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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Hart’

#17 Michigan at Indiana game preview

Friday, October 13th, 2017

(Isaiah Hole)

Michigan tasted defeat for the first time this season last Saturday, dropping a rainy, windy, ugly affair to its bitter in-state rival, Michigan State. While the Michigan defense was dominant after allowing a pair of first half scores, the offense was impotent, unable to move — or hang on to — the ball, drawing criticism from throughout the fan base.

Quick Facts
Memorial Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Indiana Head Coach: Tom Allen (1st season)
Coaching Record: 3-3 (all at IU)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike DeBord (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mark Hagen (1st season)
Last Season: 6-7 (4-5 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 20 – IU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 56-9
Record in Bloomington: Michigan 18-2
Jim Harbaugh vs Indiana 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (20-10)
Last Indiana win: 1987 (14-10)
Current Streak: Michigan 21
Indiana schedule to date
Opponent Result
#2 Ohio State L 21-49
at Virginia W 34-17
Georgia Southern W 52-17
at #4 Penn State L 14-45
Charleston Southern W 27-0

Jim Harbaugh doesn’t care about fan criticism though. He’s focused on the task at hand and that task is beating a team Michigan has handled 21 straight times and 36 of the last 37.

Indiana has a different look this season than the offensive beast it has the been past few now that Kevin Wilson is the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Wilson was forced out last December for player mistreatment and Allen, the defensive coordinator assumed the reins for the Foster Farms Bowl, which the Hoosiers lost to Utah. Allen remained the head coach and brought in former Michigan offensive coordinator Mike DeBord to run his offense, signaling a marked change from Wilson.

He also added former Michigan star running back Mike Hart as his running backs coach and former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan as his quarterbacks coach.

They had a tough first assignment with Ohio State to open the season and actually held a 14-13 halftime lead before surrendering five second-half touchdowns. They bounced back in Week 2 with a 34-17 win at Virginia, which looks better and better each week as the Cavaliers are now 4-1.

Indiana got an unexpected bye week in Week 3 when Hurricane Irma forced their matchup with Florida International to be canceled. A 52-17 win over Georgia Southern was as expected — the Eagles are 0-4 with an average margin of defeat of more than 24 points.

The Hoosiers then had to travel to Happy Valley where they were summarily handled by the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions. Penn State raced out to a 28-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 45-14 win. But Indiana got back in the win column last week, topping Charleston Southern of the FCS, 27-0. IU held the Buccaneers to just six first downs and 134 total yards.

So how good is Indiana in its first season post-Wilson? Who really knows. They’ve beaten an FCS team, an 0-4 Sun Belt team, and a perennial ACC bottom-feeder that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, and they’ve lost to the top two teams in the Big Ten.

It could be said that Michigan is the first happy medium on the Hoosiers’ schedule. Granted, Michigan was ranked 7th nationally just a week ago, but the way the offense is playing Michigan is nowhere near a top-10 team. The defense may be the nation’s best, but unless the offense shows significant midseason progress with its backup quarterback, it will continue to hold the team back and give teams like Indiana a fighting chance.

Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Indiana offense

(IU Sports)

Mike DeBord has had a long and winding career since playing NAIA football in northern Indiana in the late 1970s. He worked his way up the coaching ranks as an offensive line coach at Fort Hays State, Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Colorado State, and Northwestern before landing at Michigan under Gary Moeller. He was kept on staff by Lloyd Carr and was named offensive coordinator for the first time in 1997, helping guide the Wolverines to the national title.

Following the 1999 season, he left to take his first head coaching position at Central Michigan, where he went just 12-34 before retuning to Michigan for the remainder of Carr’s career. From there, he spent two years with the Seattle Seahawks and three with the Chicago Bears and returned to the college game as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons before moving to Bloomington.

So far this season, DeBord’s offense ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 69th nationally in total offense (408.4 yards per game), fifth and 67th in scoring (29.6 points per game), ninth and 78th in rushing (148.8 yards per game), and fifth and 46th in passing (259.6 yards per game) — a far cry from the high-powered offenses under Wilson.

Unlike Harbaugh, who will stick with his starting quarterback until he can’t anymore, DeBord began the season utilizing a two-headed quarterback system at IU. Fifth-year senior Richard Lagow and redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey split time through the first four games before Ramsey got the full-time nod against Charleston Southern last week. I’m not sure how telling a 32-of-41, 321-yard performance is against a team that ranks 75th in the FCS in pass efficiency defense, but the Cincinnati native was a combined 11-of-20 for 88 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in limited time against Ohio State and Penn State. Lagow, meanwhile, was the Big Ten’s second-leading passer last season, but is completing just 56.3 percent of his passes this season.

True freshman Morgan Ellison has taken command of the running game, averaging 71.6 yards per game. The three-star product from Ohio State’s back yard (Pickerington Central) did most of his work this season against Georgia State, rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. He did manage 5.9 yards per carry against Penn State, but got just nine carries as IU fell behind by 28 points in the first quarter. Ramsey is the second-leading rusher with 171 yards on 3.5 yards per carry, while redshirt freshman Cole Gest is the only other Hoosier with more than 100 yards and he leads the team with 6.1 yards per carry.

Simmie Cobbs seems like he has been at Indiana forever and leads the team with 33 receptions for 370 yards and three touchdowns. The redshirt junior was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer in 2015, ranking third in the league with 1,035 yards, but suffered a season-ending injury a year ago. He was unstoppable in the opener against Ohio State, catching 11 passes for 149 yards and a score. He also caught 10 passes for 98 yards against Charleston Southern and leads the Big Ten with 6.6 per game.

Fellow redshirt junior Luke Timian is second on the team with 22 receptions out of the slot, but is ahead of only third-down back Mike Majette with 6.4 yards per reception. Junior Donovan Hale and redshirt freshman Taysir Mack are both tall targets on the outside with a combined 245 yards and three touchdowns so far. Mack had a big game against Charleston Southern, catching seven passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Hale leads the team with 16.6 yards per reception. Senior tight end Ian Thomas is the team’s second-leading receiver with 254 yards and three scores.

The offensive line is middle of the pack in the Big Ten with 2.2 sacks allowed per game (Michigan allows 3.2) but struggles on the interior and hasn’t been able to get much push in the running game.

Indiana defense

(Sam Riche, AP)

Defensive coordinator Mark Hagen is a former IU linebacker who spent about a decade building his resume at Purdue before returning to his alma mater in 2011. He left to coach linebackers and defensive tackles at Texas A&M from 2013-15 and came back to Bloomington as the assistant defensive coordinator last season. When Allen was promoted to head coach he gave Hagen the reigns of the defense.

His senior-laded Hoosier defense ranks eighth in the Big Ten and 47th nationally in total defense (357.8 yards per game), ninth and 59th in scoring defense (25.6 points per game), 12th and 67th in rush defense (152.4 yards per game), and seventh and 42nd in pass defense (205.4 yards per game). But while those stats don’t show much, IU’s defense ranks 22nd nationally in S&P+.

The most notable player on the Indiana defense is senior linebacker Tegray Scales, who was a second-team All-American last season while leading the nation with 23.5 tackles for loss. He led the Big Ten with 126 tackles. So far this season he’s slacking off, only ranking fifth in the conference in both tackles (42) and tackles for loss (6.5). The linebacker corps is made up of experienced seniors and Chris Covington and Tony Fields join Scales. Covington, who started his career at IU as a quarterback, recorded a sack and fumble against Michigan last season and ranks second on the team with 32 tackles. Fields has 23 tackles and two for loss.

Indiana’s defensive front is led by fifth-year senior nose tackle Nate Hoff, who takes on double teams and clogs the middle effectively. He notched 1.5 tackles for loss against Michigan a year ago. Junior Jacob Robinson and redshirt freshman Jerome Johnson split time at the three-tech and have a combined 15 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks. Seniors Greg Gooch and Robert McCray II aren’t stars, though they may look like it against Michigan’s tackles. The ends and have combined for three tackles for loss and two sacks this season.

Fifth-year senior Rashard Fant is one of the Big Ten’s best corners after recording 39 pass breakups the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season. He has three pass breakups so far this season and will present a very tough challenge for Michigan’s young receivers. Redshirt sophomore Andre Brown Jr is the other, less heralded corner and has 12 tackles and one pass breakup. Junior Jonathan Crawford and senior Chase Dutra are a pair of experienced safeties that have combined for 45 tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception, and four pass breakups so far this season. Crawford was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season.

Indiana special teams

Placekicker Griffin Oakes is the top kicker in Indiana history with 58 career field goals and a 74.4 percent career clip. He was the Big Ten’s Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year in 2015 and has made all five attempts so far this season with a long of 51. Redshirt sophomore punter Hayden Whitehead is an Aussie who ranks ninth in the Big Ten with an average of 40.3 yards per punt. He has downed 12 of 36 inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

Redshirt junior receiver J-Shun Harris II is a dangerous punt returner coming off an ACL injury in 2016. He leads the Big Ten with 22.8 yards per return and two touchdowns. Running back Devontae Williams is the main kick returner, averaging a modest 18.2 yards per return.


I’m not looking forward to this game. I’m not worried about Michigan’s defense slowing down a Mike DeBord offense, but I am worried about this Michigan offense doing much against a pretty good IU defense. Unlike last week, weather shouldn’t be a problem with 80 degrees and sun expected in Bloomington, but weather was one of just many problems a week ago. This game has all the makings of a defensive slugfest.

Michigan’s receivers are going to have a hard time getting open in the secondary, so John O’Korn will have to rely on his tight ends. Indiana’s defense ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 2.8 sacks per game and Michigan’s line hasn’t protected its quarterbacks, so with tight coverage, O’Korn could be running for his life quite a bit. Perhaps Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton will develop a different game plan this week, but it’s hard to see Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently.

On the other side, there’s no way Indiana should more than about 10 points. Indiana is at its best in the air, but Michigan features the top pass defense in the nation. The Hoosiers may get a big play or two through the air, and may get another from Ramsey’s legs, but won’t get much from its running game.

Michigan wins a low-scoring game that doesn’t leave us feeling much better heading into a showdown at Penn State.

Score Prediction: Michigan 17 – Indiana 10

Inside the Numbers: Avoiding the goose egg better than anyone else

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

October 20, 1984 was a long time ago. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison were coaching football, not at Michigan, but 100 miles west of Ann Arbor at Western Michigan. Teachers was the highest-grossing film of the weekend. Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the second straight week. The price of regular gasoline was only $1.21. The author of this column would not even be born for another 53 months. Yet, that date marks the last time the Michigan football team put a goose egg on the scoreboard.

On that October Saturday in 1984, the Iowa Hawkeyes held Michigan scoreless, winning by a score of 26-0. It was an ugly, ugly game for the Wolverines. Michigan managed to accumulate only 187 total yards, did not see a single play gain more than 14 yards, and turned the football over four times. U-M’s quarterback tandem of Russ Rein and Chris Zurbrugg completed only 11-of-25 passes for a whopping total of 83 yards and completed three more passes to the wrong team. Michigan’s leading rusher, Rick Rogers, toted the rock 19 times, but averaged only 2.9 yards per carry. There is no play-by-play available to indicate if the Wolverines blew any easy chances to score. Nonetheless, the hideous box score indicates that this was a Maize and Blue mess. [Edit: As reader sarcasMike pointed out below, Rein threw an interception on 3rd-and-goal from the Iowa 14 in the second half].

Michigan has had putrid offensive performances after that dreadful day in Iowa City, but the Wolverines have not had such a showing of offensive ineptitude in the 29 years and one month since. In that span, Michigan has scored points in 361 consecutive games, tying Brigham Young’s NCAA record when Brendan Gibbons split the uprights from 25 yards out with 8:45 remaining left in the first quarter against Northwestern last Saturday.

No current Michigan player was alive the last time Michigan was shut out

During the first two decades of Michigan’s streak, U-M scored in 245 straight games, which at the time was the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history. But the Wolverines needed all three teams with longer streaks to have theirs snapped before U-M would be the given the opportunity to eclipse their marks. Even though Michigan kept scoring, it could not make up any ground on those above them until those streaks were dead.

Then, it happened. And it happened fast. On November 22, 2003, BYU’s record streak of 361 games was put to a halt when its in-state rival Utah Utes shut out the Cougars, 3-0, in the regular-season finale. The following season, the Texas Longhorns—which had put together a streak of 282 games without being shut out—were the next to bite the dust. Texas suffered only one loss during the 2004 season, but it could not make it count when it needed to. Literally. The Longhorns fell to the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, 12-0, in the Red River Shootout.

This left only one team between Michigan and a shot to break the NCAA record: the Washington Huskies. Three weeks later, on October 23, 2004, Washington, bearing a streak of 271 contests without being held scoreless, walked into the Coliseum to face the top-ranked USC Trojans. The Huskies were no match for the best team in the nation as their scoring streak went up in flames with a 38-0 beating from the Trojans.

And on that very same day, in West Lafayette, Indiana, Mike Hart took a screen pass from Chad Henne and darted 25 yards before reaching over the goal line to score Michigan’s first touchdown against the Purdue Boilermakers with 7:40 left in the first quarter. The touchdown extended Michigan’s scoring streak to 246 straight games. But, more importantly, it ensured that U-M would have the longest active non-shutout streak in the nation for at least one week.

Well, 115 weeks of football later, Michigan still has not relinquished its grasp of the nation’s longest active non-shutout streak. During this historic 361-game streak, Michigan has scored a grand total of 10,617 points, averaging 29.41 per game. The Maize and Blue may not have had the most prolific or high-octane offense during this 29-plus-year streak, but only one other school in the history of college football has been as consistent about adding points to the scoreboard.

This does not mean that the Wolverines have not had their share of scares in the process, though. During this 361-game streak, U-M has been held to single digits in 16 of them. The following will unleash suppressed trauma for Michigan fans, but here is a list of those games:

Michigan’s single-digit scoring performances since Oct. 20, 1984
Date Opponent Result Date Opponent Result
Nov. 18, 1984 Ohio State L, 6-21 Nov. 23, 2002 Ohio State L, 9-14
Nov. 2, 1985 Illinois T, 3-3 Sept. 8, 2007 Oregon L, 7-39
Sept. 12, 1987 Notre Dame L, 7-26 Nov. 17, 2007 Ohio State L, 3-14
Oct. 9, 1993 Michigan State L, 7-17 Nov. 22, 2008 Ohio State L, 7-42
Nov. 19, 1994 Ohio State L, 6-22 Nov. 27, 2010 Ohio State L, 7-37
Nov. 11, 1995 Purdue W, 5-0 Sept. 22, 2012 Notre Dame L, 6-13
Nov. 9, 1996 Purdue L, 3-9 Oct. 27, 2012 Nebraska L, 9-23
Oct. 26, 2002 Iowa L, 9-34 Nov. 2, 2013 Michigan State L, 6-29

These games indicate when Michigan’s scoring offense was most futile, but they do not necessarily indicate whether these games put the streak at risk. In most of the contests listed above, the Wolverines scored in the first half, extending the streak, before struggling to produce any more points.

Nonetheless, there were two contests in which the Wolverines did not score their first points of the game until the fourth quarter—one of which is not even listed in the table above. The one that is listed above is Michigan’s 13-6 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 22, 2012. Notre Dame held U-M scoreless until Gibbons converted a 33-yard field goal with 13:10 left in the final quarter.

Yet, the contest that most threatened to end the Maize and Blue’s historic streak was a game in which Michigan actually won. In Lloyd Carr’s Michigan debut on August 26, 1995, the Wolverines trailed the Virginia Cavaliers, 17-0, in the fourth quarter. U-M remained scoreless until there was about 11:30 left in the game when Ed Davis powered into the end zone with a three-yard touchdown run. The score not only extended Michigan’s non-shutout streak, but it sparked the largest comeback in U-M history at the time as the Wolverines scored on the final play of regulation to beat Virginia, 18-17.

No team will look perfect offensively in 361 straight games. Heck, no team will look average in 361 straight games. Every school has its offensive ups and downs over the course of three decades. Michigan was bound to have a few clunkers here and there. However, unlike other squads, U-M has been fortunate enough to avoid the goose egg when it has experienced struggles offensively. To put in perspective how remarkable this non-shutout streak is, the following indicates the number of times the other 11 teams currently in the Big Ten have been shut out in the time Michigan has strung together its record-tying streak:

Big Ten teams shut out since Oct. 20, 1984
Team Number of Times Last time Shut Out Score/Opponent
Illinois 12 2012 0-45 vs Michigan
Indiana 8 2000 0-58 vs Michigan
Iowa 4 2000 0-31 vs Illinois
Michigan State 6 2000 0-14 vs Michigan
Minnesota 14 2011 0-58 vs Michigan
Nebraska 2 1996 0-19 vs Arizona State
Northwestern 8 2003 0-20 vs Ohio State
Ohio State 1 1993 0-28 vs Michigan
Penn State 4 2001 0-20 vs Michigan
Purdue 15 2013 0-56 vs Ohio State
Wisconsin 6 1997 0-34 vs Syracuse

Not only has Michigan extended its non-shutout streak to 361 straight games, but it has also played a substantial role in preventing other Big Ten teams from doing the same. U-M has handed six Big Ten teams their last shutout loss. The most significant one is Michigan’s 28-0 win against Ohio State in 1993. It is Ohio State’s only shutout loss since 1982. If the Wolverines had not held the Buckeyes to zero points exactly 20 years ago from today, OSU would be the Big Ten team with the NCAA-record streak, not Michigan.

But Michigan did shut out Ohio State, and, now, U-M has an opportunity to break BYU’s all-time record this Saturday in the same place where it was last shut out just over 29 years ago: Iowa City, Iowa. If the Wolverines can tack some points onto the scoreboard against the Hawkeyes, Michigan will set the NCAA record with its 362nd consecutive contest without being shutout.

If Michigan hadn't shut out Ohio State in 1993 the Buckeyes would have the nation's longest streak

However, in recent weeks, Michigan has made offense look more difficult than a toddler trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. In the last three games U-M has played in November, the Wolverines have scored only 28 points in regulation. This is the fewest number of points a Michigan team has scored in three straight regulations since the Wolverines managed only 24 points in three straight from September 25, 1965, to October 9, 1965. Yes, this has been the worst three-game stretch of Michigan’s scoring offense in nearly half a century.

So will history repeat itself? Will the Iowa Hawkeyes be able to be the team that bookends Michigan’s non-shutout streak? Or will Michigan overcome its offensive woes to set a new NCAA record with its 362nd consecutive game without being held scoreless? Iowa has not shut out a Big Ten opponent since the end of the 2009 season, and one should not expect it to happen again on Saturday. Tune in to Big Ten Network at noon ET on Saturday to watch history—one way or the other.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Iowa

1. Under Brady Hoke, Michigan has mustered only a 6-7 record in true road games. After beating the Northwestern Wildcats in triple overtime in Evanston last Saturday, U-M has an opportunity to win two consecutive road games for the first time during Hoke’s tenure. The last time the Wolverines won two straight road contests was during the early portion of the 2010 season, when U-M beat Notre Dame in South Bend and Indiana in Bloomington.

2. Last Saturday, Jeremy Gallon became the 10th different receiver in Michigan history to have a 1,000-yard season—the first to do so since Mario Manningham in 2007. This week, Devin Funchess has an opportunity to become the 31st U-M player to record 1,000 career receiving yards. Funchess needs only 82 receiving yards to achieve the feat.

3. With his interception on the last play of the third overtime to secure Michigan’s win against Northwestern, Thomas Gordon extended U-M’s streak of forcing a turnover to 12 straight games. It was Gordon’s third interception of the season. Therefore, with Blake Countess picking off four passes and Raymon Taylor intercepting another three this season, this is the first time since 1998 that Michigan has had three players with three-plus interceptions in a season.

Inside the Numbers: With MSU looming, Michigan must not make “Manball” mistake

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen, it is State Week.

The big question many Michigan fans have been asking this week is whether Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges will finally solve the complex puzzle that is Michigan State’s defense. Despite a dramatic, last-second victory for the Wolverines last October, no team has given their offense more fits than the Spartans. In the past two contests against MSU, the Maize and Blue averaged 13 points and 288 total yards. Those numbers are the worst Michigan has averaged against any opponent it has played more than once since U-M hired Borges.

Do not expect the puzzle to become any easier this Saturday. If anything, it has become even more challenging. Statistically, Michigan State has one of the best defenses in the country, if not the best. The Spartans’ national ranks in each relevant defensive category speak for themselves. They are ranked in the top three in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, rushing yards allowed per carry, passing yards allowed, passing yards allowed per attempt, and passing efficiency defense. MSU is the only team in America to have such a high ranking in all of these categories. Other than Michigan State’s tendency to force referees to throw an inordinate number of yellow flags—MSU is ranked 109th in fewest penalty yards per game—the Spartans’ defense has no weaknesses for Borges to exploit.

The team that rushed for more yards has won 40 of the last 43 meetings in this rivalry (Leisa Thompson, The Ann Arbor News)

Borges will run into roadblocks whether he tries to run or pass against Michigan State, but if he wants to walk out of Spartan Stadium with a win on Saturday, he needs Michigan’s ground game to be successful against the nation’s best rushing defense. Why should Borges bother testing the teeth of MSU’s defense? Because in the last 43 meetings between the two in-state rivals, the team with more rushing yards in the game has been the victor 40 times.

So what should Borges do to give Michigan the best chance to execute against a rush defense that has held all opponents to less than 100 yards and all but one opponent to less than three yards per carry? Simply, Borges needs to shelve his “manball” formations and make the shotgun the core of U-M’s offense.

Michigan entered this season with a mission to deemphasize the spread formations that U-M employed the last two seasons when former quarterback Denard Robinson took the snaps. The goal was to preach “manball,” feature tight formations, such as the Ace and I-formation, and run the ball down defenses’ throats. Through the first seven games of the season, Borges and the Wolverines have not deviated from this goal. Sixty-eight percent of U-M’s 281 relevant running plays—which exclude those that featured Michigan’s backups—have been called from formations in which quarterback Devin Gardner has lined up under center.

Yet, there are times when people must realize that their goals are not in their own best interest. For Borges and Michigan, this is one of those times. Despite Borges’ preference to run the football when under center, the Wolverines are much more productive when running from spread formations, such as the shotgun and pistol. Evidence of this production can be seen in the table below, which breaks down Michigan’s rushing totals by formation:

Michigan rushing – by formation
Under Center Shotgun/Pistol
Carries Yards YPC Carries Yards YPC
CMU 30 180 6.0 8 50 6.25
Notre Dame 21 80 3.81 15 95 6.33
Akron 21 78 3.71 8 110 13.75
UConn 25 92 3.68 16 137 8.56
Minnesota 31 104 3.35 3 19 6.33
Penn State 34 65 1.91 17 110 6.47
Indiana 29 125 4.31 23 145 6.30
Totals 191 724 3.79 90 666 7.40

There is no denying how much better the Maize and Blue’s rushing attack is when running from the shotgun and pistol. Not only has Michigan recorded more yards per carry in those spread formations than when under center in every game this season, it has averaged 3.61 more yards per carry overall. If U-M ran well from both types of formations, there would be no need for Borges to rethink his offensive game plan, but this is not the case. Instead, the Wolverines have exceeded six yards per carry in shotgun and pistol formations in all of their games, while averaging less than four yards per carry overall in all but two of them.

Borges may have finally realized this after the debacle in Happy Valley, where Michigan ran a season-high 34 times under center while averaging a season-low 1.91 yards per carry. The following week against Indiana, U-M posted its highest percentage of running plays from the shotgun and pistol this season (44.2 percent), including a season-high 13 runs from those formations for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Not only did Toussaint have his most productive game of 2013 with 151 rushing yards, the shift to more spread formations contributed to Michigan’s season-high 248 rushing yards and helped the Maize and Blue set a school record for total yards in a single game with 751.

Michigan has averaged nearly twice as many rushing yards from shotgun/pistol than under center this season (Eric Upchurch, MGoBlog)

This was a step in the right direction for Michigan’s offense, but Borges needs to leap even further away from under center and towards the shotgun and pistol when it faces Michigan State this weekend.  To give U-M the best chance to win, more than half of the Wolverines’ runs must be from spread formations. Although there is no guarantee that running mostly from the shotgun and pistol will be effective against the mighty front of the Spartans’ defense, the odds that it will are exponentially greater than if U-M lined up under center. Plus, there are two additional benefits to running from the shotgun and pistol.

First, those formations provide Michigan a second rushing threat in addition to the running back: Gardner. He has been U-M’s most effective rusher this year. When one removes his sacks, Gardner has carried the ball 80 times for 625 yards and an average of 7.81 yards per carry. When one then removes his scrambles, Gardner still has averaged 6.84 yards per carry—about three yards per carry more than both Toussaint and backup running back Derrick Green.

If the Wolverines want to utilize their best rusher properly, they need to put him in a formation that does not restrict him only to scrambles and bootlegs. The formations that expand the arsenal of quarterback runs that Borges can call are the shotgun and the pistol, and the Michigan quarterback has used his legs best when lined up in those formations. In the shotgun and pistol, Gardner has recorded 54 carries for 484 yards—averaging 8.49 yards per carry—and recorded seven of his nine total rushing touchdowns. With Gardner lined up a few yards behind the center, MSU’s defense won’t be unable to focus all of its attention on Michigan’s running back, opening up lanes for both Wolverines in the backfield.

Why would the Spartans focus all of their attention on Toussaint when Michigan goes under center? The reason is because Michigan tips its play calling when it lines up in the Ace or I-formation. When U-M lines up under center, defensive coordinators know that U-M usually plans to handoff to its running back. This season, Michigan has run 270 relevant plays from under center, and 70.7 percent of those plays have been runs. Further, 84.8 percent of these runs have been handoffs to the running back.

It is even worse in third-and-short situations. When the Maize and Blue need three yards or less to move the chains on third down, Borges has called a run 15 of 16 times (93.75 percent) when under center, earning the first down only nine times. In these situations, Borges practically is telling the defensive coordinator that the ensuing play will be either a handoff to the running back or a bootleg by Gardner.

Defenses have adjusted accordingly by placing eight or nine defenders in the box when they see U-M line up under center. Without an audible, these plays generally have been dead before Gardner even received the snap. Of the Wolverines’ called runs when under center, 35.8 percent have resulted in no gain or a loss, while only 15.3 percent of their runs in the shotgun and pistol have had such poor results. This has been a critical reason why Michigan’s inconsistent offensive line—which will have its ninth different starter of the season against MSU—is 115th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed.

Fitz can expect a swarm of Spartan defenders if Borges chooses to spend the game running from under center (

Thus, the second benefit of lining up in spread formations is that Michigan likely will no longer tip its plays to opponents. Michigan’s play calling has been much more balanced when lined up in the shotgun and pistol. In these spread formations, the Wolverines have run the football 45.5 percent of the time. Although Michigan’s run-pass balance likely will skew more towards the run if Borges decides to feature more spread formations, the balance should be much closer to a 50-50, meaning defenses should be less likely to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on U-M’s formation.

Additionally, an emphasis on the shotgun and pistol should not negatively impact Michigan’s aerial attack. Gardner’s accuracy has been nearly identical when throwing from both types of formations, completing 61.3 percent of his passes when under center and 61.2 percent in spread formations. Also, Gardner’s yards per passing attempt in both formations are no less than 8.6, so U-M should still maintain its vertical passing attack.

The only potential drawback for U-M is turnovers, particularly interceptions. Michigan’s battle with Michigan State likely will be a low-scoring affair, meaning points will be a premium. Turnovers not only waste an opportunity for a team to score, but they also put the opponent in a great position to capitalize with points, especially in Michigan’s case. This season, eight of Gardner’s ten interceptions have been the result of plays in the shotgun and pistol. To make matters worse, five of those eight led to an opponent returning the interception for a touchdown or starting the ensuing possession in the red zone.

However, of those eight interceptions in the shotgun and pistol, seven occurred when Michigan faced second or third down with a distance to go of seven yards or longer. These are difficult situations for Michigan to throw the football because defenses expect U-M to pass. Yet, the Wolverines are in these difficult situations mostly because U-M has lined up under center for 71.4 percent of its first-down plays. As aforementioned, this has led to defenses adjusting and stuffing Michigan’s runs at the line of scrimmage. If the Wolverines utilize more shotgun and pistol on first down, they should be able to gain more yards on first-down plays. Thus, Gardner will not be placed in a position in which he has to force risky passes to extend drives nearly as much as he has in the first seven games.

As much as Michigan and Borges want to go “manball,” it is time for them to cut their losses and put “manball” on the backburner. This Michigan squad is not a “manball” team, no matter how much Borges wants it to be one. The personnel of this offense best fit in the spread and are most productive and efficient when operating out of the shotgun and pistol. If Borges wants to finally solve the puzzle that is MSU’s defense, he needs to call the majority of plays out of these formations. But if Borges chooses to stick with “manball” against one of the best defenses in the country, he likely will put Michigan at a severe disadvantage in a heated rivalry game and a game that would, for all intents and purposes, extend U-M’s Big Ten championship drought to 10 years with a loss.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Michigan State
  1. Michigan’s defense should keep blitzes to a minimum against Michigan State. Although MSU has below average national ranks for most offensive statistical categories, the Spartans have exceled at not turning over the football—MSU is fifth in the nation in interceptions thrown—and have been one of the best ten teams in the nation in not allowing tackles for loss. Thus, the Wolverines should stay back in coverage, forcing quarterback Connor Cook to fit throws into tight windows to extend drives and hoping Cook will be unable to make those throws.
  1. Dating back to 2001, Michigan is 10-1 in its last 11 games after a bye week. Saturday’s contest against Michigan State will be the second such game this season for the Maize and Blue—the Wolverines beat Minnesota, 42-13, in Week 6 after a bye. U-M’s average margin of victory in those 10 wins—three of which were away from Michigan Stadium—is 19 points. The lone defeat was a 10-point loss to Penn State in 2010.
  1. Under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines have not lost a game that has started at 3:30 PM ET, holding a 9-0 record in such games. Eight of those games were in Ann Arbor, with the only road game resulting in a 31-14 win against Illinois in 2011. Michigan and Michigan State will kick off at 3:30 PM ET on ABC this Saturday.

Michigan-UConn game preview

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Seven years ago Michigan hosted Ball State in an odd November non-conference matchup. The Wolverines were 9-0 at that point, ranked second in the nation, but on that day the Brady Hoke-led Cardinals almost pulled of a shocker. In front of a stunned Big House crowd that Michigan squad, led by Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Jake Long, LaMarr Woodley, David Harris, and Leon Hall, nearly suffered a demoralizing defeat. Henne threw a pick-six. Hart fumbled for the first time in two years. The defense gave up nearly 300 yards.

Hoke had some good teams at Ball State, but that wasn’t one of them.

Following the game, Henne acknowledged that with a showdown at Ohio State looming the team wasn’t completely focused.

“I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren’t focused,” Henne said. “Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings.”

Woodley agreed.

Quick Facts
Rentschler Field – 8pm EST – ABC
UConn Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 117-73-1 (10-14 at UConn)
Offensive Coordinator: TJ Weist (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Hank Hughes (1st season*)
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 5-7
Last Meeting: UM 30 – UConn 10 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 1-0
Record at UConn: First meeting
Record vs AAC Teams: Michigan leads 6-0
Brady Hoke vs AAC Teams: First meeting

“Coming into this game, everybody was talking about the hype about Michigan and Ohio State, and it kind of overlooked a team like Ball State. If you disrespect a team, they’re going to come out and give it their all.”

Michigan responded with a 34-3 thumping of Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to just 131 total yards and then played one of the all-time great games in the history of The Game a week later in Columbus, falling 42-39 to the top-ranked Buckeyes.

The point is that even great teams suffer letdowns every now and then. Ball State had a chance to tie the game twice in the final minutes just like Akron had a chance to win the game on the final play last Saturday. Michigan was fortunate to come out with a victory and the man who was on the other side of that 2006 affair knows that all too well.

All eyes will be on how this team responds this week against UConn. With all the negativity surrounding the team following last week’s performance, the Wolverines shouldn’t need anything else to fire them up, but perhaps the fact that it’s a primetime game on ABC rather than a noon start on Big Ten Network will be enough.

UConn is probably a team of a similar level as the Indiana team the 2006 squad rebounded with, and while no one is expecting this Michigan defense to put forth as dominant a performance, the expectations remain for a big, convincing win.

The Huskies enter with an 0-2 record, having lost to Towson of the FCS and Maryland, both at home. The Towson game was closer than the score indicates, but the Tigers racked up nearly 400 yards of offense including 201 on the ground. The Maryland game wasn’t quite as close as the final score shows as the Terrapins widened a 13-10 halftime lead to 32-13 before UConn scored with a few minutes to play.

Paul Pasqualoni is in his third season in Storrs and Husky Nation is already calling for his head after going 5-7 in each of his first two seasons. Prior to taking over in 2011, he spent 14 years at Syracuse, going 107-59-1 with six bowl victories, as well as six seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. In fact, as head coach of Syracuse, he went 1-1 against Michigan, beating the Wolverines 38-28 in 1998 and losing 18-13 in 1999.

In that 1998 matchup, Pasqualoni had Donovan McNabb at quarterback, a luxury he doesn’t currently have. Can he pull off the upset in front of the largest crowd in UConn history? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs UConn offense: When UConn has the ball

Chandler Whitmer has thrown 19 interceptions and 12 touchdowns in the past 14 games (Mark L. Baer, USA Today Sports)

Following a disappointing 2012 season in which the Huskies ranked 118th nationally in scoring offense, Pasqualoni brought in Cincinnati wide receivers coach TJ Weist to run the offense. Weist spent four seasons on Gary Moeller’s staff in the early 1990s, first as a volunteer graduate assistant and then as receivers coach, guiding the likes of Desmond Howard and working alongside Greg Mattison.

He inherited seven returning starters including junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer who completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,659 yards last season. But it was his 9-to-16 touchdown-to-interception rate that Weist is hoping to significantly improve. The results are mixed so far this season with 555 yards on 60.8 percent completions and three touchdowns, but he has also thrown three more picks. Against Maryland last week put up a lot of yards (349), but threw two interceptions and just one touchdown.

His main target is junior Shakim Phillips who has 15 receptions for 255 yards and all three touchdowns so far. By comparison, Jeremy Gallon has 18 receptions for 297 yards and four touchdowns through three games. The former four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant originally attended Boston College before transferring to UConn and sitting out the 2011 season. However, he strained a hamstring at the end of the Maryland game, so while he insists he will play he might not be at full speed. Fellow junior Geremy Davis is the only other Huskie with double digit receptions so far with 10 catches for 154 yards. He was UConn’s leading receiver last season with 44 receptions for 608 yards, but caught just one touchdown pass.

In the backfield, Lyle McCombs is the feature back for the third straight year, but is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on 36 attempts so far. He managed just 53 yards on 19 attempts against Maryland last week. In 2011, he broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns, but those numbers declined last season due to injuries and off the field troubles. No other back on the team has more than three carries this season, so it’s clear McCombs will be the workhorse once again. He’s also the team’s third-leading receiver with eight catches.

Deshon Foxx plays the Dennis Norfleet role, a slot guy with four receptions for 54 yards and three rushes for 21 yards. Weist is counting on Foxx to be the speedy playmaker the offense needs with the ability to take a speed sweep for a big play.

Shakim Phillips is the danger man for Michigan's secondary to contain (Stephen Slade)

The offensive line returns four starters from last season. Sixth-year senior Jimmy Bennett is the left tackle with 16 career starts, while redshirt senior Kevin Friend brings 29 career starts to the right tackle position. However, Friend is questionable this week with a high ankle sprain, which could force Xavier Hemingway into his spot. The redshirt sophomore was pushed around the past two weeks, allowing a pair of sacks against Towson and a safety against Maryland. If Friend is out tomorrow, look for Michigan to pick on the right side of the Husky line.

Tyler Bullock, who started the last eight games of 2012, was supposed to be the starting center, but a leg injury has forced UConn to insert Penn State transfer Alex Mateas into the center position. He was routinely pushed back by Maryland’s defensive line last week. Bullock did play some at right guard at the end of the game last week, but it remains to be seen whether he will see more time this week. Left guard Steve Greene has 20 career starts under his belt, while right guard Gus Cruz started five games last season.

While the UConn offensive line has a lot of starting experience, it was the 121st-ranked rush offense last season and currently ranks 122nd this season. If there was ever a game for Michigan’s defensive line to get off the schneid it is this one. The Huskies have allowed 10 sacks through two games.

Whitmer operates mostly out of the shotgun with one back offset and one tight end. Weist likes to line up three receivers to one side and one on the other, which typically results in a throw to the single receiver, Phillips. This is how Phillips scored a 75-yard touchdown last week. Maryland used a blitz-heavy scheme to pressure Whitmer and attack Hemingway, which is typically Mattison’s style, but we haven’t seen it the past two weeks. After getting torched by Kyle Pohl a week ago by sitting back, expect Mattison to dial up the blitz early and often this week.

Michigan offense vs UConn defense: When Michigan has the ball

Both Maryland and Towson moved the ball well against the UConn defense, and both did so with a fairly balanced attack. Towson passed for 193 yards and rushed for 201, while Maryland gained 277 through the air and 224 on the ground. The 212.4 rushing yards allowed per game ranks 104th nationally and both the Tigers and Terps had individual rushers go over 100 yards. Maryland quarterback CJ Brown gained 122 yards on 16 carries, while running back Brandon Ross was five yards short of 100 on 18 carries. Towson running back Terrance West gained 156 yards on 36 carries.

Only five starters return form last year’s UConn defense which ranked ninth nationally in total defense. Three starters from that unit that are no longer around were drafted this past April, most notably tackle Kendall Reyes who was selected 49th overall by the San Diego Chargers.

The leading player on this year’s defense is the only returning starting linebacker, Yawin Smallwood. He led the Huskies with 120 tackles last season and ranked second with 15 tackles for loss. He already has 30 tackles in the first two games, which is twice as many as the next closest. Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart are the other starters. You and I cheered for Stewart a couple years ago when, while playing for Florida, he blocked an Ohio State punt and returned it for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl. He played in 12 games for the Gators that season before transferring to UConn a year ago. Donohue is a Maryland transfer who played in 20 games for the Terps in 2009-10.

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood has 30 tackles in the first two games (Stephen Slade)

The four-man front includes redshirt senior tackle Shamar Stephen who has played in 34 career games. He ranks third on the team with 14 tackles so far this season. The other tackle is is redshirt sophomore Julian Campenni who started two games last season. End Tim Willman leads the team with 1.5 tackles for loss this season. He started the final game of 2012 and earned the starting role this year, while redshirt junior Angelo Pruitt is the other end.

The secondary is led (on the stat-sheet) by redshirt freshman safety Obi Melifonwu who has 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception so far. Free safety Ty-Meer Brown is the most veteran of the unit with 19 career starts. He has nine tackles and a fumble recovery on the young season. The corners are senior Taylor Mack and redshirt junior Byron Jones. Mack has the team’s only other interception this season.

Last week, UConn played Maryland conservatively, intent on not giving up the big play, which they failed to do. The Huskies didn’t blitz once and mostly sat back in a quarters or cover two defense. Against both Maryland and Towson, UConn’s linebackers were susceptible to the run fake, getting drawn up and allowing space behind them, so look for Michigan to take advantage of the play action.

UConn hasn’t sacked the quarterback yet this season, so the Michigan offensive line – which might be shuffled this week – has an opportunity to perform well. Maryland had good success running the zone read and inverted veer, which Michigan doesn’t do as much with Gardner, but has success with especially later in the game.

The other third: Special Teams

Redshirt senior Kicker Chad Chirsten has made all three field goal attempts with a long of 34. He converted 14-of-21 last season and has a career high of 50. He also handles kickoff duties. Last week, only one kickoff resulted in a touchback, so that could be beneficial for Dennis Norfleet. Fellow redshirt senior Cole Wagner was a second team All-Big East selection last season with a 40.5 yards per punt average. Through two games this season he has already punted 15 times and is averaging just 37.5 yards.

Phillips and Foxx are the kick returners. Neither has broken one yet, but Phillips has a long of 39 yards. Freshman receiver Brian Lemelle is the only Husky who has returned a punt – two for two yards.


A more focused Michigan team will take the field tomorrow night looking to atone for a poor performance last week. Devin Gardner will be crisp like he was against Central Michigan and Notre Dame. Michigan will look to get Fitzgerald Toussaint established early to set up the play action. Later in the game, the offense will mix in the zone read and inverted veer and Gardner will have a big day with his feet and arm.

The defense will be more aggressive rather than sitting back and letting Whitmer pick them apart. It might give up a couple of big plays, but overall it will keep the UConn offense off balance and result in the best performance of the season to date, piling up several sacks.

The nation will be watching to see just how Michigan responds from the Akron letdown. Everybody wants to know if this team is as good as it looked in the first two weeks or if those were just a mirage. A bye week follows, so Michigan will play with a chip on its shoulder and win convincingly.

Michigan 45 – UConn 20

2012 Michigan offense infographic

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Stay tuned for the Michigan defense infographic in the next day or two.

2012 season preview: Record watch

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

For the past three years, we have all watched Denard Robinson run up and down the field, leading the Maize and Blue as he set our hearts ablaze. From his first snap against Western Michigan to his to his three-year domination of Notre Dame to his clutch five touchdown performance to end Ohio State’s winning streak, the man they call Shoelace has littered the Michigan record books. He stands poised to finish in the top five in pretty much every rushing and passing category in Michigan history, so he will reach certain milestones throughout the season. A few other Wolverines can make their mark in the record book as well, so let’s take a look at all of the career records that may be set this year, project when during the season they might occur, as well as where the player will likely finish.

Rushing Records
Attempts Yards Touchdowns 100-yard Games
1. Mike Hart 1,015 1. Mike Hart 5,040 1. Anthony Thomas 55 1. Mike Hart 28
2. Anthony Thomas 924 2. Anthony Thomas 4,472 2. Tyrone Wheatley 47 2. Anthony Thomas 22
3. Chris Perry 811 3. Jamie Morris 4,393 3. Mike Hart 41 3. Tyrone Wheatley 20
4. Jamie Morris 809 4. Tyrone Wheatley 4,178 4. Chris Perry 39 4. Jamie Morris 18
5. Butch Woolfolk 718 5. Butch Woolfolk 3,861 5. Denard Robinson 35 5. Butch Woolfolk 16
6. Tyrone Wheatley 688 6. Chris Perry 3,696 6. Rick Leach 34 6. Rob Lytle 15
7. Billy Talyor 587 7. Rob Lytle 3,317 7. Steve Smith 31 7. Denard Robinson 14
8. Rob Lytle 557 8. Denard Robinson 3,229 8. Billy Taylor 30 8. Billy Taylor 13
9. Denard Robinson 546 9. Billy Taylor 3,072 8. Tom Harmon 30 8. Gordon Bell 13
10. Lawrence Ricks 541 10. Gordon Bell 2,900 10. Butch Woolfolk 29 8. Tim Biakabatuka 13

Attempts: In his rookie campaign, Denard carried the ball just 69 times, but in the last two, he has averaged 238 per season. Last year was 221, or an average of 17 per game. I would expect that to fall slightly with the emergence of Fitz Toussaint (depending on how long Brady Hoke keeps him out) as a true running threat. Let’s say his average falls by one carry per game. He’ll finish with 754 career carries, which would put him in 5th behind Jamie Morris and ahead of Butch Woolfolk. Projected finish: 5th

Denard will rank highly in every major rushing category

Yards: It’s hard to imagine that Denard ran for just 351 yards in 2009, but he burst onto the scene with 1,702 in 2010, his first season as a starter. Last year, that total dropped along with his carries due to Toussaint’s emergence, but he still broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,176. Like attempts, his yards will likely drop slightly again this year and be around the 950-1,050 mark. Even 950 would put him just past Tyrone Wheatley into 4th place all-time. He would need 1,164 to pass Jamie Morris for 3rd and 1,243 to pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd. That’s as high as he could conceivably reach.

So when could we see him move up the ranks? There’s a chance he could pass Rob Lytle on Saturday, but it would take a monumental effort against an Alabama defense that allowed just one runner, Georgia Southern freshman running back Dominique Swope (153), to gain that much last season. Denard will surely pass Lytle by Week 2 against an Air Force defense that Michigan should run all over. He should pass Chris Perry by Week 5 against Purdue or Week 6 against Illinois, and then cruise by Butch Woolfolk around Week 9 against Minnesota. Projected finish: 4th

Touchdowns: With 30 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons, including a career high 16 last year, Denard is already in the top five in Michigan history. There’s a slight chance he could move into first place, but 20 rushing touchdowns is a very tall order. It’s more likely that he’ll reach 2nd with at least 12 this season. He should pass Chris Perry in the first two or three weeks and then Mike Hart by mid-season before closing in on Tyrone Wheatley. Projected finish: 2nd

100-yard Games: In 2010, Denard ran for at least 100 yards in nine of Michigan’s 13 games, missing Jamie Morris’ 1987 single-season mark by one. Last year, he had five. It’s likely that the farthest he will climb is 4th, but there’s a chance he could reach Wheatley with six more 100-yard games. If I had to bet, I would say Air Force, UMass, Notre Dame, and Minnesota are the most likely 100-yard games with a couple others possible. But a lot of it has to do with how quickly Toussaint is reinstated as well. Projected finish: 4th

There are several other rushing categories he could move up in aside from the main ones listed above:

• He has averaged 5.91 yards per rush and could potentially pass Biakabutuka and Lytle for 3rd all-time.
• He’s currently in a four-way tie for 4th in career 150-yards rushing games with Taylor, Woolfolk, and Wheatley. One more and he’ll move into a tie for 3rd with Morris. Two more and he’ll tie Thomas for 2nd.
• Denard needs two more games of 200 yards rushing to tie Hart for 1st, although with just three in his career, it’s unlikely.

Passing Records
Attempts Completions Yards Touchdowns
1. Chad Henne 1,387 1. Chad Henne 828 1. Chad Henne 9,715 1. Chad Henne 87
2. John Navarre 1,366 2. John Navarre 765 2. John Navarre 9,254 2. John Navarre 72
3. Elvis Grbac 835 3. Elvis Grbac 522 3. Elvis Grbac 6,460 3. Elvis Grbac 71
4. Todd Collins 711 4. Todd Collins 457 4. Todd Collins 5,858 4. Rick Leach 48
4. Tom Brady 711 5. Tom Brady 443 5. Jim Harbaugh 5,449 5. Steve Smith 42
6. Steve Smith 648 6. Jim Harbaugh 387 6. Tom Brady 5,351 6. Denard Robinson 40
7. Jim Harbaugh 620 7. Brian Griese 355 7. Denard Robinson 4,931 7. Todd Collins 37
8. Brian Griese 606 8. Denard Robinson 338 8. Steve Smith 4,860 8. Tom Brady 35
9. Denard Robinson 580 9. Steve Smith 324 9. Brian Griese 4,383 9. Brian Griese 33
10. Rick Leach 537 10. Rick Leach 250 10. Rick Leach 4,284 10. Jim Harbaugh 31

Attempts: Denard has averaged 274 attempts per season as a starter, although he threw 33 fewer passes last season than he did in 2010. I expect this year to be somewhere in between, around the 275 mark, which would move him into 3rd place behind Chad Henne and John Navarre. The numbers of those two across the board won’t be challenged. Denard may pass Brian Griese on Saturday, though he threw 26 or more passes just twice all last season and three times in 2010. He should move past Todd Collins by midseason and near Elvis Grbac by season’s end. Projected finish: 3rd

Denard should finish in the top four in every major passing category

Completions: In the last two years, Denard has averaged 162 completions per season. Last year, he completed just 142 passes and I expect that to rise this year along with his completion percentage. Around 175 completions is likely and that would move him into 4th place, ahead of Collins and just behind Grbac. He may reach Grbac, but won’t even sniff Navarre or Henne. He needs 18 completions to move up one spot and pass Griese, but the most he completed in a single game last season was 17. That’s probably unlikely against Alabama’s defense. Projected finish: 4th

Yards: With an average of 2,371 passing yards the past two seasons, I expect that to be about the mark this year. Let’s say an even 2,400. If he does so, he will easily occupy the 3rd spot in Michigan history. The next person on the list to pass is Tom Brady, but it’s not going to happen in Week 1. It will likely happen against Air Force, and then he’ll pass Harbaugh shortly thereafter. Collins should be passed by midseason and then Grbac late in the year. Projected finish: 3rd

Touchdowns: Denard is already 6th in the record books in career touchdown passes and needs just two more to move into a tie with Steve Smith for 5th. That could happen on Saturday. Last season, he threw 20 and the year before that he thew 18. Twenty is probably a realistic number this year and if that happens, he’ll finish 4th behind Henne, Navarre, and Grbac. There’s a big gap between 4th and 3rd and I think it’s too much to ask for. Projected finish: 4th

There are several other passing categories that he could finish highly in aside from the main ones listed above.

• He’s currently 8th in career completion percentage (58.3) and could move as high as 5th with a great season.
• He’s currently 5th in efficiency rating (142.1) and could jump another spot or two as well.
• With three more 150-yard passing games, he will jump up to 4th, and with six he could move into a tie for 3rd with Grbac and Collins.
• With four 200-yard passing games, he will jump Harbaugh for 5th. He needs five to tie Collins for 4th and six to reach Brady for 3rd.
• As a toast to Brett Favre, he will likely also finish his career with the dubious honor of most interceptions thrown. He’s currently 6th and needs just eight more to pass Henne for the top (or is it bottom?) spot.

Other Records
Total Yards Gained Big Ten QB Rush Yds Tackles Field Goals Made
1. Chad Henne 9,300 1. Antwaan Randle-El 3,895 1. Ron Simpkins 516 1. Garrett Rivas 64
2. John Navarre 9,031 2. Denard Robinson 3,229 2. Jarrett Irons 440 2. Remy Hamilton 63
3. Denard Robinson 8,160 3. Juice Williams 2,557 3. Erick Anderson 428 3. Mike Gillette 57
4. Steve Smith 6,554 4. Paul Girgash 414 4. J.D. Carlson 39
5. Rick Leach 6,460 5. Mike Mallory 396 5. Ali Haji-Sheikh 31
6. Elvis Grbac 6,221 6. Andy Cannavino 385 6. Bob Bergeron 29
7. Jim Harbaugh 5,745 7. Calvin O’Neal 378 7. Hayden Epstein 26
8. Todd Collins 5,702 8. Sam Sword 377 8. Mike Lantry 21
9. Tom Brady 5,180 9. Mike Boren 369 9. K.C. Lopata 21
10. Anthony Thomas 4,472 15. Jordan Kovacs 266 15. Brendan Gibbons 14

Denard shouldn’t have any trouble passing Henne for most career yards gained and Antwaan Randle-El for the Big Ten career rushing yards by a quarterback.

Safety Jordan Kovacs is currently 15th on Michigan’s career tackles list with 266. He would need 95 to pass Steve Morrison and move into the top 10. Another nine would allow him to pass Mike Boren for 9th. If he matches his career high of 116 which was set in 2010, he would move up to 7th. An interesting note is that every guy in the top 10 was a linebacker so Kovacs would be the first safety to reach that point.

Kicker Brendan Gibbons is also 15th on Michigan’s career field goals made list with 14. Thirteen of those came last season and if he can match that this year, he’ll move into 7th on the career list, just ahead of Hayden Epstein. As just a junior this season, he has a chance to move into the top three or four by the time his career is up. Who would have thought that after his freshman season?

As you can see, there are a lot of milestones to be reached this season, mostly by Denard Robinson. Stay tuned to Maize and Go Blue each week as we will keep you updated on his progress. It’s fun to see him pass some of the all-time greats in Michigan history week in and week out.

Friday Pick’em – EMU Staff Predictions

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Last week, I was just a point away in my prediction. In fact, I was secretly hoping Brandon Gibbons would miss the extra point after the final touchdown so my prediction would be right (also because in’s Streak for the Cash, I picked that there would be a missed field goal or extra point in the second half). Sorry Brandon. I was wrong on both accounts, but am still excited that I win the DVD box set of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and a box of Lucky Charms in honor of our little green weeping leprechaun friends down in South Bend.

Hart won't be trash talking EMU on Saturday like he did back in 2007, but he won't be as happy with the result either

This week, Michigan hosts Eastern Michigan and we all get to take a deep breath and recover from the near heartbreak last Saturday. We at Maize and Go Blue will be battling for a Mike Hart football card and The Eagles Hell Freezes Over DVD because, you know, that’s about the only time Eastern will have a chance to beat Michigan.

The picks:

Justin: Michigan has to guard against an emotional let down after last week’s thrilling come-from-behind win over hated Notre Dame. It’s the first early kickoff of the season so expect the Wolverines to get off to a slow start. After that, I don’t foresee it being much of a game. EMU is certainly improved with a solid rushing attack, but Michigan will stack the box to force a less than stellar passing game to beat it through the air. Eastern will get some yards and points, but won’t be able to keep up with Michigan.

Michigan 45 – Eastern Michigan 20

Matt: Many Michigan fans are taking the Eastern Michigan game lightly. And although I do believe Michigan will gain the victory Saturday afternoon, I don’t want to look at it as a gimme.

I think that in this game, Michigan’s defense still may struggle a bit, something that us Michigan fans need to be ready for this season, but I think they will get the job done. Denard will have over 100 yards rushing and many more passing. I also am hoping to see Fitzgerald Toussaint back at running back.

Eastern Michigan may take the lead in the game, but the only way I see that happening is if they get the ball first and score. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little bit of a back and forth game, at least for a couple of quarters.

Michigan 41 – Eastern Michigan 27

Josh: EMU features a “potent” rushing attack led by Javonti Greene (36 for 266) and Dominique Sherrer (30 for 231). Both boast over 7 ypc. It’s safe to say that with a whopping 176 yards passing in two games that EMU is all about the ground game.

While they bowled over Howard in their season opener 41-9, they struggled last week against Alabama St., winning a close 14-7 game. Now, having only looked at the stats and not seen the actual game, I can only speak speculatively about their team. Neither opponent put up many yards against them. Howard managed 201 in a balanced attack (105 passing, 96 rushing) and Alabama St. put up 223, mostly in the air as they were held to -13 yards rushing. In both games EMU rushed for well over 300 yards.

Much like Michigan a year ago in the early going, it’s hard to accurately tell how good EMU’s rushing attack really is, having only played lower level teams. That said, it is clear that they have some outstanding running backs and will look to get them a lot of touches (66 between Sherrer and Greene and 90 overall in two games).

Michigan’s weakness has been on the defensive line, against the other directional team (Western Mich.) when they couldn’t generate a decent pass rush, sans the blitzes, and they struggled against the run as well. EMU probably won’t be as good as WMU but they should still look to exploit the Michigan front seven. But with a one-dimensional offense it won’t be too hard for Mattison to cook up something to shut down the run and force them to pass. Normally that would worry me but this is Michigan (I can’t get enough of that Hoke quote!). We have far superior athletes than EMU and it shouldn’t take too much effort to stop their passing game.

Denard shouldn’t have any problems running or passing all over EMU and the game should be well in hand by the third quarter, opening up some playing time for Devin Gardner and perhaps some of the much ballyhooed frosh backs, Hayes and Rawls. This should be a good confidence booster for the Wolverines before Hoke’s old team, San Diego St., comes to town in what should be a very tough fought battle next week.

Michigan wins a “nail biter.”

Michigan 56 – Eastern Michigan 7

Chris: After last week’s last second win against Notre Dame, the guys in Ann Arbor probably had a good week of practice, all the while thinking back on how good it felt to beat one of their hated rivals with a fourth quarter comeback in the first night game ever played at Michigan Stadium.

This leads me to believe that Michigan will start the game on Saturday vs. EMU a little sluggish.  EMU has 13 returning starters and is in the third year of Head Coach Ron English’s (former UM assistant coach) system (generally, team’s are much better in a head coach’s third year).  Plus, the game is a noon kickoff, which may feel early compared to last week’s 8pm kickoff.  The game will be close early on, but the struggles for Michigan will end halfway through the second quarter and the Wolverines will take control of the game.

Michigan 38 – Eastern Michigan 14

Game 3 Preview: Eastern Michigan

Friday, September 16th, 2011

In case you forgot, or have been living in a cave, Michigan won in thrilling fashion last week, scoring two touchdowns in the final 1:13 to beat Notre Dame for the third straight year. It already feels like Brady Hoke has been at Michigan forever, but in reality, it’s been two games, and what a crazy two games they have been.

It’s basically unquantifiable, but I wonder what the most interesting first couple of games to start a career at a school is. Hoke’s start has to rank up there pretty high, starting off with the first non-full game full game in Michigan history and then the fourth quarter magic in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium.

Michigan v. Eastern Michigan
Saturday Sept. 17
12 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
2-0 Record 2-0
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Wins Howard 41-9
Alabama State 14-7
34.5 Scoring Offense 27.5
152 Rushing YPG 331
218 Passing YPG 88
370 Total Offense 419
20.5 Scoring Defense 8
147 Rush Defense YPG 41.5
249 Pass Defense YPG 170.5
396 Total Defense YPG 212
8 Takeaways 3
3 Giveaways 3
2/1 Sacks By/Allowed 10/3
6-of-15 (40%) Third-down Conv. 10-of-26 (38%)
0-for-0 Field Goals 2-for-3 (67%)
35.6 Net Punt Avg. 34.3

This week, Hoke hits a milestone with his 100th game as a head coach, but he’s probably ready to settle down into a typical Michigan football groove with a classic Mid-American Conference spanking. Eastern Michigan makes the 11-mile drive from Ypsilanti, and for the first time since 1989, is off to a 2-0 start.

Hoke isn’t taking Eastern lightly, however: “You can tell Ron [English]’s done a great job in his footprint on that program…If you look at 331 yards per game, I don’t care who you’re rushing the ball, if you’re averaging that, that’s pretty significant,” Hoke said Wednesday. “There’s a number of guys that have spent time here in Ann Arbor on that staff who are very good coaches, and guys who understand and have a philosophy on how you play the game of football. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Coach speak? Yes. But Hoke’s the type of coach to instill the “don’t overlook an opponent” mentality into his team. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare.


There’s really no comparison at this position. EMU’s junior quarterback, Alex Gillett, is a second-year starter who completed just 55 percent of his passes a year ago for 1,633 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also led the Eagles in rushing with 766 yards and five touchdowns on 4.3 yard per carry. Interestingly enough, Gillett began his career against Michigan two years ago when he took over for injured Andy Schmitt midway through the game and completed 2-of-4 passes for nine yards and rushed for 40 yards.

So far this season, he has been below average, completing 47.5 percent for 176 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. He has, however, rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

Comparatively, Denard Robinson had a better fourth quarter last week than Gillett has had in two games. At this point, Robinson is behind last year’s pace, having just a 54 percent completion rate for 436 yards, 4 touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing for 154 yards and a touchdown. Despite his struggles in the passing game, he’s still the most explosive player on the field.

Edge: Michigan

Former Michigan star Mike Hart makes his return to the Big House, but on the other sideline

Running Backs:

Eastern brings the nation’s fifth-best rush offense into Ann Arbor, coached by former Michigan running back Mike Hart. It will be a bitter-sweet day for Hart, returning to his old stomping grounds but coaching against his Alma mater. He has a pair of talented backs at his disposal with Javonti Greenes and Dominique Sherrer. Greene is averaging 7.4 yard per carry and 133 yards per game, while Sherrer is averaging 7.7 and 116.

Green is the more explosive of the two, but both are equally dangerous, and with Hart coaching them up, they cannot be underestimated.

Michigan missed Fitzgerald Toussaint last week against Notre Dame. The sophomore was out with an injury and it showed as Michigan failed to get anything going on the ground. Hoke said Wednesday that Fitz should be back and Michigan needs him to prove he can be a feature back that opposing defenses have to respect. None of the other backs stepped up last week, combining for just 10 yards on eight carries.

Edge: Eastern Michigan

Receivers and Tight Ends:

The leading receiver for the Eagles so far this season is Nick Olds, who has caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. He and junior tight end Garrett Hoskins are both good sized targets, but the EMU pass offense ranks 117th out of 120 in FBS.

Michigan has plenty of targets who, whether last week was a mirage or not, showed they can go up and get the ball. Junior Hemingway is the obvious go-to guy this year, but Michigan isn’t lacking for play-makers at the position.

Edge: Michigan

Offensive Line:

Eastern’s line has been good enough to pave the way for 331 rushing yards per game so far this season. Standard cupcake disclaimer applies, as those two games were against Howard and FCS school Alabama State, but it’s still impressive. The unit has allowed three sacks so far, which isn’t bad either.

Michigan’s line got manhandled by Notre Dame’s defensive front last week. It wasn’t able to get any push up front to allow the backs any running room. However, Notre Dame’s front seven is a talented bunch and made it clear from the onset that it was going to stack the box and force Robinson to beat it with his arm. The UM offensive line is still more talented than EMU and that will show on Saturday.

Edge: Michigan

Defensive Line:

The Eagles have been able to get to the quarterback through the first two games, recording 10 sacks, which is good for fifth nationally. Senior lineman Brad Ohrman has recorded two-and-a-half of those.

Michigan’s line has been average so far. It gave up just 96 rushing yards to Western Michigan in Week 1 (in three quarters), but allowed Notre Dame to gain 198 on six yards per carry. It hasn’t been able to consistently pressure the quarterback, with the exception of freshman Jake Ryan, although he has been rushing from both the linebacker and end spot. Like the offensive lines, Michigan still has the more talented of the two teams’ units

Edge: Michigan


Eastern has a couple of solid linebackers in Marcus English and junior college transfer Justin Cudworth. Cudworth leads the team in tackles with 19, while English is second with 13. They each also have 3.5 tackles for loss, and English has a sack.

Linebacker Marcus English is a high school teammate of Roy Roundtree, Michael Shaw, and Brandon Moore

Michigan’s linebackers have been hit-or-miss. With Kenny Demens and Brandon Herron (who didn’t play against ND), you have to take the good with the bad at this point. Cam Gordon may be back this week, but may not have the stamina to play much yet. It will help the unit when he returns. Jake Ryan, as mentioned above, has been a surprise. He’s been able to get some pressure and make plays, but has also had his share of struggles.

Edge: Michigan


The EMU secondary features a couple of BCS conference transfers in former UCLA transfer Marlon Pollard and Louisville transfer Latarrious Thomas. As a unit, the Eagles secondary is allowing just 170 passing yards per game (again, Howard and Alabama State).

Michigan’s secondary got torched by Michael Floyd et al. last week, but that’s likely the best passing offense it will face all season. Senior Troy Woolfolk continues to get banged up and J.T. Floyd and Courtney Avery are struggling. The safety play has been the most consistent so far with Jordan Kovacs as the big playmaker and Thomas Gordon not giving up the big play.

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams:

Sophomore kicker Kody Fulkerson has connected on 2-of-3 field goals so far, with a long of 45, and 7-of-7 extra points. Punter Jay Karutz is averaging just 34.3 yards per punt (92nd nationally). The returnmen are pretty good. Sherrer handles kick return duties and is averaging 29.3 yards per, which would rank in the top 15 nationally.

Michigan is still yet to try a field goal, and freshman punter Matt Wile is averaging 35.6 yards per punt. The return game hasn’t done much so far with a long return of 21 on a punt and 25 on a kickoff.

What I am worried about is the kick coverage. While it may not come back to haunt the Wolverines this game, it will eventually. Opponents are averaging 23.1 yards per return and have nearly broken a couple.

Edge: Even


EMU is coached by former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. He’s in his third year there and is slowly turning the program around. The Eagles are 2-0 for the first time since 1989.

Hoke knows all about turning programs around and has a similar career path as English, although a much quicker rise. Both served as assistants under Lloyd Carr, but Hoke has been a head coach since 2003.

Edge: Michigan


Michigan has to guard against an emotional let down after the thrilling last-second win over Notre Dame under the lights last week. Hoke is even-keeled enough to keep that from happening. Eastern will be pumped up, off to its best start in more than two decades, and coached by former Michigan players and coaches. Still, it’s in the Big House, and EMU hasn’t played a substantial opponent yet.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan may get off to a slow start, but expect to see a lot of runs. After last week’s running game debacle, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges will want to work on the running game, keep the playbook as simple as possible, and cruise to victory.

Defensively, Michigan will have its hands full with the EMU rush offense. Look for Mattison to stack up to stop the run and force Gillett to throw the ball. Expect a couple of interceptions as a result. The Eagles will probably still get some yards, but won’t be able to keep pace with Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan 45 – Eastern Michigan 20

Good to Know:

Michigan is 9-0 all-time against Eastern Michigan, having outscored the Eagles 296-59

Michigan has won 11 straight September games

Michigan is plus-five in turnover margin so far this season. It was minus-32 combined over the past three seasons

Three former Wolverine players (Kurt Anderson, Mike Hart, and Steve Morrison) are on the Eagles coaching staff, as well as two former coaches (Ron English and Tom Burpee). In 2007, Hart rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns for the Wolverines against Eastern Michigan

Brady Hoke is 4-2 against Eastern Michigan.

Denard Robinson needs just four more completions to move into the top 10 all-time at Michigan. He also needs four more touchdown passes to tie Drew Henson for 11th. With 41 rushing yards, he will pass Tony Boles (1987-89) for 17th on the career rushing list, and with four more rushing touchdowns he will tie Tim Biakabatuka (1993-95) and Lawrence Ricks (1979-82) for 15th.

Hoke Debut Victorious in Rain Shortened Contest

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

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

Safety Jordan Kovacs sacks WMU quarerback Alex Carder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Michigan Football (for Dummies)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.

“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.

In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.

So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”

Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.

When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.

Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.

Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.

An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast

Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.

Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.

Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.

The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.

Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.

The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.

The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.

The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.

Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.

To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.

Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.

In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.

By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.

In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.

In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.

Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.

Reporters With an Axe to Grind

The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.

The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.

The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.

While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article being just one of many slanted pieces by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder

There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112. 

This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.

Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.

So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.

I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.

To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back

So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.

If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).

When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.

In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.

The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).  

In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.

Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.


*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.

In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).