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The 2nd Annual Maize and Go Blue Awards

Monday, December 24th, 2012


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

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

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

Click here to revisit last year’s awards.

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

(Ann Arbor News)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Jake Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison

Greg Mattison has done wonders for the Michigan defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon

Jeremy Gallon led Michigan in receptions and yards (MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell

Will Campbell was named All-Big Ten honorable mention (MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess

Devin Funchess led Michigan in touchdown receptions (Getty Images)

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

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

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

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: None

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner

Devin Gardner improved immensely from 2011 (Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbitrary Michellanea still has a chance

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

Stocking up for war

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

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

Stock is rising

S

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

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

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

30 years is a long time

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

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

Mike Martin to Don Winged Helmet for Last Time in Senior Bowl

Saturday, January 28th, 2012


This afternoon, Michigan fans get one final chance to see Mike Martin in a winged helmet when he takes the field for the North team in the Senior Bowl.

The beloved Michigan senior defensive tackle who persevered through three different head coaches, multiple coordinators, and two losing seasons, had a great 2011 campaign but it has been his efforts in Senior Bowl practices that have the NFL scouts raving.

He has been going up against Ohio State center Mike Brewster in practice and from all accounts has gotten the better of the matchup.

ESPN’s Todd McShay has been impressed: “If Michigan DT Mike Martin took a play off I haven’t seen it,” McShay tweeted. “Only 6-1 but 207 lbs and violent hands. There’s a place in (the) NFL for this guy.”

Scout’s Scott Kennedy agrees. “Once they went 11v11, every time I checked the offensive backfield, Michigan DT Mike Martin was in it disrupting things,” he tweeted.

Martin has been working with former Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis since the season ended in preparation for Aprils NFL Draft. Analyst Mel Kiper projects Martin a second or third round pick, but his performance in the Senior Bowl and in the upcoming NFL combine could help his stock rise.

“Mike Martin is a freak, no question,” said Barwis. “His body is amazing, his physical attributes are incredible. He’s going to turn the senior bowl and combine upside down, and people are going to be shocked what he’s able to do at 300 pounds. He’s gotten a lot stronger, a lot more explosive.”

Tune in to the NFL Network today at 4pm Eastern time to watch Martin compete against the top seniors from the south.

Those Who Stay are Sugar Bowl Champions

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012


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

#13 Michigan 23 – #11 Virginia Tech 20

Final Stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inaugural Maize and Go Blue Awards

Friday, December 23rd, 2011


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

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

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

Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

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

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

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

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

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson

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

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

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

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

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  | Mike Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Streak ending statement game,” said Josh.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson

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

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

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

Michigan fans should expect big things from Robinson in 2012.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Heston Running Back of the Year | Fitzgerald Toussaint

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Carter Receiver of the Year | Junior Hemingway

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | David Molk

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honoree.

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

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

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hart Newcomer of the Year | Blake Countess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan Welcomes Nebraska to Big Ten with Big House Beatdown

Saturday, November 19th, 2011


Coming into the season Nebraska was one of the early favorites to win the B1G Ten Legends division. Coming into this weekend’s game Nebraska was still in the running for the top spot in the Legends division and a chance to play in the first ever B1G Ten Championship game. Michigan was having none of it as the Wolverines thumped the Cornhuskers 45-17 en route to their ninth win of the season.

#18 Michigan 45 – #16 Nebraska 17
Final Stats
45 Final Score 17
9-2 (5-2) Record 8-3 (4-3)
418 Total Yards 260
238 Net Rushing Yards 138
180 Net Passing Yards 122
24 First Downs 11
1 Turnovers 3
5-45 Penalties – Yards 8-73
4-147 Punts – Yards 6-276
41:13 Time of Possession 18:39
8-for-18 Third Down Conversions 3-for-13
1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 0-for-2
3-4 Sacks By – Yards 1-13
1-for-2 Field Goals 1-for-1
6-for-6 PATs 2-for-2
5-for-5 Red Zone Scores – Chances 1-for-2

Michigan was in control pretty much from its second series on, although Nebraska made it interesting for a few minutes in the second quarter. But the Wolverine offense and defense played what I thought was their best game overall this year.

Michigan couldn’t get anything going on its first series, going 3-and-out, but Nebraska did the exact same on its first series. On the first play of Michigan’s next drive we saw something we got accustomed to last season, but haven’t seen all that much of this year: a Denard keeper for a big gain. After that, a screen pass and a short run, both by Toussaint gave Michigan another first down. After a short keeper and an incomplete pass, Michigan was faced with 3rd-and-9, but Denard hit Roy Roundtree for a gain of 46 yards. A personal foul penalty moved Michigan inside the 3-yard line, and on 2nd-and-goal Denard faked it to Stephen Hopkins, rolled left, and hit Jeremy Gallon across the middle of the end zone for six points.

Nebraska looked like it was going to get rolling after a first down option keeper by Taylor Martinez went for 11 yards, however, Michigan had other thoughts. Mike Martin stuffed Rex Burkhead, and Kenny Demens had a pass break up on third down to get Michigan the ball back after a punt.

Michigan took over in great field position at its 45-yard line. A play-action found no one open so Denard took off and gained 15. Two straight carries by Toussaint gained 14 yards and set up a Denard keeper for about seven. Denard was almost picked off on a pass attempt to Kelvin Grady and was then sacked for a loss of 13 on 3rd-and-8. Fortunately, Michigan was still within field goal range and Brendan Gibbons nailed through a 42-yarder to put Michigan on top 10-0.

But Nebraska wasn’t ready to lay down and die. On the third play of its next drive, Martinez hit a wide open receiver down the field, who broke a couple tackles then walked into the end zone from 54 yards out. 10-7 Michigan.

Michigan turned the ball over on its next possession as Denard’s pass on a second down was tipped and picked off. Nebraska looked like it was going to squander its opportunity as Jordan Kovacs stuffed Burkhead in the backfield for a loss of five. Faced with a 4th-and-14 Nebraska booted a 51-yarder in to tie the game at 10.

The Michigan defense was the big story on the day, stuffing the Nebraska run game (photo by Tony Ding, AP)

Michigan took over on its own 26 and ran Toussaint a couple times for a first down. A couple plays later, a third down pass to Hemingway kept the drive alive, and then a Denard keeper for eight kept the drive going once again on a third down. A play later, Toussaint broke free for 16 yards, and two plays after that, Denard visited the end zone on a QB keeper up the middle to put Michigan back ahead.

After two straight first down plays Michigan’s defense stepped up, first stuffing Martinez on a keeper for a loss of seven, then Jake Ryan tripped up Martinez as he tried to scramble. Michigan returned the favor and went three-and-out as Denard came up just shy of the marker on third down.  Nebraska also went three-and-out and then Michigan ran the clock out to end the half.

Nebraska got the ball to start the second half – or so they thought. Return man Kenny Bell fumbled the ball and Courtney Avery was there to fall on it. Michigan made the most of the turnover, as its has done a lot this season, punching it in for six points a few plays later. The drive was aided by a pass interference that was a bit questionable, but who are we to argue with professional referees? Denard scored his second rushing touchdown of the game and Michigan took a 24-10 lead.

Michigan’s defense held again as Mike Martin stopped Martinez on a 3rd-and-short to force the punt. Punter Brett Maher bobbled the snap and Josh Furman took advantage of the situation, blocking the punt. The ‘Huskers recovered but couldn’t get it past the marker, giving Michigan possession at midfield.

Toussaint took the first two plays and went for 11 and 10 yards, respectively. After the 10-yarder he was hit out of bounds and the officials tacked on another 15 yards to set Michigan up inside the red zone. Denard was stuffed on 3rd-and-1 and Hoke sent the field gaol unit out. However, holder Drew Dileo took the snap and carried the ball down to the 1, setting up first and goal. Toussaint walked in for another Michigan touchdown to blow the game open at 31-10.

After Nebraska went 3-and-out, the punt pinned Michigan back at its own 4-yard line, where the Wolverines proceeded to go 3-and-out as well. Nebraska benefited from the field position game and took over at the Michigan 31. After a Martinez first down through the air, Nebraska ran the same play three straight times – a pitch right to Burkhead. On the third try the ‘Huskers picked up a first down. It was their first third down conversion of the day, with just over a minute and a half to go in the third quarter.

Fitz Tousaint recorded his second-straight (and third in the last four) game with more than 130 rushing yards (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

On 2nd-and-goal Martinez handed the ball to Burkhead on an option read but Burkhead pitched it to Ameer Abdullah who took it in for six. That made the score 31-17 Michigan, but there was plenty of time remaining for Nebraska to come back.

In what may have been the most critical play of the game, Michigan received a gift. After being stuffed on third down, Michigan lined up for the punt. Just as the ball left Will Hagerup’s foot, a ‘Husker defender came in and ever so slightly nipped his non-kicking foot as it was off the ground. The officials conferred and ruled it roughing the kicker, and first down Meeeeshigan!

The Wolverines made the most of the gift as Toussaint made some nifty moves on first down for a gain of 13, and then after a snap infraction by Molk, he broke a couple tackles for a gain of 8. On 3rd-and-short, Denard hit Martavious Odoms for the first down, then two plays later for a 38-yard touchdown on a deep pass. 38-17 Michigan.

Nebraska gifted Michigan another fumble on the kickoff return and J.B. Fitzgerald recovered on the ‘Husker 22-yard line. Michigan couldn’t get anything going and was forced into a 4th-and-long field goal attempt from 42 yards out, but Gibbons missed it wide right.

The defense held strong on its next series. Jake Ryan sacked Martinez on second down, and then forced a Martinez fumble on third down, which was recovered by Ryan Van Bergen.

Toussaint capped the scoring as he broke several tackles and broke free for 31-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s first play. 45-17 Michigan.

Nebraska is not a top five team, or maybe not even a top 10 team, but after a complete dominance by Michigan on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines proved they are for real. If there are still doubters about this Michigan team out there, and I know there are, then this performance should have them taking down their ‘fraud flags’ because these Wolverines are not just good, they’re really good. For the first time since 2006 I actually feel good heading in to Ohio week. Heck, I feel better than good, I’m expecting a Michigan win!

FORECAST FRIDAY: Gator Bowl, Michigan vs. Mississippi State

Friday, December 31st, 2010


Bowl season used to be one day to look forward to while ringing in the new year with friends, family, and if you’re fortunate, watching your favorite team play an opponent it doesn’t typically play in a warm and sunny spot you wish you were in. These days, we don’t even get a break in between the last game of the regular season and a watered down slate of games you really don’t care to watch but watch anyway because your only other viewing options are Glee or reruns of House.

Michigan vs. #21 Mississippi State
Block M logo

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 – 1:30 p.m. ET – ESPN2
7-5 Record 8-4
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Illinois 67-65 (3OT)
Purdue 27-16
Wins Memphis 49-7
Georgia 24-12
Alcorn State 49-16
Houston 47-24
#22 Florida 10-7
UAB 29-24
Kentucky 24-17
Mississippi 31-23
#17 Mich. St. 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
#7 Wisconsin 28-48
#8 Ohio State 7-37
Losses #21 Auburn 14-17
#15 LSU 7-29
#12 Alabama 10-30
#13 Arkansas 31-38 2OT
34.3 Scoring Offense 27.1
251.1 Rushing YPG 215.8
249.8 Passing YPG 178.6
500.9 Total Offense 394.3
33.8 Scoring Defense 20.3
187.7 Rush Defense YPG 121.7
260.2 Pass Defense YPG 236.4
447.9 Total Defense YPG 358.1
18 Takeaways 26
27 Giveaways 20
17 Sacks By 26
11 Sacks Allowed 22
75/162 (46%) Third-down Conv. 81/179 (45%)
4/13 Field Goals 12/18
36.7 Net Punt Avg. 38.2

And so it is that we’ve finally arrived at that one day of the year where college football takes precedence over everything else and we Michigan fans get to watch a game we’ve been looking forward to since that brutal game on November 27.

Tomorrow’s matchup with No. 21 Mississippi State takes on added significance after Michigan’s two-year absence from post-season play and the fate of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez hanging in the balance.

Michigan always plays well against SEC teams (20-5-1 all-time and 7-3 in bowl games), but as we’ve learned the past three seasons, this isn’t the Michigan of old anymore.

That could spell doom for Rodriguez, but I don’t think the outcome of Saturday’s game will factor into his fate, and that’s the last thing I’ll say about the coaching situation.

Perhaps the most important factor for Michigan is the health of Denard Robinson who, by all accounts, is as healthy as he has been all season. He struggled late in the season when he was banged up and didn’t seem to have the same burst he displayed early in the season. But Saturday he’ll be healthy and playing in the warm and sunny weather of his home state of Florida.

Mississippi State is an interesting study. It’s a team that hung tough with Auburn and Arkansas, but didn’t really beat anybody good all season and barely survived 4-8 UAB. In other words, its season is reminiscent of Michigan’s.

The strength of the Bulldogs is the defense, led by linebacker Chris White, an all-SEC first team defender who gets the task of trying to slow down Robinson.

In week two, White and the Bulldog defense held Heisman winner Cam Newton to his worst performance of the season. Auburn won 17-14, but Newton completed just 11-of-19 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 18 times for 70 yards (3.9 yards per carry).

Head Coach Dan Mullen hopes to replicate that performance against Michigan on Saturday, but what give me hope is that performance was a long time ago. In the last five games, MSU’s defense gave up an average of 26.4 points per game. That’s good news for Michigan since the Bulldog offense doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboards, ranking in the middle of the pack nationally in points scored.

Offensively, the Bulldogs’ best player is tackle Derek Sherrod, a second-team All-American who figures to be a first round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has helped pave the way for the nation’s 16th-best rush offense, but his line has also allowed 22 sacks. An interesting matchup to watch will be Michigan’s defensive line against Sherrod and company. Can Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh pressure quarterback Chris Relf or get into the backfield to disrupt the run game? If so, it will help Michigan’s young and oft-maligned secondary.

Mississippi State’s pass offense is it’s weakness, ranking 91st in the nation with just 178.6 yards per game. Much of that has to do with the strength of its running game, but Relf ranks 52nd nationally in pass efficiency, just behind Indiana’s Ben Chappell.

Expect the Bulldogs to pound the ball on the ground and try to keep Michigan’s offense off the field, much like Wisconsin did, except out of a spread similar to Illinois’ (and Michigan’s for that matter). That could play into Michigan’s hands since the defense goes up against a similar style offense in practice every day.

Robinson warms up during practice in Jacksonville

According to Rodriguez, Michigan should get junior receiver Martavious Odoms back from a foot injury that has sidelined him since the Michigan State game. If he really is healthy enough to play at full speed, that will help Michigan both in the run and pass game. Odoms is the most experienced wideout on the team,with sure hands, and despite his small frame, is a great blocking receiver to set up Robinson’s runs.

Also healthy is Michigan’s best offensive lineman, center David Molk who missed time in the last few games with a foot injury. His presence will help combat White and MSU linemen Pernell McPhee, Josh Boyd, and Fletcher Cox.

The strength of the Bulldog rush defense and weakness of its pass defense leads me to believe Michigan will look to pass a little more than usual. Rodriguez loves to run to open up the pass, but a couple shots downfield early on could open up the running lanes for Robinson and backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith and keep the safeties from creeping up. In the last five games, MSU gave up 257 yards per game through the air, which is almost exactly what Michigan’s secondary has allowed this season.

Three Predictions:

1. Denard has more rushing yards AND more passing yards than Cam Newton did against Mississippi State

2. Michigan’s defense turns in one of  its best performances of the season

3. Roy Roundtree eclipses 1,000 yards for the season

Overall, I think the game rests solely in the hands of Robinson. If the Robinson of the first half of the season shows up, Michigan will be in good shape. If the Robinson of the second half shows up, it will be a long day. The absence of Tate Forcier, who was ruled academically ineligible yesterday makes the health of Robinson of utmost importance. Freshman Devin Gardner, who was the first QB off the bench in the season opener against UConn, would be the backup, but it would mean burning his medical redshirt that Rodriguez hopes will keep him two years behind Robinson and Forcier.

As long as Robinson doesn’t get banged up, I think Michigan will be able to score around 30 points, which should be enough to beat the Bulldogs. And then the real waiting begins.

Michigan 31 – Mississippi State 27

GIVING THANKS: What I’m thankful for this season, poem style

Thursday, November 25th, 2010


One week in mid-November makes us obsess a little bit more than all the others: Ohio State week, or Buckeye week, or Hate week. Whatever you want to call it, we spend more time during the week longing for Saturday to come, more time ragging on our family, friends, and coworkers who have the unfortunate quality of being Ohio State fans, and more time telling “a Michigan fan and Ohio State fan walked into a bar…” jokes.

 

So I’ll spend a little more time this week writing about all things Michigan and Ohio State related. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving making this a two-day work week! I’ll publish an article every day this week, the schedule as follows:

 

Monday: Wisconsin recap and Ohio State preview

Tuesday: What The Game means to me

Wednesday: Why Michigan has a chance on Saturday
(Note: I apologize for not getting this up today. Our drive from New York to Tennessee for Thanskgiving  took a lot longer than expected and I haven’t yet mastered typing while driving. I’ll try to get it up either today or Friday, but the rest is still on schedule)

Thursday: What I’m thankful for this season

Friday: Michigan-Ohio State game preview

_____________________________________________________________________________________

A Thanksgiving poem of all of the reasons
I’m thankful for Michigan this Twenty-ten season.

For a refurbished Big House with club seats
back to the biggest including new suites.

For keeping The Game at season’s end
when next year Nebraska joins the Big Ten.

For the NCAA ruling Rich didn’t lose control
as was claimed in allegations from those Free Press fools.

For a new AD coming from Dominos, 
a Michigan Man and disciple of Bo.

For Brock Mealer walking against all odds,
beating one percent and giving glory to God.

For Denard against UConn and his long flowing dreads,
his human Heisman pose turning all of our heads.

For 200-yard rushing and passing games
and making Shoelace a household name.

For Tate not quitting through adversity
and remaining loyal to our university.

For coming in and leading touchdown drives
and cheering on Denard and giving high fives.

For Vincent returning from an ACL tear
to be our best back with his dreadlocked hair.

For Junior finally playing an entire year
without getting injured like we all feared.

For his Braylon-like grabs and catch-and-runs
and making the Illinois game really fun.

For Roy and his impressions of Donald Duck
and proving our passing game does not suck.

For Stonum wearing his press conference glasses
and teaming up with Denard to catch lots of passes.

For 65 against the Bowling Green boys
and topping that score against Illinois.

For becoming bowl-eligible once again
and those who have stayed are true Michigan Men.

For another comeback against Notre Dame,
and Weis or Kelly…it’s all the same.

For Devin getting his feet wet for a few plays
and a QB position that’s stocked if he stays.

For David Molk anchoring the offensive line
and fighting through injuries all the time.

For Lewan looking like a young Jake Long
and for The Victors, the greatest fight song.

For Mike Martin, the incredible hulk
clogging the middle like spackle and caulk.

For youth on defense getting experience this year
to help bring us back to a defense that’s feared.

For Woolfolk’s ankle that’s healing so he can come back
next year to put our defense back on track.

For seven wins, which is more than our losses
and all of our offense’s long touchdown tosses.

So on this Thanksgiving while we eat lots of food,
let’s give thanks to our boys in the Maize and Blue.

And will them to win over Ohio State,
the team that we’re all thankful to hate.

BREAKING RECORDS: Denard tops all-time as UM rolled by Wisc.

Monday, November 22nd, 2010


Eleven games into the season, I’ve either gotten this Michigan team figured out or I’ve become so desensitized to losses that it’s what I’ve come to expect against teams not from the Mid-American Conference or the state of Indiana.

Montee Ball runs away from Michigan defenders (photo by the Detroit News)

All three of my predictions came true on Saturday, and while they weren’t too far out on a limb, they were right on, and save for a late touchdown by Wisconsin, the final score would have been exactly right too.

I don’t want to be right on those predictions, so it’s not exactly something I’m proud about. I’d much rather be completely wrong and Michigan win, but unfortunately, that’s where we are right now.

While defensive progress appeared to have been made last week in a 27-16 win over Purdue, window dressing is all it really was. Purdue was essentially playing with its second-team offense and the game was played in poor weather conditions, making good offense the exception rather than the norm.

So when Wisconsin came to town with its steamroller offense, everybody knew what the Badgers’ offensive strategy would be: run, run, run, and sprinkle in a pass here and there. Quarterback Scott Tolzien completed 14-of-15 passes for 201 yards, all of one of those passes coming in the first half when Wisconsin jumped out to a 24-0 lead.

From there on, Wisconsin ran the ball on 33 out of 34 plays in the second half, and Michigan was helpless to stop it as the Badgers rolled up 357 rushing yards.

The loss dropped Michigan to 7-4 on the season, 3-4 in the Big Ten, and set up a chance to play spoiler, and salvage the season, this Saturday in Columbus. I won’t go as far as to say this is the most important game in Rich Rodriguez’s three-year tenure at Michigan, since I think he’s returning next season no matter the outcome, but if Michigan wins it would certainly be his biggest win during that time.

Ohio State sits in a three-way tie for first with Wisconsin and Michigan State. Wisconsin beat Ohio State 31-18 on Oct. 17, and Ohio State doesn’t play Michigan State this season, so if Ohio State beats Michigan, it will claim a share of the Big Ten title and likely receive a BCS bowl game since it’s ranked higher than Michigan State in the BCS standings.

A Michigan win would keep Ohio State from reaching its sixth straight Big Ten title and a sixth straight BCS bowl. It would also give Rodriguez his first win over a ranked team since 2008 when Michigan beat No. 9 Wisconsin. That Wisconsin team was vastly overrated at the time and finished the season with a 7-6 record, so beating Ohio State on Saturday would easily top that one.

But most importantly, it would end Michigan’s six game losing streak to the Buckeyes, the longest in the rivalry since the 1920s. After dominating the 90s, Michigan has seemingly forgotten how to beat Ohio State since Jim Tressel took over. Ohio state fans love to point out that it has been two thousand and something days since Michigan has beaten Ohio State. Beat Ohio State on Saturday and Rodriguez will regain much of the Michigan fan base heading into the bowl game.

Ohio State is by far the better team this season and will be heavily favored, but just ask the 1993, ’95, and ’96 Buckeye teams if the better team always wins. The beauty of the rivalry is that you can throw out the records. Let Buckeye week begin!

Notes

Robinson broke the FBS single-season rushing record by a quarterback (AP photo)

Hats off to Denard Robinson for breaking Beau Morgan’s record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. His 121 rushing yards against Wisconsin also made him the first 1,500 yard rusher and passer in NCAA history, not to mention the first player to have 1,500 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing in a single season.

The sophomore in his first season as a starter has been electrifying for Michigan this season and gives the Wolverines a lot of hope for the next two years.

He’s now 403 yards short of the all-college football quarterback rushing record, which was set by Chris Sharpe of Div. III’s Springfield (Mass.) College. He would have to average 202 yards per game to break that record, which is a tall task considering Ohio State’s rush defense which ranks third in the nation.

Injuries are hitting Michigan hard in the last few games of the season. Already having lost starting receiver Martavious Odoms and cornerback J.T. Floyd, and nose tackle Mike Martin and center David Molk having missed all or parts of the past few games, Michigan suffered another blow on Saturday. Receiver Darryl Stonum was inured returning a kick late in the game and running back Vincent Smith and defensive end Craig Roh each suffered what appeared to be concussions.

Stonum ranks second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards with 493. He also has four touchdowns. Smith is the leading running back 571 yards and five touchdowns. Roh has been more effective as a defensive end since moving there from linebacker.

All three of those guys will be needed this Saturday if Michigan has any shot to win. Hopefully Stonum is healthy enough to keep returning kicks, because at this point, he’s light years better than Jeremy Gallon, who has been Michigan’s returner most of the season.

After the game, Stonum tweeted, “hopefully I’m ok (I think I am) but its gonna take a whole lot to keep me out of this next game.”

Roy Roundtree’s 114 yards against Wisconsin put him within striking distance of becoming Michigan’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Mario Manningham in 2007. For the season, he has 839 yards, just 37 behind Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert for the Big Ten lead. With two games remaining, at Ohio State on Saturday and a bowl game, Roundtree needs to average 80.5 receiving yards to eclipse 1,000.

He would join the ranks of Manningham, Jason Avant (2005), Braylon Edwards (2002, ’03, ’04), Marquis Walker (2001), and David Terrell (2000) as the only Michigan receivers to reach 1,000 yards since 2000.

[Ed.: The below chart will live on the Wolverine Watch page for the rest of the season]

Roy Roundtree vs. Jeremy Ebert
11 Games Played 11
7-4 Win-Loss 7-4
58 Receptions 56
839 Receiving Yds
876
6 TDs 8
75 Long
45
14.5 Avg./Catch 15.6
76.3 Avg./Game 79.6
5.27 Rec/Game 5.18

Rich Rod-ometer Filling Up, But is it Time To Give Up?

Monday, November 1st, 2010


For the past two and a half seasons, I have tried to remain calm and serve as a voice of reason for the current state of Michigan football. Week after week I have advocated patience for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff. I’ve been one of a diminishing populous all season, but the performance on Saturday has pushed my propensity to move on from mild to warm.

It wasn’t simply that Michigan lost to Penn State, but the matter in which Michigan was manhandled by a team starting a walk-on quarterback and missing almost half its starting lineup that pushed me closer to the “Jim Harbaugh, come on down!” side.

For the first half of the game, Michigan looked as if it spent the bye week shopping for Halloween costumes rather than preparing for Penn State. Two weeks of practice midway through the season usually allows a team to correct some flaws and spend some extra time gameplanning for the next opponent.

But Michigan came out with a terrible play call on the third play of the game (more on that in a minute) and proceeded to let Penn State double its season points average.

Rodriguez vowed after the loss to Iowa two weeks ago that he would spend some more time with the defense and last week he said there would be some personnel changes. Replacing linebacker Obi Ezeh with Kenny Demens worked well against Iowa, but when you’re replacing starters with freshmen, it’s not always going to work out for the better. This week, he moved safety Cam Gordon to linebacker and filled his spot with true freshman Ray Vinopal.

Vinopal made some mistakes, but the defense as a whole turned in its worst performance of the season, making Penn State’s version of Nick Sheridan look like Tom Brady. Quarterback Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, in his first career start, looked comfortable and confident all game long, picking the Michigan defense apart both short and deep. When he needed to convert a third down, he put the ball on the money with a five-yard out. When he threw deep, his receivers were open enough to make it just a long hand-off.

Michigan stopped the Penn State offense once on five drives in the first half as the Nittany Lions rolled up a 28-10 lead and only once more in the second half, right after Rodriguez stormed into the defensive huddle and laid into the defense.

The offense didn’t look sharp early on either, and it was the third play of the game that began the frustration for Michigan fans. On third-and-two from the Michigan 36, Rodriguez ran Vincent Smith up the middle out of the i-formation. He was stopped for no gain and Michigan punted, allowing Penn State to set the tone of the game. It was the sixth time this season that Smith has gotten the carry on third-and-short and Michigan has converted just three of them.

For the rest of the game, Robinson took the carries on third-and-short and converted all three, two of which he ran for eight yards or more.

Michigan rushes on 3rd-and-short (3 yards or less)
ROBINSON SMITH
OTHER
3rd-and-1 = 3 yards 3rd-and-1 = 2 yards 3rd-and-1 = 2 yards*
3rd-and-1 = 3 yards 3rd-and-1 = -2 yards 3rd-and-1 = 2 yards*
3rd-and-1 = 3 yards 3rd-and-1 = 3 yards 3rd-and-1 = 7 yards#
3rd-and-2 = 4 yards 3rd-and-1 = 1 yard 3rd-and-3 = 0 yards^
3rd-and-2 = 6 yards 3rd-and-1 = 0 yards
3rd-and-1 = 0 yards 3rd-and-2 = 0 yards
3rd-and-2 = 16 yards
3rd-and-2 = 47 yards
3rd-and-1 = 27 yards
3rd-and-3 = 0 yards
3rd-and-3 = 6 yards
3rd-and-3 = -4 yards
3rd-and-1 = 2 yards
3rd-and-1 = 3 yards
3rd-and-1 = 9 yards
3rd-and-1 = 8 yards
13/16 for 133 yards 3/6 for 4 yards 3/4 for 11 yards
8.31 YPC 0.67 YPC 2.75 YPC
*Michael Shaw, #Stephen Hopkins, ^Teric Jones

Why Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee continue to run the 5’6″ 180-pound Smith up the middle on short-yardage plays instead of Robinson or freshman beefcake Stephen Hopkins is anybody’s guess, but for a team that needs its offense to play perfectly in order to win, that’s certainly not a play call the coaches should keep making.

On third-and-short situations this season, Robinson has carried the ball 16 times and converted 13 of them, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. When he lines up in the shotgun with a head start and blockers in front of him, it’s almost impossible to stop him from picking up the first down even when the defense knows it’s coming.

I really like Smith on screens and lined up in the slot, but banging him up the middle on short yardage plays is ridiculous. On six carries on third-and-three or less, he’s averaging two-thirds of a yard per carry, having converted only half of them. He’s much more suited for the open field than up the middle.

Still, the offense scored 31 points on Saturday and it would have been good enough to win if it had a halfway decent defense. So why is the defense so bad, and whose fault is it?

Misopogan’s latest diary on MGoBlog sums it up perfectly with this statement: “The point is this: we already thought the defense would be bad in May. Since then, almost half of the possible defensive contributors either transferred, got injured, or proved themselves mostly useless. We aren’t just the bottom of the Big Ten; without Martin, we’re probably in the middle of the MAC.”

Defensive tackle Mike Martin, the only NFL-caliber player on the defense right now, didn’t make it through the first series after re-injuring his ankle. Somewhere between seven and ten true or redshirt freshmen saw the field on defense. Any other season, most of them would be redshirting right now, but due to the aforementioned transfers (Justin Turner, Anthony LaLota, Vladimir Emilien),  injuries (Troy Woolfolk, Brandon Herron, Mike Williams), players kicked off the team (Boubacar Cissoko), and recruits who never made it to campus (Demar Dorsey, Davion Rogers, Antonio Kinard), Rodriguez wasn’t afforded that luxury. Freshmen can succeed in college football, but only when they’re surrounded by talented upperclassmen. When they’re all you have, you’re not going to win ball games consistently. That’s not an excuse, that’s reality.

Some of that was of his own making, recruiting guys with academic problems, not putting much focus on the defense for two-plus years, etc. However, as MGoBlog pointed out last week, Lloyd Carr is at least as much to blame as Rodriguez for the current woes due to the lack of junior and senior talent currently on the roster.

After Notre Dame’s loss to Tulsa on Saturday night, my father-in-law (a Notre Dame fan) said, “Our starting quarterback was out, our starting running back was out, our starting tight end was out, a starting safety was out, and a starting nose guard was out. But you know what, at the end of the day, those are all just excuses.”

It's getting close, but it's not time to fire Rich Rodriguez yet (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

That’s certainly true in our case as well. There are a lot of excuses to be made about this team right now, but I still don’t think it’s time to give up on Rodriguez yet. While the abundance of freshman causes blown coverage, missed tackles, and loads of frustration now, it can only help for the future as these players gain experience. Look at how much Denard Robinson progressed from last season to this. If the defense was this bad with Woodley, Branch, Harris, Crable, Burgess, Warren, and Hall, then it would be time to dump Rodriguez. But no one is going to confuse the current defensive roster with the squad of 2006.

And for that reason, we have to give Rodriguez one more season. If he’s still failing to compete with the Big Ten big boys, then call up Harbaugh. He’ll still be around 14 months from now.

Eighteen of Saturday’s starters return next season and the secondary will likely get its best player, Troy Woolfolk, back for his senior season. One of the four not returning is James Rogers, a receiver-turned-corner who wouldn’t even be playing if not for Woolfolk’s injury in fall camp.

Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State are all at home next season and Minnesota and Northwestern rotate back onto the schedule in place of Wisconsin and Penn State.

You can’t get rid of Rodriguez without seeing what he can do with his players now in the system for a couple of years and a favorable schedule. That’s why I’m not all the way to the Fire DickRod hehe! side of the thermometer.

The offense has gone from 20.2 to 29.5 to 35.4 points per game since Rodriguez took over and is right on track with 10 returning starters next season and one of the top high school running backs in the nation, Demetrius Hart, on his way to Ann Arbor. Now, Rodriguez needs to turn his focus 100 percent to the defense and get it to where it needs to be. If that means firing defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, I think I’m okay with that at this point, even though he hasn’t had much to work with thus far. If Rodriguez can lure West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to Ann Arbor, then I’d be all for it.

Under Rodriguez and Casteel, West Virginia’s defense went from 62nd in total and 109th in pass defense in 2006 to seventh in total and 14th in pass defense in 2007. Currently, Michigan ranks 106th overall and 117th in pass defense. It’s not going to make the jump that WVU made in 2007, but it will definitely be better than it is this season solely because of the experience this year’s players are gaining. If it’s even good enough to be a middle-of-the-road defense next year, that team will win a lot of games. That 2006 West Virginia team went  11-2 with such a poor defense thanks to an experienced offense with second-year starters Pat White and Steve Slaton. Denard Robinson will be a second-year starter next season and the offense will be even better than it is right now.

For all of those reasons, I still believe that this Rodriguez thing can work out. The patience is wearing thin, but it’s not broken yet.