6-for-11||Third Down Conversions||0-for-11|
|0-for-0||Fourth Down Conversions||0-for-0|
|3-16||Sacks By – Yards||1-8|
|8-for-9||Red Zone Scores – Chances||0-for-1|
Denard Robinson hit Jeremy Gallon for nine yards to start the game. On the next play Devin Gardner came in and handed off to Denard, who then pitched it to Fitz Toussaint for a three-yard loss. Toussaint, however, made up for it two plays later when he busted through the line for a 35 yard rush. Three plays later, Vincent Smith punched it in from 3 yards out to put Michigan ahead 7-0.
After a three-and-out by Minnesota, which was forced by a third-down sack by Ryan Van Bergen, Michigan took over at its own 25. Denard drove the Wolverines 67 yards in four plays to get inside the Gopher 10. Two plays later, Denard took it in.
Minnesota suffered through another three-and-out before punting it back to Michigan. Nine plays later, two of which included a pass to Devin Gardner and a 15-yard run by Gardner, Michigan found itself in the endzone again. This time it was a Smith touchdown pass to Drew Dileo on a beautifully disguised play that had the entire state of Minnesota thinking it was a sweep play.
Minnesota managed to get their first first down of the game on its next play, but when faced with a third-and-one, took a three-yard loss when Jake Ryan sacked Max Shortell.
Michigan picked up where it left off with Fitz Touissaint rushing for 24 yards and Junior Hemingway catching a nine-yarder. After an offside penalty, Denard rolled right and found Vincent Smith wide open on a screen to the left. Smith, doing what he does best, found a seam and took it to the house from 28 yards out.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, with 9:38 left in the second quarter, Vincent Smith had a rushing TD, a passing TD and a receiving TD. Smith became the first major college running back to score on the ground, through the air as a passer and a receiver since Clemson’s C.J Spiller in 2009.
After a seven-yard rush by David Cobb, Jibreel Black introduced himself to Shortell for a sack. Black was the third Wolverine in the mix after Jake Ryan and Mike Martin laid their hands on Shortell to slow him down.
Michigan “stalled” on its next drive and settled for a Brendan Gibbons 25-yard field goal to go up 31-0.
Minnesota used its next drive to march into Michigan’s side of the field for the first time (I guess the Gophers weren’t in a hurry to score). Unfortunately for them it was short-lived as Brandon Green was stripped by Blake Countess and Carvin Johnson recovered it. On the play preceding the fumble we had a Will Campbell sighting in the backfield as he bull rushed the center and laid a huge hit on Shortell as he let go of the pass. It took a bit longer than I would have liked but at least we’re beginning to see glimpses of the what the former five-star recruit can do. Hopefully he can make a habit of sitting on the quarterback a la former Wolverine Alan Branch.
Michigan proceeded to move the ball 36 yards before Denard hit a streaking Kevin Koger for a touchdown to put the Wolverines up 38-0. Minnesota ran out the clock for halftime.
Michigan outgained Minnesota 384-69 in the first half alone.
The second half was more of the same as Minnesota struggled to move the ball and Michigan moved almost at will. After Michigan scored to go up 45-0, Minnesota showed some life, taking the ensuing kick off 96 yards for a TD. However, it was called back for an illegal block and the Gophers had to punt the ball away.
It was at this point, a little more than midway through the third quarter, that Denard’s day was over. Devin Gardner came in and drove Michigan down to the Gopher 15 and Gibbons kicked a 32-yard field goal to put the Wolverines up 48-0.
After another Gopher three-and-out, Michigan took over on its own 20. After a mix of plays, including runs by Gardner and 38 total rushing yards on the drive by Thomas Rawls, Michigan found itself forced to kick yet another field goal. Gibbons connected on a 38-yarder and Michigan topped the 50 point mark for the first time this season.
Two drives later, after Minnesota took over in great field position, David Cobb took the hand off and ran 28 yards to the Michigan 20. It appeared as if the Gophers would finally get on the scoreboard. Cobb took the ensuing hand off and ran right, but Michigan defensive lineman Nathan Brink came from behind and popped the ball out. It bounced right into the hands of Courtney Avery who took it to the house for an 83 yard fumble return TD. 58-0.
Minnesota went three-and-out its next drive and Michigan ran out the final 3:09 of the game. Rawls grabbed another 34 yards rushing and Gardner added another 15 to his total as well.
Denard was 15-for-19 for 169 yards, 2 touchdowns and most importantly, no interceptions. He also added another 51 on the ground and a rushing tuchdown.
Fitz Touissaint rushed for a career high 108 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown and true freshman Thomas Rawls gained 73 on 10 carries.
All-in-all, it was a great day to be a Wolverine. While Minnesota is not the cream of the crop by any stretch Michigan still showed significant improvement. The defense was getting good pressure and didn’t seem to be out of place too often. Borges finally got really creative with his play-calling and put Denard and the offense in position to make some nice, easy throws. There weren’t many down-field tosses by Denard, but he managed the passing game well and should have gained some confidence in his arm and decision making ability as Michigan heads to Evanston, Ill. next week to take on Northwestern.