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Posts Tagged ‘Rashan Gary’

Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 defense vs 2015 defense

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016


michigan-d-vs-wisconsin(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

On Sunday, we showed how this season’s offense has outperformed last season’s offense at the midpoint of the season against a comparable schedule and slightly better defenses. Today, we take a look at how Don Brown’s first Michigan defense compares to D.J. Durkin’s one and only Michigan defense.

As I said on Sunday, the six opponents Michigan has faced to date have essentially the exact same record as the first six a year ago (20-14 compared to 20-13), so strength of schedule is comparable. One difference to keep in mind is that a year ago Michigan opened its season on the road in a hostile environment at Utah and also played Maryland on the road, whereas this year the only road game thus far has been at Rutgers.

Let’s start the comparison by taking a look at Michigan’s scoring defense.

Scoring Defense

scoring-defenseScoring defense average (national ranking in circle) 

This year’s defense started the season strong, holding Hawaii to just three points. Hawaii has averaged 34.4 points in its other five games. But UCF scored 14 and Colorado 28 in the next two games, and all of the sudden some began to be concerned about the Michigan defense. Michigan rebounded with just 17 points allowed over its next three games to hit the midseason point as the nation’s top scoring defense. The Wolverines’ defense held five of six opponents to their lowest point total of the season to date — the only outlier being Colorado, which only scored 17 points against USC two weeks ago.

Last year’s defense struggled in a season opening loss at Utah, allowing 24 points, but settled in and allowed just 14 points total in its next five games, three of which were shutouts. Like this year’s defense, it lead the nation in scoring defense at the midway point. But that’s where the wheels fell off for last year’s defense, which allowed 26 points or more in four of its final seven games. After allowing just 6.3 points per game in its first six games, Michigan’s scoring average during the final seven games was 25.

The scoring offenses Michigan faced in the first six games a year ago were worse than those they  have faced so far this year with an average national ranking of 80.8 compared to 67.3 this year. The best offense of the six Michigan faced last year was BYU (40th), and three of the six ranked in the bottom fourth nationally. This year, Colorado currently ranks 22nd in scoring, UCF is 43rd, and only one — Rutgers — ranks in the bottom fourth (125th).

So while Michigan’s 2015 defense allowed fewer points in the first six games than this year’s (38 compared to 62), it faced less potent offenses.

 

Let’s take a look at the run defense.

Rushing Defense

rush-defenseRush defense average (national ranking in circle) 

There is one major outlier throwing off the current defense’s numbers and that’s Week 2 where you see the big spike. UCF rushed for 275 yards despite losing 51-14, thanks to a couple of big runs including an 87-yarder. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. In Michigan’s other five games, the Wolverines’ run defense has held opponents to just 64 yards per game on the ground for a paltry 1.97 yards per carry.

Last season, Michigan gave up 127 yards to Utah in the opener but then ran off six straight games of allowing 92 yards or fewer on the ground. In the five games between Utah and midseason, the U-M defense allowed just 53.6 rushing yards per game on 1.89 yards per carry. After midseason, however, five of the final seven opponents topped 100 yards with Indiana and Ohio State gashing the Wolverines for 307 and 369, respectively. Nose tackle Ryan Glasgow’s injury played a big part in that drop-off.

Although the current squad has allowed more rushing yards per game at this point, both defenses surrendered just two rushing touchdowns through six games. And if this year’s team is to win the Big Ten title, it will need to avoid the fall-off that last year’s team suffered.

 

How about the pass defense?

Passing Defense

pass-defensePass defense average (national ranking in circle) 

This category is a little bit more even year over year as both units were outstanding in the first half of the season. Last year, Michigan gave up over 200 passing yards to Utah in the opener, but didn’t allow more than 143 in its next five games. However, in the first two games of the second half of the season, Michigan State and Minnesota both topped 300 passing yards.

This year’s pass defense struggled against Colorado, allowing 261 passing yards, but has allowed 88 or fewer in three of six games, including just five to Rutgers the last time out. Opponents are completing just 42.3 percent of their passes against this year’s defense compared to 47.7 percent at the midway point a year ago.

Can this year’s pass defense continue its pace? One disparity between this year’s and last year’s is quarterback pressure. This year’s defense has recorded 24 sacks compared to just 15 at this point last season. The pressure hasn’t translated into an increase in turnovers, though, as this year’s team has six picks compared to seven last season. But this year’s secondary has returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns compared to one at this point last season.

Finally, let’s look at the defense as a whole.

Total Defense

total-defenseTotal defense average (national ranking in circle) 

There was a big disparity in Week 1 as Utah racked up 105 more yards on the Michigan defense than Hawaii did this year, but as we hit the midseason point, the two units find themselves both ranking first nationally. Last year’s defense allowed 31.5 fewer yards per game.

Last year’s defense really was a tale of two halves as it allowed just 181.3 yards per game in the first six but 365.9 per game in its final seven. This year, Michigan is giving up 212.8 yards per game and it’s hard to see many teams having much success against it in the second half. The only offense Michigan faces in the next six games that ranks higher than 50th nationally in total offense is Ohio State, which ranks 12th. That bodes well for Michigan’s defense as it looks to win a championship.

New arrival: Rutgers game poster

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016


gameposter-2016-rutgers

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash wants a war with Michigan. But as far as we’re concerned — and Jabrill Peppers, Rashan Gary, and others can attest to — New Jersey has already been claimed by Jim Harbaugh. 

Download the high-res version here, good up to 18×24.

Previous: Hawaii, UCF, Colorado, Penn State

Our weekly game posters are designed by Christian Elden, a designer and illustrator who happens to be a Michigan fan. He lives in northwest Ohio where he runs his own design firm. He has illustrated a picture book for Warner Press and has been featured in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. Visit his personal site to view some of his other works.

#4 Michigan 45 – Colorado 28: Wolverines absorb blows, deliver knockout punch

Monday, September 19th, 2016


peppers-vs-colorado(MGoBlue.com)

After a pair of blowouts over weak competition, Michigan met adversity for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon against Colorado. But instead of letting a 14-point deficit spiral even further into a disappointing loss, the Wolverines punched back and turned it into a ho-hum 17-point win.

In recent years, spotting an opponent 14 points would have been a sure-fire loss. An uninspired first quarter would have snowballed with turnovers, poor clock management, and not enough players on the field. Michigan was far from perfect on Saturday, but displayed the difference between a well-coached team and a poorly-coached one. And in doing so, set itself up for success later in the season.

um-colorado_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Colorado
Score 45 28
Record 3-0 2-1
Total Yards 397 325
Net Rushing Yards 168 64
Net Passing Yards 229 261
First Downs 20 15
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 5-41 7-46
Punts-Yards 7-275 10-331
Time of Possession 31:35 28:25
Third Down Conversions 5-of-16 1-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-28 3-22
Field Goals 1-for-3 0-for-1
PATs 6-for-6 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 1-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 2-of-4 1-of-2
Full Box Score

“The best thing that we learned today was we have a tenacious team that’s never going to give up,” said senior nose tackle Ryan Glasgow. “When we started getting three-and-outs, we got them into third down and we got off the field, that was the biggest thing. The dialogue we had with the offense was great today: ‘If you stop ’em, we’ll score. If you score, we’ll stop ’em.’ We started having that attitude, we started with each other, feeding off each other, the tides started to turn.”

Colorado struck twice in the first seven minutes, once on a 3-play, 49-yard drive on their first possession of the game, and again on a fumble return on Michigan’s ensuing possession. Michigan’s first three offensive possessions garnered just 41 total yards, but the special teams came to the rescue. Michael Jocz blocked a Colorado punt around the 25-yard line and Grant Perry scooped it up and carried it in to put Michigan on the board.

The excitement didn’t last long as Colorado went 67 yards on plays for another touchdown to take a 21-7 lead. By the end of the first quarter, Colorado had racked up 195 total yards to Michigan’s 66. But that’s where things changed.

Over the final three quarters, Michigan was a different team. The Wolverines scored 17 points in the second quarter, holding the Buffaloes to just 37 total yards, to take a 24-21 halftime lead. Although Colorado scored on its first possession of the second half — a 70-yard bomb — it was all Michigan from there. Michigan out-gained Colorado 331 to 130 and outscored them 38-7 after the first quarter. The Michigan defense held Colorado to just six first downs and sacked the quarterback four times over that span.

When all was said and done, Michigan nearly covered the spread, picked up their third win, and faced adversity for the first time this season. Jake Butt, who led Michigan in receiving with seven catches for 87 yards, said the Wolverines didn’t have a great week of practice leading up to the game — Jim Harbaugh attributed it to fatigue from the second week of classes — and they knew it was going to happen sooner or later.

“We weren’t worried,” Butt said after the game. “We actually talked about it as a team. We knew the first two games we were never really punched in the face. Everything was going so smoothly. It’s not going to be a fairly tale the entire season. There was going to be a time we were going to get punched in the face, get backed in the corner. Playing with these guys, I’m so proud of the way we bounced back. We stuck together and rode that wave and were strong enough to get it done.”

Wilton Speight struggled early on, completing just 2-of-9 in the first quarter, but went 14-of-21 the rest of the way to finish 16-of-30 for 229 yards and one touchdown. De’Veon Smith led Michigan on the ground with 87 yards on 11 carries, half of which came on a 42-yard touchdown romp early in the second half.

Ben Gedeon was Michigan’s leading tackler with 12, but there’s no doubt who the star was. Jabrill Peppers was all over the field, recording nine tackles, 3.5 for loss, and a sack. As a team, Michigan recorded 10 tackles for loss. Peppers also got a monkey off his back with a 54-yard punt return for touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Michigan opens Big Ten play with Penn State (2-1) next Saturday. The game will be televised by ABC at 3:30pm ET.

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
On a day when quarterback Wilton Speight struggled it was senior tight end Jake Butt, who turned down a chance to get drafted last spring, who showed why he’s so valuable. Senior receiver Amara Darboh dropped a sure first down on Michigan’s first drive and Jehu Chesson didn’t record a catch, but Butt was Speight’s safety valve all afternoon. Butt caught seven of Speight’s 16 completions, and although he didn’t catch a touchdown pass, six of his seven receptions went for first downs and two were third-down conversions.

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

Game Ball – Defense

Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 kick returns for 81 yards, 4 punt returns for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Jim Harbaugh said after the game that the best player on the field was Jabrill Peppers, and he’s right. The junior jack of all trades was all over the field and impacted the game in all three phases. He carried the ball twice for 22 yards at the beginning of the game. He recorded a team high 3.5 tackles for loss to bring his three-game total to a nation-leading 9.5. He sacked backup quarterback Steven Montez for an 11-yard loss in the third quarter. And his 180 yards of returns consistently gave Michigan’s offense good starting field position. None was bigger than his 54-yard fourth quarter touchdown. After being so close over the past couple of seasons, he finally silenced those who still doubt him.

Previous
Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)

#5 Michigan 51 – UCF 14: Speight tosses 4 TDs to slay Knights

Sunday, September 11th, 2016


wilton-speight-vs-ucf(Katy Kildee MLive.com)

If Week 1 is for getting a chance to hit someone other than your teammates and show what all of the offseason preparation was for, Week 2 is for improving on what went wrong the previous week. Michigan looked nearly flawless in its season opening win over Hawaii a week ago but a little less so on Saturday against UCF. Still, it was enough to yield a 51-14 win.

There was no opening drive interception this time, but the offensive line had trouble run blocking and the defense allowed several big plays. After piling up 306 rushing yards in Week 1, Michigan rushed for just 119 yards on 2.9 yards per carry. The offensive line allowed eight tackles for loss, reminding many of the Brady Hoke days when Michigan struggled mightily to run the ball.

But it was clear that UCF’s defensive game plan was the load the box and force quarterback Wilton Speight — making just his second career start — to beat them with his arm. And that he did. Speight looked cool, calm, and collected all day, completing 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He made smart decisions when needed and showed his ability to stand in the pocket and find an open receiver even while being hit.

um-ucf_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan UCF
Score 51 14
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 447 331
Net Rushing Yards 119 275
Net Passing Yards 328 56
First Downs 23 15
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 2-20 9-76
Punts-Yards 3-137 4-130
Time of Possession 34:25 25:35
Third Down Conversions 8-of-18 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 3-of-4 2-of-5
Sacks By-Yards 3-18 2-12
Field Goals 3-for-3 0-for-2
PATs 6-for-6 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 7-of-8 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 4-of-8 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Jim Harbaugh left Speight and most of the starters in well into the fourth quarter despite a large lead, perhaps to send a message that they shouldn’t let up or perhaps just to get them as many reps as possible. But he was pleased with Speight’s performance.

“When the quarterback throws for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, that’s a great performance,” Harbaugh said after the game. “It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say he’ll probably be our offensive player of the week.”

Michigan’s big three of Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt were targeted often and combined for 16 catches for 281 yards and four scores, lead by Darboh’s career-high 111 yards. All three caught passes of at least 25 yards.

Defensively, Michigan was a bit Jekyll and Hyde, recording 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, but also giving up four runs of 26 or more yards, including a 87-yard touchdown run. That will certainly have Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett licking his chops, but there are still nine games to play before Michigan heads to Columbus.

UCF head coach Scott Frost was proud of the way his young team performed.

“It’s hard to say when the score is what it is, but we came in here and outhit those guys today,” Frost said. “Standing on the sideline, there was no doubt who was hitting harder. Our guys came in hungry and wanting to do that. It’s rare you can come into Michigan and rush for 300 yards on them. They had to run a fly sweep in the fourth quarter to get to 100.”

Whether UCF out-hit Michigan is up for debate, but regardless, it’s cold comfort for a team that lost by 37.

Two Michigan players who will never be out-hit by everyone lead the way for the Wolverines on defense. Michigan’s stars from New Jersey were impressive as Jabrill Peppers lead the team with eight tackles, including two for loss, and Rashan Gary notched six tackles, 2.5 for loss, and half a sack.

“I was itching for a sack this week,” Gary said after the game. “I didn’t get one last week and I felt like I owed the D-line. I missed one against Hawaii. And I said ‘I’m not going to miss’ if I get another opportunity.”

At 2-0, Michigan has outscored its opponents 114-17 with one non-conference game remaining. Colorado (2-0) comes to town next Saturday before the Big Ten slate begins the following week.

Game ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
In just his second career start, Speight displayed the poise of a veteran, completing 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. With UCF stacking the box to stop the run, Michigan used the play-action passing game to pull away early. Speight threw two touchdown passes to Jake Butt and one to Amara Darboh in the first 20 minutes of action and added another to Darboh in the fourth quarter. Through two games, Speight has completed 70 percent of his passes (35-of-50) for 457 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception.

Previous
Week 1 – Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Game ball – Defense

Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
The No. 1 overall recruit in last year’s class didn’t take long to make his presence felt. While he notched three tackles in his first career game last week, he didn’t record a tackle for loss or a sack. That changed on Saturday against UCF. He finished second on the team with six tackles and 2.5 of those were behind the line of scrimmage. He also recorded his first career sack, which he combined with Ben Gedeon. With Taco Charlton out due to an injury he suffered last week, Gary will continue to get plenty of playing time and he has lived up to the hype so far.

Previous
Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)

M&GB staff predictions: UCF

Friday, September 9th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan disposed of Hawaii in Week 1 and the schedule doesn’t get any tougher this week with the UCF Knights coming to town. Joe was the winner of our picks last week with his prediction of Michigan 49 – Hawaii 3. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan UCF
Justin 56 13
Derick 56 7
Sam 50 3
Josh 51 10
Joe 54 7
M&GB Average 53 8

Michigan had no problem steamrolling Hawaii, and although UCF currently leads the nation in points allowed (zero) they haven’t been tested. South Carolina State was an FCS school that was predicted to finish fourth in its conference this season. Michigan should have similar success moving the ball as it did a week ago. UCF’s defense actually ranked worse than Hawaii’s last season and they hired an offensive-minded coach who runs an up-tempo scheme. That’s all good when they’re scoring like Oregon does, but when they aren’t, that puts their defense on the field for a long time.

Michigan will have another big day on the ground and continue to work on getting Wilton Speight comfortable commanding the offense. Defensively, Michigan will slow down the spread and hold UCF to a field goal in the first half.

After last week’s injuries to Bryan Mone, Taco Charlton, and De’Veon Smith, Harbaugh won’t risk leaving the starters in longer than he has to in this one. Expect to see a lot of young guys in the second half. When all is said and done Michigan’s backups will give up a few points but it will be another comfortable win for the Maize and Blue.

Michigan 56 – UCF 13

Derick

Michigan simply overwhelmed Hawaii, and I think we’ll see something similar this weekend. UCF was even worse than Hawaii last season and is coming off its first win in about 20 months.

Teams like Tennessee and Michigan State showed us what happens to teams that look shaky against bad competition, so Michigan can’t afford to let UCF hang around.

The offense will be too much for the Knights and the defense should be swarming around the backfield once again. Scott Frost will have some film of Don Brown’s defense at Michigan, but it shouldn’t help much. Michigan will win big.

Michigan 56 – UCF 7

Sam

Did you see last week’s game? Tomorrow should be deja vu.

Michigan 50 – UCF 3

Josh

We’re still in the part of our schedule where Michigan plays opponents who aren’t in the same league, and Harbaugh coached teams will beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, so in lieu of a normal prediction (Michigan is going to win big) I’d like to touch on couple things I’d like to see out of our boys in Maize & Blue.

On offense: I’d like to see the running game get going early again. Yes, I want to see more of Chris Evans just like you but I’d also like to have it open up the play-action pass game. Which leads to my next item: I want to see Speight throw it 20-plus times. He was good in his small sample size last week and I have no problem with back-ups getting game time in blowouts, but I think Speight needs as many game reps as possible before teams like Penn State and Wisconsin come to town. Of course, Jim Harbaugh may not agree with me but I’d like to see Speight sling it around some more anyway.

On defense: After the injury scares to Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone (it appears both will be back by conference play) it will open up more playing time (and should become a blessing in disguise) for guys like Rashan Gary, Michael Dwumfour, and Michael Onwenu (who oddly are both No. 50). Gary showed off his lightning quick first step and strength but did not register any tackles for loss. Mercy rules were apparently in effect as he was held numerous times. With more snaps, and perhaps less of a blowout, I’d like to see him finally knock down a quarterback and register that first sack (of what should be many more to come). Hawaii got some momentum going late in the first half with their dink and dunk slant game, and I’m interested to see what adjustments Don Brown makes on that front because Scott Frost most definitely saw that and will look to exploit it.

UCF isn’t very good. This won’t be much of a game for long, and that’s fine. Michigan will pick up where they left off last week and continue to get the younger guys as many snaps as possible. Michigan wins big as Harbaugh is reminded of Scott Frost’s denigration of the 1997 Michigan team and keeps his foot on the gas until midway through the fourth quarter. UCF gets a late touchdown against the third stringers in garbage time to help them reach double digits.

Michigan 51 – UCF 10

Joe (1)

Teams are supposed to show the most improvement between weeks one and two, so this one should be fun to watch. I’m very interested to see how the quarterback play improves from Week 1. I don’t see much throwing in the second half due to a big lead so the first half will have most of my attention. I think this one gets ugly early and Michigan continues to roll. The offense looks solid behind a new crowd favorite at running back. Chris Evans looks like a stud but will obviously share some carries this week. Look for him to get into the end zone twice more.

The defense looks “as advertised” and is ELITE. They get after the quarterback and force several turnovers and a pick-six. Michigan wins big.

Michigan 54 – UCF 7

M&GB staff predictions: Hawaii

Friday, September 2nd, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan opens its season against Hawaii tomorrow, which means it’s time for our staff to make our picks. Last season, Sam collected the most weekly wins (five) and Derick won the season-long point spread title, just three points better than Justin. Here are our picks for tomorrow’s game:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Hawaii
Justin 52 10
Derick 45 7
Sam 48 7
Josh 45 13
Joe 49 3
M&GB Average 48 8

Cal quarterback Davis Webb showed Michigan how to carve apart a porous Hawaii defense, but with Wilton Speight making his first career start, it’s a safe bet to assume he won’t be given the opportunity to chuck it up 54 times. Instead, Jim Harbaugh will look to make a statement on the ground and Michigan fans will get their first chance to see how much the offensive line has improved — although that won’t be truly evident until the Wolverines face a good team.

Last season, Hawaii traveled to Columbus and hung with Ohio State in the first half, trailing just 14-0 at halftime, but the Buckeyes wore them down for a 38-0 route. With a better offense under Rolovich this season, Hawaii would like to at least put some points on the board, but Michigan features one of the nation’s best defenses. I don’t think Michigan gets the shutout here, but I don’t think it’ll be close either.

Michigan scores early and often, Speight looks crisp and make smart decisions, the running back trio of De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans wear down Hawaii’s defense for over 250 yards, and Michigan rolls to an easy victory. The defense allows 10 points just as it did the last time Harbaugh faced Hawaii, as a quarterback in 1986, but the offense scores more than the 27 it did back then.

Michigan 52 – Hawaii 10

Derick

For the first time in almost a decade, Michigan kicks off the football season with championship expectations. The Wolverines are ranked in the preseason top 10 and have enough talent to play with any team in the conference on any given day.

The road begins with a home matchup against Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors were awful last season and already got waxed by California in their opener last week. Their greatest weakness in 2015 was defending the run, and Michigan will want to force the issue on the ground Saturday, especially if it builds a big lead. If things get ugly, expect to see some of the athletic freshmen Jim Harbaugh is so excited about.

On offense, Hawaii faces the tall task of blocking a Michigan front loaded with NFL talent. Redshirt senior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey took over the starting job this season, so star defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Delano Hill will be looking to capitalize on any mistakes. Pay attention to how Michigan uses Jabrill Peppers, who moved to linebacker but could move all over the field.

Michigan will probably get ahead early and turn to the ground game to speed up the clock. I see the Wolverines winning big.

Michigan 45 – Hawaii 7

Sam

As Jim Harbaugh recently pointed out, college football is one of the few sports that has no preseason. If we’re being honest with ourselves, however, Michigan will open their Path to the Playoffs with something that should closely mimic an exhibition. All signs point to Wilton Speight leading an offense riddled with playmakers onto the field while captain Chris Wormley will trot out alongside a potentially devastating defense. Tomorrow, we’ll get our long-awaited first look at some touted prospects (looking at you, Rashan), our first taste of Michigan Football in Fall 2016, and our first glimpse of what we all hope is a special year in Harbaugh’s second season home. If the game isn’t decided by halftime, I’d be shocked. I’ll take Michigan.

Michigan 48 – Hawaii 7

Josh

Hawaii is not a very good team overall, but they did manage to put up a total of 12 big plays (8 run and 4 pass) on Cal last week. No, Cal does not have the best defense but the potential is there. So I went back and watched the game and about half of those big runs and all of the big pass plays aren’t ones that would have gone very far against Michigan.

Running back Diocemy Saint Juste’s 54-yard touchdown was aided by not one but two defensive linemen having him dead to rights and missing tackles behind the line and several linebackers and defensive backs taking bad angles and just plain whiffing. Michigan would have had Saint Juste for a loss. That said, breakdowns happen and Michigan hasn’t had any actual live fire, if you will, with their new defense. I think Hawaii will bust a few big runs that will lead to a score or two.

Michigan will win this handily, that is not in doubt, but I’m interested in seeing a few things as the ‘kinks’ are worked out with a new quarterback and a new defensive scheme.

When Michigan has the ball: What is their run/pass balance? I think we’ll see more runs than pass attempts (since there are several running backs that could be contributors this year) but I don’t expect anything exotic. Harbaugh will keep things close to the vest, as he does, and much like last year he’ll roll out new wrinkles every week. What is Wilton Speight’s (assuming internet rumors are true) command of the offense? I was never in the ‘O’Korn as the heir apparent’ camp. I think Speight’s floor is much higher and Harbaugh was going to sacrifice upside for a steady hand at quarterback given the defense they have. I think Speight will look better than most expect — not late season Rudock but definitely better than early to mid-season Rudock. I think we’ll see something we can all get behind and say “this guy can lead us to a Big Ten title” but not a “holy cow this guy is gonna break all the passing records.” And I’m fine with that.

When Hawaii has the ball, I don’t expect a ton of blitzes. Some, yes, but not a lot. Again, Harbaugh is gonna keep things close to the vest. I mean, this is the guy who refused to give Hawaii some scrimmage tape before the game, so why would he tip his hand to future opponents? I am very interested in seeing how Rashan Gary plays, as we all are, but more importantly I want to see how much havoc the defensive line as a whole creates. If they can be who we think they can be then the linebacker depth/experience does not become an issue later on. Yes, caveats apply here as Hawaii is not very good but if Michigan is not completely dominant then I might have some concerns.

On the back end I’d like to see a pick or two. Ikaiaka Woolsey is not an accurate passer (50 percent) and if he’s being pressured I think we’ll see a few errant throws. Michigan needs to take advantage of these opportunities this year. Remember, only SIX teams forced fewer turnovers than Michigan did in 2015. If they want to compete for a playoff spot that has to change, and taking advantage of opportunities to pick off some passes is where it will likely come.

Harbaugh is not opposed to playing his starters deep into games nor is he afraid to run up the score (ask Pete Carroll or Rutgers) but I think we’ll see plenty of the back-ups in the fourth quarter of this one.

Michigan 45 – Hawaii 13

Joe

It’s really here.  I can’t believe we start the season in less than 24 hours. The build-up has been like nothing I’ve ever seen as a Michigan fan and I hope it lives up to the hype.  I think this one goes Michigan’s way from the first play and is lead by a stout defensive line. They will get after a tired Hawaii team from the very start.  We will see a constant rotation of bigger, stronger, and faster Wolverines against an inferior Hawaii squad.

Coach Brown will attack initially and try and set the tone to build on. I think we will see a lot of pressure from the linebacking corps as well as the defensive line. This will lead to several turnovers and give the good guys great field position.

As far as the offense goes, I think Speight will get the nod and lead the Wolverines to several first quarter touchdowns. Michigan will establish the running game and wear down the Rainbows with an elite offensive line. This one gets ugly early and fun to watch late as the Wolverines win big.

Michigan 49 – Hawaii 3

M&GB season preview roundtable 2016

Friday, August 26th, 2016


Harbaugh(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Last year at this time no one knew what to expect. Everyone was hopeful about Jim Harbaugh’s first season, but coming off of a disastrous 5-7 showing and seven years of very un-Michigan-like football, we were all nervous. Our season predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-3, with the latter being right on. Even though we didn’t know what to expect, we were generally right about what happened.

This year is a little different. There actually are expectations. And they are big. Michigan is ranked in the top 10 and several national pundits have predicted the Wolverines to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Are they just buying into the Harbaugh hype? Or could they be right? Here are our predictions for the season.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: When I think of the Michigan teams I grew up watching, I think defense. Sure, there were great offensive players that shouldn’t be overlooked — guys like Anthony Carter, Jamie Morris, and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few. But a great defense, one that smothers opposing offenses, is what makes Michigan football in my opinion. Lloyd Carr rode the 1997 defense to a national championship. The 2006 defense was deadly until it ran into Ohio State and USC. And last year’s defense, which posted three straight shutouts, was fun to watch until it faltered late in the season.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to watch an upgraded version of last year’s defense with the addition of the number one recruit in the country and a blitz-crazy defensive coordinator. The biggest position battle in fall camp is at the quarterback position, but with the defense Michigan has, whoever wins the job will just need to be careful with the football and manage the game. And if the defense lives up to its billing, Michigan fans will be in for a special season.

Derick: The guy I’m most excited to watch is Rashan Gary, and it’s not even close. Gary is Michigan’s first ever No. 1 overall recruit, and he comes in as one of the most decorated commits since recruiting blew up several years ago.

Gary was the unanimous No. 1 player in the country on every major recruiting site, and comes into Ann Arbor to join a defensive line that’s already very good. Gary will line up with Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone and others as one of the best lines in the Big Ten. If he makes as much of an impact as guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche — who were similarly ranked out of high school — he’ll be the most exciting player on the roster.

Sam: I just can’t stop thinking (and giddily laughing) about how dominant this defense could potentially be. The front four should be an absolute terror for any offensive line in the country, the secondary is athletic, veteran, and potentially another highlight waiting to happen (looking at you, Dymonte Thomas), and the linebacker group seems to be getting good reviews despite a relative lack of experience. And, oh yeah, Jabrill Peppers will be roaming all over the field and should be unleashed to wreak havoc in Don Brown’s system.

Josh: Another year of Harbaugh. If that’s not a decided schematic advantage, I don’t know what is!

Joe: I’m super excited to see a few things during this upcoming season. The first would be the new style of defense that Coach Brown is bringing onboard. This should be a fun defense to watch and bring a ton of pressure and new looks. They should be ELITE from day one. The second thing I’m looking for is how the incoming class plays and improves over the course of the year. If they are everything we’ve read over the last few months, the future is BRIGHT!

What worries you the most entering the season?

Justin: As I mentioned above, I’m not overly worried about the quarterback position. As long as Speight or O’Korn doesn’t become a turnover machine, Michigan will be okay. There are enough proven weapons — Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith — and a strong defense to lean back on. What worries me the most this season is the road schedule.

Michigan will be able to handle the non-conference portion of the schedule handily, and with Penn State and Wisconsin at home, I see those as wins. Then the Wolverines face Rutgers and Illinois, which should put them at 7-0 and very highly ranked. But that’s where things get tough. In the final five games of the season, Michigan has to travel to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus with home games against Maryland and Indiana sandwiched in between.

Michigan has struggled on the road the past several seasons. To make matters worse, they haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007, Iowa City since 2005, and Columbus since 2000. That’s nearly a decade without a road win over any of those teams. And to have a chance at the College Football Playoff this season they’ll likely have to win all three. To at least win the Big Ten they’ll have to win at least two of the three, as long as the one loss is at Big Ten West foe Iowa rather than the other two, who are in the same Big Ten East as Michigan. It’s hard to see that happening.

Derick: I’m most worried about the expectations. Michigan won 10 games last season when it was the underdog and nobody expected much in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. But now, as the team jumps from irrelevant to popular national championship pick, it seems like things have escalated a little too quickly. Michigan has three extremely difficult road games at the end of the season,and if they take care of business weeks one through seven, those games will hold a massive importance. Can a team that hasn’t played many nationally meaningful games handle that gauntlet down the stretch? It’s going to be tough.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me – I’m still not sold on the quarterback position. Yes, I know that Jim Harbaugh is widely reputed to be one of the best quarterback whisperers in the country and has worked wonders in season after season. But this is a pretty important position, and there still seems to be some disagreement over who will start. That’s usually not a great sign with real football only a week away. We’ve all heard of O’Korn as the high-risk/high-reward type while Wilton Speight seems to be the more prototypical “game manager” quarterback, but neither has the whole package. At least not yet.

Josh: The media keeps saying quarterback or linebacker. Personally, I am not worried (nor will I ever be) about the quarterback position as long as James Joseph Harbaugh is patrolling our sidelines. Linebacker is a slight concern but the defensive line is so talented and so deep (8 or 9 guys) that I don’t see the need to actually worry about the LBs. Plus, it’s not like they lost any world beaters off last year’s crew anyway.

Offensive line (both its progression and health) is my main concern and it’s not even close. There isn’t much proven depth, or depth period, behind the starting five so a significant injury to the offensive line could derail the entire season.

Even IF injuries are avoided we still have the issue of breaking in a new left tackle. If Grant Newsome doesn’t work, who steps in for him? Go ahead, look at the depth chart: four freshmen, and a small cadre of former Brady Hoke guys who have limited game action and a total of ZERO starts. If this team is to compete for a B1G Ten title the offensive line needs to not only be better than last year but they ALL need to stay healthy the entire year.

Joe: It’s gotta be the quarterback play that worries me the most. I was hoping that O’Korn would separate himself from the pack but that hasn’t happened. This could be viewed as a positive or negative. I trust in Harbaugh and hope this gets settled soon.

Who will be the offensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Based on the hype coming out of fall camp, Ben Bredeson is probably the smart pick here. But I don’t like to trust true freshman offensive linemen. I know Mason Cole worked out pretty well two years ago, but that’s more the exception than the rule. To me, it’s between two players: tight end Ian Bunting and receiver Grant Perry. Everyone knows Jim Harbaugh’s affinity for tight ends, and just because he has Jake Butt it doesn’t mean no other tight ends will see the field. Bunting is huge at 6-foot-7, 252, and after two years learning the ropes, he’s poised for a bigger role.

But when push comes to shove, I’m going to go with Perry, the slot guy who caught 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown last season. He showed enough potential to get considerable playing time in the season opener at Utah, where he caught three passes for 41 yards, but was still raw and it showed with mistakes that lead to turnovers. By season’s end, he looked more comfortable, catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

This season, Chesson, Darboh, and Butt are established threats and opposing defenses will try their best to match up with them. That leaves the potential for Perry to rack up a bunch of catches and yards. He caught 105 passes for 1,727  yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Brother Rice High School in 2014 and racked up 176 catches for 2,771 yards and 27 scores in three years of varsity football, so he knows how to be productive. Now, with a year of college ball under his belt, he’s ready to take on a bigger role.

Derick: The breakout player on offense will be Ben Bredeson. Word from summer camp has brought nothing but praise on the freshman lineman, who was one of the top commits in the country. If Bredeson is playing well enough to earn the starting left tackle position as a true freshman, we can expect a 2014 Mason Cole-like performance, which would be a huge lift to the offense. With four solid veteran linemen to his right, Bredeson would be in a perfect situation to succeed.

Sam: This is a tough call for me, as I’m never sure what people want to constitute “breaking out” as. As far as I see it, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt certainly can’t qualify for this, the majority of the offensive line is too veteran for me to see a true breakout coming, and De’Veon Smith is fairly proven as well. So while I do think all those guys will have nice years and I’m uncertain on the quarterback position, I will go with Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. By all accounts, Wheatley has the body type that will allow him to be a highly effective in-line blocker from the beginning while also possessing the speed and hands to be a legitimate (and legitimately terrifying) receiving threat. I think he’ll see a lot of action in two-TE sets and should be a major asset in both the running and passing games.

Josh: This one was tough, but I’m gonna go with Ben Bredeson. Yes, an offensive lineman. A freshman offensive lineman. I’m calling it now, Ben Bredeson will supplant either Grant Newsome, or more likely, Kyle Kalis before mid-season and perform at a (freshman) Mason Cole-esque leve

Joe: I want a running back to step up and take charge in a crowded backfield. We have some horses back there but I’d prefer a lead to get behind. I don’t care who it is, just make it happen.

Who will be the defensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Rashan Gary is the obvious choice here, but I’m going to go with Bryan Mone, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg in fall camp. Prior to the injury he figured to play a major part in the defense, rotating with Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst. The injury meant more time for Glasgow, who shined in the role, but his season ended early with an injury of his own. Now, Mone says he’s in the best shape of his life, and with Michigan playing four linemen, he’ll get his chance to shine at nose tackle.

Derick: I want to say Jabrill Peppers, because he really hasn’t made a major defensive impact yet, but that feels like cheating. So I’ll go with Bryan Mone. Mone showed signs of being a solid defensive tackle as a true freshman, and expectations were sky high for his sophomore year. But after an injury ended his season before it even started, Mone fell out of the spotlight and has been flying under the radar since. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a huge piece in filling the gap left by Willie Henry in opposing backfields.

Sam: Everyone? Again, there are so many guys on that side of the ball that the field in my eyes is quite limited. You might make an argument for Taco Charlton on the line, but I think he’s proven enough already – he’s going to have an insane season. Bryan Mone could be an option here, as could the presumptive starting linebackers in Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, but my pick is Dymonte Thomas. Thomas was a big-time recruit out of Ohio who is incredibly athletic, strong, and a sure tackler. The only question is whether he can be disciplined enough to prevent a big play here or there, but keep watching that interception he made in the Spring Game and tell me he doesn’t have the tools to be great.

Josh: Jabrill Peppers. Now hear me out first. Peppers’ impact was huge last year but his stats weren’t exactly something you brag about; 45 total tackles, 5.5 for loss. No picks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries. If Matt Milano, a former three-star safety for Boston College can rack up 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in Don Brown’s defense from that position what will the greatest athlete we’ve seen since Charles Woodson do? I’d be shocked if he didn’t have at least 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a defensive touchdown or two.

Joe: It’s hard to say anyone on the defense will be a breakout player as they have a lot of studs coming back from last year. They are established and will carry this team from the get go.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: …they don’t suffer any key injuries. We all know that injuries are part of the game, but when the talent is there, a key piece of winning it all is staying healthy. Sure, Ohio State defied that logic two years ago when Braxton Miller got hurt, then J.T. Barrett got hurt, and Cardale Jones still lead them to the national title. But nine times out of ten, that scenario spells doom for a contender.

If Michigan stays healthy that means they’ll be at full strength all season. And with the talent they have, especially on the defensive side, that’s the recipe for a Big Ten title.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if freshmen linebackers like Devin Bush and Devin Gil can compliment a healthy Mike McCray and Peppers to give the defense a more solid anchor than last season. The secondary and defensive line will be tough, but the linebackers were the weak underbelly of the 2015 team. Left tackle will also be a position to watch. With the rest of the line already well established at the college level, the final piece to the offensive line will be crucial. Michigan has to run the ball much better to take a step forward in 2016. Finally, look for Jeremy Clark to either take a step forward as a fifth-year senior or a younger player to supplant him as the team’s third cornerback. Lewis and Channing Stribling were excellent in coverage last season, but Clark showed mixed results covering opposing No. 3 receivers. He got better toward the end of the season, but with possible championship expectations on the line, Harbaugh might not be so patient this year.

Sam: …they can stop Ohio State’s dynamic offense. The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s once-stout defense in The Game last November and Urban Meyer always seems to find a way to move the ball (at least when he isn’t playing Michigan State in 2015). This season, I really think Michigan should be undefeated heading down to Columbus — there will certainly be challenges along the way, but no team on the schedule up to that point should be able to beat them on paper — and the days of The Game deciding the fate of the Big Ten race should return.

Josh: …there are no significant injuries, especially on the offensive line, the running game resembles what Harbaugh did at Stanford post Year 1 (200-plus yards per game) and Don Brown can finally be the one to figure out how to stop spread to run teams. Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not yet. For the record I think Don Brown WILL figure out how to stop getting gashed by teams like Indiana and Ohio State.

Joe: The lines play at an elite level. They should be better and will lead this team to a Big 10 title if they play as advertised.

What is your prediction for the season (record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will they play in)?

Justin: Michigan topped last year’s prediction by one, though my prediction of a win over an SEC team in the bowl game was right. I had Michigan losing to Penn State, which was my only misstep. This year, I think we’re looking at an 11-2 team that will lose at Iowa and Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh will at least get past Michigan State in East Lansing and be 9-0 heading into Iowa City, but losses in two of the last three regular season games will be a disappointing end to a great season. Still, assuming Ohio State wins the conference and makes the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan and the Wolverines will head to Pasadena for the first time since 2007.

Derick: Last season I predicted Michigan would finish 9-4 and thought I was being “generous.” I didn’t know what to expect from Harbaugh’s team less than a year removed from a 5-7 campaign and certainly didn’t expect it to go into Happy Valley and push around Penn State. This season, expectations couldn’t be more different. Michigan is in everyone’s playoff discussion and Harbaugh is the biggest story in college football.

I don’t buy into hype, but I do draw conclusions based on facts and what my eyes tell me. Few teams have as many elite seniors who turned down NFL money to return to Michigan. Lewis, Butt, Chesson, Darboh, Wormley and others will play on Sundays, but here they are practicing in the Maize and Blue in August. As far as the incoming class goes, I don’ think Harbaugh has a top five class, I think he has the No. 1 class. Sure, other teams might have more five- and four-stars, but guys like Gary, Bredeson, Long and Hill could make an immediate impact as freshmen. Chris Evans is an offensive weapon who will almost certainly find himself a role in a stacked offense and Kekoa Crawford might, too.

Looking at the schedule, I think there’s no question Michigan will carve through its nonconference schedule. Maybe Colorado will turn out to be a little tougher than expected, but I don’t see any of that trio pulling off an upset in Ann Arbor. The pair of games nobody is talking about (but they should be) is Penn State and Wisconsin, who come to the Big House in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and I’m not a believer in the James Franklin experiment, but Wisconsin, as always, will be a tough team to knock out. If Michigan gets through those two games, it’s a leisurely walk to East Lansing at 7-0.

That’s where things get tough. Like, brutally tough. Few teams in the FBS will be asked to play three potential top 10 teams on the road in a five-game span. But that’s exactly what Michigan has to do. Unlike at this time last year, I think Michigan is a better team than Michigan State, especially with MSU’s defense trending steadily in the wrong direction since 2013. We all thought the Spartans would take a major step back when Kirk Cousins left, and Connor Cook stepped in to lead them to the playoff, so don’t discount MSU just because of the new starting quarterback.

Even though I think Michigan State will be very good, I think Michigan will go into East Lansing and pull out a win. Harbaugh will have “Oh, he has trouble with the snap!” playing on repeat all week, and Michigan will arrive at Spartan Stadium with a vengeance. Just no tent spikes, please. I would be worried about a post-MSU letdown if it wasn’t for Michigan’s Week 9 matchup with a pathetic Maryland team. The quarterback situation for new head coach D.J. Durkin is so grim, I’d be shocked if the Terps can find six wins on their schedule.

Unfortunately, the undefeated train will come to a stop at 9-0. Iowa is still extremely talented after an undefeated 2015 regular season and something about Iowa City has never been kind to strong Michigan teams. I think the No. 2 Wolverines will fall to the Hawkeyes in a slugfest and need a win over Ohio State to win the Big Ten East. After outscoring a sneaky good Indiana team in the final home game, Michigan will go to Columbus with the College Football Playoff still in its sights. The young Buckeyes won’t be young anymore, after 11 games to replace their 450 draft picks, or whatever it was. Michigan will be much more competitive than it was at home in 2015, but I think Ohio State will come away with a close, maybe 2006-esque victory that knocks Michigan out of the title talk. OSU will head to Indianapolis and Michigan will be done at 10-2.

I think 10 wins will be enough to land Michigan a long-awaited Rose Bowl appearance against UCLA. Just like it did in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan will show up better prepared after a month of practice with Harbaugh and take care of UCLA, 34-20. With 11 wins in Harbaugh’s second season and Michigan State and Ohio State at home in 2017, Michigan will begin the season ranked in the top five and have a legitimate chance to make the final four.

Sam: I really want to pick Michigan to go to the Playoff, but…well…fine. Give me Michigan to run the table in the regular season with a couple close calls at Iowa and at Ohio State before losing to Alabama or Clemson in the first round. By my count, that should equal a 13-1 season with a Big Ten championship and a loss in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Josh: Michigan will probably be favored in every game they play, aside from Ohio State, and they should win all those games. Given the talent returning and the coaching staff we have I am very optimistic about their chances this year. However, football isn’t played on paper and numerous things can upset the balance.

They should have beaten Michigan State last year and they also would have lost to Minnesota were it not for some Hoke-ian clock (mis)management by Tracy Claeys at the end of that game. They almost lost to Indiana — yes Glasgow out was a big factor — but it proves my point; it’s tough to win all, or even most of, your games in college football because injuries and other stuff happen.

I just don’t see how Michigan can get through an entire season without a major injury, or some Halloween voodoo a la Minnesota last year, causing setbacks. I think a 10-2 season is very reasonable, and that should not be viewed as a disappointment (lest I remind you that we suffered losing seasons in three of the seven years prior to Harbaugh and only ONE year in which they lost fewer than five games).

Losses will be at Ohio State (they are far more talented than Michigan but more importantly have been in the same system their entire careers) and at Iowa, Kinnick Stadium at night scares me for some reason.

They’ll play in another New Year’s Day bowl and the ‘Michigan is overrated’ headed into 2017 will start all over again. But hey, I thought this was a seven or eight win team tops last year and they proved me wrong. Here’s to hoping they do it again!

Joe: I’m looking at 10-2 season with losses at two of the three big road games. I think they’re still a year away from the CFP but wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in. They still have some work to do. Let’s put the good guys in the Cotton so I can see them play in person.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The defensive line

Thursday, August 25th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-DefensiveLine
Chris Wormley(Calros Osorio, AP)

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

For Michigan, the defensive line is the position group everybody wants to see. Thanks to a strong recruiting class and minimal attrition to the NFL, the Wolverines return a very deep defensive line that was excellent in 2015 until being struck by injury.

When Michigan sported a top five defense through the first half of the season, it was led by a defensive line that completely stuffed opposing running games and caused a little bit of mayhem in the backfield. Players like Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling enjoyed breakout seasons, but some of their success has to be attributed to the work done in the trenches.

Will Michigan be even better on the defensive line this year?

Major contributors:

Instead of naming starters, let’s take a look at all the defensive linemen who should play major minutes as starters or heavily-used backups this season.

Last season, everything started with defensive end Chris Wormley, who racked up an insane 14.5 tackles for loss. It wasn’t just sacks for Wormley – though he did have 6.5 – as he regularly got great jumps off the edge and stuff running backs behind the line.

Taco Charlton

Senior end Taco Charlton is getting first-round talk entering the season

Wormley has evolved into Michigan’s smartest defensive lineman and the Toledo, Ohio native should be just as productive as a fifth-year senior. Look for him to improve on his All Big Ten Third Team honors.

The other returning defensive end who saw major playing time in 2015 is Taco Charlton. Charlton was enjoying a solid season through 10 games, but really broke out against Penn State. He exploded for two sacks and three tackles for loss, including a bone-rattling hit on battered quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Charlton is a pure pass rusher who has quietly picked up 14 sacks the last two seasons. He’s only made four starts in his career 35 games, but this season he’ll see his role increase as a senior.

Then there’s Rashan Gary. We haven’t seen the freshman play a single snap at the college level, but I’m still expecting him to be an impact player wherever he lands on the defensive line. He’s listed as a defensive end, but Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown won’t be afraid to move him around and take advantage of his versatility. Gary is an elite pass rusher and an able run blocker, so he can play in any situation. He put on a clinic in the Under Armour All-America Game, tallying three sacks and taking home the MVP. Gary is one of the most highly-touted recruits ever, and the first No. 1 to come to Michigan. Fans should expect a special season.

Moving to the inside of the line, Michigan has one rock who holds the whole group together: Ryan Glasgow. The fifth-year senior won’t have much success rushing the quarterback, but he’s the best run stopper on the roster. Glasgow recorded five tackles for loss last season, but his real value came in plugging up the inside running lanes. When he went down with a chest injury, the run stopping game fell apart. Indiana and Ohio State absolutely shredded the Wolverines in the running game and D.J. Durkin had no answer without Glasgow anchoring the tackles. He’s not the flashiest lineman, but Glasgow is vitally important to the defense.

Maurice Hurst complimented Glasgow well on the inside of the defensive line, providing support against the run, but also recording three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Hurst played in every game last season but should see more snaps this season with Willie Henry off the roster.

One of the biggest wildcards for the entire Michigan team could be Bryan Mone, who was a solid run stopper for the Wolverines as a true freshman in 2014. Mone was expected to be a game-changing nose tackle last season, but a devastating ankle injury ended his year before it even started. Mone will get a chance to reestablish himself as a good defensive tackle and combine with Glasgow to stuff opposing running backs.

Career Stats – Wormley
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 44 39 83 12.0 24.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Charlton
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 36 15 51 9.0 14.4 1 0 0
Career Stats – Glasgow
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
32 26 23 49 1.0 9.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Hurst
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
21 20 18 38 3.0 7.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Mone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 7 9 0.0 1.5 0 1 0
Other contributors:

With Gary and Mone joining the rotation and taking up snaps, I think Matthew Godin might see a bit of a decreased role. Godin was a less effective version of Glasgow last season, specializing in stopping the run but struggling to do so after Glasgow’s injury. Godin will still be a part of the rotation because he’s a solid, reliable tackle, but there are a few players with higher upside ahead of him.

Two other players to keep an eye on are Lawrence Marshall and Chase Winovich. Marshall played in only three games last season, but his potential to be a pass rusher off the edge gives him a chance to get into the rotation. Winovich played in six games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He should be a depth guy heading into his junior year.

Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 9 17 26 1.5 2.5 0 0 1
Career Stats – Marshall
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
3 1 0 1 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Winovich
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
6 2 0 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
New faces:

Gary stole the headlines for Michigan at defensive line, and for good reason. But there are two other commits from the line in the 2016 class.

Defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour is a valuable tackle who can get pressure up the middle. He racked up seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss in his high school senior season and could make an impact if he doesn’t redshirt in 2016.

Shelton Johnson is a less heralded commit from the 2015 class and is off to a rough start after being suspended by Harbaugh for an unknown issue. Johnson is a solid pass rusher off the edge, but took a step back during his senior season at Riverview High School in Florida, tallying only three sacks. He might not see much of the field in 2016.

Camden, N.J. native Ron Johnson was a 247 Composite four-star with offers from Alabama, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State and other major programs. The potential is there for the defensive end, but the depth Michigan has along the line will mean a likely redshirt season for him this fall.

Meet the rest:

Michael Wroblewski: Senior, 6-2, 242, from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit)
No career stats
Salim Makki: Junior, 6-0, 264, from Dearborn, Mich. (Fordson)
No career stats
Garrett Miller: Senior, 6-4, 271, from Adrian, Mich. (Sand Creek)
No career stats

SEC, ACC hypocrisy on display in race to stop Harbaugh

Friday, February 12th, 2016


Harbaugh(USATSI)

Alabama may have put the Southeastern Conference back atop the college football world last month, but Jim Harbaugh isn’t backing down. The Michigan head coach has captured headlines since returning to his alma mater less than 14 months ago and his most recent ploy has shone a light on the hypocrisy of southern schools.

Harbaugh announced following Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event on Feb. 3 that he would be taking the team south for Spring Break to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But just like his Summer Swarm football camp tour of the south and west coast last summer, the move is drawing the ire of SEC and ACC brass.

“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we’ve got one program taking what has been ‘free time’ away,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on Tuesday. “Let’s draw a line and say, ‘That’s not appropriate.'”

In other words, Jim Harbaugh is doing something within the rules but we don’t like it so let’s change the rules so he can’t do it anymore.

He continued:

“This seems completely counter to the dialogue,” Sankey said. “We have work to do on [giving athletes a] day off. We have work to do on, how do you provide a postseason break? It seems where this is one where reasonable people could say we just shouldn’t be in this space.”

One of Harbaugh’s stated reasons for the Spring Break trip is to give the student athletes two weeks off — discretionary weeks as he called them — to focus on finals, which start April 20. By starting spring practice in late February and utilizing Spring Break for outdoor practice, team bonding, and yes, visibility to recruits, Michigan can close spring practice with two weeks off to focus on academics.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels. We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Sankey, of course, didn’t address that fact because it didn’t fit his narrative. Think of the kids, he said. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been charged with 28 NCAA violations, 13 of which have come from the football team, and Tennessee is facing a lawsuit from six women who claim that the university — and its football program in particular — create a culture that enables sexual assault by student athletes. Guess who has been silent about thinking of the kids in these situations thus far? You guessed it, Sankey.

Greg Sankey

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey petitioned the NCAA to ban spring break trips (Mark Humphrey, Times Free Press)

The conference that Sankey inherited from Mike Slive a year ago, and has been a part of for over 13 years, has faced numerous major infractions in the past six years, but hasn’t received more than a slap on the wrist since Mississippi State was stripped of scholarships and banned from postseason play in 2004. Sankey, coincidentally, serves on the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which he has chaired since 2014.

But the disagreements with Harbaugh’s Spring Break trip aren’t limited to the SEC. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford joined the fray on a Thursday interview on Sirius XM College Sports.

“It is creative,” Swofford said. “It’s kind of like we’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation … it’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”

All of a sudden the commissioners of the two conferences that make up the southeastern United States — where a large portion of the nation’s top recruits year in and year out reside — are worried about student athletes. Yet Swoffod’s conference has been littered with NCAA sanctions in recent years from Miami to North Carolina to Georgia Tech to Florida State to Syracuse basketball, and most recently, Louisville basketball.

“I’m not concerned about the league’s image,” he said.

Well as long as the league’s image is intact, who cares that Jameis Winston’s actions were swept under the rug while he lead the Seminoles to a national championship? Who cares that over 1,000 student athletes from the North Carolina football and basketball programs received extra benefits and were involved in academic fraud? It’s all about the kids, remember?

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

College basketball teams regularly travel to holiday tournaments in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Bahamas during winter break. College baseball, softball, golf, swimming, and gymnastics teams regularly travel south in the spring to open their seasons in the sun. And college football itself eschews winter break in favor of traveling south or west for a week of practice culminating with a bowl game. The student athletes’ winter breaks were further consumed by football when college football expanded to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s protests when Florida State and Alabama student athletes missed out on a week of a break before spring semester began?

Just last month, Clemson, a school from Swofford’s conference, was granted an NCAA waiver to practice more than the 20-hour a week limit. Why? Because their opponent, Alabama, hadn’t yet begun spring semester and thus, wasn’t bound by the practice limits. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s concern for the students’ time then?

The argument for the welfare of the kids is the easy one, the political one, to make. Because it gives the appearance — even if dishonest — that his main concern is based on academics. But it’s not the real one. While Sankey denies that he’s trying to protect his conference’s built-in competitive advantage of most of the nation’s top recruits residing in their schools’ back yards, that’s exactly what his argument is about. The reality is that Harbaugh is out-thinking and out-working his coaches and he doesn’t want to be caught flat footed.

Harbaugh often turns to Twitter to issue quotes and thoughts of the day that give a glimpse into his line of thought. An old Irish proverb comes to mind for this situation.

You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.

It’s possible that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have had ideas similar to the Summer Swarm tour or Signing of the Stars or destination spring practices. Whether they have or not, they haven’t put them into practice. In just over a year on the job, Harbaugh has, and it’s allowing him to quickly make up ground on his counterparts.

He took a sinking, 5-7 team and doubled its win total, culminating with a 41-7 thrashing of SEC East champion, Florida. He followed that up by signing a top-five recruiting class that includes the top overall player in the nation, Rashan Gary, who included Clemson and Alabama among his final choices. The roster Harbaugh inherited in 2015 was the least talented he will have during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and his continued success on the field will breed success on the recruiting trail. Snakey, Swofford, and the coaches of the schools they preside over want to do everything they can to preserve their own success.

Harbaugh hasn’t broken the rules. He’s just a step ahead of the rest and forcing them to try to change the rules in order to keep up. And soon enough it will pay off, which is why, not only is he the target of commissioners pleading the NCAA to slow him down, but also other coaches spreading rumors about him to recruits and their families. Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, said as much after her son picked Michigan.

“That was a turn off,” Coney said of the negative recruiting. “Bring your program up. Tell me about all the good things that your program, your school, and the people on your staff do. Don’t kick this person in the back.  Nobody likes Michigan. Nooobody likes Michigan.  When Rashan picked Michigan, my phone stopped ringing. It was a blessing.”

Fellow defensive tackle commit Michael Dwumfor, who flipped from Penn State to Michigan in late January, agreed.

“When I was at Penn State, I heard jokes about Harbaugh and stuff like that,” Dwumfour said. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking ‘What he’s doing is working, obviously. Instead of criticizing him, you might want to take some of his techniques to try and help yourself out and get some recruits.’”

The SEC, ACC, and coaches within his own conference — who, not-so-coincidentally, came from the SEC — can say all they want, but Harbaugh will continue pushing the limits within the rule book to succeed in the cutthroat world of college football. And if they don’t match his enthusiasm, work ethic, and imagination, it won’t be long before they are dethroned.

That brings another Irish proverb to mind.

It is not the same to go to the king’s house as to come from it.

The top ten moments from Signing of the Stars

Friday, February 5th, 2016


It’s been more than 24 hours since Jim Harbaugh and Michigan took over National Signing Day. The Wolverines got started at 8:13 a.m., when Nate Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the Maize and Blue, and went nonstop until Devin Asiasi pulled out the block M cap at 3:32 p.m.

That’s seven hours and 19 minutes of Michigan football on full blast, and it’s nowhere near the start of the season.

Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, let’s take a look back at the event that highlighted it all: The Signing of the Stars. Whether you love it or hate it, you know Harbaugh hit the ball out of the park on Wednesday. All eyes were on Ann Arbor as the Wolverines pulled in virtually every single signing day target on their board.

I’ll count down what I thought were the top 10 moments of the first (of many) Signing of the Stars.

10. Celebrities call in to hype up Michigan football

Big Sean

When it seems like the stage can’t get any bigger, Jim Harbaugh finds a way to blow it out of the water. Sure, there were more than 20 well-known celebrities in Hill Auditorium, but why stop there?

The Signing of the Stars featured video call-ins from the likes of Owen Wilson, Big Sean, and even Verne Troyer. Seriously, Verne Troyer? Somehow, Harbaugh convinced the 2-foot-8 comedian to congratulate the incoming class while his entire head was drowned in a Winged Helmet.

Then Owen Wilson, who’s connection to the university was that he “played a character that had a Michigan degree once,” popped onto the screen and played the fight song on his cellphone. Future generations won’t remember Wilson as the actor from Wedding Crashers or The Internship. They’ll hear his name and say “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Signing of the Stars?”

But even Troyer and Wilson couldn’t top Big Sean. The world-famous rapper jumped onto the screen completely draped in Maize and Blue gear. While the rest of us were staring at the block M on his hat and jacket, Big Sean introduced a recruit from his own hometown: Michael Onwenu. How cool is it that a kid who chose Michigan over MSU got to be introduced by one of the city’s most famous living hometown heroes? Coincidence? Obviously not. It’s just another recruiting tool that Harbaugh can use during future in-state recruiting wars.

9. Quinn Nordin calls in with his family

Quinn Nordin

For months Michigan fans have heard the name Quinn Nordin thrown around on message boards and social media. Even when the four-star kicker (that’s right, a four-star kicker!) was committed to Penn State, it was almost a given that he would end up donning the Maize and Blue.

On Wednesday, just hours after making his decision official, Nordin joined the Signing of the Stars on screen with his entire family to introduce himself to the Michigan faithful. This marked the end of the recruiting journey that gave us round one of Harbaugh vs. James Franklin and the unforgettable post-dead-period sleepover.

Jim Harbaugh wanted this kicker, so Jim Harbaugh got this kicker. Boot ’em straight, Quinn.

8. Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock team up on stage

Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock

Harbaugh brought a whole host of former Michigan players to participate on Wednesday, but no duo better captured the moment that former quarterbacks Robinson and Rudock.

Denard Robinson, who played in one of the most all-around disappointing eras in Michigan football history, made the Wolverines watchable during his four years on the field. The hyper-athletic, just-go-out-and-play makeup of Robinson made him an easy player to root for and endeared him to a fanbase that hasn’t seen many dual threat quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, Robinson took the podium with a player who, not unlike himself, helped carry an offense that would’ve otherwise been mediocre (or completely lost, in Robinson’s case) without him. Rudock only spent one season with Michigan, but his improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season was so great it can’t be described in a paragraph of socially-acceptable length as the No. 8 ranking in a list.

Robinson kept a reeling football program afloat and Rudock helped steer it back on track. Watching them introduce a whole new group of Michigan men brought the last decade full circle.

7. “Who’s got it better than us?”

Harbaugh %22Go Blue%22

In his short 13 months in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has offered no end of quirky quotes. He told us that artificial sweeteners are not, in fact, safe. And that he would run for president of the United States with Wale as his partner. He even revealed that worms with machine guns (assuming they are loaded) would no longer be afraid of birds.

All of those comments are just Harbaugh-isms. You can’t hope to understand them, you can only bask in their pure glory and absurdity. But when Harbaugh asks, “Who’s got it better than us?” he’s in a really, really good mood.

That was the case on Wednesday as he stood in front of some 3,000 Michigan die-hards and asked his favorite question. The responding “Nooooooobody!” echoed around Hill Auditorium as one of the country’s top recruiting class fell into place.

It’s only been 13 months, but Harbaugh’s already got his trademark punchline. Luckily, Michigan Nation loves it.

6. Ric Flair reveals his deep Michigan loyalty

Ric Flair

The whole bizarre, out-of-nowhere professional wrestling fascination evolving from Harbaugh’s declaration that he would love to have Wrestle Mania in the Big House hit a peak Wednesday when Ric Flair professed his love for the University of Michigan.

Flair got the crowd fired up as only he could, yelling about Michigan football and releasing one of his trademark “WOOO”s after saying he’d never wanted to leave Ann Arbor. But his best quote of the speech, and one of the funniest moments of the event, came near the end of his time on stage.

“I’m BLUE baby,” Flair shouted into the microphone. “I can’t STAND Ohio State. Ain’t got no TIME for Michigan State.”

We wanted Ric Flair, and we got Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be a speech from a professional wrestler without an unprompted shot at the common enemy in the room. It only makes it funnier that his jibe came while Columbus and East Lansing were grinding their teeth at how much attention Michigan was garnering.

Oh the disrespekt.

5. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady share the same couch

Jeter and Brady

Am I the only one who noticed how much athletic greatness was shoved onto that one couch? I mean, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest infielders of all time and he was only the second-best athlete sitting on that piece of black leather.

With more than half a cushion available, there were still 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs scored, 1,311 RBI, 260 home runs, 58,028 passing yards and 445 total touchdowns on that couch. Between the two, Jeter and Brady own 10 major sports championships (five World Series titles, four Super Bowl rings and a college football national title).

Watching the early enrollees as Jeter and Brady talked about sports right in front of them was a cool sight, and Harbaugh will place that into his already-loaded recruiting arsenal.

4. Devin Gardner leads The Victors

Gardner(MGoBlue.com)

Devin Gardner was probably one of the most unfairly treated players in recent Michigan history during his time on the field. When he had some semblance of a team around him in the second half of 2012, he looked like a pretty strong quarterback. But when the 2012 class graduated and left Gardner with a sieve of an offensive line and a head coach on his way out, the odds were stacked heavily against him.

Despite all of the boos and criticism he received as a player, Gardner is always around the Michigan program. He attends all the events and voices his support of a school that waited until after he left to become the most exciting sports landing spot on the planet.

So it makes sense that when Gardner took the stage on Wednesday, he did so with a huge smile on his face and forced the full audience, including notorious Notre Dame slappy Lou Holtz, to sing The Victors. Some of the guests were clearly uncomfortable on stage, but Gardner was a proud representative of the school and his simple gesture turned into one of the best moments of the night.

3. Jim Harbaugh discreetly learns Rashan Gary’s decision

The Signing of the Stars was great, securing commitments from Nordin, Washington, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill was great, but the biggest story of the day was always No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary’s decision.

Harbaugh couldn’t say anything about Gary during the party because of NCAA rules, but that almost made the whole process even more entertaining. Video of Harbaugh watching the decision go down on Mike Tirico’s smart phone and then calmly fist pumping and waltzing back onto the stage is priceless. The guy had just secured perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in Michigan history and he had to just go sit quietly on a couch.

Sure, everybody knew what happened, and Harbaugh even disclosed that he “got some good news backstage,” but watching one of the most enthusiastic men on the planet sit quietly after hearing the most exciting news of his college coaching career was pretty awesome.

A moment that didn’t get captured on camera while Todd McShay was breaking down film of running back commit Kareem Walker, Harbaugh walked back onto the stage and whispered to his assembled early-enrollees and gave them all fist bumps. The crowd of course picked up on this and their cheer that seemed random on the live stream now makes sense.

2. Dabbing

Jim Leyland dab

As it tends to do at all headline sporting events nowadays, dabbing played a major role in the Signing of the Stars.

First, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell hit a perfect dab on stage after being called up to discuss his first few weeks in Ann Arbor. Mitchell is one of the most outspoken recruits in the class, so making a move in the spotlight was right up his alley.

Then, in an internet-shattering meeting between crusty MLB manager and trendy hip hop group, Jim Leyland turned the world on its head by hitting a well-rehearsed dab with his new buddies Quavo and Takeoff cheering him on. Was it the most beautiful dab in the world? No. Did it almost look like a well-timed sneeze? Yes. But Jim Leyland dabbed with two rap artists and nobody can take that away from him.

Lou Holtz’s dab was just as beautiful, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering. After stumbling out to the middle of the stage to ensure everyone he’d sang the Michigan fight song, Holtz dabbed with Harbaugh to the glee of six nearby 18-year-old future Michigan football players.

What a time to be alive.

1. Chad Tough tribute

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

One of the underlying benefits of Signing of the Stars is that it raised money for the ChadTough Foundation. The event was not held to be a fundraiser, but to honor Michigan’s nearly 30 new football players. That being said, the tribute to Chad and the persevering cause dedicated in his name turned into perhaps the best moment of the night.

There are many who’ve criticized Michigan for involving the charity in Wednesday’s proceedings. They say Michigan used the charity to deflect criticism of the event. To be blunt, those people are being very stupid.

The ChadTough tribute at the end of the Signing of the Stars capped off a festive day in which Michigan celebrated its stars old and new. I thought it came off as genuine and gave a platform to an issue that’s trying desperately to raise awareness.

Michigan never advertised the Signing of the Stars as a charity event. No, Harbaugh was clear that Wednesday was a day to celebrate Michigan’s new recruiting class. The fact that over $100,000 was also raised toward the cause was just icing on the cake.

Chad’s story puts things in perspective, especially on a day when thousands of people came together to celebrate teenagers committing to a football team. Sure it sounds strange, but it was a slam dunk for Harbaugh, who not only brought great exposure to the program but also gave recruits another reason to consider the Maize and Blue.

Dozens of young men were honored during the Signing of the Stars, none more important than young Chad Carr.