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Posts Tagged ‘Rich Rodriguez’

M&GB Roundtable debates the status of Hoke’s hot seat

Friday, June 27th, 2014


Roundtable-Hoke hot seat

Hoke(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

As we continue our 2014 season preview series, the time has come for our first M&GB Roundtable. These roundtables will be posted on Fridays a few times throughout the summer and will discuss a hot topic relating to the upcoming season. Given the way last season went and the overall pessimism throughout the fan base at the moment, the first topic is certainly a hot one: Is Brady Hoke on the hot seat? If not now, what kind of season does Michigan have to have to avoid the hot seat heading into next season? If so, is there a scenario in which you would want him fired after this season?

Justin banner

In my opinion, Hoke isn’t on the hot seat right now, and I don’t say that because of how I feel Dave Brandon views it. I don’t think Hoke should be on the hot seat right now. Of course we’re all disappointed with a 7-6 season. No one wants that. I’ve heard all the “Michigan shouldn’t accept mediocrity” arguments, and I agree. But we have to face the reality of the situation Michigan is in. The program has to be built back up to where it once was, and that process takes time.

I don’t fully blame Rich Rodriguez, though he is partially to blame, mostly for things like not focusing enough on defense and failing to recruit certain positions each year. The main blame should fall on Bill Martin for hiring Rodriguez in the first place back in 2008. The hiring took a traditional, pro-style offense, hard-nosed defense team and forced it to turn into a new-age, spread offense, smaller and faster defense team. We can debate all day long whether Rodriguez would have eventually succeeded if he had been given enough time to fully transition the roster. But when he wasn’t — he was fired after three seasons — and when Brandon handed the reigns back to a more traditional Michigan coach, it stunted the process even more. I’m not saying that was the wrong decision, but the reality is that Brandon did so for long-term, not short-term success. The roster was somewhere between 60-80 percent transitioned to Rodriguez’s style and now it would need to be turned back into the old style.

Hoke going 11-2 in his first season was more of a mirage than what should have been expected. For his part, he solidified the defense, and that combined with the already potent offense, allowed for the great season. Had he kept recruiting and coaching towards Rodriguez’s philosophies, 2012 and 2013 would have been better. But that’s not who Hoke is or what he was brought in for. With only about 25 roster spots able to change over each year, transitioning back to the Michigan of old will take time. And that’s what we, as Michigan fans, need to give Hoke.

Recruiting is going well and there is plenty of young talent on the team. This season, Michigan will still be one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, and in 2015 the vast majority of the roster will be Hoke’s guys. Hoke needs to be given through 2015 to turn things around. Michigan should at least be within striking distance of the Big Ten championship in 2015. If, at that point, Michigan is still having 7-6 or 8-5 seasons, we can start to seriously discuss how hot Hoke’s seat is.

Drew banner

No, Brady Hoke is not on the hot seat. To be on the hot seat, a coach must be in a position where he must win a substantial number of games the following season or else he will be fired. Hoke is not in such a position, even if his seat is a bit warmer than it was prior to 2013. Fans forget just how toxic things were in Ann Arbor prior to Hoke’s arrival. Not only did Michigan collapse down the stretch in Rich Rodriguez’s final two seasons, his recruiting classes experienced mass defections. The attrition rate was astronomical and left craters in various areas of Michigan’s depth chart that were bound to rear their ugly head down the road.

Hoke has been trying to rebuild Michigan into what it was prior to Rodriguez’s tenure, but it is not an overnight job. Yes, Michigan’s record has worsened each of Hoke’s first three seasons, but do not let the 2011 campaign fool you. That was a magical run. Michigan benefited from some of the best karma and luck the Wolverines have seen in quite some time en route to an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory. But it did not rectify Michigan’s underlying problem that it would have little depth and experience at multiple positions the following seasons. Hoke has tried to plug the holes in the depth chart quickly, bringing in the No. 6 and No. 4 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013, respectively, according to 247 Sports, but those recruits have been only sophomores or freshmen. How much of an immediate impact can be expected from them? This lack of depth and inexperience, combined with puzzling offensive game plans from Al Borges and unfortunate injuries, is why Michigan was 15-11 the past two years.

So Hoke is not on the hot seat yet. He still needs more time to balance the depth chart and develop his talented recruits. Just look at Michigan’s offensive line for the upcoming season. The raw talent is there, but it likely needs one more season to become a cohesive unit. Plus, Michigan will be trying to break in a new offense under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, while being saddled with road games against all three of its major rivals—Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame—for the first time ever. Hoke has two more years to right the ship with big expectations for 2015. He could help alleviate some of that pressure with nine or more wins, especially if they are against a rival or two, in 2014, yet a seven- or eight-win season would make his seat burn a bit more in 2015. And the only scenario where Michigan would consider firing Hoke after this season is one where Michigan has a losing record and fails to make a bowl game. Otherwise, expect Hoke and his staff to be back in 2015.

Josh banner

As far as Dave Brandon is concerned Brady Hoke is not on the hot seat. Whether the university has Brandon/Hoke on the hot seat is another question. I’ve long held the opinion that it would take Hoke until 2015 before he fielded a championship caliber team (conference, not national) and I stick by it. Rome was not built in a day, nor will the Maize and Blue be rebuilt in three-to-four years.

We were spoiled in 2011, but I truly think that was an aberration, an aligning of the stars, so to speak. OSU was down for once and Sparty was, well Sparty. It takes several years to revamp a program from one style into basically the complete opposite. That simply does not happen overnight. Heading into year four Hoke has shown he is a monster on the recruiting trail, which helps me keep my cool. That he has managed to haul in some really good players and classes that fit his ‘Michigan Man’ mold perfectly, in spite of sub-par on-field results is truly a testament to the man’s character and recruiting skill.

The player development, however, has been less than what most of us would have expected but we need to keep in mind that this is a VERY YOUNG team. While it is not uncommon for a first or second year player to be great (Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson*, Johnny Football), it is not the norm. To expect a roster almost fully loaded with first and second year players to play at a high level was just ridiculous.

*Adrian Peterson played with a Heisman winning quarterback, a future first round wide receiver in Mark Clayton, ran behind a line that featured two future NFL players (Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph), and three senior linemen (the other two were juniors), for a team that had a 36-5 record coming in.

No, we haven’t had the seasons we expect from Michigan, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen great seasons back to back (10-plus wins). There haven’t been back to back 10-win seasons in over a decade, 2002-2003 and you have to go back to 1997-1999 to see three straight. Or if you want to be more generous and count 9-plus win seasons, we still go back over a decade to 2002-2004 for three straight and 2006-2007 for back-to-back.

Long story short, Hoke is not on the hot seat nor should he be. One needs at least five seasons to retool a program. I think he gets that and nothing more. That said, I was also of the opinion Rich Rodriguez needed at least five seasons. Although I was happy to see him go, I think he would have turned the corner by his fifth season.

Will the ‘heat’ get turned up if Hoke turns in another seven- or eight-win season? I don’t think so. The fans may be impatient and restless but they don’t call the shots. Dave Brandon played for Bo and he knows what Hoke is dealing with and the time and effort it takes to basically rebuild from the ground up. The temperature stays the same heading into 2015 — which is still very warm — unless of course Hoke goes 3-9. Then all bets are off. I think Brandon is just looking for marked improvement, not necessarily in the win-loss column, but something that shows what this staff is doing is working and taking enough steps forward.

I can think of only one scenario under which I’d like to see Brady Hoke fired after this season. Bill Belichick takes over the program (AD and head coach) and brings Nick Saban along with him. That said, it seems logical that Doug Nussmeier would take over should Hoke be given the boot, after either this season or the next.

Derick banner

Is Hoke on the hot seat? It certainly seems like he should be, but the atmosphere around the program lacks the sense of urgency that usually surrounds a desperate coach. He’s at least feeling pressure, and that’s not only because of the team’s overall performance, but also the individual performances of important players.

Hoke’s similarity to Rich Rodriguez after three years in Ann Arbor has been well documented around the college football world. Both finished 7-6 in their third season, and both struggled in Big Ten play despite hot starts during the non-conference schedule. The major difference between the two? While Rodriguez’s teams at least improved record wise, each year has shown a steady decline under Hoke. If that trend continues in 2014, especially with such a weak home schedule, then Hoke should be shown the door without a doubt.

The overall struggles are largely due to slow improvement from talented players like Derrick Green. Hoke has proven he can lure some of the most highly regarded recruits in the country to Ann Arbor, but those players simply haven’t performed on the field in many cases. In 2013 the offensive line was loaded with former stud recruits, but as a unit it left Devin Gardner on his back more often than any other group in the Big Ten. Some recruits clearly don’t live up to the hype, but Hoke needs more from five-star guys like Green.

Team 135 is immensely important for Hoke and his future at Michigan. In his fourth season fans expect that the talent he needs is at his disposal and the program needs to take a step in the right direction. With Jabrill Peppers and company on campus, Michigan is primed to compete in the Big Ten. Hoke’s job is to make sure that happens.

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

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

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

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

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

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

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will catch passes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the line shape up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

If season’s end had come on Nov. 30 Michigan would have entered the offseason with at least some semblance of hope. No, the Wolverines didn’t beat Ohio State and no, there are no moral victories, but their inspired performance left reason for hope. Instead, the season officially, mercifully, came to a close on Saturday with a game it didn’t want to be in and a lackluster performance that did nothing but erase any goodwill earned in the game prior.

Michigan and Kansas State entered with identical 7-5 records, but it was painfully obvious that not all 7-5s are equal. One team played like it was there to take care of business while the other like it had already mailed it in.

Final Stats
Michigan Kansas State
Score 14 31
Record 7-6 8-5
Total Yards 261 420
Net Rushing Yards 65 149
Net Passing Yards 196 271
First Downs 15 21
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-39 6-64
Punts-Yards 5-204 1-45
Time of Possession 24:56 34:00
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 7-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 1-2
Field Goals 2-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 0-for-0 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 4-of-4
Full Box Score

By late fourth quarter, Michigan fans were reduced to simply hoping the Wolverines would get the ball back one more time to allow Jeremy Gallon to break Michigan’s single-season receiving record. But even that felt hollow in the face of an underachieving season.

Gallon and Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield finished their careers surrounded on offense by kids as Devin Gardner looked on from the sidelines, supported by crutches.

Shane Morris, making his first career start – just the sixth true freshman quarterback to do so in Michigan history – looked poised and showed off a strong arm. Sometimes he was a second late, sometimes his throws were a little off, but many times he went through his progressions, stepped up into the pocket, and delivered a strike in a way that looked more like a seasoned veteran than a kid less than a year removed from high school.

That was one of few bright spots. There was no running game. Michigan’s running backs combined for 13 yards on eight carries. Morris finished as the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 43 yards, 40 of which coming on a long run late in the fourth. It was Michigan’s longest run of the season.

The defense gave up touchdown drives of 14 plays, 75 yards; five plays, 60 yards; and four plays, 59 yards in the first half. All culminated in touchdown passes from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, who routinely burnt Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor en route to 116 yards on 10 receptions. John Hubert had wide open holes up the middle all night long, just like Carlos Hyde did a month ago, finishing with 80 yards on 16 carries. Waters had all day to throw, calmly completing 21-of-27 for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and when things broke down, he picked up yards – and first downs – with his legs.

When all was said and done, Michigan ended its season with a thoroughly disappointing 7-6 record, continuing the decline through Hoke’s first three seasons from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Michigan finished the season with the eighth highest point total in program history, but while it averaged nearly 48 points per game in its top six scoring games, it averaged a meager 19 in its other seven. Defensively, Michigan started the season with just seven touchdowns allowed through five games, but gave up 30 in the final eight, resulting in the second most points allowed in program history.

Aside from individual accolades like Gallon’s receiving record and Lewan’s Rimington-Pace award, the season was a failure by every measure. The good news is that aside from Gallon and Lewan, the vast majority of Michigan’s key players return next season. The bad news is the schedule sends the Wolverines to South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus and Michigan hosts a Utah squad that knocked off Stanford this season.

Hoke will have some big decisions to make in the offseason, likely choosing between moving in another direction at offensive coordinator with hopes of saving his own job or sticking with Al Borges for better or worse. And three years removed from the Rich Rodriguez era, that’s not a good place to be. But at least, mercifully, this season is over.

A Thanksgiving salute to the seniors of Team 134

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Thanksgiving is a time for all to remember what they are thankful for, and on Saturday 17 Wolverines will take the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. They’ll play their hearts out, hoping to redeem an otherwise lost season and play spoiler to their most bitter rival’s perfect season. But before we get there, let’s take some time to thank those men of the maize and blue that made the decision to attend the University of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan
Career starts Consecutive starts Honors
46 39 All-Big Ten first team (2012), second team (2011), Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year (2012), Walter Camp first team All-American (2012), Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist (2013)

Thank you Taylor Lewan for sticking it out for all five years. Thank you for forgoing sure millions in the 2012 NFL Draft to return to school, finish your career, and help mentor the young offensive linemen. Thank you for carrying on the tradition that so many linemen before you began. Your senior season hasn’t gone as planned, but you’ll go down as one of the all time Michigan great left tackles and while it doesn’t show right now, your leadership and guidance of the young guys will pay dividends in the coming years. May a long and productive career in the NFL await you.

Jeremy Gallon
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
155 2,440 16 15.7

Thank you Jeremy Gallon for working hard to improve for five straight years. You committed to Rich Rodriguez while he was in the process of recruiting smaller guys but didn’t really even get to play in his offense. Thank you for sticking with Michigan through the coaching change and forcing yourself into the leading role in an offense built for taller receivers. You’re on pace to finish in the top five in every career receiving category and top two in single season receiving yards, despite standing just 5’8″. Whether the NFL comes calling or not, thank you for being a bright spot in an otherwise down season and best of luck for your future.

Fitzgerald Toussaint
Career Rushes Career Rushing Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
503 2,255 26 4.5

Thank you Fitzgerald Toussaint for bringing excitement back to the Michigan backfield for the first time since Mike Hart left. We’ll always have 2011 when you ran for 1,041 yards and, along with Denard Robinson, became the first Michigan tandem to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since the 1970s. This season has been tough and last season ended with a gruesome injury, but thank you for pushing hard to overcome the injury and work your way back into the starting role.

Brendan Gibbons
Career FG Attempted Career FG Made Career FG % Career PATs
60 45 75% 156-158 (98.7%)

Thank you Brendan Gibbons for your improvement throughout your five years in Ann Arbor. Your freshman struggles are a distant memory as you have become one of Michigan’s all-time best field goal kickers. Your game winning kicks against Virginia Tech in the 2012 bSugar Bowl and Michigan State in 2012 will always be remembered, as will your other game-tying kicks. You are proof that vast improvement can be made year-to-year.

Drew Dileo
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC Career Punt Ret Career Yds/Ret
39 560 5 14.4 11 7.2

Thank you Drew Dileo for coming north to play for Michigan and providing a set of sure hands. You’ll always be remembered for your big plays in helping Michigan end its losing streak to Michigan State in 2012, but more so for your hard work and dependability. When Hoke needed sure hands at returning punts, you filled in. Your ability to hold for field goals has been steady and the slide into the hold for the game-tying field goal against Northwestern this season will go down in history.

Michael Schofield
Career Games Played Career Starts
50 34

Thank you Michael Schofield for giving this year’s squad a veteran presence on the offensive line along with Taylor Lewan. While the season hasn’t gone as planned, your guidance of the young linemen will pay off down the road. You started your career at guard and then held down the right tackle spot for two years. Although you don’t have the accolades of Lewan, you’ve been a steady contributor and may you find a spot at the next level.

Thomas Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
36 214 3 11.5 3 4 6

Thank you Thomas Gordon for holding down the secondary and providing a veteran presence while Hoke’s young guys work their way into the lineup. You were the team’s third-leading tackler in both 2011 and 2012 and currently rank sixth this year. Your interception ended this year’s Northwestern game in overtime and you led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries in 2011. Thank you for a productive career.

Cameron Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
15 132 4 14 1 2 3

Thank you Cam Gordon for your flexibility over the past five seasons and being willing to play wherever you were needed in order to see the field. You came in as a receiver, switched to safety and then to linebacker and were named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team in 2010. A back injury forced you to miss time in 2011 but you fought your way back in 2012 and have played a key reserve role at linebacker and even defensive end the last two seasons. Perhaps most importantly you were named Academic All-Big Ten each of the last three seasons, so big things are in store for you when your playing days are done.

Jibreel Black
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
14 69 7 14 3 0 0

Thank you Jibreel Black for an under the radar but productive career. You waited your turn, serving as an important reserve defensive lineman in 2011 and 2012 before working your way into the starting lineup this season. You recorded three sacks in the final four games of 2011 and made a key sack in overtime against Northwestern this season.

Quinton Washington
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
16 54 1 3 1 0 0

Thank you Quinton Washington for giving the team a veteran leader on the defensive line despite coming to Michigan on the other side of the ball. You started your career at right guard in 2010 before switching over to the defense. You blocked a kick against South Carolina in last season’s Outback Bowl and have held down the middle of the defense in the absence of Ondre Pipkins this season.

Courtney Avery
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
18 109 1.5 5 3 3 2

Thank you Courtney Avery for outperforming your recruiting rankings and earning a spot as team captain this season. You’ll be remembered for your interception on Ohio State’s final drive in 2011 to seal the win, ending their winning streak. You tied a Michigan record for longest fumble recovery against Minnesota that same year. You’ve battled injuries but always found a way to get on the field. You were given the honor of wearing the No. 11 Legends jersey to honor the Wistert brothers, Francis, Albert, and Alvin, and that will be something you can be proud of when your playing days are over.

Thank you Joe Reynolds, Jeremy Jackson, Jareth Glanda, Erik Gunderson, Dylan Esterline, and Kristian Mateus for your contributions to the Michigan football program over the last four or five years. You helped prepare the team for battle week in and week out and can take pride in being able to don the maize and blue. Best of luck wherever your post football careers lead you.

These 17 young men will be honored prior to Saturday’s game, so regardless of how you view this season make sure to get there in time to give them the ovation they deserve. If you’re not happy with the way this season has gone, you can bet they feel it ten times worse, but all of them came in under a different head coach and, stuck out the transition, and have laid the foundation for Hoke’s future success.

Inside the Numbers: Despite pint sized stature, Gallon may be one of Michigan’s best ever

Monday, October 21st, 2013


(Patrick Barron, The Michigan Daily)

What is the prototypical Michigan wide receiver? For many, it is a wide receiver that is six-feet-and-three-inches tall, weighs 210 pounds, and can dunk a football over the crossbar effortlessly. For years, they have walked through the doors at Schembechler Hall and dazzled those in attendance at Michigan Stadium. They include Braylon Edwards, Amani Toomer, Tai Streets, David Terrell, Marquise Walker, and Derrick Alexander. The list is seemingly never-ending.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has expressed his desire to add more of them to the list and has done so since taking over the program, obtaining verbal commitments from nine receivers that are all at least six-feet-and-two-inches tall in his 2012-15 recruiting classes. Yet, it is the five-foot-eight wideout from Apopka, Florida, that may just be one of the best to don the winged helmet.

On June 5, 2008, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon gave a verbal pledge to then-Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez that he would leave the warm confines of the Sunshine State to play his collegiate ball in Ann Arbor. Gallon was expected by Rodriguez and the staff to have a versatile role for the Wolverines, lining up in the slot, in the backfield, and as a returner. Rodriguez wanted to utilize Gallon by putting him in space in the middle of the field, where his quickness and speed would expose linebackers in coverage and generate plentiful yards after the catch.

Jeremy Gallon's 369 yards set a Michigan and Big Ten single-game record (MGoBlue.com)

However, Gallon did not become the starting slot receiver until after Michigan fired Rodriguez, and the results at the position under offensive coordinator Al Borges were a mixed bag. Borges did not feature Gallon in Michigan’s game plan, and former quarterback Denard Robinson’s accuracy issues limited Gallon’s production the few times he was targeted. In Gallon’s 21 games at slot receiver in 2011 and 2012, he caught at least four passes only three times and topped 80 receiving yards only once. It seemed like Gallon would be an average second or third option in the passing game throughout his career, highlighted by his undercover 64-yard reception in the final seconds against Notre Dame in 2011.

But with a move to outside receiver and a substitution at quarterback during the second half of the 2012 campaign, everything changed for the pint-sized Gallon. He became Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner’s favorite target as they developed an ESP-like connection, and the record-setting performances began to pile up.

In the 12 games since Gardner became the starting quarterback, Gallon has caught 76 passes for 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns—which would be the most receiving yards by a U-M receiver ever if accomplished in a calendar season. He has caught a pass in 33 straight games, which is third best in Michigan history. He has grabbed at least four passes in 11 of his last 12 games and topped 80 receiving yards in six of them. He shattered the Michigan and Big Ten single-game receiving records with 369 yards against Indiana last Saturday. Not only is that total the second most in FBS history, his first- and second-half receiving totals—170 and 199—would be the 15th- and second-best performances, respectively, in Michigan history by themselves.

With virtuoso performances against South Carolina in the 2013 Outback Bowl and Notre Dame and Indiana in 2013, Gallon has sneakily transformed himself into one of the best wide receivers in Michigan history.  Here are Gallon’s current receiving statistics, compared with those of former Wolverine wideouts considered by most to be the best ever at Michigan:

Mosts for top Michigan wide receivers – Current Numbers
Jeremy Gallon Anthony Carter Desmond Howard Amani Toomer Tai Streets David Terrell Marquise Walker Braylon Edwards Mario Manningham
In a game
Catches 14 9 9 8 12 10 15 13 10
Yards 369 154 167 179 192 150 160 189 162
Touchdowns 3 2 3 2 2 3 2 3 3
In a season
Catches 45* 51 63 54 67 71 86 97 72
Yards 831 952 1,025 1,096 1,035 1,130 1,143 1,330 1,174
Touchdowns 7 14 19 7 11 14 11 15 12
In a career
Catches 129 161 134 143 144 152 176 252 137
Yards 2,162 3,076 2,146 2,657 2,284 2,317 2,269 3,541 2,310
Touchdowns 15 37 32 18 19 23 17 39 27
*Gallon had 49 catches in 2012, but will likely surpass that number in the next game against Michigan State

As one can see from the table above, while Gallon’s best numbers in individual games are almost as good as, if not better than, every other wide receiver in Michigan history, his season and career totals are slightly lower than those of the eight ex-Wolverines listed, except for Desmond Howard’s career yardage and Toomer’s most number of touchdowns in a season.

However, this is to be expected for a player that still has six or seven games remaining in his collegiate career. To have an idea where Gallon will stand at the end of the year, one must project his 2013 season and career numbers. The best method to project these totals is to use the averages Gallon has recorded since Gardner became the starter, rather than his averages for his entire career, because Gardner will be the quarterback for the remainder of the year.

In the 12 games since Gardner became the signal caller, Gallon has averaged 6.33 receptions, 111.83 yards, and 0.83 touchdowns per game. If Gallon maintains these averages for the next 6.5 games—which allows for the possibility of Michigan participating in the Big Ten Championship Game—here is how his numbers stack up against the same former Wolverines listed above:

Mosts for top Michigan wide receivers – Projected Numbers*
Jeremy Gallon Anthony Carter Desmond Howard Amani Toomer Tai Streets David Terrell Marquise Walker Braylon Edwards Mario Manningham
In a game
Catches 14 9 9 8 12 10 15 13 10
Yards 369 154 167 179 192 150 160 189 162
Touchdowns 3 2 3 2 2 3 2 3 3
In a season
Catches 86* 51 63 54 67 71 86 97 72
Yards 1,558* 952 1,025 1,096 1,035 1,130 1,143 1,330 1,174
Touchdowns 12* 14 19 7 11 14 11 15 12
In a career
Catches 170* 161 134 143 144 152 176 252 137
Yards 2,889* 3,076 2,146 2,657 2,284 2,317 2,269 3,541 2,310
Touchdowns 20* 37 32 18 19 23 17 39 27
*Projections are only for Gallon’s 2013 season and career totals

If these projections pan out, the following would be Gallon’s rank in Michigan history in those categories:

Gallon could finish in the top five in Michigan history in all receiving categories (MGoBlue.com)

Catches in Game: 3rd
Catches in a Season: t-2nd
Catches in a Career: 3rd
Yards in a Game: 1st (Big Ten record, 2nd in FBS history)
Yards in a Season: 1st (Big Ten record)
Yards in a Career: 3rd
Touchdowns in a Game: t-2nd
Touchdowns in a Season: t-6th
Touchdowns in a Career: 7th

Gallon has a realistic opportunity to finish in the top five in Michigan’s record book for all nine of these categories. To do so, Gallon would need at least 31 catches, 299 yards, and eight touchdowns to close out the season. If he does do so, he would become only the second receiver in Michigan history to accomplish such a feat, joining Braylon Edwards.

There are two caveats that must be mentioned before one assumes these projections will come to life. First, by using only the numbers from the 12 games that Gardner started at quarterback, the sample size is much smaller and the 369-yard performance becomes an even bigger outlier. Although Gallon has averaged 111.83 receiving yards in those 12 games, he has only eclipsed 100 receiving yards in three of them. Gallon will need to be more consistent with his output because 369-yard performances do not happen every Saturday.

Second, the yards may be harder to come by in Michigan’s remaining games. The average rank of the seven teams Michigan has already faced in passing yards allowed is 72.6. The average rank of the five teams Michigan has yet to play is 58.2, and U-M likely will play better passing defenses in the Big Ten Championship Game, if necessary, and its bowl game. While there is not a large discrepancy between the average ranks, Michigan will face two top 30 pass defenses in Michigan State (no. 4) and Iowa (no. 26) after facing zero in the first seven games.

Nonetheless, Gallon has been absolutely incredible in his past 12 games, enough so that it is time to start debating where he ranks among the best wide receivers in Michigan history as Team 134 finishes its season. There is no doubt that Carter, Howard, and Edwards, in no order, are the three best at the position to wear the maize and blue. Yet, the fourth best receiver is not so clear. A legitimate argument can be made for seven former players: Alexander, Toomer, Streets, Terrell, Walker, Jason Avant, and Manningham. If Gallon has a quiet second half of the season, he will likely find himself outside the top 10 and not in the discussion for the fourth best wideout in school history.

But if Gallon can continue to perform like he has since Gardner took the reins and produce numbers similar to the ones in the above projections, he will cement his case for being one of the five best wide receivers in Michigan history, despite not matching the physical specifications of a prototypical Michigan wideout. Not bad for a five-foot-eight Floridian that would not have been a Michigan recruiting target if he had been born only two years later.

Three notes you should know for the bye week

  1. Like Jeremy Gallon, Devin Gardner also broke multiple Michigan records by a large margin. His 584 total yards were 82 more than the 502 Denard Robinson had against Notre Dame in 2010, while his 503 passing yards were 114 more than the 389 John Navarre had against Iowa in 2003. Gardner leads the Big Ten in total offense (328.4), points responsible for (18.9), passing efficiency (159.6), and yards per completion (16.63). Further, he is second in the conference with 13 passing touchdowns and third with nine rushing touchdowns.
  1. Although Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has not found many holes behind U-M’s offensive line, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry this season, he has had a knack for finding the end zone. After his career-high four scores against IU, Toussaint is tied for third in the nation and tied for first in the Big Ten with 11 rushing touchdowns—two more than the personal best he set in all of 2011.
  1. Michigan’s defense struggled mightily against the Hoosiers—allowing a season worst 572 total yards—but the Wolverines have not struggled to force turnovers. Through seven games, U-M has forced 15 turnovers after gaining only 18 all of last season. Additionally, U-M’s 11 interceptions are four more than the number in 2012, and all four starters of Michigan’s secondary have picked off at least two passes this year.

Michigan-Penn State game preview

Friday, October 11th, 2013



Five years ago Michigan traveled to State College looking to continue its decade-long dominance of Penn State. Michigan came in with a 2-4 record and Penn State was undefeated, ranked third nationally. It was Rich Rodriguez’s first season and despite the poor start and the contrast on the opposite side, there was still an optimism that Michigan could pull it out. After all, the Wolverines had won the last nine in the series. Despite the largest line against in Michigan history (23.5 points) a nervousness permeated the white out Beaver Stadium crowd.

Michigan quickly took a 10-0 lead on a Brandon Minor run and a KC Lopata field goal. By halftime Michigan led 17-14 and that nervousness was amplified. Penn State opened the second half with a field goal to tie the game and then sacked Nick Sheridan in the end zone for a safety to give the Nittany Lions their first lead. And then the flood gates opened. Four touchdowns and a field goal in the final 18 minutes and Penn State sent Michigan home with a 46-17 loss.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 5pm EST – ESPN
Penn State Head Coach: Bill O’Brien (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 11-6 (all at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator: John Butler (2nd season)
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 8-4
Last Meeting: Penn State 41 – Michigan 31 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 10-6
Record at Penn State: Michigan leads 5-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 3
Last Michigan Win: 2007

After the game, Rodriguez said, “Oh, we executed for a while and then we didn’t. That’s what happened. We executed, we moved the ball a little, and then we didn’t, we didn’t.”

Looking back, that statement and that game embodied the next two-plus seasons and Michigan hasn’t beaten Penn State since. The Nittany Lions won in 2009 and ’10 before the teams took a two-year hiatus.

Tomorrow, Michigan will face Penn State for the first time under Brady Hoke looking to return to the dominance of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and across the field will be a new face as well. Bill O’Brien left the New England Patriots to take the PSU job amidst the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He held the team together through the worst times and is now in the process of guiding the program out of it.

He led Penn State to a respectable 8-4 record last season after an 0-2 start. Now, he has started 3-2 through the first five games this season, dropping a home contest to UCF 34-31 and the Big Ten opener at Indiana last Saturday, 44-24. The three wins have come over opponents with a combined record of 5-11: Syracuse (23-17), Eastern Michigan (45-7), and Kent State (34-0).

Can Michigan go into Happy Valley and do just what UCF and Indiana did, or will the Wolverines’ struggles on the road continue? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Penn State offense: When Penn State has the ball

Much of the reason for optimism in State College lies in true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. A five-star prospect rated as one of the top two quarterbacks in last year’s class, Hackenberg has taken the reigns of the Penn State offense from the start. He’s had his ups and downs but there’s no question the talent is there. He has completed 109-of-182 passes (59.9 percent) for 1,367 yards, eight touchdowns and four touchdowns. By comparison, Devin Gardner has thrown the ball 64 fewer times with almost the exact same completion percentage for 331 fewer yards, eight touchdowns and eight picks.

Hackenberg has thrown for fewer than 200 yards just once – against Kent State – and has topped 300 yards twice, including a 340-yard performance in last Saturday’s loss. But it took him 55 passes to get there. His stat sheet from the last three games certainly reads like a true freshman: 21-of-28 (75 percent) for 262 yards and one touchdown against UCF; 13-of-35 (37.1 percent) for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Kent State; and then 30-of-55 (54.5 percent) for 340 yards and three touchdowns against IU. At that rate, he’s due for a downswing, although the two good performances came in losses.

He has benefited from the Big Ten’s best receiver, junior Allen Robinson. He set the Penn State record for receptions in a season with 77 a year ago for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to to being named the Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year. This season he has caught at least seven passes for at least 129 yards in four of the five games. He had just three catches for 43 yards against Kent State, but exploded for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions last week. His 38 receptions and 621 yards lead the Big Ten and the team by far, and at 6’3″, 210 pounds he’ll be a tough matchup for Blake Countess.

Allen Robinson is on pace for almost 1,500 receiving yards this season (Mark Selders)

Only two other Nittany Lions have double digit receptions, junior tight end Kyle Carter and senior Brandon Felder. Carter ranks second on the team with 147 yards on 11 catches. Felder ranks second in receptions with 16 for 135 yards. Neither has a touchdown catch. Sophomore Geno Lewis is the only other receiver that has a touchdown reception and that came in the season opener, although running back Bill Belton has two.

Speaking of running backs, the main guy is senior Zach Zwinak, who has gained 369 yards and eight touchdowns on 84 carries so far this season. He’s coming off a 1,000-yard season (exactly) a year ago despite starting just four games and playing considerable time in nine. His best game this season was a 128-yard, three touchdown performance against UCF in which he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The 6’1″, 240-pound back runs more like a fullback with a straight-ahead, bruising style.

The aforementioned Belton has carried the ball 43 times for 284 yards and two scores, while sophomore Akeel Lynch has rushed for 270 yards on 35 carries. The latter has a pair of 100-yard games this season, both of which he averaged over eight yards per carry. At 6’0″, 211, he’s got good size, but he also ran the team’s third-fastest 40 time in the spring.

The offensive line has three returning starters from last season, led by first-team All-Big Ten guard John Urschel. Redshirt sophomore left tackle Donovan Smith started nine games last season, earning ESPN.com Big Ten All-Freshman honors. Redshirt junior Miles Dieffenbach is the left guard after starting 11 games a year ago. The new starters this season, replacing All-Big Ten performers Mike Farrell and Matt Stankiewitch are senior center Ty Howle and senior right tackle Adam Gress. While there is certainly talent along the line, the jury is still out on its performance. The rushing offense ranks 11th in the Big Ten and only two teams – Northwestern and Illinois – have allowed more quarterback sacks so far.

It’s no question that O’Brien likes to utilize the arm of Hackenberg and target Robinson. Through five games, Hackenberg has completed seven passes of 40 yards or more and six of them have gone to his favorite target. Greg Mattison may choose to play this one similarly to how he defended Notre Dame’s pass-happy offense, but the main difference is the experience at quarterback. Tommy Rees was experienced and Hackenberg is just five games removed from high school, so look for some of Mattison’s patented blitz packages to try to confuse him.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Only five starters return from last year’s defense that ranked as one of the Big Ten’s best. The scoring defense ranked second and total defense ranked fourth, but three of those who were lost are currently on NFL rosters – defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.

The returning star is the reigning Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year, defensive end Deion Barnes. However, he has struggled to perform up to expectations so far this season with just 12 total tackles, one for loss, and half a sack. The most disruptive lineman has been senior tackle DaQuan Jones, who leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Redshirt junior CJ Olaniyan is the other end and has 19 tackles, four for loss, and one sack. The other tackle is a combination of redshirt freshman Austin Johnson and redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong does a little bit of everything for the Penn State defense (Mark Selders)

The linebacking unit is where most of the makeover has taken place. The lone returner is senior middle linebacker Glenn Carson who leads the team with 39 tackles and also has 3.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. He has started 12 games in each of the last two seasons. The two outside backers are redshirt junior Mike Hull and redshirt freshman Nyeen Wartman, although senior strong safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong started in place of Wartman last week. Obeng-Agyapong has 23 tackles, one for loss, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

The secondary has two returning starters, junior safety Adrian Amos, who moved from cornerback, and senior Malcolm Willis. Willis ranks third on the team with 24 tackles and both have an interception. The corners are sophomores Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams. Williams played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season, although it was on the offensive side of the ball at receiver. Lucas also played as a true freshman, but more sparingly. As a unit, they have struggled with good passing teams, giving up 288 yards against UCF and 336 to Indiana.

The other third: Special Teams

Junior kicker Sam Ficken made 14-of-21 field goal attempts last season and has hit 8-of-10 so far this year with a long of 54. He also handles kickoff duties. Senior punter Alex Butterworth also returns from last season in which he averaged 37.4 yards per punt, which was 11th in the conference. So far this season he ranks eight in the Big Ten with a 40.2 average. The kick and punt return units rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Geno Lewis averages 23.8 yards per kick return, which ranks eighth, and safety Jesse Della Valle averages 11.5 yards per punt return, good for fifth. The kick coverage unit ranks ninth, just ahead of Michigan, so there is the possibility of one of the two teams breaking one.

Prediction

It’s no secret that Brady Hoke’s teams have struggled on the road and the performance against UConn three weeks ago did nothing to dispel that notion. Beaver Stadium is a tough place to play, especially for a quasi-night game with a white out crowd. To prepare, Michigan spent time in practice this week whispering. Yes, Devin Gardner called plays in a whisper to simulate the noise Michigan will have to play through.

On paper, the two teams are pretty similar, but Michigan has the better defense and more weapons offensively. Indiana and UCF beat Penn State through the air, and the move of Devin Funchess from tight end to wide receiver has opened up the passing game by giving Gardner a huge target and taking some of the pressure off of Jeremy Gallon, Jehu Chesson, and Drew Dileo. As the season goes on, that will allow Al Borges to open up the playbook and be less conservative.

Last week we saw a conservative game plan because that’s all that was needed and Hoke wanted to get the running game going. It didn’t yield a big rushing average, but led to most of the touchdowns and controlled the clock. Expect much of the same tomorrow, but with a more involved passing game to force Penn State to sit back.

Defensively, Michigan will focus on stopping Robinson and putting pressure on Hackenberg. Look for a similar defense to what was run against Notre Dame with more pressure. He has a great arm but is not very accurate, especially when facing pressure, and Indiana did a good job last week of keeping him off balance. Robinson will probably get his one big play, but Michigan will force other receivers to step up.

It will be close most of the game with Michigan pulling away in the fourth as long as the turnovers are kept under control the way they were last week. The Wolverines simply have too many weapons for Penn State to handle and Michigan will whisper its way to a big road win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20

Thirty games in, where does Hoke stand?

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Last Saturday marked the 30th game of Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, and while it wasn’t pretty it resulted in a win. As we conclude the first of two bye weeks for Hoke’s squad this season it’s the perfect time to examine his first 30 games and how they stack up against the other coaches in Michigan history. First, let’s take a look at wins.

Hoke has won 77 percent of his games so far and 75 percent of his Big Ten contests. His 23 wins are the fourth most during that time span, behind Fielding Yost’s 29, Bo Schembechler’s 26, and Gary Moeller and Fritz Crisler’s 24. It is one ahead of Lloyd Carr’s 22 and ten better than his predecessor Rich Rodriguez.

Digging even further, we find that Hoke’s four wins over the three main rivals – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame – are third only to Fritz Crisler’s seven and Gary Moeller’s five. Lloyd Carr and Bennie Oosterbaan each also won four games over the three main rivals in their first 30 games.

Yost obviously coached in a far different era, his first season being 110 years before Hoke took over. Schembechler and Crisler can be the most comparable to Hoke’s situation, having both taken over teams that had two losing seasons in the previous four. In Bo’s case, it was a program that had really been struggling for the previous decade. That he was able to have such immediate success, going to two Rose Bowls in his first three seasons, is a major reason why Bo is so revered. Moeller took over from Bo and had been on his staff for the majority of Bo’s tenure, so his first three seasons were mostly just an extension of his predecessor.

While Hoke has one more victory in his first 30 games than Carr, it is important to note that Carr won his next seven and the national championship, so unless Hoke does the same, he will fall behind Carr in the near future. Another item worth noting is that Hoke is the only coach other than Yost to not lose a single home game in his first 30 games. Schembechler lost just one – a 40-17 loss to 13th-ranked Missouri. Hoke is currently 17-0 in Michigan Stadium.

Now that we have established that Hoke ranks up there with the greats in Michigan history in victories through his first 30 games, let’s take a look at one of the areas Michigan has been struggling with this season: turnovers.


Turnover records don’t go far enough to compare turnovers from the Schembechler era backwards, but we can compare Hoke to the previous three regimes. As you can see above, Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over 61 times – just over two per game – which is second most behind the 66 given up during Rich Rodriguez’s first 30 games. Carr’s teams were better at taking care of the football, but Hoke still won one more game, while Moeller’s gave it up 16 percent fewer times.

One hypothesis as to why Hoke’s teams have turned it over more than Moeller’s and Carr’s is that he has many of the same players that Rodriguez’s staff recruited and coached. But Hoke’s first season wasn’t bad with 22 giveaways (16 interceptions and six fumbles). By comparison, Carr’s first two seasons had 23 turnovers each. Last season the number ballooned to 27 and this season Michigan is on pace for 36. The pace isn’t likely to continue, but unless they improve drastically the rest of the season it will be another large season total.

I think, rather than blaming it on Rodriguez’s recruits/players, the type of quarterback Michigan has had the past few years is the main culprit. Hoke has talked several times about Devin Gardner’s athleticism being both a strength and a weakness because it can create big plays out of nothing but also lead to mistakes that shouldn’t be made simply because other quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to make them. The same can be said for Denard Robinson.

Hoke's first 30 games are right on par but if Gardner's turnover woes don't improve he could fall behind (David Butler II, USA Today)

Of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season nine have been interceptions. Of the 61 turnovers under Hoke, 44 have been interceptions and just 17 have been fumbles. Conversely, of the 55 under Carr, 28 were interceptions and 27 were fumbles, while of the 51 under Moeller, 27 were interceptions and 24 were fumbles. In other words, the quarterbacks – Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Brian Griese, and Scott Dreisbach – were more traditional quarterbacks who took better care of the ball.

In addition, the disparity can’t be chalked up to more passing and less running. Moeller’s teams averaged 290 passes and 565 runs in his first three seasons, while Carr’s averaged 343 passes and 557 runs and Hoke’s have averaged 308 passes and 521 runs.

Fumbles are an odd thing in football. Just because a player fumbles it doesn’t mean it results in a turnover. Carr’s teams fumbled 59 times but only 27 of those (46 percent) were turnovers. Moeller’s fumbled 41 times and 24 (58 percent) were recovered by the opponent. Hoke’s teams so far have fumbled 44 times and 17 (39 percent) have been turnovers. So the ball has bounced Michigan’s way under Hoke, but the quarterbacks have been more careless with the ball.

It’s also important to go back and look at Hoke’s turnover record at his previous head coaching stops, Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10). Over the course of those eight seasons Hoke’s teams averaged just 18.25 turnovers per season, which is right on par with Moeller’s years at Michigan.

So what can we make of all of this? Although Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over more than Carr’s, he has one more win to show for it at this point. But nobody is going to argue that this team is as talented as Carr’s 1997 squad. Fumbles are largely a random event, and in this case, the luck has been mostly on Hoke’s side, but the quarterbacks Hoke has had are different types of quarterbacks than those that Carr and Moeller had. And Hoke’s history is one of fundamentals and taking care of the football, so it’s not likely that the current turnover woes will continue much longer.

Last Saturday was Gardner’s ninth career start, which means he’s still essentially a first year signal caller. As he continues to mature and get more experience under his belt his decision making will improve and he’ll learn that sometimes simply throwing the ball away is better than trying to be Superman. He has two-thirds of a season remaining in 2013 and a full year in 2014, and any bit of improvement in ball security will significantly improve Hoke’s chances of winning more games before the Wolverines return to the same type of quarterback Moeller and Carr had: less risk, less reward, but more consistent.

Gardner is a very smart kid and despite his recent struggles he will bounce back and provide far more thrilling moments than bad ones, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Michigan is in good hands under Hoke and he’ll help guide Gardner through his woes.

Final Look: UConn

Thursday, September 26th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

With no Michigan football this Saturday, it means we have more time to analyze last week’s game. As we have done the first three weeks, let’s take one final look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 24-21 win over UConn.

Three big moments

1. Desmond’s game-changing grab

No play was bigger last Saturday than when linebacker Desmond Morgan read UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer perfectly and snagged his pass out of the air with one hand. Michigan trailed by seven at that point and UConn had the momentum after stopping the Wolverines on 4th-and-2 from the Husky 23. A long scoring drive would be a dagger to a Michigan squad that had entered the game favored by 18.

After taking possession following the turnover on downs, UConn quickly picked up a first down, but left tackle Jimmy Bennett false started, giving the Huskies 1st-and-15 instead of 1st-and-10. Whitmer dropped back to pass, stared down his receiver and fired towards the left hash marks, about 14 yards downfield. Morgan dropped back, read Whitmer’s eyes, and leaped up with his right hand extended, snagging the ball and pulling it in at the UConn 41. He then zig-zagged his way to the UConn 12, giving Michigan great field position. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran it in on the ensuing play, tying the game.

Desmond Morgan changed the game with his fourth quarter interception (MGoBlue.com)

2. Gardner options to Toussaint

Trailing 21-7 midway through the third quarter, Michigan needed to find some offense. The fist two drives of the second half had resulted in a total of two yards, a fumble returned for a UConn touchdown, and a punt. UConn punted the ball back to Michigan with ten minutes remaining in the third and the Wolverines took over on their own 25. A 4-yard Toussaint run and a 13-yard completion to Drew Dileo moved the ball to the Michigan 42. A 12-yards strike to Jeremy Gallon got Michigan into UConn territory. Another first down advanced the Wolverines to the UConn 35.

On first down, Gardner threw an incomplete pass. On 2nd-and-10, he saw something in his pre-snap reads and checked into the pistol formation. Gardner took the snap and ran to his right, drawing the UConn defensive end. Just before contact, he pitched the ball to Toussaint who cut up-field at the 42 got a good seal block from Jake Butt, cutting to his left at the 23, dodged a diving defender at the 20, and raced the rest of the way into the end zone to pull Michigan within seven. It was just the play Michigan needed to get back in the game.

3. Gardger gets it done with his legs

On the opening drive of the game, Michigan forced UConn to punt. Michigan’s offense moved the ball to the UConn 33, but Gardner was intercepted. After forcing another UConn punt, Michigan took over looking to put the first points on the board. Three separate times on the drive Gardner converted a third down with his legs. On 3rd-and-1 from the Michigan 40, Gardner rushed for 14 yards. On 3rd-and-2 from the UConn 38, Gardner scampered for 11. A pass interference kept the drive alive the next time Michigan faced third down and then on 3rd-and-12 from the UConn 17, Gardner ran for a touchdown.

It surely wasn’t the way Michigan wanted to drive down the field, but it was the only part of the offense that was working. Four first downs on the drive resulted in: a Toussaint loss of one, a Gardner rush for two, a Jehu Chesson loss of one, and a Tousasint loss of two. Not gaining positive yards on first down meant Michigan faced a lot of third downs on the drive and thankfully Gardner was able to keep the chains moving despite getting no help from the traditional running game.

The numbers game

42,704: The record crowd that filled Rentschler Field for the primetime matchup

7-0: Michigan’s all-time record against teams currently in the American Athletic Conference

Sept. 16, 1995: The last time Michigan played a non-conference game on the East Coast (against Boston College)

Nov. 26, 2011: The last time Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for 100 yards (against Ohio State)

1,961: Toussaint’s career rushing total after gaining 120 against UConn, surpassing Chris Howard (1994-97) and Rick Rogers (1981-84) for 23rd in the record books

30: The number of consecutive games in which Jeremy Gallon has caught a pass

1,659: Gallon’s career receiving total after gaining 31 against UConn, surpassing Junior Hemingway (2007-11) for 17th all-time

10: The number of consecutive extra points Brendan Gibbons needs to make to pass JD Carlson for tops in Michigan history

1-of-11: UConn’s third down conversion percentage. The Huskies had converted just 29 percent in the first two games

Drive chart
UC
UM
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UM
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UC
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UC
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UM

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Defense first

Michigan’s defense starting the game has become a positive trend dating back to last season. On UConn’s first possession of the game, Michigan forced a punt just like it has done in all four games so far this season. In each one, the opponent started with the ball and each time punted it away to Michigan. The four opponents have combined for 16 plays for 57 yards on opening drives this season, an average of 14.25 yards per drive. This is something Michigan’s defense has been very good at the past couple of years.

Last season, Michigan started on defense in nine games and only Ohio State and South Carolina scored on the opening possession, which means since the beginning of 2012, only two of 13 opponents have scored when they started the game with the ball. In Hoke’s first season, 2011, three of six opponents that started the game with the ball scored on the opening possession.

2. Turnovers, man

Toussaint's 120-yard performance was Michigan's first 100-yard game by a running back since the 2011 Ohio State game (MGoBlue.com)

This will be discussed in more detail in tomorrow’s post, but turnovers seem to be a disturbing trend with Hoke’s teams. Michigan now has 12 turnovers through four games, which ranks 120th out of 123 teams nationally. Only Western Kentucky has more (15). Through the first 30 games of Hoke’s tenure his teams have turned the ball over 61 times. That’s six more than Lloyd Carr’s first 30 games and five fewer than Rich Rodriguez’s.

Turnovers let Notre Dame back into the game in Week 2 and allowed Akron and UConn to have a chance to win the games the past two weekends. With all the other struggles Michigan has, eliminating turnovers has to be atop the list of areas to improve during the bye week.

More to come on this tomorrow.

3. Toussaint

I’m not as down on Toussaint as much as others are. In this game he recorded his first 100-yard game since the Ohio State game in 2011. Yes, he has a lot of negative rushes so far this season, but he’s capable of making big plays as we saw in the 35-yard touchdown run and the game-tying touchdown run. He’ll never be confused for Tyrone Wheatley, but he’s also playing in an offense struggling to find it’s identity. Is it a power running game or a zone running game? It seems the personnel is still more suited for a zone running game at this point despite Hoke and Borges’ longing for a power running game. Toussaing just isn’t the right back for that.

Perhaps Derrick Green can evolve enough during the bye week to be able to step in and take some of the power running game carries so Fitz can focus on the zone stuff, but that may be too much to ask at this point. For now, Toussaint is reliable enough to keep as the every down back, he doesn’t fumble, and he’s sure to improve throughout the season as he gains confidence after returning from the gruesome broken leg he suffered last season.

Predicting Michigan: The special teams

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013


To wrap up our Predicting Michigan series, Derick takes a look at what to expect from the special teams this season. Previously, we previewed the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive linelinebackers, and the secondary.

The New Mr. Reliable

In 2010, Michigan’s kicking game was one of the most embarrassing displays of football the maize and blue faithful had ever witnessed. As a team, Michigan went 4-of-14 in field goal attempts, and by the end of the season former coach Rich Rodriguez wouldn’t even consider attempting a field goal outside of 35 yards.

After a rocky RS freshman campaign in 2010, Gibbons has become Mr. Reliable (AP photo)

One of the culprits of the 28.6 percent success rate was then-redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons missed four of his five field goal attempts, converting only a 24-yarder in the blowout win against Connecticut in week one, in which he also missed an extra point. Following two more misses the next week against Notre Dame, Gibbons surrendered the starting job to Seth Broekhuizen, who wasn’t much better (3-of-9).

In 2011, Gibbons regained the starting job and was much better, converting 13-of-17 field goal attempts. Going into the Sugar Bowl, he was only 2-of-5 on kicks of 40-yards or more, so there were still many questions about his reliability. He answered them all in New Orleans. The redshirt sophomore converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a game-winning 37-yarder in overtime. He then won the fans over by admitting he kept his cool by “thinking about brunette girls” before punching the winning kick through the uprights.

Last season, Gibbons did the best work of his career, and earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention at place kicker. His conversion rate of 88.9 percent (16-of-18) was truly incredible considering the low point in his career just two years earlier. Gibbons had several pressure-packed kicks, but he confidently cashed them in, including the 38-yard game-winner with five seconds remaining to defeat Michigan State and the game-tying 26-yarder against Northwestern with two seconds left to send the game into overtime.

Also during his redshirt junior season, he converted all 45 extra-point attempts, running his streak to 97, which is second in Michigan history to J.D. Carlson’s record of 126 straight. Though the Wolverines lost to the Cornhuskers, Gibbons also answered questions about his leg strength in Nebraska by nailing a 52-yarder in the second quarter.

This offseason, Michigan fans can finally stop worrying about the kicking game, as Gibbons figures to battle Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien for the Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year award in the Big Ten. Seniors Drew Dileo and Jareth Glanda will be the holder and long-snapper, respectively, so this group should have no problems after working together for so long.

Career Stats – Gibbons
Year FG Made FG Att FG % Long Blocked PAT Made PAT Att PAT %
2010 1 5 20.0 24 0 13 14 92.8
2011 13 17 76.5 43 1 54 55 98.2
2012 16 18 88.9 52 0 45 45 100.0
Totals 30 40 75.0 52 1 112 114 98.2

Lack Of Discipline

Kickoff/long field goal specialist Matt Wile takes over punting duties during Will Hagerup's suspension

Michigan figured to have one of the best kicker-punter duos in the entire country coming into 2013, until 2012 Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award-winner Will Hagerup was suspended for the third time in his Michigan career. The suspension originally kept Hagerup out of the 2013 Outback Bowl, but was later extended to include the entire following season.

Hagerup will redshirt this year, as Head Coach Brady Hoke tries to work with the young man to figure out some personal issues and get him back on the field. If the senior can clean up his act, he will be one of the best punters in the country upon his return. Hagerup set a University of Michigan record in 2012 with an average of 45 yards per punt. Just a few years after seeing kicker Zoltan Mesko similarly dominate the punting game, Hagerup separated himself as one of the best punters in the history of the Big Ten. His loss will be Matt Wile’s gain, however, as the junior tries to take advantage of a new opportunity.

Filling in for a suspended Hagerup is nothing new for Wile, as he has done so six times in his young career. Though Mesko and Hagerup are hard acts to follow, Wile is similarly gifted with a big leg in the punting game. His power numbers are skewed by his ability to come in and pooch punt for Brady Hoke, which is another valuable skill. Wile has 13 career punts inside the 20-yard line, which emphasizes his ability to put the ball where he wants to.

Along with his precision, Wile averaged 39.2 yards per punt in his career, which is around two yards shorter than Hagerup’s career rate. To get an idea of how strong Wile’s leg really is, fans can look to his most recent performance in the Outback Bowl, when he averaged 48.8 yards in three punt attempts.

Walk-ons J.J. McGrath and Kenny Allen will round out the kicking roster.

Career Stats – Wile
Year Kickoffs Avg TB Punts Avg TB In 20 Long
2011 79 64.0 19 17 41.6 0 4 58
2012 77 60.5 28 12 35.9 1 9 56
Totals 156 62.3 47 29 39.2 1 13 58

Speed Is Exciting

Michigan has been one of the worst teams in the country at returning kicks since the days of Steve Breaston, even finishing as low as 117th out of 120 teams in total kick returns during the 2011 Sugar Bowl season.

Last year, Brady Hoke brought in true freshman Dennis Norfleet to solve the returning woes alongside receiver Jeremy Gallon. Hoke hopes that the speedy playmaker will emerge as the lone returner during his sophomore campaign, as he definitely has the most potential on the team in that regard.

Returning kicks is immensely important, because it can dictate the field position battle throughout the game. Denard Robinson was often able to make up for poor field position during his career by busting huge runs and finishing drives with long touchdown plays, but Michigan would prefer not to rely on such plays. Norfleet is one of the quickest players in the country, and if he gets past defenders they have no chance to catch him. This season he will need to learn how to run with his blockers, and use his elusiveness at the right times to give the offense a short field and possibly end the Michigan kick-return drought.

Career Stats – Norfleet
Year Kick Ret Avg Long TD Punt Ret Avg Long TD
2012 35 23.6 38 0 2 26.5 42 0
Totals 35 23.6 38 0 2 26.5 42 0
Career Stats – Gallon
Year Kick Ret Avg Long TD Punt Ret Avg Long TD
2010 27 21.8 47 0 10 4.3 15 0
2011 3 15.3 20 0 19 10.1 32 0
2012 2 11.5 12 0 12 5.5 26 0
Totals 32 20.6 47 0 41 7.3 32 0

Wrapping Up

Since Brady Hoke has taken over as Head Coach, Michigan has done an outstanding job of preaching the little things that are important to winning football games. Special teams doesn’t get as much glory as the great offensive or defensive groups in the country, but games are won and lost on special teams plays every week.

If Michigan can continue the strong kicking game they demonstrated during 2012, and improve in the kick and punt return categories, it can shift momentum more easily with short fields and easy scores. The loss of Hagerup is a tough one to swallow for this unit, but the rest of the group will have to pick up the slack and put the offense and defense in positions to succeed.

Vincent Smith looks back on the fall camp experience

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013


Fall camp is in full swing as Michigan prepares to open the season in a little over two weeks against Central Michigan. The players who have been in the program for a year or more have gone through camp before, but for the incoming freshmen, it’s a new experience and an adjustment from high school ball. I spoke to former Michigan running back and friend of the blog, Vincent Smith, about what camp is like for the incoming freshmen, what he liked and didn’t like about camp, and how it differed from Rodriguez to Hoke.

Vincent Smith enjoyed the team bonding that went on in fall camp

Describe the first fall camp experience for a freshman.
“It was brand new because you’re used to the high school experience and coming to a major division one high-level school and it’s going to be intense. You have to be aware that your first phase is learning and trying to catch on quick, and basically just get the plays down. Also, conditioning is a little different, getting used to the practices as well. It’s pretty fast – way faster than high school in your first experience.”

Were you nervous heading into your first fall camp?
“Not really nervous, but butterflies – that’s normal for anybody. Butterflies are what make you play good and that’s how I look at it.”

Was it tough to balance starting college with fall camp?
“Not really because you knew what you wanted to do coming into a major university. You knew you were going to have class. You knew you were going to have practice. You knew it was going to be way different from high school. That’s what you signed yourself up for, so the hard work is pretty much already in your head. It’s not really hard, it’s just how you’re going to get through it and how you’re going to maintain it.”

What were the first few days of camp like?
“The first days were mostly just conditioning and stuff like that, getting you ready for the different practice stretches and stuff like that. It’s just a learning process the first couple of days – film, practice, treatment.”

When do you start preparing for actual opponents?
“The last week. Game week is hype because it’s your first actual game in the Big House. It’s overwhelming because you’re a freshman and you’re getting into your classes and the regular school year. It’s really exciting and your family and all the football fans are ready so you’ll be pumped. All the butterflies go away a little bit once you get a grasp of the school and the school spirit.”

What was your favorite part of camp?
“My favorite part of camp overall was team bonding with the fellow teammates. You’re together a whole two or three weeks and everybody is getting to know each other. Every year the seniors get together and have a little quiet thing – sometimes we walk to the Big House and let the younger guys go to give them a little grasp of what it’s going to be like. This is our team and we’re going to lead them because they’re fresh out of high school, so just letting the freshmen know this is way bigger than high school and you’re coming here to love the traditions at Michigan. Just keep on this great legacy and look around at everything and just bond overall and let them know that we’re brothers at the end of the day.”

What was your least favorite part of camp?
“Anything you do consistently is going to get old along the way, but just staying mentally tough. In two-a-days and stuff you get bumps and bruises and that’s the down part of it, but other than that it’s football at the end of the day and you’ve got to love it because that’s what you do and that’s what you came to school for.”

What were the main differences in the camps run by Coach Rodriguez versus Coach Hoke?
“It was different overall because Coach Rod is spread and Coach Hoke is traditional style, I-formation, so that was pretty much different in strength and conditioning based on the scheme of the team and type of different goals. That was the main difference – the spread offense and the conditioning. The spread offense is more running than anything – that’s why we put up so many points – but it was overall just different.”

Do you have any crazy stories from camp? Any fights or anything like that?
“There were a couple brawls but stuff like that we just keep it in the family. But with the freshmen, some of the older guys we always put the freshmen in bins and tape them up and put them in the shower. Other than that, we had a lot of fun.”