They arrived in Ann Arbor four or five years ago, to a program in a state of flux that no incoming class had seen in nearly 40 years. Unlike last year’s graduating class, none came to Michigan under the old regime of Lloyd Carr prior to his retirement. The 18 [Edit: 23] players that will play their last game in Michigan Stadium on Saturday came to Michigan full of promise with a new coach. While the first couple years of their careers didn’t go as planned, they laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Michigan football that we have seen last season and this. While they still have two games left and a bowl game, let’s take a look back at the careers of each of Michigan’s graduating seniors.
No player has meant more to Michigan over the last four years than Denard Robinson. His career began with an electric 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 2009 and has produced enough highlight-reel plays and legendary performances to assure that he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue.
Denard currently ranks fifth in career rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in 100-yard rushing games, sixth in pass completions, fourth in passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, and first in total yards in the Michigan record books. He also ranks first all-time in Big Ten rushing yards by a quarterback, third in NCAA career quarterback rushing yards, and seventh in Big Ten career total yards. If he’s able to play the final two games and bowl game, he will surely move up even higher in most of those categories.
He arrived in Michigan a soft-spoken kid and became the face of Michigan football through the roughest patch in the past 40 years. Even when Michigan was barely competitive, Denard gave us a reason not only to watch but to be excited. This August, he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Media Day and serves as team captain. This is all the more remarkable considering that Rich Rodriguez was virtually the only major coach that wanted him as a quarterback.
Denard will remain a Michigan legend long after he plays his final game, whether or not his number gets official legends status.
While Denard has been the face of the team and put up all the offensive stats over the past four years, Jordan Kovacs has been the face of the defense. And his story is even more improbable. A hardly recruited defensive back out of Clay High School in Ohio, Kovacs chose to walk on at Michigan instead of go to the only other school that showed any interest in him – Toledo.
In his first season, he was named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team and was named Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. As a redshirt sophomore he finished second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He also earned a scholarship. Last season, he was again named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and currently has 54 tackles through 10 games in his senior campaign. He also became a captain this season. From walk on to captain, he’s everything Rudy wasn’t.
Last weekend, Kovacs was awarded the Wistert brothers’ No. 11 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of his career. He has started 43 career games and has brought hard-nosed, high-energy defense every game. Every walk on from now on will aim to be the next Jordan Kovacs and he will be missed next season.
A skinny kid from Dayton, Ohio, Roy Roundtree committed to Rich Rodriguez on his first National Signing Day. After redshirting his freshman year, Roundtree led Michigan with 32 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 while starting four games. He was named a CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention and Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. In 2010, he broke out with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second in the Big Ten in yards and was named to the All-Big Ten second team by the media.
Last season, his production fell off considerably in Brady Hoke’s first season, but he provided one of the highlights of the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in Michigan’s improbable comeback against Notre Dame. This season, Roundtree has 20 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown through 10 games, but no catch has been more important than the 53-yarder he hauled in in the final seconds last week against Northwestern to set up the game-tying field goal.
Although he won’t go down as one of the best receivers in Michigan history, he has shown a knack for big plays and won’t soon be forgotten. For the past two seasons, he has worn Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legends jersey, which was the first one given such status.
Craig Roh was a big pickup for Rich Rodriguez when he committed on Sept. 18, 2008. The seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation out of Scottsdale, Ariz. held offers from USC, Stanford, and Nebraska to name a few, but chose to make the journey east.
As a freshman in 2009, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception, earning CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention honors, as well as Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. He upped his tackle numbers to 43 in 2010 and then was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media last season. He ranked second on the team with four sacks a year ago.
This season, he’s on pace for his best season yet with 37 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks through 10 games thus far. He has consistently represented Michigan well off the field and was named 2011 Academic All-Big Ten. He has started 48 consecutive games, 20 at linebacker, 26 at defensive end, and two at defensive tackle, showing his versatility and willingness to do what is needed to help the defense improve.
#73 – William Campbell
Will Campbell was one of the most highly touted in recent memory, a consensus five-star defensive tackle. He arrive din Ann Arbor weighing 356 pounds and never lived up to the hype through his first three seasons. At one point in 2010, he moved to offensive line, but that was short lived when Hoke took over. As a senior, he has finally earned a starting spot and done well with 32 tackles and a sack so far.
#2 – Vincent Smith
The diminutive back from Pahokee, Fla. was recruited for Rodriguez’s system and had a promising freshman season with 48 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown, as well as 10 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He earned the starting job in 2010, carrying the ball 136 times for 601 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 130 yards and two more TDs. When Hoke arrived, Smith lost the job as the starter, but became the third down back. Against Minnesota last season, he became the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and passing touchdown in the same game. This season, he has just 24 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but has always shown an ability to pick up yards when needed.
#57 – Elliott Mealer
Mealer’s road to Michigan was filled with heartache when a car accident killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother Brock permanently paralyzed. But he has overcome the tragedy with a solid career as a backup offensive lineman. This season, he earned the starting nod at center, replacing David Molk and may be best known for his mountain man beard.
#25 – Kenny Demens
Demens was a highly sought after linebacker recruit in the midwest in 2008 but chose to come to Michigan at a time when linebacker play was less than stellar. He grabbed a starting spot midway through the 2010 season and never looked back, helping to solidify a position that had been a weak point for a couple of years. He was the team’s third leading tackler as a sophomore with 82 tackles. Last season, he led the team with 94, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the coaches and media. This season, he currently ranks second on the team with 67 tackles and five for loss.
#52 – Ricky Barnum
Barnum spent his first couple of seasons as a reserve offensive lineman before coming onto the scene a year ago. He started three games at left guard and finally earned a true starting spot this season, starting all 10 games thus far.
#65 – Patrick Omameh
Omameh has started 39 consecutive games at right guard over the last three seasons while being named Academic All-Big Ten twice. He was also one of 11 players nationally to be named to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team for his regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital.
#8 – J.T. Floyd
Floyd wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but has been a fixture in the Michigan secondary for the past three seasons, starting 32 games at cornerback and playing in 40. In 2010, he finished sixth in the conference in tackles per game, and last season he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he has 29 tackles so far for the nation’s top-rated pass defense. He has recorded three career interceptions and two career forced fumbles.
#89/87 – Brandon Moore
Moore hails from the same high school as Roundtree and former Wolverine Michael Shaw and came to Michigan as the nation’s eight-best tight end. He has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career, but has recorded two receptions for 28 yards. On Sept. 15, he was given Ron Kramer’s No. 87 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of the season.
#7 – Brandin Hawthorne
Hawthorne came to Michigan from Pahokee, Fla. as a three-star player and has spent the majority of his career on special teams. Last season, he started five games, recording 43 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. So far this season, he has 14 tackles, seven of which came against UMass.
Other seniors who will be playing their last games in Michigan Stadium are #14 Jack Kennedy, #20 Steve Wilson, #23 Floyd Simmons, #31 Paul Gyarmati, and #81 Mike Kwiatkowski. [Edit: Also, Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Garman, and Charlie Zeller].
Make sure to get into the stadium early on Saturday to salute each of these Michigan men for their hard work an dedication of the last four or five years. Give them a standing ovation to thank them for coming in during tumultuous times, sticking it out, and helping turn the program around.
Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Demens’
Michigan dominated Illinois in all three phases of the game, setting up a big showdown with Michigan State next week. The Wolverines out-gained Illinois 527 to 134 and won 45-0. Brady Hoke spoke to the media afterwards.
- He’s happy with the performance overall, but there’s still room to improve
- It was frustrating to leave points on the board in the first half
- Kenny Demens did his homework which led to his interception
- It was important to get Russell Bellomy some game action and he’s confident in him
- Denard just had a boo-boo
- The running back job still belongs to Fitz
- There was no question about awarding Gerald Ford’s legends jersey to Desmond Morgan
“It was a good to win on Homecoming. It’s good to win anytime and really, complete game wise in a lot of ways, this was probably the most complete we’ve played. Running the ball with the running backs, Denard obviously had some great runs in there, and defensively after the second series or two we started playing Michigan defense. We played well against the run and I thought when we did that on first and second down it gave us an opportunity to try and put some pressure on the quarterback, and I thought the guys did a nice job. Some things in there, we had some penalties, running the ball early – them against our defense – we weren’t happy with, but overall, it’s probably as complete as we’ve played. But it’s not near good enough.”
On the offensive and defensive lines…
“I didn’t think early up front defensively we were playing with gap integrity and getting off blocks as well as we needed to. We were hitting in there and getting four or five yards and five or six yards, and that’s not stout enough at the line of scrimmage. I think we’ve got some work to do there. I thought we played a little better as the game went on, but at the same time I think there was a lot of improvement. From an offensive standpoint, I think as we continue to grow to some degree, I think we’re playing a little better when you look at pad level. I think we’re playing a little better with the speed that we want to play with.”
On the big defensive plays early…
“Those were critical, but the one where they went for it on fourth down and our defense stepped up and did a nice job, we got the ball back and we’re in two-minute, and we get nothing. That’s frustrating because we felt coming into the locker room during halftime that we left some points on the board. You can’t do that when you play for championships.”
On the play of seniors like Quinton Washington and Kenny Demens…
“Quinton has improved probably every game and it’s exciting as a coach when you see a guy who steps out there and gains confidence and plays better. He’s a big part of our football team and he’s a wonderful young man. Kenny, I’ll tell ya, the interception, he had seen the route, he had prepared. And that’s the one thing I think we’ve done better as a team is the preparation. He knew formationally, he knew route-wise, he knew where they were lined up, what route was coming, so he jumped the route and that’s a maturity that you like to see in your football team. Kenny being a senior, you expect that, but when it works out, you’re excited about that.”
On the importance of getting Russell Bellomy some real game action…
“You know, it always is. I think we’re very excited about Russ Bellomy, and we have been. He came in there with a lot of confidence. We had the one exchange problem later in the game and I think the ball slipped or we didn’t get it up enough, but he’s a guy that we think is a good quarterback. That’s why we recruited him, so it was good to get him some work, and obviously meaningful work. But any work is good work.”
On when he starts thinking about Michigan State…
“I don’t know. I hope these guys enjoyed this right now. I don’t know if you ever don’t think about rivalry games. I think that’s always part of what makes us special being Michigan.”
On why he chose Desmond Morgan to wear number 48 and if he laid down any expectations for him…
“It was very easy to choose Desmond because of his character and his integrity, because of how he comes every day in our building, in the classroom, in the community. He is a great kid and really the Grand Rapids connection didn’t have a whole lot to do with it until I felt like I was going to do it with Desmond and then it kind of clicked in.”
On the thought process behind mixing in Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes with Fitz Toussaint…
“We just wanted to give them both some more carries. I think competition is always healthy for everybody, so getting those guys some time out there [was good]. Vince, we didn’t play at all because he had a little bit of a hamstring [injury] and so that’s where Justice got more reps because of that.”
On whether the running back spot is still Fitz’s job…
On how confident he was that the defense could win the game when Denard went down with an injury…
“I’d like to tell you I was very confident. I felt good about our guys on defense, and the other piece of it is our kicking game. We had kind of challenged that group, challenged ourselves as coaches that our kicking game had to make improvements and has to continue to. But with that part of it, I was comfortable if that’s the way it would have gone.”
On Denard’s injury…
“Just a boo-boo.”
On how relieved he was that it wasn’t too serious and Denard could go back in…
“Well, anytime any guy gets dinged up and boo-boos and stuff, you always worry about it.”
On whether Denard not throwing an interception for the second straight game is comfort level with the game plan or maturity…
“I think it’s a combination of both. I think he obviously reassessed after Notre Dame a little bit – we all did – where we were. And then I think some [of it was] game plan. We were determined that we were going to run the football and in the passing game, the play-action part of it, the passing part of our offense that he felt most comfortable with.”
On how much he stressed to the players not peeking at Michigan State before the game…
“I didn’t talk about it, because our guys never even mentioned it [or] looked at it. I was really surprised, but I felt really confident about every week for us is a championship game no matter what. So they have to prepare for every opponent like a championship game. There was none of that in the locker room or anywhere else. It was Illinois and how we wanted to play, and how we wanted to prepare.”
On whether today was the jump start that Fitz needed…
“I thought Fitz ran the ball hard. I thought he got more north and south. [Did it] jumpstart him? I hope. But at the same time, I think there were two runs I didn’t really like, but other than that I thought he really started getting vertical a little more.”
On whether Fitz needed a jump start…
“You’ve got to explain jump start. Is that where your battery dies? Well, we didn’t do that with him. But I just think, and I’ve said this before, it’s not always the back. There’s 10 other guys out there. If Denard doesn’t carry out fakes very well, then that’s not going to be effective. I just throw that out as a piece that’s all part of coaching and how you put our offense together.”
On Jake Ryan’s relentless effort of missing the quarterback and not giving up and sacking the quarterback, causing a fumble…
“Greg [Mattison] and the defensive staff do a tremendous job when you talk about effort and the toughness that you need to play football at Michigan with and defense at Michigan with. Number one, the self pride that Jake has and how he is as a football player, it’s more of a Michigan pride and a team pride and a defensive pride. That’s not why he got off the ground and forced the fumble, but that’s part of who he is and who we want to represent.”
For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.
Tomorrow: Record Watch
Friday: Schedule Predictions
When Brady Hoke was named the new head coach at Michigan it was received with mixed feelings. When Hoke and the Wolverines took the field on Saturday it was safe to say that the Michigan faithful were all in for Hoke as he brought the traditional Michigan style back to the Big House.
Michigan won the toss and deferred to the second half. I’m always a fan of putting your defense out there first, but it’s been a while since Michigan has had a defense worth putting out there at all.
Being a passing team, Western Michigan came out tossing it around. Michigan looked okay, not playing out of position and missing assignments like the past few seasons, but still looked a bit shy. WMU marched down the field almost unimpeded. Carder completed every pass he threw; not all for large gains, but all were complete.
Western came out in multiple looks, but it was the five-wide set around the nine-minute mark that did the damage. Michigan had one guy covering two receivers and Carder hit his man. Were it not for a great effort by Courtney Avery it would have been a touchdown. Michigan held on 3rd-and-goal but WMU went for it on fourth and put it in the endzone to go up 7-0. Carder was 8-for-8 on a 15-play, 74-yard drive taking up just over seven minutes.
Michigan’s new look offense took the field at its own 24. On the first play, a designed Denard run, gained 11 yards and I couldn’t have been happier. Living amongst Buckeye fans and general naysayers, seeing Borges call a designed run showed he is going to use what he has, and what Denard has is electric feet. Denard’s first throw was not as spectacular, a 3-yard completion to Roy Roundtree.
The Bronco defense had good speed and didn’t look out of place, while Michigan’s offensive line did a solid job of opening holes for the runners, especially on yet another QB draw which led to a first down.
A great play action pass to Kevin Koger was, in my opinion, the best play of the drive. Denard stood back in the pocket looking poised and threw a strike to Koger, who made a great grab and came down with it while getting railed by the opposing defender. Facing a 4th-and-1, Michigan went for it with a power running play, Toussaint straight up the gut for the first down. While not a big gainer or a terribly exciting play, those of us who grew up watching guys like Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka or more recently Chris Perry and Mike Hart, had been starving for some power Michigan football.
|Michigan vs. Western Michigan
|190||Net Rushing Yards
|98||Net Passing Yards
|1-0||Fumbles – Lost
|1-5||Penalties – Yards
|2-82||Punts – Yards
|18:15||Time of Possession
|3-for-6||Third Down Conversions
|1-for-1||Fourth Down Conversions
|2-16||Sacks By – Yards
|2-2||Red Zone Scores – Chances||2-3|
Denard looked good in the pocket, not getting happy feet and making his progressions, although the word on the street is Borges has a 1, 2… run progression for Denard. Michigan ate up a fair amount of clock as well, and started the second quarter still in possession and still marching. Toussaint had the honor of scoring the first Michigan touchdown in the Hoke era on a short run up the middle. The drive went for 16 plays, 76 yards and took 8:33 off the clock.
On the kickoff return, Troy Woolfolk, who had a couple tackles and a big hit on the first series, came off the field limping. Not a good sign at all. Carvin Johnson replaced him and he did not return with a sprained ankle, though Hoke said after the game that he could have come back in if needed.
WMU’s next drive was about the same as its first: moving the ball down the field with short, quick passes. Michigan started to apply some pressure, and a Kenny Demens blitz up the middle forced Carder to get rid of it quickly and throw incomplete. WMU settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt but came up shy, missing it wide right. The Michigan defense seemed to be playing a “bend but don’t break” style. Not what I expected but it seemed to be working.
After a 3-and-out by Michigan, Western took over again and started marching down the field just as before. Michigan turned loose a blitz and Carder picked it up, just barely stepping out of Demens’ way, but sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan busted through the line to tip Carder’s pass. It fell into the hands of linebacker Brandon Herron who then took it 94 yards to the house for the longest interception return in Michigan history and the first since Donovan Warren did it in 2009.
For once, broadcaster Craig James said something worthwhile, if not completely obvious, that those are the kinds of plays this defense needs, especially early on, to gain confidence in itself.
After a 3-and-out by the Broncos, Michigan followed up on its next series with some more nifty moves by Denard and another Toussaint touchdown run, this time from two yards out.
Michigan dialed up the pressure again on defense and the all-out blitzes started getting to Carder, but just a hair too late. They resulted in incomplete passes but they’ve yet to get him to the ground. WMU settled for a field goal to enter the half trailing Michigan 20-10.
WMU’s Jordan White had nine catches for 96 yards in just the first half, while Carder started hot but struggled late in the half in the face of pressure.
Michigan’s defense allowed 199 total yards in the first half, looking improved but still in need of a lot of work. Aside from the pick-six, it pretty much got owned by Alex Carder. Receivers were open all day. The blitzes late in the half forced some bad passes but overall WMU looked solid and was able to do whatever it wanted. Were it not for the missed field goal and the tipped pass leading to the touchdown, Michigan might have been down 17-7.
Denard had 101 yards of total offense overall, with no one else really stepping up on offense. Toussaint had 2 touchdowns, but his per carry average was under four.
At this point, Michigan fans were interested to see what sort of adjustments Hoke and Co. would make at the half, one thing Michigan lacked the past three seasons.
Michigan starts the second half with the ball and at this point, the pouring rain led to the officials call for a 30 minute delay due to the lightning. When the game resumed, Jordan White and WMU picked up where they left off in the first half, passing it all over the field. Michigan struggled to get pressure except when it blitzed up the middle.
Mattison seemed to have enough of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy and started sending more blitzes. Carder got drilled by Jordan Kovacs on a blitz, the first sack of the Hoke era, fumbled. The ball was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by none other than Herron, who became the first Michigan defender with two returns for touchdown in a game since Tom Harmon in 1940.
Mattison continued to dial up the pressure and send blitz after blitz. Carder was having a tough time and Michigan was starting to look like, well, Michigan. WMU was clearly getting rattled and the penalties started to rack up.
Michigan’s next possession looked very much like last season. Toussaint ripped off a 43-yarder, and two plays later, Mike Shaw went untouched 44 yards for a touchdown. A 3-play, 87-yard drive in just 39 seconds, putting Michigan ahead 34-10.
During the next series, play was halted again due to lightning and the stadium was evacuated. The game was called soon after with a few minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Hoke era began with a win, as most expected, but WMU showed some of the weaknesses still lingering on the defensive side. It certainly didn’t look as bad as last year, but until Mattison started sending some serious pressure it didn’t look that great.
The offense was solid and it was great to see someone other than Denard lead the team in rushing. Toussaint went for 11 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Shaw had 4-for-54 and a TD. Denard finished 9-for-13 for 98 yards in the air and had 8 carries for 46 yards.
Carder went 22-31 for 183 and an interception, but most of those completions came before the blitzing spree occurred. A sore spot for Michigan last season, pass coverage, showed improvement, though Jordan White still had 12 catches for 119 yards. Is this guy on the Biletnikoff watch list?
The game changer was definitely Mattison sending the pressure with blitzes and forcing three turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Who knows what we would have seen had the weather cooperated and we’d finished the remaining 17 minutes. It could be a blessing in disguise for Michigan, allowing Borges to not have to show much of his hand to Notre Dame. All in all, there is reason to be excited in Ann Arbor again. Bring on the Irish!
The bye week came at just the right time for Michigan after losses to Michigan State and Iowa and allowing quarterback Denard Robinson to rest an ailing shoulder that caused him to miss extensive time in both of those losses.
Many in the media tried to play up a quarterback competition between Robinson and last year’s starter, Tate Forcier, but head coach Rich Rodriguez insists that Robinson is the starter. Indeed, if he is healthy enough, he could be in for the kind of monster game that made him a household name through the first five weeks of the season.
|Michigan vs. Penn State
|Sat. Oct. 30
8 p.m. ET
Notre Dame 28-24
Bowling Green 65-21
|Wins||Youngstown St. 44-14
Kent State 24-0
|#17 Mich. State 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
|Losses||#1 Alabama 3-24
#17 Iowa 3-24
|144.7||Rush Defense YPG||143.9|
|296.3||Pass Defense YPG||187.9|
|441.0||Total Defense YPG||331.7|
|41/88 (47%)||Third-down Conv.||35/95 (37%)|
|37.7||Net Punt Avg.||39|
Penn State is flat out hurting. At 4-3, Penn State has given up 437 and 433 total yards the last two weeks to Illinois and Minnesota, respectively. Neither of those has an offense near Michigan’s, with Minnesota’s ranked 59th nationally and Illinois’ 88th.
While the defense hasn’t fared well, the offense has been the main disappointment for the Nittany Lions this season, ranking 82nd nationally in total offense and 99th in points per game with 20.3. Only twice this season has Penn State scored more than 30 points, in the opener against Youngstown State (44) and last week against Minnesota (33). Alabama and Iowa each held Penn State to just three points.
What has gone so wrong? Youth and inexperience is part of the problem. As Michigan found out last year, starting a true freshman at quarterback isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but Joe Paterno chose to do that with Robert Bolden.
Yet the biggest problem is that Penn State has been plagued with injuries. Five starters have been lost for the season (tackle Lou Eliades, tight end Garry Gilliam, safety Nick Sukay, receiver Curtis Drake, and tight end Andrew Szczerba), and several others, including defensive ends Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore, will miss this week’s game. Bolden is also questionable and it appears that sophomore Matt McGloin will be making his first career start tomorrow at quarterback.
If any game is ripe for the picking it’s this one, and it’s an important one. It would make Michigan bowl eligible for the first time in three years, assuring the Wolverines of avoiding a third-straight losing season, and would end a two-game losing streak, both to Penn State, and this season.
Traditionally, Rodriguez-coached teams have fared well after the bye week during his career, including in 2008 when Michigan beat then-No. 9 Wisconsin 27-25.
While Penn State players are dropping like flies, Michigan’s bye week allowed some key players to get healthy. In addition to Robinson, Michigan should get running back Michael Shaw back this week, as well as center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin.
Michigan’s offense has struggled to find a running game the past two weeks, partly because of the stout defenses of Michigan State and Iowa, but also partly because Shaw, Michigan’s starter through the first five games, has been banged up. Vincent Smith is reliable, but not the complete back that Shaw is.
Rodriguez has hinted that freshman Stephen Hopkins may see some more playing time this week. Hopkins has looked good in limited action so far this season and is the biggest back on Michigan’s roster. Supposedly, ball security in practice has kept him from seeing the field more often thus far, but he has shown enough the past few weeks to earn more time.
Getting Molk and Martin back is perhaps even more important because each is the lynchpin of his side of the ball. When Molk went down last week during the opening drive, backup center Rocko Khoury did a decent job filling in, but had a couple bad snaps. Michigan’s offense is clearly better with Molk in the middle.
Martin also had an ankle injury that happened during the Michigan State game and was reinjured against Iowa, causing him to miss much of the game. He’s the motor of the defense and with a unit that ranks 104th in total defense, his presence is obviously needed.
So how can Michigan win tomorrow? The easy answer is to score a lot of points. Penn State’s defense gives up a lot of yards, but is 22nd in the nation in points against, averaging just 18.4. However, Illinois scored 33 in a blowout win two weeks ago and Minnesota managed 21 last week.
Michigan’s offense ranks 17th in the nation in scoring at 36 points per game and second in total offense. In losses the last two games, the offense was still able to move the ball, but turnovers were the difference. Avoiding those same mistakes will be the biggest factor in whether Michigan wins or loses tomorrow.
Robinson should be able to rack up yards just as Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure did a couple weeks ago, rushing for 119 yards, and Minnesota running back DeLeon Eskridge did last week, rushing for 111. Another 200-yard rushing and 200-yard passing game is within reason, but 150/150 is more likely.
Defensively, Michigan will probably get pounded on the ground, given that McGloin will be making his first career start at quarterback. However, when he replaced the injured Bolden last week, he connected on 6-of-13 passes for 78 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and took some shots downfield. Penn State will likely try to get the running game going and then test Michigan’s young and shaky secondary.
A lot of talk has been floating around this week about freshman Ray Vinopal getting some playing time, if not starting, at safety. A similar experiment paid off last game when Rodriguez replaced senior linebacker Obi Ezeh with Kenny Demens and he provided solid run support and was at least a small upgrade from Ezeh. Can Rodrgiguez strike gold a second time? Vinopal has really only played in one game this season, against Bowling Green, but he made the most of that time, intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter.
The freshman from Youngstown, Ohio is smart and it’s certainly worth a try against a team with such a stagnant offense like Penn State. If Vinopal doesn’t work out, nothing is really lost, since Michigan’s secondary has been horrific anyway. But if he does prove a better option than Cameron Gordon at the position, Michigan will have seen two mid-season upgrades on defense heading into the final four games of the season.
Regardless, I can see Michigan forcing two or three turnovers this week from the inexperienced McGloin.
If Michigan isn’t able to put the ball in the end zone offensively and it comes down to special teams, Penn State has the clear advantage, having succeeded on 14 of 17 field goals this season, while Michigan’s kicking woes are well-known. You can be rest-assured that Rodriguez won’t try a field goal from anywhere longer than probably 30 yards, and even that is doubtful.
Fortunately, I don’t see it being that close. Michigan’s offense will be much more efficient than the past two weeks with a healthy Robinson, Shaw, and Molk. Penn State will score some points, but won’t be able to keep up with Michigan.
Michigan 42 – Penn State 27
From their view…
PennLive.com declares that Denard doesn’t deserve Heisman hype because he was once in a three-way tie for the starting spot with Ryan Threet and Tate Forcier (really?); The Daily Collegian talks about a record that will probably be set tomorrow; Nittany Lines predicts a Michigan win and hopes Penn State can keep Denard to just one long touchdown run; The Philadelphia Enquirer also doesn’t know how to spell the names of our quarterbacks.
Starting spots usually aren’t won or lost in spring practice, but young guys get a chance to prove themselves and gain experience while everyone else gets to show how much they developed throughout the winter.
Development was apparent in one key player today, as sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson lived up to the hype he’s been garnering all spring with a fantastic performance in Michigan’s annual spring game.
On the first possession of the scrimmage, Robinson guided the first-team offense down the field on a touchdown drive that included a nice bootleg pass to Roy Roundtree. Robinson ran it in from 10 yards out to cap off the drive.
On his next possession, which the offense started on its own three-yard line, Robinson hit Roundtree perfectly in stride about 25 yards downfield and Roundtree did the rest, outrunning the secondary for a 97-yard touchdown.
Later on, Robinson found Roundtree in the end zone again, this time from 12 yards out.
In the overtime drill, which simulates an overtime possession, starting from the opponent’s 25-yard line, Robinson completed a touchdown pass to Martavious Odoms from about 10 yards out. On his next possession, also the overtime drill, he threaded the needle for a 24-yard pass to Terrance Robinson to set up another touchdown.
By my count, Robinson led five drives, two of them overtime possessions, and all five resulted in touchdowns. Some of this can be attributed to playing against the second-team defense, but with the way Robinson was throwing, it wouldn’t have mattered if the first-team defense was out there or not.
One of the quirks about the spring game is that the quarterback is down once he’s touched in an effort to avoid an injury. On many of Robinson’s runs, he would have picked up significantly more yardage if he had to actually be tackled.
Most importantly, he showed poise in the pocket, where last year he would tuck and run after three milliseconds. A few times, he looked through several reads before pulling it down and running. On a couple of plays, he kept his head up while on the move and delivered an accurate strike to an open receiver.
This wouldn’t be all that significant if you hadn’t seen him play last season. While he dazzled Michigan fans with his feet in open space, his accuracy was terrible to the point where Michigan fans would rather him just run it up the middle for five yards even though the defense knew he’d do exactly that, than even attempt to throw a pass.
Today, he looked comfortable running the offense and seemed to be having as much fun out there as any other player in the maize and blue. About the only aspect that looked like it needed some work was a couple of bubble screens that were either underthrown or led the receiver too far.
I wish the coaches would have switched things up to pit Robinson against the first-team defense, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless.
The development and comfort level was evident and showed how dangerous a Robinson-led offense can be when every pass thrown doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
Last year, almost every time he lined up in the shotgun the defense knew he was going to run it. He rarely even ran the zone read, the staple of Rich Rodriguez’s offense.
This year, he should know the offense and be able to effectively run the zone read, and if he can prove he has any kind of accuracy, he would be the ideal quarterback for this offense.
I certainly realize it’s a lot of “ifs” and you can’t really jump to conclusions based on the spring game, but at this point, I would say Robinson is the starting quarterback heading into the summer.
Click here to see highlights of the top 10 plays from the spring game.
— Tate Forcier, who started all 12 games as a true freshman last year, looked basically the exact same, although he was working with the second-team offense against the first-team defense.
He made some good plays, scrambling away from pressure and hitting the receiver on the run, but he also made some mistakes.
One pass should have been picked off by linebacker Mike Jones and another was forced into quadruple coverage and somehow wasn’t picked. He also made a bad pitch on an option play, which was recovered by the running back for about a 10 yard loss.
On the bright side, he completed a nice, across-the-body touchdown pass to Je’Ron Stokes in the overtime drill.
—Freshman Devin Gardner started out shaky, fumbling a handoff on his first play and throwing an interception deep in his own territory to Obi Ezeh, but seemed to rebound nicely with a 20-yard seam pass to Brandon Moore.
He looked nimble with his feet, but still has a weird throwing motion that needs to be fixed. He could be great a year or two from now, but I’m glad we don’t have to start another true freshman this season. He’s certainly headed for a redshirt barring a freak injury to Robinson or Forcier.
—Roy Roundtree is the real deal. He played just as he finished last season and looks to be Michigan’s go-to guy this year. He caught deep balls and screens and showed some speed in pulling away from the secondary on the 97-yard touchdown.
—The running back position has a lot of guys vying for playing time and no one really stood out today. With Vincent Smith assumed to be the starter out with a torn ACL, it seems to be a three-horse race between Michael Shaw, Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
It’s perhaps the most important position that needs someone to step up, at least on the offensive side of the ball, after the departure of Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Kevin Grady.
Cox had a nice touchdown run of about 20 yards against the first-team defense and the other guys didn’t do very much.
Freshman Stephen Hopkins showed some good strength and should see playing time as the short-yardage back this season.
—The defense didn’t show much today in the way of schemes or big plays. Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh got some good pressure on Forcier and William Campbell looks huge in the middle of the line.
Troy Woolfolk sat out the game with a dislocated finger and converted wide receiver James Rogers started in his place, opposite J.T. Floyd. Jordan Kovacs remains the starter at one of the safety spots, at least until Marvin Robinson and Demar Dorsey arrive on campus this summer.
The secondary will continue to be the group in question as the season nears, but linebacker will also be a position to watch. Seniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton both have a lot of experience, but lost some playing time last season. They both started today, with Ezeh recording an interception and Mouton looking solid.
Redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens also looked promising and could factor in this season as well.
—The kicking game looked pretty shaky and will probably be so all season. Redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons figures to be the placekicker, but the lefty sure can’t punt. Two of his three punt attempts were shanked out of bounds off the side of his foot.
The punter role seems to be incoming freshman Will Hagerup’s to lose, but he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet, so he better live up to his high school acclaim.
—The stadium looked a bit more than half full, despite the frigid temperatures. The Big Ten Network announcers placed the attendance around 30,000, but it looked to be slightly more.
I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when Michigan can have a nationally televised spring game drawing near 100,000 fans like Alabama did today.