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Posts Tagged ‘Jarrod Wilson’

#17 Michigan 49 – Rutgers 16: Rudock career high leads Michigan past Rutgers

Sunday, November 8th, 2015


Peppers vs Rutgers(MGoBlue.com)

It took 146 years, but the winningest program in college football history finally topped the nation’s oldest program for the first time ever on Saturday afternoon. Michigan avenged last season’s 26-24 loss in Piscataway with a dominating 49-16 victory in the Big House on Military Appreciation Day.

About the only thing that didn’t go right for Michigan’s offense was a sloppy opening possession that began with a fumble that was overturned and ended with a missed 37-yard field goal. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on their next five possessions — scored points on eight of their next nine — to blow out the Scarlet Knights.

UM-Rutgers-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Rutgers
Score 49 16
Record 7-2 (4-1) 3-6 (1-5)
Total Yards 487 225
Net Rushing Yards 150 128
Net Passing Yards 337 97
First Downs 25 17
Turnovers 0 1
Penalties-Yards 6-60 7-80
Punts-Yards 3-133 7-245
Time of Possession 33:04 26:56
Third Down Conversions 7-of-13 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-32 0-0
Field Goals 2-for-3 3-for-3
PATs 5-for-5 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 8-of-9 3-of-4
Full Box Score

Jake Rudock threw for a career high 337 yards on just 18 completions and Michigan racked up a season high 487 total yards of offense. The Michigan defense held Rutgers out of the end zone, allowing just three field goals, while the special teams gave up a kickoff return touchdown to Janarion Grant — his fourth return for a score this season.

Rudock had touchdown passes to Jehu Chesson (13 yards) and Amara Darboh (eight yards) and also ran one in himself from four yards out. Drake Johnson had a one-yard touchdown run and De’Veon Smith a four-yarder. But Michigan’s most impressive touchdown came from jack of all trades Jabrill Peppers, who took a bubble screen at the 18, made a man miss, and then zig-zagged through the Rutgers defense into the end zone. Kenny Allen added a pair of second half field goals from 34 yards and 28 yards out to reach the game’s final score.

When Michigan scored its first touchdown of the second half to take a 41-16 lead, Jim Harbaugh elected to go for two and Rudock carried it in for the conversion. Harbaugh dismissed the decision as “playing the percentages” because “that’s what the chart says.” But the players revealed a different igniter: Rutgers players chirping in the tunnel at halftime.

“They were just saying things like ‘oh yeah, it’s our time in the second half’ or ‘we’re the comeback kids,'” said Peppers, a New Jersey native. “Or ‘these guys can’t really finish games.”

Cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who broke Michigan’s single season record with his 19th pass breakup, echoed his secondary mate and paraphrased Harbaugh’s halftime direction.

“Put the foot on the gas, and finish these guys off,” Lewis said.

Were those his exact words?

“I can’t really repeat what he said,” Lewis responded, laughing. “He wanted to bring that fire back in the second half and finish them off.”

Rutgers managed to gain 110 yards from there on, but no points. Chris Laviano went just 11 of 26 for 97 yards and an interception. Running back Robert Martin managed 81 yards on 10 carries thanks to a few big runs, which Harbaugh attributed to the Scarlet Knights “trapping us.”

For Michigan, Smith led the way on the ground with 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Johnson gained 27 yards and a score on seven carries. Jake Butt recorded his first career 100-yard receiving game with four receptions for 102 yards.

At 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan now has a great opportunity to win the Big Ten East division with just three games remaining. Michigan State fell by one point to Nebraska on Saturday night. The Spartans visit unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 21, and if the Buckeyes win that one as expected, Michigan needs only to win out to capture the division and a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Michigan travels to Bloomington, Ind. next Saturday for a 3:30pm tilt with the Indiana Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5).

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Rudock (18 of 25 for 337 yards, 2 TDs, 1 carry for 4 yards, 1 TD)
If you ask most Michigan fans, the main thing holding Michigan back in Jim Harbaugh’s first season is the lack of an explosive playmaker at quarterback. But Jake Rudock has been improving and looking more comfortable in the Michigan offense each week, and he had his best game of the season on Saturday. The senior Iowa transfer completed 18 of 25 passes for a career high 337 yards and two touchdowns. He also evaded pressure and beat the Rutgers defense to the pylon for a four-yard touchdown run, and ran in a two-point conversion. He looked comfortable and confident all game before giving way to Wilton Speight in the fourth quarter.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Week 7 — Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (4 carries for 16 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for 41 yards, 1 kick return for 43 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Chris Wormley (4 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks)
After shredding opposing offensive lines in the first two weeks of the season, Chris Wormley has been relatively quiet the last six weeks. But he broke out again against Rutgers on Saturday with a pair of sacks of quarterback Chris Laviano. The first came on 3rd-and-5 from the Michigan 5-yard line, forcing Rutgers to kick a field goal. The second also came on third down, this time on Rutgers’ first possession of the second half, forcing a punt. Wormley now ranks fifth in the Big Ten in solo tackles for loss with 10 and has been a crucial part of one of the nation’s top defenses.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Week 7 — Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Week 8 — James Ross (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)

Predicting Michigan 2015: The secondary

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Secondary

Jabrill Peppers(Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers

The unit with the most room to improve on Michigan’s defense under Jim Harbaugh is the secondary, which has been a weakness over the past few seasons. With the departure of both preseason starting cornerbacks from last season, Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, there’s room for new guys to step in and make some noise under the new regime.

Luckily, there’s plenty of depth at both cornerback and safety for the Wolverines. A few younger players stepped in and played heightened roles during the 2014 season and figure to hold the reins heading into Week 1 against Utah.

Here’s a look at how the secondary will line up.

Probable starters

Jourdan-Lewis-vs-Miami-OH

Jourdan Lewis looks to build on a breakout season in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

While the cornerback group might not have the depth of the safeties on paper, two rock solid starters should give Michigan a big lift against the pass. Jourdan Lewis was clearly the defense’s most improved player last season and burst onto the scene as the most consistent cornerback on the roster. Lewis has elite speed to go along with good hands and instincts, and by the end of the season he was matching up with opposing No. 1 wide receivers.

Lewis started seven games and picked up 39 tackles and two picks. He was Michigan’s best defense against downfield passes and broke up six passes. If he can build on his fabulous sophomore season, he’ll be the leader in the Michigan secondary.

Across from Lewis will be Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons, who played parts of four seasons for the Cardinal. Lyons injured his foot after two games as a freshman, qualifying for a medical redshirt and allowing him to transfer to Michigan as a graduate student.

Lyons enjoyed a decorated career at Stanford, playing 41 games at cornerback and appearing on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list prior to the 2014 season. He picked up 30 tackles as a senior and broke up three passes. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, and picked off two passes as a junior in 2013.

Lyons was recruited by Harbaugh in 2011 when he committed to Stanford and will rejoin his coach in Ann Arbor for his final college season. Lyons will likely win a starting job after Countess decided to transfer for his final season.

Harbaugh and his staff have a handful of options at secondary, though one of the starters will certainly be the dynamic Jabrill Peppers. Peppers, the best pure athlete on the team, was moved to safety this offseason after struggling to stay healthy as a true freshman. He played in only three games and recorded eight tackles, but the flashes of his ability have Michigan fans eager for his true coming out party.

Peppers joined Michigan as a five-star recruit who dominated his senior season at Paramus Catholic High School under Coach Chris Partridge. Peppers was a star on offense and defense in high school, but was recruited as a defensive back. In two years at Paramus Catholic, Peppers picked up 134 tackles, seven picks, and two sacks.

If Peppers stays healthy, he’ll likely be the best player on the Michigan defense.

At free safety, Jarrod Wilson returns from a fine junior season in which he recorded 50 tackles and two pass break-ups. At 6-foot-2, Wilson has size to go with his quickness and his ball skills have gotten better throughout his career. Wilson was huge for Michigan last season with the struggles at corner. If the Wolverines improve in front of Wilson this season, he’ll have more reign to force turnovers and break up passes.

Projected Stats – Lewis
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 2.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
25 42 14 56 0.0 1.5 0 8 2
Projected Stats – Lyons
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
45 2.0 3
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
43 81 46 127 0.0 4.5 3 7 3
Projected Stats – Peppers
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
50 3.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
3 6 2 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Wilson
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 1.0 2
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
36 56 52 108 0.0 3.0 1 4 2

Returning contributors

Michigan returns only one other cornerback who played a major role during 2014, Channing Stribling. Stribling played 10 games as a backup corner last season, making seven tackles. He has been a decent rotational guy in two college seasons, but will be asked to play a larger role as an upperclassman. Stribling is tall for a cornerback and is fast enough to stick with Big Ten receivers. His playmaking ability isn’t up to par with the likes of Lewis or Lyons, but he can hold his own.

Safety is a different story for Michigan in terms of depth. Delano Hill started five games for Michigan last season and made 21 tackles. He’s only six feet tall, but Hill is a great tackler and stands out as a security blanket downfield. Hill’s value lies in his versatility. He was used to cover both receivers and tight ends in 2014 and has a good nose for the ball. He’ll be on the field for a ton of snaps this season.

Right there with Hill is redshirt junior Jeremy Clark, who played in 11 games and made 18 tackles in 2014. Clark is huge for a safety – 6-foot-4 – and shares strengths with Hill. He’s a great tackler, a hard hitter and has good speed for his size. Clark is strong in the run-stopping game as a safety and can match up with any position player on the offense.

Dymonte Thomas also played a big role in 2014, playing in 10 games and making 27 tackles. He’s got the highest ceiling in this group of defensive backs after coming to Michigan as a five-star recruit. Thomas is fast and athletic, which allows him to stay with receivers downfield and play physical with ball carriers in front of him.

Hill, Clark, and Thomas give Michigan a ton of depth at safety and lift much of the weight off the cornerbacks’ shoulders. A.J. Pearson is another name to watch in the rotation, though he didn’t get much time last season. He could fill in anywhere in the secondary.

Projected Stats – Stribling
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 20 3 23 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Projected Stats – Hill
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
22 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
20 14 7 21 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Clark
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
20 1.5 0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
19 10 8 18 0.0 0.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Thomas
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 1.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 24 10 34 0.0 0.0 1 0 0

New faces

Michigan brought in two new cornerbacks this spring, led by Alabama native Keith Washington. Washington is defined by his elite speed in the secondary and will use it to make plays on the ball. If Washington can stick with receivers at the college level, he’ll be a dangerous corner when the ball is thrown to his side of the field.

Tyree Kinnel comes out of high school with just as much upside as Washington, though he doesn’t possess his elite speed. Kinnel is a sound tackler and can defend both the run and the pass.

Both true freshmen will get a chance to earn playing time in 2015, as Michigan’s cornerback group isn’t as deep as others. They’ll have to prove they can effectively cover Big Ten-caliber receivers to get a chance.

Meet the rest

Terry Richardson – senior, 5’9″, 174 from Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech), 14 career games played
Travis Wooley – senior, 6’0″, 195 from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (Sault Area), no career stats
Matt Mitchell – sophomore, 5’10”, 179 from Dexter, Mich. (Dexter), no career stats
Brandon Watson – sophomore, 5’11”, 189 from Wilmington, Del (Eastern Christian Academy), no career stats
Reon Dawson – junior, 6’2″, 175 from from Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison), no career stats
Francois Montbrun – junior, 5’10”, 183 from Ishpeming, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
Anthony Dalimonte – junior, 5’9″, 176 from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Brother Rice), no career stats
Shaun Austin – senior, 6’1″, 202 from Plymouth, Mich. (Plymouth), no career stats

Overmatched: Michigan State 35 – Michigan 11

Monday, October 27th, 2014


Michigan-MSU(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Safeties (part one)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-Safeties

This is the eighth installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. The best Big Ten players on offense and in the defensive front seven have been covered. This week, it is time to preview who will be the best cornerbacks in the conference this season. Here is Part One:

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two

11. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan | Freshman – 6’1”, 202 lbs
(247 Sports)

(247 Sports)

Okay, I am cheating. The parameters of this 2014 Big Ten Position Rankings series indicate that only the Big Ten players who will be among the 10 best at their respective position shall be ranked. However, an exception must be made for Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, whom you just may have already heard a bit about here and there.

No incoming Big Ten freshman has received more hype, praise, acclaim, etc. than Peppers. For good reason, too. Peppers was the highest-rated 2014 prospect to commit to a Big Ten school. According to 247 Sports’ national composite rankings, Peppers is the third-best recruit in his class; there were no other Big Ten commits in the top 20. Further, Peppers is the highest-rated prospect to commit to the Wolverines since the creation of online recruiting services. Michigan earned commitments from No. 4 overall LaMarr Woodley and No. 5 overall Prescott Burgess in 2003 and No. 5 overall Ryan Mallett in 2007. But never before has Michigan been graced with a top-three prospect.

“But, Drew, how can you place Peppers on this list when he has not even played a single snap of college football yet? How do you know he will not be a bust?” Have you seen his highlights? Have you seen his physique? Have you seen his speed? Peppers is a physical specimen. Or, as fellow Michigan writer Bryan Mac penned perfectly at MGoBlog, Peppers “is basically a glitch in the physics engine.” Even an unnamed assistant coach at USC claimed that the only two high-school football players he had seen with a body like Peppers are Adrian Peterson and Patrick Peterson. That is some fine company. At 6’1” and 202 pounds, with his unbelievable burst, speed, and athleticism, everything about Peppers’ game should translate to the college level. He will be a playmaker the instant he steps on the field for the Wolverines.

However, the questions Michigan fans are asking are where and how often Peppers will play as a true freshman this season. Earlier this month, head coach Brady Hoke indicated Peppers would begin at nickelback, where Michigan previously has positioned its young, talented defensive backs for them to get their feet wet. Yet Peppers is listed in these rankings as a safety, not a cornerback. Michigan needs its best talent on the field as much as possible, and the Wolverines are already set at cornerback with Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, and Jourdan Lewis as the starters. On the other hand, there is a vacancy at strong safety with Thomas Gordon’s departure. While Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas currently are competing for that job, it seems like the perfect spot for the versatile Peppers to make the biggest impact. I have projected that Peppers will be Michigan’s starting strong safety by Big Ten play, where he should flourish and be considered one of the best 10 safeties in the Big Ten. Still, until Hoke makes that move official, Peppers must remain out of the top 10.

10. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin | RS Junior – 6’1”, 212 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 36 27 63 3.0 0 3 0
2012 8 2 10 0 0 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 44 29 73 3.0 0 3 0
(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

Wisconsin strong safety Michael Caputo is a pseudo-linebacker who shortly became a linebacker before reverting back to a pseudo-linebacker. Got all of that? No? Okay, let me explain. Last season, Caputo was the Badgers’ full-time starter at strong safety. However, despite being listed as a safety, he played more of a hybrid position, where he acted as a linebacker who could cover more than anything else. Accordingly, Caputo was Wisconsin’s second-leading tackler with 63 stops, 36 of which were solo, and three tackles-for-loss. Unsurprisingly, And, unsurprisingly, his impact was most felt in Wisconsin’s rushing defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest sack-adjusted yards allowed per carry nationally.

This does not mean that Caputo did not contribute to Wisconsin’s passing defense, which was 19th in the nation in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, though. In fact, he played a vital role in it, which was exemplified by his absence in the regular-season finale against Penn State. Caputo missed most of the game due to concussion-like symptoms. Without him on the field, the Badgers allowed a talented but true freshman quarterback to complete 70 percent of his passes for 339 yards, 11.3 yards per attempt, and four touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda admitted afterwards how much Wisconsin’s passing defense missed Caputo, acknowledging that there were certain coverages and schematic adjustments that only Caputo did. Caputo may have only had three passes defended all season, but he was a key element to Wisconsin stopping the opponent’s aerial assault.

However, this season will be an interesting test for both Caputo and the Badgers. Wisconsin must replace the entire front seven on defense. Wisconsin tried to mitigate this by shifting Caputo from strong safety to linebacker in the offseason, thinking that Caputo’s play already resembled that of a linebacker. The problem was that Wisconsin had even more inexperience behind Caputo at safety, so Wisconsin moved him back to his original spot.

Even though Caputo will be comfortable with the position he is playing, lining up alongside two returning starters at cornerback, it is unclear just how much Caputo will miss his old partners in crime in the front seven. As aforementioned, Caputo made his biggest contribution stopping the run. But how effective will he be with an entirely new front-seven in front of him? How much did he benefit from the presence of the prior defensive front-seven? Will he not be able to make the same number of stops or have the same type of impact this year? These are the questions that must be answered and the reasons why Caputo, a returning starter from a very good defense, is only No. 10 on this list.

9. Ryan Keiser, Penn State | 5th-yr Senior – 6’1″, 208 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 26 12 38 2.0 1.0 11 3
2013 3 2 5 0 0 0 0
2013 2 4 6 0 0 0 0
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 31 18 49 2.5 1.0 11 3
(247 Sports)

(247 Sports)

Safety Ryan Keiser is Penn State’s version of Jordan Kovacs. In high school, Keiser was a two-time member of the PA Football News Class AAA all-state first team but received little interest from FBS programs. In fact, Keiser was so under-recruited that he was considered a zero-star prospect by 247 Sports. With no scholarship offers in hand, Keiser chose to walk on to the football team at his in-state school, Penn State. He spent his first few seasons in State College doing whatever he could to get on the football field. He became Penn State’s holder and became a fixture on other special-teams units. But it was not until last season when Keiser proved he was much more than a special-teams star.

In 2013, Keiser began the season as a reserve defensive back for Penn State. He earned some playing time earlier in the year, which included an outstanding performance against Kent State, during which he had four tackles, a sack, an interception, and three pass breakups. Keiser continued to perform well and impress the Penn State coaching staff. Accordingly, he made his first career start against Michigan before starting the final four games of the season at free safety. Keiser finished with 38 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack, three interceptions, and eight pass breakups. His 11 passes defended were the ninth-most in the Big Ten, which is even more impressive than usual because he started only about half of the season. Further, although Keiser had only 38 tackles all season, 23 of those were in his final four starts. If that average had been extrapolated over the course of the entire season, he would have had 69 tackles, which would have been the third-most on the team. By the end of the year, Keiser had demonstrated that he has a knack for being a ball-hawk and is not a liability in run support.

However, there is a reason why Keiser was a walk-on coming out of high school. This is a total shocker, but Keiser is not the most athletically gifted player. There are times when Keiser can be vulnerable over the top because he does not have the speed to keep pace with some of the Big Ten’s faster receivers. This can be seen even on plays where Keiser makes a positive impact. For example, Keiser made the game-clinching interception in the end zone in overtime against Illinois. However, the tape reveals that he had been beat initially. The only reason why Keiser made the pick was because fellow safety-cornerback Adrian Amos tipped the ball, allowing a recovering Keiser to snatch it out of the air. Nonetheless, Keiser, like Kovacs at Michigan before him, has proven that walk-ons can make an enormous impact at safety. Expect Keiser to have his best season in his first and only year as a full-time starter and be a member of one of the better pass defenses in the Big Ten.

8. R.J. Williamson, Michigan State | RS Junior – 6’0”, 205 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 17 27 44 3.0 0 2 1
2012 19 8 27 1.0 0 4 2
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 36 35 71 4.0 0 6 3
(Natalie Kolb, The State News)

(Natalie Kolb, The State News)

The power of Pat Narduzzi will strike again. In each the past three seasons, Michigan State has had a top-10 passing defense according to the S&P+ rankings, including the best pass defense the last two years. And Narduzzi and Michigan State have been able to maintain this level of excellence despite losing key pieces to the NFL or graduation each year. This past offseason, three-year starter and All-Big ten first-team selection Isaiah Lewis graduated and moved on to the NFL. If this were any other defense, fans and media alike would be concerned about who would replace Lewis and his production at strong safety. However, because of the reputation Michigan State’s defense has earned the past few years under Narduzzi, everyone expects the next man in line to step up without a hitch.

The next man in line: R.J. Williamson. Williamson saw extensive action last season as Michigan State’s de facto starting nickelback. As the nickelback, Williamson did not produce overwhelming numbers because he played fewer snaps than Michigan State’s other four starting defensive backs. Nevertheless, Williamson was no slouch. He registered 44 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, an interception, and two pass breakups. Williamson also performed very well in the one game in which he played the majority of the snaps, recording 10 tackles in a start versus Notre Dame and seven tackles and a pass breakup after Lewis was ejected for targeting in the first quarter against Northwestern. And, of course, Williamson did all of this for a defense that ranked second nationally in total defense, third in passing yards allowed per game, second in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, and first in passing efficiency defense.

In 2014, Williamson is the front-runner to replace Lewis at strong safety. The competition for the spot is not over yet, though. Williamson reportedly left the door open after he had some sloppy moments during spring drills. Even Narduzzi has said that Williamson has all of the ability, but “we have to keep him consistent, and he’s got to do his job all the time.” Nevertheless, it would be a surprise if anyone other Williamson started at strong safety for Michigan State this season. He has the experience, prior production, and size—6’0” and 205 pounds—to complement free safety Kurtis Drummond perfectly. There are various other reasons why Williamson will mitigate much of damage resulting from Lewis’ departure, but, ultimately, all that needs to be said is that very few defensive coordinators get more out of their players than Narduzzi. Narduzzi will wield his magical powers once again and transform Williamson into one of the better safeties in the Big Ten.

7. Sean Davis, Maryland | Junior – 6’1″, 200 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 62 40 102 1.5 0.5 5 2
2012 8 5 13 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 70 45 115 1.5 0.5 5 2
(Andrew Shurtleff)

(Andrew Shurtleff)

There are a few different terms that may be used to describe Maryland free safety Sean Davis’ game. Wrecking ball. Bullet train. Missile. Wreaker of havoc and punishment. Last season, Davis was the full-time starter at free safety for the first time in his career as only a true sophomore. And, in his first campaign as the starter, he laid wood, and he did it often. He led Maryland and was eighth in the ACC with 103 tackles, averaging 9.56 tackles per game over the final nine contests of the season. Davis produced such gaudy tackle numbers because of his full-out attacking style. Once Davis diagnosed the play in front of him, whether it was a run or a short completion, he charged downhill instantly, weaving his way through traffic to deliver a bone-crushing hit. If you look at his highlights from last season, you notice just how often he sticks the ball-carrier and drives them backwards. Davis is a very physical player that can make his presence felt with just one jarring hit.

However, Davis, as the free safety, struggled as the last line of Maryland’s defense. Maryland was 57th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 64th in passing efficiency defense, and 64th in Passing Defense S&P+. This indicates that the Terrapins’ pass defense was just an average outfit. Yet Maryland actually was worse on passing downs. Passing downs are defined as second down with eight or more yards to go and third or fourth down with five or more yards to go. In these situations, the Terps were only 84th-best in the country. It did not help that Maryland allowed 71 completions that gained at least 15 yards, which would have been the third-worst in the Big Ten. Simply, Maryland’s pass defense was not that great when it could not generate a pass rush.

Much of these woes fell on Davis. Yes, he has a knack for making aggressive plays as evidenced by his two interceptions and three pass breakups. However, a look at his highlights indicates that his two interceptions were the result of two awful throws by the quarterback into no man’s land. They were not the result of an instinctual free safety who read the quarterback to undercut the intended receiver. The problem is that, when Davis did try to make plays in pass coverage, too often he was too aggressive and did not execute his assignment correctly. There is nothing wrong with being an aggressive, attacking free safety. But it can become an issue when that free safety continually allows big plays to get behind him. If Davis can rectify these mistakes and pick his spots better when to be uber-aggressive, he could be one of the best safeties in the Big Ten. But it would be a surprise to see that development this season.

6. Jarrod Wilson, Michigan | Junior – 6’2″, 205 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 28 22 50 2.0 0 2 2
2012 4 4 8 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 32 26 58 2.0 0 2 2
(Matthew O, USA Today Sports)

(Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

Although there is much debate among Michigan fans about who will start for the Wolverines at strong safety, there is no such debate at free safety. After having a bit of an up-and-down campaign last year, Jarrod Wilson is Michigan’s unquestioned starter there. As a true sophomore, Wilson played well right out of the gate last season. He started the first seven games, during which he accumulated 33 tackles and four passes defended, including two interceptions. He was on pace for a very solid season statistically and was the back line of a defense that had been commendable until allowing Indiana’s up-tempo offense to explode for 47 points.

However, for reasons unknown, head coach Brady Hoke removed Wilson from the starting lineup prior to Michigan’s next game against in-state rival Michigan State, inserting converted cornerback Courtney Avery in his place. Michigan’s pass defense deteriorated thereafter, and it definitely was not a coincidence. In their first seven games with Wilson as a starter, the Wolverines allowed only 6.60 passing yards per attempt. In their final six games, they allowed 7.48 passing yards per attempt. Some of the discrepancy can be explained by Michigan facing better passing offenses later in the season than the likes of Central Michigan, Akron, and Connecticut. But there is no better example of Wilson’s importance in Michigan’s pass defense than against Ohio State, a game in which he barely played because of a broken hand. The Buckeyes completed only six of their 15 pass attempts against the Wolverines, but still managed to gain 133 passing yards for an excellent 8.9 yards per attempt. This fell on Michigan’s safeties—Thomas Gordon and Josh Furman—who were routinely beat deep. Does this happen if Wilson is healthy and starting? We will never be certain, but the answer likely is “no.”

This season, unless injured, there is no chance Wilson will be replaced by anyone behind him on the depth chart. He will have a full season to exhibit that he has great instincts in the back of Michigan’s secondary. Not only will he continue to make smart, athletic plays in coverage, he will continue to take the right angles to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Also, with some starting experience under his belt, Wilson should not be as prone to mental errors as—like his untimely pass interference penalty in the fourth overtime against Penn State. Wilson should fulfill the potential he had as a four-star recruit and become a solid, boring free safety this fall. Although “boring” has a negative connotation, given the big plays Michigan allowed at the end of 2013 while playing roulette with its safeties, boring should be refreshing for Michigan. And, if Wilson demonstrates he is more than boring and defends more passes in the secondary, he will have an argument that he is one of the five best safeties in this conference.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Part One of our 2014 Big Ten Safeties Rankings? Should Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers be in the top 10? Should Michigan’s Jarrod Wilson be in the top five? Is there a blatant omission from the top 10? And what would your top five be? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Tomorrow, we will reveal who will be the five best safeties in the Big Ten this upcoming season.

Predicting Michigan: The secondary

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014


Predicting-Michigan-Secondary

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Greg Mattison owns all of the tools to turn what was a shaky secondary in 2013 into a strength of the defense during his fourth season under Brady Hoke at Michigan.

Last season Michigan’s tendency to surrender the big play allowed teams to hang around before eventually costing the Wolverines in a late comeback by Penn State in Happy Valley. This unit has all the tools to shut down Big Ten receivers, but a few key players need to make major spring adjustments.

The Starters

Blake Countess was the clear-cut top defensive back for Michigan during the 2013 season, snatching a team-high six interceptions and taking on opponents’ best receivers every week. But this is an important offseason for the redshirt junior, as his ability to turn when the ball is in flight stands between him being a good defender and perhaps becoming one of the best in the conference. Countess often got beat despite tight coverage because he was looking at the receiver rather than finding the ball. If he can make an adjustment to look for the pass while staying in front of his man, offensive coordinators might stop throwing his way.

Countess was joined in 2013 by Raymon Taylor, who made 12 starts and grabbed four interceptions of his own as a junior. Big Ten quarterbacks were much more willing to throw at Taylor last season, and he was largely outmatched by most of the tougher receivers. Taylor is likely to start at cornerback, so his improvement through the offseason is one of the most important factors in improving the defense as a whole.

If Countess ends up playing the majority of his minutes at nickelback it will make room for talented sophomore Jourdan Lewis, who caught two interceptions during the spring game and sparked a buzz among the defensive coaches during the early spring. Much like Taylor and Countess, Lewis is around 5’10″ and 175 pounds. He played a limited role as a freshman, but did appear in eight games and batted down two passes.

Jarrod Wilson is ready to become the full-time starter at safety after picking up two interceptions and 50 tackles as a sophomore. Wilson gives the Michigan secondary an aggressive ball hawk that loves to support the running game. Mattison takes advantage of the junior’s versatility to send him into the backfield when he’s not dropping back in coverage.

The other safety position appears to be wide open for a cast of younger players trying to earn a starting job. Dymonte Thomas spent some time in the secondary as a freshman, but Delano Hill took most of the first-team snaps during the spring game. One of these sophomores will separate themselves during the offseason, but they are both in the running heading into fall camp.

Career Stats – Countess
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 30 14 44 0 1.5 1 6 0
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2013 26 20 46 0 2.0 0 4 6
Totals 56 34 90 0 3.5 1 10 6
Career Stats – Taylor
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
2012 33 12 45 0 0 0 1 2
2013 61 25 86 0.5 1.5 0 9 4
Totals 95 38 133 0.5 1.5 0 10 6
Career Stats – Lewis
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 14 3 17 0 0 0 2 0
Totals 14 3 17 0 0 0 2 0
Career Stats – Wilson
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2012 4 4 8 0 0 0 0 0
2013 28 22 50 0 2.0 0 2 2
Totals 32 26 58 0 2.0 0 2 2
Career Stats – Thomas
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 5 2 7 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 5 2 7 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Hill
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0

Veteran Depth

Michigan developed an abundance of depth at the cornerback position during 2013 as Mattison used a packed rotation while trying to find players that could hang with Big Ten receivers. Though many of his combinations faltered, Michigan now boasts plenty of corners to make the spring competition more productive.

Senior Delonte Hollowell hopes to play the most important role of his career in 2014 as he tries to crack the lineup behind a host of younger players. Hollowell has played sparingly at cornerback throughout his Michigan career, including four times as a backup last season. The Detroit native contributes predominantly on special teams and will need a strong offseason to stay in the mix for a secondary position.

The perfect scenario for Michigan’s defense would include sophomore Channing Stribling stepping up during camp and earning a major role in the secondary. Stribling offers the Wolverines a weapon that many of the other cornerbacks lack: Size. At 6’2″, the sophomore is equipped with the tools to defend some of the biggest and most dominant receivers in the Big Ten if he can earn a spot in the rotation before August 30.

Career Stats – Hollowell
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 5 1 6 0 0 0 0 0
2012 1 3 4 0 0 0 0 0
2013 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 7 5 12 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Stribling
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 14 2 16 0 0 1 0 0
Totals 14 2 16 0 0 1 0 0

Newcomers

Michigan fans are eagerly awaiting Hoke’s most prized recruit as a head coach: Jabrill Peppers. The five-star defensive back owns the talent to step on campus and start at cornerback right away, and Mattison will likely give him every opportunity to do so. Though the early comparisons to Charles Woodson are premature, Peppers arrives at Michigan with as much talent as any recruit in recent memory and could greatly improve the defense single-handedly. In Drew’s latest mailbag last week, he projected Peppers to start the season as a reserve nickelback, but eventually snag the starting strong safety spot. The ideal situation would be if Hill or Thomas can win the spot and Peppers gets his feet wet at nickelback, but if Peppers does beat out the other two, he’ll be well on his way to living up to the hype.

M&GB staff predictions: Central Michigan

Friday, August 30th, 2013


Every Friday throughout the season last year we submitted our staff predictions, which involved a long-winded breakdown and then a score prediction from each of us. This season, we’re doing the same, but toplining the breakdown. We feel that while we aim to provide one consistent message throughout the site, the variety of opinions of each individual writer is important, so this is their opportunity to present those. We make it a contest internally, and we hope the varying opinions help make your viewing experience on Saturday more well-rounded.

Justin: Like I said earlier, I really like Central Michigan as a season opening opponent this season. Don’t get me wrong; the anticipation leading up to the Alabama game last season was fun, but the result wasn’t. I’m not opposed to season openers against high quality opponents, but let’s get back to that level ourselves first and then bring on all comers.

Central provides a matchup with a very solid running back and a receiver that will be tough to stop, which means Michigan will receive a bit of a challenge. But aside from that, there isn’t much else that can compete with the kind of depth and speed Michigan has. Throw in a quarterback making his first career start, and a retooling offensive line, and it’s a great opportunity for Michigan’s front four to get started on a high note.

Michigan will have the game well in hand by the third quarter, allowing Shane Morris and the rest of the young guys to gain some playing time. Expect a heavy dose of Fitz and the rest of the running back group. I’m most excited to see the rest of the backs, as well as Jehu Chesson’s debut.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Central Michigan
Justin 41 17
Chris 40 14
Josh 42 17
Sam 45 10
Derick 41 14
Katie 48 10
M&GB Average 43 14

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 17

Chris: Has been out of the country for the week, so no breakdown, but did provide a score prediction.

Michigan 40 – Central Michigan 14

Josh: Refer to yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full game breakdown.

Michigan 42 – CMU 17

Sam: This Saturday at the Big House, as Michigan kicks off its 134th season of college football, two in-state non-rivals will be breaking in two full-time starting quarterbacks – redshirt junior Devin Gardner for the Wolverines and junior Cody Kater for the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Maize and Blue figure to march up and down the field against a Central defense that gave up a putrid 32.4 points per game last season while playing a schedule peppered with MAC teams and just one ranked squad – Michigan State.

For Gardner, it’s a chance to prove that his five successful outings at quarterback to book-end last season were no fluke, and the matchup is seemingly perfect for him. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess should be next to unguardable for the Chippewa defense, and will find the end zone twice on the day. Michigan’s stable of running backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint, will also get plenty of light work, and highly-touted freshman Derrick Green figures to see a handful of carries as well. Pay special attention to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson, who will get the start opposite Jeremy Gallon in Amara Darboh’s year-long absence, and on defense keep a close eye on the play of the safeties. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson was being talked up all spring before nearly losing a starting spot recently to the now-injured Courtney Avery. If Michigan gets burned deep more than once, Brady Hoke will have a quick leash.

On Central’s side, there simply is not much to talk about other than running back Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and Titus Davis, the leading receiver on last year’s team with 860 yards and eight touchdowns on 43 catches. Both of those guys should figure to eclipse the 1,000-yard marks in rushing and receiving, respectively, but expect the bulk of their production to come after Greg Mattison’s defense shuts down the Central attack and forces three turnovers this weekend. Michigan will score first and never look back on the way to a rout.

Michigan 45 – Central Michigan 10

After an impressive freshman season Devin Funchess earned the #87 Legends jersey and is expected

Derick: Central Michigan gets the honor of showing the world what Michigan’s post-Denard offense can do. With the night game against Notre Dame on the horizon, Borges will likely want to use week 1 to test his new arsenal and prepare for that much bigger challenge. Devin Gardner will hopefully spread the ball around his receiving core, including new receiver Jesu Chesson and tight end Devin Funchess.

Michigan will showcase multiple running backs in this contest, as the preseason depth chart seemingly has four backs that could be anywhere from #2-#5 on the list. Along with starter Fitzgerald Toussaint, Drake Johnson, Thomas Rawls and De’Veon Smith will apparently receive carries before 5-star recruit Derrick Green. No matter who is on the field, the Michigan running game will be crucial this year, and they should be able to run over the Chippewa’s defense on Saturday.

Though Hoke, like many Michigan coaches before him, will probably refuse to run up the score, I think Michigan will put a pretty good beating on CMU with a balanced offensive attack. Hopefully the defense can hold a MAC offense off the board until the second string comes in.

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 14

Katie: Great to be back for another season of Michigan football.  I can’t wait to see what our Wolverines have in store for us this year.

Now to the home opener against an instate foe, the Central Michigan Chippewas. I know that they aren’t ‘Bama by any stretch of the imagination, and that most of us take for granted that this will be an easy tick mark in the win column. But the Chippewas could put up a few touchdowns if junior Cody Kater (who replaced last year’s starter Ryan Radcliff) can show that his skill is palpable even against a Big Ten secondary, a task I’m not sure he’ll be up to.

They beat the Iowa last year, but the Hawkeyes had already lost to Iowa State and would also lose to Indiana before going 4-8 on the season. So while Central has some firepower, the loss of Radcliff will hurt, and a Michigan defense that includes a fifth-year senior strong safety in Thomas Gordon, another fifth-year senior outside linebacker in Cam Gordon, and a sophomore safety with a lot of potential in Jarrod Wilson, won’t likely help them heal.

That being said, Central Michigan does return Zurlon Tipton, a senior running back who put up just under 1,500 yards rushing last year, and a wide receiver Titus Davis who averaged 71 yards a game. With two touted starters in the  offensive line, a powerful center and left guard, Central could look to keep Michigan on their feet.  And with the Chippewa defense seeing the return of three top play-makers, one of whom, Justin Cherocci, a linebacker, had 132 combined tackles last season to put him at 19th nationally, the visitors could cause some trouble for the Wolverines offense.

Some trouble. As in keeping the Wolverines under fifty points trouble. With Devin Gardner starting this season, protected by 6’8″ fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, with fifth-year wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and an up-and-coming tight end Devin Funchess as targets, as well as a long list of potential running backs, I’m not seeing the offense having trouble finding a comfortable rhythm and staying in it. If Gardner could amass 1,200 yards passing in five starts last year, there’s no telling what he may be able to accomplish as the designated leader of the Michigan offense. It’s a lot of pressure I realize, but from what I’ve seen he has a level head, and from backing up Denard Robinson, I assume he also picked up that winning spirit of never being down and out.

Michigan shouldn’t have a problem beating the Chippewas in their opener.

Wolverines 48, Central Michigan 10

Predicting Michigan: The secondary

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

The final defensive position group for our Predicting Michigan series is the secondary, a group with a good blend of experienced talent and up-and-coming stars. Previously, we previewed the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive line, and linebackers.

Returning Starters

Perhaps one of the biggest unknowns for the 2013 Wolverines is how the secondary will follow up an extremely strong season in defending the pass. Michigan had one of the best secondary units in the nation during the entire season, but looked lost in the bowl defeat to South Carolina. Competition is the name of the game this spring, as several of the players from that great 2012 group return to battle 10 freshman that have Brady Hoke singing the praises of his depth. Since the veterans have proven their worth, they will likely have every chance to win the starting jobs this offseason and repeat what they’ve done under Greg Mattison the last two years.

Blake Countess' return from injury will give Michigan a very talented secondary

Coming into 2012, one of the most exciting players on the defense was cornerback Blake Countess. The sophomore had won a starting job during the second half of 2011, and acquitted himself very well with 44 tackles and six pass breakups. Unfortunately, injury struck Countess in 2013, and it didn’t wait long to do so.

In the very first game of the season, against Alabama in Cowboy Stadium, Countess blew out his knee and missed the rest of the season. The 5’10″ Maryland native never got a chance to build on his impressive freshman year, as he was forced to take a medical redshirt and watch the remaining 11 games from the Michigan sideline. This season, he could be the leader of the secondary if he is able to regain the form he showed during his first full season. So far, everything has gone smoothly for Countess, who is now fully participating in training camp. He will spend the next few weeks trying to stop the freshman from doing what he did just two years ago: beating out an upperclassman for a starting spot.

On the other side of the field, Raymon Taylor was securing his own starting spot in 2012. Taylor ended up starting 11 games at cornerback after being named a backup to J.T. Floyd and Countess out of training camp. The sophomore had a nice performance to start the season, recording seven tackles in week one against the Crimson Tide. His most memorable moment was the 63-yard interception return for a touchdown during the dismantling of Purdue, which came just one week after his first career interception in South Bend.

Taylor didn’t record an interception in Michigan’s final eight games, but he continued to be a steady defender for Mattison’s battered secondary and will likely continue to start in 2013 across the field from Countess, barring a training camp setback.

When a young player takes over a starting job, that means there is a player that has to swallow his pride and take a back seat. In 2012, that player was Courtney Avery. Avery started all four of Michigan’s non-conference games, but gave way to the younger secondary players during the Big Ten season.

Avery has an interesting case for starting in 2013, as he has played in all 39 of his games in Ann Arbor but has only started 13. He made his biggest splash during the 2011 season when he picked off two passes despite starting only three games all year. As a senior, it is Avery’s last opportunity to hold onto a starting job during his college career, and it will be very difficult because of the competition. At worst, Mattison will have a backup veteran cornerback who is familiar with a role off the bench.

At safety, Thomas Gordon represents the only player who is almost assured a starting spot. In 2012, Gordon started all 13 games for the strong Wolverines secondary and seems to be the top candidate to take the reins from safety Jordan Kovacs as the leader of this unit. The redshirt senior recorded 81 tackles last season to go along with his two interceptions, and his only sack of the season came against Ohio State. Despite the absence of flashy statistics, he did his job well at strong safety. Gordon will have a tough job filling the hole that Kovacs left when he graduated, and Michigan’s defense will rely heavily on his play on the field and leadership off of it.

Career Stats – Countess
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
2012 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Totals 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
Career Stats – Taylor
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 1 1 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
2012 33 12 45 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Totals 34 13 47 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Career Stats – Avery
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 22 14 46 0.0 0.5 1 0 4 0
2011 17 9 26 0.5 2.0 1 2 4 2
2012 14 5 19 0.5 2.0 1 1 0 0
Totals 53 28 81 1.0 4.5 3 3 8 2
Career Stats – Gordon
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 13 10 23 2.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
2011 41 26 67 0.0 1.5 2 4 2 1
2012 46 35 81 1.0 4.0 1 0 2 2
Totals 100 71 171 3.0 9.5 3 4 4 3

Dark Horse Candidates

A couple of minor contributors are battling for their lives in training camp, as they try to increase their role against an even deeper group of defenders. Jarrod Wilson gained the trust of his coaches during his true freshman campaign, playing in 10 games as a reserve safety. Though his main job last season was on special teams, Wilson showed why he was ranked highly as a recruit when he did get his few defensive snaps. Coming out of high school, Wilson was ranked a four-star safety and one of the top in the country at his position. Being a talented recruit means very little in Ann Arbor these days though, and the sophomore will have to prove himself more capable than the fresh faces during training camp to increase his playing time.

Junior Delonte Hollowell is another long-shot candidate to win major minutes in the secondary. Hollowell played in three games as a reserve cornerback in 2012 and will likely have a similar role in his third college season.

Career Stats – Wilson
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2012 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Hollowell
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 5 1 6 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
2012 1 3 4 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 6 4 10 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0

The Freshmen: Who Will Stand Out?

Brady Hoke has quite the log jam on the horizon in the secondary. This season, there are six true freshman listed as defensive backs on the roster and four redshirt freshman. It’s a great problem to have, though, and Hoke has stated that this offseason he will keep an eye on everyone’s performance and let the competition decide who starts the season in which roles.

Of the five secondary players recruited in last year’s class, Jarrod Wilson was the only one who earned the chance to play as a true freshman. The other four players were all given redshirts and sat out the 2012 season because of an already-strong secondary. In 2013, three-stars Allen Gant and Jeremy Clark are the strongest candidates of the four redshirt freshman to earn major minutes, but will probably play most of their time on special teams because of a more talented 2013 class.

Three true freshman in the secondary should really interest Michigan football fans this season. At cornerback, Jourdan Lewis could be a fan favorite during his career in Ann Arbor if his knack for making big, flashy plays in high school translates to the college game. Lewis separates himself from other players because of his incredible athletic ability; and like many great cornerbacks, his play at receiver in high school makes him a threat to pick off passes on defense. The combination of playing both wide receiver and cornerback means Lewis will take a ball-hawk approach to defense, allowing his instincts and strong hands to force turnovers. Unfortunately, the freshman is very small at 5’9″, 160 pounds, which makes it hard for him to match up with some bigger receivers. Size is one hurdle Lewis will have to overcome while battling for a position in training camp.

Dymonte Thomas should be Michigan's nickel back as a true freshman (Scout.com)

Perhaps the most important secondary storyline during camp is the fight for the second starting safety spot. There is almost no chance that Mattison would start two true freshmen over senior Thomas Gordon, so Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas will battle for one spot during the next few weeks.

Though his commitment didn’t generate as much buzz around Ann Arbor as Thomas’, Cass Tech safety Delano Hill is built to play safety in the Big Ten. The scouting report on Hill is that he is a great form-tackler, and understands the game better than incoming freshman usually do.

Since his hiring two years ago, Mattison has preached damage control on the defense. Under Rich Rodriguez, the defense would often gamble and give up huge plays. Now, the defense limits gains and lives to play another down. Hill fits this mold and could play his way into the starting lineup as a result. His ability to diagnose plays and make smart reads means that Hill can prevent getting beat and allowing huge plays.

An added bonus with this young man is his ability to defend in coverage. Though he probably isn’t quick enough to cover speedy slot receivers, he can take away a tight end in man to man or zone coverage, which is an important asset to have in a physical conference. Whether he wins the starting job or not, expect Hill to play an important role in the Michigan secondary this year.

Hill’s competition is a player that likely everyone in Ann Arbor has already heard of. Thomas was one of the jewels of this year’s top-10 recruiting class, and was given a rare five-star by Scout.com. Like Hill, Thomas is 6’1″, so he can match up with big tight ends as well as smaller, quicker receivers if necessary. He also played running back and linebacker in high school, developing a punishing, physical approach to the game. Thomas will put a big hit on opponents on either side of the ball, but will focus on doing so to ball-carriers at Michigan.

The only knock on this five-star safety is his discipline in coverage, an ability in which Hill is very strong. Talent-wise, however, Thomas is the best defensive player in the recruiting class and will get every opportunity to win a starting spot as the nickel back in 2013. Awareness on defense is something that he will gain as he learns to play in the Big Ten, so the only way to get the maximum production out of Thomas is to put him on the field. Hoke and Mattison may feel the same way and give the freshman a chance to wreak havoc on the field to start the season.

Wrapping Up

During Mattison’s current tenure as Defensive Coordinator his pass defense has been effective, but it hasn’t been flashy. The turnaround that the defense showed in 2011 is a prime example of just how much one great coach can impact a college team. With essentially the same roster as Greg Robinson had the year before, Mattison turned a terrible defense into one of the top in the country. This season, Mattison will apply his legendary coaching ability to the outstanding recruits he has brought in the past two years.

It’s very difficult to win Big Ten games with freshman, so even though all these new five- and four-star players are generating excitement around Michigan Football, bounce-back seasons from Avery and Countess will be the most important factors to this year’s secondary. If Countess can bounce back from his injury and play like he did during Michigan’s Sugar Bowl run, and Avery can find some consistency as a senior, the secondary will be one of the best in the country.

Ramon Taylor and Thomas Gordon are going to be steady, as they were last season, leaving the Wolverines with four veteran defensive backs that can lead the young recruits. If a few of the freshman are able to step up during the 2013 season, this will be a deep secondary and should follow up the 2012 dominance with another great year.

The Michigan Medley channels the Verve Pipe

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012


We were merely freshmen

Rich Rodriguez’s first recruiting classes are now the team’s upperclassmen and they have produced some stars, most notably Denard Robinson. But there are considerable talent and depth deficiencies that Hoke’s first two classes are beginning to fill. On Saturday against Air Force, we saw eight freshmen play considerable roles for the Wolverines and their roles are going to continue to expand throughout the season.

Tight end Devin Funchess had a breakout game with four receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. Fellow freshman tight end A.J. Williams saw considerable time as a blocking tight end. The pair got thrust onto the field due to an injury to Brandon Moore, but they would have played eventually given the lack of depth at the position following the graduation of Kevin Koger. Funchess has a chance to be an outright star. Prior to the season, I predicted him to be the offensive breakout star this season. He has great length and athleticism to create a mismatch with a linebacker or safety every time he’s targeted. Williams has a much bigger frame, which is more suitable for blocking. My only concern is that opponents will eventually catch on to this and see run every time Williams is on the field an pass every time Funchess is. But Al Borges knows this and will have plays to counter this.

Devin Funchess gives Denard another great receiving threat (photo by Getty Images)

Another pair of freshmen that got significant playing time are linebackers James Ross and Joe Bolden who played much of the second half in the middle of Michigan’s defense. Ross saw time against Alabama, and Brady Hoke said Saturday that Bolden was in because his high school, Cincinnati Colerain, ran the option. Both have done well so far. Bolden was the team’s second-leading tackler on Saturday with 10 tackles, one behind Jake Ryan. Ross added four. Has Bolden supplanted last year’s leading tackler, Kenny Demens? Probably not. He played the whole second half because of his experience with the option, but Demens has several years of experience. If anything, it’s good for the team to have such talented freshmen pushing the upperclassmen for their spots and it creates great depth.

On the defensive line, another duo, Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia, saw action. Most expected Pipkins to see the field even before the season started, and possibly even work his way into a starting role, but most considered Ojemudia a year or two away. But due to an injury to Brennen Beyer, Ojemudia got in. Hoke and Greg Mattison like to rotate a lot of bodies on the line, so improving the depth with talented freshmen is a good thing.

In the defensive backfield, freshman safety Jarrod Wilson got in. He’s the future of the position for Michigan, but likely won’t supplant Thomas Gordon this season except in certain packages.

Another freshman who has impressed so far is kick returner Dennis Norfleet. He has flashed speed and shiftiness in the first two games, giving Michigan a kick return threat it hasn’t seen since Steve Breaston.

One position that hasn’t seen freshman action yet, but could before too long, is receiver. Devin Gardner has done well in the first two games, cementing his spot as a starter, but no one else has really impressed. Jeremy Gallon had a good game against Alabama, but Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, and Jerald Robinson have a combined seven catches for 64 yards. Roundtree is Roundtree and deserves a spot on the field, but Jackson and Robinson have left a lot to be desired. Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both have qualities that could earn them a chance to step in. Darboh has great size at 6’2″, 220 pounds and wowed teammates in fall camp, while Chesson has track star speed. Gardner will continue to be a threat and so will Funchess from the tight end spot, but Denard Robinson needs at least one more receiver to step up as a consistent threat to keep Michigan’s passing game effective and open up the running game.

As you can see, the amount of players seeing the field who were going to prom just five months ago is higher than most coaches would want it to be, but that’s where this team is at right now. It bodes well for the future since these guys are getting on the job training, but we’ll have to deal with the growing pains along the way.

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Rival problems

With one-fourth of Michigan’s yearly schedule made up of bitter rivals, each season inevitably has the “which rival do I root for?” moments. This weekend is one of those. Michigan State hosts Notre Dame on Saturday night and many of us will flip channels or go back to our tailgate spot or find a bar with a TV in it after the Michigan game to do some advanced scouting of both teams. But who will we root for?

For many, the rule of thumb is to root for the Big Ten in out of conference match-ups. But that’s easy when it’s Iowa against Florida. It’s much harder when it involves a rival against a rival. So here’s my two cents: since both of them can’t lose on Saturday, root for Notre Dame.

First of all, Michigan plays Notre Dame next weekend. I wold rather have the Irish enter the game riding high with a 3-0 record and poised for a letdown than pulling together after defeat and looking to take it out on someone. Though Michigan hasn’t always dominated the Irish, it has in the won-loss column the past few years. The same can’t be said for Michigan State. I would rather face an undefeated Notre Dame team in Week 4 than an undefeated Michigan State team in Week 7.

Secondly, the game has implications in Michigan’s postseason. Last season, Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame was part of what helped Michigan earn a BCS bid. While the loss doesn’t outright affect the Big Ten title hopes since Notre Dame isn’t in the conference, it does even the playing field since Michigan already has one loss on the season.

So join me in rooting on the Irish on Saturday night, as hard as it may be.

Freshmen numbers and those who broke them in (Part 1)

Friday, August 3rd, 2012


[Ed.: This is the first of a three-part series on the uniform numbers the incoming freshmen will wear this season. For the full updated roster, click on the roster page on the right sidebar.]

Jersey numbers are the unique identifiers in team sports, but perhaps in no sport more than college football. We buy the jerseys of our favorite players and wear them proudly on game day, and the numbers of the superstars become symbolic long after the player’s days are done. Throughout the history of sports, players become known for the number they wore. Number two is Jeter, three is Ruth, seven is Elway or Mantle, 21 is Deion, 23 is Jordan, 42 is Jackie, 80 is Rice, 99 is Gretzky, and so on.

At Michigan, a new tradition was born last year to honor the legends who have made their number iconic. Desmond’s 21 was officially given “legend” status, and as we will find out this season, Oosterbaan is 47, Ford is 48, and Kramer is 87. Of course, Woodson’s two will soon be immortalized, as will Harmon’s 98 and surely others.

One of the highlights each fall before the season begins is the release of the numbers each incoming freshman will don. These are the guys we’ve heard so much about throughout the recruiting process and for the first time we can picture them in the jersey they’ll wear on the field. Some may make a name for themselves, some may not, but for four or five years we’ll get used to them in the number given. So let’s take a look at the numbers of each of the freshman and the Michigan greats who have worn them in years past.

#12 – Allen Gant

Ricky Powers wore #12 from 1990-93

Twelve will also be worn by quarterback Devin Gardner this season and was most recently worn by Roy Roundtree. It’s not a number that is widely recognized in Michigan lore, but it was worn by a talented running back from the early 1990s. Ricky Powers donned number 12 from 1990-93. He set the Michigan freshman rushing record which was later broken by Mike Hart and rushed for 1,251 yards in his sophomore season. He shared the backfield with Tyrone Wheatley the next two seasons but currently ranks 14th in all-time rushing yards. He is currently the head coach at Akron Buchtel High School in Akron, Ohio.

Other notables to wear number 12: Elvis Grbac (1988), Scott Dreisbach (1994-98), George Hoey (1966-68), Brandon Williams (1999-2002), Chris Zurbrugg (1983-87)

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#13 – Terry Richardson

Garland Rivers was an All-American in number 13 in 1986

Thirteen will be shared by walk-on quarterback Alex Swieca, but he will probably never see the field. It was most recently worn by safety Carvin Johnson and receiver Greg Mathews. The best known player to wear 13 is Garland Rivers, a defensive back from 1983-86 who started 32 games and recorded six interceptions 172 career tackles. He was a consensus All-American during the 1986 season.

Keith Bostic also wore number 13 from 1979-82. He was first team All-Big Ten in 1982 and currently ranks second in Michigan history in fumble recoveries in a season (4), fourth in career recoveries (6), and 10th in career interceptions (10).

Richardson, a four-star recruit, has a chance to make a make in the number 13 in the coming years if he sticks with it.

Other notables to wear number 13: Larry Stevens (2000-03)

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Grbac ranks in the top 3 in most Michigan QB records

#15 – James Ross

Elvis Grbac wore 15 from 1989-92. All he did was become one of the best Michigan quarterbacks of all time. By the time he graduated, he ranked first in career passing attempts (835), completions (522), passing yards (6,460), and passing touchdowns (71). Those records have since been broken, but he still ranks third in attempts, completions and yards, second in career completion percentage (62.5), and first in efficiency rating (148.1). Though he was drafted in the eighth round of the 1993 NFL Draft, he went on to have a long NFL career, earning a Super Bowl ring and one Pro Bowl selection.

Another successful Wolverine who wore 15 was Steve Breaston. The do-everything receiver ranks fifth all-time in career receptions (156) and first in career punt returns (127), punt return yards (1,599), kick returns (81), kick return yards (1,993), and return touchdowns (5).

Other notables to wear number 15: Scot Loeffler (1993-96), DeWayne Patmon (1997-2000), Bo Rather (1970-72), Frank Culver (1917)

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#19 – Devin Funchess

Remy Hamilton's game-winner vs. ND in 1994 was a huge moment for #19

Number 19 is an odd number historically for a Michigan tight end. According to the Michigan football roster database, no other tight end has worn the number. It has been worn most by kickers and receivers, most notably Mike Gillette and Remy Hamilton. Gillette has the record for most field goals in a game (5), while Hamilton owns the season record (25) as well as the record for most consecutive field goals made (14). Hamilton’s claim to fame is a game-winning 42-yard field goal to beat Notre Dame with two seconds remaining in 1994. It was his fourth field goal of the day and he went on to earn All-America honors that season.

Gillette ranks third in career field goals (57) and is tied with Garrett Rivas for most career 40-yard field goals (13). In 1986, his 34-yard field goal knocked off undefeated Iowa as time expired. He also nailed a 58-yarder against Ohio State in 1988.

Another notable Wolverine to wear number 19 was Robert Brown in 1925. He was the captain of that year’s team, which Fielding Yost called the greatest team he ever coached. He was also named All-American that season.

Other notables to wear number 19: Bob Bergeron (1981-84), Henry Fonde (1945-47), Kelvin Grady (2009-11), Dave Raimey (1960-62), Carl Ward (1964-66)

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#22 – Jarrod Wilson

Ty Law was an All-American in #22

Wilson has some big shoes to fill in the number 22, and it’s a fellow member of the secondary. Ty Law donned 22 from 1992-94 and is widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs Michigan has ever had. His six interceptions in the 1993 season rank seventh all-time and he ranks 14th in career passes broken up (19). He was a first-team All-American and two-time All-Big Ten. He went on to a long and productive NFL career before retiring in 2010. A 23rd overall selection in the 1995 NFL Draft, he won three Super Bowls, was named to the Pro Bowl five times, and was named to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 2000s.

Other notables to wear number 22: Jamar Adams (2004-07), Dennis Brown (1966-68), Ralph Clayton (1977-79), Glenn Doughty (1969-71), Darryl Stonum (2008-11), Gerald White (1983-86)

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Thom Darden was one of two All-Americans to wear #35

#35 – Joe Bolden

Thom Darden wore number 35 from 1969-71 and was a standout defensive back. He was an All-American in 1971 and first-team All-Big Ten in 1970 and ’71. He ranks sixth in career interceptions (11), second in single season interception return yards (163) and career return yards (224). He picked off two passes against Ohio State in 1971, the second of which leading to the infamous tirade by Buckeye head coach Woody Hayes. He went on to play for the Cleveland Browns where he is still the career leader in interceptions (45).

Another standout in number 35 was Don Dufek. The defensive back from 1973-75 was a first-team All-American in ’75 and his five career fumble recoveries rank seventh all-time at Michigan. He also starred in hockey for the Wolverines and was drafted to both the NFL and NHL, but chose football.

Stanley Fay donned 35 from 1931-33. The halfback and quarterback was the leading scorer for the 1932 and 33 national championship teams, as well as captain in ’33.

Other notables to wear number 35: B.J. Askew (1999-2002), Chuck Winters (1992-96)

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Jim Pace was an All-American in #43

#43 – Chris Wormley

Wormley will share number 43 with punter Will Hagerup this season. Hagerup has worn it each of the past two years. Jim Pace wore the number from 1955-57 and was a dominant running back in his time. He was named Big Ten MVP in 1957 after scoring 10 touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving, and one on a punt return). He rushed for 164 yards, a then-record against Ohio State that season. He was also named All-American and ran track for Michigan, winning the Big Ten 60-yard indoor dash title.

An interesting player who wore number 43 was Ben McRae. He played for the Wolverines from 1959-61 and was drafted by the NFL, but is best known for his performance on the track. He was a six-time Big Ten champion and was part of Michigan’s 2010 Hall of Fame class.

Other notables to wear number 43: Corwin Brown (1988), Clint Copenhaver (1994-98), Carl Diggs (1999-2003), Clint Haslerig (1971-73), Ben McRae (1959-61), Monte Robbins (1983-87), Bryan Wright (2006-09)

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Part 2: #49 Kaleb Ringer, #50 Tom Strobel, #52 Royce Jenkins-Stone, #53 Mario Ojemudia, #56 Ondre Pipkins, #62 Blake Bars, and #67 Kyle Kalis

Part 3: #71 Ben Braden, #78 Erik Magnuson, #82 Amara Darboh, #84 A.J. Williams, #86 Jehu Chesson, #99 Matthew Godin

Meet your 2012 recruiting class: The secondary

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012


Michigan had a great recruiting weekend by picking up eight commitments on Saturday and Sunday, but we’re still not done talking about this year’s recruiting class. You know, the players who will be suiting up for the Wolverines this fall, some of which will see the field come September. We’ve already profiled the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers and tight ends, the defensive line, and the linebackers. Today, we culminate our recruiting profiles with the final position group – the secondary. Two of them are consensus four-stars and the other two consensus three-stars. They have an average position rating of 38. Let’s take a look.