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Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional – Tennessee edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


Tennessee post-Mercer win(Wade Rackley, UT Athletics)

Yesterday, “Inside the Numbers” provided a historical analysis of Michigan’s extraordinary success in the Sweet Sixteen. It was a fun post that allowed Michigan fans to reminisce and hope that the good times will continue to roll this weekend. However, with Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen contest only two days away, it is time to start looking ahead at the obstacles that stand between Michigan and a trip to a second straight Final Four.

This weekend, there will be three teams traveling to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis along with No. 2-seed Michigan: No. 4-seed Louisville, No. 8-seed Kentucky, and No. 11-seed Tennessee. The Wolverines will battle the Volunteers on Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen. If the Wolverines defeat Tennessee, they will then play the winner of the Louisville-Kentucky matchup in the Elite Eight.

It is important to note the difficulty of maneuvering through this regional. Many fans may see that the other three teams in the Midwest Regional are only a No. 4 seed, No. 8 seed, and No. 11 seed and think that this will be a cakewalk for No. 2-seed Michigan. This would be foolish. All three of these schools are much better than their seeds indicate. In fact, advanced statistics show that the Midwest Regional is the toughest remaining regional of the four.

KenPom Rankings by Region

All four teams in the Midwest Regional are ranked in the top 13 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, which use an advanced algorithm to rank teams based on their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Every other region has at least two teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 15. Further, the average Pomeroy rank of the Midwest Regional is 8.00, while it is 11.50 for the West Regional, 12.75 for the East Regional, and 22.50 for the South Regional. Michigan’s path to the Final Four is far from a cakewalk.

With the groundwork set that the Midwest Regional is the toughest to win of the four regionals, here is an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, Tennessee, in Part One. Part Two, which will be posted later today, will include in-depth scouting reports of Michigan’s potential opponents in the Elite Eight, Louisville and Kentucky, should U-M defeat UT.

Tennessee: 24-12 (11-7 SEC) | Seed: No. 11 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 6

Overview: Tennessee is weird. On one hand, Tennessee lost double-digit games in the regular season and finished with an 11-7 record in the nation’s fifth-best conference. This led to the Volunteers being a No. 11 seed and one of the last four bubble teams to make the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, the computers are infatuated with Tennessee. The Volunteers are No. 6 in the nation in Pomeroy’s rankings and actually projected by Pomeroy to beat Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen despite the discrepancy in seeds. How is this possible? The “Resume” section below will attempt to answer.

The difference in Tennessee’s seed and Pomeroy rank make it very difficult to peg just how good the Volunteers are. Is Tennessee actually the sixth-best team in the nation? Probably not. But the Volunteers certainly are playing some of their best basketball at the moment. After upending an underrated No. 11-seed Iowa in overtime in the First Four, Tennessee steamrolled No. 6-seed Massachusetts by 19 points and No. 14-seed Mercer by 20 points to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Resume: 1-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 2-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 11-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; three Losses to Pomeroy Sub-100

The reason why Tennessee barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament is that the Volunteers have a very poor record against the best teams in the nation. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee had a 1-5 record against both the top 25 and top 50 of Pomeroy’s rankings. The Volunteers did not add that second top 50 win until they beat Iowa in the First Four. Three of those losses came at the hands of the Florida Gators, which are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, with the other two against Wichita State and Kentucky. Additionally, Tennessee has three bad losses to teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 100, which includes being swept by Texas A&M and a road loss to Vanderbilt.

Yet Tennessee is still No. 6 in Pomeroy’s rankings because of the margin of victory in its games. Tennessee’s lone top 50 win prior to the NCAA Tournament was a 35-point smack down of No. 1-seed Virginia. Also, in SEC play, the Volunteers’ efficiency margin was plus-0.135 points per possession, which was second in the SEC. For comparison, Michigan’s efficiency margin in Big Ten play was plus-0.107 points per possession. Yes, the Big Ten was far superior to the SEC, but Tennessee’s efficiency margin indicates that UT won its games in blowout fashion while losing many down-to-the-wire contests.

Four Factors:

Tennessee Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Tennessee has the 16th-best offense in the nation in terms of adjusted efficiency and has shown why in the NCAA Tournament. In its three NCAA Tournament games, the Volunteers have scored no less than 78 points in each one, averaging a superb 1.286 points per possession in all three.

However, Tennessee is an average shooting team at best. UT is ranked only No. 170 in the nation in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) with an eFG% of 49.6 percent. This is because the Volunteers, like Texas, are a poor three-point shooting team. Tennessee is No. 282 in the nation in three-point shooting, making only 31.9 percent. The Volunteers have only two consistent shooters from behind the arc. The first is Jordan McRae, who has made 77-of-215 threes for a team-best 35.8 percent. The second is Josh Richardson, who has converted 34.4 percent of his threes this season. Yet Richardson has slumped from outside recently, draining only 3-of-22 (13.6 pct.) threes in his past seven games. The only other Volunteer likely to shoot from three-point range is Antonio Barton, who has attempted 141 threes this season. But Barton has made just a tad more than 32 percent of them, so he is not nearly as dangerous as the other two.

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This is why Tennessee is most efficient offensively when it tries to work the ball inside to its best player, Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is UT’s 6’8″ center who is a beast around the basket. About 50 percent of Stokes’ shots are either at the rim, meaning they are dunks, layups, or tips, while the other 50 percent are two-point jumpers. However, in this case, two-point jumpers are short shots about three to six feet from the hoop, not 15-foot pull-up shots. Stokes is very efficient around the basket, too. His eFG% at the rim is 68.5 percent. Expect Tennessee to feed Stokes—who is averaging 20.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament—in the post early and often.

However, Tennessee’s low-post offense is not even its biggest offensive strength. Like Texas, the Volunteers’ offense thrives on crashing the glass. The Volunteers are the fourth-best offensive-rebounding team in the nation, corralling 39.8 percent of their missed shots. In their last game against Mercer, the Volunteers rebounded 18 of their 30 misses for an absurd offensive rebounding rate of 60 percent. Most of UT’s offensive rebounding comes from it two starting post players—Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Both Stokes and Maymon are in the top 30 in the nation in individual offensive rebounding. In UT’s three NCAA Tournament games, Stokes and Maymon have averaged a combined seven offensive rebounds per game. Expect those two to be all over the glass on Friday night.

Unlike Texas, Tennessee plays at very slow pace similar to Michigan. The Volunteers’ adjusted tempo is only 62.8 possessions, which is the 325th-fastest out of 351 NCAA D-1 college hoops teams. Tennessee, which has a very short bench, likes to be patient and set up its half-court offense. Only 21.8 percent of UT’s initial shots are in transition, which is No. 260 in the nation. The Volunteers are not looking to run their opponents. They would much rather run down the shot clock and beat their opponents with execution and brute force.

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Defensive Profile: Tennessee also is an excellent team on defense as well, ranking No. 18 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Volunteers allowed SEC opponents to score only 0.973 points per possession and have held their three NCAA Tournament opponents to 1.016 points per possession. The key to Tennessee’s defense is that it is very balanced and very good at many different things.

The heart of Tennessee’s defense is inside the paint. Like Texas, the Volunteers do a fantastic job at holding opponents to a subpar shooting percentage from inside the three-point line. Teams have been able to convert only 44.3 percent of their two-pointers against the Volunteers. However, unlike Texas, Tennessee does not do this by jumping at and trying to block every shot around the rim. The Volunteers are very adept at maintaining their ground while contesting two-pointers. This allows Tennessee to rebound 72.5 percent of its opponents’ missed shots, which is 18th-best in the nation, and rarely send opponents to the free-throw line.

Another critical difference between Tennessee and Texas’ defense is that the Volunteers are much, much better at contesting opponents’ three-pointers. Only 27.3 percent of Tennessee’s opponents’ field-goal attempts have been threes. This is the 22nd-lowest rate in the nation. Teams have struggled to launch threes against Tennessee because of the length of its perimeter players. UT’s guards and wings are 6’6″, 6’6″, and 6’2″. These Volunteers use their length to quickly get out on three-point shooters, making it difficult for opponents to find open looks around the three-point line.

One element of Tennessee’s defense that opponents are not concerned with is turnovers. The Volunteers struggle to force their opponents to commit turnovers, forcing them to do so only 16.8 percent of their offensive possessions. Given the strengths of the rest of UT’s defense, it is imperative that UT’s opponents do not commit unforced errors against this defense. Otherwise, those opponents will run into a buzz saw.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: After reading this preview, one may think that Tennessee is the favorite to win the national championship. Obviously, this is not the case. The Volunteers have very good numbers, but they have not been able to record these types of numbers consistently against elite competition, like the Wolverines. Michigan’s skill and talent level will provide many challenges for this Volunteers squad.

There are two keys for Michigan, and both are on the defensive end. Michigan has the third-best offense in the nation and has proven time and time again that it can score against the best of the best. But Michigan will need to win this game on the defensive end of the court.

First, Michigan needs to pack the paint defensively. Tennessee scores most of its points around the bucket and struggles with its perimeter shooting. By packing the paint, the Wolverines will clog up the spacing inside that Stokes will need to operate effectively. Plus, this will tempt the Volunteers’ outside shooters to fire away. This could be very beneficial for Michigan when Richardson has not been able to find his shot from beyond the arc in his past seven games and when Barton loves to chuck from three-point range despite not being very efficient from there.

Second, by packing this paint, this will make it much more difficult for the Volunteers to crash the offensive glass. All five of Michigan’s players will be closer to the rim when Tennessee’s shots go into the air. This will allow the Wolverines to find a Volunteer to box out much easier and help limit Stokes and Maymon’s second-chance opportunities. If Michigan can limit Tennessee’s possessions to one-and-done, U-M will take away the most effective element of UT’s offense. Therefore, it is imperative that Jordan Morgan keeps Stokes at bay and Glenn Robinson III boxes out Maymon on a consistent basis. If this happens, Michigan likely will walk away as the victors.

Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview on Louisville and Kentucky will be posted later today.

It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense

Thursday, December 27th, 2012


Michigan and South Carolina don’t share a field very often, though both programs have been around since the late nineteenth century. Likely it was distance, along with different conference play, and the Big Ten’s love of playing Pac-10 schools that makes this only the third meeting between the Gamecocks and the Wolverines.

The only other two meetings were played in the eighties, when Bo was still the head coach at Michigan and Jim Carlen (1980) and Joe Morrison (’85) were calling the shots at S.C. The second matchup was more or less a blowout by the Wolverines, but the inaugural meeting was one to remember, though it’s likely that the Maize and Blue offer their remembrances with a rather imposing garnish of sour grapes.

1980: South Carolina 17 – Michigan 14

Anthony Carter caught two touchdowns against South Carolina in 1980

Michigan went into the third game of the 1980 season a solid favorite against its newly acquainted southern opponent. And as expected, the Wolverines got off to a good start putting up a pair of touchdowns thanks to the sure-handed Anthony Carter. Michigan held the Gamecocks to a field goal before both teams headed for the tunnel to prepare for the second half, which was went the tides turned.

On its first possession, Michigan marched down the field to just inside the ten. Then came the blunder, a Stan Edwards fumble into the endzone recovered by South Carolina. The Gamecocks countered with a swing of their own, only they landed the blow with the help of soon to be Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers – the first in Gamecock history. Michigan 14 – South Carolina 10.

On Michigan’s next drive, Schembechler made a decision to attempt the fourth down conversion on his own 29-yard line. They were stopped short. Carolina ball. Touchdown. Game over.

Bo took the blame for the loss, saying “It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense…we should have punted.”

The Wolverines would go on to win the Big Ten Championship, garner a Rose Bowl victory against Washington, and end up No. 4 in the final rankings with a 10-2 record. While Bo took the blame for not trusting his defense, the defense did not allow a single touchdown the final 22 quarters of the season. But that filed fourth down attempt that led to the Gamecocks’ winnings score and one of Michigan’s seven losses in 28 games against SEC opponents likely still has Bo turning in his grave.

1985: Michigan 34 – South Carolina 3

The second faceoff between the two teams washed some of the bitterness from the mouths of Michigan fans. Jamie Morris was the 15th-ranked Wolverines’ prolific rusher, and continued his dominance against South Carolina during his sophomore year. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh had a tremendous day also, helping the Wolverines put up 34 points. However, it was also the defense which caused two fumbles, and intercepted twice (once on the final play) to solidify the win for Michigan in Columbia.

This year will mark the first time the teams have meet in nearly thirty years, and the only time they have faced in a bowl game. Since the series is tied there is motivation on the part of both teams to take a one win advantage, but it’s more likely that both schools want show that since two of their losses came against opponents ranked No. 1 and 2 (granted the two teams the Wolverines played are now to face off in the national championship, but S.C.’s losses to LSU and Florida aren’t exactly embarrassing) the quality of their team is not to be underestimated. This should be one to mirror the 1980 struggle, not the lopsided victory five years later.

South Carolina: first look

Monday, December 3rd, 2012


Prior to the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday night, all signs pointed towards Michigan facing probable Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Capital One Bowl. But the stunning 70-31 beatdown that Nebraska took at the hands of Wisconsin changed that. Instead, it’s the Cornhuskers who are heading to Orlando and Michigan gets a more favorable matchup against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

8-4 (6-2) Tuesday, Jan. 1 – 1pm – ESPN 10-2 (6-2

Steve Spurrier’s squad went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, finishing third in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida. The only two losses were in back to back weeks to Florida and LSU, coming on the heels of a 35-7 win over Georgia – the Bulldogs’ only loss prior to the SEC Championship game. The loss to LSU was close (23-21) when the Gamecocks had climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings. The following week, however, SC was throttled by Florida 44-11. Despite allowing 44 points, Carolina’s defense held Florida to just 183 total yards.

The only other ranked team South Carolina beat was then-No. 11 Clemson in the final week of the season, 27-17. The rest of non-conference schedule featured 8-4 East Carolina, 3-9 UAB, and 9-3 Wofford – an FCS school.

With a very tough bowl slate due to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for postseason play, the Big Ten doesn’t stand much of a chance this bowl season, but can Michigan do its part? Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

South Carolina 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
South Carolina Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 31.4 | 30.0 43 | 57 17.4 | 18.8 13 | 16
Rushing Yards 1,715 | 2,248 1,428 | 1,872
Rush Avg. Per Game 142.9 | 187.3 84 | 39 119.0 | 156.0 15 | 57
Avg. Per Rush 3.6 | 4.9 3.1 | 3.8
Passing Yards 2,754 | 2,377 2,319 | 1,862
Pass Avg. Per Game 229.5 | 198.1 65 | 95 193.2 | 155.2 17 | 2
Total Offense 4,469 | 4,625 3,747 | 3,734
Total Off Avg. Per Game 372.4 | 385.4 87 | 80 312.2 | 311.2 12 | 11
Kick Return Average 20.9 | 22.1 73 | 54 23.5 | 23.1 97 | 92
Punt Return Average 13.4 | 8.6 15 | 63 4.0 | 7.6 12 | 59
Avg. Time of Possession 30:25 | 29:31 48 | 75 29:35 | 30:29
3rd Down Conversion Pct 43% | 51% 43 | 6 36% | 36% 35 | 33
Sacks By-Yards 40-253 | 19-166 5 | 85 35-242 | 15-109 104 | 25
Touchdowns Scored 49 | 45 24 | 23
Field Goals-Attempts 11-15 | 15-18 14-17 | 21-28
Red Zone Scores (38-46) 83% | (38-41) 93% 45 | 4 (28-39) 72% | (33-40) 82% 14 | 69
Red Zone Touchdowns (30-46) 65% | (26-41) 63% (17-39) 44% | (18-40) 45%

On paper, Michigan and South Carolina are pretty comparable. Both have average offenses and very good defenses. Michigan scores 30 points per game, while SC have averaged a little over a point more. Carolina gives up 17.4 points per game, while Michigan gives up a little over a point more. Michigan has the better rushing game, the ‘Cocks have the better passing game, but total yards are only 13 more in Michigan’s favor. Defensively, the two allow nearly the exact same number of yards per game – Michigan gives up one yard less. It’s hard to get more evenly matched.

Connor Shaw won't be the best QB Michigan has faced, but completes 67% of his passes and is capable with his legs

South Carolina’s offense was dealt a huge blow on Oct. 27 against Tennessee when star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury – for the second straight season. He had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry prior to the injury. His replacement, senior Kenny Miles, has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in his stead. However, that was helped out by a 127-yard game against FCS Wofford. In the three games against BCS competition, that number dips to 2.9.

Quarterback Connor Shaw is the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards on 112 carries and has completed 67.3 percent of his passes. He’s only averaging 173.2 yards per game through the air, which ranks 11th in the SEC, but he does have a 15-7 touchdown to interception ratio. Against Tennessee, he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns, but against Florida he was held to just 72 yards on 9-of-20 passing. However, Shaw didn’t start the team’s final game against Clemson due to a foot injury. That went to sophomore Dylan Thompson who chucked it up 41 times for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw will likely start against Michigan.

The receiving corps is mainly a two-man show with Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders getting the most receptions – 38 and 36, respectively. Ellington had back to back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas, while Sanders had a 119-yard game against Clemson and leads the team with seven touchdowns. Tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 catches for 287 yards but has yet to catch one in the end zone, fellow tight end Rory Anderson has just 15 catches but five have gone for touchdowns.

The offensive line has given up 35 sacks, which ranks 12th in the SEC, and has paved the way for just 142.9 yards per game on the ground. Michigan’s defensive front hadn’t gotten to the quarterback much all season, but played well against Ohio State, so that gives reason for optimism.

Defensively, South Carolina is one of the best in the country at getting to the quarterback and will present perhaps an even tougher challenge for Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. Led by sackmaster Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks lead the SEC and rank fifth nationally with 40 sacks. Clowney has 13 of them. To put that in perspective, Ohio State’s defense which sacked Michigan four times finished the season with 30.

Carolina is very good against both the run and the pass, ranking 15th and 17th nationally. The rush defense ranks fourth in the SEC, allowing just 119 yards per game, while the pass defense gives up 193. The ‘Cocks held seven opponents under 20 points and five to 10 or fewer. But in the second half of the season, when the schedule got tougher, they allowed a full touchdown more per game. Toss out Wofford and it’s nearly 11 points more than the season average.

Jadeveon Clowney may be the best pass rusher in college football

Opposite of Clowney, end Chaz Sutton has five sacks, while another end, Aldrick Fordham, has 4.5. The leading tackler is Shaq linebacker Shaq Wilson with 77. He also has two sacks and two interceptions.

One thing South Carolina isn’t good at is punting. The Gamecocks rank last in the SEC with a net average of just 36 yards per punt as a team. Punter Tyler Hull averages 39.4. In the return game, Sanders handles the punt returns and has taken one for a touchdown. He’s the top returner in the conference, averaging 14.5 yards per.

It will be the first matchup between the two schools since 1985 when Michigan went to Columbia and won 34-3. The only other previous meeting was a 17-14 loss in 1980, so this will be the rubber match. Michigan is 23-7-1 all-time against schools from the SEC – 7-4 in bowl games – and will be looking to even its all-time bowl record at 21. Stay tuned for much more about the matchup in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Day.

We should have seen this coming

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


What seemed like a good idea two years ago and we were cautiously excited about after going 11-2 last season, was in reality a disaster from start to finish on Saturday night. Michigan forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s first drive, but it quickly went downhill from there. We all know the story. We all watched in disbelief as the snowball got bigger and bigger and became an avalanche. And then halftime mercifully came.

When all was said and done, Michigan limped away battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, and the SEC superiority was proven once again. In reality, it was just Michigan’s seventh loss all-time against current SEC teams, compared to 20 wins and one tie. Alabama fans act as if Alabama has always been superior to Michigan, but it was just six years ago that the script would have been reversed as Michigan went 11-2 and ‘Bama just 6-7.

DeAndrew White scores on Courtney Avery, a few plays after Countess was lost for the season (photo by LM Otero, AP)

But we’re talking about this year. A year in which Michigan is still rebuilding from the disaster that was the Rich Rod era. A year in which Alabama will likely win a second straight national championship, and third in four years. Entering Saturday’s game, we all underestimated the significance of losing three defensive linemen, both in performance and leadership. We all underestimated Nick Saban’s ability to turn an extra 20 recruits over a five year period into a reloading machine. We should have seen this coming. It’s not 2006 anymore.

I’ve seen many a comment since Saturday night from Michigan fans calling for Denard Robinson to switch to receiver once and for all. These are likely the same fans who tout his Heisman candidacy after each big game, and this Jekyll and Hyde mentality needs to stop. This team would not have won on Saturday with Chad Henne or John Navarre or Jim Harbaugh under center. Whether we like it or not, Denard is the quarterback this season, and provides the best chance to win. Come February 2013 we can start discussing who Michigan’s quarterback should be.

The biggest problem on Saturday night was not who the starting quarterback was; it was how he was used. Denard has never been, nor ever will be a pocket quarterback, and yet that’s how he was used from the start. It’s easy to look back and critique the game plan when all is said and done, but that recipe is doomed to burn the biscuits every time against a defense like Alabama’s.

Obviously, Michigan wanted to win the game, but in the grand scheme of the season, beating Alabama was not high priority. Beating Purdue, and Illinois, and Michigan State, and Nebraska, and Minnesota, and Northwestern, and Iowa, and Ohio State are. Winning the Big Ten is. Whether we, as fans, like it or not, maybe the game plan was as it was to keep Denard healthy for the rest of the season. The coaches will never admit as much, but could you blame them if it was? You can call that a loser’s mentality, but Michigan would not have won with Denard running 15-20 times either. So why doom the season for one game?

A game plan that involves rushing Vincent Smith into the 'Bama defensive line 13 times is doomed to fail (photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

While Denard stayed relatively healthy, except for making a tackle following an interception and contorting his body trying to reach a first down, the injury bug still struck the Wolverines in a bad way. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was lost for the year on Michigan’s first punt of the game. Left tackle Taylor Lewan injured his right leg and his status is unknown, though he reportedly told the coaches he could go back in. Tight end Brandon Moore also left the game with an injury.

Coutness’ loss was felt immediately, as Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron went after his replacement, Courtney Avery. His loss will be a big one the rest of the season, turning a position of strength into a position of uncertainty. Lewan’s loss was also felt immediately, as on the very next play, Alabama’s D.J. Pettway ran right by Michael Schoefield, who had shifted over to left tackle, and sacked Denard – the Tide’s only sack of the night. If he’s out for an extended period of time, Michigan’s strong line will be greatly reduced.

We saw the makings of what could become a great receiver in Devin Gardner. He started slow, failing to pull in a couple of grabs and running imprecise routes, but it was against a great secondary. He did make his first touchdown grab, and the more time he plays, the better he’ll get.

We also saw a glimpse of what should be a really good kickoff returnman in freshman Dennis Norfleet. He’s an instant upgrade from last season and should help with field position.

This week, Michigan will get back Fitzgerald Toussaint who was suspended for the opener following a DUI. His return will immediately shore up the running game for the rest of the season, although had he been on the field on Saturday, the outcome would not have changed. Alabama is just that good.

All we really found out is that Alabama was far superior and that Michigan still isn’t where it needs to be to compete with the nation’s best. End of story. Eleven regular season games remain and Michigan gets a pair of should-win games against Air Force and UMass to get everything sorted out before facing a Notre Dame team that looked strong on Saturday morning. We’re still in store for a great season, and while the excitement is tempered by Saturday’s performance, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

None of the Big Ten looked great this weekend, save Ohio State and maybe Nebraska. Michigan State struggled against a greatly reduced Boise State. Penn State lost to Ohio. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana all struggled to wins over inferior teams. Michigan gained a great learning experience from Saturday, and that should not be overlooked. The team we see the rest of the season will hardly resemble the one that took it on the chin Saturday night. Let’s forget about Alabama and set our sights on winning the Big Ten.