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Posts Tagged ‘Junior Hemingway’

Arbitrary Michellanea still has a chance

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012


Welcome to our new weekly column, Arbitrary Michellanea. It’s arbitrary because it won’t be all-encompassing; what is covered will be subject to what I choose to be most newsworthy or compelling based on what happens each week. It’s Michellanea because, well, it’s a varied collection of material with a Michigan twist. It will be similar to The Rear View Mirror column from football season, but this will become a permanent feature in and out of season. Essentially, it will serve as a roundup of the events from the past week that didn’t fit into some sort of game column, but aren’t necessarily worthy of a full post on their own. These will typically be midweek and will always focus on Michigan football, basketball, or other sports as deemed important (see: Lion Kim, Masters), as well as rivals and opponents as they apply to Michigan.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance…

Michigan’s loss to Purdue on Saturday narrowed the Wolverines’ Big Ten title hopes to very slim. But the first of four remaining hurdles to that goal was cleared last night when Indiana beat Michigan State 70-55 in Bloomington. Michigan State could have wrapped up the outright Big Ten title with a win and could still do so with a win on Sunday against 11th-ranked Ohio State, but for now, Michigan still has a chance to capture a share of its first title since 1986.

Remaining Schedule
Thursday at Illinois – 7pm
Sunday at PSU – 1pm
Sunday v. #11 Ohio State – 4pm
Wednesday at Northwestern – 8:30pm
Sunday at #5 Michigan State – 4pm

To do so, Michigan has to beat Illinois on the road on Thursday and Penn State on the road on Sunday. If both of those happen, Michigan will then be forced to root for Ohio State to beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Sunday afternoon. In that scenario, the three teams would all share the Big Ten title. If Michigan loses a game, it is out of the running. The timing is such that Michigan will be able to win it’s final two games (Sunday’s game is at 1pm) and then sit back and watch OSU-MSU battle it out beginning at 4pm.

Spartan fans are already throwing out the line about Michigan “backing into” a Big Ten title just like it did a BCS bowl game, but let’s be very clear: in a tough and rugged Big Ten, Michigan held its own and if it ends up with a share of the title, it was earned. Yes, Michigan stumbled against Iowa and Purdue, but Michigan State lost to Northwestern, who Michigan swept, and Illinois, who Michigan has a chance to sweep on Thursday. Michigan also split the series against MSU, Ohio State, and Indiana (who MSU just lost to). Of course, this will all be for naught if Michigan falters on Thursday or Sunday, so the goal this week is to take care of business and then find it inside you somewhere to root for Ohio.

Stocking up for war

Over the weekend, despite the basketball loss to Purdue, Michigan did get some good news. Wexford, Penn. offensive lineman Patrick Kugler gave Brady Hoke his commitment on Saturday, adding to the long list of four-star recruits who have already pledged to Michigan for the 2013 class. Kugler is the 54th-ranked player in the Rivals 100 and the fifth four-star offensive lineman in the class. Add that haul (assuming they all hold their commitment until next February) the four that will be suiting up this August and Hoke has the foundation to carry the Michigan offense for years to come.

Urban Meyer has been stocking his own barracks with highly rated recruits ever since he took over, leading some to suggest the rivalry is headed back to the good old days. With Hoke’s insistence on referring to them simply as “Ohio” and Meyer continuing the name game by calling Michigan “That school up north,” not to mention his silly academic comparison last week, the rivalry certainly appears to be ramping back up to the days of old. Another ten year war could be in the making.

Stock is rising

S

Junior Hemingway stood out among receivers at the NFL Combine (photo by Dave Martin, AP)

The NFL Combine wrapped up yesterday and each of the three Michigan players in attendance helped his Draft stock with a solid performance. While Mike Martin fell short of his goal of breaking the all-time Combine bench press record, he still finished in the top four in every category among defensive tackles. His 36 reps were tied for second, his 4.88 40-yard dash ranked third, his 7.19 three-cone drill ranked third, his 4.25 20-yard shuttle ranked second, his 33.5 inch vertical ranked fourth, and his 113 inch broad jump ranked first.

Center David Molk beat Martin on the bench, completing 41 reps, which was seven better than the next closest offensive lineman, Stanford’s David DeCastro. Receiver Junior Hemingway also impressed, running a 4.5 40-yard dash, which was faster than most expected he was. He also tied for third among receivers with with 21 bench press reps, behind only Missouri’s Jerrell Jackson and California’s Marvin Jones, led all receivers in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, ranked second in the 60-yard shuttle, and ranked eighth in broad jump. It’s safe to say Hemingway turned some heads and his stock will rise thanks to his performance. He’s still a late round pick, but some team will take a chance on him in April.

30 years is a long time

Michigan basketball Academic All-Americans
Zack Novak 2012 (third)
Dan Pelekoudas 1982 (fourth)
Paul Heuerman 1981 (second)
Mark Bodnar 1981 (third)
Marty Bodnar 1980 (third), 1981 (first)
Steve Grote 1975, 1976, 1977 (first)

Last week, senior guard Zack Novak was selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America to the 2012 Capital One All America third team, becoming the first Michigan basketball player to do so since 1982. In order to be eligible for the honor, one has to be either a starter or a key reserve, achieve at least a 3.3 grade point average, participate in at least 50 percent of the team’s games, and reached at least sophomore status. He was one of just three Big Ten players to receive the honor, along with Northwestern’s Drew Crawford (second team) and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft (first team). Novak was among John Beilein’s first recruits at Michigan and helped restore Michigan basketball to a regular NCAA Tournament contender and this year, a Big Ten title contender.

Those Who Stay are Sugar Bowl Champions

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012


It wasn’t exactly how Brady Hoke planned it, but Michigan’s 23-20 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech was a fitting end to Team 132′s season. The squad that endured three of the worst years in Michigan history fought to the end on Tuesday night and came away with an ugly victory, fulfilling Bo Schembechler’s legendary statement that “those who stay will be champions.”

#13 Michigan 23 – #11 Virginia Tech 20

Final Stats

23 Final Score 20
11-2 (6-2) Record 11-3 (7-1)
184 Total Yards 377
56 Net Rushing Yards 163
128 Net Passing Yards 214
12 First Downs 22
1 Turnovers 2
4-26 Penalties – Yards 7-68
5-181 Punts – Yards 1-36
23:10 Time of Possession 36:50
4-for-13 Third Down Conversions 6-for-15
1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 1-for-3
2-4 Sacks By – Yards 3-25
3-for-3 Field Goals 4-for-5
2-for-2 PATs 0-for-0
3-for-3 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-6

The seniors who endured more than perhaps any other senior class in the 132-year history of Michigan football came up big in New Orleans. Rimington Award winning center David Molk injured his foot in pregame warmups and missed the first series, but fought through the pain the rest of the game. Junior Hemingway came up with two outstanding touchdown catches to bail out quarterback Denard Robinson. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen held their own in the middle of the defense, tightening up when needed.

On a day when Robinson and Michigan’s electric offense was never able to get going, everything that has been Michigan’s downfall the past few seasons won the game. The defense that couldn’t stop anybody the last three years held Virginia Tech to its fifth-lowest total yardage of the season. It was truly a bend but don’t break defense that never did break, allowing Tech to convert third-and-longs with ease, but clamping down when it truly mattered. Kicker Brendan Gibbons, who lost the kicking duties last season after starting 1-for-5, continued the clutch kicking he has displayed all season by booting three field goals including a 39-yarder to put Michigan ahead with four minutes remaining and the 37-yard game-winner in overtime.

Michigan certainly got its share of breaks when the Hokies were penalized for roughing the punter late in the second quarter, an interception was overturned, Frank Beamer inexplicably called a fake punt from midfield late in the game, a touchdown in overtime was overturned, and Tech kicker Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime. Both calls could have gone either way, but seemed to be correct overturns. Regardless, it’s uncommon to see two close calls overturned in a game and even more uncommon for Michigan to get all the breaks.

It didn’t look promising for Michigan from the start when two poor snaps forced the offense out of rhythm and Michigan went three-and-out. Virginia Tech put together a solid drive, but Michigan forced a 37-yard field goal. On the next drive, Robinson was picked off by Kyle Fuller, giving VT a chance to widen its lead. But Michigan forced another field goal, this time from 43 yards out.

Junior Hemingway caught both of Michigan's touchdowns (photo by Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

After a Michigan punt, Virginia Tech put together another promising drive, but Michigan’s defense stuffed quarterback Logan Thomas on 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 4-yard line.

Michigan was forced to punt once again, but punter Matt Wile drew a roughing the kicker penalty, keeping the drive alive. On 3rd-and-17 from the VT 45-yard line, Robinson fired a back footer towards a double-covered Hemingway. It looked as if it would be picked off by the safety over the top, but Hemingway held on and cruised into the end zone putting Michigan ahead 7-6.

On the ensuing kickoff, J.B. Fitzgerald forced a fumble and Michigan recovered at the VT 26. On 4th-and-3 from the VT 19, field goal holder Drew Dileo ran to the right and threw a prayer towards the middle of the field. It bounced off a pair of Hokies before falling into the arms of lineman Jareth Glanda for a first down at the eight. A pass to the 1-yard line left Michigan with just two seconds left before halftime and Hoke elected to kick the field goal and take a 10-6 lead into the half.

The third quarter started out with a pair of punts and on the first play of Tech’s second possession, freshman Frank Clark picked off a Thomas pass, giving Michigan the ball at the Hokie 35. Four plays later, Robinson found Hemingway in the back of the end zone, again out-leaping the Tech safety and this getting a foot down in bounds. Just like that, with virtually no offense, Michigan had a 17-6 lead.

Tech wasn’t done, however, scoring 11 straight and keeping Michigan’s offense from widening the gap. With nine minutes remaining and the game knotted at 17, Tech faced 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 48. Instead of punting and pinning Michigan’s stagnant offense deep, Beamer chose to run a fake, which Michigan sniffed out and stopped, getting the ball back at the Virginia Tech 45. Robinson moved Michigan into field goal position and Gibbons gave the Wolverines a 20-17 lead with four minutes left.

But Tech put together another long drive, getting all the way down to the Michigan 8-yard line before facing a third down. A false start pushed it back to 3rd-and-7 and the Michigan defense stopped the Hokies two yards short. Myer nailed a 25-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.

In the first extra period, after two straight runs for five net yards, Thomas connected with receiver Danny Coale in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. But after review, it was ruled incomplete and Tech was forced to settle for its fifth field goal of the game. This time, however, Myer pushed it right, giving Michigan the ball needing just a field goal to win.

Three runs by Fitzgerald Toussaint set up Gibbons in the middle of the field for a game-winning 37-yard field goal that was right down the middle, giving Michigan its first BCS bowl victory since a 2000 Orange Bowl win over Alabama.

Team 132 celebrating the Sugar Bowl victory (photo by Matthew Stockman, Getty Images)

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Team 132 became just the fifth Michigan team ever to win 11 games in a season, and it did so with defense. Tech’s offense came in averaging 415.8 yards and 28.5 points per game. Michigan held the Hokies to 377 yards and 20 points. Michigan also held running back David Wilson to his second-lowest rushing total of the season, 82 yards. He came in averaging 125 and had surpassed 123 yards in 10 of 13 games.

And so, what began with an embarrassing loss to Appalachian State, continued with two losing seasons without bowls, the worst three-year stretch in Michigan history, and NCAA sanctions, ended with wins over Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and a Sugar Bowl victory. The plight of the senior class of Team 132 was summed up in Sugar Bowl MVP Hemingway’s postgame interview on the trophy podium, with tears streaming down his face: “It shows our hard work. It shows everything we put in from Day One, all the long days, long nights. Man, I’m telling you, it feels good man. Too good.”

Hemingway himself serves as a microcosm of the entire senior class. He entered as a heralded receiver out of Conway, South Carolina and showed promise of breaking out as a sophomore when he caught a 33-yard touchdown in Michigan’s 2008 season opener against Utah. But he developed mono, forcing him to miss the rest of the season, receiving a medical redshirt. Over the next couple years, he fought injuries before becoming Robinson’s go-to guy this season. And when all was said and done he was the one who stepped up with two tremendous touchdown catches and earned the Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player award.

He’s just one of many seniors who will be missed next season, but their legacy will live on. Just like the Navy SEALS that Team 132 patterned its season after, Michigan found a way to get it done through adversity with grit and a determination that 10 wins was just not enough.

Michigan will head into the offseason with a likely Top 10 national ranking, 15 starters returning, and what should be a top 10 recruiting class. And when Team 133 takes the field in Dallas on Sept. 1 it may very well be the start of a national championship run against the defending national champions.

The Inaugural Maize and Go Blue Awards

Friday, December 23rd, 2011


[Ed.: This was started right at the end of the season in hopes of getting it out before the Michigan football bust, but then I bought a new house, moved, etc, which resulted in less free time and no internet access at home for a few weeks. We apologize for the lack of content lately].

The 132nd team in Michigan football history began play in September with a new head coach and plenty of returning talent. It opened with a rain-soaked three-quarter win over Western Michigan and continued on with the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history. It opened Big Ten play with a 58-0 route of Minnesota, then followed up with a second half comeback at Northwestern. It suffered defeat in East Lansing and Iowa City with a win over Purdue sandwiched in between, but bounced back with decisive wins over Illinois and Nebraska. And finally, it ended seven years of futility with a 40-34 win over Ohio State.

It’s hard to believe 12 games have already come and gone, but with season’s end comes awards and accolades. The All-Big Ten teams have been announced and Brady Hoke was named conference coach of the year, so we at Maize and Go Blue decided to announce our very first Maize and Go Blue Awards. Some of these will be painfully obvious and some you may disagree with, but we welcome the discussion and ultimately aim to honor the men of Team 132.

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson entered the season as a Heisman contender and almost singlehandedly beat Notre Dame in Week 2. However, his throwing mechanics seemed to tail off in the middle of the season, resulting in a number of interceptions and calls for Devin Gardner to replace him. But Robinson kept battling and delivered his best all-around performances of his career late in the season, including one of the greatest by any Michigan quarterback ever against Ohio State.

Last week, we found out that Robinson played much of the season with a staph infection on his arm and an abscess on his throwing elbow that at least in some part contributed to his midseason miscues.

He completed 133-of-237 passes for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 1,163 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns. His rushing yards per game ranked 28th nationally and his total offense ranked 29th nationally. He also accounted for an average of 17 points per game, which ranked 15th in the nation, and despite his midseason passing struggles, he ranked 36th nationally in passing efficiency – just behind another preseason Heisman contender, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (1), Mike Martin (1)

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

As stated above, Denard Robinson led the team rushing with 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns. He finished 28th nationally in rushing and 36th in passing efficiency.

He also got better as the season progressed. After a fast start, and great performance against Notre Dame, he struggled against Northwestern and Michigan State. But he rebounded with three of his best performances of the season in Michigan’s final three games against Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

Robinson moved into 8th place in career completions, passing yards, and rushing yards at Michigan, 6th in career touchdown passes, 100-yard passing games, and 200-yard passing games, and 5th in rushing touchdowns. He’s also just 679 rushing yards away from Juice Williams’ Big Ten quarterback rushing record, which he should easily break next season.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (1)

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Mike Martin

Mike Martin was the rock of a Michigan defense that improved vastly in every statistical category from a year ago. Total defense ranked 18th nationally, rush defense ranked 35th, and scoring defense ranked 7th. While Martin didn’t have eye-popping numbers, he took on double-teams more often than not, freeing up the pass rush for the rest of the front seven. He was also solid in run defense, consistently clogging the middle of the line and taking away running lanes for opposing backs.

He made one of the best defensive plays of the season, fighting through the Purdue line to sack quarterback Caleb TerBush in the end zone for a safety to break a 7-7 tie. Michigan went on to score the next 27 points to put the game away.

Martin’s senior leadership and defensive tenacity was a stabilizing force for an all-around young Michigan defense. He benefited from Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison’s experience coaching NFL defensive linemen and had the best season of his career at Michigan. He finished with 54 tackles (5.5 for loss) and three sacks.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)

Yost Coach of the Year | Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

In his first year at the helm, Brady Hoke took an underperforming Michigan squad and guided it to a 10-2 record, falling just a few plays short of an undefeated season and a chance to play for the Big Ten championship. His display of composure on the sidelines, his hiring of top-notch coordinators, his willingness to call a gameplan with what he called ‘controlled agression’, and his beating of Ohio State make him a lock for the award.

Hoke was awarded the Schembechler-Hayes Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the coaches and the media (the media’s award is called the Dave McClain Award). It was his third conference coach of the year award in four years, having received the honor as head coach of San Diego State in 2010 and Ball State in 2008.

Many Michigan fans were skeptical of his hiring back in January, but one would be hard pressed to find a Michigan fan who hasn’t bought in at this point. In Hoke’s introductory press conference, he proclaimed that he would have walked to Ann Arbor (from California) if he had to. After nearly a year on the job, Hoke has won over players, almuni, and fans alike who would probably walk to California for him if they had to. He’s also putting the finishing touches on what will be a highly-ranked recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor next season.

According to Matt, “Hoke came in post-RichRod, turned this team around, went 10-2, became BCS eligible, and beat Ohio State.”

Greg Mattison is one of those coordinators that Hoke hired and was a genius pick. In Mattison’s second stint in Ann Arbor (he coached at Michigan from 1992-96), Mattison turned a defensive unit that ranked 110th nationally in 2010 and gave up the most points in Michigan history into the nation’s 18th-ranked total defense and 7th-best scoring defense. Not once all season did an opponent score as many points as the Michigan defense averaged allowing last season. Ohio State came the closest but was still one short.

The turnaround was most impressive because it was largely the same players as last year with the addition of freshmen Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, and Blake Countess mixed in. That Mattison can take the same defense, add three true freshmen to the mix, and produce what he did is nothing short of miraculous. The Michigan defense is in good hands as long as Mattison is coordinating it.

Chris picked Mattison, saying “Tough call between Hoke and Mattison but I had to go with Mattison because he was more directly responsible for the greatly improved play of the defense. His blitz schemes were a nightmare for opposing coordinators and his ability to get essentially the same players as last year to play like they did was top notch.”

Votes: Hoke (2), Mattison (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | 40-34 win over Ohio State

Of all of the achievements this season – a 10-2 record, a BCS bowl game, beating Notre Dame at the last second, etc., the most satisfying for Michigan players, coaches, and fans was beating Ohio State and ending the seven-year drought. It wasn’t easy and the game had its share of twists and turns, but Michigan persevered and found a way to do what the previous seven Michigan teams could not: Beat Ohio.

The Buckeyes came in with a 6-5 record, a true freshman quarterback, and nothing to lose. The OSU offense was anemic all season, but in what would be interim head coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman’s last game on the reigns, they turned the offense loose. Instead of pounding the ball up the middle all game, they let quarterback Braxton Miller make plays with his arm and legs.

But Michigan traded blow for blow and scored the most points of any Michigan team against Ohio State since 1946. Denard Robinson played the best game of his career, hitting 14-of-17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushing 26 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of the greatest performances by a quarterback against Ohio State in Michigan history.

The win ensured that another senior class would not graduate winless against Ohio State and served as a pleasing sendoff for the seniors who stayed through three head coaches and multiple coordinators.

“Streak ending statement game,” said Josh.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Howard Play of the Year | Denard’s TD pass to Roundtree to beat Notre Dame

Another unanimous selection, the 16-yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Rountree with two seconds left to beat Notre Dame proved to be one of the greatest moments of the season.

It was the much-hyped and nationally televised Under the Lights game, the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history. ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast live from Ann Arbor that morning and Brady Hoke needed the win to keep Michigan fans from another “here we go again” feeling.

The game itself was a candidate for game of the year and probably would have been had Michigan not ended its seven-year futility against Ohio State. It was back and forth throughout, but looked like Michigan was headed for a loss when Notre Dame answered a Michigan touchdown to take a three-point lead with 30 seconds to play. Michigan got the ball on its own 20-yard line, needing to drive 80 yards in 30 seconds to pull off a miracle. And that they did.

On the second play, Robinson found a wide open Jeremy Gallon on a wheel route for a 64-yard gain to the Notre Dame 16. One play later, Robinson floated a perfect jump ball to Roy Roundtree in the end zone. The junior receiver leaped above ND defensive back Gary Gray and hauled it in, touching a foot in bounds before falling out of bounds. Replay confirmed the catch and Michigan celebrated its third-straight win over Notre Dame.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 5 TDs against Ohio State

Denard Robinson had his share of electrifying moments the past couple of seasons, even garnering Heisman talk at times the past to years. However, the major knock on the junior quarterback has been that he hasn’t played well in big games against the likes of rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. This time, in the season’s final game, he did.

Although Ohio State was limping in with a 6-5 record, it was still a rivalry game and Michigan was fighting the burden of the seven-year plague. Ohio State’s defense still had largely shut down two of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.

Robinson, however, was not to be stopped. He turned in one of the greatest single performances by a Michigan player against Ohio State in the history of the rivalry. He completed 14-of-17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 26 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He became just the fourth Michigan quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a game against Ohio State (the first since Drew Henson in 2000) and his 170 rushing yards were the third-most by any Michigan rusher against the Buckeyes (behind Tim Biakabatuka’s 313 in 1995 and Jamie Morris’ 210 in ’86).

“Big players come up big in big games,” said Chris. “Denard did not disappoint.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson

Unlike the Yost Coach of the Year award, in which two coaches very much deserved the honor, this one is painfully obvious. Even though sophomore Devin Gardner got some playing time, no one is going to name him quarterback of the year.

Denard Robinson followed up a stellar sophomore season with an even better junior season. While his numbers were down overall (1,163 rushing yards vs. 1,702 in 2010 and 2,056 passing yards vs. 2,570 in 2010), he developed as a quarterback and as a leader. There were times early in the season where questions arose about Denard’s progress, but by season’s end, he proved that the job is his and his alone.

He ranked 28th nationally and 5th in the Big Ten in rushing, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. He completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, though his TD-to-INT ratio grew as the season drew to a close. Most importantly, he turned in his best performance in leading Michigan to its first win over Ohio State in eight years, throwing for 167 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He became the fourth quarterback in Michigan history to throw for three touchdowns in a game against OSU – the first since Drew Henson in 2000 – and recorded the third-highest rushing total by any Michigan player against the Buckeyes.

Michigan fans should expect big things from Robinson in 2012.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Fitzgerald Toussaint

It took a while for Fitzgerald Toussaint to get going, but once he did, he turned in a phenomenal season. After rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the rain-soaked season opener against Western Michigan, Toussaint didn’t play against Notre Dame and carried just twice for seven yards in a mid-season loss to Michigan State. After that, however, he gained at least 120 yards in four of the remaining five games, averaging six yards per carry.

Toussaint finished sixth in the Big Ten in rushing, right behind Robinson, and 40th nationally. He also eclipsed the 1,000 mark, becoming the first Michigan running back to do so since Mike Hart.

For the season, he gained 1,011 yards and scored nine touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 91.9 yards per game.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Carter Receiver of the Year | Junior Hemingway

With the exception of the Notre Dame and Northwestern games, Michigan didn’t put the ball in the air often. The emergence of Fitzgerald Toussaint allowed Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges to utilize the passing game just enough to keep the defense honest for the running game.

Junior Hemingway was a guy that Michigan fans had been waiting to break out for years, but was always hampered by injury. This season, he did so.

Hemingway emerged as the main receiving threat with his ability to stretch defenses and go up and get balls in the air. He made several great plays against Notre Dame and Northwestern, out-leaping the defensive back to give a shot in the arm to the offense. He finished the regular season with 32 receptions for 636 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Notre Dame, Hemingway had three catches for 165 yards and a touchdown and against Northwestern, he caught five passes for 124 yards. His second and only other touchdown of the year came against Ohio State, putting Michigan ahead 16-7 at the end of the first quarter.

“Hemingway gave the offense a deep threat which had been lacking over the last few seasons,” said Josh. “When he was catching the ball, his ability to stretch the field opened up windows in the defense for other receivers to run into.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Roy Roundtree (1)

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | David Molk

David Molk was everything you could possibly ask for at the center position. He was the rock of the Michigan offense and a senior leader both on and off the field. He was a First-Team All-America selection and the Rimington Award winner which goes to the nation’s top center.

While many things could be pointed to for Michigan’s offensive success throughout the entire season, one of the biggest is the stability Molk provided to the offensive line. That was all the more apparent in 2009 when Molk missed eight games due to various injuries and the offense fell apart.This season, he was healthy throughout, and the offense never missed a beat.

Off the field, while Robinson could be considered the face of Michigan football, Molk was usually the voice of Michigan football, providing positive soundclips and keeping the team focused and together. He was one of the few seniors who stayed and triumphed through three head coaches and multiple coordinators. He beat Ohio State and will play in Michigan’s first BCS bowl game since the year before he arrived in Ann Arbor.

“Center is the most important player on the line,” said Chris. “Molk came through with leadership and stellar play.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

The best position group on a vastly improved Michigan defense, and also the hardest to replace next season, was the defensive line. It was manned by a pair of senior leaders, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, both of which share the Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year award.

Martin was the clog in the middle of the defense that routinely took on double-teams and made it tough for opposing offenses to run the ball. Van Bergen had a knack for fighting his way through the line to pressure the opposing quarterback. Together, they formed the backbone of one of the Big Ten’s top units.

According to Josh, “While Martin was often fighting through double-teams, Van Bergen was making plays with his quick pass rushing abilities. He had five sacks, 12 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and four pass breakups. This is another Senior who will be difficult to replace.”

Votes: Martin (2), Van Bergen (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Last year’s linebacker corps was plagued with unsound fundamentals and poor tackling and the unit entered this season as one of the biggest question marks on the team. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were gone and many wondered who would fill their spot. Kenny Demens entered the scene last season, but no one else had stepped up. Enter Jake Ryan.

The redshirt freshman broke out to provide some much-needed playmaking ability and combined with Demens to provide stability to the linebacking corps.

He finished the season with 30 tackles, seven for loss, and also recorded two sacks and recovered two fumbles. Against San Diego State, he recorded five tackles, one for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He was named to the ESPN.com and Big Ten All-Freshman team.

Demens led the team in tackles with 86, five for loss, and also tallied three sacks. He recorded a team-high 12 tackles against Notre Dame and also helped slow down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, adding eight tackles and an assisted sack.

He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honoree.

“Led the team in tackles and was a force in the middle of the field,” said Chris.

Votes: Ryan (2), Demens (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

Over the last couple of seasons, Jordan Kovacs has become one of the team’s most popular players. The former walk-on who earned a scholarship last season did a little bit of everything on defense.

He was second on the team in tackles with 64, second on the team with eight tackles for loss, tallied four sacks, forced two fumbles, recovered one, and picked off a pass.

In the season-opening win over Western Michigan, Kovacs led the team with 10 tackles, two for loss, recorded a pair of sacks, forced a fumble, and recorded a pass breakup. For his effort, he was named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.

He also made one of the key defensive plays of the season when he sacked Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa on fourth down to give the ball back to Michigan and seal the win.

He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media.

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Blake Countess (1), J.T. Floyd (1)

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

It’s fitting that two players split the special teams player of the year award given that Michigan’s special teams was a disaster the past couple of seasons and improved immensely this year.

A year ago, Gibbons made just made just 1-of-5 field goals before being replaced by Seth Broekhuisen for the remainder of the season. The kicking game was so bad that Rich Rodriguez elected to forego kicking unless the team was within about 30 yards. This year was a drastic turnaround. Gibbons hit 10-of-14 field goals and 52-of-53 extra points.

The night-and-day difference between last season and this was on display in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Holding onto a three-point lead with two minutes left, and facing fourth-and-goal from the OSU-26, Hoke sent Gibbons out to attempt what would be a career long. With the pressure of the seven-year plague on his back, Gibbons nailed it, pushing the lead to six, and making Ohio State have to score a touchdown to win rather than a field goal to tie.

Another sore spot for Michigan the past couple years was the return game. Aside from not getting return yards, Michigan’s returnmen had trouble catching the ball. Michigan fans held their breath every time a punt was in the air, arcing down toward a Michigan returnman. Not so this year.

Jeremy Gallon provided a solid receiver on punts and proved capable of picking up yards as well. He averaged 10.1 yards per return and his 32-yard return against Illinois set up a Michigan touchdown. He was named an All-Big Ten Special Teams third teamer by Phil Steele.

Votes: Gibbons (2), Gallon (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Blake Countess

As a true freshman, Blake Countess certainly impressed. He added a playmaking cover corner to a Michigan secondary that was desperately in need of one after getting torched game-in and game-out last season. He played in 11 of the team’s 12 games (10 at cornerback) and earned a starting spot in the last five.

Countess totaled 36 tackles, one for loss, and was second on the team in pass breakups with six. Against San Diego State, he tallied seven tackles and a pass breakup, and made a fantastic touchdown-saving pass breakup against Ohio State in the season finale (pictured right).

He was named to the ESPN.com and Big Ten All-Freshman team.

“Came into a starting role and never relinquished it,” said Josh. “Played with maturity and poise beyond his true freshman status.”

Chris was also impressed, saying, “The addition of Countess to Michigan’s secondary mid-way through the season was an excellent move by the coaches. In five starts, Countess had 36 tackles, 6 PBUs, and 1 forced fumble. Not bad for a true freshmen in such a short game span. Opposing QBs had to account for him on every passing play.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drew Dileo (1)

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Mike Martin

Mike Martin was a senior leader who stuck it out through three head coaches, multiple defensive coordinators and various schemes. He very easily could have departed for the NFL after his junior season rather than try to learn a new scheme, but he stuck it out and emerged better off for it. The coaching he received from former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should certainly help out his NFL Draft stock.

He routinely took on double teams, freeing up Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh to rush the passer, and clogged the middle of the line, making it hard for opposing running backs to find holes.

“Martin was the leader of this defense, starting in the offseason when Hoke was first hired,” said Chris. “He helped Hoke get the rest of the defense (and the team) to buy into the new coaching staff. Losing Van Bergen’s abilities off the edge will hurt too, but it’s always tough to replace a leader like Martin.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

As noted above in the special teams player of the year award, Brendan Gibbons showed vast improvement compared to a year ago. He went from 1-for-5 last season to a dependable 10-for-14 this season. And when it mattered most, he connected on a career long 43-yarder in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. With two years of eligibility left, it looks as if Michigan will be solid at kicker at least until he graduates.

Fitz Toussaint also gets the nod because of the way he broke out in the second half of the season. He battled injuries a year ago when he got just eight carries for 87 yards all year. Of those 87, 61 came on one run. This year, he busted out for 1,011 yards on 174 carries, becoming a dependable every-down back and a perfect complement to Denard Robinson in the backfield. Like Gibbons, Toussaint is just a sophomore, ensuring two more years to continue improving and leaving Michigan with a solid running game.

“Emerged as the go-to back,” said Josh. “Gave offense a much needed added dimension to take pressure off Denard.”

Votes: Gibbons (2), Toussaint (2)
Others Receiving Votes: None

Mission Accomplished

Sunday, November 27th, 2011


Photobucket
At the beginning of the season, new head coach Brady Hoke took a page out of Lloyd Carr’s book to set the tone for the season. When Hoke was an assistant at Michigan, Carr gave the 1997 team pickaxes during the national championship season to symbolize climbing a mountain, based on the book “Into Thin Air.” This year, Hoke themed the season after SEAL Team 6, which brought down and eliminated Osama Bin Laden at the beginning of May. The correlation was teamwork and unity. Each and every member of the team was in this together.

#15 Michigan 40 – Ohio State 34
Final Stats
40 Final Score 34
10-2 (6-2) Record 6-6 (3-5)
444 Total Yards 372
277 Net Rushing Yards 137
167 Net Passing Yards 235
23 First Downs 18
2 Turnovers 1
3-29 Penalties – Yards 5-47
2-95 Punts – Yards 3-120
35:10 Time of Possession 24:50
5-for-11 Third Down Conversions 5-for-12
1-for-2 Fourth Down Conversions 1-for-2
4-15 Sacks By – Yards 1-3
1-for-1 Field Goals 2-for-2
5-for-5 PATs 4-for-4
4-for-4 Red Zone Scores – Chances 3-for-3

Prior to the Nebraska game a week ago, Hoke had a group of Navy SEALs speak to the team and provide inspiration. The team was given actual tridents that the SEALs wear. On Saturday, Team 132 stepped off the team bus wearing the tridents around their neck and proceded to fight for 60 minutes to achieve the supreme mission it set out for when the season began: beat Ohio.

The seven-year plague the Buckeyes strolled into Ann Arbor with had not been lost on maize and blue faithful across the country and even though the season was a bust for OSU, everyone knew they would put up a fight in college football’s greatest rivalry. No one, however, expected what was about to ensue.

Ohio State took the ball to start the game and came out passing. An offense that hadn’t thrown the ball more than 18 times in a single game all season and slumbered through the first 11 games looked like a force to be reckoned with, whipping the ball around the field.

It was clear from the outset that the tendencies broken by OSU Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman were not expected by Hoke and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison. On the Buckeyes’ first possession, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller found a wide open Corey Brown for a 54-yard touchdown to stun the Big House crowd. On the play, safety Thomas Gordon broke on the inside receiver, DeVier Posey, and no one followed Brown.

In the second quarter, Miller broke loose and ran for a 19-yard touchdown, and on the ‘Bucks next possession Miller connected with Posey for a 43-yard touchdown – the second long touchdown pass of the game against a Michigan defense that hadn’t given up big plays all season.

Miller played a great game for a true freshman in his first Ohio State-Michigan game, but missed a number of wide open receivers that could have sealed Michigan’s fate. And that was the difference in this game. While Miller played well and took advantage of Michigan’s defensive mistakes but couldn’t make the big plays when needed, Denard Robinson silenced his critics with the best game of his career.

Denard turned in an all-time great performance against Ohio State (AP photo)

Robinson threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Most impressive is that he had as many touchdowns as incompletions. He connected on 14 of 17 passes and looked in complete control of the offense all game. Aside from a second quarter fumble that gave Ohio the ball at the Michigan 31 and resulted in an OSU touchdown, Robinson turned in the type of performance that has made legends out of the rivalry over the years.

He became just the fourth Michigan quarterback to throw for three touchdowns against Ohio State – the first since Drew Henson in 2000 – and his 170 rushing yards were the third-highest total for a Michigan rusher in The Game, behind only Tim Biakabutuka’s 313 in 1995 and Jamie Morris’ 210 in ’86.

But while Robinson accounted for all of Michigan’s touchdowns and the majority of the total yards, he didn’t do it all alone. Fitz Toussaint rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries – his third straight 100-yard game – and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Robinson and Toussaint became the first Michigan duo to record 1,000-yard seasons since Gordon Bell (1,388) and Rob Lytle (1,030) did it in 1975.

In addition to Robinson’s and Toussaint’s performances, the receiving corps player perhaps its best game of the season. Each receiver was sharp and held onto all of the catchable balls. Whether it was Junior Hemingway coming back to catch Michigan’s first touchdown or Martavious Odoms catching a bullet in traffic and weaving through five defenders into the end zone or Drew Dileo hauling in a 28-yarder on Michigan’s final drive, they all came to play.

Defensively, while the 34 points allowed were the most given up all season, credit has to be given to the unit that tightened up in the second half, allowing just 10 points, and made the stop to seal the win. Michigan sacked Miller four times and freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan led the team with 10 tackles. On the outside, freshman cornerback Blake Countess made a great leaping pass break-up in the first quarter on what would have been a long gain, and Courtney Avery picked Miller off to end the game.

Ryan Van Bergen is one of those seniors that stayed and emerged a champion (photo by the Detroit News)

Credit is also due to placekicker Brendan Gibbons who made just 1-of-5 field goals last season, but stepped up with a clutch 43-yard field goal with two minutes remaining to force the Buckeyes to have to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown instead of a field goal.

Twenty three seniors played their final game in the Big House and they exemplify what a Michigan Man is all about. While many of their former teammates left when the going got tough or decided to jump ship early, these 23 men stuck it out through three different head coaches, multiple coordinators and different schemes. It wasn’t easy, but each and every one of them will tell you it was worth it.

When Denard took the final knee and the clock hit zero, the team unity that was built over the last few months on the principles of the Navy SEALs was on display for all to see. Just as the team does at the end of practice every Friday, the ball was thrown up in the air, and when it landed, the entire team fell to the ground, as if a bomb had gone off. It was a fitting display of a Michigan band of brothers playing for each other and overcoming adversity. And just like SEAL Team 6 ended Bin Laden’s reign of corruption in the middle east and dumped his body out to sea, Michigan’s Team 132 put an end to Ohio’s seven-year reign in a sea of maize and blue.

The victory, and what is likely to follow in the coming days with the expected hiring of Urban Meyer to become Ohio’s next head coach, restore the vigor to the rivalry that has been in hibernation the past few years. Miller looks to be the real deal for OSU and Robinson will be a senior next season. With Hoke’s reinforced significance on beating Ohio, Mattison’s defensive genius, the youth that has stepped up on Michigan’s defense, and the emergence of Toussaint as a feature back, it’s exciting to look forward to the coming years of Michigan football and beating Ohio yet again.

Until the teams meet 364 days from now in Columbus, Michigan has the upper hand and the bragging rights, and Ohio State will have to figure out a way to win without access to free cars, under the table cash, and free tattoos.

Game 11 Preview: Nebraska

Friday, November 18th, 2011


With the Big Ten title likely out of reach, barring an unlikely set of circumstances, Michigan has two chances left to prove its worth and improve its postseason bowl standing. Of course next weekend’s game is the one everyone is waiting for, but this week provides a unique opportunity to build on momentum while not overlooking the opponent.

#18 Michigan v. #16 Nebraska
Saturday Nov. 19
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
8-2 (4-2) Record 8-2 (4-2)
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
Minnesota 58-0
Northwestern 42-24
Purdue 36-14
Illinois 31-14
Wins Chattanooga 40-7
Fresno State 42-29
Washington 51-38
Wyoming 38-14
Ohio State 34-27
Minnesota 41-14
#11 Mich. State 24-3
#12 Penn State 17-14
#23 Michigan State 14-28
Iowa 16-24
Losses #7 Wisconsin 17-48
Northwestern 25-28
32.5 Scoring Offense 32.9
231.3 Rushing YPG 232.7
190.2 Passing YPG 171.4
421.5 Total Offense 404.1
15.5 Scoring Defense 22.2
127.4 Rush Defense YPG 161.3
190.5 Pass Defense YPG 190.7
317.9 Total Defense YPG 352.0
23 Takeaways 15
19 Giveaways 14
21/13 Sacks By/Allowed 15/12
62-of-126 (49%) Third-down Conv. 66-of-147 (45%)
8-for-11 (77.8%) Field Goals 16-for-19 (84.2%)
32.8 Net Punt Avg. 38.6

Nebraska comes to Ann Arbor for the first time as a Big Ten team, and for the first time since 1962, hoping to keep its own slight conference title game chances alive.

The last time the teams faced off was the 2005 Alamo Bowl when Michigan blew a 28-17 fourth quarter lead and fell 32-28. The Wolverines nearly produced a miracle ending, but the multi-lateral final play ended when tight end Tyler Ecker ran out of bounds at the Nebraska 16-yard line. Had he pitched it back to a trailing Steve Breaston, he likely would have scored the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. But alas, Michigan finished that season 7-4.

Prior to that, Michigan and Nebraska shared the 2007 National Championship – Michigan winning the AP poll and Nebraska winning the Coaches. It was the last season before the Bowl Championship Series was established. Michigan fans are still salty about the split, knowing that the undefeated Wolverines led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson were the obvious best team in the nation that year and that the aura of the retiring Tom Osborne helped the ‘Huskers earn the split.

Tomorrow marks Michigan’s chance to redeem itself for those two instances, in addition to losing the 1962 meeting in Ann Arbor. Head Coach Brady Hoke and the team won’t say there’s any sort of revenge in the cards, but in the mind of the Maize and Blue faithful across the globe, Saturday is personal.

It won’t give either team, or directly cost either team, the conference crown, but a win would help ease the lingering pain of 2005 and 1997 and give Michigan fans a healthy dose of optimism heading into the season-ending duel with Ohio State.

Perhaps it’s good that it’s Nebraska coming to town this week instead of another Big Ten team of equal value, such as Penn State or Wisconsin, or even of lesser value such as Indiana or Minnesota. The  hype of the first ever Big Ten matchup with Nebraska, combined with the revenge factor and Nebraska’s style of offense will give Michigan a great tune-up for Ohio State without the emotional high or low that another rival or a bottom-feeder would produce.

And without further adieu, let’s take a look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers:

Quarterback:

Sophomore Taylor Martinez is an exciting player to watch. He’s similar to Denard Robinson in that he’s an explosive running that can take it to the house if he finds a crease, but he struggles in the passing game. His shot-put style throwing motion isn’t going to impress any NFL scouts, but despite his deficiencies, his running threat is too great to take him off the field.

Martinez and Burkhead account for three-fourths of Nebraska's offense (photo by Justin K. Aller, Getty Images)

This season, Martinez has completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,688 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. In the 48-17 loss to Wisconsin, he looked downright awful, completing 11-of-22 passes for 176 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing 20 times for 61 yards (3.1 yards per carry). However, in a win over Ohio State he went 16-of-22 for 191 yards, two touchdown, an interception and rushed 17 times for 102 yards (6.0 ypc) and a touchdown.

He has rushed for 768 yards this season, averaging five yards per carry, with nine rushing touchdowns.

Edge: Even

Running Backs:

The Cornhuskers feature one of the Big Ten’s best running backs in Rex Burkhead. He’s a big and powerful runner with enough burst to be a home run threat. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of the 10 games so far and has scored at least one touchdown in every game. He’s currently third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (107.2), behind only Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Iowa’s Marcus Coker, but he’s second in touchdowns behind Ball with 14.

Burkhead is also a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has caught just 15 passes all season, but 10 of those came in two games (five each against Ohio State and Northwestern), and they tend to be big plays. Against Ohio State, with the ‘Huskers trailing by seven in the fourth, Burkhead caught a pass and went 30 yards for the game-tying touchdown. In a 24-3 win over Michigan State, Burkhead caught a 27-yard touchdown pass to put the icing on the cake late in the fourth.

Aside from Burkhead, Nebraska doesn’t really have another running back. Martinez is the team’s second-leading rusher, but the second-leading running back is freshman Braylon Heard who has just 25 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown on the season. A host of others have minimal carries for less than 100 yards each.

While Michigan’s Fitz Toussaint has come on strong in the last few games, Burkhead is more established at this point and fits perfectly with the ‘Huskers’ offense.

Edge: Nebraska

Receivers and Tight Ends:

Nebraska doesn’t pass a lot, but likes to spread the ball around when it does. Seven different players have 13 or more receptions on the season and four have two touchdowns apiece. The leading receiver is freshman Kenny Bell who has 23 receptions for 307 yards and two touchdowns, however, the most he’s had in a single game is 59 yards against Fresno State. Fellow freshman Jamal Turner has 15 receptions for 243 yards and had a five-catch, 84-yard performance against Wisconsin, but he hasn’t caught a pass in the past three games.

Sophomore Quincy Enunwa has caught 15 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, while junior tight end Kyler Reed has 13 receptions for 236 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown pass.

Edge: Michigan

Offensive Line:

Nebraska features the nation’s 13th-best rushing offense, averaging 232.7 yards per game, which is roughly the same as Michigan’s. The ‘Huskes also rank 24th nationally in sacks allowed, so when Martinez does pass, the line protects him pretty well. However, like Michigan, that’s more of a reflection on Martinez’s slippery and elusive running ability than on actual pass protection.

Last week at Penn State, the same five linemen played every snap for Nebraska and held the talented Nittany Lion defensive front in check. Penn State, the Big Ten’s third-best at getting to the quarterback and fourth-best rush defense, recorded just one sack, and gave up 188 yards rushing to the ‘Huskers.

Linebacker Lavonte David (4) is the leading tackler and leader of the 'Husker defense

Edge: Even

Defensive Line:

The traditionally solid Nebraska defense has been anything but dominant this season, ranking in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. The rush defense ranks 66th nationally and eighth in the Big Ten, giving up 161.3 yards per game on the ground, and 86th and ninth in sacks.

Junior Cameron Meredith leads the team in sacks with five, but the unit certainly misses All-American tackle Jared Crick, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral. It also lost tackle Thaddeus Randle, an expected key contributor to the line this season, to a knee injury. Even so, in Nebraska’s 24-3 win over Michigan State, the ‘Huskers were able to get to Kirk Cousins four times, and did so with just a four-man pass rush. That will be much harder to do against Michigan, however.

Edge: Michigan

Linebackers:

Nebraska’s top two tacklers are both linebackers, senior Lavonte David (97 tackles) and Junior Will Compton (64). At 6’1″ and 225 pounds, David plays more like a safety than an actual linebacker. He has good speed and is works well in coverage despite being undersized to stop the run. He fits perfectly into the Nebraska defense that doesn’t bring a lot of pressure outside of the line and likes to drop seven into coverage.

Junior Will Compton has come on strong in the past few weeks and had a 13-tackle performance against Penn State last week. He also had 15 tackles in a Week 2 win over Fresno State and he ranks third on the team with four tackles-for-loss. With the loss of Crick on the line, this is the strongest position group for Nebraska.

While Michigan’s linebackers have been improving with the emergence of freshmen Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan, they’re still young.

Edge: Nebraska

Secondary:

Nebraska has a pretty solid secondary, especially in man coverage. The ‘Huskers rank 21st nationally in pass defense, allowing 190.7 yards per game through the air, virtually the exact same as what Michigan allows. The leader of the unit is Alfonzo Dennard. The senior has established himself as a true lockdown corner and has seen his NFL Draft stock rise this season. He helped shut down Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham, holding him without a catch.

Opposite Dennard, sophomore Andrew Green struggled early in the season, but has come on strong as of late. A host of others rotate in and out and fit well in Nebraska’s man zone coverage.

Edge: Even

Special Teams:

Junior Brett Maher handles both punting and kicking duties for the ‘Huskers and he’s a good one, despite this being his first season as a starter. Kicking-wise, he has made 16-of-19 field goals with a long of 50 and has made good on all 38 extra points. Punting-wise, Maher averages 45.4 yards per punt, with a net average of 38.6, which ranks 27th nationally. By comparison, Michigan ranks 112th with a net average of 32.9.

In the return game, Nebraska has one of the best kick returners in the nation in Ameer Abdullah. The freshman running back averages 31 yards per kickoff return and returned one for a touchdown against Fresno State. He also averages just over eight yards per punt return. Both of those give Nebraska’s offense good starting field position.

Edge: Nebraska

Brady Hoke can point, but Bo Pelini will point right through your soul

Coaching:

Bo Pelini is a former Buckeye. He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, played safety at Ohio State from 1987-90, and even served as co-captain his senior year. This week, he tried to downplay any feelings he has towards Michigan: “I wouldn’t say I had a venom for Michigan. I actually visited Michigan. You go to Ohio State, and it was such a tremendous rivalry, that game took on a lot of extra meaning because it meant so much each and every year.”  Of course, it didn’t help his case that Michigan beat him three out of his for seasons.

As a coach, he’s defensive-minded, having coached secondary and linebackers in various NFL positions, as well as being defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU prior to being named head coach in Lincoln. This year’s Cornhusker defense is, statistically, one of the worst he’s had in his career as a DC, second only to the 2008 unit that gave up 29 points per game.

Edge: Even

Intangibles:

As mentioned in the intro above, Michigan is looking for revenge from the 2005 Alamo Bowl and the shared 1997 National Championship, whether Hoke will admit it or not. This season, Nebraska has played much better at home than on the road, and traveling to Ann Arbor for the first time since 1962 won’t be easy. The ‘Huskers’ offense has averaged 36 points per game in Lincoln this season, but just 28.2 away from Lincoln.

Being Nebraska’s first year in the Big Ten, it’s almost like playing a full season of non-conference games, since the ‘Huskers aren’t used to visiting these stadiums like the rest of the conference is. That’s definitely an advantage for Michigan.

The weather projects temperatures around 50, with the real feel in the mid-40s. There shouldn’t be any rain, or sun for that matter, so it should feel just like a mid-November Big Ten matchup.

Edge: Michigan

Prediction:

Michigan and Nebraska are pretty similar teams this year: run first offenses with mobile quarterbacks who struggle with the pass, and good but not great defenses. However, I think the matchups are pretty favorable to Michigan. Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison has done a phenomenal job this season at coaching up the defense to play above its head. He has virtually the same defense that allowed 35.2 points and 451 yards per game last season giving up just 15.5 points (5th nationally) and 318 yards (17th) per game this season.

Against mobile quarterbacks, Michigan has done well this season. After struggling to stop Northwestern’s spread in the first half, Michigan adjusted and shut the Wildcats down in the second. Last week, Michigan shut down Illinois’ spread offense and Nathan Scheelhaase. However, Nebraska’s offense is more diverse than either of those.

Nebraska doesn’t throw the ball a lot, averaging just under 23 attempts per game, but has started to throw more in the last two games. In the loss to Northwestern two weeks ago, the ‘Huskers put the ball in the air 37 times, and last week, 26 times, after throwing just 13 passes against Michigan State. Martinez doesn’t have a very good completion rate, but when he does throw, it’s usually after the ‘Huskers have used the run to suck up the secondary and create mismatches in the passing game.

I think it will take the first half for Michigan to figure out the Nebraska offense. As Mattison said on Tuesday, “They’re like three offenses in one.” The combination of power rushing with Burkhead, option attack with Martinez, the passing game, and the hurry-up pace will not be easy to stop.

Michigan will have to score enough early on to avoid letting the game get away in the first half, and I like how Michigan’s offense matches up against the Nebraska defense. The emergence of Toussaint in the past few games gives Michigan a solid rushing attack aside from just Denard Robinson. Nebraska has a lot of speed on defense but is undersized in the middle, so look for Michigan to run right at the ‘Huskers and control the clock.

Nebraska’s defense has struggled against mobile quarterbacks Kain Colter, Braxton Miller, and Russell Wilson, so look for a big day from Robinson once the inside running game with Toussaint has been established.

Another factor in the game is third downs. Nebraska’s defense is in the bottom third nationally in third down defense, allowing a conversion rate of over 42 percent. With an emphasis on the running game, and a lackluster Nebraska pass rush, if Michigan can keep from making mistakes on its own, it should be able to move the ball fairly well.

I think the game will be tight throughout and as long as Michigan doesn’t fall behind big in the first half, Michigan should be able to outlast the ‘Huskers in second.

Michigan 33 – Nebraska 27

Good to Know:

Michigan leads all-time 3-2-1 and each game has alternated the winner (UM win, tie, UM win, NU win, UM win, NU win), so if the pattern holds true, Michigan should win this one

This game marks the first regular season meeting since 1962. The teams faced off in the 2005 Alamo Bowl and the 1985 Fiesta Bowl

The 37 rushing yards Michigan allowed last week mark the fewest allowed by Michigan in a game since giving up 26 against Indiana in 2006

Michigan’s defense has given up 16 or fewer first downs in each of the last four games and in five of six Big Ten contests

Michigan’s defense has forced multiple turnovers in eight of 10 games this season and the 23 turnovers forced rank first in the Big Ten and 14th nationally

Michigan has outscored opponents 263-99 after the first quarter this season and 162-70 in the second half

Brady Hoke faced Nebraska in 2007 as head coach at Ball State. The Cardinals nearly upset the Cornhuskers, falling 41-40

Record Watch:
With 2 passing touchdowns, Denard Robinson will tie Tom Brady (1996-99) for 7th place on Michigan’s career list. With 4, he will tie Todd Collins (1991-94) for 6th

With a 100-yard passing game, Denard will tie Steve Smith (1980-83) for 7th in career 100-yard passing games.

With 110 rushing yards, Denard will pass Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 8th on Michigan’s career rushing list

With 3 rushing touchdowns, Denard will move into a tie with Rick Leach (1975-78) for 5th place in career rushing touchdowns

With 13 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway will pass Marcus Knight (1996-99) for 18th in career receiving yards and with 14, he will pass Vince Bean (1981-84) for 17th.

Roy Roundtree can pass Jim Smith (1973-76) for 15th with 28 receiving yards, and with 37, he can pass Steve Breaston (2003-06) for 14th.

Game 9 Preview: Iowa

Friday, November 4th, 2011


If you look up the color pink in Wikipedia, it is described as “commonly used for Valentine’s Day and Easter, pink is sometimes referred to as “the color of love.” This week, when Michigan travels to Iowa City, the Wolverines will dress in the Hawkeyes’ pink visitors locker room.

#13 Michigan v. Iowa
Saturday Nov. 5
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
7-1 (3-1) Record 5-3 (2-2)
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
Minnesota 58-0
Northwestern 42-24
Purdue 36-14
Wins Tennessee Tech 34-7
Pittsburgh 31-27
Louisiana-Monroe 45-17
Northwestern 41-31
Indiana 45-24
#23 Michigan State 14-28 Losses Iowa State 41-44 OT
Penn State 3-13
Minnesota 21-22
34.8 Scoring Offense 32.6
245.4 Rushing YPG 159.1
195.9 Passing YPG 243.5
441.2 Total Offense 402.6
14.6 Scoring Defense 23.1
138.2 Rush Defense YPG 163.6
194.6 Pass Defense YPG 238.6
332.9 Total Defense YPG 402.2
20 Takeaways 12
14 Giveaways 9
15/10 Sacks By/Allowed 12/17
49-of-96 (51%) Third-down Conv. 40-of-92 (43%)
6-for-8 (75%) Field Goals 12-for-16 (75%)
32.7 Net Punt Avg. 40.1

Senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen had the best quote of the week so far, saying “I love the pink locker room. I’ve never had an issue with the pink locker room. I think it gives it nice decor, the feng shui really feels good before the game. It warms you up, it’s very welcoming.

“I think more teams should go with the pink,” he continued. “I have no problem with it. I think it’s a great touch. It’s better than the off-white jail-cell look. So, I say paint ‘em up.”

Whether Van Bergen was joking, being serious, or just playing reverse psychology, the fact remains that a win in Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2005 will have Michigan fans across the country feeling the love for Coach Brady Hoke.

Michigan’s last win in Iowa City was a 23-20 overtime thriller in 2005, ending the Hawkeyes’ 22-game home winning streak. The last time Michigan visited Iowa, it fell two points short of an upset of the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes when Denard Robinson’s comeback attempt was picked off.

This time, Michigan is the ranked team entering the matchup while Iowa limps in with its tail between its legs after losing to Minnesota, which still ranks eighth-to-last in the nation in points per game.

Prior to last week, I was cautious about the Hawkeyes, who really haven’t beaten a good team all season, but played Penn State tough in Happy Valley. After last Saturday, I’m convinced that the Hawkeyes just aren’t very good. But does that mean Michigan should breeze to victory? Let’s look at the position-by-position matchups:

Quarterbacks:

James Vandenberg is the Big Ten’s second-best passer, trailing just Russell Wilson of Wisconsin. He completes 62.2 percent of his passes for 239.8 yards per game and 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions. In other words, he’s efficient like Iowa quarterbacks typically are.

Against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Vandenberg threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns. Against Penn State, however, he completed just 50 percent of his passes for 169 yards and two interceptions. So he is vulnerable. He’s in his first year as a starter, taking over for the departed Ricky Stanzi.

Everyone knows who Denard Robinson is by now and he can look back to that 2009 loss as his coming out party. He played well in last year’s loss as well, completing 13-of-18 passes for 96 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and rushing 18 times for 105 yards.

So far this season, he’s in the middle of the pack among Big Ten signal-callers, but leads the nation in quarterback rushing yards per game, and ranks fifth in the conference in rushing. He has been held under 100 yards rushing in three of the past four games, however, last week can be attributed largely to the emergence of Fitz Toussaint.

Edge: Michigan

Running Backs:

Marcus Coker leads the Big Ten in rushing (photo by Tom Olmscheid, AP)

Iowa features one of the nation’s best in Marcus Coker. Just a sophomore, Coker is the nation’s ninth-ranked rusher (and Big Ten’s best), averaging 121 yards per game. He has racked up 10 touchdowns, including two in each of the last three games. Last week, he lit up Minnesota for 252 yards on 32 carries (7.9 yards per).

For the Hawkeyes, Coker is pretty much a one-man show. Freshman De’Andre Johnson is the second leading rusher with just 79 yards on 18 carries, while Vandenberg has the second most carries on the team with 52. Nobody else has more than nine.

For Michigan, the moment fans have been waiting for all season occurred last week: a running back emerged. Toussaint carried 20 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns, none more impressive than the 59-yard romp in which he took a pitch from Devin Gardner, rushed left, then cut back across the field to the right, splitting a pair of defensive backs, and sped to the end zone. If he hadn’t already, he’s now the leader in the clubhouse as far as running backs are concerned in Ann Arbor.

Vincent Smith averages 6.5 yards per carry and is a solid change-of-pace back, but not an every down back like Toussaint, while Michael Shaw adds the speed to get to the edge when needed. It’s becoming a nice three-way punch for the Wolverines.

Edge: Even

Receivers and Tight Ends:

Just like at the running back position, Iowa has one of the league’s best at receiver. Marvin McNutt is a senior who has been around the block and is having his best season yet. The tall, lanky McNutt has 48 receptions for 858 yards, good for second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally. His nine touchdowns as tops in the conference. His best game of the season was a six-catch, 184-yard, three touchdown performance against Indiana two weeks ago in which he set the school’s career receiving touchdown record.

Unfortunately for Michigan, he’s not the only receiver the Hawkeyes have. Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are both dangerous, with seven touchdowns between them. Davis caught 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh and also eclipsed 100 yards against Northwestern. He missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, but should return tomorrow. Martin-Manley is the slot guy who had to move outside in Davis’ absence and caught five passes for 35 yards.

Michigan has a handful of talented receivers, but the passing game has yet to take off, partly due to the running game and partly due to Robinson’s struggles through the air, as evidenced by his 12 interceptions. Junior Hemingway is the most dangerous at getting behind the secondary, having two 100-plus-yard receiving games, but in the last two games has caught just five passes for 59 yards.

Perhaps the most featured receiver in the offense as the season progresses is diminutive sophomore Jeremy Gallon. In five of Michigan’s eight games so far, he has a reception of at least 24 yards, including each of the last three. In the last four games, he has 15 receptions for an average of 60 yards per game.

Even so, Iowa has the best overall receiver and a better passer to throw to them.

Edge: Iowa

Marvin McNutt is the Big Ten's second-leading receiver (photo by Brian Ray, AP)

Offensive Line:

Iowa traditionally has a good offensive line, but it has been good but not great this season. It is a unit filled with upperclassmen and led by left tackle Riley Reiff, a likely first round selection in next year’s NFL Draft. Despite one of the nation’s top individual running backs, Iowa’s line has paved the way for the nation’s 60th-best rush offense and allows just over two sacks per game, good for 73rd nationally.

Michigan’s line has paved the way for the nation’s ninth-best rush offense, averaging 253.3 yards per game, and is 33rd nationally in sacks allowed with 10 through the first eight games. Seven of those were against Michigan State. David Molk is the unquestioned leader at center and left tackle Taylor Lewan has been solid all season.

Edge: Michigan

Defensive Line:

Iowa averages about a sack and a half per game and gives up 163 yards rushing per game. To be fair, the Hawkeyes are still stinging from the loss of three starters to the NFL, including first-rounder Adrian Clayborn and fourth-rounder Christian Ballard. The leader of the unit is senior defensive end Broderick Binns who has three sacks, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble. Tackle Mike Daniels is experienced and leads the team with four sacks.

Michigan’s line has done well all season with the exception of the lone loss, to Michigan State. Mike Martin is always a beast in the middle, but he recorded his first two sacks of the season last week against Purdue, including one in the end zone for a safety. End Craig Roh has three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss, while Ryan Van Bergen has had a quiet, but efficient season so far.

Edge: Michigan

Linebackers:

Sophomore James Morris leads the Hawkeyes (and the Big Ten) with 11 tackles per game, while fellow sophomore Christian Kirksey ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 9.5 per game. They’re an active unit, but have struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks, which should result in a big game for Robinson.

Last week, Michigan replaced Brandin Hawthorne with true freshman Desmond Morgan at weak-side linebacker. The results were mixed, but Morgan is a heady player who goes full-speed. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens has been up and down and redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, while still making some mistakes, seems to improve each game. He had a couple of great plays last week, including a one-handed take-down of the Purdue running back in the backfield.

Edge: Even

Secondary:

Iowa’s secondary is probably its most experienced unit, led by strong safety Jordan Bernstein. The senior is third on the team in tackles with 45 and has a sack. Cornerback Shaun Prater has an interception returned for a touchdown while fellow corner, Micah Hyde, has three picks and six pass break-ups on the season (which leads the Big Ten). While experienced, the unit still ranks 81st nationally in pass defense, giving up 238.6 yards per game through the air – 44 yards more than Michigan allows.

Michigan has made some changes to its starting secondary, moving Troy Woolfolk to safety to fill Jordan Kovacs’ spot while he’s out with an injury. The rise of freshman corner Blake Countess has allowed Woolfolk to make the move. Countess saw limited action early in the season, but has four pass break-ups and a forced fumble and looks to be Michigan’s best corner already. Safety Thomas Gordon has done a good job and is typically a solid tackler and doesn’t get beat deep. Michigan’s pass defense ranks 26th nationally, giving up just 196.3 yards per game.

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams:

Iowa has a pretty good kicker in Mike Meyer (no, not that one), but he did miss 24- and 43-yarders last week. He’s still 12-of-16, with a long of 50. Punter Eric Guthrie averages 42 yards per punt, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.

Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons has been surprisingly solid this season, connecting on 6-of-8 field goals, including two last week. His long is just 38 yards, so don’t count on anything long. Punter Will Hagerup is averaging just 34.8 yards per punt, but has done a good job of placing inside the 20.

Edge: Even

Coaching:

Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to win, but Michigan is 15-5-1 there all-time

Kirk Ferentz isn’t flashy. He’s in the same mold as Lloyd Carr and generally fields tough teams that are susceptible to playing down to opponents (re: last week). However, they’re always tough in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium.

Brady Hoke has won over nearly everybody in Ann Arbor since replacing Rich Rodriguez. His even-keeled demeanor and trust of his coordinators are a refreshing change on the sidelines and if he can beat Iowa on the road, he’ll already have fans believing Michigan is back.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles:

While Van Bergen insists he doesn’t mind the pink locker rooms, the intimidating Kinnick Stadium is another factor in and of itself. Iowa is always stingy at home. The good news for Michigan is that Denard already played there in his freshman season, so he shouldn’t be intimidated.

The natural grass playing surface was replaced with Field Turf in 2009, when Michigan last played there, so the Wolverines won’t have to worry about having its speed advantage negated. The weather forecast looks good: mid-to-high 50s and sunny, so it shouldn’t be a factor.

Edge: Even

Iowa runs a pretty straight-forward pro-style offense. Coker is a load and McNutt will be a handful, but if there’s anything Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison knows how to do, it’s gameplan. It’s easy to see how his defense could struggle a bit against spread running offenses such as Northwestern’s in the first half, but Iowa’s isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

They use Coker to set up a lot of play-action and if you give Vandenberg time to throw he can be deadly. Minnesota succeeded last week when blitzing off the edge, so expect Mattison to dial up some well-timed blitzes. Coker runs almost exclusively up the middle.

When Michigan has the ball, it should be able to move fairly well. Minnesota’s anemic offense scored 22, Iowa State’s 79th-ranked scoring offense scored 44, and Indiana’s 89th-ranked scoring offense scored 24 against the Hawkeyes. Iowa gives up over 400 yards per game and the best offense it has faced all season is Northwestern.

Minnesota got 101 yards on 5.1 yards per carry out of Duane Bennett last week, along with 61 yards from quarterback Marqueis Gray. Penn State’s Silas Redd racked up 142 yards on 5.1 yards per carry four weeks ago. Look for a lot of Toussaint early, but also a lot of designed runs for Denard. After the running game gets going, Michigan should open it up a little bit against Iowa’s 81st-ranked pass defense.

Expect Offensive Coordinator Al Borges to do just enough to win without needing to divulge much of the remaining play book that could be used against Nebraska and Ohio State at seasons’ end. It will be a close game early, but Michigan will be too much for the Hawkeyes to keep up with. Michigan should have this one under control in the fourth quarter.

Michigan 38 – Iowa 27

Good to Know:

Michigan leads the all-time series 40-12-4, including 16-5-1 at Iowa

Michigan’s three October wins were more than the las three Octobers combined (two)

In each of the last five games, Michigan scored a touchdown on its opening possession

Denard Robinson leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per completion (16.74)

Michigan ranks first in the nation in red zone defense, giving up scores on just 15-of-25 chances (60 percent)

Michigan has outscored its opponents 135-49 in the second half and 229-68 from the second through fourth quarters

Fitz Toussaint’s 170 rushing yards were the most by a Michigan running back in a conference game since Mike Hart’s 195 yards against Minnesota in 2006

Michigan’s offense ranks 2nd in the Big Ten and 7th nationally in third down conversions (51 percent)

Michigan has committed just 34 penalties through eight games, which ranks 1st in the Big Ten and 9th nationally

Record Watch:
With 2 passing touchdowns, Denard Robinson will tie Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th place on Michigan’s career list. With 4, he will tie Tom Brady (1996-99) for 7th

With 104 passing yards, Denard will pass Rick Leach (1975-78) for 9th in career passing yards. With 203, he can pass Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th

With 23 rushing yards, Denard will pass Gordon Bell (1973-75) for 9th on Michigan’s career rushing list

With 1 rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie with Tom Harmon (1938-40) and Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 7th place. With 2, he will reach Steve Smith (1980-83) for 6th

With 50 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway could move into the top 20 in career receiving yards, passing Ralph Clayton (1976-79), John Kolesar (1985-88), and Adrian Arrington (2004-07)

Game 8 Preview: Purdue

Friday, October 28th, 2011


It was only a week off, but it feels like forever since Michigan last played a game. The sting of defeat still looms on the mind, and if it does for me, I can assure you it’s magnified tenfold for the players and coaches. Fortunately, the bye week is over and Purdue comes to town for Michigan’s homecoming weekend.

#18 Michigan v. Purdue
Saturday Oct. 29
12 p.m. ET
ESPN2
6-1 (2-1) Record 4-3 (2-1)
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
Minnesota 58-0
Northwestern 42-24
Wins Middle Tennessee 27-24
SE Missouri State 59-0
Minnesota 45-17
#23 Illinois 21-14
#23 Michigan State 14-28 Losses Rice 22-24
Notre Dame 10-38
Penn State 18-23
34.6 Scoring Offense 28.9
232.0 Rushing YPG 195.0
195.9 Passing YPG 192.0
427.9 Total Offense 387.0
14.7 Scoring Defense 20.0
145.3 Rush Defense YPG 145.3
190.7 Pass Defense YPG 206.4
336.0 Total Defense YPG 351.7
19 Takeaways 8
12 Giveaways 8
11/9 Sacks By/Allowed 10/16
42-of-83 (51%) Third-down Conv. 41-of-102 (40%)
4-for-6 (67.7%) Field Goals 9-for-14 (64.3%)
33.1 Net Punt Avg. 41.7

Unfortunately, it’s not the Purdue we all expected. The Boilermakers began the season as the Purdue of old, barely surviving Middle Tennessee, losing to Rice, and getting throttled by Notre Dame, but since then has been playing better. Last week, the Boilers upset 23rd-ranked Illinois, and the week before that, went toe-to-toe with Penn State in Happy Valley.

Is Purdue really enough to give Michigan fits on Saturday, or will it be the same old Purdue that Michigan fans usually take for granted? Let’s break down the matchpus.

Quarterbacks:

Caleb TerBush has grabbed firm control of the quarterback position after not really even being a factor heading into the season. Last year’s starter Rob Henry tore his ACL in August and Robert Marve has played sparingly after recovering from his own torn ACL in 2010.

TerBush has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,127 yards (161/game), eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He also averages about eight rushes per game, but just 2.4 yards per carry. He had perhaps his best performance of the season in last week’s win, throwing for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Denard Robinson struggled two weeks ago against Michigan State, completing just 9-of-24 passes and rushing for just 42 yards on 18 carries, but he’s still the most dangerous player on the field. As I profiled at the beginning of the week, he’s on pace to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in Michigan history and should be able to add to that total this week.

Edge: Michigan

Running Backs:

Ralph Bolden is Purdue’s go-to back with 398 yards on 4.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He’s had just one 100-yard rushing game, and ran well against Penn State two weeks ago, but gained just 28 yards on 12 carries last week and has three games with a less than three yards per carry average. Fellow junior Akeem Shavers hasn’t gotten as many carries but has scored five touchdowns.

Michigan’s running game has been uninspiring the past couple of weeks after showing signs of promise at the beginning of the season. Fitz Toussaint seemed to be becoming the every down back, but got just two carries for seven yards against Michigan State, while Vincent Smith got just eight for 37 yards.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges handle the gameplan this week after abandoning the run game with the running backs against State. Purdue’s rush defense ranks 55th nationally, but shut down a pretty good Illinois rushing attack last week. Penn State, however, got 131 yards out of Silas Redd and Notre Dame got 191 from Cierre Wood and 94 from Jonas Gray.

Edge: Even

Receivers and Tight Ends:

Antavian Edison is the leading receiver for the Boilers, averaging 15.6 yards per catch and two touchdowns. He had a big game against Notre Dame, catching seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, but hasn’t done much outside of that.

The other go-to guy is Mr. Do-it-all Justin Siller. The former three-star quarterback moved to running back in 2008, was suspended for 2009, and returned as a wide receiver in 2010 before missing most of the season with an injury. He was actually Purdue’s starting quarterback in last year’s matchup with Michigan, but hurt his foot on the first play of the game. This season, he has 28 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown.

For Michigan, receiver production can only go as far as Denard goes. Junior Hemingway is the obvious leader with 17 receptions for 397 yards and a touchdown. Though not a speedster, he’s a deep threat who has made his living on jump balls with big games against Notre Dame and Northwestern. Jeremy Gallon emerged as the second guy and leads the team in receptions with 18. Roy Roundtree and tight end Kevin Koger also have double-digit receptions and a pair of touchdowns each.

Michigan has the better stable of receivers, but how the offense is run will determine the kind of production they have.

Edge: Michigan

Offensive Line:

Purdue has allowed 16 sacks, which ranks 80th nationally, but the offensive line has seemingly fixed the problems it was having at the beginning of the season. Against Middle Tennessee and Rice to open the season, the Boilers allowed eight sacks. In the last five games, it has given up eight combined, including just one to Illinois’ very good pass rush last week.

In addition, the line has paved the way for the nation’s 26th-ranked rush offense. The Boilers have a good left tackle in Dennis Kelly and a solid and experienced guard in Peters Drey, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last season.

Michigan’s offensive line has struggled against more physical defensive lines the past few seasons and that was no different against Michigan State two weeks ago. After allowing just two sacks through the first six games, it allowed seven against the Spartans, and managed just 82 yards rushing.

Edge: Purdue

Defensive Line:

Purdue’s defensive line hasn’t been quite as good after losing First-Team All-American Ryan Kerrigan to the Washington Redskins, but it’s not a bad unit by any stretch. The Boilers have recorded 10 sacks, which ranks 93rd nationally, and allow 145 yards rushing per game, the same as Michigan allows. Tackle Kawann Short leads the team in sacks with 3.5 and tackles-for-loss with 9.5. He’s a guy who shifted to the end position against Penn State but is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher.

Michigan’s line has struggled to pressure the quarterback against good offensive lines, recording no sacks against Notre Dame and Michigan State. Bigger offensive lines tend to neutralize Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh simply because of a lack of size. Personnel wise, Michigan’s and Purdue’s lines are probably pretty even, but the Wolverines will have trouble getting to TerBush and getting much push against Purdue’s bigger offensive line.

Edge: Purdue

Linebackers:

Dwayne Beckford and Joe Holland are two fairly talented linebackers for the Boilers and are the team’s leading tacklers. The pair combined for 22 tackles against Illinois last week and helped keep Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in check.

Michigan’s linebackers haven’t progressed as much as expected throughout the season. Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne have been slow to react and freshman Jake Ryan continues to struggle containing the edge.

Edge: Purdue

Defensive Backs:

Corner Ricardo Allen is just a sophomore but he already has six career interceptions for the Boilers, including one last week. The other, Josh Johnson is bigger and more physical, but neither was able to stop Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd in Week 4. But then again, who can? Purdue is allowing 206 passing yards per game, which is a respectable 36th nationally.

Michigan’s secondary has been much better than the past couple of seasons. Freshman Blake Countess has basically taken Troy Woolfolk’s spot due to nagging injuries and has fared well. Safety Jordan Kovacs is the leader while fellow safety Thomas Gordon has a knack for making big plays. Michigan gives up just 192 yards through the air.

Edge: Push

Special Teams:

Purdue has the nation’s fourth-best net punt average. Sophomore punter Cody Webster averages 46.6 yards per punt. Kicker Carson Wiggs has hit 9-of-14 field goals with a long of 53. The Boilers also have the nation’s 15th-best kick return game, giving the offense good starting field position.

Michigan’s punting has been pretty poor, with a net average of 33.1, which is near the bottom nationally. Some of that is attributed to a series of field position punts in the Michigan State game. Kicker Brendon Gibbons has hit 4-of-6 field goals with a long of just 38.

Edge: Purdue

Coaching:

Purdue Head Coach Danny Hope is 1-1 against Michigan since taking over for Joe Tiller. In 2009, he took advantage of Michigan’s decline and captured Purdue’s first win in Ann Arbor in 43 years. Last year, Purdue kept it close in an ugly game. He seems to be a good fit at a school like Purdue where he’s going to get the most out of the talent he has and keep them playing hard.

Brady Hoke suffered his first loss at Michigan two weeks ago, effectively ending his honeymoon. Now he can get down to coaching and staying out of the spotlight. For all the praise we gave Al Borges through the first six games, his gameplan was subpar at best against MSU. I’m wiling to bet he gets back to running the football against Purdue. Greg Mattison has Michigan’s defense ranked eighth nationally in points allowed and 36th in total defense. Those are dramatic improvements from the past few years.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles:

Saturday will be homecoming in Ann Arbor but unfortunately Mother Nature thinks she went to Michigan. The current forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s with a rain or snow shower, meaning the game could come down to which team can run the ball the best.

Michigan lost to Purdue last time the Boilers visited Ann Arbor and you can be sure that Hoke has declared that unacceptable. It’s a must-win for Michigan if it wants any shot of climbing back into the Big Ten race. A home game in poor weather conditions should favor Michigan.

Edge: Michigan

This game does scare me a little bit. Purdue is playing well and looked good against Illinois last week. The Boilers run an offense somewhat similar to Northwestern and try to control the tempo early with some no-huddle. That worked for Northwestern in the first half against Michigan. It’s a shotgun spread offense with lots of zone read and receiver screens that could keep Michigan’s defense on its heels for the first half or so. Hope likes to mix around running backs and receivers and use Justin Siller in the Wildcat every now and then.

However, depending on what the weather brings, that could be neutralized a bit, either forcing Purdue into a more conservative rushing attack or causing turnovers.

The Purdue defense did a great job of stopping Illinois’ powerful offense last week. The Illini are about as similar to Michigan as any team in the Big Ten, so that doesn’t bode well. But Denard Robinson is better than Scheelhaase and Michigan will look to establish a rushing game early.

I look for Purdue to hang around for a half and into the third quarter before Mattison adjusts to stop the Boiler offense and Michigan wins a closer than wanted game.

Prediction: Michigan 33 – Purdue 24

Good to Know:

Michigan leads the all-time series 42-14, including 20-5 in the last 25 meetings. However, Purdue has won two of the last three

Michigan is 83-27 all-time in homecoming games

Michigan has forced as many turnovers (19) in the first seven games as it did all season in 2010. The Wolverines rank first in the Big Ten and eighth nationally in turnovers forced

Michigan has outscored opponents 121-42 in the second half this season and 200-61 from the second quarter on

Record Watch:
With one passing touchdown, Denard Robinson will pass Jim Harbaugh (1983-86) for sole possession of 9th on Michigan’s career list. With two, he will tie Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th

With 274 passing yards, Denard will pass Rick Leach (1975-78) for 9th in career passing yards. With 373, he can pass Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th

With 86 rushing yards, Denard will pass Gordon Bell (1973-75) for 9th on Michigan’s career rushing list

With one rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie with Butch Woolfolk (1978-81) for 9th in career rushing touchdowns. With two, he will reach Tom Harmon (1938-40) and Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 7th

With 66 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway could move into the top 20 in career receiving yards, passing Ralph Clayton (1976-79), John Kolesar (1985-88), and Adrian Arrington (2004-07)

Game 7 Preview: Michigan State

Friday, October 14th, 2011


There comes a time when you say to yourself enough’s enough. You’ve always dominated and gotten your way, but recently your little brother has snuck up and stolen a few cookies from the cookie jar while you were on a diet. Those cookies always looked so tempting, but you just couldn’t quite muster up the courage to take one. And little brother taunted you with them.

#11 Michigan v. #23 Michigan State
Saturday Oct. 15
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
6-0 (2-0) Record 4-1 (1-0)
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
Minnesota 58-0
Northwestern 42-24
Wins Youngstown St. 28-6
Florida Atlantic 44-0
Central Michigan 45-7
Ohio State 10-7
Losses Notre Dame 13-31
38.0 Scoring Offense 28.0
257.0 Rushing YPG 128.8
200.5 Passing YPG 269.2
457.5 Total Offense 398.0
12.5 Scoring Defense 10.2
134.0 Rush Defense YPG 64.0
202.5 Pass Defense YPG 109.4
336.5 Total Defense YPG 173.4
17 Takeaways 10
11 Giveaways 7
11/2 Sacks By/Allowed 14/5
39-of-68 (57%) Third-down Conv. 25-of-71 (35%)
4-for-6 (67.7%) Field Goals 7-for-10 (70%)
35.6 Net Punt Avg. 33.7

Then, one day, you’re not quite to where you want to be, but you decide to put a stop to it. By god, those are your cookies. and you’re sick of being taken advantage of. So you hired a new nutritional coach who gives you a great game plan that even includes an indulgence of a few cookies here and there. Little brother comes looking for his cookies and they’re gone. His short stint as the cookie monster is over and he’s relegated back to longing to be you.

Obviously that’s a silly example, but it’s by and large the situation Michigan faces tomorrow. For 103 years, Michigan has dominated the rivalry, winning two-thirds of the meetings. When the Paul Bunyan trophy was introduced in 1953, Michigan State won it, but Michigan has brought old Paul back to Ann Arbor 34 times to MSU’s 22.

In the past three years, however, Little Brother woke up…or, rather, capitalized on an advantageous situation. Rich Rodriguez was brought in to bring Michigan into modernity, and we all know the story. Michigan State swooped in and won all three meetings.

Now, Rodriguez is gone and Brady Hoke has brought a new attitude to Ann Arbor – one that hearkens tradition and values rivalries. He’s already one-for-one, having beaten Notre Dame in Week 2, and now he could become the first Michigan head coach since Bennie Ooosterbaan in 1948 to beat Michigan State in his frist season as head coach. Bo Schembechler lost his first matchup 23-12 in 1969, Gary Moeller lost 28-27 in 1990, and Lloyd Carr lost 28-25 in 1995.

Michigan State enters tomorrow’s matchup 4-1 and ranked 23rd nationally, boasting the nation’s No. 1 ranked total defense. Does Michigan have a chance to end the three-year drought? Let’s take a look at the matchpus.

Quarterbacks:

Kirk Cousins is a senior three-year starter and three-time captain. He has a 20-10 record as MSU’s starting quarterback and has a chance to tie Jeff Smoker (2000-03) for the school record if he beats Michigan tomorrow. So far this season, Cousins has been accurate (67.8 percent) and has thrown for 1,197 yards and six touchdowns.

He’s not much of a runner, so Michigan won’t have to worry about a Northwestern-style offense that it had trouble stopping in the first half last week. He has a decent arm but the offense is more tailored towards short-to-intermediate passes and a power run game. He’s efficient and accurate with outs, slants, curls and the like and has the ability to throw deep every now and then.

He’s likely to be the best quarterback Michigan faces all season, but the Michigan defense has faced its share of good signal-callers so far in Alex Carder, Tommy Rees, Ryan Lindley, and Dan Persa. It gave up a lot of yards to Rees, but got the better of him in the end, and contained the others pretty well. All this to say that while Cousins is good, Michigan and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison certainly won’t be afraid of him.

Denard Robinson is arguably the most dangerous player in the country and the most important player to his team in the Big Ten. He hasn’t always been consistent this season, but he has displayed the ability to win with his legs or his arm. Most people think of him as a running back playing quarterback, but as he showed in the second half against Notre Dame and last week, he can put the ball in the air when needed. It’s just a matter of whether the good-throwing Denard or the back-foot-throwing Denard will show up.

Last year, Michigan State was the first team to bottle him up, holding him to just 86 rushing yards on 21 carries (4.1 yards per) and 215 passing yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. He’s still prone to mistakes when pressured, but he’s not the same player he was a year ago and this isn’t the same offense either. Rest assured Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges will have a good plan to neutralize State’s powerful front seven.

Edge: Even

Le'Veon Bell is a good running back behind an underperforming line (photo by Kirk Irwin, Getty Images)

Running Backs:

Michigan State features a pair of good running backs in Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Bell leads the team with 267 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Baker is close behind in yards with 252 yards on 4.1 yards per carry, but just one touchdown. They’re a punishing duo because they give the Spartans two nearly equal bruisers to rotate in and keep fresh. In addition, junior Larry Caper has been a thorn in Michigan’s side the past two years, scoring the winning touchdown in overtime in 2009, and an eight-yard touchdown last season to break the game open. The big question, however, is whether Michigan State’s underperforming offensive line will be able to rise to the occasion, but more on that in a little bit.

Michigan also has a good stable of backs. Though individually they probably aren’t as talented as pure the Spartan trio, but they work well in Michigan’s offense, giving it plenty of versatility. Fitz Toussaint is the between the tackles back leading all UM running backs with 326 yards on 5.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns. But it’s Vincent Smith who is probably the Wolverines best all-around back. He has just 214 yards, but is averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per carry, is a threat as a receiver (seven catches for 104 and two touchdowns) and is solid at picking up blitzes. Michael Shaw is the speed back who can get to the edge as we saw in the second half of last week’s game.

Michigan’s running game ranks seventh in the nation, averaging 257 yards per game. Much of that is thanks to Robinson, but the backs can get the job done.

Edge: Even

Receivers:

There’s no question who the go-to guy is for the Spartans. Senior B.J. Cunningham has 36 receptions (twice as many as the second-leading receiver) for 582 yards and two touchdowns. He ranks second in the Big Ten in yards per game and receptions per game and he’s a big-bodied NFL-type wideout who is hard to defend. He’s gone over 130 yards in three of the Spartans’ five games so far this season.

Keshawn Martin is the Spartans second-leading receiver with 19 receptions for 177 yards. He’s the slot guy who could terrorize Michigan’s defense tomorrow as it focuses on stopping Cunningham. Last season, he led MSU with six catches for 69 yards against Michigan. Outside of those two, only former quarterback Keith Nichol has more than 100 yards. He’s ok, but about as good a receiver as a former quarterback can be.

Michigan has several talented receivers with a lot of experience. Junior Hemingway is the number one guy and the main deep threat. He has become Michigan’s best jump-ball receiver since Braylon Edwards. His size allows him to outmuscle the defensive back and go up and get the ball. Sophomore Jeremy Gallon has emerged as Michigan’s second receiver and actually leads the Wolverines in receptions with 17. He has shown speed on the edge and an ability to turn a quick screen into yards. Roy Roundtree, last year’s leading receiver (and second-leading receiver in the Big Ten) has been quiet so far in his move to the outside, but is talented enough to demand respect from the defense.

Edge: Even

Offensive Line:

As was discussed above, Michigan State’s offensive line has underwhelmed thus far. With a trio of good running backs, the line has only paved the way for 128.8 rushing yards per game (79th nationally). It mustered just 71 yards on 31 attempts two weeks ago against Ohio State and 29 (!) yards on 23 attempts in a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame. The line is solid in pass protection, allowing a sack per game, but redshirt freshman center Travis Jackson will have his hands full tomorrow with Mike Martin.

Michigan’s line has been an asset all season, helping lead the nation’s seventh-best rushing attack and allowing just two sacks through six games. Center David Molk is the leader of the unit and a mid-season All-American according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is a beast and the rest of the guys have been solid. The unit has allowed just two sacks all season, bu the big test comes tomorrow.

Edge: Michigan

Defensive Line:

Worthy breaks through the line and sacks Braxton Miller before he can even hand it off

This is probably Michigan State’s biggest strength. The group is led by an NFL-caliber nose tackle in Jerel Worthy who practically lives in the backfield, as you can see in the photo. He’s impossible to single block and likes to jump the snap. How Molk handles Worthy will probably make a difference between good Denard and bad Denard.

The other star of the defensive line is sophomore end William Gholston. He’s always in the backfield as well and has the speed to chase down the running from behind on the backside, as he did a couple times against Ohio State.

Michigan’s defensive line is good too, led by senior Mike Martin. Ryan Van Bergen has blossomed into a good pass rusher and Craig Roh is improving weekly after a slow start. This may be the key matchup of the game – whether or not Michigan’s line can get consistent pressure on Cousins. If not, he’ll pick the defense apart.

Edge: Michigan State

Linebackers:

Sophomores Max Bullough and Denicos Allen are very good linebackers, reminiscent of classic Ohio State linebackers, which makes sense given that MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio came from OSU. Allen leads the team in sacks (three) and tackles-for-loss (7.5). Bullough got a sack against Ohio State (but then again who didn’t?) and leads the team in tackles with 33.

Michigan’s linebackers have held up surprisingly well, much better than the past few years. It’s not a good unit by any means, but it’s slowly improving. Freshman Jake Ryan is going to be a great player at Michigan in the coming years but right now, he and Kenny Demens struggle to contain on the outside. Northwestern killed them in the first half before Mattison backed them up a step and put Ryan over the slot.

Edge: Michigan State

Secondary:

The Spartans are led by a pair of good safeties in Isaiah Lewis and Trenton Robinson. Robinson was Second-team All-Big Ten a year ago, while Lewis, a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection last season, has two picks. Sophomore defensive back Darquezze Dennard had his first career interception against Ohio State. The safeties like to creep up to the line of scrimmage and move around a lot before the snap. It’s safe to say one will be pulled up until Michigan proves it can beat them deep.

Michigan’s secondary is at least consistent this season. Freshman Blake Countess has emerged as a playmaker and is getting serious playing time in place of banged up Troy Woolfolk. The safeties Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovacs are the stars of the secondary. Kovacs leads the team in sacks with three, none more important than the fourth-down sack of Persa last week (regardless of whether it was a facemask or not).

Edge: Even

Special Teams:

Michigan State’s one weakness might be its special teams. Punter Mike Sadler has booted 18 punts for an average of 40.1, but the net is just 33.68, which is 110th nationally. Kicker Dan Conroy has been around forever and is 6-of-9 this season with a long of 50. Redshirt freshman running back Nick Hill is the main kick returner, averaging 26.9 yards per return, while Keshawn Martin is a dangerous punt returner capable of breaking one.

That's right Dantonio. I'm coming to take back my cookies! (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

For Michigan, Will Hagerup has punted just three times since his return from suspension, averaging 37.7 per punt. Kicker Brendan Gibbons is 4-of-6, having had last week’s only attempt blocked. Gallon does a good job with punt returns, averaging 10.7 yards per, which is 23rd nationally.

Edge: Even

Coaches:

Mark Dantonio is a Jim Tressel disciple. Since coming to East Lansing in 2007, he has turned the program around and instilled a toughness and focus on beating Michigan. He has succeeded with that in three of four meetings. He’s a defensive-minded coach, but always seems to prepare special offensive packages just for Michigan.

Brady Hoke has a chance to do something no Michigan coach has done since 1948: beat Michigan State in his first attempt. If he does so, he’ll have Michigan as the front-runner for the Big Ten Legends Division title. His coordinators, Al Borges and Greg Mattison, have been brilliant all season, especially in the second half. Whether you call it coaching or adjustments, the proof is in the pudding as Michigan has outscored its opponents 114-21 in the second half through six games (and 62-7 in the fourth quarter).

While I think Michigan has the better coaches overall, until they can prove they can clear the green and white mid-season hurdle, I can’t give them the edge.

Edge: Push

Intangibles:

Michigan State has the momentum in the series, riding a three-game winning streak over Michigan. The game is in East Lansing and the Spartans will be wearing some ugly shiny South Florida new pro combat uniforms. The weather calls for a windy day which favors running games and Michigan’s running game is seventh in the nation. State’s is just 79th. In this rivalry, the team that won the running game has won 28 of the past 31 meetings. That favors Michigan.

Edge: Even

Spartan fans claim they’ve seen this story before for Michigan: Michigan starts fast, feasting on cupcakes, until State beat them and then it’s all downhill from there. The irony is that’s been the Spartans’ M.O. up until the past couple of seasons. But this isn’t the same team Michigan fielded the past three years. It has some of the same elements, but the offense is much more complex, the defense has actual coaching, and the head coach places a major emphasis on beating rivals. He’ll have the Wolverines focused.

I think it comes down to two factors: the offensive and defensive lines. Can Molk and company keep Worthy and Gholston from invading the backfield and pressuring Denard into back-foot throws? Conversely, can Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh get consistent pressure on Cousins? Michigan State likes to roll the pocket to hide the line’s protection weaknesses and throw a lot of short routes. Look for Mattison to change up the blitzes to try to force Cousins into some bad throws of which he is prone to make.

It’s important for Michigan to get off to a fast start to put pressure on MSU early, but either way, It’s going to come down to the end like most Michigan-Michigan State games do. I have no doubt Michigan will be able to move the ball pretty effectively by using a combination of quick screens and zone-read to neutralize the Spartan pass rush. If Michigan can finish off its drives like it has all season (with the exception of the first half last week) then it should be able to outscore MSU.

Prediction: Michigan 27 – Michigan State 23

Good to Know:

Michigan leads the all-time series 67-31-5 (34-22-2 since the Paul Bunyan trophy was introduced in 1953, and 30-11 since 1970)

Michigan has forced multiple turnovers in all six games this season and has a plus-six turnover margin, which is best in the Big Ten and 14th nationally. The 17 turnovers forced are just two short of last year’s season total

Michigan is 26-of-28 in the red zone so far this season, including touchdowns on 22 (79 percent) of those trips

Junior Hemingway is averaging 26.1 yards per reception, which ranks first in the Big Ten and second in the nation

After going scoreless in the first quarter through the first three games, Michigan has scored touchdowns on its first possession of the game in each of the last three games

Michigan has committed just 24 penalties so far (average of four per game), which ranks first in the Big Ten and tied for eighth nationally

Record Watch:
With one passing touchdown, Denard Robinson will tie Jim Harbaugh (1983-86) for 9th on Michigan’s career list. With three, he will tie Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th

With 38 rushing yards, Denard will pass Tim Biakabatuka (1993-95) for 10th on Michigan’s career rushing list. He can reach 9th and pass Gordon Bell (1973-75) with 128

With one rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie with Gordon Bell (1973-75) for 10th in career rushing touchdowns. With two, he will reach Butch Woolfolk (1978-81). And with three, he will tie Tom Harmon (1938-40) and Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 7th

With 109 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway could move into the top 20 in career receiving yards, passing Ralph Clayton (1976-79), John Kolesar (1985-88), and Adrian Arrington (2004-07)

Michigan Man 5-Spot Challenge – Week 7 Questions

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011


We’re halfway through the season and continue to have new weekly winners. This time it’s Hazel Parker who finally cracked the winner’s circle in convincing fashion. His deviation of 108 was 18 better than a three-way tie for second place between KleinoRhino, TrueBlue88, and Maize and Go Blue.

The question that won it for Hazel Parker was Michigan’s total yardage. He predicted 528, just 13 yards short of Michigan’s total of 541. The next closest on that question was newcomer KleinoRhino, who was 39 away. Fellow newcomer tooty_pops was the only contestant to correctly pick Northwestern receiver Jeremy Ebert’s receiving yards.

Three contestants, jtcho78, bomoho, and goobot, correctly predicted the amount of fourth quarter points, 28.

For his win, Hazel Parker gets a t-shirt from The M Den. Click here for last week’s results and here for the overall standings.

This week, Michigan travels to East Lansing for a reunion with Little Brother. Michigan State features the nation’s third-best scoring defense, allowing just 10.2 points per game, and top-ranked total defense, but its offense ranks 62nd averaging 28 points per game. The Spartans haven’t faced an offense like Michigan’s yet.

Here are this week’s questions:

Second Half Dominance Carries Michigan Past Northwestern

Monday, October 10th, 2011


Michigan took to the road for the first time this season and found itself staring in the face of adversity for the first time since the Notre Dame game. A poor first half turned into a 10 point halftime deficit, but Michigan was able to make the necessary halftime adjustments to dominate the second half. The Wolverines outscored Northwestern 28-0 in the second half for a 42-24 victory.

#12 Michigan 42 – Northwestern 24
Final Stats
42 Final Score 24
6-0 Record 2-3
541 Total Yards 438
179 Net Rushing Yards 107
362 Net Passing Yards 331
23 First Downs 26
3 Turnovers 2
5-65 Penalties – Yards 5-51
1-38 Punts – Yards 3-140
37:57 Time of Possession 22:03
14-for-17 Third Down Conversions 4-for-11
1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 0-for-2
4-26 Sacks By – Yards 0-0
0-for-1 Field Goals 1-for-1
6-for-6 PATs 3-for-3
5-for-6 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-5

Northwestern got the ball to start the game and Dan Persa got started quickly, hitting a receiver in stride for a gain of seven. After an incomplete pass, Persa got drilled by Kenny Demens and threw a bad incompletion to go 3-and-out.

Michigan opened much like it did last week, with Denard running and then bringing out a new formation with Devin Gardner under center and Denard in the slot. Denard went in motion and got the ball on an end around. On 3rd-and-7, Michigan looked as though it was going to have to punt, but Denard threw a deep ball to Junior Hemingway who jumped up and pulled it down for a gain of 48 yards. Northwestern left a defender in to spy on Denard, trying to contain his running ability but leaving the field open for Michigan to get the ball downfield. A 2nd-and-goal play-action pass led to a touchdown for tight end Steve Watson who was wide open. The drive went eight plays for 74 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.

Northwestern opened up its ensuing drive throwing the ball again. This time, Persa’s pass was tipped at the line by Ryan Van Bergen. Unfortunately for Michigan, Craig Roh laid a hit on Persa but it was a bit late and the officials marched off 15 yards. Kain Colter lined up at quarterback on the next play and ran the option and Jordan Kovacs leveled the back on the pitch. Persa hopped back in for the next play and hit a swing pass to Jeremy Ebert for 13 yards. In an attempt to get its best athletes on the field Northwestern lined Colter up at receiver and Persa just missed him on the next play. After a 32 yard pass play and a check down to the running back, Colter took a triple option keeper to the house, juking Kovacs out of his shoes in the process to tie the game at seven.

Michigan got the ball back and Denard connected on a big gainer on a play action pass to Hemingway. Two plays later, Denard made a bad throw off his back foot that was picked off by NW’s Ibraheim Campbell and returned 31 yards.

Again, Northwestern got its athletes in on offense in unconventional ways as return man Venric Mark lined up in the backfield. He took the option pitch for a first down. Colter came back in at quarterback a few plays later and the triple option to the running back went for a big 24 yard gain to the Michigan 11 yard line. Two plays later, Persa pitched the ball on the option and the player waltzed virtually untouched into the end zone to put NW ahead 14-7.

At this point, it looked as though Northwestern was going to run the option all day. The defense had no answer for the option plays thus far and looked completely lost with these new wrinkles the Wildcats were throwing at it.

On its next drive, Michigan showed a good mix of run and pass, though the passing game was not working as well as Borges would probably like but it was keeping the defense honest so far. A few overthrows are keeping the offense from really getting it going. On the first play of the second quarter, Denard threw a bad pass on a fake quarterback draw and it was picked off again by Campbell.

Michigan's defense figured out the NW offense in the second half, shutting it down (photo by NUsports.com)

The Wildcats were forced to punt after a Kenny Demens sack and false start penalty put them in 3rd-and-18, which they couldn’t convert.

Michigan couldn’t get anything going on its next drive as Denard kept getting stuffed at the line on his designed runs and his passes were a bit high for his receivers.

After a good return by Mark, Northwestern took over at its own 41 yard line. A few plays later, NW went for it on 4th-and-short. Persa pitched it on the option but Kovacs was there to blow it up in the backfield. That was just the play the defense needed to get some confidence.

The offense took advantage of it. After a 4th-and-short conversion of its own during the drive, Jeremy Gallon went 25 yards untouched into the end zone on a play action screen pass a few plays later to tie the game at 14 apiece.

The excitement was short-lived as Northwestern burned Michigan with the no huddle, uptempo pace and scored as Colter pitched it on the option and the back went in untouched once again. Michigan still had no answer for the option, and it was beginning to look like the defense of the last few years.

After Michigan turned it over on another bad throw that was picked off, Northwestern moved down the field inside the 10 yard line. After some clock mismanagement and a dropped pass in the end zone, time ran out on the half. But as Lee Corso likes to say, not so fast my friend. An official review put two seconds back on the clock and Northwestern kicked a field goal to go up 24-14.

Stats were pretty much even in the first half aside from Michigan’s three turnovers, which had killed the team to that point. Last season I would have given up hope that the coaches would make any defensive adjustments and get in gear. This time around, I had faith in Mattison and Hoke and knew it would be a different story the second half.

Michigan took the opening drive of the second half and marched down the field in eight plays. The big plays of the drive both went to Roy Roundtree as he caught a 16-yarder on 3rd-and-11 and a huge 57-yarder to set up 1st-and-goal on a play-action pass. Denard still wasn’t throwing great balls, but his receivers, Hemingway and Roundtree, were doing a great job of going up and making plays much like in the Notre Dame game. Three plays later, Denard scored on an option keeper while running right out of his shoe. Michigan pulled within a field goal, 24-21.

Devin Gardner scored the go-ahead touchdown for Michigan in the third quarter (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

After a three-and-out featuring a Van Bergen hit on Persa which forced an incomplete on third down, Michigan took over. Denard dropped the snap but to picked it up and ran for 25 yards, somewhat reminiscent of the first carry of his career in 2009, in which he took his own fumble 43 yards for a TD. This one didn’t go for a score, but Devin Gardner decided to get in on the scoring action as he took a play action naked bootleg to the pylon for six. Michigan had clearly grabbed the momentum in the game and it didn’t look like it was going to give it back. The drive covered 80 yards in 12 plays and took six-and-a-half minutes off the clock to put Michigan ahead 28-24.

Michigan got the ball back quickly once again after Brandin Hawthorne picked off a tipped pass. The play was reviewed and I thought for sure it was an incomplete catch but the call was upheld. At this point you had to think everything was going to keep going Michigan’s way. And it did. Michael Shaw took a run to the right at the start of the fourth quarter and punched it in for 21 straight Michigan points. Michigan now had a 35-24 lead.

They say when it rains it pours, and it started to pour for Northwestern as safety Thomas Gordon stripped the ball away from Ebert a few plays into the drive and recovered it himself. However, Northwestern got back some of the momentum as it blocked a Brendan Gibbons 47-yard field goal attempt.

Northwestern mixed up its personnel again as we saw Colter and Mark in at receiver and running back. A 3rd-and-5 pass was knocked out of the receivers hands by freshman Blake Countess and Northwestern was forced to go for it on 4th-and-5. Jordan Kovacs came on a blitz and absolutely wrecked Persa as he hit him high. Persa lost his helmet but didn’t go down. He moved around a bit to his right and threw it incomplete.

Pat Fitzgerald was livid as he thought, and replays clearly showed, that Kovacs ripped off Persa’s helmet and it should have been a face mask penalty. The officials declared that after Persa lost his helmet the play was dead at that point, and Michigan got the ball. As if the call wasn’t bad enough for Northwestern, Pat Fitzgerald made it worse, taking an unsportsmanlike penalty and giving Michigan 15 more yards to start the drive at the Wildcat 38.

After a missed false start on 3rd-and-short and another jump ball grabbed by a Michigan receiver on another third down, Denard took it in from the 5-yard line. For those of you not paying attention that made it 28 straight points for Michigan and a 42-24 lead after being down 10 at the half.

With the game all but over, Northwestern still played like it mattered, which you’d expect from Fitzgerald-coached team. The Wildcats moved the ball through the air but the thing I take away from their last drive is a sack by our friend “Big” Will Campbell. He’s shown signs of life so far when he’s had his chances but he’s not yet an every down lineman. Hopefully he can be by next year when we’ll really need him. Colter was stopped just shy of the goal line on the last play of the game to preserve Michigan’s second half shutout.

Michigan dominated the second half, and aside for the 78 yards gained in garbage time at the end, held the Wildcats to virtually nothing. Michigan finished with 541 yards of total offense, including 362 passing, and converted 14 of 17 third downs. Michigan also uncharacteristically committed five penalties and three turnovers, but still won convincingly to set up a huge showdown this Saturday in East Lansing.