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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Bolden’

#7 Michigan State 27 – #12 Michigan 23: Last second score stuns Wolverines

Saturday, October 17th, 2015


MSU TD(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

With ESPN College GameDay on campus and a top-12 matchup between hated instate rivals Michigan and Michigan State, college football was fun again in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Until it wasn’t.

After not trailing for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Michigan needed only to execute a successful punt to take back the Paul Bunyan trophy and down the Spartans for just the second time in eight years. Instead, ecstasy turned to heartbreak when punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, tried to pick it up and kick it, and the ball bounced right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson who raced 38 yards to the end zone. Technically, Michigan State hadn’t held a lead for the entire 60 minutes as the game-winning score came after the clock hit zero, but the result was a stunning one indeed.

UM-MSU-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Michigan St.
Score 23 27
Record 5-2 (2-1) 7-0 (3-0)
Total Yards 230 386
Net Rushing Yards 62 58
Net Passing Yards 168 328
First Downs 10 20
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 8-70 5-44
Punts-Yards 7-312 5-186
Time of Possession 29:49 30:11
Third Down Conversions 4-of-15 3-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-29 3-10
Field Goals 3-for-3 0-for-0
PATs 2-for-2 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 2-of-2
Full Box Score

Michigan State’s bench raced to the North end zone to pile on Watts-Jackson in celebration, while the once festive Michigan Stadium crowd of 111,740 stood speechless. Jim Harbaugh described it as “very unfortunate circumstances.”

It took a while for either team to get going, and while Michigan State gained 92 yards on 22 plays in the first quarter, it was Michigan that struck first with a 2-yard Sione Houma touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter.

Michigan State got the break it needed two possessions later when quarterback Connor Cook was stopped three yards short of the first down line on 2nd-and-9. Senior Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden was thrown down on top of Cook and flagged for targeting, not only giving Michigan State 15 yards and a first down, but also kicking Bolden out of the game. Harbaugh referred to the penalty and ejection as “hard to fathom.”

Two plays later, Michigan State ended Michigan’s shutout streak with a 11-yard L.J. Scott touchdown run.

Michigan came right back with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jabrill Peppers to set up the offense with great field position. Jake Rudock connected with Jehu Chesson for 23 yards, but the offense stalled and Kenny Allen kicked a 38-yard field goal. Michigan took a 10-7 lead into the half.

Neither team managed anything on their first possessions of the second half, but Michigan again got great starting field position, this time because the Spartans failed to convert a fake punt. On Michigan’s ensuing drive, Jabrill Peppers took a pop-pass 28 yards to the Michigan State 3-yard line and Houma punched it in three plays later to give Michigan a 17-7 lead.

Michigan State answered right back with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that included a 13-yard completion to Aaron Burbridge, a 27 yards pass to R.J. Sheldon, and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings.

Back to back Kenny Allen field goals put Michigan ahead by nine, but once again Michigan State refused to go away. On the very first play of the ensuing possession, Cook found fullback Trevor Pendleton wide open for 74 yards to the Michigan one. Scott carried it in on the next play to bring Michigan State within two at 23-21.

Trying to hold on to its lead, Michigan’s offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions, but the defense came up big with a fourth down stop. Michigan took possession with 1:47 remaining, needing only one first down to seal the win. But three straight De’Veon Smith runs gained just eight yards and 10 seconds were all that separated Michigan from a win before the botched punt occurred.

Despite not leading until the very end, Michigan State outgained Michigan 386-230, and for just the fourth time in the last 46 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards didn’t win. Michigan finished with 62 rushing yards to Michigan State’s 58. Rudock completed 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards. Smith led the way on the ground with 46 yards on 19 carries, while Houma added 30 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Chesson caught four passes for 58 yards and Amara Darboh caught three for 52.

For Michigan State, Cook completed 18 of 39 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown. Gerald Holmes rushed eight times for 33 yards, while Burbridge led all receivers with 132 yards on nine receptions.

At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan gets a week off before traveling to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that has lost two of its last three and also has a Week 8 bye. Michigan State remains undefeated with Indiana coming to town next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
While no one on Michigan’s offense had a great game on Saturday, punter Kenny Allen was his usual consistent self, calmly nailing three field goals. The first came with 5:34 remaining in the first half, from 38 yards out, after Michigan State had tied the game. It gave Michigan a 10-7 halftime lead. The second came from 21 yards out with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and he followed it up with another 38-yarder on Michigan’s next possession to give Michigan a 23-14 lead with 9:25 left in the game. A position that has been a question mark the past few years has become consistent this season with Allen earning a scholarship and converting 10 of 12 attempts through seven games. He is perfect inside 40 yards.

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

Game Ball – Defense

Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Michigan didn’t get a lot of pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, but when it did it was usually Willie Henry providing it. The redshirt junior recorded two of Michigan’s three sacks, knocked down a pass, and stopped a running back in the backfield. He also provided pressure off the edge on 3rd-and-19 in the closing minutes, forcing Cook to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted. Henry now leads the team with nine tackles for loss and six sacks through seven games.

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)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Connor Cook 18-39 328 8.4 1 0 74 3
Jake Rudock 15-25 168 6.7 0 0 32 3
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 19 46 2.4 0 8
Gerald Holmes 8 33 4.1 0 7
Sione Houma 3 30 10.0 2 27
L.J. Scott 8 16 2.0 2 11
Delton Williams 8 15 1.9 0 4
Aaron Burbridge (WR) 1 9 9.0 0 9
Tyler O’Conner 1 7 7.0 0 7
Ty Isaac 2 5 2.5 0 4
Karan Higdon 2 3 1.5 0 2
R.J. Shelton (WR) 1 3 3.0 0 3
Damion Terry 1 2 2.0 0 2
Joe Kerridge 2 2 1.0 0 1
Jehu Chesson (WR) 1 1 1.0 0 1
Jake Rudock (QB) 3 -10 -3.3 0 0
Blake O’Neill (P) 1 -15 -15 0 -15
Connor Cook (QB) 4 -23 -5.8 0 6
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
Aaron Burbridge 9 132 14.7 0 28
Trevon Pendleton (FB) 1 74
74.0 0 74
R.J. Shelton 4 58 14.5 0 27
Jehu Chesson 4 58 14.5 0 23
Macgarrett Kings Jr. 3 57 19.0 1 30
Amara Darboh 3 52 17.3 0 32
Jabrill Peppers 2 35 17.5 0 28
A.J. Williams 2 20 10.0 0 21
Josiah Price 1 7 7.0 0 7
Jake Butt 1 4 4.0 0 4
Karan Higdon (RB) 1 3 3.0 0 3
De’Veon Smith (RB) 1 -1 -1.0 0 -1
Jake Rudock (QB) 1 -3 -3.0 0 -3
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 3/3 100.0 38 2/2 11
Michael Geiger 0/0 N/A 0 3/3 3
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Blake O’Neill 7 312 44.6 0 3 80
Tyler O’Conner 4 153 38.2 1 0 36
Jake Hartbarger 1 33 33.0 0 0 33
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 81 27.0 49 0
R.J. Shelton 2 50 25.0 29 0
Jehu Chesson 1 25 25.0 25 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 48 16.0 34 0
R.J. Shleton 2 4 2.0 3 0

Michigan 35 – Oregon State 7: Wolverines ground and pound Beavers

Saturday, September 12th, 2015


Harbaugh vs Oregon State(MGoBlue.com)

Jim Harbaugh collected his first win in Michigan Stadium in 29 years when his Wolverines topped Oregon State on Saturday afternoon, 35-7. But he couldn’t have asked for a worse first three minutes.

Oregon State took the opening kickoff and diced the Michigan defense with ease, scoring the game’s first touchdown on a seven play, 79-yard drive that took just 1:59. Michigan took possession and on the third play, Jake Rudock was sacked by Rommel Mageo and fumbled, giving Oregon State the ball back at the Michigan 41.

Staring a possible 10 or 14 point deficit in the face, the Michigan defense came up with a big play as Mario Ojemudia forced a Victor Bolden fumble. Joe Bolden recovered at the 37 and raced 18 yards to the OSU 37. Eight plays later, Michigan was forced to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Kenny Allen.

The two teams traded punts on each of their next two possessions, with an Oregon State failed fourth-down conversion in between, until Michigan finally put together a scoring drive. The Wolverines took possession at their own 31 and went 69 yards in 12 plays, capped off by a 1-yard De’Veon Smith touchdown run, their first first-half touchdown of the season.

UM-OregonState-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan OregonSt.
Score 35 7
Record 1-1 1-1
Total Yards 405 138
Net Rushing Yards 225 59
Net Passing Yards 180 79
First Downs 21 12
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 10-105 8-62
Punts-Yards 3-127 7-272
Time of Possession 38:01 21:59
Third Down Conversions 6-of-13 1-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-17 1-17
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 3-for-3 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 1-of-1
Full Box Score

Oregon State took the ball with 4:03 left in the half, looking to retake the lead before the break. Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a punt, but as OSU punter Nick Porebski bobbled the snap, he appeared to tuck the ball and start running before finally booting it away. Michigan corner Jeremy Clark ran into him after the punt, and to Harbaugh’s dismay, was called for a 15-yard penalty. Harbaugh threw one of his trademark tantrums, the first time as Michigan’s head coach, but the call stood.

Now in Michigan territory, Oregon State still couldn’t muster any offense and was forced to punt once again. This time, Porebski got it away and it was downed at the Michigan 2-yard line. However, the Beavers were flagged for an illegal formation and backed up to the Michigan 49 to re-kick. The snap sailed over Proebski’s head and by the time he recovered, he was tackled at his own 3-yard line. Three plays later, Michigan scored again to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room.

Michigan took the opening possession of the second half 78 yards in 12 plays, but the drive stalled at the Oregon State 11 and Kenny Allen booted a 29-yard field goal.

After trading punts, Michigan had Oregon State backed up deep in their own territory, and on 3rd-and-9, Chris Wormley sacked quarterback Marcus McMaryion for a loss of nine. The ensuing punt gave Michigan the ball at the OSU 39, and after a first down run by Smith was called back for an illegal block, Rudock connected with redshirt freshman tight end Ian Bunting for 21 yards into the red zone. As the fourth quarter began, Smith ran it in from eight yards out to put Michigan ahead 28-7.

The Michigan defense forced a three and out, but Rudock was picked off by Mageo near midfield. Once again, Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion and forced another three and out. With the game in hand and clock needing to be run, Harbaugh put the ball in the hands of his running back stable. Derrick Green carried it four times for 23 yards, then Ty Isaac three times for 17. Green got two more carries for four yards before Rudock found Bunting for 12 to the OSU 17. Sione Houma got in on the action with a seven yard run and Isaac carried the ball down to the two before Green found the end zone to reach the game’s final score. On the drive, Michigan ran the ball 13 times for 61 yards.

When all was said and done, the Wolverines racked up 225 yards on the ground and 405 total yards of offense, while holding Oregon State to just 138. After the game’s opening drive, Michigan held OSU to just 59 total yards the rest of the way.

Smith led Michigan with a career high 126 yards on 23 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 24 yards. Rudock completed 18 of 26 passes for 180 yards and an interception. Amara Darboh led the Wolverines with four receptions for 50 yards, while Bunting caught two for 33 and Jake Butt caught four for 25.

Harbaugh got his first win as Michigan’s head coach, and just like his mentor, Bo Schembechler, did so by a 28-point margin. He’ll look for number two when Michigan hosts UNLV at noon next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
After a rough game against Utah in which De’Veon Smith struggled to find holes, the junior back set a career high with 126 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries against Oregon State. He got better as the game went on, routinely fighting through tackles and carrying defenders for extra yards. Oregon State’s front seven isn’t Utah’s caliber, but if Smith can run like this the rest of the season, Michigan’s offense will continue to improve.
Honorable Mention: Ian Bunting (2 rec for 33 yards)

Previous Game Balls: Jake Butt (Week 1 – 8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)

Game Ball – Defense

Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Wormley continued to wreak havoc on opposing backfields, recording his second straight game with three tackles for loss. Now with six through two games, he’s nearly halfway to matching last year’s team leader, Jake Ryan, who finished the season with 14.5.
Honorable Mention: Joe Bolden (team-high 7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)

Previous Game Balls: Chris Wormley (Week 1 – 5 tackles, 3 solo, 3 TFL)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Jake Rudock 18-26 180 6.9 0 1 22 1
Seth Collins 9-16 79 4.9 1 0 21 1
Marcus McMaryion 0-3 0 0 0 0 0 1
Victor Bolden 0-1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 23 126 5.5 3 19
Ty Isaac 6 35 5.8 0 12
Derrick Green 8 35 4.4 1 12
Chris Brown 7 33 4.7 0 26
Victor Bolden 4 30 7.5 0 21
Seth Collins 11 28 2.5 0 17
Sione Houma 2 20 10.0 0 13
Storm Woods 3 13 4.3 0 8
Deltron Sands 3 13 4.3 0 6
Jehu Chesson 1 4 4.0 0 4
Drake Johnson 1 3 3.0 0 3
Ross Douglass 1 3 3.0 0 3
Joe Kerridge 2 3 1.5 0 3
Jake Rudock 3 -5 -1.7 0 7
Marcus McMaryion 2 -7 -2.3 0 2
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
Amara Darboh 4 50 12.5 0 22
Ian Bunting 2 33
16.5 0 21
Jordan Villarmon 3 26 8.7 0 12
Jake Butt 4 25 6.2 0 10
De’Veon Smith 2 24 12.0 0 20
Victor Bolden 3 23 7.7 0 16
A.J. Williams 1 22 22.0 0 22
Hunter Jarmon 1 21 21.0 1 21
Jehu Chesson 1 14 14.0 0 14
Ty Isaac 1 9 9.0 0 9
Caleb Smith 1 9 9.0 0 9
Joe Kerridge 1 3 3.0 0 3
Drake Harris  2 0 0.0 0 3
Chris Brown 1 0 0.0 0 0
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 2/2 100.0 40 3/3 9
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Blake O’Neill 3 127 42.3 0 1 49
Nick Porebski 7 272 38.9 0 1 43
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 1 11 11.0 11 0
Rahmel Dockery 3 57 19.0 21 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 14 4.7 6 0
Rahmel Dockery 1 3 3.0 3 0

M&GB staff predictions: Utah

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Game day is finally here, 247 days after Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor as Michigan’s new head coach. This morning we posted our full game preview and now it’s time to allow each of the writers on our staff to make their prediction.

Justin: There’s no doubt that Harbaugh will have the team well prepared for the first game of the season. The question is how much have they improved since last fall? Expected starting quarterback Jake Rudock should provide an upgrade at the position if only because he will take care of the ball and manage the offense. If the offensive line can give him time, Rudock should be able to test the relatively inexperienced secondary. But the line will have to fend off Dimick and Fanaika. Utah ranked sixth in the Pac-12 against the run last season, so look for Harbaugh to pound his running back committee of De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, and Drake Johnson.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Utah
Justin 23 26
Derick 20 27
Sam 21 13
Josh 19 27
Joe 28 35
M&GB Average 22 26

Utah’s offense will do the same, feeding Booker early and often. If Michigan can stop him the Wolverines will have a great chance to win. Wilson wasn’t flashy last season, but he took care of the ball, so Michigan will need to find a pass rush from its unproven defensive line if it wants to force him to make a mistake.

Special teams will likely play a big factor in this game and the heavy favorite in that category goes to Utah, which has arguably the best kicker and punter tandem in the country. Michigan, meanwhile, will be breaking in a new kicker and punter. In last season’s matchup, Kaelin Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and Michigan may need to return the favor — perhaps from Jabrill Peppers — to get a win.

In a defensive battle where one team has a significant edge on special teams, and that team happens to be the home team, I just have to lean that way.

Utah 26 – Michigan 23

Derick: It’s been a crazy offseason for Michigan, operating under a new president and athletic director, flipping and losing big-name recruits and bringing in the highest profile coach in the country.

But now it’s finally time to hit the field and see what this team can actually do. There’s no doubt Jim Harbaugh inherited a talented roster, but how quickly can he turn around a program that’s been a hot mess for the better part of a decade?

Unfortunately for Michigan, the new system will make its debut on the road against a talented, veteran Utah team that won nine games last season. Running back Devontae Booker runs behind a solid offensive line that will put Michigan’s defensive line depth to the test right out of the gate.

Michigan will improve throughout the 2015 season. Nothing in Harbaugh’s track record suggests otherwise. But I think the Wolverines, behind a new quarterback and a thin group of wide receivers, will struggle to put together a consistent offensive attack in Week 1.

Michigan will battle the Utes in the opener, but fall.

Utah 27 – Michigan 20

Sam: (Sam was unable to provide a full breakdown this week but sent his score prediction)

Michigan 21 – Utah 13

Josh: On the road at night in Rice-Eccels stadium against a team that beat the crap out of you in your own house last year is a tough way to start the season. But thankfully we’ve got Harbaugh this time around. The bad news is it’s probably way too soon for the full Harbaugh effect to have taken place.

Utah is solid defensively and Michigan is probably not going to have a high-octane offense, even IF Drake Harris is who we thought he was. Devantae Booker this year is not the guy who only gained 30-some odd yards on Michigan last year, he’s likely to go over 100 yards and that will open up the pass game for Utah. Michigan has one corner, yes just one, that is proven right now so unless the combo of Stribling and Clark perform up to task they’ll see a lot of balls thrown their way with not so good results for Michigan.

Jake Rudock is a huge upgrade from Devin Gardner, not in talent but in consistency and making the right play-iveness (that’s a new word, mark it down). He won’t turn it over and if the run game can be halfway decent this could be an interesting game. However, I don’t see the run game doing much, and with no threat to take the top off the defense this is going to be a low scoring, defensive battle. That means it’s going to come down to special teams.

While Michigan has gotten an upgrade at special teams coordinator as well, these things take time. Again, Rome was not built in a day (or even one offseason). They’ll play well and we’re guaranteed to see 11 men on the field at all times but if this game comes down to kicking, and it likely will, Michigan is in a heap of trouble. Not one experienced kicker on the roster and no separation among them (word is it’s NOT because no one can miss).

Utah has their cupcakes and eats them too, courtesy of the sports authority publication that is Popular Mechanics. The Harbaugh era starts with a loss but the team does not look lost or too soft or just plain awful. It will get better as the season wears on.

Utah 27 – Michigan 19 (three touchdowns and two failed two-point conversions)

Joe: Game day is finally here and I am officially ready to get this show on the road. I haven’t been able to sleep all week. This has been one heck of an off season and should only get better as this team grows and takes on the coach’s personality. The only question I have is how long will that take to happen?

I think we will have a fundamentally sound team on both sides of the ball with Jabrill Peppers and Joe Bolden leading the way on a solid defense. The offense is led by a solid running backs corps. If Isaac is healthy , the running back threesome will turn some heads. Whoever the starting quarterback is will be asked to manage games and not turn the ball over. This could mean Rudock is the man…ZZZZzzzzzz……… While this doesn’t excite me, it could be for the best. With some “better than average” ball control, this unit can take over some games and surprise some people.

Special teams is still a huge question mark but should be okay with a very good punter in transfer in Blake O’Neill. Did I just reference a punter? Yep, it’s time to get some sleep. I can’t wait for game time, but think we will end up on the wrong side of things in Harbaugh’s debut. At least the tailgate food will be top-notch. Go Blue.

Utah 35 – Michigan 28 

Michigan vs Utah projected starter comparison

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015


UM-Utah(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Michigan and Utah kick off the college football season tomorrow night. Both teams released their initial depth charts earlier this week, so before we get to our full game preview, we thought it would be fun to compare the projected starters based on their production from last season to see who has the advantage at each position.
Michigan-Utah starters 2014 comparison_Offense

 

Michigan has a pretty good advantage in terms of returning production with the exception of running back and left guard. At quarterback, Jake Rudock threw for 266 more yards than Travis Wilson, though Wilson threw two more touchdown passes. Utah lost three of its top four receivers — Kaelin Clay, Westlee Tonga, and Dres Anderson — so although Michigan didn’t see a lot of production from that position last season, the Wolverines still have a slight edge. Along the line, Michigan returns its entire unit and has a 77 to 55 advantage in career starts.

Michigan-Utah starters 2014 comparison_Defense

*at Los Angeles Harbor College

Defense is the expected strength of Michigan’s team heading into the season, but in terms of returning production, Utah has the edge in most spots. Chris Wormley is the only projected starter on the line that has more tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks than his counterpart on Utah. At linebacker, Desmond Morgan got injured in Michigan’s first game last season, so we used his 2013 stats for this. He has a big edge over Jason Whittingham. Michigan’s secondary has a lot of potential, but only Jourdan Lewis has more returning production than his counterpart.

Tomorrow we’ll dive into Utah in more depth in our full game preview.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Linebackers

Joe Bolden(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Michigan’s linebacker corps was rock solid last season, but with its fearless leader Jake Ryan graduating to the NFL, it’ll be critical for a largely unproven group to fill the void.

As a unit, the Michigan linebackers were great in the run-stopping game last season, flocking to the ball, and for the most part, keeping running backs from getting to the outside. For the defense to take a step forward in 2015, the three starters will have to lock down the middle of the field and support the defensive line in the run game.

Here’s how the linebackers stack up.

Probable starters

More so than with other positions on the roster, there’s a clear separation in the chain of command within the linebacker core. The starters will be three seniors with a ton of experience over the past three seasons.

Joe Bolden figures to be the physical and vocal leader of the group after starting all 12 games in 2014. Bolden was a beast in the middle of the field, making 102 tackles, and at times, defending the pass. With the departure of Ryan, Bolden is the most likely candidate to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He has five career sacks and 12 tackles for loss as a linebacker and continues to improve each season.

In the middle will be redshirt senior Desmond Morgan, whose 2014 season was lost to injury after the opener against Appalachian State. Morgan was Michigan’s best linebacker in 2013, with Ryan sidelined by injury, recording 79 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended. Morgan is valuable in the middle of the field because he can dominate all aspects of the position, swallowing up ball carriers and dropping back into coverage. Morgan’s return will help soften the blow of losing Ryan, who was the undisputed leader last year.

The final starting spot will go to James Ross, who recorded 32 tackles in 12 games last season. Ross was quiet in 2014 after picking up 85 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore and beginning the season with huge expectations. He can drop into coverage with tight ends and make plays on the ball in the backfield, though he disappeared at times last season. He’ll need to be closer to the player he was in 2013 to be a threat from the outside.

Projected Stats – Bolden
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
80 5.0 3.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 99 88 187 5.0 12.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Morgan
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
100 7.0 1.5
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 111 118 229 2.5 14.0 1 2 1
Projected Stats – Ross
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
50 5.0 1.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 86 67 153 2.0 11.0 2 1 0

Returning contributors

This is where the linebacker core gets a bit thin for Michigan. Royce Jenkins-Stone has the best chance after the starters to make an impact at linebacker this season after playing in 11 games last year. His value comes from his speed and athleticism, as he can drop into coverage better than most linebackers and can get around blockers to make a play on the ball. Jenkins-Stone has just eight career tackles, but he’s a candidate to break out in 2015 if he earns more snaps.

Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray also saw some time on the field last year, playing in 11 games apiece. Gedeon made 17 tackles and picked up a sack against Miami (Ohio). His specialty is getting into the backfield, where he can be disruptive off the edge. McCray, however, is more of a form tackler and can make plays if he’s in position. He’s the slowest of this group of linebackers, but he won’t miss a tackle and he can shed would-be blockers.

Michigan will need at least one of these three players to step up and give the linebackers some depth heading into the season.

Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 6 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Gedeon
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 21 15 36 2.0 2.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – McCray
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 2 0 2 0.0 1.0 0 0 0

New face

Michigan didn’t bring in any high-profile linebackers to fortify the position this offseason, but they did move defensive end Jack Dunaway, from Bloomfield, to linebacker as a freshman. Dunaway likely won’t play much of a role on the field in 2015, but he’s a good tackler and can make plays in the backfield. The coaching staff hopes his move to linebacker will add depth to the position, which looks so thin after the starters.

Meet the rest

Allen Gant – senior, 6’2″, 225 from Sylvania, Ohio (Southview), 12 games played, 5 total tackles
Jared Wangler – sophomore, 6’2″, 230 from Royal Oak, Mich. (De La Salle), no career stats
Chris Terech – freshman, 6’2″, 215 from Saline, Mich. (Saline), no career stats
Nick Benda – senior, 6’0″, 223 from Champion, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
John Andrysiak – freshman, 6’1″, 215 from Flint, Mich. (Powers Catholic), no career stats
Michael Wroblewski – junior, 6’2″, 241 from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Tommy Whitted – freshman, 6’1″, 225 from Winter Park, Fla. (Winter Park), no career stats
Dan Liesman – senior, 6’2″, 233 from Lansing, Mich. (Lansing Catholic), no career stats
James Offerdahl – freshman, 6’2″, 220 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons), no career stats
Noah Furbush – sophomore, 6’4″, 217 from Kenton, Ohio (Kenton)
Cheyenn Robertson – freshman, 6’3″, 220 from Union City, N.J. (St. Peter’s Prep), no career stats

Big Ten Media Day Quotes: Gardner, Clark, Ryan, Hoke

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Earlier this afternoon, we posted the full transcript from Brady Hoke’s 15-minute podium session. Shortly after that, Hoke and Michigan’s three player representatives — Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and FrankClark — met with the media at individual podiums, allowing an opportunity for further questions in a smaller group setting. Here are some select quotes from each of them.

Devin Gardner

Gardner(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Have you reflected on last season?
“Definitely. I feel like I know what I accomplished last year. As my first time starting I feel like I accomplished a lot. I had a lot of success, a lot of adversity, but I feel like I battled through it. I continued to fight. I was there when my team needed me. Coach Nuss always says, ‘the quarterback’s always there, no matter what’ and I feel like I was always there for my team when I could and I did what I could. “

 Even though you lost to Ohio State, everybody appreciates the performance. Did anyone reach out to you after that game?
“Charles Davis was a big one and Eddie George reached out to me. A lot of different people – Archie Manning. It was great. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, being able to fight through something like that is big when it’s for your team and the fan base, but it doesn’t really matter if the fans appreciate it. My teammates appreciate it and they know what I went through and I’m excited to be able to fight with my teammates.”

What did Eddie George tell you?
“He just told me that I had a great game. He was excited. We built those relationships at the Manning Academy two years ago and he’s really excited to see the way I fought, the way that I played in that game. That’s pretty much it. He also said his sons are big fans, so that’s pretty cool.”

Are you excited to be in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan State?
“Our mentality this year is just to take every game one at a time and don’t treat other games as bigger games than some other games, and don’t discount anyone either. Obviously, as our rivals, and now they’re in our division, it will be a little heightened intensity during those games, but until we get to those we can’t see. I’m sure they’ll be really excited and pumped up to play us too, but we’re going to bring everything we have and we’re going to play as hard as we can.

Can you talk about Coach Nussmeier and what he brings to the table that Michigan fans haven’t seen in the past?
“I don’t know if it’s something we haven’t seen, but he’s his own coach. He’s very intense and he’s a fun guy to be around. He’s a player’s coach for sure. We can talk off the field and he helps me with football and sometimes it always comes back to some type of football lesson, so that’s really cool. He brings a different perspective as a guy that’s played NFL, played in college and excelled, coached NFL and excelled. He just brings a winning attitude and a successful attitude to the entire Michigan brand.”

What’s the hardest road venue in the Big Ten?
“I think Iowa, just because the fans are so close. You always try to block out the fans, but when they’re close enough to touch you, it’s hard to ignore everything they say, so Iowa’s kind of tough. But I feel like our stadium is a tough place to play as well.”

Who are some new guys that have really stood out?
“Freddy Canteen has done a really nice job for us on offense. He came in (and) I didn’t know anything about him until the first day of spring practice. He came out and made a lot of good catches and throughout the spring he’s been really consistent in making big plays, and being accountable and being there when we need him.

“On defense, I like the way Jabrill Peppers is competing. I don’t know yet what he can do on the field, and as far as knowing the plays and knowing where you need to be, and we haven’t put on the pads. But from an athletic standpoint and a competitive standpoint, he’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen in the freshman class.”

Who has stepped up defensively?
“Joe Bolden. He’s always been a pretty vocal leader. He’s a very high energy, high intensity guy. I really enjoy seeing him play. Sometimes he treats us like we’re the other team, on offense, but it’s great to see. Coach Hoke always says – any coach will say this – you would rather have to say ‘whoa’ than ‘attack’. I feel like that’s great for him that he’s always in attack mode. I’m really looking forward to seeing him this year.”

Is Bolden too intense?
“No, no, no. We can’t say too intense. We don’t want to say that. He is very intense in practice. He hits us – I mean, he doesn’t hit me, quarterback’s off limits – but he hits really hard in practice and he gives it everything he has like it’s his last play, and that’s how it should be.”

Are you excited about Ty Isaac joining the team?
“I haven’t seen him yet. I met him when he was a recruit. I hosted him when he came for a visit, but I haven’t seen him this summer or anything like that. But if he’s going to be a part of our team we’ll welcome him just like any other teammate. He’s not going to be more special or less special than anyone on the team. Whether he’s a walk-on guy or a scholarship guy, we treat everybody as a teammate and as a brother, so he’s welcome into this brotherhood. When I get a chance to meet him he’s going to be treated as such.”

Does the uncertainty of the offensive line make it harder for you?
“My job is to encourage those guys, encourage every guy that’s out there, whether they’re going to start, or who’s going to play. My job is to encourage them and for me to work on myself as a consistent quarterback. It’s not my job to be like ‘who’s going to play’ or ‘what’s going to happen with those guys’. I’m just encouraging everybody, having dinner at my house, inviting them over, and continuing to work on being a great quarterback.”

Frank Clark

Frank Clark(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Who is the toughest player you’ve ever gone against?
“The toughest guy I ever went against, who was here last year, is Taylor Lewan. I mean, I don’t really see another offensive lineman that was really close.

Who is the toughest you’ve gone up against on this year’s team?
“It’s weird because I’m the old one. I’m used to being the younger one. I’m used to going against Taylor every day. This year it’s like I’m the old one. I guess if you flip that around you’ll have to ask the younger players who’s the toughest to go against on the defensive line.”

Who has stepped up on the defensive line?
“Man, we’ve got guys like Taco Charlton, guys like Henry Poggi, guys like Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry. These are guys that are younger but have experience. When you have a young, experienced defensive line, the possibilities are limitless. We have a defensive line unit that has very good players, it’s almost like having a first team two times. So when your first team goes out, when Frank Clark needs a break, or Brennen Beyer needs a break, you can send the next man in. You can send a Mario Ojemudia in. You can send a Lawrence Marshall in, who’s a freshman. You can send a Taco Charlton in and it’s going to be like having your first team stay on the field.”

How tough was it to get over the Ohio State loss last year?
“It was tough. Every loss is tough. But at the same time it was a close loss. I believe it was 42-40. It was a tough loss and it was a loss that we didn’t really expect. Every game you go into playing against Ohio, that’s one game, without being confident or without being cocky, that’s one game that you expect to win, being at Michigan. You know it’s going to be a hard game, but it was hard. It just gave us that extra fire and that extra energy in every workout through the winter, through the spring, and through the summer.”

Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Will playing Maryland and Rutgers feel like conference games?
“Now they’re a part of the Big Ten and I think it’s going to be great for us and great for the conference. It’ll be interesting.”

How important is it to be the better program in the state of Michigan?
“We’re both great programs, we both have great coaches. It’s just where we are on the map. It’s not who’s better, who’s worse.”

Why would you not be concerned about being the better program?
“I mean, it’s a rivalry game, it’s one of the biggest games, but we’re focused on Appalachian State. I’m not going to focus on Michigan State right now.”

Is one of the new Big Ten divisions better than the other?
“I think they’re both great divisions and I think they’re both going to do very well.”

Do you guys have a loop running of the 2007 Appalachian State game?
“No. They’re a whole different team and we’re a whole different team. We’re going to go into that game like we prepare for every other game, so it’s going to be a fun game to play in.”

How is the offense shaping up?
“I think Devin’s running really well. He’s running the offense really well. Coach Nussmeier has been doing a great job with the guys. Devin has gotten guys in the film room, coaching them up on things they’re doing wrong, so I think it’s going to good and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Will it look like a different offense?
“I think it’s the same offense, but it’s just a matter of the guys coming in and doing their thing. Like I said before, Devin’s been doing a great job running it.”

On Joe Bolden
“Joe Bolden is a great player. He knows what he’s doing, very smart player. Joe’s always there and if I need help, or anyone else needs help, Joe’s doing his job.”

Is there a freshman that has stood out?
“All of the freshmen have really stood out. Everyone has different character, everyone has been doing their job, going through the runs and workouts great.”

Brady Hoke said let’s not anoint Jabrill Peppers yet, but Devin said he’s pretty special…
“He’s a good player. I mean, he’s very athletic, brings energy. But I think there are a lot of freshmen that do that as well and it can’t just be one guy. It’s got to be all of them.”

How has Jabrill tempered the expectations?
“He’s keeping to himself and he’s going through the workouts, going through everything else like every other guy.”

Is there a part of you that, despite all the hype, says Jabrill needs to earn it?
“Every single guy has got to earn it on the field. Every single guy has got to do their job in order to play.”

What do you think of the pictures he posts of his abs?
“Hey, that’s not my…I try to stick to golfing pictures, stuff like that. He can do whatever he wants.”

What does it feel like to watch Ohio State go 24-2 and Michigan State win the league the past couple years?
“I’m not focused on those teams. I’m focused on what we need to do as a team our first game against Appalachian State. It will be a really fun game to play.”

What do you need to do to get ready for Appalachian State?
“Every single day, take that step forward that you need to take. Technique, fundamentals, the game of football. And do it every single day.”

Did you talk to former players about the Appalachian State game?
“I have not. Nope. Whole different team.”

How do you keep that mentality that it’s a big game?
“Every single game’s a big game. Every single game. We prepare for every single game.”

Did you seek out any advice from middle linebackers in the NFL about the position switch?
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot of tips, talked to a lot of guys. Jarrett Irons is a great guy to talk to, but everyone’s pushing me. Coach Mattison is the greatest coach you could have. He knows everything about the position, so just going to him and talking is great.”

Will the switch to middle linebacker allow you to play more instinctually?
“It’s a little different. But a lot of positions are instincts, but there are always those fundamentals or techniques that you need to play with every single play. I mean, some of it is instincts, but you also need those things.”

What was the offseason like?
“Very good offseason. I thought we did really well, prepared really well. Runs and lifts were great.”

Was it any different from previous years?
“A little different because I was older, leading the guys. There’s different leaders out there, but I think it’s great and I think it’s great for our team.”

When installing the new offense, how long did it take for them to figure it out?
“They were figuring it out the first day they got it. They were running on us, they were doing well.”

How have you seen Coach Hoke evolve over the past few years?
“Coach Hoke has been the same guy ever since I met him. Hard-nosed, tough, you can always talk to him, go into his office. If you have a problem, bring it to him. He’s going to be the same guy every single time and I love that about him.”

Brady Hoke

Brady Hoke(Justin Potts, M&GB)

How close is the Big Ten to winning a national title?
“I don’t know why they couldn’t this year. A team comes out of here as champion, why couldn’t they? Now, I don’t know these other teams. I mean, when we vote on this stuff, I don’t know them. I don’t know who they’re playing…Wofford – nothing against Wofford – but I mean there are nine conference games that we’re going to end up playing.”

Why do you think it has been so long since a Big Ten team won it all?
“I can’t believe it.”

Do you feel comfortable turning over the postseason selection process, versus before when the coaches at least had a vote?
“How many of those coaches really did it themselves? I’ve got a guy who I talk to about it, but I mean, this group, the integrity these people have as far as the committee itself, it’s what the fans want. I don’t know if you all wanted it. I worry about the bowl system. I think that was always a good system. I worry about the semifinals in the Rose Bowl, how are you going to approach the Rose Bowl? It’s the greatest experience there is in America for kids. How are you going to do it? They’re certainly not going to go out and stay for 10 days and go to Lawry’s two nights before, whatever it is. It’s not going to happen. It’s a game. And I’m sure the Sugar, when they’re a semifinal, all those things go away now.”

Do you address what’s appropriate with your freshmen?
“Yes, we educate them every day. We educate them to not embarrass themselves, what their grandma wouldn’t want to see out there. Why would you do it?”

Have you had any instances?
“Oh yeah. You’ve probably made some dumb decisions.”

You talk a lot about ‘this is Michigan’. Can you talk about the importance of this season for the program and for yourself?
“It’s not personal. Believe me. Nothing’s personal. It’s about Michigan and it’s about the program as you said, and it’s about the kids in the program.”

Predicting Michigan: The linebackers

Sunday, July 20th, 2014


Predicting-Michigan-LB

Ryan-Morgan(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

PreviouslyQuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight EndsOffensive Line

Despite the overall struggles of the defense for the majority of the 2013 season, the linebacking corps laid a solid foundation for Greg Mattison and carried the bulk of the load between a mediocre defensive line and frustrating secondary.

The unit took a huge blow during the 2013 offseason when its leader, Jake Ryan, tore his ACL and figured to miss the majority of the year. Ryan astonished the trainers by returning against Penn State on October 12, one week short of seven months after suffering the injury. The captain made an immediate impact by recording his first tackle for loss of the season.

Mattison will surely look to his linebackers to lead the defensive turnaround this season. Three of the most talented players on the Michigan roster will start for this unit and set the tone for an otherwise unproven defense.

The Starters

Ryan is a lock to start the season at middle linebacker for Michigan, coming off a year in which he won his second straight Roger Katcher Award for best Michigan linebacker despite missing the first five games of the season. He made the move from strong-side linebacker in the spring as a way to put the best player in the middle of the defense. Brady Hoke said that teams were able to run plays away from him and take him out of the play last season. The move to the middle will keep that from happening.

During his last full season, 2012, Ryan was clearly the most talented defensive player on the team, leading the team with 88  tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The fifth-year senior has five forced fumbles and over 150 tackles in his Michigan career.

Alongside Ryan will be senior Desmond Morgan, perhaps the most consistent linebacker from a year ago. Morgan started all 13 games for Mattison and held the unit together during Ryan’s absence. Morgan snagged a critical interception at Connecticut to help Michigan escape a major upset bid and recorded 79 tackles to bring his career total up to 223.

The final piece to the starting linebacking corps will be James Ross III, who emerged as one of the best young players on the team in 2013. Ross played in 12 games as a sophomore, missing only the Ohio State game in which the defense allowed 393 yards on the ground. Ross recorded 85 tackles last season and will be crucial in the run-stopping game at strong-side linebacker.

Career Stats – Ryan
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
34 99 56 155 7.5 31.5 5 3 0
Career Stats – Morgan
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
36 107 116 223 2.5 14.0 1 2 1
Career Stats – Ross III
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 67 54 121 2.0 8.0 2 1 0

Veteran Depth

A pair of juniors emerged from camp as potential contributors to the linebacker rotation after strong springs. Joe Bolden was one of the names that coaches talked about having an incredible off-season in early April, and he took first-team snaps at weak-side linebacker during the spring game. Morgan will almost certainly retain his starting position after a third fantastic season in a row, but Bolden has a chance to make a major impact after racking up over 50 tackles in 2013.

Bolden is joined by classmate Royce Jenkins-Stone in his battle to crack the starting lineup. Jenkins-Stone took most of the snaps at strong-side linebacker during the spring game, but he will almost certainly play behind Ross when the season begins. The junior has played just one game at linebacker in each of the last two seasons and hopes to play a more important role in 2014.

Sophomore Ben Gedeon played in six games at linebacker as a true freshman last season, but saw extended action against Ohio State, recording six tackles and a sack, flashing the potential he showed as a consensus four-star recruit. He’ll see increased action this fall rotating in for Morgan.

Career Stats – Bolden
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
26 44 41 85 3.0 8.0 0 1 0
Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 5 6 11 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Gedeon
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 9 10 19 1.0 1.0 0 0 0

The Newcomers

Linebacker was a major focus for Brady Hoke during the 2014 recruiting process as he brought in three freshman to provide some added depth. Four-star Michael Ferns enrolled early and has been working with the coaches throughout the offseason. Ferns totaled over 130 tackles in each of his final three years in high school and gives Hoke an option behind Ryan on the inside.

Three-stars Jared Wangler and Noah Furbush will also join the defense in 2014 after committing to Michigan last summer. Wangler has a strong chance to see the field as a freshman as he offers help in the pass coverage game and spent much of his high school career in the secondary. Furbush could also earn some playing time with a strong summer, though the outside linebacking core is crowded.

Predicting Michigan: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013


(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

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

Wounded Warrior: Jake Ryan

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

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

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

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

Picking Up The Slack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle To Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh Faces

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

The Michigan Medley defends Denard after South Bend meltdown

Monday, September 24th, 2012


On a soggy field in South Bend, Michigan’s offense struggled to find consistency and turned in a charitable effort, giving the ball away six times en route to an Irish victory. It was the third game of Rich Rodriguez’s first season.

John U. Bacon’s book Three and Out revealed a striking account of the final moments and what happend in the locker room. Several Michigan players were seen laughing on the sideline in the waning minutes, and Rodriguez let the team know how he felt.

Denard had the worst game of his career, but also wasn't put in position to succeed (photo by MGoBlue.com)

“We’re losing the goddamned game, getting our asses kicked, and we’ve got two guys laughing over there on the sidelines,” Rodriguez shouted. “LAUGHING! We’ve got seventy guys out there busting their butts, right up to the very end, and a few guys who think it’s funny.”

The excitement of a new high-powered spread offense was still in its infancy, but on that day, with Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan splitting time under center and Sam McGuffie leading the offense, the performance was laughable – at least from the outside. But it was, perhaps, the first indication that Rodriguez would not last, whether it was his fault or not. He was, after all, working with players recruited by a different coach for a different system.

Four years and a new coaching staff later, the talent is much greater and expectations much higher, but the outcome was the same. Six turnovers let a very winnable game slip away in South Bend, but this time there was no laughing. Instead, there was a senior quarterback, the star of the team, who was recruited by the former staff and who was responsible for five of the six turnovers, making no excuses. And in doing so, providing a Tim Tebow-like sound clip.

“I forced a lot of throws, and I want to say sorry to everybody who watches football, who watches Michigan football, and who follows Michigan football,” Denard Robinson said. “I want to say sorry. It won’t happen anymore. I’m going to be accountable for the rest of the season.

“This is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself,” he continued. “In my 22 years of living this is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in myself.”

There won’t be a gaudy plaque bearing those words affixed to the side of Schembechler Hall, but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful. Anyone who knows Denard’s improbable story can’t help but root for him to succeed. In an era of money- and fame-hungry athletes he’s the epitome of a student athlete, all the while being the star of the team. He’s set to become the first member of his family to graduate college, and he’ll have a shot at playing on Sundays, even if not at quarterback. All because he made the right choices.

Entering Saturday, Denard was poised to become one of the greatest heroes ever to put on the winged helmet. And he still may. But despite gaining more total yards against Notre Dame than any player in college football history and leading Michigan to two thrilling wins over the Irish, his legacy will be tarnished by Saturday’s performance.

On the same day he became Michigan’s career leader in interceptions thrown, he also became Michigan’s career leader in total offense. Mill that over for a second. In the 133 seasons that Michigan has been playing football, no player has accounted for more yards, and he still has 10 games to add to it. By the time he finishes his career, he’ll have amassed a total that will likely never be broken. And yet, he’s still one of the most polarizing players ever to don the Maize and Blue.

Joe Bolden and the Michigan defense was the bright spot of the game (photo by MGoBlue.com)

In the aftermath of the game, the following statements, and many more like them, showed up on my Twitter feed, all from Michigan fans:

“I’d take any QB over Denard honestly. I seriously don’t like him. Yeah he creates hype some games but I don’t like him.”

“Denard is simply NOT a QB…can’t wait till he’s gone to be honest.”

There were also comments about him being selfish. And frankly, I feel bad for the people who think this way.

In a sense, Denard is a victim of his own success. From his first snap, a 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan, he’s turned in more electrifying plays and moments than perhaps any player in Michigan history. Yet when he struggles, people turn against him, as if he’s inhuman. As if Brett Favre doesn’t have the most interceptions in NFL history. As if Peyton Manning didn’t throw three interceptions in the first quarter of last week’s Broncos game. As if Tom Brady has never had a bad game in his career. In fact, Brady has six career four-interception games and he’s widely regarded as the best quarterback in the league.

Denard isn’t anywhere close to Brady as a passer, but the point is that great players have bad games every now and then. Denard has been responsible for many more wins than losses and we will likely never see a player like him again in the maize and blue. Every player is worthy of criticism, but if you’d take any quarterback over him or if you can’t wait until he’s gone, please root for Michigan State this season and let me know how well you enjoy Andrew Maxwell.

The irony of Saturday, however, is that an ultra conservative game plan likely would have won the game. In last Friday’s game preview, I wondered whether Notre Dame’s strength was inflated due to Michigan State’s inflated perception entering the season. It looked like a signature win for ND in East Lansing a week ago, but was it really? I think we all – Michigan’s coaching staff included – bought into the “upset” as an indication that Notre Dame is for real. And don’t get me wrong; they’re a good team. But not so good that Michigan should not have won.

Al Borges essentially out-thought himself with his game plan. He assumed that it would take trickery and asking Denard to be Tom Brady to beat the Irish, when in reality, all it would have taken was to ask Denard to be Craig Krenzel. I don’t have a problem with the way Michigan started the game – a Devin Gardner pass to fullback Joe Kerridge on the second play – but when the opening drive didn’t yield points, the time for getting cute was over.

Not many quarterbacks will succeed in this situation (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

When Michigan wasn’t turning the ball over, the Wolverines moved the ball well, putting up 299 yards of offense despite giving it away six times. And the way Michigan moved the ball well was with designed runs and a short, safe passing game – Denard’s strengths. The turnovers came when Denard was asked to stand in the pocket, stare down one of the nation’s best pass rushes, make the right reads, and put the ball on the money.

Borges certainly doesn’t have an easy job, fitting in a player that possesses a completely different skill set than what’s needed for his offense. And next year, he’ll have a chance to get to work with his ideal personnel, but Denard is simply too good of an athlete and playmaker to take off the field. And so Borges needs to play to Denard’s strengths rather than try to fit him into the mold of a prototypical passer.

On this night, he didn’t, and Denard didn’t make the plays. After three years of getting the right bounces against Notre Dame (and all of last season), the bounces are bound to go the other way. While it’s easy to criticize play calling, if Vincent Smith isn’t about to get buried into the turf, it’s an easy touchdown pass. If Denard doesn’t uncharacteristically fumble inside the red zone, ending the best drive of the night, Michigan likely would have pulled within three, or at the very worst, settled for a field goal. If Devin Gardner had run his route full speed, he would have at very least broken up what was Denard’s third interception. If freshman safety Jarrod Wilson hadn’t been flagged for pass interference on third-and-goal, ND would have settled for a field goal instead of its only touchdown of the game. If a whistle from the crowd hadn’t stopped play, perhaps Fitz Toussaint would have broken off a big run. But it all happened, and none of it can be used as an excuse. It wasn’t Michigan’s night, and it all added up to a disastrous result that will have two weeks to fester before taking on a Purdue team that nearly beat Notre Dame.

The result wasn’t what any of us wanted, let alone those who it directly effects, but most of us didn’t expect Michigan to win 11 games again this season. And despite a 2-2 record, Brady Hoke’s stated goal – winning the Big Ten – is still very well within reach.

Let’s be thankful for a quarterback willing to stand in the face of criticism and accept responsibility for his performance. No, he’s not perfect, but I’d take him over any other quarterback in the Big Ten this season. He kept touching on accountability after the game and as a senior leader and team captain, I have no doubt that he’ll step up and perform. Michigan won’t go on to with the national championship this season, but while Tebow is now relegated to backup quarterback duty and running fake punts, Denard has 10 games remaining to cap off what has been a brilliant career. And I have a feeling his best – and career defining – moment is yet to come.

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.