photo Michigan-Display-Ad-728x90-Die-Hard-Fans-only_zpskcnarkrk.jpg  photo MampGB header 2015 v6_zpsdluogxnr.jpg

Posts Tagged ‘Jehu Chesson’

M&GB staff predictions – Penn State

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan opens Big Ten play on Saturday against 2-1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are three games into a new up-tempo spread offense that has fans in State College excited, but is still in its infancy. They’re also missing their entire linebacking corps.

Joe was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 45 – Colorado 17. He now has the lead in our staff picks challenge. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 48 20
Derick 38 20
Sam 34 10
Josh 38 13
Joe 42 10
M&GB Average 40 15

This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win.

Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.

On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.

Michigan 48 – Penn State 20

Derick

I think the up-tempo offensive style of Penn State will give Michigan some issues, but if Jourdan Lewis returns, the secondary will obviously have a huge lift.

On offense, Michigan will have to keep being creative in the running game to open things up for Wilton Speight in the short passing game.

I don’t think Penn State is much better than Colorado, but this might be Michigan’s toughest test to date. With that said, Michigan’s wake up call came last weekend and I expect Jim Harbaugh will have them firing on all cylinders to start Big Ten play.

Michigan will cruise past Penn State, 38-20.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 20

Sam

Michigan cruised through weeks 1 and 2 against clearly inferior competition…then came week 3 against a Colorado team that we also thought would be a mere speed hump (not even a bump!). Alas, as the first quarter was drawing to a close, I was already reasoning with myself that “it’s just a game”.

But the recovery came quickly, and things will hopefully be back on track as Penn State comes to town tomorrow. Wilton Speight is probably not as good as the first two weeks showed, and probably not as bad as last week either.

Will it be enough to win the Big Ten? Only time can tell. But it should be plenty to beat a Penn State team that is going to struggle to find space for Saquon Barkley to run into. Taco Charlton should be back in a big way as Michigan dumps the Nittany Lions.

Michigan 34 – Penn State 10

Josh (1)

Ah, Penn State. What a wonderful team. Wait, no that’s not right. Apparently they have a saying there, “It’s -blank- o’clock and Michigan still sucks.” Yes, Michigan sucks. Clearly they haven’t checked their place in the conference hierarchy lately. Even so, I think they’ll provide yet another stout test for Michigan this week. They have a new spread-y type offense, one of the best running backs in America and a dominating defensive li… What’s that? Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel graduated? And they’re also missing two of three starting linebackers? Oh well then, disregard any mention of their defense. So maybe the defense isn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, but their new spread offense might be and Michigan will need to be on their best game if they want to avoid getting caught on too many busted plays again.

I’ll go ahead and say it, Saquon Barkley scares me. He is shifty, he has excellent vision and he is fast. Taking the wrong angle on him could end up with six on the scoreboard. Michigan absolutely has to contain him if they are to win this game. That said, it’s been the passing game that has generated the big plays for Penn State this year (4.67 per game, same as Michigan). Luckily, Michigan is getting Jourdan Lewis back this week so that should do wonders for the defense. And maybe Taco too? Either way, this is a game Michigan should win but will likely be test once again.

On offense – I’d like to see Wilton Speight bounce back from an iffy performance with confidence and make some big plays once again. At this point I’m not sure anyone really respects Michigan’s run game (I don’t blame them) so Penn State will probably be content to let Speight try to beat them with his arm. It would be nice to see the run game get some momentum heading into the Wisconsin match-up but my gut says Penn State is going to stack the box so I’m not so sure this is the week we see our traditional run game get going. Thank God for jet sweeps and guys like Jabrill Peppers, Jehu Chesson and Eddie McDooooooooooom. I’d also like to see the left guard spot get sorted out, as neither Ben Braden nor Ben Bredeson has looked all that good there and it’s beginning to become a concern for me as we head into the meat of the schedule.

On defense – I’d like to see them shore up some of the containment/missed assignment issues that plagued them the last two weeks as well as how they adjust to another spread/no-huddle team. Penn State isn’t exactly a tempo spread team, they are no-huddle but don’t run a ton of plays. In fact, they’re averaging almost 5.5 plays fewer per game than Michigan is right now. Either way, I’d like to see how Michigan continues to adjust to a no-huddle team. How they manage to improve upon this could be the difference between 12-0 and 10-2. Hopefully adding Jourdan Lewis back into the mix is a shot in the arm for both the pass and run defense.

For the record, I’m not too worried about Penn State causing issues here as it seems they line up quickly and look to the sideline for the play-call but it could be an issue anyway. Michigan has done a fairly good job of hiding their coverages/blitzes so far but when a defense is spread out it can become tricky to hide those blitzes as well as before. On that note…

Maybe a new wrinkle, or two, as far as formations or crazy blitzes to keep that spread offense from clicking. Don Brown has hung his hat on not only his aggressiveness but also his ability to stop spread teams, with three games under their belts I think now is the time we need to start seeing some progress on that front. Holding Penn State to under three big run plays and two big pass plays would be HUGE in my opinion. Remember, holding an opponent to under six big plays per game would be on par with a top ten ranking (stats-wise) based on 2015 big play stats. This needs to be the game where Michigan really asserts itself on defense and shuts down all those big plays they’ve been giving up lately.

On special teams – All I want to see is Kenny Allen keep his punts out of the endzone, consistently. That and maybe another block/deflection. I won’t be greedy and ask for another special teams score, OK maybe I will.

Michigan is the better team. They have better players and a far superior coaching staff. Any Penn State fan who thinks Franklin will outcoach Harbaugh (I saw it on twitter) clearly needs their head examined. Penn State will put up a fight, probably not a jump-out-to-an-early-lead like Colorado fight but a fight nonetheless. After getting punched in the mouth last week Michigan should come out focused and ready to roll. Michigan wins going away but the game is much closer than the score.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 13

Joe (2)

This is a game where the lines should dominate early and often and wear the Nittany Lions down over the course of four quarters. While the Penn State quarterback is leading the Big Ten in passing yards (second in passing yards per game) he will not have much time to survey his options. Our defensive front should have a field day and generate tons of pressures and quarterback hits. That will lead to turnovers and points for the Maize and Blue.

If Michigan can keep Saquon Barkley in check most of the time and force them to throw, things will get ugly in the second half. Barkley is the best and only option coming out of Happy Valley.

Wilton Speight should come back strong and have a solid day thru the air. I think Michigan will look to establish the run early and then open things up. Speight goes for 250 and three scores through the air with two of them going to Butt. Michigan wins this one big.

Michigan 42 – Penn State 10

The numbers game: Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016


peppers-vs-colorado(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays

Well, I did not panic at all during the first quarter last weekend. Nope, not one bit.

But in the end Michigan pulled off the comeback and now we can look at the numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re not quite as bad as you might think given how the first quarter played out.

Okay, let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and get the defensive numbers out of the way first.

Michigan gave up seven total big plays, four of which came in the first quarter. Colorado had four big run plays (10-yards or more) and three big pass plays (20-yards or more), which is right about in line with their season average of 6.5 big plays against per game coming in. After that horrendous first quarter, Michigan settled down and Colorado had just two runs of over 10-yards and only one big pass play, although it was a 70-yard touchdown pass. Hooray for a coaching staff that makes adjustments!

Through three games the 2015 Michigan defense gave up 4.33 big run plays per game, 1.33 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.67 big plays given up per game and a 9.19 percent big plays against percentage.

Adding in the Colorado numbers, the 2016 iteration of the Wolverines now gives up five big run plays per game (75th), 1.67 big pass plays per game (14th), for a total of 6.67 big plays per game (44th) and a big play against percentage of 10.26 percent. All are slightly higher than this point last year. Keep in mind that All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis has yet to play this season and starting defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone have missed the last two games.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first three weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 5 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

Despite a slight uptick in big plays given up by the defense, Michigan’s offense fared quite well in the big play department against Colorado, with 10 total — four big running plays and six big passing plays. However, despite a solid offensive outing, Michigan’s 10 total big plays were less than their season average of thirteen. Let’s see how Michigan’s offense compares to last year through three games.

In 2015, Michigan averaged 3.33 big runs per game and 2.67 big passes per game, for a total of six big plays per game and a big play percentage of 8.57 percent.

Through three games in 2016 Michigan has averaged 7.33 big run plays (19th), 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 12 big plays per game and a big play percentage of 16.98 percent (12th). That is literally double the amount of big plays on offense compared to last year and nearly double the big play percentage. Let that sink in for a moment. Michigan has had twice as many total big plays through three games this year than they did through three games in 2015. That is remarkable, even given any quality of opponent caveats.

Michigan’s big play differential is 6.72 percent (18th) and their total toxic differential is 18 (15th on a per game basis). Last year, those numbers were -0.62 percent big play differential and a total toxic differential of -1. I actually had to go back and double check my numbers because the difference was so glaring. I figured the offense would get better but this is just an astronomical improvement thus far.

To sum up: through three games Michigan is giving up one big play more per game over last year (6.67 versus 5.67) while putting up twice as many big plays of their own (12 versus 6). Their big play differential has gone from a negative, -0.62 percent to a solid 6.72 percent and their toxic differential has taken a massive jump from -1 to 18. The toxic differential number is not inflated by a lot of forced turnovers either, which are mostly random anyway. Michigan is only plus-2 in that category. The jump is due to the plus-16 difference in big plays for/against compared to a plus-1 in big plays for/against at this time last year. This is not your grandfather’s three yards and a cloud of dust pro-style offense.

Michigan’s Week 3 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
1 1st and 10 Jabrill Peppers 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 10 Run
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 21 Pass
2 1st and 10 Jehu Chesson 17 (TD) Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
3 2nd and 7 De’Veon Smith 42 (TD) Run
3 1st and 19 Wilton Speight to Ty Isaac 21 Pass
3 3rd and 14 Wilton Speight to Grant Perry 54 Pass
Colorado’s Week 3 big plays
1 2nd and 12 Sefo Liufau to Devin Ross 37 (TD) Pass
1 2nd and 7 Phillip Lindsay 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Bryce Bobo 50 Pass
1 2nd and 8 Phillip Lindsay 11 Run
2 2nd and 3 Phillip Lindsay 15 Run
3 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields 70 (TD) Pass
4 2nd and 12 Steven Montez 10 Run

What stands out here is the obvious improvement in the offensive numbers. And of course, the slight regression in the big plays given up by the defense. Any concern we may have about the defense though has been mitigated by a massive explosion in offensive production.

Earlier I predicted the offense should be able to add about one big play more per game via Harbaugh’s magic touch and the defense would be able to eliminate about one total big play per game with Don Brown’s scheme. I also predicted there would be some hiccups in the early going regarding the defense.

The offense is way ahead of schedule; did I mention they’ve literally doubled their total big plays? The hiccups we’re seeing on defense now are likely compounded with the absences of Mone, Charlton and Lewis. I don’t think either of these trends — the offense recording an inordinate amount of explosive plays and the defense continuing to give up more than expected — will continue though. However, I should note that the 6.67 big plays given up per game by the defense is still about half a big play less per game than their final 2015 total.

As the season progresses and competition level increases I think we’ll see the offensive numbers drop a bit (likely around the 8-9 total per game range) and as the team gets more comfortable in Don Brown’s scheme (and the three missing starters return) the defense should start to contain some of those big plays. The defensive improvement may not quite reach that one less big play per game I predicted but even if they keep it steady at around 6.5 plays per game I think they’ll be fine. Based on 2015’s numbers anything under 6.5 per game should have them in the top 15 nationally, while anything under 6 per game and they’d be around the top 10 (fewest given up).

And now let’s take a peek at our first conference opponent, Penn State, and see how they stack up in the big play department.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
PSU Def. 20 3 23 11.39% 1.37% 0
Penn State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PSU Off. 11 5 16 12.76% 1.37% 0
UM Def. 13 4 17 10.26% 6.72% 18

The Nittany Lions’ offense currently averages 3.67 big run plays per game (105th) and 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 8.33 big plays per game (78th) with a big play percentage of 12.76 percent (57th). I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised to see Penn State’s big pass plays higher than their run plays given that Saquon Barkley is one heck of a running back.

On defense they give up an average of 6.67 big running plays per game (101st), only one big pass play per game (4th) for a total of 7.67 total big plays per game (65th) with a big play against percentage of 11.39 percent (71st). Their big play differential is a paltry 1.37 percent (70th) and their toxic differential is zero, good for 75th on a per game basis.

M&GB staff predictions: Colorado

Saturday, September 17th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Colorado comes to town tomorrow with a 2-0 record, hoping to relive the magic of 1994 when Kordell Stewart’s hail Mary stunned the Wolverines. As a 20-point underdog, a win this time around would be a much bigger stunner. Josh was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 51 – UCF 10. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Colorado
Justin 34 17
Derick 38 14
Sam 41 10
Josh 42 17
Joe 45 17
M&GB Average 40 15

Michigan’s schedule has gradually gotten stronger by the opponent and this will be the biggest test yet. The line has hovered around 20 points, but that will be a tough one for Michigan to cover. Through the first two weeks of the season Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. Like Michigan they have feasted on cupcakes without playing down to their competition, but they have done it better.

Colorado has done a good job taking care of the ball so far this season. They have lost three fumbles — which are mostly random — but Liufau hasn’t thrown an interception yet. Michigan’s defense has forced four turnovers so far — two of which were pick-sixes — and they’ll need to force Liufau to make mistakes.

Offensively, the big question will be whether Michigan can muster a run game. UCF packed eight and nine man boxes a week ago to stop the run, so Wilton Speight aired it out 37 times. The passing game made seven big plays (20 or more yards). But Colorado features a much better secondary than UCF did. Awuzie is one of the best corners Michigan will face this season and will be able to stick with Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh. If the offensive line is unable to get a push and open up running lanes, Speight will be tested more than he has yet in his young career.

This game has the makings of a tight one through the first half that Michigan pulls away in the second. I do think the running game will be able to have some success — Colorado State rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts — and the play action passing game will make enough big plays to ensure the win, but not cover the spread.

Michigan 34 – Colorado 17

Derick

Michigan hasn’t seen a test like Colorado yet this season, but the Buffaloes still aren’t on the same level as most of the Big Ten. In two games against Hawaii and UCF, Michigan ran away from the game in the first quarter.

I expect this game will be closer, but it still shouldn’t be close. Michigan has more firepower offensively than Colorado and should be able to overwhelm the Buffaloes downfield. If the first two weeks are any indication, Michigan will once again struggle to run the ball against a solid Colorado front seven. But Wilton Speight has shown he can beat teams in play action, and I think he will again.

Colorado will hang in there for a half, but Michigan will run away in the third quarter for a win.

Michigan 38 – Colorado 14

Sam

This may be the first “test” for the Wolverines, but I’m resting easy. I still think Michigan’s defense is too good to cede more than a couple fluky touchdowns (even without a couple of major pieces) to Colorado, and Speight has been too good to contain. I like the Maize and Blue to cover the spread for a third straight time before conference season gets underway.

Michigan 41 – Colorado 10

Josh (1)

Colorado is probably better than both Hawaii and UCF, but they haven’t played anyone of note either. There were some concerns about Michigan’s run defense last week, losing ‘contain’ on the quarterback and giving up an 87-yard touchdown run. As I touched on in this week’s ‘The Numbers Game’ post I wouldn’t worry too much, these are issues that will be fixed by the coaching staff. Like last year, Michigan has been very vanilla in both their offense and defense. There’s no need to break out their whole bag of tricks early on and give teams like MSU, Iowa and OSU stuff to scout.

Michigan is much more talented and better coached than Colorado, but they still may give Michigan a test this weekend. Stats-wise, Sefo Liufau has been an efficient passer in his first two games and isn’t a slouch in the run game either. Normally this would be a prime letdown spot for a game — a solid opponent after two weeks of cupcakes. I don’t see Harbaugh letting that happen though. The man didn’t even find Colorado’s fake depth chart amusing (I thought it was rather clever).

That said, I think Colorado will hang with Michigan a lot longer than most people think, despite Michigan being favored by 20-points. They’re a spread team with a high-tempo offense and some solid threats in both the running and passing game. Michigan is missing two defensive linemen (and maybe Jourdan Lewis again too) and it will eventually take its toll resulting in a big run or two, as guys get worn down. Twitter will be panicking early as I think this will still be a competitive game heading into halftime. Michigan will pull away by the fourth quarter making the game look not nearly as close as it actually was.

Some things I’d like to see:

On offense: It would be nice to see the run game get going but I just want to see an efficient offense again, regardless of how they do it. This should be a good test for Speight and I’d like to see him remain calm in the pocket and make the correct reads/progressions as he did last week. On the ground, if they so choose to run a lot, I need to see some more consistency in the blocking and from De’Veon Smith’s decision making regarding which holes to hit and when to cutback, etc.

On defense: The obvious is not let the quarterback run all over them but I won’t be upset by a couple big runs. If they can keep the big plays to under five I’ll be very pleased. What I’d really like though is to see Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark play so well that we don’t need to worry about missing Lewis (if he’s out longer than expected). With Lewis this secondary can be elite; without him they cannot.

On special teams: It’d be crazy to think they can block another kick, or two, right?

Michigan 42 – Colorado 17

Joe (1)

Michigan 45 – Colorado 17

The numbers game: While UCF loaded the box, Michigan went to the air for big plays

Thursday, September 15th, 2016


darboh-vs-ucf(Isaiah Hole, 247)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1

Week 2 is in the books and despite their delusional coach thinking they “outhit” Michigan, UCF was still the beneficiary of a 51-14 beat down. Let’s dive right in and see how Michigan’s big play and toxic differential numbers played out against the Knights.

Michigan had a total of 12 big plays against UCF, down from 14 the previous week. However, this time the plays were more evenly distributed amongst run and pass at five and seven respectfully (they were 11 and three last week). I think this was partially due to UCF stacking the box and selling out to stop the run. It’s tough to tell if a play is a run blitz or not but according to Pro Football Focus Speight was blitzed on 28 of his 39 dropbacks, so it’s probably safe to assume they had some sort of blitz dialed up on most downs (sounds familiar). It’s still novel to note that the coaching staff did not insist on running the ball into eight- and nine-man boxes but instead adjusted and decided to air it out.

After two games Michigan is averaging eight big run plays per game (17th nationally), five big pass plays per game (16th), and 13 total big plays per game (eighth) for a big play percentage of 18.44 percent (eighth).

Through two games in 2015, the Michigan offense was averaging 3.5 big run plays and 3.5 big pass plays for a total of seven big plays per game. Their big play percentage was 9.59 percent.

Adding the UCF game to their Week 1 totals, Michigan’s defense has taken a big hit in the big plays against rankings, most notably the run. Michigan has now given up 5.5 big run plays per game (90th nationally) and one big pass play per game (9th), for a total of 6.5 big plays per game (50th) and a big play against percentage of 10.16 percent (67th).

Their big play differential (big play percentage for, minus big play percentage against) is a very solid 8.2 percent (13th nationally), while their total toxic differential (big plays for minus big plays against, plus turnover margin) is 16 (11th nationally). On a per game basis they rank 12th nationally in toxic differential.

In 2015, Michigan gave up an average of four big run plays per game and 1.5 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.5 big plays given up per game. This works out to a 8.94 percent big plays against percentage. Their big play differential percentage was 0.65 percent. Toxic differential was minus-7.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first two weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 16 10 26 18.44% 8.2% 16
2015 7 7 14 9.59% 0.65% -7
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 5.5 1 6.5 10.16% 8.2% 16
2015 4 1.5 5.5 8.94% 0.65% -7

Michigan came out throwing the ball around to the tune of 37 pass attempts. This resulted in seven big pass plays, four of which were over 30-yards. The big run plays were down but it was still nice to see De’Veon Smith record two of them (17, 12). As I mentioned with UCF essentially selling out to stop the run, it was not a surprise to see Michigan’s big run plays limited while the big pass plays increased.

On the flip side of the ball I was surprised, as I’m sure many of you were, to see UCF come up with several big plays, all of them in the run game. I saw some comments on Twitter (speaking of, you should follow me at @jdemille9) about the high-risk nonsense we dispelled earlier and about guys not being in their correct lanes. I went back and re-watched the game to see what exactly happened. Three of the seven were quarterback scrambles in which Michigan either took a bad angle to the play and/or over-pursued. The 87-yard touchdown run came with Mike McCray being slightly out of position (and possibly held) and Dymonte Thomas taking a very bad angle of pursuit. Jawon Hamilton being super fast didn’t hurt either.

While concerning and frustrating in the moment, I’m not too worried about these big runs against Michigan, as it is an issue that will be corrected by the coaches. Missing Bryan Mone, Taco Charlton, and even Jourdan Lewis cannot be understated here. It’s also better for these hiccups (which we all knew would happen) to occur early in the season against teams that are not a threat to win the game.

I am not saying big runs like this will never happen again but once the adjustments are made in practice I don’t see another team on the schedule, outside of Ohio State, capable of gashing Michigan on the ground repeatedly like UCF did. Don Brown was brought in because of his ability to stop spread to run teams like Ohio State, and he will make the proper adjustments going forward.

Michigan’s Week 2 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 8 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 35 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 32 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 16 Run
2 2nd and 13 De’Veon Smith 17 Run
2 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
3 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 23 Pass
3 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 20 Pass
3 2nd and 10 Chris Evans 18 Run
4 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
4 3rd and 5 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 30 (TD) Pass
4 3rd and 8 Kekoa Crawford 11 Run
UCF’s Week 2 big plays
1 1st and 10 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
1 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 30 Run
2 2nd and 10 Adrian Killins 87 (TD) Run
2 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 35 Run
2 2nd and 6 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
3 2nd and 10 Nick Patti 26 Run
3 1st and 10 Dontravious Wilson 34 (TD) Run

Looking ahead to Colorado, I was a bit surprised to see how well they ranked in big play metrics, especially their defense. Of course, they did play an FCS team last week but they beat them as you’d expect.

The Colorado offense averages seven big run plays per game (33rd nationally) and 4.4 big pass plays per game (27th) for a total of 11.5 big plays per game (19th) and a big play percentage of 12.99 percent (50th).

On defense, the Buffaloes have looked very impressive. They give up an average of 2.5 big run plays per game (22nd nationally) and zero big pass plays (first) for a total of 2.5 big plays given up per game (second). Their big play against percentage is 4.2 percent (third). Their big play differential is 8.79 percent (11th) and total toxic differential is 20 (fourth).

Colorado is one of just four teams to not surrender a big pass play through the first two weeks of the season. I would expect that streak to end this week. Two of the other three are teams within Michigan’s division, whom I will not mention.

On paper it looks as though Colorado could give Michigan a run for their money, as far as not allowing big plays, and it should be a much more competitive game than the past two opponents, despite Vegas favoring Michigan by 20 points.

I expect Michigan to win but I am not excited about the inevitable Kordell Stewart Hail Mary replays. Why did Dave Brandon insist on rescheduling teams to whom Michigan lost epic heartbreakers, as if winning them the second time around would make those memories any less painful? And now it comes out that Colorado will be wearing the exact same uniforms they did on September 24th, 1994. My 15-year-old self would not be pleased to hear this.

#5 Michigan 51 – UCF 14: Speight tosses 4 TDs to slay Knights

Sunday, September 11th, 2016


wilton-speight-vs-ucf(Katy Kildee MLive.com)

If Week 1 is for getting a chance to hit someone other than your teammates and show what all of the offseason preparation was for, Week 2 is for improving on what went wrong the previous week. Michigan looked nearly flawless in its season opening win over Hawaii a week ago but a little less so on Saturday against UCF. Still, it was enough to yield a 51-14 win.

There was no opening drive interception this time, but the offensive line had trouble run blocking and the defense allowed several big plays. After piling up 306 rushing yards in Week 1, Michigan rushed for just 119 yards on 2.9 yards per carry. The offensive line allowed eight tackles for loss, reminding many of the Brady Hoke days when Michigan struggled mightily to run the ball.

But it was clear that UCF’s defensive game plan was the load the box and force quarterback Wilton Speight — making just his second career start — to beat them with his arm. And that he did. Speight looked cool, calm, and collected all day, completing 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He made smart decisions when needed and showed his ability to stand in the pocket and find an open receiver even while being hit.

um-ucf_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan UCF
Score 51 14
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 447 331
Net Rushing Yards 119 275
Net Passing Yards 328 56
First Downs 23 15
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 2-20 9-76
Punts-Yards 3-137 4-130
Time of Possession 34:25 25:35
Third Down Conversions 8-of-18 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 3-of-4 2-of-5
Sacks By-Yards 3-18 2-12
Field Goals 3-for-3 0-for-2
PATs 6-for-6 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 7-of-8 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 4-of-8 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Jim Harbaugh left Speight and most of the starters in well into the fourth quarter despite a large lead, perhaps to send a message that they shouldn’t let up or perhaps just to get them as many reps as possible. But he was pleased with Speight’s performance.

“When the quarterback throws for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, that’s a great performance,” Harbaugh said after the game. “It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say he’ll probably be our offensive player of the week.”

Michigan’s big three of Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt were targeted often and combined for 16 catches for 281 yards and four scores, lead by Darboh’s career-high 111 yards. All three caught passes of at least 25 yards.

Defensively, Michigan was a bit Jekyll and Hyde, recording 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, but also giving up four runs of 26 or more yards, including a 87-yard touchdown run. That will certainly have Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett licking his chops, but there are still nine games to play before Michigan heads to Columbus.

UCF head coach Scott Frost was proud of the way his young team performed.

“It’s hard to say when the score is what it is, but we came in here and outhit those guys today,” Frost said. “Standing on the sideline, there was no doubt who was hitting harder. Our guys came in hungry and wanting to do that. It’s rare you can come into Michigan and rush for 300 yards on them. They had to run a fly sweep in the fourth quarter to get to 100.”

Whether UCF out-hit Michigan is up for debate, but regardless, it’s cold comfort for a team that lost by 37.

Two Michigan players who will never be out-hit by everyone lead the way for the Wolverines on defense. Michigan’s stars from New Jersey were impressive as Jabrill Peppers lead the team with eight tackles, including two for loss, and Rashan Gary notched six tackles, 2.5 for loss, and half a sack.

“I was itching for a sack this week,” Gary said after the game. “I didn’t get one last week and I felt like I owed the D-line. I missed one against Hawaii. And I said ‘I’m not going to miss’ if I get another opportunity.”

At 2-0, Michigan has outscored its opponents 114-17 with one non-conference game remaining. Colorado (2-0) comes to town next Saturday before the Big Ten slate begins the following week.

Game ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
In just his second career start, Speight displayed the poise of a veteran, completing 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. With UCF stacking the box to stop the run, Michigan used the play-action passing game to pull away early. Speight threw two touchdown passes to Jake Butt and one to Amara Darboh in the first 20 minutes of action and added another to Darboh in the fourth quarter. Through two games, Speight has completed 70 percent of his passes (35-of-50) for 457 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception.

Previous
Week 1 – Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Game ball – Defense

Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
The No. 1 overall recruit in last year’s class didn’t take long to make his presence felt. While he notched three tackles in his first career game last week, he didn’t record a tackle for loss or a sack. That changed on Saturday against UCF. He finished second on the team with six tackles and 2.5 of those were behind the line of scrimmage. He also recorded his first career sack, which he combined with Ben Gedeon. With Taco Charlton out due to an injury he suffered last week, Gary will continue to get plenty of playing time and he has lived up to the hype so far.

Previous
Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)

The numbers game: Run game makes big plays in Week 1

Thursday, September 8th, 2016


chris-evans(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

The Hawaii game went about as expected, save for that pick on Wilton Speight’s first throw, and while it won’t tell us much we don’t already know I thought we could look at the big plays (for and against) and the toxic differential to see how Michigan compares to their first game last year and the 2015 season overall. This will be a running feature throughout the season.

Last year, Michigan opened up on the road against a very good Utah team. Obviously, Hawaii did not present the same challenges as the Utes did a year ago, so take these comparisons with grain of salt.

Against Utah in 2015, Michigan had zero big runs (10 or more yards) and only three big passes (20 or more yards) amongst their 72 offensive plays, yielding a paltry 4.1 percent big play percentage (not very good). The Utes, by comparison, had five big run plays and two big pass plays, yielding a decent but not spectacular 10 percent big play percentage. Michigan lost the big play battle seven to three and lost the turnover battle three to one, giving them a minus-6 toxic differential for the game. It’s tough to win the game when you lose the turnover battle and it’s just about impossible when losing both the turnover battle and the big play battle.

Now for some good news.

This year, Michigan came storming out of the gates. Quality of opponent caveats apply, but last Saturday went about as well as it should have against a team like Hawaii. Michigan had 11 big run plays and three big pass plays amongst their 59 total plays for a big play percentage of 23.7 percent, good for third nationally after Week 1. On the other side of the ball Michigan gave up four big run plays and two big pass plays for a big play against percentage of 10 percent, good for 72nd nationally — not great but one less big play than they gave up in last year’s opener.

Michigan’s big play differential (big play percentage for minus big play percentage against) was 13.7 percent, good for 8th best nationally. Michigan won the total big play battle fourteen to six and the turnover battle two to one for a total toxic differential (big plays for minus big plays against plus turnover margin) of 9, tied for 13th best.

Michigan 2015 vs 2016 Week 1 comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 (Hawaii) 11 3 14 23.7% 13.7% 9
2015 (Utah) 0 3 3 4.1% -5.9% -6

Ohio State always seems to fare well in these metrics and currently sits atop the nation with a toxic differential of 19 (19 big plays for, 2 big plays given up, and a plus-2 turnover margin). Michigan is gaining ground, but the Buckeyes are still ahead for now.

Of course, one game is not a sufficient sample size and comparing it to the 2015 opener is not equal (Utah is much better than Hawaii hopes to be) but we can still look at these numbers and compare them to 2015 as a whole for a pseudo gauge of improvement and speculate on how that might look going forward.

For a refresher, here are Michigan’s big play numbers (on a per game basis) both for and given up..

Michigan’s 2015 offense averaged 3.6 big run plays per game (118th) and 3.7 big pass plays per game (40th) for a total of 7.3 big plays per game (100th) with a big play percentage of 10.49 percent (98th). Against Hawaii those numbers, again, were 11 and three.

If you’ll recall the look back at Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers days you’ll remember that the passing game wasn’t the area which saw drastic improvement. In fact, it regressed then bounced back to just a bit better than pre-Harbaugh. The Hawaii game is showing just that, a big improvement in big plays in the run game and a slight regression in big plays for the passing game. Of course, these big running play numbers are not likely to continue — only three teams averaged over 10 big run plays per game in 2015 and only nine teams even averaged more than eight per game — but it is promising to think about how this might pan out over the course of a full season.

Passing game numbers shouldn’t be anything to worry about. This won’t be a team that has a lot of them as the strength will be in the run game. If they can maintain their 2015 average of about 3.5 big pass plays per game while experiencing an uptick in big run plays (the 1-2-3 punch of De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans tells me they will) Michigan should be able to top their 2015 total big plays per game (7.3) en route to a very exciting season. Remember, if they can manage just one more big play per game than last year that would (in theory) put them in the top 10 for most big plays per game.

Michigan’s Week 1 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 Jehu Chesson 15 Run
1 3rd and 7 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 31 Pass
1 2nd and 9 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 21 Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 14 Run
1 1st and 10 Ty Isaac 12 Run
2 2nd and 5 Chris Evans 21 Run
2 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 15 Run
2 1st and 10 Chris Evans 18 (TD) Run
3 2nd and 7 Wilton Speight to Maurice Ways 22 Pass
3 1st and 10 Chris Evans 43 (TD) Run
3 3rd and 2 Eddie McDoom 19 Run
3 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 19 Run
4 2nd and 11 Shane Morris 14 Run
4 2nd and 3 Kingston Davis 10 Run

In 2015, the Michigan defense gave up an average of 4.8 big run plays per game and 2.4 big pass plays per game, good for 56th and 13th nationally. Based on total number of plays Michigan gave up a big play 11.49 percent of the time — 59th nationally. All told, Michigan gave up 7.2 big plays per game, good for 25th nationally.

Giving up four big run plays and two big pass plays to Hawaii falls in line right about where I expected them to, about one less big play given up per game than last year. Now before we run for the hills saying this is Hawaii and they should have not allowed ANY big plays let’s calm down for a minute. Only seven teams gave up fewer than six total big plays per game in 2015, and one was coached by Don Brown. Another was some national champion down in Alabama. I’m told they tend to field elite defensive units and have a couple trophies hanging around. And let’s not forget that Michigan was running out their second and third string players for most of the second half, along with seventeen total true freshmen. It’s not the end of the world to have given up six big plays to Hawaii. In fact, I expected them to have given up more as they worked out new system kinks and let a lot of guys get experience, so all in all I think we should be happy with that number.

To sum it up, Hawaii wasn’t very good but the numbers Michigan put up were exactly what we should expect this team to do against inferior opponents and we didn’t always get that in the past. As each week goes by we’ll add more pieces to our puzzle and by the time the Michigan State game rolls around we should have a very good idea at how explosive this offense is and how good at preventing explosive plays the defense is. My prediction based on flimsy evidence: it will be a top 20 unit in big play for/against metrics.

Looking forward to UCF, I will just look at their first game stats. Our good buddy Scott Frost is new there so comparing this team to last year’s isn’t really worth our time. UCF’s offense had six big run plays (43rd) and five big pass plays (19th) for a total of 11 big plays (39th) and a big play percentage of 12.1 percent (61st). On the other side of the ball — and keep in mind they played an FCS team — they surrendered three big run plays (33rd) and two big pass plays (40th) for a total of five big plays (30th) with a big play against percentage of 7.1 percent (33rd). They won the turnover battle three to two and their toxic differential after one game is 7, good for 28th in the country. Given their level of competition this still impressive, especially since UCF hadn’t won a game since Brady Hoke was Michigan’s head coach.

Unrelated, I was slightly surprised Michigan did not take their foot off the gas in the second half as they often did last year in blowouts. It wasn’t a complete surprise as Harbaugh once famously went for two after a touchdown against USC since he wanted to put 50 on them, but it just might be a message to the rest of the country that Michigan isn’t playing around this season. That leads me to wonder what will happen against UCF and Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback. My gut tells me Harbaugh won’t take his foot off the gas in this one either!

#7 Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3: Opening statement

Monday, September 5th, 2016


WoodleyWoodsonHarbaughJordanJeter(MGoBlue.com)

The dream of any quarterback is to win the starting job, take the field on opening day and immediately lead the team down the field. Those dreams then continue with a national championship, being drafted first in the NFL Draft, winning the Super Bowl, and being elected into the Hall of Fame. But for Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, the dream started off unlike he had ever imagined it would.

“I don’t think that’s how he wanted to start his career,” said junior center Mason Cole. “He probably pictured it a thousand ways and that probably wasn’t one of them. But he’s fine. I don’t know what happened on that play but he threw a pick and he got over it. Next drive he came out and drove it 98 yards.”

The junior from Richmond, Va., who won the starting job in fall camp over fellow junior John O’Korn, took the first snap of Michigan’s season at his own 29 yard line, rolled to his right and fired a pass toward senior tight end Jake Butt. But with Hawaii defensive back Damien Packer dropping back into coverage, the pass never had a chance to reach Butt, and suddenly Michigan’s defense was back on the field.

“Obviously that wasn’t the start I was imagining,” Speight said after the game. “I was kind of rolling to our sideline and my momentum carried me right into Coach. He just grabbed me and held me and kind of starting laughing.”

The defense stood tall with a three-and-out and Harbaugh’s commitment to Speight never wavered. Michigan re-took possession on its own 2-yard line and this time Speight looked like a seasoned veteran, marching the Wolverines 98 yards in 11 plays for the game’s first touchdown. On the drive, Speight converted a 3rd-and-7 from the Michigan five with a 16-yard bullet to Jehu Chesson. He also hit Amara Darboh on a screen for a 31-yard pickup on 3rd-and-7 from the 39. He closed the drive with a perfecly thrown fade to Grant Perry for a 12-yard touchdown.

UM-Hawaii_small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Hawaii
Score 63 3
Record 1-0 0-2
Total Yards 512 232
Net Rushing Yards 306 81
Net Passing Yards 206 151
First Downs 26 16
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 3-33 8-60
Punts-Yards 0-0 6-256
Time of Possession 27:55 32:05
Third Down Conversions 7-of-7 1-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 4-41 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 9-for-9 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 0-of-1
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 0-of-1
Full Box Score

Harbaugh never thought twice about his decision to leave Speight in the game after the interception and said that he used it as an opportunity.

“It’s very difficult to throw an interception on a series and then come right back and lead a touchdown drive on the following series,” Harbaugh said after the game. “It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching (with quarterbacks) and the really good ones can do that. They can think (too much and say) ‘I’m not going to make another bad mistake.’ That’s what some do. Good ones don’t.

“And then to see him start the next drive on the 2-yard line. I mean, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series. You’ve thrown an interception in the first throw of the game and then you find yourself on the 2-yard line. But he responded.”

Two hours later, when the clock read zero and Michigan had collected a 63-3 victory — the seventh-largest in school history and the largest since 1975 — Speight’s interception remained one of the few mistakes the Wolverines made all day. Harbaugh said afterward that he didn’t see a single mistake defensively for the first two-and-a-half quarters…

“Watching our defense go through the first half, and even the third quarter, there wasn’t a mistake made,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t a linemen mistake made. There wasn’t a stance alignment mistake. They were right with their eyes and right with their feet.”

In a season opener, no one truly knows what to expect. It’s why most good teams front-load their schedule with cupcakes, to work out the kinks before the real season — conference play — begins. But aside from Speight’s first pass, it was as perfect a season opener as one could expect.

Playing in front of a who’s who of sporting greats — Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Charles Woodson — Harbaugh used a program record 17 true freshmen. Eleven different players carried the ball, 11 different players caught a pass, four different quarterbacks played, and three lead scoring drives. For just the fourth time in program history, Michigan went an entire game without punting. Only four of Michigan’s 59 plays for the game — Speight’s interception on the first play and three running plays to run out the clock — were not part of touchdown drives.

The defense, which entered the season with expectations to be one among the nation’s best, lived up to its billing, holding Hawaii to negative yards until midway through the second quarter, and only about 140 total yards until the vast majority of defenders on the field were freshmen and backups. Michigan’s secondary, which was playing without All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was held out due to injury — not only picked off two passes but returned them both for touchdowns.

Season openers against overmatched opponents are typically boring affairs, but even as the lead continued to widen, this one kept interest throughout. It was evident that there is more talent and more depth on this team than Michigan has fielded in a decade. It was evident that the 2016 recruiting class was ranked so highly for a reason.

True freshman Chris Evans backed up the fall camp hype with 112 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Fellow true freshman Eddie McDoom flashed his speed, taking two end arounds for 34 yards and also caught a pair of passes. Kekoa Crawford caught an 18-yard pass and freshman tight end Sean McKeon caught two passes. Ben Bredeson didn’t start, but showed his talent on the offensive line, while mammoth freshman Michael Onwenu played on both lines. The nation’s top recruit, Rashan Gary, notched three tackles in his debut and looked like he fit the part.

It was a blowout, yes, but aside from injuries to Bryan Mone (leg), Taco Charlton (ankle), and De’Veon Smith (ribs), it had everything a Michigan fan could want to see from a season opener. Speight looked good enough after the interception and it remains to be seen whether he can build on it. And his coach thinks he can.

“It bodes really well for his career,” Harbaugh said. “To have done that, off an interception and then have the very next drive go 98 yards for a touchdown. Now he knows he can do it. Now we can expect him to do it.”

Game ball – Offense

Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
World, meet Chris Evans. The freshman out of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind. showed the quickness and burst that Michigan hasn’t seen out of the backfield in years. While senior De’Veon Smith started the game and fellow senior Ty Isaac was the second back in, Evans made his mark early. On Michigan’s third series and his first carry was a 7-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 to help set up Michigan’s second touchdown. On the next series he raced 21 yards to put Michigan in the red zone and set up another touchdown. One series later, he found the endzone himself from 18 yards out. He then got the scoring started in the second half with a 43-yard run that showcased his burst as he hit the hole and outraced everyone to the endzone.

After the game, Harbaugh praised Evans as a special football player who will have a much bigger role as the season goes on. Harbaugh noted that he didn’t even show everything he can do, such as catch passes out of the backfield, line up in the slot, and return kicks. He may not replace Jabrill Peppers on offense, but he fits the same role and provides the same type of athleticism that can make a good offense that much better.

Game ball – Defense

Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Injuries have kept Mike McCray off the field so far in his career, but now finally healthy he showed what he’s capable of. In his first career start, McCray lead the team with nine tackles, 3.5 for loss, and two sacks. His speed was a noticeable upgrade from last year’s linebacking corps as he was seemingly in on every play and all over the Hawaii backfield. If McCray can stay healthy and keep up that level of play, one of the only question marks about Michigan’s defense will be much less of a question.

 

Predicting Michigan 2016: The special teams

Friday, September 2nd, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-SpecialTeams

Kenny Allen(Duane Burleson, AP)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Secondary

Michigan’s special teams units was a bit of a train wreck during the tenures of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, but Jim Harbaugh helped shore things up in his first season.

Well, mostly.

Michigan did have some special teams blunders – none as infamous as the botched punt against Michigan State. But, in general, Michigan was solid in the kicking and return games.

Most of the major special teams contributors return, with the exception of Blake O’Neill at punter. Here’s how Michigan should stack up on each unit.

Field goal kicking:

Michigan’s starting field goal kicking job was a bit of a mystery heading into 2015, but former walk-on Kenny Allen stepped up and took control of the job. Allen converted 18 of 22 chances as a redshirt junior – including 15 of 16 successful attempts from fewer than 40 yards. Allen was perfect on extra points, converting all 46 attempts.

Allen was steady enough last season to assume he’ll take the field Saturday as the starting field goal kicker. But if he struggles, Michigan recruited a capable backup who should provide some insurance.

Quinn Nordin committed to Harbaugh after a recruiting slumber party and a decommitment from Penn State. He was the No. 1 ranked kicker in his class and projects as an accurate field goal kicker. Nordin’s career long field goal came from 51 yards out in high school.

Allen has proven himself as a reliable kicker, so Nordin would probably have to be phenomenal to steal that job from him preseason.

Career Stats – Allen
Year FG Made FG Att FG% Long PATs
2013 0 0 0 0 0
2014 0 0 0 0 0
2015 18 22 81.8 47 46-46 (100%)
Totals 18 22 81.8 47 46-46 (100%)
Kickoffs:

Allen was also very solid on kickoffs last season, averaging 61.4 yards over 78 kicks. He recorded 34 touchbacks.
In his senior year of high school, 19 of Nordin’s 23 kickoffs went for touchbacks. He has a bigger leg than Allen, but, as I said with the field goal kicking, will have to outshine Allen enough to take the job away from a steady starter.

Career Stats – Allen
Year Kickoffs Yards Avg Touchbacks
2013 0 0 0 0
2014 0 0 0 0
2015 78 4,791 61.4 34
Totals 78 4,791 61.4 34
Punting:

With O’Neill out of eligibility and Michigan looking for a new starting punter, Harbaugh has a few legitimate options he could turn to.

Allen has punted twice in his college career: A 51-yard boot in 2013 and a 57-yard blast for a touchback in the 2016 Citrus Bowl. Allen has a big enough leg to handle punting duties, but Harbaugh might want to split things up with Allen already likely handling the majority of the kicking.

Nordin averaged 52.9 yards per punt as a high school senior, with seven of his 10 attempts going for at least 50 yards. Six of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and he notched a career-long of 67 yards.

Nordin can handle punting, but would Harbaugh hand such an important job to a true freshman after punting burned the Wolverines last season? We can only guess. Nordin will be anxious to have a starting job with last year’s starter gone, but it’s possible Allen will take all three starting spots.

The other kickers and punters on the roster are James Foug, Ryan Tice, and Will Hart.

Career Stats – Allen
Year Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20 Blk
2013 1 51 51.0 51 0 1 0 0
2014 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2015 1 57 57.0 57 1 0 0 0
Totals 2 108 54.0 57 1 1 0 0
Returning:

For the first time since Steve Breaston wore the Maize and Blue, Michigan posed legitimate home run threats in both the kick and punt return games last season. And the Wolverines return all five players who returned a pick or kick last season.

Jabrill Peppers leads the way on punt returns, averaging 11.4 yards per punt return in 17 attempts last season. He’s clearly the most athletic player on the team, so his big play potential is through the roof. Peppers only returned eight kicks last season, but averaged nearly 30 yards per return. He’ll be a weapon in both return games again in 2016.

Career Stats – Peppers
Year Ret Yards Yds/Ret Long TD
2014 1 6 6.0 0 0
2015 17 194 11.4 41 0
Totals 18 200 11.1 41 0

Jourdan Lewis was nearly as good as Peppers returning kicks, averaging 25.2 yards over 15 returns. Lewis is fast and can change direction quickly, but he doesn’t have the vision of Peppers, who refined his skills as a return specialist in high school. The All-American cornerback will likely be among the team’s primary kick returners to start the season.

Career Stats – Lewis
Year Ret Yards Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 1 18 18.0 18 0
2014 1 6 6.0 6 0
2015 15 378 25.2 55 0
Totals 17 402 23.6 55 0

Star wide receiver and team MVP Jehu Chesson dipped his toes into the kick return pool, returning four kicks for an average of 41.5 yards. Chesson exploded for his first return touchdown during the opening play vs. Northwestern, setting the tone for a blowout Michigan win. Chesson is a versatile offensive weapon, so he’ll likely get his turn on special teams as a redshirt senior.

Career Stats – Chesson
Year Ret Yards Yds/Ret Long TD
2012 0 0 0 0 0
2013 2 36 18.0 19 0
2014 0 0 0 0 0
2015 4 166 41.5 96 1
Totals 6 202 33.7 96 1

Other returners to watch include Dymonte Thomas, Amara Darboh, Chris Evans, Khaleke Hudson, Eddie McDoom, Nate Johnson, Kekoa Crawford, and David Long.

M&GB season preview roundtable 2016

Friday, August 26th, 2016


Harbaugh(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Last year at this time no one knew what to expect. Everyone was hopeful about Jim Harbaugh’s first season, but coming off of a disastrous 5-7 showing and seven years of very un-Michigan-like football, we were all nervous. Our season predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-3, with the latter being right on. Even though we didn’t know what to expect, we were generally right about what happened.

This year is a little different. There actually are expectations. And they are big. Michigan is ranked in the top 10 and several national pundits have predicted the Wolverines to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Are they just buying into the Harbaugh hype? Or could they be right? Here are our predictions for the season.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: When I think of the Michigan teams I grew up watching, I think defense. Sure, there were great offensive players that shouldn’t be overlooked — guys like Anthony Carter, Jamie Morris, and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few. But a great defense, one that smothers opposing offenses, is what makes Michigan football in my opinion. Lloyd Carr rode the 1997 defense to a national championship. The 2006 defense was deadly until it ran into Ohio State and USC. And last year’s defense, which posted three straight shutouts, was fun to watch until it faltered late in the season.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to watch an upgraded version of last year’s defense with the addition of the number one recruit in the country and a blitz-crazy defensive coordinator. The biggest position battle in fall camp is at the quarterback position, but with the defense Michigan has, whoever wins the job will just need to be careful with the football and manage the game. And if the defense lives up to its billing, Michigan fans will be in for a special season.

Derick: The guy I’m most excited to watch is Rashan Gary, and it’s not even close. Gary is Michigan’s first ever No. 1 overall recruit, and he comes in as one of the most decorated commits since recruiting blew up several years ago.

Gary was the unanimous No. 1 player in the country on every major recruiting site, and comes into Ann Arbor to join a defensive line that’s already very good. Gary will line up with Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone and others as one of the best lines in the Big Ten. If he makes as much of an impact as guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche — who were similarly ranked out of high school — he’ll be the most exciting player on the roster.

Sam: I just can’t stop thinking (and giddily laughing) about how dominant this defense could potentially be. The front four should be an absolute terror for any offensive line in the country, the secondary is athletic, veteran, and potentially another highlight waiting to happen (looking at you, Dymonte Thomas), and the linebacker group seems to be getting good reviews despite a relative lack of experience. And, oh yeah, Jabrill Peppers will be roaming all over the field and should be unleashed to wreak havoc in Don Brown’s system.

Josh: Another year of Harbaugh. If that’s not a decided schematic advantage, I don’t know what is!

Joe: I’m super excited to see a few things during this upcoming season. The first would be the new style of defense that Coach Brown is bringing onboard. This should be a fun defense to watch and bring a ton of pressure and new looks. They should be ELITE from day one. The second thing I’m looking for is how the incoming class plays and improves over the course of the year. If they are everything we’ve read over the last few months, the future is BRIGHT!

What worries you the most entering the season?

Justin: As I mentioned above, I’m not overly worried about the quarterback position. As long as Speight or O’Korn doesn’t become a turnover machine, Michigan will be okay. There are enough proven weapons — Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith — and a strong defense to lean back on. What worries me the most this season is the road schedule.

Michigan will be able to handle the non-conference portion of the schedule handily, and with Penn State and Wisconsin at home, I see those as wins. Then the Wolverines face Rutgers and Illinois, which should put them at 7-0 and very highly ranked. But that’s where things get tough. In the final five games of the season, Michigan has to travel to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus with home games against Maryland and Indiana sandwiched in between.

Michigan has struggled on the road the past several seasons. To make matters worse, they haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007, Iowa City since 2005, and Columbus since 2000. That’s nearly a decade without a road win over any of those teams. And to have a chance at the College Football Playoff this season they’ll likely have to win all three. To at least win the Big Ten they’ll have to win at least two of the three, as long as the one loss is at Big Ten West foe Iowa rather than the other two, who are in the same Big Ten East as Michigan. It’s hard to see that happening.

Derick: I’m most worried about the expectations. Michigan won 10 games last season when it was the underdog and nobody expected much in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. But now, as the team jumps from irrelevant to popular national championship pick, it seems like things have escalated a little too quickly. Michigan has three extremely difficult road games at the end of the season,and if they take care of business weeks one through seven, those games will hold a massive importance. Can a team that hasn’t played many nationally meaningful games handle that gauntlet down the stretch? It’s going to be tough.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me – I’m still not sold on the quarterback position. Yes, I know that Jim Harbaugh is widely reputed to be one of the best quarterback whisperers in the country and has worked wonders in season after season. But this is a pretty important position, and there still seems to be some disagreement over who will start. That’s usually not a great sign with real football only a week away. We’ve all heard of O’Korn as the high-risk/high-reward type while Wilton Speight seems to be the more prototypical “game manager” quarterback, but neither has the whole package. At least not yet.

Josh: The media keeps saying quarterback or linebacker. Personally, I am not worried (nor will I ever be) about the quarterback position as long as James Joseph Harbaugh is patrolling our sidelines. Linebacker is a slight concern but the defensive line is so talented and so deep (8 or 9 guys) that I don’t see the need to actually worry about the LBs. Plus, it’s not like they lost any world beaters off last year’s crew anyway.

Offensive line (both its progression and health) is my main concern and it’s not even close. There isn’t much proven depth, or depth period, behind the starting five so a significant injury to the offensive line could derail the entire season.

Even IF injuries are avoided we still have the issue of breaking in a new left tackle. If Grant Newsome doesn’t work, who steps in for him? Go ahead, look at the depth chart: four freshmen, and a small cadre of former Brady Hoke guys who have limited game action and a total of ZERO starts. If this team is to compete for a B1G Ten title the offensive line needs to not only be better than last year but they ALL need to stay healthy the entire year.

Joe: It’s gotta be the quarterback play that worries me the most. I was hoping that O’Korn would separate himself from the pack but that hasn’t happened. This could be viewed as a positive or negative. I trust in Harbaugh and hope this gets settled soon.

Who will be the offensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Based on the hype coming out of fall camp, Ben Bredeson is probably the smart pick here. But I don’t like to trust true freshman offensive linemen. I know Mason Cole worked out pretty well two years ago, but that’s more the exception than the rule. To me, it’s between two players: tight end Ian Bunting and receiver Grant Perry. Everyone knows Jim Harbaugh’s affinity for tight ends, and just because he has Jake Butt it doesn’t mean no other tight ends will see the field. Bunting is huge at 6-foot-7, 252, and after two years learning the ropes, he’s poised for a bigger role.

But when push comes to shove, I’m going to go with Perry, the slot guy who caught 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown last season. He showed enough potential to get considerable playing time in the season opener at Utah, where he caught three passes for 41 yards, but was still raw and it showed with mistakes that lead to turnovers. By season’s end, he looked more comfortable, catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

This season, Chesson, Darboh, and Butt are established threats and opposing defenses will try their best to match up with them. That leaves the potential for Perry to rack up a bunch of catches and yards. He caught 105 passes for 1,727  yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Brother Rice High School in 2014 and racked up 176 catches for 2,771 yards and 27 scores in three years of varsity football, so he knows how to be productive. Now, with a year of college ball under his belt, he’s ready to take on a bigger role.

Derick: The breakout player on offense will be Ben Bredeson. Word from summer camp has brought nothing but praise on the freshman lineman, who was one of the top commits in the country. If Bredeson is playing well enough to earn the starting left tackle position as a true freshman, we can expect a 2014 Mason Cole-like performance, which would be a huge lift to the offense. With four solid veteran linemen to his right, Bredeson would be in a perfect situation to succeed.

Sam: This is a tough call for me, as I’m never sure what people want to constitute “breaking out” as. As far as I see it, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt certainly can’t qualify for this, the majority of the offensive line is too veteran for me to see a true breakout coming, and De’Veon Smith is fairly proven as well. So while I do think all those guys will have nice years and I’m uncertain on the quarterback position, I will go with Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. By all accounts, Wheatley has the body type that will allow him to be a highly effective in-line blocker from the beginning while also possessing the speed and hands to be a legitimate (and legitimately terrifying) receiving threat. I think he’ll see a lot of action in two-TE sets and should be a major asset in both the running and passing games.

Josh: This one was tough, but I’m gonna go with Ben Bredeson. Yes, an offensive lineman. A freshman offensive lineman. I’m calling it now, Ben Bredeson will supplant either Grant Newsome, or more likely, Kyle Kalis before mid-season and perform at a (freshman) Mason Cole-esque leve

Joe: I want a running back to step up and take charge in a crowded backfield. We have some horses back there but I’d prefer a lead to get behind. I don’t care who it is, just make it happen.

Who will be the defensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Rashan Gary is the obvious choice here, but I’m going to go with Bryan Mone, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg in fall camp. Prior to the injury he figured to play a major part in the defense, rotating with Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst. The injury meant more time for Glasgow, who shined in the role, but his season ended early with an injury of his own. Now, Mone says he’s in the best shape of his life, and with Michigan playing four linemen, he’ll get his chance to shine at nose tackle.

Derick: I want to say Jabrill Peppers, because he really hasn’t made a major defensive impact yet, but that feels like cheating. So I’ll go with Bryan Mone. Mone showed signs of being a solid defensive tackle as a true freshman, and expectations were sky high for his sophomore year. But after an injury ended his season before it even started, Mone fell out of the spotlight and has been flying under the radar since. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a huge piece in filling the gap left by Willie Henry in opposing backfields.

Sam: Everyone? Again, there are so many guys on that side of the ball that the field in my eyes is quite limited. You might make an argument for Taco Charlton on the line, but I think he’s proven enough already – he’s going to have an insane season. Bryan Mone could be an option here, as could the presumptive starting linebackers in Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, but my pick is Dymonte Thomas. Thomas was a big-time recruit out of Ohio who is incredibly athletic, strong, and a sure tackler. The only question is whether he can be disciplined enough to prevent a big play here or there, but keep watching that interception he made in the Spring Game and tell me he doesn’t have the tools to be great.

Josh: Jabrill Peppers. Now hear me out first. Peppers’ impact was huge last year but his stats weren’t exactly something you brag about; 45 total tackles, 5.5 for loss. No picks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries. If Matt Milano, a former three-star safety for Boston College can rack up 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in Don Brown’s defense from that position what will the greatest athlete we’ve seen since Charles Woodson do? I’d be shocked if he didn’t have at least 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a defensive touchdown or two.

Joe: It’s hard to say anyone on the defense will be a breakout player as they have a lot of studs coming back from last year. They are established and will carry this team from the get go.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: …they don’t suffer any key injuries. We all know that injuries are part of the game, but when the talent is there, a key piece of winning it all is staying healthy. Sure, Ohio State defied that logic two years ago when Braxton Miller got hurt, then J.T. Barrett got hurt, and Cardale Jones still lead them to the national title. But nine times out of ten, that scenario spells doom for a contender.

If Michigan stays healthy that means they’ll be at full strength all season. And with the talent they have, especially on the defensive side, that’s the recipe for a Big Ten title.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if freshmen linebackers like Devin Bush and Devin Gil can compliment a healthy Mike McCray and Peppers to give the defense a more solid anchor than last season. The secondary and defensive line will be tough, but the linebackers were the weak underbelly of the 2015 team. Left tackle will also be a position to watch. With the rest of the line already well established at the college level, the final piece to the offensive line will be crucial. Michigan has to run the ball much better to take a step forward in 2016. Finally, look for Jeremy Clark to either take a step forward as a fifth-year senior or a younger player to supplant him as the team’s third cornerback. Lewis and Channing Stribling were excellent in coverage last season, but Clark showed mixed results covering opposing No. 3 receivers. He got better toward the end of the season, but with possible championship expectations on the line, Harbaugh might not be so patient this year.

Sam: …they can stop Ohio State’s dynamic offense. The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s once-stout defense in The Game last November and Urban Meyer always seems to find a way to move the ball (at least when he isn’t playing Michigan State in 2015). This season, I really think Michigan should be undefeated heading down to Columbus — there will certainly be challenges along the way, but no team on the schedule up to that point should be able to beat them on paper — and the days of The Game deciding the fate of the Big Ten race should return.

Josh: …there are no significant injuries, especially on the offensive line, the running game resembles what Harbaugh did at Stanford post Year 1 (200-plus yards per game) and Don Brown can finally be the one to figure out how to stop spread to run teams. Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not yet. For the record I think Don Brown WILL figure out how to stop getting gashed by teams like Indiana and Ohio State.

Joe: The lines play at an elite level. They should be better and will lead this team to a Big 10 title if they play as advertised.

What is your prediction for the season (record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will they play in)?

Justin: Michigan topped last year’s prediction by one, though my prediction of a win over an SEC team in the bowl game was right. I had Michigan losing to Penn State, which was my only misstep. This year, I think we’re looking at an 11-2 team that will lose at Iowa and Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh will at least get past Michigan State in East Lansing and be 9-0 heading into Iowa City, but losses in two of the last three regular season games will be a disappointing end to a great season. Still, assuming Ohio State wins the conference and makes the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan and the Wolverines will head to Pasadena for the first time since 2007.

Derick: Last season I predicted Michigan would finish 9-4 and thought I was being “generous.” I didn’t know what to expect from Harbaugh’s team less than a year removed from a 5-7 campaign and certainly didn’t expect it to go into Happy Valley and push around Penn State. This season, expectations couldn’t be more different. Michigan is in everyone’s playoff discussion and Harbaugh is the biggest story in college football.

I don’t buy into hype, but I do draw conclusions based on facts and what my eyes tell me. Few teams have as many elite seniors who turned down NFL money to return to Michigan. Lewis, Butt, Chesson, Darboh, Wormley and others will play on Sundays, but here they are practicing in the Maize and Blue in August. As far as the incoming class goes, I don’ think Harbaugh has a top five class, I think he has the No. 1 class. Sure, other teams might have more five- and four-stars, but guys like Gary, Bredeson, Long and Hill could make an immediate impact as freshmen. Chris Evans is an offensive weapon who will almost certainly find himself a role in a stacked offense and Kekoa Crawford might, too.

Looking at the schedule, I think there’s no question Michigan will carve through its nonconference schedule. Maybe Colorado will turn out to be a little tougher than expected, but I don’t see any of that trio pulling off an upset in Ann Arbor. The pair of games nobody is talking about (but they should be) is Penn State and Wisconsin, who come to the Big House in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and I’m not a believer in the James Franklin experiment, but Wisconsin, as always, will be a tough team to knock out. If Michigan gets through those two games, it’s a leisurely walk to East Lansing at 7-0.

That’s where things get tough. Like, brutally tough. Few teams in the FBS will be asked to play three potential top 10 teams on the road in a five-game span. But that’s exactly what Michigan has to do. Unlike at this time last year, I think Michigan is a better team than Michigan State, especially with MSU’s defense trending steadily in the wrong direction since 2013. We all thought the Spartans would take a major step back when Kirk Cousins left, and Connor Cook stepped in to lead them to the playoff, so don’t discount MSU just because of the new starting quarterback.

Even though I think Michigan State will be very good, I think Michigan will go into East Lansing and pull out a win. Harbaugh will have “Oh, he has trouble with the snap!” playing on repeat all week, and Michigan will arrive at Spartan Stadium with a vengeance. Just no tent spikes, please. I would be worried about a post-MSU letdown if it wasn’t for Michigan’s Week 9 matchup with a pathetic Maryland team. The quarterback situation for new head coach D.J. Durkin is so grim, I’d be shocked if the Terps can find six wins on their schedule.

Unfortunately, the undefeated train will come to a stop at 9-0. Iowa is still extremely talented after an undefeated 2015 regular season and something about Iowa City has never been kind to strong Michigan teams. I think the No. 2 Wolverines will fall to the Hawkeyes in a slugfest and need a win over Ohio State to win the Big Ten East. After outscoring a sneaky good Indiana team in the final home game, Michigan will go to Columbus with the College Football Playoff still in its sights. The young Buckeyes won’t be young anymore, after 11 games to replace their 450 draft picks, or whatever it was. Michigan will be much more competitive than it was at home in 2015, but I think Ohio State will come away with a close, maybe 2006-esque victory that knocks Michigan out of the title talk. OSU will head to Indianapolis and Michigan will be done at 10-2.

I think 10 wins will be enough to land Michigan a long-awaited Rose Bowl appearance against UCLA. Just like it did in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan will show up better prepared after a month of practice with Harbaugh and take care of UCLA, 34-20. With 11 wins in Harbaugh’s second season and Michigan State and Ohio State at home in 2017, Michigan will begin the season ranked in the top five and have a legitimate chance to make the final four.

Sam: I really want to pick Michigan to go to the Playoff, but…well…fine. Give me Michigan to run the table in the regular season with a couple close calls at Iowa and at Ohio State before losing to Alabama or Clemson in the first round. By my count, that should equal a 13-1 season with a Big Ten championship and a loss in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Josh: Michigan will probably be favored in every game they play, aside from Ohio State, and they should win all those games. Given the talent returning and the coaching staff we have I am very optimistic about their chances this year. However, football isn’t played on paper and numerous things can upset the balance.

They should have beaten Michigan State last year and they also would have lost to Minnesota were it not for some Hoke-ian clock (mis)management by Tracy Claeys at the end of that game. They almost lost to Indiana — yes Glasgow out was a big factor — but it proves my point; it’s tough to win all, or even most of, your games in college football because injuries and other stuff happen.

I just don’t see how Michigan can get through an entire season without a major injury, or some Halloween voodoo a la Minnesota last year, causing setbacks. I think a 10-2 season is very reasonable, and that should not be viewed as a disappointment (lest I remind you that we suffered losing seasons in three of the seven years prior to Harbaugh and only ONE year in which they lost fewer than five games).

Losses will be at Ohio State (they are far more talented than Michigan but more importantly have been in the same system their entire careers) and at Iowa, Kinnick Stadium at night scares me for some reason.

They’ll play in another New Year’s Day bowl and the ‘Michigan is overrated’ headed into 2017 will start all over again. But hey, I thought this was a seven or eight win team tops last year and they proved me wrong. Here’s to hoping they do it again!

Joe: I’m looking at 10-2 season with losses at two of the three big road games. I think they’re still a year away from the CFP but wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in. They still have some work to do. Let’s put the good guys in the Cotton so I can see them play in person.

Past struggles serve as motivation for upperclassmen as Michigan enters fall camp

Monday, August 8th, 2016


Peppers - media day(Justin Potts, M&GB)

There’s a noticeably different air surrounding the Michigan football team this year compared to last year.

Questions and uncertainty abounded a year ago, as Michigan was coming off of a 5-7 season with no postseason and a third head coach in seven years. Sure there was hope, solely because of the man hired, but nobody new what to expect in Jim Harbaugh’s first season.

This year, however, expectations are soaring after an 11-2 season, a Citrus Bowl blowout of SEC East champion Florida, and with most of the team returning. But don’t count on Harbaugh’s team to be overcome by the hype.

“We were just 5-7 so it’s not like we’re out there walking on red carpets and things like that,” said junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers. “We remember how bad it was, but that’s just motivation. We’ve seen what we were capable of last year. We let a few slip through our fingers that I don’t think we should have, but that’s all growing pains and that all comes with the territory.”

Chris Wormley - media day

Chris Wormley leads a deep and talented defensive line (Justin Potts, M&GB)

That refrain was echoed by players throughout Michigan football media day on Sunday, the day before fall camp gets underway.

“I always keep it in the back of my head to stay hungry, stay motivated,” Peppers said of the 2014 season. “Remember where you’ve come from. Days may seem good now, but you remember how it was when they were bad. That’s just a little mental reminder that I always give myself.”

Senior defensive tackle Chris Wormley was another upperclassman who echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve been through the highs and I’ve been through the lows. Hopefully this season I’ll be able to end on a high note,” Wormley said. “Keeping that in the back of your mind, knowing we weren’t good two years ago. That’s not a long time ago, so keeping that in the back of your mind, staying humble, staying ready to go through the highs and lows of a season is what it’s all about.

“A lot of the older guys, sometimes we sit around and talk about it. We’re obviously very thankful and very happy to be in the position that we’re in today when it comes to records and coaches and coaching styles and things like that. But I give a lot of the credit to the players too. A lot of us stuck through it, a lot of us stayed. We could have transferred or went somewhere else, but at the end of the day it’s about the players and how we change the situation.”

When fall camp kicks off today, Michigan has far fewer questions to answer than it did a year ago. One of the reasons the Wolverines are ranked in the top 10 in every preseason publication is the number of upperclassmen who returned. Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brady Hoke, didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare — if there was one thing he did well it was recruiting.

While quarterback is a question mark, whoever wins the battle over the next four weeks will have a lot of talent to give the ball to. Senior receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh return, as does senior running back De’Veon Smith. And senior tight end Jake Butt turned down a likely first round draft pick last April to give it one more go.

“I have an insurance policy that’s obviously a safety blanket, but you don’t really think about it once you get out there,” Butt said about the risk he took returning for his senior season. “You’re just playing football. Injuries do happen, that’s part of the game, but I didn’t come back just to mess around and worry about getting hurt. I came back to win some games, lead this team, and hopefully win some championships.”

Chesson, on the other hand, never seriously considered entering the draft, but did miss all of spring practice with an injury. He disclosed on Sunday afternoon that he partially tore his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in the third quarter of the Citrus Bowl win over Florida in which he caught five passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against one of the nation’s best secondaries. But he put to rest any question about his health entering camp.

“Yes,” he answered when asked if he was back to 100 percent.

“Yes sir,” he replied to the follow-up question asking if he will be full-go on Monday.

The time for talk is over. They’re healthy, humble, and motivated  — a great place to be as fall camp beckons.