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Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Kovacs’

Frank Clark reflects on his past, growing as a leader

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Clark(Patrick Barron, The Michigan Daily)

For many kids growing up in the inner city, sports are a way out. Michigan defensive end Frank Clark is a testament to that.

Clark grew up in Baldwin Village, a section of Los Angeles filled with gangs, drugs, and violence, which served as the setting for the Denzel Washington film Training Day.

Clark’s mom struggled with drug addiction but worked hard to provide for her sons, working several jobs at a time and moving from place to place, Clark recalled. By the time he was a teenager his best friend had been shot and killed in a drive-by, and Clark was in danger of heading down the path toward gangs, drugs, and violence that so many around him had taken.

Training Day was set in Clark's hometown of Baldwin Village, Calif.

Training Day was set in Clark’s hometown of Baldwin Village in Los Angeles, Calif.

“(That was) the road that every typical guy growing up in my neighborhood and inner city Los Angeles was going down,” Clark said. “And the one thing that I had to identify quickly, with the help of my mother, was if I’m any good at doing what I do. And that’s my sports.”

Clark ran track because his mother wanted him to, but football became his passion and his escape. He would walk an hour and a half each way to Inglewood for football practice.

‘You’re good. You don’t need to be in the streets,” his mother told him. “You don’t need to be out in the hood. You don’t need to be out all night. But you do need to recognize how good you are at what you do.”

Once he realized that, and once he started seriously playing football, everything else in life came together. His mom put him on an airplane headed for Cleveland and he never looked back.

“Basically, she made the decision that I needed to move to Cleveland because I needed a better life,” Clark said. “It was her wise decision to put me on a plane…I’m sitting there on this plane just looking around scared for my life, so I ordered some peanuts and Sprite and went to sleep. And I was in Cleveland the next day.”

Clark’s father and aunt were on the receiving end of his move and enrolled him at Ohio State pipeline, Cleveland Glenville High School. There, he excelled at football under the tutelage of head coach Ted Ginn Sr., who served as the father figure Clark had missed during all those years in Los Angeles.

“He continues to play, to this day, a big role in my life,” Clark said of Ginn. “(He) just guides me the right way, and having that person there that understands football, and he’s been around it for so many years, and can guide you and show you the way to go so you can get to where you want to be.”

That place was Michigan, even though the in-state Buckeyes showed some interest in him late in the recruiting process. Clark said he didn’t care much for Ohio State; it was either Michigan or one of the schools back home, USC or UCLA. And he didn’t want to go back.

“One thing about Los Angeles is you’ve got a lot of hate there,” Clark explained. “A lot of people don’t like when you’re doing good and a lot of people don’t want to see you be successful…One thing about it is the neighborhood I lived in, you never knew when you could wake up again. You never knew when you could see another day.”

And he hasn’t been back since.

“Just going there, it isn’t like just walking outside here in downtown Chicago,” Clark said. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to have to walk outside. Hopefully there’s not a drive-by. Hopefully there’s not a shootout.’ That’s the environment that I chose not to go back to. I chose not to go back to my boys in my neighborhood, especially while I’m in college, because they won’t really understand me.”

Clark's mother sent him to Cleveland where he played for Ted Ginn Sr. at Glenville High

Clark’s mother sent him to Cleveland where he played for Ted Ginn Sr. at Glenville High (

As a freshman, Clark showed promise, and it culminated with an interception in the Sugar Bowl to help the Wolverines top Virginia Tech. But that offseason, Clark ran into trouble, stealing a laptop from a dorm room. He was arrested, and because the laptop was valued at $1,800, convicted with a felony that carried a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison and a $3,000 fine. Clark had left L.A. to escape prison or worse and now found himself faced with that possibility in Ann Arbor.

The Holmes Youthful Trainee Act allowed Clark to avoid prison by fulfilling probation obligations, and Clark is thankful for his teammates that helped him refocus.

“Just being around the guys, from my early struggles as a freshman, just hearing them talk to me and tell me, ‘Frank, we need you. We can help you. We can seriously use you on the field,’ Clark recalled. “Things like having a person to be there for me, that was a first for me in my life. Coming where I come from, there aren’t too many people like that. There aren’t too many good people like that, people who are genuinely going to be there for you. And those are the guys on my team that were there for me.”

Two players in particular helped point Clark in the right direction. Former Michigan linebacker Brandin Hawthorne took him under his wing.

“He basically told me the ins and outs of making it at Michigan the right way,” Clark said. “Because the way I was doing it at the beginning was the wrong way. There were times when I was like ‘Man, I’m tired. I don’t know if I want to go to that workout. I’m tired, I think I’m going to be late,” and he basically showed me the way to a point where it was like if you’re going to do things right you need to do them right all the time. If you’re going to do things wrong, we don’t need you here. And that’s simply how it went.”

The other was former Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs, who led by example.

“I’m sure if you’ve seen him play, (you know) Jordan was leadership on the field,” Clark said. “(He was a) great player. His story speaks for itself. As a walk-on, he comes in and starts for one of the greatest universities in the world. Jordan’s story and everything he’s been through, I just have so much respect for him for that, and that allowed me to listen to everything that he had to say. And I’m still listening to it to this day.”

Clark has come a long way since his freshman year, both on and off the field. Last season, he led the team with 12 tackles for loss and finished second with 4.5 sacks. Now a senior, he’s providing the leadership for the younger guys the way Hawthorne and Kovacs provided it for him.

“I’m the type of leader that you can respect based on work ethic and I have a big voice,” Clark said. “I’m going to talk to players, I’m going to let players know what they’re doing wrong, I’m going to bring players up when they’re doing wrong. I’m not going to bash them, and I’m going to correct players when they’re doing right, because you’re never at 100 percent at the end of the day.

Clark wears a white sleeve on one arm to honor his best friend who was killed when they were kids (Carlos Osorio, AP)

Clark wears a white sleeve on one arm to honor his best friend, Henry Smith, who was killed in a drive-by shooting when they were kids (Carlos Osorio, AP)

“I’m also a great listener and I think every leader is a great listener. I listen and I ask freshmen, ‘Do you have anything to say?’ instead of leaving them out. I ask the coaches after they’re done with meetings or when they say it’s a players meeting, ‘Do you have anything to say?’ I want everyone’s input so I know what I can do on my end of the bargain to make our group as a defense the best defense we can possibly be.”

Listening to Clark speak now, you would have no idea he grew up surrounded by gangs and drugs and is one of the lucky few to have made it out. Now he’s on track to graduate, and whether the NFL is in his future or not, he hopes to devote his post-football career to working in inner cities and trying to help out the kids that he once was.

“I want to work with children from neighborhoods like I grew up in,” Clark said. “Children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods where there’s not a lot of money, you don’t see the fancy cars. I want to work in those types of neighborhoods, where people say, ‘Oh, it can’t be done here’ or ‘Oh, they can’t make it out of neighborhoods like this,’ like inner city Chicago, like inner city Detroit, inner city Los Angeles, inner city Miami, neighborhoods where other people are scared to go into. I don’t fear neighborhoods. I’ve seen the worst. I’ve seen it all. I want to go somewhere where I can show kids like I was growing up that there are other ways out instead of the streets, instead of drugs, and things like that.”

But first, there’s one more season to play, and Clark is ready to put the pads back on and join his teammates for one more Big Ten title push. He says he doesn’t set personal goals for sacks or tackles, but he does have one big goal he would love to be fulfilled this fall: to get his mother, who sacrificed her personal relationship with her son in order to give him a better life, to a game.

“That’s one of my goals for the year,” Clark said. “No matter what happens. No matter what she can and can’t do, one of my number one goals this year is to get my mother down to a game. This is my senior year, my last year, and I think it would be one thing that she’ll really love.

“My mother hasn’t seen me play in a long time. She told me that she’s watched a few games, but not physically seen me play. My mother hasn’t seen me one time in the physical state I’m in in four years. The last time I’ve seen her was almost 10 years ago. So you could say that’s a long time, and just seeing her come to a game – oh, man, probably senior night or something like that, my last game – man, that would be the best thing ever.”

The 2nd Annual Maize and Go Blue Awards

Monday, December 24th, 2012

In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.

Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.

To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.

Click here to revisit last year’s awards.

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

(Ann Arbor News)

This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.

Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also  led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”

It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.

Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.

“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)

While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.

“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”

Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.

As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.

“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan led Michigan in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles

Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.

To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”

He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.

Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)

Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison

Greg Mattison has done wonders for the Michigan defense

For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.

In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.

“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.

Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).

“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State

Brendan Gibbons hit the game-winning field goal to beat MSU (Detroit News)

After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.

Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.

In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.

It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.

“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)

Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern

Roundtree's circus catch saved Michigan from a sure loss (Ann Arbor News)

When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.

Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.

It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.

Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force

Denard scored four touchdowns against Air Force (Detroit Free Press)

After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.

The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.

“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)

Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)

Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson share our QB award (Ann Arbor News)

Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.

While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.

“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”

Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*

Denard led Michigan with 1,166 rushing yards (Detroit Free Press)

Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.

Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.

No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.

As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.

Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.

“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)

Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon

Jeremy Gallon led Michigan in receptions and yards (

The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.

“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.

The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.

“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan

Taylor Lewan was the Big Ten's best offensive lineman and a first-team All-American (

Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.

In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.

“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”

Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell

Will Campbell was named All-Big Ten honorable mention (

William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.

The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.

“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan was an All-Big Ten second team performer this season (Ann Arbor News)

Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.

He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.

“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

Jordan Kovacs was an All-Big Ten second team selection (Detroit News)

When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.

Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.

“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)

Dennis Norfleet averaged over 23 yards per kick return (Detroit Free Press)

Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.

“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”

Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.

He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.

“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess

Devin Funchess led Michigan in touchdown receptions (Getty Images)

Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.

Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.

“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ’em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson

Denard will be remembered as one of the all-time Michigan greats (Detroit Free Press)

Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.

“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”

“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner

Devin Gardner improved immensely from 2011 (Getty Images)

Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.

In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.

Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.

“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)

* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.

Lewan, Hagerup earn Big Ten individual awards

Monday, November 26th, 2012

The All-Big Ten teams were announced on Monday night and several Wolverines were among them. Taylor Lewan received the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award and Will Hagerup got the Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award. No other school in the conference had more than two individual players win awards, though Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin also had two each.

Lewan and Patrick Omameh were named to the First Team by the coaches, while the coaches named Craig Roh and Jordan Kovacs to the Second Team. The media had Lewan and Hagerup First Team and Jake Ryan Second Team.

These teams are always gimmicky in that outside of the obvious, the coaches and media tend to differ vastly. The coaches thought Omameh was deserving of First Team honors while the media merely had him Honorable Mention. While Hagerup was named the Big Ten’s best punter, he wasn’t even on the first or second team by the coaches.

The full list of individual awards winners and All-Big Ten teams are listed below. Five other individual trophy winners will be announced on Tuesday.

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Allen Robinson, Penn State
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: John Simon, Ohio State
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Michael Mauti, Penn State
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Micah Hyde, Iowa
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska, and Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Will Hagerup, Michigan
First Team Offense Second Team
Taylor Martinez Nebraska QB Braxton Miller Ohio State
Le’Veon Bell Michigan State RB Ameer Abdullah Nebraska
Montee Ball Wisconsin RB Venric Mark Northwestern
Carlos Hyde Ohio State
Allen Robinson Penn State WR Kenny Bell Nebraska
Jared Abbrederis Wisconsin WR Corey Brown Ohio State
Matt Stankiewitch Penn State C James Ferentz Iowa
Patrick Omameh Michigan G Ryan Groy Wisconsin
Spencer Long Nebraska G
John Urschel Penn State G
Taylor Lewan Michigan T Hugh Thornton Illinois
Rick Wagner Wisconsin T Jeremiah Sirles Nebraska
Jacob Pederson Wisconsin TE Dion Sims Michigan State
Jeff Budzien Northwestern K Brett Maher Nebraska
First Team Defense Second Team
Johnathan Hankins Ohio State DL Michael Buchanan Illinois
John Simon Ohio State DL Adam Replogle Indiana
Jordan Hill Penn State DL Craig Roh Michigan
Kawann Short Purdue DL Eric Martin Nebraska
Baker Steinkuhler Nebraska
Max Bullough Michigan State LB Will Compton Nebraska
Michael Mauti Penn State LB Ryan Shazier Ohio State
Chris Borland Wisconsin LB Gerald Hodges Penn State
Micah Hyde Iowa DB Jordan Kovacs Michigan
Johnny Adams Michigan State DB Daimion Stafford Nebraska
Darqueze Dennard Michigan State DB Christian Bryant Ohio State
Bradley Roby Ohio State DB Ricardo Allen Purdue
Mike Sadler Michigan State P Brett Maher Nebraska
First Team Offense Second Team
Braxton Miller Ohio State QB Taylor Martinez Nebraska
Le’Veon Bell Michigan State RB Venric Mark Northwestern
Montee Ball Wisconsin RB Carlos Hyde Ohio State
Allen Robinson Penn State WR Cody Latimer Indiana
Jared Abbrederis Wisconsin WR Kenny Bell Nebraska
Travis Frederick Wisconsin C Matt Stankiewitch Penn State
Spencer Long Nebraska G Brian Mulroe Northwestern
Andrew Norwell Ohio State G John Urschel Penn State
Taylor Lewan Michigan T Jeremiah Sirles Nebraska
Rick Wagner Wisconsin T Jack Mewhort Ohio State
Kyle Carter Penn State TE Dion Sims Michigan State
Brett Maher Nebraska K Jeff Budzien Northwestern
First Team Defense Second Team
Eric Martin Nebraska DL Adam Replogle Indiana
John Simon Ohio State DL William Gholston Michigan State
Jordan Hill Penn State DL D.L. Wilhite Minnesota
Kawann Short Purdue DL Johnathan Hankins Ohio State
Ryan Shazier Ohio State LB Jake Ryan Michigan
Michael Mauti Penn State LB Max Bullough Michigan State
Mike Taylor Wisconsin LB Gerald Hodges Penn State
Micah Hyde Iowa DB Johnny Adams Michigan State
Daimion Stafford Nebraska DB Darqueze Dennard Michigan State
Travis Howard Ohio State DB Josh Johnson Purdue
Bradley Roby Ohio State DB Devin Smith Wisconsin
Will Hagerup Michigan P Mike Sadler Michigan State

All-Big ten honorable mention honorees can be found here.

The Michigan Medley salutes the seniors of Team 133

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

They arrived in Ann Arbor four or five years ago, to a program in a state of flux that no incoming class had seen in nearly 40 years. Unlike last year’s graduating class, none came to Michigan under the old regime of Lloyd Carr prior to his retirement. The 18 [Edit: 23] players that will play their last game in Michigan Stadium on Saturday came to Michigan full of promise with a new coach. While the first couple years of their careers didn’t go as planned, they laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Michigan football that we have seen last season and this. While they still have two games left and a bowl game, let’s take a look back at the careers of each of Michigan’s graduating seniors.

#16 – Denard Robinson

No player has meant more to Michigan over the last four years than Denard Robinson. His career began with an electric 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 2009 and has produced enough highlight-reel plays and legendary performances to assure that he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue.

Denard currently ranks fifth in career rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in 100-yard rushing games, sixth in pass completions, fourth in passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, and first in total yards in the Michigan record books. He also ranks first all-time in Big Ten rushing yards by a quarterback, third in NCAA career quarterback rushing yards, and seventh in Big Ten career total yards. If he’s able to play the final two games and bowl game, he will surely move up even higher in most of those categories.

He arrived in Michigan a soft-spoken kid and became the face of Michigan football through the roughest patch in the past 40 years. Even when Michigan was barely competitive, Denard gave us a reason not only to watch but to be excited. This August, he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Media Day and serves as team captain. This is all the more remarkable considering that Rich Rodriguez was virtually the only major coach that wanted him as a quarterback.

Denard will remain a Michigan legend long after he plays his final game, whether or not his number gets official legends status.


#32/11 – Jordan Kovacs

While Denard has been the face of the team and put up all the offensive stats over the past four years, Jordan Kovacs has been the face of the defense. And his story is even more improbable. A hardly recruited defensive back out of Clay High School in Ohio, Kovacs chose to walk on at Michigan instead of go to the only other school that showed any interest in him – Toledo.

In his first season, he was named to the Freshman All-America second team and was named Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. As a redshirt sophomore he finished second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He also earned a scholarship. Last season, he was again named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and currently has 54 tackles through 10 games in his senior campaign. He also became a captain this season. From walk on to captain, he’s everything Rudy wasn’t.

Last weekend, Kovacs was awarded the Wistert brothers’ No. 11  legends jersey to wear for the remainder of his career. He has started 43 career games and has brought hard-nosed, high-energy defense every game. Every walk on from now on will aim to be the next Jordan Kovacs and he will be missed next season.


#21 – Roy Roundtree

A skinny kid from Dayton, Ohio, Roy Roundtree committed to Rich Rodriguez on his first National Signing Day. After redshirting his freshman year, Roundtree led Michigan with 32 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 while starting four games. He was named a Freshman All-America honorable mention and Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. In 2010, he broke out with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second in the Big Ten in yards and was named to the All-Big Ten second team by the media.

Last season, his production fell off considerably in Brady Hoke’s first season, but he provided one of the highlights of the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in Michigan’s improbable comeback against Notre Dame. This season, Roundtree has 20 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown through 10 games, but no catch has been more important than the 53-yarder he hauled in in the final seconds last week against Northwestern to set up the game-tying field goal.

Although he won’t go down as one of the best receivers in Michigan history, he has shown a knack for big plays and won’t soon be forgotten. For the past two seasons, he has worn Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legends jersey, which was the first one given such status.


#88 – Craig Roh

Craig Roh was a big pickup for Rich Rodriguez when he committed on Sept. 18, 2008. The seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation out of Scottsdale, Ariz. held offers from USC, Stanford, and Nebraska to name a few, but chose to make the journey east.

As a freshman in 2009, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception, earning Freshman All-America honorable mention honors, as well as Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. He upped his tackle numbers to 43 in 2010 and then was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media last season. He ranked second on the team with four sacks a year ago.

This season, he’s on pace for his best season yet with 37 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks through 10 games thus far. He has consistently represented Michigan well off the field and was named 2011 Academic All-Big Ten. He has started 48 consecutive games, 20 at linebacker, 26 at defensive end, and two at defensive tackle, showing his versatility and willingness to do what is needed to help the defense improve.


#73 – William Campbell

Will Campbell was one of the most highly touted in recent memory, a consensus five-star defensive tackle. He arrive din Ann Arbor weighing 356 pounds and never lived up to the hype through his first three seasons. At one point in 2010, he moved to offensive line, but that was short lived when Hoke took over. As a senior, he has finally earned a starting spot and done well with 32 tackles and a sack so far.

#2 – Vincent Smith

The diminutive back from Pahokee, Fla. was recruited for Rodriguez’s system and had a promising freshman season with 48 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown, as well as 10 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He earned the starting job in 2010, carrying the ball 136 times for 601 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 130 yards and two more TDs. When Hoke arrived, Smith lost the job as the starter, but became the third down back. Against Minnesota last season, he became the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and passing touchdown in the same game. This season, he has just 24 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but has always shown an ability to pick up yards when needed.

#57 – Elliott Mealer

Mealer’s road to Michigan was filled with heartache when a car accident killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother Brock permanently paralyzed. But he has overcome the tragedy with a solid career as a backup offensive lineman. This season, he earned the starting nod at center, replacing David Molk and may be best known for his mountain man beard.

#25 – Kenny Demens

Demens was a highly sought after linebacker recruit in the midwest in 2008 but chose to come to Michigan at a time when linebacker play was less than stellar. He grabbed a starting spot midway through the 2010 season and never looked back, helping to solidify a position that had been a weak point for a couple of years. He was the team’s third leading tackler as a sophomore with 82 tackles. Last season, he led the team with 94, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the coaches and media. This season, he currently ranks second on the team with 67 tackles and five for loss.

#52 – Ricky Barnum

Barnum spent his first couple of seasons as a reserve offensive lineman before coming onto the scene a year ago. He started three games at left guard and finally earned a true starting spot this season, starting all 10 games thus far.

#65 – Patrick Omameh

Omameh has started 39 consecutive games at right guard over the last three seasons while being named Academic All-Big Ten twice. He was also one of 11 players nationally to be named to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team for his regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital.

#8 – J.T. Floyd

Floyd wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but has been a fixture in the Michigan secondary for the past three seasons, starting 32 games at cornerback and playing in 40. In 2010, he finished sixth in the conference in tackles per game, and last season he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he has 29 tackles so far for the nation’s top-rated pass defense. He has recorded three career interceptions and two career forced fumbles.

#89/87 – Brandon Moore

Moore hails from the same high school as Roundtree and former Wolverine Michael Shaw and came to Michigan as the nation’s eight-best tight end. He has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career, but has recorded two receptions for 28 yards. On Sept. 15, he was given Ron Kramer’s No. 87 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of the season.

#7 – Brandin Hawthorne

Hawthorne came to Michigan from Pahokee, Fla. as a three-star player and has spent the majority of his career on special teams. Last season, he started five games, recording 43 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. So far this season, he has 14 tackles, seven of which came against UMass.

Other seniors who will be playing their last games in Michigan Stadium are #14 Jack Kennedy, #20 Steve Wilson, #23 Floyd Simmons, #31 Paul Gyarmati, and #81 Mike Kwiatkowski. [Edit: Also, Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Garman, and Charlie Zeller].

Make sure to get into the stadium early on Saturday to salute each of these Michigan men for their hard work an dedication of the last four or five years. Give them a standing ovation to thank them for coming in during tumultuous times, sticking it out, and helping turn the program around.

2012 preview: the defense

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

When Brady Hoke took over in January 2011, he stressed that his team would be tougher and would get back to playing Michigan football. He inherited a very talented offense, but it was the defensive side of the ball that would make or break the season. Hoke hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to lead the charge and it was the first indication that Hoke was the right man for the job.

Mattison had a tall task at hand, trying to turn one of the worst defenses in Michigan history into something resembling a Michigan defense of the past. But he had years of experience at the highest levels to draw from, including a stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 1995-96, erecting what would become a year later one of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen.

All he did was transform a team that allowed 35.2 points and 450.8 total yards per game the previous year into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense, giving up just 17.4 points and 322.2 yards per game. Even the most die-hard of Michigan fans didn’t see that coming.

With the majority of starters returning this season, and an offense expected to take a leap forward, is there any room for the defense to improve on last year? Let’s examine the players who will man the Michigan defense.

Defensive Line

#73 – William Campbell
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/0 19 3.5 2 0 1
#55 – Jibreel Black
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
26/0 25 1.5 1.5 1 0
#88 – Craig Roh
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/38 112 21 6.5 3 0
#97 – Brennen Beyer
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
11/0 11 0 0 0 0

Projected Starters: DT William Campbell, DT Jibreel Black, DE Craig Roh, DE Brennen Beyer

By far, the biggest question on defense is the line. The graduation of the big three – Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Will Heininger – leave the Wolverines with just one player who has started a game on the line. That player is senior Craig Roh who has started every single game since he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago.

This season, Roh is switching from weak-side to strong-side to fill the spot vacated by Van Bergen. Roh has put on about 20 pounds to get his weight up to 281, slightly less than what Van Bergen played at. He says it’s a more natural fit and he’ll need to have the same impact that RVB did for Michigan’s defense to be successful.

On the other side will be sophomore Brennen Beyer who is also new at the position. He played in 11 games at linebacker last season and is now taking over the weak-side end position. He was in a battle with Frank Clark for the spot, but Clark’s legal woes opened the door for Beyer.

In the middle, senior William Campbell’s time has finally come. He arrived at Michigan as a hyped-up five-star, but has disappointed so far. This offseason, he has trimmed down to a slim 308 pounds and has drawn praise from the coaches for his improvement and leadership. It’s probably too much to expect him to perform to Martin’s level, but if he can clog the middle well enough, it will go a long way towards forging a tough defensive line.

Joining Campbell is Jibreel Black, a junior who hasn’t yet started a game but has played in 26 career games. The last two seasons, he was a reserve defensive end, but Hoke asked him to add weight and move to the 3-tech position to replace Heininger. It has been a bit of an adjustment, moving from outside to inside, but after bulking up to 279, he still hasn’t lost his quickness.

“He’ll be the most quick 3-tech you’ll see in the Big Ten this year,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan.

If that’s the case, he’s in for a big year, but we’ll find out from the start when he goes up against what will likely be the best offensive line in the nation in week one.

Backups: The aforementioned Frank Clark is in line for major playing time at defensive end, but it largely depends on the outcome of his legal troubles. His pretrial date is Sept. 11 and it’s hard to imagine he’ll see the field before then. If and when he does, he’ll be a valuable asset. He played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recorded 10 tackles, and picked off a pass in the Sugar Bowl to set up Michigan’s second touchdown.

Richard Ash is a is a big bodied sophomore waiting to fill in in the middle. Freshman Ondre Pipkins is another. Pipkins was the subject of a scare last week when he had an apparent neck injury in practice and was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be nothing more than a stinger and he was back at practice a few days later. Both he and Ash have drawn praise throughout camp. Quinton Washington is another guy who will rotate in. He has about a dozen games worth of experience in his career.


#90 – Jake Ryan
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
13/11 37 11 3 1 2
#25 – Kenny Demens
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/20 13 80 0 80 0
#44 – Desmond Morgan
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
12/7 63 4 1 0 1

Projected Starters: SAM (strong-side) Jake Ryan, MIKE (middle) Kenny Demens, WILL (weak-side) Desmond Morgan

For the first time in years heading into the season linebacker will be a position of strength for the Michigan defense. It helps that the guys playing the position were recruited as linebackers rather than as defensive backs and converted to linebacker.

The leader is senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens. An All-Big Ten honorable mention performer last season, Demens became a stalwart in the middle. He had his share of struggles in his first year in Greg Mattison’s defense, but became more consistent as the year went on. This year, with a full understanding of the defense and a lighter frame, he should thrive.

Jake Ryan had a good season as a redshirt freshman last year and is poised to break out in 2012. He made 11 tackles for loss last season and added 12 pounds since then to help him shed more blocks.

Desmond Morgan will get the nod at the weak-side spot. He impressed as a true freshman in 2011 and despite being slightly undersized has a great football mind. Better consistency should be expected this season with a year under his belt.

Backups: Most of the backups that will play key roles are freshmen, but before we get to them, let’s talk about a couple of upperclassmen who have experience. Redshirt junior Cameron Gordon and senior Brandin Hawthorne both have plenty of experience. Gordon is a journeyman who went from receiver to safety to linebacker. He has played in 20 career games, starting 13. He has enough athleticism to give Michigan a solid backup to Ryan. Hawthorne is also a converted safety with good playmaking ability.

A host of freshmen will push for time. Joe Bolden, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, will see snaps at middle linebacker. He has great football instincts and great potential. Kaleb Ringer and James Ross will likely push for action at weak-side linebacker to spell Morgan. Ringer also enrolled early and has a ton of potential. Ross will likely redshirt but you never know.


Projected Starters: CB Blake Countess, CB J.T. Floyd, FS Thomas Gordon, SS Jordan Kovacs

#18 – Blake Countess
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
12/6 44 1.5 0 6 0 1 0
#8 – J.T. Floyd
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
31/22 131 2 0 13 3 2 0
#32 – Jordan Kovacs
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
37/33 266 21 5 2 4 5 2
#30 – Thomas Gordon
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
22/14 90 5.5 2 2 1 2 4

Michigan was known for putting out great defensive backs throughout the 90s and early 2000s, but the past few years have been a letdown due to a combination of injuries, poor recruiting, and attrition. This year, Michigan enters the season with the secondary full of veterans.

The leader is obviously Jordan Kovacs. You know his story – from walk-on to four-year starter. He’s on several preseason awards watch lists and has defied logic his entire career. He’s sure to be a team captain when Hoke announces them. He’s a great tackler, he’s smart, and he loves to blitz and disrupt the quarterback.

Thomas Gordon has started 14 games and is a hard-hitting safety who recovered a Big Ten-best four fumbles last season. He was the team’s third-leading tackler a year ago.

At the cornerback spot, Blake Countess is a rising star. He grabbed the starting job as a true freshman last year and had a great season all things considered. He struggled down the stretch against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but the experience should help him grow this season.

J.T. Floyd has started 22 games and is the most veteran cornerback on the team. He had a surprisingly good season last year and will look to cap off a pretty good career this season.

Backups: Marvin Robinson and Jarrod Wilson are the main backups at safety. Robinson came in with a lot of hype but has yet to make his mark. Wilson is a freshman who, like Bolden and Ringer, enrolled early. He has a lot of upside even if he doesn’t see the field much this season. Josh Furman is also an option, though like Robinson, hasn’t lived up to his recruiting hype to date.

At cornerback, Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Delonte Hollowell are the main players. Avery started some games two years ago before the new coaching staff came in, so he’s a pretty good third option. Taylor and Hollowell don’t have much experience – just spot duty last year – but could develop into decent corners in the next couple of years.

For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.

TomorrowRecord Watch
FridaySchedule Predictions

Defense Dials up Victory in Champaign

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Michigan traveled to Champaign on Saturday looking to gain momentum for the season’s final stretch, and came away with a lot of it in shutting down the Illini offense en route to a 31-14 win.

In the first quarter, Michigan picked up right where it left off in last season’s 67-65 triple-overtime win over Illinois, racking up 186 yards and two touchdowns. For the next two-plus quarters, however, it looked like we had traveled back in time to 2008 with Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet at the helm. Fortunately, the defense played like the defense of old, holding Illinois to just 214 total yards – most coming in comeback mode during the fourth quarter – and 14 points to preserve the win.

#22 Michigan 31 – Illinois 14
Final Stats
31 Final Score 14
8-2 (4-2) Record 6-4 (2-4)
362 Total Yards 214
223 Net Rushing Yards 37
139 Net Passing Yards 177
14 First Downs 15
3 Turnovers 3
4-29 Penalties – Yards 4-25
4-137 Punts – Yards 9-374
32:45 Time of Possession 27:15
6-of-14 Third Down Conversions 5-of-17
0-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 2-for-2
4-49 Sacks By – Yards 1-8
1-for-2 Field Goals 0-for-0
4-for-4 PATs 2-for-2
3-for-6 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-for-2

Michigan lost the toss, got the ball first, and wasted no time getting down to business. On the second play of the game, Fitz Toussaint broke a 65-yard run to the Illinois 15-yard line. Two plays later, Denard Robinson took it in from nine yards out to put Michigan on top 7-0.

After a pair of Illinois’ three-and-outs sandwiched around one by Michigan, the Wolverines had another good drive brewing until Denard fumbled at the Illini 23. But the Michigan defense forced another three-and-out and got the ball back in Illini territory.

As the second quarter began, Robinson found the end zone again, putting Michigan ahead 14-0. Illinois finally picked up its first first down of the game on its next possession, but was still forced to punt. Michigan marched down to the Illini 2-yard line, but just like the end to last week’s loss to Iowa, Michigan was stuffed on four straight plays to turn the ball over on downs.

Michigan got it right back, however, when Jordan Kovacs stuck his helmet on the ball and knocked it away from Illini running back Jason Ford. Thomas Gordon recovered on the Illini 13-yard line putting Michigan in prime position to take a three-score lead. But three players later, on 3rd-and-18, Robinson was sacked by Whitney Mercilus and fumbled it back to Illinois.

Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion and forced another three-and-out, and then drove back into Illini territory with a chance to put some more points on the board before the half. But Brendan Gibbons missed a 38-yard field goal and Michigan went into the half up by 14.

Both teams traded punts to start the second half, so Illinois brought in backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole to replace Nathan Scheelhaase and try to provide a spark, but Michigan forced another punt.

Michigan got its next big break when, after going three-and-out, Illinois returnman Ryan Lankford fumbled and John McColgan recovered at the Illini 32. Devin Gardner replaced Robinson and led Michigan to a 27-yard field goal to go ahead 17-0.

Illinois answered with its first good drive of the game, going 75 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a 15-yard Scheelhaase touchdown run.

Fitz Toussaint rushed for 192 yards, the most by a Michigan running back since Mike Hart in 2007 (photo by Getty Images)

Michigan punted the ball back to Illinois, but cornerback J.T. Floyd made perhaps the biggest play of the game, picking off Scheelhaase and returning it 43 yards to the Illini 22. Three plays later, Gardner connected with Martavious Odoms for a 27-yard touchdown to put Michigan ahead 24-7.

Illinois wouldn’t go away, however, marching 80 yards in 18 plays for a 1-yard Jason Ford touchdown run to pull within 10.

It was as close as the Illini would get, as Michigan recovered the onside kick and Toussaint reeled off a 13-yard run followed by a 27-yard touchdown run for the final score of 31-14.

Offensively, Toussaint was the man of the day, rushing for 192 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. It was the most rushing yards in a game by a Michigan running back (not including Denard Robinson) since Mike Hart ran for 215 against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 6, 2007.

The big story, however, was the play of the Michigan defense. While the offense moved the ball well in the first quarter, it struggled to score points, and the defense did its part to keep Illinois from taking advantage. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison used a great scheme to disrupt the Illini offense that features the Big Ten’s best receiver and racked up 561 yards and 65 points against Michigan last season. A.J. Jenkins still managed eight receptions for 103 yards, but he was targeted 18 times, and Michigan corners Floyd and Blake Countess did a great job of keeping him from beating them.

Michigan’s defense held Illinois’ usually powerful rushing attack to just 37 yards on 33 attempts (1.1 yards per carry) and forced three turnovers.

Robinson left the game in the third quarter with a hand injury after completing 6-of-10 passes for 92 yards, but Hoke said after the game that he could have returned. Gardner completed 2-of-5 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Michigan hosts 17th-ranked Nebraska next Saturday at noon before ending the regular season with The Game on Thanksgiving weekend.

Hoke Debut Victorious in Rain Shortened Contest

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

When Brady Hoke was named the new head coach at Michigan it was received with mixed feelings. When Hoke and the Wolverines took the field on Saturday it was safe to say that the Michigan faithful were all in for Hoke as he brought the traditional Michigan style back to the Big House.

Safety Jordan Kovacs sacks WMU quarerback Alex Carder

Michigan won the toss and deferred to the second half. I’m always a fan of putting your defense out there first, but it’s been a while since Michigan has had a defense worth putting out there at all.

Being a passing team, Western Michigan came out tossing it around.  Michigan looked okay, not playing out of position and missing assignments like the past few seasons, but still looked a bit shy. WMU marched down the field almost unimpeded. Carder completed every pass he threw; not all for large gains, but all were complete.

Western came out in multiple looks, but it was the five-wide set around the nine-minute mark that did the damage. Michigan had one guy covering two receivers and Carder hit his man. Were it not for a great effort by Courtney Avery it would have been a touchdown. Michigan held on 3rd-and-goal but WMU went for it on fourth and put it in the endzone to go up 7-0. Carder was 8-for-8 on a 15-play, 74-yard drive taking up just over seven minutes.

Michigan’s new look offense took the field at its own 24. On the first play, a designed Denard run, gained 11 yards and I couldn’t have been happier. Living amongst Buckeye fans and general naysayers, seeing Borges call a designed run showed he is going to use what he has, and what Denard has is electric feet. Denard’s first throw was not as spectacular, a 3-yard completion to Roy Roundtree.

The Bronco defense had good speed and didn’t look out of place, while Michigan’s offensive line did a solid  job of opening holes for the runners, especially on yet another QB draw which led to a first down.

A great play action pass to Kevin Koger was, in my opinion, the best play of the drive. Denard stood back in the pocket looking poised and threw a strike to Koger, who made a great grab and came down with it while getting railed by the opposing defender. Facing a 4th-and-1, Michigan went for it with a power running play, Toussaint straight up the gut for the first down. While not a big gainer or a terribly exciting play, those of us who grew up watching guys like Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka or more recently Chris Perry and Mike Hart, had been starving for some power Michigan football.

Michigan vs. Western Michigan
Final Stats
34 Final Score 10
1-0 Record
288 Total Yards
190 Net Rushing Yards
98 Net Passing Yards
17 First Downs
1-0 Fumbles – Lost
1-5 Penalties – Yards
2-82 Punts – Yards
18:15 Time of Possession
3-for-6 Third Down Conversions
1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions
2-16 Sacks By – Yards
0-for-0 Field Goals
4-for-5 PATs 1-for-1
2-2 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-3

Denard looked good in the pocket, not getting happy feet and making his progressions, although the word on the street is Borges has a 1, 2… run progression for Denard. Michigan ate up a fair amount of clock as well, and started the second quarter still in possession and still marching. Toussaint had the honor of scoring the first Michigan touchdown in the Hoke era on a short run up the middle. The drive went for 16 plays, 76 yards and took 8:33 off the clock.

On the kickoff return, Troy Woolfolk, who had a couple tackles and a big hit on the first series, came off the field limping. Not a good sign at all. Carvin Johnson replaced him and he did not return with a sprained ankle, though Hoke said after the game that he could have come back in if needed.

WMU’s next drive was about the same as its first: moving the ball down the field with short, quick passes. Michigan started to apply some pressure, and a Kenny Demens blitz up the middle forced Carder to get rid of it quickly and throw incomplete. WMU settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt but came up shy, missing it wide right. The Michigan defense seemed to be playing a “bend but don’t break” style. Not what I expected but it seemed to be working.

After a 3-and-out by Michigan, Western took over again and started marching down the field just as before. Michigan turned loose a blitz and Carder picked it up, just barely stepping out of Demens’ way, but sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan busted through the line to tip Carder’s pass. It fell into the hands of linebacker Brandon Herron who then took it 94 yards to the house for the longest interception return in Michigan history and the first since Donovan Warren did it in 2009.

For once, broadcaster Craig James said something worthwhile, if not completely obvious, that those are the kinds of plays this defense needs, especially early on, to gain confidence in itself.

After a 3-and-out by the Broncos, Michigan followed up on its next series with some more nifty moves by Denard and another Toussaint touchdown run, this time from two yards out.

Michigan dialed up the pressure again on defense and the all-out blitzes started getting to Carder, but just a hair too late. They resulted in incomplete passes but they’ve yet to get him to the ground. WMU settled for a field goal to enter the half trailing Michigan 20-10.

WMU’s Jordan White had nine catches for 96 yards in just the first half, while Carder started hot but struggled late in the half in the face of pressure.

Michigan’s defense allowed 199 total yards in the first half, looking improved but still in need of a lot of work. Aside from the pick-six, it pretty much got owned by Alex Carder. Receivers were open all day. The blitzes late in the half forced some bad passes but overall WMU looked solid and was able to do whatever it wanted. Were it not for the missed field goal and the tipped pass leading to the touchdown, Michigan might have been down 17-7.

Michigan leaves the field victorious when the game is called due to weather

Denard had 101 yards of total offense overall, with no one else really stepping up on offense. Toussaint had 2 touchdowns, but his per carry average was under four.

At this point, Michigan fans were interested to see what sort of adjustments Hoke and Co. would make at the half, one thing Michigan lacked the past three seasons.

Michigan starts the second half with the ball and at this point, the pouring rain led to the officials call for a 30 minute delay due to the lightning. When the game resumed, Jordan White and WMU picked up where they left off in the first half, passing it all over the field. Michigan struggled to get pressure except when it blitzed up the middle.

Mattison seemed to have enough of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy and started sending more blitzes. Carder got drilled by Jordan Kovacs on a blitz, the first sack of the Hoke era, fumbled. The ball was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by none other than Herron, who became the first Michigan defender with two returns for touchdown in a game since Tom Harmon in 1940.

Mattison continued to dial up the pressure and send blitz after blitz. Carder was having a tough time and Michigan was starting to look like, well, Michigan. WMU was clearly getting rattled and the penalties started to rack up.

Michigan’s next possession looked very much like last season. Toussaint ripped off a 43-yarder, and two plays later, Mike Shaw went untouched 44 yards for a touchdown. A 3-play, 87-yard drive in just 39 seconds, putting Michigan ahead 34-10.

During the next series, play was halted again due to lightning and the stadium was evacuated. The game was called soon after with a few minutes remaining  in the third quarter.

The Hoke era began with a win, as most expected, but WMU showed some of the weaknesses still lingering on the defensive side. It certainly didn’t look as bad as last year, but until Mattison started sending some serious pressure it didn’t look that great.

The offense was solid and it was great to see someone other than Denard lead the team in rushing. Toussaint went for 11 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Shaw had 4-for-54 and a TD. Denard finished 9-for-13 for 98 yards in the air and had 8 carries for 46 yards.

Carder went 22-31 for 183 and an interception, but most of those completions came before the blitzing spree occurred. A sore spot for Michigan last season, pass coverage, showed improvement, though Jordan White still had 12 catches for 119 yards. Is this guy on the Biletnikoff watch list?

The game changer was definitely Mattison sending the pressure with blitzes and forcing three turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Who knows what we would have seen had the weather cooperated and we’d finished the remaining 17 minutes. It could be a blessing in disguise for Michigan, allowing Borges to not have to show much of his hand to Notre Dame. All in all, there is reason to be excited in Ann Arbor again. Bring on the Irish!

Denard’s Tebow-Like Performance Shows He’s Human

Monday, October 11th, 2010

To some, Michigan’s loss to Michigan State on Saturday only furthers the theory that Rich Rodriguez isn’t the right fit for Michigan and that Denard Robinson’s Heisman-leading start to the season will crumble against the meat of the schedule. They will look at the 17-point margin of victory or the three interceptions in Robinson’s stat line and say, “Told ya so.”

Denard Robinson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but two interceptions in the end zone doomed Michigan on Saturday (photo from

Denard Robinson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but two interceptions in the end zone doomed Michigan on Saturday (photo from

They point to Michigan’s first five games of the season, in which Michigan averaged 41 points and 565 yards of offense per game, and dismiss them as being against poor competition, as if every other team in the country plays only ranked teams all season.

The simple fact of the matter is that every team plays its share of cupcakes and every quarterback occasionally has bad games.

Even God, I mean Tim Tebow, had a similar game in his Heisman-winning season. In fact, he had two straight similar games in Florida losses that season.

After rolling through Western Kentucky, Troy, Tennessee, and Ole Miss to start the 2007 season, Florida fell at home to Auburn, 20-17. Tebow was held to 201 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception, and 75 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries.

The following week, Florida fell to No. 1 LSU, 28-24, and Tebow was held to 158 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception, and 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Both of those performances were worse than the numbers that Robinson put up on Saturday. Robinson passed for 215 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, and rushed 21 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. He still accounted for 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns, but it was the interceptions that proved he’s human after all and ultimately doomed Michigan on Saturday.

Michigan moved the ball with ease for much of the game until it was forced into come-from-behind mode, so it wasn’t exactly the Michigan State defense that stopped Robinson.

On the first drive of the game, Michigan marched 65 yards in nine plays to the MSU 10 before Robinson threw his first pick in the end zone. On that drive, Michigan rushed seven times for 8.1 yards per rush. On the interception, Robinson had Roy Roundtree open in the end zone and also seemed to have room to run for the first down, but threw behind Roundtree.

Michigan’s next drive, which started on its own 10-yard line, was more of the same. Robinson led the team 73 yards to the MSU 17 before settling for a field goal. On that drive, Robinson overthrew a wide open Darryl Stonum in the end zone on a play that would have put Michigan ahead 7-0.

After a three-and-out, Robinson led Michigan’s first touchdown drive of the day of nine plays for 60 yards, completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martell Webb.

Robinson 2010 vs. Tebow 2007
6 Games Played 6
5-1 Win-Loss 4-2
84-125-4 Comp-Att-Int 97-148-3
67.2 Comp Percentage
1,223 Pass Yds 1,455
9.8 YPA
8 Pass TD 13
991 Rush Yds 500
8.3 YPC 4.8
9 Rush TD 9
2,214 Total Yards 1,955

Through four drives, Michigan had 207 yards on 34 plays, an average of 6.1 yards per play, but it had only 10 points to show for it. Michigan went into the half leading offensively, 263 yards to 247, but trailed 17-10 due to the two bad throws by Robinson and a blocked field goal.

After a Michigan State touchdown to open the half, Michigan again drove 58 yards down to the MSU 12, but another Robinson interception in the end zone ended the drive. Robinson tried to force it through to Junior Hemingway, who was open with a good throw, but again, the throw was behind him.

Michigan State took advantage with another touchdown to take a 21-point lead, and Michigan was completely forced out of its offense at that point.

On the last possession of the third quarter, Roundtree, Hemingway, and Stonum each dropped passes, but Kelvin Grady pulled down a good pass for a 17-yard gain on fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive. Robinson ran it in to pull Michigan within 14.

But after forcing a Michigan State punt, Robinson threw his third pick of the game on a seam over the middle. He forced it, but it wasn’t entirely his fault, as Grady, the intended receiver, got turned around and failed to find the ball.

Three interceptions, completely the fault of either Robinson or the intended receiver, were the difference in the game and showed Robinson for what he really is – a true sophomore making just the sixth start of his career.

Even the quarterback to whom most compare Robinson to, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, had a similar game last season in a loss to Purdue when he went 17-for-31 for 221 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and also ran 21 times for 34 yards and a touchdown. He was a sophomore in the seventh game of his second season as a starter at that point.

Michigan will be okay going forward. Most expected to give up 34 points to Michigan State on Saturday, so it wasn’t the defense that lost the game. It still held the Spartans two points below their season average and the same point total that Wisconsin gave up in East Lansing the week before. That Wisconsin defense was giving up just 14 points a game heading into that matchup.

Michigan State was the better all-around team and would probably win six out of 10 under the exact same circumstances, but Michigan isn’t as far behind as most believe. The Wolverines moved the ball and put themselves in position to score. But for the first time this season, mistakes did them in.

Every game the rest of the season, with the exception of Ohio State, is a winnable game and 8-4 is a realistic possibility, which is one better than I predicted before the season.

Iowa will be tough next week, bringing the nation’s best defense into Ann Arbor. Even against Arizona, when Iowa gave up 34 points, the defense only gave up 20, and seven of those 20 were set up by a blocked punt that gave Arizona the ball at the Iowa eight-yard line.

Michigan’s offense will have its hands full, but if it executes and doesn’t beat itself, it can win.

Martavious Odoms hauled in the catch of the day at the end of the first half (photo by the Lansing State Journal)

Martavious Odoms hauled in the catch of the day at the end of the first half (photo by the Lansing State Journal)

The following three games, after a bye week, are the most winnable: at Penn State, vs. Illinois, and at Purdue, before finishing with Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Each week, Penn State looks more and more beatable with true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden at the helm. The Nittany Lions were spanked by Illinois at home on Saturday, and are averaging just 18 points per game.

Illinois looks to be getting stronger, having played Ohio State tough and then trouncing Penn State, but they’re still led by a freshman quarterback.

Purdue upset Northwestern last week, but lost to Toledo the week before, and Wisconsin at home could potentially be another win. We will find out a lot more about Wisconsin this week when they host Ohio State.

An 8-4 record is certainly attainable, but 7-5 is probably the baseline, which is right on par with what most predicted before the season started. The hot start raised expectations, but we have to remember that this team is still a work in progress. Denard is just a sophomore who has started six games. He’ll keep getting better as he learns to make the right reads and not throw late across the middle.

Yes, Michigan lost on Saturday, and it hurts to lose for the third straight time to Little Brother, but continue to keep the faith because it’s not as bad as it seems.


Michigan_logoWhy didn’t Michael Shaw get more carries? He missed last week’s game with an injury and was listed as probable on the injury report entering Saturday’s game. He played on the first series, carrying the ball three times for 27 yards, including a 21-yard run. From there on, it was Vincent Smith who got the playing time, with freshman Stephen Hopkins getting one series.

I like Vincent Smith, but he’s not nearly effective enough since coming off ACL surgery, and in Michigan’s offenes this season, the backs don’t get screens, which is where he was the most danerous at the end of last season. He’s certainly not the best option on short-yardage situations, like on Michigan’s first possession of the second quarter when he was stuffed for no gain on third-and-one.

Hopkins has run well when given the opportunity this season, though he did fumble earlier in the year. He’s a bigger back than the rest and provides the best down-hill change-of-pace from Denard.

All said, I think Shaw is the most complete back of the bunch and if healthy, should be on the field. Maybe he simply wasn’t healthy enough to warrant much of a work load on Saturday, but he played in the fourth quarter, so that doesn’t seem likely.

Michigan_logoI’m always hesitant to criticize a coach, but Rodriguez did his best Les Miles impression on Saturday. At the end of the first half, when Michigan State had fourth-and-three at the Michigan 39, he chose to let the clock run instead of calling a time out. MSU ended up going for and getting the first down, which ultimately led to a field goal, so that wasn’t an obvious time out instance, but one that I thought he should have made. At the very least, it would have saved about 25 seconds on the game clock.

Then, on the first play after after the kickoff, Robinson ran for four yards and instead of calling a time out right away, Rodriguez waited about eight seconds before calling one with 12 seconds to go. On the next play, Robinson hit Martavious Odoms for 51 yards to the MSU 25-yard line. At that point, there were only three seconds remaining and Michigan was forced to try a 42-yard field goal, which was blocked.

Had Rodriguez called a time out right away when Robinson was tackled, Michigan would have had 10 or 11 seconds left after the long pass, allowing the offense to run one or two more plays to either score a touchdown or get closer to field goal range (which for Michigan this season is about 30 yards and in).

Scoring either a touchdown or a field goal would have been a huge momentum boost going into the half. Instead, the blocked field goal served as a momentum boost for State and was deflating for Michigan.

At the end of the game, with Michigan trailing by 17, Rodriguez chose to wave the white flag of surrender on fourth-and-nine from the Michigan 30 with about six minutes left. Granted, coming back was a long shot at that point, but going for it was the only chance they had, and punting it back to State was effectively giving up. The Spartans got the ball back with 5:41 left and ran out the clock.

Obi Ezeh (45) needs to be benched for good (photo by Getty Images)

Obi Ezeh (45) needs to be benched for good (photo by Getty Images)

Michigan_logoIt’s officially time to get Obi Ezeh off the field. Yes, he’s a senior three-year starter, but he’s still making mistakes that he should have learned in Pop Warner. I find it hard to believe that he’s the best option we have. He’s the most experienced option we have, but experience doesn’t necessarily equal best. At the very least, let’s get a young guy in there who can learn the trade. He certainly can’t do any worse.

I’m now on the bandwagon of moving safety Jordan Kovacs to the position and backfilling the safety spot. Kovacs, though not the best athlete in the world, is probably the smartest player on the team. He always puts himeself in the right spot. He won’t be running down any backs from behind, but he’ll fill gaps and help the run defense. At this point, there’s no helping the pass defense, but if we let teams run all over us too, we aren’t going to stop anybody.

Most of the offenses Michigan faces the rest of the season are similar to Michigan State: traditional Big Ten offenses with power running games. Michigan has to be able to stop, or at least contain, the run if it’s going to have a chance to beat Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. Michigan State ran for 249 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on Saturday. That, in my opinion, is the number one thing that needs to be fixed for the rest of the season.

UMass Puts Expectations Back Into Perspective for UM Fans

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Michigan survived a scare from another FCS opponent on Saturday leaving many Michigan fans up in arms about the performance of the defense. It was a lot closer than it should have been, Michigan winning 42-37, and needing a failed onside kick attempt by UMass to seal the deal. Yet, after the way Michigan started in the first two weeks of the season, many maize and blue faithful seem to have forgotten what this team really is.

Yes, it has college football’s most exciting player right now in Denard Robinson. Yes, the offense has averaged 33 points a game so far. Yes, it beat Notre Dame in South Bend. But most figured this to be a 7-5 team before the season started, due in large part to one thing: the defense.

Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has his hands full this season (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has his hands full this season (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

It’s not a knock on any player. Nor should it be a call for defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to be fired, as ESPN’s Mark May and many others suggest.

The fact of the matter is this is a defense starting a walk-on (Jordan Kovacs), a converted wide receiver (James Rogers), and two redshirt freshmen (Thomas Gordon and Cam Gordon, also a converted receiver), with a walk-on-fullback-converted-linebacker (Mark Moundros) also getting extended playing time. In addition, the top corner and senior leader of the secondary, Troy Woolfolk, was lost for the season just before the first game, and an opening day starter, Carvin Johnson, has been out with a knee injury that he suffered in the first game.

If you haven’t read Misopogan’s “The Decimated Defense” part onepart two, and part three, please click on those links and read them now for a comprehensive breakdown on why the defense is what it is right now.

Pinning the blame on Greg Robinson at this point is nothing short of ridiculous. This is the first season since 2007 that the Michigan defense has had the same coordinator as the year before. The defense needs some stability.

A lot of fans point to Robinson’s failure as head coach of Syracuse before being hired by Rodriguez as proof that he’s not fit to lead Michigan’s defense. They shrug off the two Super Bowl rings he won as defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.

Some guys just make better coordinators than they do head coaches. One needs to look no further than South Bend the previous five years. Charlie Weis was highly successful coordinating the New England Patriots offense to multiple Super Bowls in the early 2000s before leaving for Notre Dame in 2005. His time guiding the Irish was largely unsuccessful with a 35-27 record and now he’s back in the NFL, coordinating the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs – the same Chiefs that racked up nearly 400 total yards in a win over the San Diego Chargers last Monday.

The jury is still out on Robinson at Michigan, although judging him by the defensive performance last season and the first three games this season is a bit unfair given what he has had to work with. He should at least be given enough time to get a full crop of actual defensive recruits into his system.

With the electric play of the Robinson gaining all of the positive headlines (Denard), Michigan has regained national attention in the early part of this season. That will only help with recruiting as kids will want to be the next “Shoelace” or play alongside him for the next couple of years. If the offense can continue to roll and if Denard can keep putting up Heisman-like numbers, highly-rated defensive recruits might long to wear the winged helmet and Robinson will be able to fill the holes with concrete rather than gum.

We all knew the defense would struggle this year, so don’t let the quick start cloud your judgment. Just hope that Denard and the rest of the offense can continue to carry the team to victory and keep Ann Arbor a prime destination in the eyes of prized recruits.

Remember that this coaching transition is still a work in progress and keep things in perspective. Yes, losses and near-losses to FCS teams are frustrating, but the last thing we need to do is overreact.

Go Blue!

Denard Makes His Case for Starting QB Spot; Other Spring Game Observations

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Starting spots usually aren’t won or lost in spring practice, but young guys get a chance to prove themselves and gain experience while everyone else gets to show how much they developed throughout the winter.

Development was apparent in one key player today, as sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson lived up to the hype he’s been garnering all spring with a fantastic performance in Michigan’s annual spring game.

Robinson led five touchdown drives in Saturday's spring game

Robinson led five touchdown drives in Saturday's spring game

On the first possession of the scrimmage, Robinson guided the first-team offense down the field on a touchdown drive that included a nice bootleg pass to Roy Roundtree. Robinson ran it in from 10 yards out to cap off the drive.

On his next possession, which the offense started on its own three-yard line, Robinson hit Roundtree perfectly in stride about 25 yards downfield and Roundtree did the rest, outrunning the secondary for a 97-yard touchdown.

Later on, Robinson found Roundtree in the end zone again, this time from 12 yards out.

In the overtime drill, which simulates an overtime possession, starting from the opponent’s 25-yard line, Robinson completed a touchdown pass to Martavious Odoms from about 10 yards out. On his next possession, also the overtime drill, he threaded the needle for a 24-yard pass to Terrance Robinson to set up another touchdown.

By my count, Robinson led five drives, two of them overtime possessions, and all five resulted in touchdowns. Some of this can be attributed to playing against the second-team defense, but with the way Robinson was throwing, it wouldn’t have mattered if the first-team defense was out there or not.

One of the quirks about the spring game is that the quarterback is down once he’s touched in an effort to avoid an injury. On many of Robinson’s runs, he would have picked up significantly more yardage if he had to actually be tackled.

Most importantly, he showed poise in the pocket, where last year he would tuck and run after three milliseconds. A few times, he looked through several reads before pulling it down and running. On a couple of plays, he kept his head up while on the move and delivered an accurate strike to an open receiver.

This wouldn’t be all that significant if you hadn’t seen him play last season. While he dazzled Michigan fans with his feet in open space, his accuracy was terrible to the point where Michigan fans would rather him just run it up the middle for five yards even though the defense knew he’d do exactly that, than even attempt to throw a pass.

Robinson, Gardner, and Forcier hope to take a step forward this season, photo by Tony Ding/AP

Robinson, Gardner, and Forcier hope to take a step forward this season, photo by Tony Ding/AP

Today, he looked comfortable running the offense and seemed to be having as much fun out there as any other player in the maize and blue. About the only aspect that looked like it needed some work was a couple of bubble screens that were either underthrown or led the receiver too far.

I wish the coaches would have switched things up to pit Robinson against the first-team defense, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless.

The development and comfort level was evident and showed how dangerous a Robinson-led offense can be when every pass thrown doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Last year, almost every time he lined up in the shotgun the defense knew he was going to run it. He rarely even ran the zone read, the staple of Rich Rodriguez’s offense.

This year, he should know the offense and be able to effectively run the zone read, and if he can prove he has any kind of accuracy, he would be the ideal quarterback for this offense.

I certainly realize it’s a lot of “ifs” and you can’t really jump to conclusions based on the spring game, but at this point, I would say Robinson is the starting quarterback heading into the summer.

Click here to see highlights of the top 10 plays from the spring game.


— Tate Forcier, who started all 12 games as a true freshman last year, looked basically the exact same, although he was working with the second-team offense against the first-team defense.

He made some good plays, scrambling away from pressure and hitting the receiver on the run, but he also made some mistakes.

Tate Forcier didn't show the same developement as Robinson

Tate Forcier didn't show the same developement as Robinson

One pass should have been picked off by linebacker Mike Jones and another was forced into quadruple coverage and somehow wasn’t picked. He also made a bad pitch on an option play, which was recovered by the running back for about a 10 yard loss.

On the bright side, he completed a nice, across-the-body touchdown pass to Je’Ron Stokes in the overtime drill.

—Freshman Devin Gardner started out shaky, fumbling a handoff on his first play and throwing an interception deep in his own territory to Obi Ezeh, but seemed to rebound nicely with a 20-yard seam pass to Brandon Moore.

He looked nimble with his feet, but still has a weird throwing motion that needs to be fixed. He could be great a year or two from now, but I’m glad we don’t have to start another true freshman this season. He’s certainly headed for a redshirt barring a freak injury to Robinson or Forcier.

—Roy Roundtree is the real deal. He played just as he finished last season and looks to be Michigan’s go-to guy this year. He caught deep balls and screens and showed some speed in pulling away from the secondary on the 97-yard touchdown.

—The running back position has a lot of guys vying for playing time and no one really stood out today. With Vincent Smith assumed to be the starter out with a torn ACL, it seems to be a three-horse race between Michael Shaw, Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

It’s perhaps the most important position that needs someone to step up, at least on the offensive side of the ball, after the departure of Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Kevin Grady.

Cox had a nice touchdown run of about 20 yards against the first-team defense and the other guys didn’t do very much.

Freshman Stephen Hopkins showed some good strength and should see playing time as the short-yardage back this season.

—The defense didn’t show much today in the way of schemes or big plays. Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh got some good pressure on Forcier and William Campbell looks huge in the middle of the line.

Troy Woolfolk sat out the game with a dislocated finger and converted wide receiver James Rogers started in his place, opposite J.T. Floyd. Jordan Kovacs remains the starter at one of the safety spots, at least until Marvin Robinson and Demar Dorsey arrive on campus this summer.

The secondary will continue to be the group in question as the season nears, but linebacker will also be a position to watch. Seniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton both have a lot of experience, but lost some playing time last season. They both started today, with Ezeh recording an interception and Mouton looking solid.

Redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens also looked promising and could factor in this season as well.

—The kicking game looked pretty shaky and will probably be so all season. Redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons figures to be the placekicker, but the lefty sure can’t punt. Two of his three punt attempts were shanked out of bounds off the side of his foot.

The punter role seems to be incoming freshman Will Hagerup’s to lose, but he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet, so he better live up to his high school acclaim.

—The stadium looked a bit more than half full, despite the frigid temperatures. The Big Ten Network announcers placed the attendance around 30,000, but it looked to be slightly more.

I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when Michigan can have a nationally televised spring game drawing near 100,000 fans like Alabama did today.