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Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Kalis’

#4 Michigan 49 – Penn State 10: Michigan defense smothers Penn State

Saturday, September 24th, 2016


um-d-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson)

On the first play of the game, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was sacked for a loss of two. On the second play, he completed a pass to tight end Mike Gisecki for one yard. On the third play, McSorley was sacked for a near safety by Chris Wormley. Unlike the start of last week’s game against Colorado, this game was over, basically, three plays in.

Michigan’s defense came to play from the opening whistle and Penn State never stood a chance. It set the tone from the start that it wasn’t Kent State. It wasn’t Pitt. It wasn’t Temple. And it certainly wasn’t a RichRod defense or a Brady Hoke defense. It was a Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown defense. It was a Michigan defense.

Jabrill Peppers damn near took the ensuing Penn State’s punt to the house. After beating the last defender he got tripped up at the 9-yard line. Michigan took advantage of the short field and never looked back.

um-psu_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 49 10
Record 4-0, 1-0 2-2, 0-1
Total Yards 515 191
Net Rushing Yards 326 70
Net Passing Yards 189 121
First Downs 25 12
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 7-80 2-13
Punts-Yards 1-44 6-240
Time of Possession 35:49 24:11
Third Down Conversions 11-of-16 2-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 6-27 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 7-for-7 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 2-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 1-of-2
Full Box Score

The first half was as thorough a beatdown of a Big Ten power program as one could get. Michigan led 28-0, sacked McSorely five times, outgained Penn State’s offense 259 yards to 50, converted 7-of-10 third downs and 2-of-3 fourth downs, and found the end zone on four of five possessions.

While four Penn State beat writers talked themselves into choosing James Franklin over Harbaugh if they were given the choice, the reality of the chasm that exists between the two head coaches was never more evident than on Penn State’s opening drive of the second half. Down 28-0 in the third quarter, facing 4th-and-goal from the Michigan two, Franklin sent his field goal team onto the field, called timeout to think about it, and sent them back out to kick the 19-yard field goal. The television cameras may have missed it, but Franklin was waving a white flag.

On Michigan’s next possession, Harbaugh faced a 4th-and-4 from the Penn State 28 and went for it, up 28-3. The conversion failed, but message was clear. Harbaugh plays to win.

Not content to simply win, Michigan flexed its muscle on the next drive, running the ball eight of nine times right through the Penn State defense. Chris Evans for 37. De’Veon Smith for eight. Ty Isaac for five. Karan Higdon for three. Evans for five. Smith for eight. Higdon for 11. Evans for three. Touchdown.

Penn State would add a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth, but Michigan added two more to double the point spread and improve to 4-0 on the season.

The Michigan offense racked up 515 total yards — 326 on the ground and 189 through the air — and the defense held Penn State to just 191 total yards. Wilton Speight completed 21-of-34 for 189 yards and a touchdown. Smith led Michigan with 111 yards on 8.9 yards per carry and a touchdown. Higdon gained 84 yards and scored two touchdowns, while Isaac finished with 74 yards and a score. Nine different Wolverines caught a pass, including freshman tight end Devin Asiasi, who caught the first touchdown of his career.

Linebacker Ben Gedeon led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles, 1.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Maurice Hurst led the Wolverines with three tackles for loss. Hurst, Matt Godin, Chris Wormley, Chase Winovich, and Taco Charlton each recorded a sack, and Mike McCray picked off McSorley in the fourth quarter. Peppers finished with five tackles, but was unable to add to his Big Ten-leading 9.5 tackles for loss. Michigan held Saquon Barkley — who came in averaging 5.1 yards per carry — to just 59 yards rushing on 3.9 yards per carry.

At 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan will likely remain ranked fourth nationally and will face its toughest test to date next week when Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) comes to town. The Badgers stunned Michigan State in East Lansing, 30-6 on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rushing yards, no sacks allowed)
Michigan’s offensive line has been much maligned over the past few seasons, and although it’s not the big, mauling line Harbaugh wants just yet, it has made considerable progress from the days of negative rushing yards. Against Penn State on Saturday it was nearly flawless. It paved the way for Michigan’s backs to rush for 326 yards and six touchdowns and it didn’t allow a sack against a Penn State defense that entered the game with 10 in its first three games. Four different running backs rushed for more than 50 yards, five different backs scored touchdowns, and the Wolverines rushed for 6.7 yards per carry.

Previous
Week 1 – Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Michigan’s defense was all over Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, but Hurst stood out the most. He seemed to be in the PSU backfield all afternoon, recording three tackles for loss and dropping McSorley once.

Previous
Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)

Predicting Michigan 2016: The offensive line

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-OffensiveLine
Mason Cole(Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends

It’s not the most glamorous position on the football field, but no group will play a more important role than the offensive line for Michigan this season, especially with a new quarterback taking over and a heightened emphasis on running the ball.

Luckily for Michigan, it returns one of the most important qualities in an offensive line: experience. Four of the team’s five regular starters return for 2016 after Graham Glasgow was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

The two unknowns heading into the offseason were who would take that fifth starting spot, and which reserves can step into a bigger rotational role.

Starting five

Four of Michigan’s five offensive linemen return after starting at least 12 games last season. The most solid, reliable player is fifth-year senior Kyle Kalis, who started all 13 games at right guard and elevated his play to near all-conference levels. Kalis has been a mainstay on the offensive line since his redshirt freshman season in 2013. Since settling in at right guard, Kalis has become a solid pass protector, but like much of the line, needs to take the next step to create the running game Jim Harbaugh envisions.

Grant Newsome played his way out of a redshirt as a true freshman in 2015 and now moves into the starting lineup (Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Grant Newsome played his way out of a redshirt as a true freshman in 2015 and now moves into the starting lineup (Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Fellow fifth-year senior Ben Braden takes up the other guard slot, coming off a breakout season in which he started 13 games and quietly put up some of the best performances on the line. Recruited as a tackle, Braden was hailed as a strong run blocker coming into Ann Arbor, but he’s done a nice job to date stopping the inside pass rush.

Both starting tackles return for the 2016 season, but with a bit of a twist. Fifth-year senior Erik Magnuson will lock down his familiar right tackle spot and be a major contributor on the line for a fourth straight season. He’s slowly turned himself into a strong edge blocker and enjoyed his best season under Harbaugh a year go.

But former starting left tackle Mason Cole will step into a new role for his junior year, though he’ll be just as crucial to this veteran line. After becoming Michigan’s first true freshman to start a season opener on the offensive line in 2014, Cole played left tackle in each of his first 25 games at Michigan. Now, he’ll step into Glasgow’s empty shoes as the starting center, a role he’s embraced this summer.

Michigan went through a disastrous period at center under Brady Hoke, struggling with the center-quarterback exchange, and at times, allowing defenders to get huge jumps off the snap. Cole will be critical in picking up the running game this season and shoring up the inside of the line. He’s a smart player and has the physical tools for a smooth transition, but Cole will be a player to watch when the Wolverines take the field Sept. 3.

Four starters down, and one question mark to go. The new kid at the starters’ table will be sophomore Grant Newsome, who takes over the vitally important left tackle position. Newsome is one of the best natural two-way blockers on the roster, coming into college as an excellent pass blocker and an able run blocker. He’s strong and explosive, but the key will be consistency and moving his feet off the edge on a play-by-play basis. Newsome will have his gaffs, like any young player, but as the season goes on, he’ll benefit from playing next to such an experienced group.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Grant Newsome Ben Braden Mason Cole Kyle Kalis Erik Magnuson
2015 Starts 1 13 13 13 12
Career Starts 1 25 25 29 24
Likely contributors

The starting five played a ton of snaps for Michigan last season, but there are a few returning players who contributed in the rotation. Perhaps the most seasoned backup, and a candidate for a starting role as a redshirt senior next year, is David Dawson. Dawson shared some time with Braden at left guard last season and held his own, especially in pass blocking. He’ll be an important depth guy in 2016.

Senior Patrick Kugler is in a similar situation, though his ceiling was much higher coming into Ann Arbor. The former five-star recruit played a backup role in 2015 and could provide some insurance if Cole struggles at center, which seems unlikely. Either way, the senior will play a role.

An interesting player to watch will be junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who played in only four games as a reserve lineman last season. The Paramus, N.J. native was just getting his feet wet last season, and passed his first college test. He might not take on a huge role this season, but look for Bushell-Beatty to make moves up the depth chart for 2017.

Ben Pliska played in two games last season, so his role could grow as a fifth-year senior in 2016. He can fill in at multiple positions on the line and gives Harbaugh another option if one of these contributors struggles or goes down with an injury.

Two linemen who didn’t play last season but should figure into the mix as redshirt freshmen are Nolan Ulizio and Jon Runyan. Both members of Harbaugh’s first recruiting class at Michigan, Ulizio and Runyan committed as three-star prospects. Ulizio fits the fits the typical Harbaugh bill — a smart, physical player who plays the position with a chip on his shoulder. Runyan is a little different, as he’s more of a quick, explosive lineman who may be a little undersized, but compensates with great technique. Expect both players to find a home in the rotation off the bench.

New faces

Michigan pulled in three new offensive line recruits in its elite 2016 class, led by Wisconsin’s finest, Ben Bredeson. That’s right, Harbaugh managed to pull a Wisconsin lineman away from the Badgers, and Bredeson is exactly what you’d expect from that ilk. One of the top offensive linemen in his class, Bredeson projects as a guard or tackle and could probably step into a bigger role if Michigan wasn’t so stacked with veteran lineman. Bredeson has decent size, but his value comes from his athleticism, which makes him an excellent run blocker. If he can bring his pass protection up to par, he’ll be a familiar face on the line over the next several years.

Harbaugh pulled another gem from the offensive line crop, snagging Michael Onwenu out of Cass Tech in Detroit. Onwenu is an absolutely enormous human who will play guard at over 350 pounds. He can pass block well for a big guy, but his specialty should be run blocking as he matures. It’s all power and strength with Onwenu, so his ability to learn the intricacies of the position will dictate his success at Michigan.

The third – and sometimes forgotten – man from this group is Stephen Spanellis, who committed to Michigan out of nowhere in January. Spanellis is just another big, strong lineman to add to the mix, joining the team at 6-feet-6 inches tall and around 300 pounds. He probably won’t play much of a role as a freshman, but the Baltimore native could factor in down the line.

Michigan also welcomed preferred walk-ons Anthony Kay, Carl Myers and Andrew Vastardis to the offensive line group.

Meet the rest

Greg Froelich: Senior, 6-2, 257, from Maplewood, N.J. (Deerfield Academy)
Greg Robinson: Freshman, 6-6, 290, from Hudson, Ohio (Hudson)

Predicting Michigan 2015: The offensive line

Thursday, August 13th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-OffensiveLine
Mason Cole(Melanie Maxwell, MLive)

Michigan’s passing game was severely flawed under head coach Brady Hoke, but perhaps the most concerning unit over the last few seasons was the offensive line.

Michigan, recently known for talented linemen like Jake Long and Taylor Lewan, bounced back from a disastrous 2013 season with a marginally better 2014. Michigan quarterbacks were sacked 27 times and the team rushed for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. The line wasn’t dominant, but with most of the core players returning, there’s certainly enough for new offensive line coach Tim Drevno to work with.

Here’s a look at Michigan’s offensive line unit heading into the 2015 season.

Probable starters

Kyle Kalis

Kyle Kalis looks to live up to his five-star hype this fall (247 Sports)

Michigan returns five offensive linemen who played a ton of snaps in 2014 and figure to make up most of the starting line to begin the upcoming season. At the head of the group, coming off a strong freshman season, is left tackle Mason Cole.

Cole became the first Michigan offensive lineman to start the season opener as a true freshman last August, doing so as Hoke’s left tackle. He started all twelve games and wasn’t overwhelmed in his first college season. The former Florida high school first-team all-state selection figures to be the rock of the offensive line and will hold down the left tackle spot, barring injury.

On the end opposite of Cole will likely be redshirt junior Erik Magnuson, who took a mini step back last season after starting seven games at guard in 2012. Magnuson is a solid run blocker, but the concern will be his ability to pass protect on the edge. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, Magnuson is strong enough to be a force for Michigan after an offseason working with Drevno and the new staff.

Kyle Kalis will likely nail down one of the two guard spots, probably on the right side, where he’s been featured most as a Wolverine. Kalis had a fantastic redshirt freshman season, but took a small step back in 2014. The former five-star recruit might be the most important lineman for the Wolverines as the coaching staff works toward his incredibly high ceiling.

Redshirt junior Ben Braden, who started all twelve games for Michigan, should take the other guard spot. Though he played in just two games through his first two years on campus, Braden won a starting job last fall and was solid throughout the season. He could definitely improve as a pass blocker heading into what figures to be his second full season, but Braden is strong in the creating for the run, which will be valuable in Jim Harbaugh’s offense.

Finally, Graham Glasgow will move to center and anchor this experienced offensive line, where he’s played on both sides throughout his career. Glasgow started the final 11 games of the season in 2014 after playing in all 13 games the previous year. Glasgow has been a staple on the line since midway through 2012, but a full-time switch to center will be one to keep an eye on. Glasgow played nine games at center in 2013, which was a disastrous season for Michigan’s pass protection. The 311-pound lineman is a strong inside blocker, but his adjustment to center will come with some bumps along the road.

Overall, Michigan’s starting offensive line should be strong and experienced, but its legacy will be written based on the ability to protect the quarterback. Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner weren’t the easiest quarterbacks to block for, but with a more conventional offensive scheme in place, Michigan fans will get a better look at what this line can really do.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Mason Cole Ben Braden Graham Glasgow Kyle Kalis Erik Magnuson
2014 Starts 12 12 11 7 5
Career Starts 12 12 24 16 13

Returning contributors

The offensive and defensive lines are the most important positions on the football field to build depth in. Elite offensive lines aren’t only identified by strong, durable starters, but also by a deep group of players who can step in a play meaningful snaps late in games.

Michigan doesn’t have many experienced players waiting in the wings behind the five starters mentioned above, but there’s a deep pool of talent to work with on the roster. One of the most interesting players to watch will be Patrick Kugler, a former five-star recruit who played only one game last season.

Kugler is only 6-foot-5, but he’s one of the more athletic linemen on the team and could fill in at any position on the line. That versatility will make Kugler a valuable backup option as any of the starters could need a blow during the game. Kugler could be an option to fill in at center if the Glasgow transition doesn’t go well.

Another versatile option behind Kugler is redshirt junior Blake Bars, who didn’t see the field in 2014. Bars was an all-state lineman as a senior at Montgomery Bell Academy in Tennessee and has the skillset to help out at an interior line position if needed.

Michigan could also get a boost from a trio of former four-star juniors who haven’t seen much of the field during their careers. David Dawson, who played in five games last year, is one of the few pass blocking specialist in the rotation and, as a result, has a good chance to make the regular rotation. Logan Tuley-Tillman and Chris Fox have only played in one game apiece, but could play a role, as they’re both huge and have raw talent.

The names on this list don’t jump off the page, but Harbaugh and Drevno certainly see a ton of potential in the backup offensive linemen. Barring a major injury on the starting line, these guys will spend another year adjusting to the college game by filling in and playing lesser roles when called upon.

New faces

The 2015 recruiting class brought three new faces to the offensive line. The most decorated of these recruits is Grant Newsome, a 6-foot-7 tackle out of New Jersey. Newsome is an explosive pass protector who could back up Magnuson at right tackle in a pinch. Though he’s one of the best linemen in the 2015 class, he’s a redshirt candidate behind Michigan’s experienced line.

The Wolverines also welcome three-stars Nolan Ulizio and Jon Runyan Jr. to the unit. Ulizio projects as a guard at the college level and Runyan could play anywhere on the interior line. Both guys are strong candidates to redshirt in 2015.

Meet the rest

Greg Froelich — junior, 6’2″, 270 from Maplewood, N.J. (Deerfield Academy)
Dan Samuelson — junior, 6’5″, 289 from Plymouth, Ind. (Plymouth)
Juwann Bushell-Beatty — sophomore, 6’6″, 319 from Paramus, N.J. (Paramus Catholic)
Ben Pliska — senior, 6’3″, 277 from Kirkland, Wash. (Lake Washington)

Predicting Michigan: The offensive line

Monday, June 30th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-OL

Kyle-Kalis

Michigan’s offense was difficult to watch for much of the 2013 season as a normally-reliable Wolverine rushing attack imploded before vanishing from the offense by the middle of Big Ten play.

To compensate for the struggles on the ground, quarterback Devin Gardner was asked to drop back on more than half of the team’s snaps. Unfortunately for Gardner, he was almost never alone in the backfield. The middle of the offensive line was a sieve and turned the mobile quarterback into a proverbial tackling dummy.

Despite the group’s struggles, both tackles, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, further weakening the unit and raising major question marks for Brady Hoke and his new-look offensive staff.

The Starters

Perhaps the brightest spot on Michigan’s offensive line comes in the form of two talented young guards. Sophomore left guard Kyle Bosch and redshirt sophomore right guard Kyle Kalis played a major role on the line last season and hope to solidify a group that lost its two leaders during the offseason.

Kalis had a breakout 2013 season, starting eight games and lining up with  Schofield to form a right side that largely held its own during the majority of the season. The redshirt sophomore is the strongest run blocker on the team and will play a huge role in turning around the running game.

Bosch blossomed much later in the campaign than Kalis, earning his first start against Michigan State because of his teammates’ struggles during the first half of the season. With the departure of Lewan from the left side, Bosch will have to improve his run blocking game, which was his calling card during high school.

In between the two strong guards Michigan returns center Jack Miller, who struggled for much of 2013 but started four games for Al Borges. Miller earned the starting spot after a strong offseason, and will likely start Week 1 while Graham Glasgow serves a one-game suspension for an offseason offense.

Michigan needs Miller to decrease his mental errors after he snapped the ball several yards over Gardner’s head and fumbled exchanges as a sophomore. Hoke hopes that a more focused offseason under Doug Nussmeier will eliminate many of the baffling mistakes that reared their ugly heads last season.

The departure of Lewan and Schofield leaves a mammoth-sized gap on either end of the offensive line, as the two seniors started all 13 games for Hoke last season. The left tackle position, which has seen the program produce two top-12 picks in the last decade, will likely be filled by redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson.

Magnuson stormed onto the stage as a redshirt freshman, playing in 12 games and starting seven times as a guard. The sophomore admitted that he struggled with injuries throughout 2013 before a shoulder surgery sidelined him for this year’s spring game. Despite the medical concerns, Magnuson is the top candidate to succeed Lewan on the left side, as he owns the dominant run-blocking ability to carry the rushing attack.

Ben Braden figures to earn the nod at right tackle. The redshirt sophomore is the only projected starter to not have a career start to his name, but he came out of spring practice with the job, and at 6’6″, 319-pounds, has the body for the position.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Erik Magnuson Kyle Bosch Jack Miller Kyle Kalis Ben Braden
2013 Starts 7 3 4 8 0
Career Starts 7 3 4 8 0

Veteran Depth

While Miller starts the opener, Graham Glasgow will be ready to replace him in Week 2 if he either wins the job in fall camp or Miller struggles. Glasgow is the only returning lineman that started every game last season and did well at center. But his natural position is guard, so Hoke and Nussmeier will be able to evaluate the Week 1 performance and either insert Glasgow into any of the three interior positions or hold onto him as a quality if-needed backup.

Nussmeier owns plenty of other options if his initial lineup falters early in the 2014 season. One of the strongest offensive line recruiting classes in recent memory brought four players to Ann Arbor last season that are ready to contribute as redshirt freshmen this fall. Former five-star Patrick Kugler is a potential breakout player to watch if Miller’s struggles continue at center and Glasgow is needed at guard. Kugler was one of the top linemen in the country to come out last season and his elite quickness equips him with the skills to start on the inside line.

Four-stars David Dawson, Logan Tuley-Tillman and Dan Samuelson also joined the rotation during the spring game and provide Nussmeier with critical depth on the line. Dawson is the mostly likely to join a regular rotation, as his pass blocking ability complements a group of linemen that were recruited to help the ground attack.

Newcomers

The only freshman that figures to play a significant role on the 2014 team is Mason Cole, who offers Nussmeier an elite pass blocker for his pro-style offense. Cole may already be the best pass protector on the team, and took first-team snaps at left tackle during the spring game. If Magnuson’s shoulder isn’t fully healed by the first game, Cole will likely get the nod at left tackle. Otherwise, he’ll be a top sub at tackle. Look for the freshman to make a splash despite the abundance of veteran options.

Check back on Wednesday and Thursday for Drew’s Big Ten offensive lineman rankings. Will any Michigan linemen make the list?

Countdown to kickoff: 65 days

Thursday, June 26th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-65

Countdown to kickoff: 67 days

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-67

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Inside the Numbers: Sending out an S.O.S. on the LOS

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013


(Rick Osentoski, US Presswire)

Since returning to Ann Arbor in January in 2011, head coach Brady Hoke has preached that he wants to “hear football.” He wants to hear the sound of helmets striking each other, shoulder pads colliding into each other, and players trying to drive one another into the ground. He wants to “hear football” when Michigan takes the field because he wants his team to be tough, physical, strong, and powerful. Yet, the only thing Hoke has heard from his offensive line is silence.

Michigan’s offense has derailed in the month of November, and its offensive line deserves much of the blame. Prior to November, U-M’s offense averaged 42.4 points and 446.5 total yards in its first seven games. In its two November contests, the offense has scored 19 points and gained 343 total yards combined, averaging 9.5 points and 171.5 total yards per game.

To make matters worse, not only has Michigan rushed for minus-69 yards on 65 carries in its last two games, it has rushed for positive yardage in only one of those eight quarters. Against Michigan State, U-M set a program low with minus-48 rushing yards, breaking a 51-year-old school record that Michigan wanted to stand untouched for all of eternity. Then, with minus-21 rushing yards against Nebraska the following week, the Maize and Blue became only the second team this millennium to turn in negative rushing performances in back-to-back games.

Gardner has been sacked 14 times in the last two games (Detroit Free Press)

The lousy offensive display in East Lansing was unacceptable by Michigan standards, but was somewhat understandable. The Spartans’ defense was ranked in the top three in the nation in almost every relevant defensive category, including scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, and passing yards allowed. There is no doubt that MSU’s defense was one of the best defenses in the country, if not the best.

But Nebraska’s defense was not.  Prior to last Saturday, the Cornhuskers were ranked #46 in scoring defense, #70 in total defense, #85 in rushing defense, and #39 in passing yards allowed. This mediocre defense—the same one that allowed 516 rushing yards to its two prior opponents—stunningly prevented Michigan from netting positive rushing yards for the second straight week.

There is no way around it: Michigan’s offense currently is broken. Before it can be fixed, the problem must be identified first. For the Wolverines, they must look no further than the offensive line.

Entering the 2013 campaign, expectations for Michigan’s offensive line were high. Blame for last season’s sub-par performance from the offensive line was placed upon the three then-senior interior linemen—whom former head coach Rich Rodriguez recruited to play in his zone-blocking schemes—whose skillsets did not mesh well with offensive coordinator Al Borges’ man-blocking schemes. The below-average play was written off as a cost of the transition from Rodriguez’s spread read-option offense to Borges’ power offense. With talented, but inexperienced, interior linemen with skillsets more suited for Borges’ man-blocking schemes joining the starting lineup this season, significant improvement along the line of scrimmage was expected.

Instead, Michigan’s offensive line has worsened despite starting an All-American and future high-first-round NFL Draft pick at left tackle. The decline has never been more evident than in Michigan’s two November games, in which U-M rushed for minus-69 yards, lost more than one yard per carry, allowed 26 tackles-for-loss, and allowed 14 sacks. Thus, the Wolverines’ offensive line has been so poor in November that it has averaged 13 tackles-for-loss allowed and seven sacks allowed, while U-M’s backs averaged minus-34.5 rushing yards, in those contests.

However, the decline in the play of Michigan’s offensive line has not been limited to only the month of November. The cracks have been there all season. To oversimplify, an offensive line has two responsibilities: (1) create holes through which running backs run; and (2) prevent the opposing defense from sacking the quarterback. Michigan’s national rankings in offensive categories that help track whether an offensive line has maintained these responsibilities have tumbled. Not only have the rankings tumbled, they have fallen so far that they are similar to Michigan’s rankings in 2008—a year considered to be the season in which Michigan had its worst offense and offensive line in recent memory, if not ever.

To see the similarities, here is a table comparing these Michigan’s 2008 and 2013 national rankings in these offensive categories:

Michigan National Ranks: 2013 vs. 2008
2013 2008
Nat’l Rank Average/Game Nat’l Rank Average/Game
Total Offense T-83 385.33 109 290.75
Rushing Offense 97 135.33 59 147.58
Yards Per Carry 111 3.25 73 3.91
Passing Offense 51 250.00 108 143.17
TFLs Allowed 123* 9.00 116 7.75
Sacks Allowed T-105 2.89 T-57 1.83
*Last in FBS

According to the table above, the only offensive categories in which Michigan is better in 2013 than 2008 are total offense and passing offense. These improvements can be credited to quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner—who leads the Big Ten in total offense and points responsible for—is a far superior quarterback than the platoon of Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan that completed less than half its passes in 2008.

However, Michigan has been worse in every other offensive category in the above table this season compared to 2008. Even though there are only 123 FBS teams, the Wolverines are ranked outside the top 100 in rushing yards per carry, tackles-for-loss allowed, and sacks allowed. Plus, Michigan is on the edge of being ranked outside the top 100 in rushing offense, too. To cap it off, U-M has allowed more tackles-for-loss in 2013 than any other FBS team in the nation, permitting defenses to tackle U-M players behind the line of scrimmage nine times per game.

Defenders shooting through the line has been a common site the last two weeks (Huskers.com)

It must be noted that offensive lines are one of the toughest positions to evaluate because there are no statistics that measure individual performance—at least none made available to the public. Coaches use other units, such as assignment grades and loafs, that indicate how well an individual offensive lineman has played. Assignment grades determine how well offensive linemen executed their assignments each game, while loafs measure how many times offensive linemen did not provide the effort needed to finish a play. But given that Michigan has started nine different offensive linemen in nine games, only one of which was due to injury, it seems likely that all stats measuring the performance of offensive lines have come to the same conclusion: Michigan’s may be one of the worst in program history.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, with only four games remaining, there is no permanent solution that will fix this before the season ends. A shift in Borges’ play-calling may slightly alleviate the problem.  As “Inside the Numbers” alluded to prior to MSU, Borges has been tipping his play calls based upon Michigan’s formation, especially on third downs. Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory confirmed this observation in the aftermath of the Cornhuskers’ 17-13 win against the Wolverines with this quote: “They had certain tendencies. Whatever formation they came out in, we knew what they were going to throw at us.” When defenses notice these tells, they adjust accordingly and put the offensive line in situations in which it has no chance to make the necessary blocks to execute a play successfully.

But Michigan fans must be patient because this would only be a temporary, limited solution. The other issues affecting Michigan’s offensive line—mostly inexperience—can only be fixed with time.  Of the seven linemen Michigan has started along the interior, six are no older than redshirt sophomores and zero made a collegiate start prior to this season. Plus, in 2014, U-M will have seven additional linemen—all of which currently are either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen—that will be available to play.

Raw talent will not be an issue for Michigan’s offensive line in the future. Of these 14 offensive linemen available to play in 2014, Rivals.com rated nine of them as five- or four-star high school recruits. These players have very high ceilings. The question will be whether Michigan will be able to develop and transform their vast potential into reality. If so, Hoke finally will be able to “hear football” from his offensive line once again. If not, the silence will become deafening.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Nebraska

  1. At the moment, Michigan is a 2.5-point underdog against Northwestern, according to Las Vegas sports books. This is the first time in the history of this series that Michigan has not been a favorite against the Wildcats. Prior to this year, the Wolverines always had been at least a three-point favorite against Northwestern, with U-M being a 21.3-point favorite on average.
  1. Michigan has forced 18 turnovers through nine games this season, matching the number it forced in all of 2012. However, U-M has converted only 11 of those 18 extra possessions into 65 points—eight touchdowns and three field goals. Further, the Wolverines have turned the last three turnovers they have forced into only three points, despite starting the ensuing series at the opponent’s 41-, 33-, and 26-yard line.
  1. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon has 947 receiving yards for the 2013 campaign and 2,278 receiving yards for his career. Gallon needs 40 receiving yards to pass David Terrell for the fourth-most career receiving yards in Michigan history and 53 receiving yards to become the 10th wide receiver in program history to have a 1,000-yard season.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Final Look: Notre Dame

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


With a breather game, or as Brady Hoke calls it a “glazed donut game,” coming up, the huge win over Notre Dame is still fresh on our minds. The Irish came to Ann Arbor for the final time and in front of a record-setting Big House crowd Michigan laid it to them. So let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 41-30 win.

Three big moments

1. Gallon’s pinball catch and run

Notre Dame won the coin toss and elected to receive, but Michigan forced the Irish to punt it away. On Michigan’s first possession, the Wolverines showed some trickery with a jet sweep and a reverse, but the drive only netted three points. The defense forced another three-and-out, and on Michigan’s next possession, Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon over the middle. The little bulldog bounced off a pair of defenders, one of which tried to strip the ball, got a great block from Jehu Chesson, and raced the rest of the way to the end zone for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. It put Michigan ahead 10-0 and signaled to all involved that the Wolverines came to play.

2. Michigan’s game clinching drive

Blake Countess picked off two passes, one to set up a touchdown and one to seal the game (MGoBlue.com)

After Notre Dame pulled within four with nine minutes to play, Michigan needed an answer. The Irish had seized the momentum that Michigan had spent the first three quarters building up and Michigan’s previous two drives had resulted in a Notre Dame interception in the end zone for six points and a shanked punt that gave the Irish great field position. Two drives, six plays, five total yards leading to 10 Irish points.

If ever there was a time for a good drive it was then, and the Wolverines answered, going 75 yards in 10 plays, consuming 4:57, and pulling ahead by 11 points. The drive started with an incomplete pass, but on second down, Fitz Toussaint rushed 22 yards to the Michigan 47. Two plays later, Toussaint caught a pass out of the backfield and raced 31 yards to the Notre Dame 21 and suddenly the momentum had swung.

Gardner lobbed the ball to Gallon, but it appeared to be picked off. However, the Irish defender was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Gardner tried to connect with Jake Butt in the end zone, but again Notre Dame was called for pass interference, this time giving Michigan the ball on the 2-yard line. After a Gardner rush for a loss of two, he found Drew Dileo in the end zone for the touchdown. Aided by the two Irish penalties, which were the correct calls no doubt, Michigan got just the drive it needed to put the game away.

3. Blake Countess comes up big

The redshirt sophomore who missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL had his hands full with an explosive Notre Dame passing attack on Saturday. The Irish used big plays to beat Temple in Week 1 and Greg Mattison made not giving up big plays priority number one for the game.

Late in the first half, after Michigan had kicked a field goal to take a 20-13 lead, Notre Dame was trying to drive down and tie the game heading into the locker room. George Atkinson III had returned the kickoff 26 yards and then a 15-yard late hit penalty was tacked on giving Notre Dame the ball at their own 42-yard line. But on the second play, Countess stepped in front of an Irish receiver and picked it off. He then raced 30 yards to the ND 23 and the Wolverines punched it in to take a two touchdown lead into the half.

Then, after Michigan’s big fourth quarter drive to go up by 11, Notre Dame was trying to fight its way back. Rees was methodically picking apart the defense, picking up 12 yards here, seven yards there, and the Irish reached the Michigan 6-yard line. On 1st-and-goal, Rees fired a pass into the middle of the endzone, but it bounced off Raymon Taylor’s leg and Countess grabbed it for a touchback and sealed the win.

The numbers game

115,901: The official attendance, which set the all-time record for largest crowd to ever watch a football game, college or pro

400: The win was Michigan’s 400th victory in Michigan Stadium since it opened in 1927. The Wolverines are 400-120-15 in the Big House

1940: The last time #98 had been worn by a Michigan football player until Devin Gardner was given Tom Harmon’s Legends jersey

$200,000,000: The donation given to the university by Stephen M. Ross, who served as the honorary coin flip captain for the game

Sept. 16, 2006: The last time a Michigan receiver caught three touchdown passes in a game. Mario Manningham was the one to do it and Jeremy Gallon matched it on Saturday

184: Gallon’s receiving yards, which ranks as the sixth best single game performance in Michigan history

224: The number career points scored by Brendan Gibbons after making two field goals and five extra points, passing Desmond Howard in career scoring

Drive Chart
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM
UM
ND
UM
ND
UM

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. The defense

Despite the win there has been quite a bit of talk since Saturday night about Michigan’s inability to get a consistent – or any – pass rush on Tommy Rees. That concern is certainly understandable, but I think it’s important to remember two things.

First, the Notre Dame offensive line is very good. It is anchored by All-American left tackle Zack Martin, has a left guard who was starting his 28th straight game, a right guard who was a returning starter from last season, a right tackle who will likely take over for Martin next season, and Martin’s younger brother at center. The line gave up just 18 sacks all last season, the same number Michigan’s line allowed, and has improved the running game from 92nd to 54th to 38th nationally the past three seasons under Brian Kelly.

Secondly, Greg Mattison’s defensive game plan was to sit back, give up the short passes, and not allow the big plays. There were very few blitzes, especially from the secondary, so the rush was mostly dependent on the front four. Much of the time, Notre Dame had extra blockers in to protect Rees, so it’s understandable that the line wasn’t able to generate much pressure. If it struggles against Akron, UConn, or Minnesota in the next few weeks, then we should start to worry, but I think Mattison has enough quality bodies to rotate in that when all is said and done this will be a pretty good line and it’s only going to get better.

What Michigan’s defense has done very well overall is flying to the ball and tackling. Remember the Rich Rod days when it seemed that tackling was a lost art? Those days are gone and it was no more evident than on Saturday. Michigan’s secondary sat back and kept the ball in front of them and then made the open field tackles needed to keep the Irish from yards after catch. These guys aren’t the best defense in the country, but they are very well coached and it shows.

Drew Dileo is a proven pass catcher but who else will step up? (MGoBlue.com)

2. The offensive line

On the flip side of the previous observation, one of the main questions coming into the game was how would Michigan’s young offensive line hold up against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front. On paper, Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis going up against Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt seems like a huge mismatch, but aside from the one interception in the end zone – which is as much on Devin Gardner as it is on the line – the men in the winged helmets all but neutralized the guys in gold.

Nix III tallied four tackles (one for loss), Tuitt didn’t make a stop, Michigan ran for 4.3 yards per carry – which isn’t great but it was effective – and Gardner was sacked once. Our friends over at Her Loyal Sons charted every Michigan offensive play and found that Notre Dame blitzed on 63 percent of them. On 24 percent of Michigan’s offensive plays (roughly a fourth) Notre Dame brought at least six rushers. Gardner did a good job of getting the ball of quickly, but the line did a very good job of keeping him upright.

3. Who else will step up in the passing game?

Gardner shredded the Notre Dame pass defense to the tune of 294 yards, which is more passing yards than the Irish allowed in any game last season except for Oklahoma. But 184 of those went to Jeremy Gallon. Seven other players caught passes – one being Fitz Toussaint out of the backfield on that final, game-clinching drive. Gardner’s comfort level with Gallon is obvious, but sooner or later opponents are going to start game planning Gallon out of the offense and other receivers will need to step up.

Drew Dileo certainly capable and showed that with the game-clinching touchdown catch, running a great route and catching the ball. But where is the rest of the production going to come from? Devin Funchess has five catches through two games, Jeremy Jackson is who he is at this point, and the jury is still out on Joe Reynolds who did catch a deep pass in Week 1. Jehu Chesson still hasn’t caught a pass, and I don’t think he’s even been targeted, though he has done well blocking.

I’m not trying to be negative or picky, but I want to see others step up in the passing game. I want to see what Chesson, Reynolds, and Jackson can do, and we should get to see that in the next couple of weeks. I do think Gallon is talented enough to break 1,000 yards this season, but we can’t rely on him to have a huge night every game, so let’s see more from the other guys.

Central Michigan postgame transcript: Devin Gardner and Fitzgerald Toussaint

Saturday, August 31st, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

On how Fitzgerald Toussaint felt out there, physically and mentally…
Toussaint
: “I’d say physically I felt great, but  if I’m not mentally prepared the mental part will take over that. I felt really good mentally and I’ll be ready to play more football.”

On the importance of getting off to a fast start with the blocked punt…
Gardner
: “It was very important because that’s what the game is about early. Coach Hoke always talks about special teams and starting fast. You don’t want to get behind. If you give a team like Central confidence they will give you a really good game. They were a good team and we just kept on pounding away so they didn’t even have an opportunity.”

On the efficiency of the offense and how they felt like they did in their first game of the season…
Gardner
: “It felt great for me. We ran the ball well which was our biggest emphasis over camp. Fitz ran well. All the running backs ran well and it felt great to see that.”
Toussaint: “I just want to start by giving credit to the offensive line. They’ve been building chemistry all throughout fall camp, we just all stayed together, so we just came out here and played good football.”

On what it’s like being ‘the guy’ now…
Gardner
: “I mean it was amazing. I can’t even describe how I was feeling. My heart was racing and I was just like don’t fall, I probably won’t even touch this banner. I mean, I really can’t describe how I feel. It felt great though.”

On how the freshmen handled the pressure, specifically the running backs…
Toussaint
: “I would say the older guys are a little more anxious over nervous, some of the younger guys are nervous over anxious. The guys were nervous and a little bit anxious, just ready to get out there and be ready for their opportunity, and I think they can, but they showed that they will.”
Gardner: “We talked in camp about how pressure, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, you can’t smell it. It’s not tangible, so it really doesn’t exist. And I feel like the freshmen put that on their back and ran with it. They were really confident and they ran well. The DBs, I loved watching those guys play because they’ve been giving me headaches all during camp so I knew they were ready as well. It was just amazing to see guys that are like your little brothers get an opportunity so early to contribute and do well.”

On how they feel Shane Morris did…
Gardner
: “He looked fine. He made the right checks. You guys watch the quarterback, you don’t see all the inside things like the different checks you’ve got to make, getting us in the right play and things like that, so I think he did really well. Obviously, we’ve got to watch the film and see the small things that he might have missed or that he did get where he might have gotten pluses and things like that, so you just got to watch the film and see.”

On the emotion of coming back from the injury and whether he feels like he has anything to prove…
Toussaint
: “I just want to say it’s an emotional feeling. I just want to show that I can contribute any way I can for this football team and protect Devin and run the football hard. And know when it’s time to come off the field to come off the field, and my confidence to step in and my preparation to step in and I’m just ready to go play football.”

On whether it felt like a long road coming back…
Toussaint
: “Yeah, it definitely felt like a long road, but I knew if I prepared right then I could come back.”

On what Devin felt like he did well, and whether this was a good game to shake the rust off before Notre Dame next week…
Gardner
: “I feel like I managed the game pretty well. The two things I didn’t do well was throw the two interceptions, but besides that, I feel like I was pretty efficient, getting us in the right play, and making throws, and making opportunities for myself when things broke down. So I feel like I did well in those aspects. I just have to take the turnovers away and I feel like those were like rust throws. I feel like this first game was a good opportunity to knock the rust off because I’m pretty sure everybody knows the test that we have next weekend, we’ll be ready.”

On whether the two interceptions were a result of decision making or rust…
Gardner
: “The first one was inexcusable. I didn’t execute at all. I made a read and threw a decent pass, it was just a bad read, so it got turned over. The next one, I got hit while I threw it so it kind of went as far as it went. You can somewhat control that but not as much as you’d like to, so I wish I had them both back. But they’re done now, we’ll move on to next week.”

On whether he enjoys scrambling when the play breaks down…
Gardner
: “I just like to stay calm, so when I’m running around my face is pretty straight and I’m not really chaotic, my head’s not spinning or anything. I feel like my calmness allows me to help my teammates be calm. When they see me running around, they’re like ‘is he scrambling or is he not?’ so it’s probably refreshing for them and when they get open I have the opportunity to hit them, and if they don’t I’ll just run.”

On how the three new starters on the offensive line performed…
Toussaint
: “I think they did really well. Just like I said before, they really worked in fall camp to have really good chemistry. With (Michael) Schofield and Taylor (Lewan) on the outside bring those guys inside together and do a really good job of that.”
Gardner: “Yeah, I think they did a really good job. I don’t know exactly how many yards we rushed for, but I feel like we had a pretty good day on the ground. Then through the air, I had time to throw the ball and made the throws I was supposed to make. The way they were playing, our linemen responded because it wasn’t what we saw on film as much. They showed a lot more pressure on second down and long distances and they didn’t do that this game, and they (the offensive line) adjusted. So that’s one thing that you might be scared of when you have three new interior linemen, to adjust on the fly when you don’t see exactly what you’ve seen on film, and they did a really good job of doing it and giving me time to throw the ball.”

On how it went between he and center Jack Miller in their first game together…
Gardner
: “It went well. No exchange problems. Those are big deals, pet peeves for the coach. Those are things where you can’t start the play because of the exchange and we had no problems like that. Our protections were on the same page, the changes in protections, or keeping the protections the same. So I feel like it was a great opportunity for us to show that we have a lot of future.”