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Posts Tagged ‘Shane Morris’

Predicting Michigan 2015: The quarterbacks

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Quarterbacks

Shane Morris(Tony Ding, AP)

For the past few years, Michigan was haunted by underwhelming performances at the most important position on the football field: quarterback.

While Devin Gardner showed flashes of brilliance and put together a few heroic games, like his 451-yard, 4-touchdown effort against Ohio State in 2013, he never really blossomed into the talent his five-star recruiting ranks hinted at.

Now, with the dual-threat era of Gardner and Denard Robinson firmly in the rear-view mirror, Michigan will look to get back to its John Navarre and Chad Henne-type roots under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

He’ll certainly have options. Harbaugh brought in a slew of potential contributors under center, likely hoping at least one of them will turn into a quarterback worthy of leading the Maize and Blue.

Potential starters

Though no one is ever really sure what Harbaugh will do, it appears he’s got a two-horse race for the starting job in 2015. His options could hardly be more different.

Jake Rudock

Fifth-year senior transfer Jake Rudock will battle Shane Morris for the starting spot this fall, bringing experience to a position severely lacking it (Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

On one hand, Shane Morris enters his junior season after a disappointing — though incomplete — sophomore campaign. While called upon to lead Michigan during Gardner’s struggles, Morris simply couldn’t get the job done. He completed just 14 passes in 40 attempts on the season and threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (zero).

Morris was considered one of the finest prospects in the country during his junior year of high school when he committed to the Wolverines. But after missing his senior season due to a battle with mononucleosis, some of the steam evaporated from his arrival in Ann Arbor.

Morris has one of the strongest arms Michigan has seen on the football field, but his greatest challenge is knowing how and when to use it. He showed some improvement during the Spring Game, when he dialed back at times and found receivers with a soft touch he hadn’t shown on any previous Saturday.

Morris’ stiffest competition will come from senior transfer Jake Rudock, who left the Iowa Hawkeyes to join Michigan for his final year of eligibility.

Rudock was solid in his final season at Iowa a year ago, completing 61.7 percent of his 345 passes for 2,436 yards, and 16 touchdowns. The greatest advantage for Rudock is his tremendous ball protection: He threw just five picks last season, a huge upgrade over Gardner’s 15.

While Morris’s ceiling is certainly higher than Rudock’s, the fifth-year senior offers a much safer bet for a team that hopes to rely on its defense and rushing attack to lead the charge. Rudock finished in the top five in the Big Ten in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and passing completions last season. With that kind of production under center, Michigan’s 2014 season would have been a much different story.

Who will win the starting job? It’s unlikely that Rudock would burn his final year of eligibility transferring to Michigan unless he was certain he’d be the No. 1 guy. Though nothing is set in stone, Rudock offers a far more polished quarterback for Harbaugh in his first season, which is sure to come with unrealistically high expectations.

Iowa fans were often frustrated by Rudock’s tendency to dink and dunk the ball, pleading for more passes downfield. But Michigan fans, who’ve not seen an organized passing attack since 2007 will appreciate Rudock’s touchdown-to-interception ratio and career 60.3 percent completion percentage.

Projected Stats – Rudock
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
2,300 17 7 60.0% 185 3
Career Stats
2014 2,436 16 5 61.7% 176 3
2013 2,383 18 13 59.0% 218 5
2012 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
2011 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
Totals 4,819 34 18 60.3% 394 8
*All at Iowa
Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
250 3 3 55.0% 35 0
Career Stats
2014 128 0 3 35.0% 28 0
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 389 0 5 49.4% 68 0

Backups

The most obvious difference in Michigan’s quarterback unit heading into 2015 isn’t the standout talent at the top; it’s the quality of arms lower on the depth chart.

Michigan brought in a pair of highly-talented freshmen to add to the mix in Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry.

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

True freshman Alex Malzone battled Shane Morris in spring camp, but shouldn’t factor into the upcoming season (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Malzone was ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the state when he committed to Michigan, tossing 38 touchdowns and completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards as a senior at Brother Rice High School. He enrolled early and went head-to-head with Morris in Michigan’s Spring Game, struggling to find receivers but showcasing his excellent arm strength. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 95 yards, but was tagged for a pair of interceptions.

Malzone will benefit from sitting behind Rudock and Morris in 2015, using the time to get used to the speed of the college game.

Harbaugh’s first quarterback commitment t0 Michigan came from Gentry, who flipped from Texas to the Wolverines on Jan. 24. Gentry, a four-star recruit from Albuquerque, N.M., is a towering 6’7″ and weighs 230 pounds. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards his senior season and ran for over 1,000 more. He scored 48 total touchdowns that season – 26 through the air and 22 on the ground.

But don’t expect Gentry to be a typical dual threat quarterback at Michigan. His size and athleticism powered much of his rushing success in high school and his elite arm strength will be his main weapon at the college level. Gentry has a quick release and a strong gun, which will give him a shot to compete for the starting spot in 2016. That being said, he likely won’t have much of an impact as a true freshman, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harbaugh slapped a redshirt on this young phenom this fall.

Perhaps the only quarterback in this group that could have a major impact on Michigan’s 2015 season is redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, who was injured during the spring and didn’t play a snap in the Spring Game.

Speight, a former four-star recruit who started in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, threw for 5,879 yards and 68 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons and gives Harbaugh another physically imposing option. At 6’6″, 235 pounds with a powerful arm, Speight is primed to dominate the college game if he can crack the lineup.

Speight is probably on the outside looking in as far as the battle for the starting job goes, but don’t count him out just yet, as he’s got all the tools to be the No. 1 guy.

Projected Stats – Speight
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
300 5 2 60.0% 15 0
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2014
Projected Stats – Malzone
Little, if any, playing time
Projected Stats – Gentry
Redshirt

Meet the rest

Four other quarterbacks fill out the roster, but it would take a catastrophic turn of events for any of them to see the field this fall.

Brian Cleary, senior, 6’3″, 205 from Gross Point, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Joe Hewlett, sophomore, 6’0″, 192 from Novi, Mich. (Northville), no career stats
Matt Thompson, sophomore, 6’5″, 214 from Cincinnati, Ohio (Indian Hill), no career stats
Garrett Moores, junior, 6’3″, 211 from Detroit, Mich. (Detroit Catholic), no career stats

Do you agree with these projections? Do you see the quarterback race turning out much differently? We’d love to hear your opinion. Post your stat predictions in the comments below.

Michigan releases Spring Game rosters

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015


Michigan spring practice(Melanie Maxwell, MLive)

With the 2015 Spring Game just three days away, Michigan announced the rosters for the two teams on Wednesday afternoon. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will coach the Maize team, while offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will head the Blue team.

Instead of a simple practice format that Brady Hoke, Rich Rodriguez, and late-era Lloyd Carr preferred, Jim Harbaugh is bringing a jolt of life to the event with a full game consisting of four 10-minute quarters. The team hosted a draft last Saturday to determine the two squads that will face off this Saturday.

Gates open at 10 a.m. with kickoff scheduled for noon. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network and Jim Brandstatter, Dan Dierdorf, and Doug Karsch will have the call on the Michigan/IMG Sports Network.

Maize team Blue team
No. Name Pos. No. Name Pos.
4 DeVeon Smith RB 2 Blake Countess DB
5 Jabrill Peppers DB 3 Bo Dever WR
6 Brian Cleary QB 5 Kenneth Sloss WR
7 Henry Poggi DE 7 Shane Morris QB
8 Channing Stribling DB 12 Allen Gant LB
9 Ramsey Romano QB 13 Terry Richardson DB
10 Da’Mario Jones WR 13 Matt Thompson QB
12 Alex Malzone QB 14 Drake Harris WR
15 Garrett Moores QB 16 Jack Wangler WR
17 Freddy Canteen WR 18 Antonio Whitfield RB
18 A.J. Pearson DB 19 Wilton Speight QB
19 Jared Wangler LB 20 Matt Mitchell DB
23 Dennis Norfleet WR 22 Jarrod Wilson S
27 Derrick Green RB 23 Jeffrey Houston DB
27 Travis Wooley DB 25 Dymonte Thomas DB
30 Reon Dawson CB 26 Jourdan Lewis DB
31 Nick Benda LB 28 Brandon Watson DB
34 Jeremy Clark S 29 Ross Taylor-Douglas CB
35 Joe Bolden LB 31 Kyle Seychel K/P
37 Bobby Henderson FB 32 Ty Isaac RB
40 Joe Beneducci FB 32 Shaun Austin DB
41 Ryan Tice K/P 33 Wyatt Shallman RB
42 Ben Gedeon LB 36 Joe Kerridge FB
44 Delano Hill DB 38 Francois Montbrun DB
44 Chase Winovich TE 38 Nick Volk FB
45 Brady Pallante FB 43 Chris Wormley DE
46 Deyanco Hardwick LB 43 Scott Sypniewski LS
49 Anthony Dalimonte DB 48 Desmond Morgan LB
49 Andrew Robinson LS 52 Royce Jenkins-Stone LB
50 Tom Strobel DE 55 David Dawson OL
51 Greg Froelich OL 55 Garrett Miller DL
52 Mason Cole OT 61 Graham Glasgow OL
57 Patrick Kugler OL 62 Alex Kaminski LB
62 Blake Bars OL 63 Ben Pliska OL
67 Kyle Kalis OL 66 Dan Liesman LB
73 Maurice Hurst Jr. DT 69 Willie Henry DT
75 Nikhil Brueggeman OL 71 Ben Braden OL
78 Erik Magnuson OL 72 Logan Tuley-Tillman OL
81 Brian Cole WR 74 Dan Samuelson OL
84 A.J. Williams TE 76 Juwan Bushell-Beatty OT
85 Maurice Ways WR 82 Amara Darboh WR
86 Jehu Chesson WR 83 Jaron Dukes WR
89 Brad Anlauf WR 88 Jake Butt TE
90 Bryan Mone DT 94 Ian Bunting TE
91 Kenny Allen K/P 95 Michael Jocz TE
93 Lawrence Marshall DE 96 Ryan Glasgow DL
97 Cody Zeisler DE

Recruiting profile: 2015 QB commit Zach Gentry

Friday, January 30th, 2015


Gentry running
(Roberto E. Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

Previously: 2015 TE Chris Clark, 2015 CB Iman Marshall

Zach Gentry – QB | 6-7, 230 | Albuquerque, N.M. – Eldorado
ESPN: 4-star, #9 Pro-QB, 83 rating Rivals: 4-star, #4 Pro-QB 247: 3-star, #16 Pro-QB Scout: 4-star, #19 QB
Other top offers: Alabama, Texas, Baylor, TCU, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Nebraska, Penn State

Jim Harbaugh’s second commit as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Zach Gentry, is a well-regarded recruit, in large part because of his prodigious size and potential upside. Gentry was previously committed to Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns, dating back to May of 2014, before decommitting earlier this month and committing to Wolverines on his official visit last weekend. Michigan was desperate at the quarterback position coming into this offseason, and now has early enrollee Alex Malzone and the newly committed Gentry appearing to be battling for the starting spot this fall, assuming Shane Morris doesn’t have a miraculous improvement this spring.

Arm Strength

Arm Strength - Zach GentryWhen speaking of towering quarterbacks, rocket-armed passers Joe Flacco and former Michigan Wolverine Ryan Mallett come to mind. It would be unfair to compare Gentry to either of these pros, as he simply does not have the cannon of arm that is expected of signal-callers who are taller than 6’6”. Gentry can stretch the field vertically by 50 yards at best, which is more than enough for most offenses, but is nothing special within itself. He can also throw it with nice velocity and spin to the sideline and over the middle, but isn’t going to sling it through a brick wall. Mechanically, Gentry’s arm action is somewhat of a concern as he has long arms which it make it difficult for him to get rid of the ball quickly and his release point is not always consistent.

Accuracy

Accuracy - Zach GentryIn terms of delivering the football with accuracy and anticipation to his receivers, Gentry is a work in progress. Once again, mechanics are an issue here as too often he will throw off of his back foot and will throw without first setting his feet. These are common issues which will affect ball placement and can be ironed out with coaching. Going back to his arm action, Gentry’s inconsistent release point can hinder his receiver’s ability to track the football out of his hand and cleanly field the ball. On the plus side, Gentry shows good touch on downfield throws and can drop the ball in a bucket when he is on.

Athleticism

Athleticism - Zach GentryAs a high school player, Gentry was a dual-threat, capable of making plays with his legs as well as with his arm, and frequently picking up huge chunks of yardage. Gentry is unlikely to carry this trait over to the collegiate ranks, however, a number of factors considered. While he is able to chew up yards with long strides, he is not explosive and lacks much shiftiness outside of weaving in and out of a straight line. Moreover, Gentry did not play against overwhelming athletic talent in the state of New Mexico, which could inflate how quick he looked on the field. Where Gentry’s ability likely will be able to carry over is his extending the play within and outside of the pocket to buy time to make the throw.

Intangibles

Intangibles - Zach GentryWith a player of his height, Gentry should have no trouble seeing over the line of scrimmage to read a defense (he is as tall as or taller than a lot of collegiate offensive linemen). From that point, however, Gentry is still a work in progress in terms of finding the right receiver to throw to and how patient he is waiting for routes to develop. As is, Gentry has some happy feet and is all too willing to take off and run without first exhausting his throwing options and keeping his eyes downfield should a receiver uncover late. Gentry is still a raw talent and has a lot of room to grow with how he processes the game, and with Harbaugh at the helm Gentry has come to right place to develop his skill set as a signal caller.

Bottom Line

While I may not be as big of a fan of Gentry as many others, there is some definite upside that Gentry brings as a recruit. My biggest concern with Gentry is that his size may have covered up a lot of his deficiencies at the high school level, as so many oversized washout players have had happen in their high school careers. The battle for Michigan’s starting quarterback job should be an interesting one, as it pits evil opposites Zach Gentry, a huge, raw, and mobile passer, against Alex Malzone, an undersized, but polished and accurate signal-caller. I expect the latter recruit to win the job, but Gentry is not someone who should be counted out.

MG&B Grade (out of 10)
8.3 (3-star)

The Michigan Medley breaks silence on the Brady Hoke/Shane Morris situation

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Hoke

I have refrained from posting or commenting about the fallout from the Minnesota game, both on this site and on Twitter to this point. It’s not because I didn’t want to or had nothing to say. As happens every now and then the real world stole my time, and since this is such a hot-button topic, I felt I would be doing it a disservice by commenting on it if I couldn’t commit my full attention to it. What a week for that to happen, huh?

Unlike the chorus of sudden Twitter doctors I wasn’t going to rush to conclusions and shout accusations without facts. And unlike other sites I wasn’t going to post controversial snippets and rumors just for clicks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging those in the know for answers, but I believe in doing due diligence before speaking, especially on a subject such as this.

That said, here’s my stance on everything that has transpired over the last few days.

On Brady Hoke and the Shane Morris injury

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hoke’s results on the field, but the criticisms about his character are flat out wrong. We have seen some of his former players come out publicly in support of Hoke and to defend his character and love for his players:


Other former players I’ve talked to since Saturday have backed that up as well. One didn’t agree with the way Hoke prepared him for the next level, but stood up for Hoke’s character, describing Hoke and his staff as “some of the most kind-hearted people you can meet…loving and very welcoming.” I have yet to find a former player who didn’t share that sentiment.

It’s easy from a fan’s point of view to watch what transpired on TV on Saturday and claim that Hoke knew Morris was concussed and put him back in. We had the benefit of instant replay and commentators stating their disgust for the handling of the situation. I was listening to the radio broadcast in the car at the time and had no idea there was even the possibility of a concussion until I got home and looked on Twitter. Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf said nothing about a head injury or a hit to the head and kept talking about him limping because of his ankle.

Shane Morris

Morris is held up by Ben Braden after getting hit (Getty Images)

On the field, Hoke and the rest of the staff didn’t see the close-ups and replays that were shown on TV. So when Hoke says he was following the pass down the field and didn’t see the hit, that makes complete sense. And in the aftermath of the play, going from would-be fourth down to now first down because of a roughing the passer penalty, the likeliness of Hoke not knowing about the head injury, or seeing Morris stumble into Ben Braden, is very, very probable. Like he said in his Monday press conference, it’s his job to coach, and regardless of whether or not anyone feels he’s doing a good job at that, it’s the medical staff’s job to determine and evaluate injuries.

So if you take Hoke’s word that he didn’t see the hit and Morris stumble into Braden, then when Morris waved off offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it would have been assumed that he felt he could still play based on his ankle injury. They pulled him one play later and he was evaluated by the trainers on the sideline.

As The Concussion Blog points out, coaches and trainers don’t step out onto the filed to remove a player that got up and “shook it off.” Had Morris stayed down, warranting an injury time out, the trainers would have come out, evaluated him, and removed him from the field. Or if he had come out after the hit and told the trainers his head hurt, this situation could have been avoided. But he didn’t. That’s not to say this was all his fault; that’s just the mindset of a player, especially when you consider that he was the backup quarterback getting his first start of the season, fighting to win the job. In retrospect, Morris should have stayed down or taken himself out in this instance, but you can’t fault him for not doing so. I have personally suffered a concussion in a high school soccer game many years ago and stayed in and finished the game. It’s in a player’s nature to shake off an injury and try to play through it.

So if Hoke didn’t see the Morris hit or see him stumble into Braden, and Morris waved off the staff trying to get him to come out of the game, when Devin Gardner had to come out for a play because of his helmet coming off, Hoke didn’t put Morris back in for a play to hand the ball off knowing he had a concussion. So let’s put to rest the vitriol directed towards Hoke about willingly playing a concussed player. If you want to argue whether or not he’s the right coach for Michigan, fine. But stop the baseless attacks on his character.

That said, there certainly was a breakdown in communication as someone should have seen the hit and stumble and relayed that to the training staff on the field. According to the statement released by Dave Brandon (more on that below), the team neurologist didn’t see the hit, but did see Morris stumble, and “determined he needed to head down to the sideline to evaluate Shane.” The breakdown appears to have been between the neurologist who saw the symptoms (stumble) and the team physicians who evaluated Morris for his ankle injury when he was taken out of the game a play after the big hit and determined he was okay to go back in the game for one play when Gardner’s helmet came off.

Brandon has promised changes to improve that communication in the future, such as having a dedicated physician staff in the box to review each play and look for injuries, and then be in contact with the on-field training staff about them. Hoke wearing a headset or not is irrelevant in the situation that occurred last Saturday. That, like this whole situation, is blown out of proportion because of the results on the field.

The public relations aftermath

The program did itself no favors in the aftermath of the situation, allowing it to balloon into a national story instead of getting out in front of it and killing it right away. Had the program or Brandon released a statement Saturday night or Sunday morning admitting the mistakes and promising to put new processes in place to prevent it from happening again, and allowed Hoke to be forthright in the Monday press conference, the story wouldn’t have gained so much traction.

As former Michigan athletic director Don Canham used to say, and John U. Bacon pointed out on Twitter, never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Michigan turned it into a story that is still all over the mainstream media by waiting until after midnight on Monday to release the statement. It became less about the situation that happened, and more about the final straw for those already wanting Brandon and Hoke ousted. Waiting more than two days to release the statement, and allowing Hoke to go into a press conference not answering questions about the injury and promising a statement from the medical staff, lost the public’s trust and made it look like Michigan was trying to cover it up.

By not killing the story up front, they allowed people to speculate about Brandon trying to persuade the medical staff to lie, Brandon and Hoke’s job status, secret meetings between the regents, and more. And it led to a student petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal and a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally in the Diag, which culminated outside the house of new university president Mark Schlissel. Then, of course, ESPN sent Joe Schad to campus to report throughout the day from in front of Schembechler Hall.

All of it has amounted to a major black eye for the university and the football program that could have been avoided — or at least greatly reduced — if handled properly.

The student rally

Rally at the diag(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Our own Derick Hutchinson attended the rally on Tuesday and wrote the following:

Hundreds of students milled around the diag on Tuesday evening to protest the actions of an athletic department that faces national scrutiny in the wake of Shane Morris’ handling against Minnesota. Students began the rally with chants of “Fire Brandon,” “We want Harbaugh,” and “Down with Dave.” By 6:20 there were at least 1,000 frustrated students in the small section of the Diag near the Graduate Library, some yelling and others walking around with signs.

Students rally outside president Schlissle's house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Students rally outside president Schlissel’s house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Perhaps the most noticeable fan stood in the center of the crowd with an Ohio State sweatshirt on in protest of his team’s AD, holding a standard “Fire Brandon” sign. Others brought bottles of Coke to mock the university’s ‘buy two Cokes get two tickets to Minnesota’ promotion.

Finally, the mass made its way over to the home of university president Mark S. Schlissel. Once there, the chants increased in intensity and frequency as one student took to the front steps with a megaphone. A police officer stood to the right of the steps, but the rally remained peaceful throughout as the students tried to make their points heard. At around 7:10 p.m. the students cleared out.

Though the turnout from the rally was substantial, the president’s statement that no further action will be taken has not changed. It’s strange that after doing nothing on the field started this mess, and doing nothing afterwards until 1 a.m. Tuesday made it much worse, that the president’s response to the national outrage is to do exactly nothing.

Moving forward

Michigan just released a statement outlining the new player-safety measures that will be in place beginning this Saturday at Rutgers. The new system will incorporate three measures:

1. Putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box to view the entire field and identify players that might need evaluation by a trainer on the field. This person will have access to the television video feed and direct communication with the trainers on the field.

2. Added two-way radio communication, which includes mandatory radios possessed by the individual in the press box and the trainers on the field, with hard-line phones and cell phone communication as backups.

3. Taking helmets from players determined to be unable to continue playing. The medical team will take the player’s helmet to ensure he cannot return to the game.

Those safety measures will hopefully ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again. Saturday cannot get here soon enough and hopefully the players rally together around the adversity and do the only thing that can turn down the heat: win.

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Can Michigan’s offense improve? A case study on in-season improvement

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Michigan offense(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s offense has been the subject of great concern through the first third of this season. It looked great against Appalachian State in Week 1, but of course, that was against Appalachian State, a first-year FBS school and a team nowhere close to the three-time FCS champion team it was when it beat Michigan in 2007. The offense was exposed against Notre Dame in Week 2, failing to reach the Irish red zone or score a single point, resulting in Michigan’s first shutout in 30 years. While it sputtered a bit in the first half against Miami (Ohio) in Week 3, the end result showed a solid performance. But the problems came back last week against Utah as the offense once again failed to reach the red zone or score a touchdown.

So what gives? Is there any hope for a turnaround as the season goes on, or is it simply a lost cause? Let’s take a look at a recent comparison that could provide a sliver of hope.

Offensive Comparison through four games
Team 1 Team 2
22.0 Offensive points per game 20.5
10 Offensive touchdowns 10
1,363 Total yards 1,617
340.8 Total yards per game 404.2
748 Rushing yards 844
187.0 Rushing yards per game 211.0
4.6 Rushing yards per carry 5.6
615 Passing yards 773
153.8 Passing yards per game 193.2
6 Turnovers 12

We need to look no further than our friends 60 miles up Interstate-96 for a recent example of an inept offense turning things around over the course of a season. A year ago at this time we were all mocking the Michigan State offense for its inability to move the ball and find the end zone.

In the chart above, Team 1 is last year’s Michigan State offense through its first four games. Team 2 is this year’s Michigan offense through its first four games. As you can see, they compare rather favorably. Both offenses scored 10 touchdowns, but Michigan State made two more field goals than Michigan’s has. Michigan’s offense averaged 64 more yards per game, 24 more rushing yards, a whole yard more yard per carry, and 40 more passing yards. The main difference is that Michigan’s offense turned the ball over twice as many times as Michigan State’s did.

But how did the quality of opponents compare? I’m glad you asked. Actually, the four teams Michigan has played this season have been tougher than the four Michigan State opened with in 2013. Michigan State played Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, and Notre Dame, four teams that finished the season with a combined record of 20-29. Essentially, three cupcakes and Notre Dame.

Youngstown State was an FCS program and can be compared to this year’s Appalachian State. Western Michigan, which finished 1-11, can be compared to this year’s Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame is obviously the only shared team, although this year’s Notre Dame is likely a little bit better than last year’s. So that leaves last year’s South Florida compared to this year’s Utah. South Florida went 2-10 last season with wins against Cincinnati (26-20) and UConn (13-10). They lost to McNeese State and Florida Atlantic. Utah is a top-25 caliber team that would likely be in the top third of the Big Ten this season. Much better than last year’s South Florida.

So now that we’ve established that Michigan’s offense has actually been better than 2013 Michigan State’s through four games, and has done so against better competition, let’s look at three factors that could bring about improvement.

1. New quarterback

It appears that Brady Hoke will turn to sophomore Shane Morris this Saturday. Morris has one career start under his belt — the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and an interception. In spot duty so far this season, he has completed just 7-of-20 for 79 yards and two interceptions. Those numbers don’t suggest much, but given the start to the season, it can’t hurt to give him a shot as the starter and see if he can provide a spark.

One of the main keys to Michigan State’s offensive turnaround last season was the progress of quarterback Connor Cook as the season went on. He didn’t begin the season as the starter, but once he officially won the job, he took it and ran with it. After that Notre Dame game, the job was fully his, and he finished the season with 200-yard passing games in seven of the final 10 games, including back-to-back 300-yard passing games against Ohio State and Stanford.

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

We know that Devin Gardner is capable of putting up big numbers (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State in 2013). But we’ve also seen him struggle with consistency, decision-making, and footwork, which have led to turnovers galore. Whether his issues are physical or mental, perhaps it will help him to watch from the sidelines for a bit. Morris doesn’t have the baggage that Gardner has — three different offensive coordinators in five years, switch to receiver, beaten up thanks to a porous offensive line last season — and thus, could show the same type of progression throughout the season that Cook showed a year ago.

2. Growth of Nussmeier’s offense

After three years of Al Borges running the offense, Hoke fired him and brought in Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The early returns on his offense have been underwhelming, but the towel shouldn’t be thrown in just yet. Keep in mind that it has only been four games. Everyone wants to win and win now, especially after the last six years, but installing a new offense takes time.

“[The offense is] still in infancy stages here, we’re still learning to play consistently well,” Nussmeier said after the Notre Dame loss. “It’s about 11 guys on every play, doing the right thing…If it’s 10 guys doing the right thing, and one guy doing the wrong thing, you’re doomed. We’ve got to get 11 guys, on every play, doing the right thing.”

The offense has shown that it can move the ball, but it has been plagued by untimely mistakes — a sack here, a holding penalty there — that have stalled drives, created third-and-longs, and led to turnovers. As Drew Hallett pointed out this afternoon, every team in college football in 2013 combined to score either a touchdown or field goal or reach the red zone 69 percent of the time they crossed midfield. Based on that data, the odds of an offense crossing midfield 12 times and failing to score or reach the red zone 11 of those times was 0.002 percent. Yet that’s what this Michigan offense has done against Notre Dame and Utah.

Eventually, that’s going to improve. As players get more comfortable with the offense and it continues to expand throughout the season, drive-killing mistakes won’t continue to happen — at least with as much frequency. And as that improves, Michigan will score more points.

We’ve already seen Derrick Green show improvement from last season. He has 391 yards through four games. Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford, who finished last season with 1,422 yards — fifth-best in the Big Ten — had just 268 through his first four games last season. In addition, we know the explosiveness Devin Funchess can bring, but much of Gardner’s problems had to do with locking onto Funchess. Perhaps Morris will go through his progressions more than Gardner has and find receivers other than Funchess, which is important for the offense to continue to grow, and allow fellow receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh to take on a larger role. Keeping with the Michigan State theme, no one thought much of Michigan State’s receivers heading into last season, but Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings, and Keith Mumphrey played a big part in their success as the season went on.

3. Turnovers evening out

Michigan has averaged three turnovers per game so far this season. It’s impossible to beat good teams when that happens. To make matters worse, the defense, as solid as it has been, only has two takeaways, which means it isn’t setting the offense up with field position that it can take advantage of. Michigan currently ranks last nationally in turnover margin (minus-10). Those numbers are bound to even out during the final two-thirds of the season.

Interceptions are, most of the time, the fault of the quarterback, but which team recovers fumbles is largely a result of luck — the luck of the bounce or being in the right place at the right time. Michigan has lost four of the six times it has fumbled and hasn’t recovered either of the two opponent fumbles. So that’s six of eight fumbles that have bounced the wrong way. Turn those around and the turnover issues aren’t quite as grim. That’s why, as the season goes on, the numbers are bound to equal out.

Conclusion:

Of course, Shane Morris might end up being farther behind than we hope, the team might not get a good grasp of Nussmeier’s offense, and it might continue turning the ball over and failing to force turnovers defensively. And just because Michigan State’s offense turned around last season, it doesn’t mean Michigan’s will follow suit. But at the very least, there is recent precedent for it happening and signs that it could. As long as Michigan’s defense continues to play at the high level it has been, any improvement by the offense as the season goes on will give Michigan a chance to win every remaining game.

Washed out: Utah 26 – Michigan 10

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


Michigan vs Utah(MGoBlue.com)

It took more than two hours longer than expected, but the result was what no one rooting for the maize and blue wanted. No, that’s not a riddle; it describes Michigan’s 26-10 loss to Utah on Saturday, although Michigan’s offense remains a riddle no one except opposing defenses can solve.

For the second time in three weeks, Michigan’s offense failed to run a play in the opponent’s red zone and failed to score a touchdown, this time resulting in a 16-point loss despite out-gaining the Utes 308-286. The game was delayed two-and-a-half hours midway through the fourth quarter, but the outcome remained the same and Michigan fell to 2-2.

The game didn’t start poorly, however, as Michigan took an early 3-0 lead on a 42-yard Matt Wile field goal on the first possession on the game. Michigan’s defense then forced a three-and-out and the offense marched into Utah territory once again. This time, after back-to-back completions to Devin Funchess of 19 yards and 24 yards, the drive was stalled by a holding penalty on Erik Magnuson. Instead of 1st-and-10 from the Utah 43, Michigan faced 1st-and-20 from the 43 and was unable to get the first down. Outside of field goal range, and facing 4th-and-13, Michigan punted and downed the ball at the Ute 3-yard line.

UM-Utah-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Utah
Score 10 26
Record 2-2 3-0
Total Yards 308 286
Net Rushing Yards 118 81
Net Passing Yards 190 205
First Downs 13 19
Turnovers 4 1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 6-50
Punts-Yards 5-194 5-213
Time of Possession 33:32 26:28
Third Down Conversions 9-of-19 6-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 3-30 4-22
Field Goals 1-for-1 4-for-5
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 0-of-0 2-of-3
Full Box Score

Utah got a big play on 3rd-and-5 from its own eight when quarterback Travis Wilson found running back Bubba Poole wide open for a screen pass and Poole raced 67 yards before he was brought down by Jourdan Lewis. Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a field goal to tie the game at three.

Michigan’s offense went three-and-out, but Ute receiver Kaelyn Clay returned Will Hagerup’s punt 66 yards for a touchdown — his third return touchdown of the season. Suddenly, Michigan was down 10-3.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Wilson scrambled to his right and tried to hurdle a Michigan defender. Instead, he was hid mid-air by Joe Bolden, flipping over and landing awkwardly on his head. He was taken to the locker room and Michigan took advantage of his replacement, Kendal Thompson. On Utah’s next possession, Willie Henry sacked Thompson on 3rd-and-4, forcing a punt. Gardner was picked up on Michigan’s ensuing possession, but on 3rd-and-12, Henry made Michigan’s play of the game, picking off Thompson and carrying it into the end zone to tie the game at 10.

Utah responded with a 16-play, 54-yard field goal drive to take a 13-10 lead into the half, then went 67 yards in just five plays on its first possession of the second half. The drive was capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass from Wilson, who returned after getting stitches in his nose, to Dres Anderson.

After the two teams traded punts, Michigan moved the ball into Utah territory. On 3rd-and-8 from the Utah 45, Gardner completed a five-yard pass to Amara Darboh, setting up a 4th-and-3. Instead of punting to pin the Utes deep once again, Hoke elected to go for it, but Gardner’s roll-out came up a yard short. Utah took advantage of the short field position and kicked a 48-yard field goal to take a 23-10 lead.

Gardner was intercepted for the second time on the second play of Michigan’s next possession and Utah kicked another field goal, this time from 50 yards out to go ahead 26-10.

Shane Morris replaced Gardner, but threw an interception of his own that was returned 59 yards to the Michigan 17. A sideline penalty on Utah moved it back 15 yards, but then the skies opened up. The game was suspended for a total time of 2:24, and when it resumed with only a few hundred fans remaining — most wearing red — Utah missed a 41-yard field goal.

Morris lead what looked to be a promising drive, converting two long third downs, but fumbled at the Utah 47 and any hopes Michigan had of a comeback were dashed.

For the game, Gardner completed 14-of-26 for 148 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Morris went 4-of-13 for 42 yards, one touchdown, and one fumble. Funchess led all receivers with four catches for 82 yards, while Derrick Green led the way on the ground with 59 yards on 14 carries (4.2 yards per carry). Green was also Michigan’s second-leading receiver with two catches for 26 yards.

Wilson completed 14-of-20 for 172 yards and one touchdown, while Utah’s two star receivers, Anderson and Kenneth Scott, combined for 10 catches for 78 yards and a score.

Michigan’s defense held Utah to 81 yards rushing (2.2 yards per carry) and just 286 total yards — 271 yards below its season average — and just one touchdown and four field goals. Jake Ryan led the way with 13 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. Frank Clark added 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while Mario Ojemudia recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and Henry had the sack, interception, and score.

Michigan enters Big Ten play at 2-2, having out-gained every team it has played, but tormented by turnovers. The offense has yet to reach the red zone or score a touchdown against power-five teams, Notre Dame and Utah. The defense, however, has yet to allow an opponent to reach 300 yards of offense.

Minnesota (3-1) comes to town next Saturday looking to take back the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers have beaten Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State, and lost to TCU. The game will be televised by ABC at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Bouncing back: Michigan 34 – Miami (Ohio) 10

Saturday, September 13th, 2014


Derrick Green vs Miami(MGoBlue.com)

Looking to begin a new points-scored streak after the previous one of 30 years came to an end last week, Michigan hosted a Miami (Ohio) team hoping to end a dubious streak of its own: an 18-game losing streak. Like fellow Mid-American Conference foe Akron a year ago, Miami put up a fight, but this time Michigan shrugged it off and turned a close ballgame into a runaway win, 34-10.

Michigan wasted no time putting points on the board this Saturday, taking the opening possession to the Miami 12-yard line and kicking a 29-yard field goal. Jourdan Lewis picked off an Andrew Hendrix pass on 2nd-and-19, and five plays later Devin Gardner connected with Amara Darboh for a 17-yard touchdown pass. Michigan led 10-0 and looked to be well in its way to a blowout like it had in Week 1.

But then everything started to come unraveled. Three consecutive Michigan turnovers let Miami right back in the game. First, Darboh fumbled at the Miami 21-yard line after picking up 22 yards, and although Michigan’s defense forced Miami to punt, Gardner gave it right back two plays later with an interception over the head of Jehu Chesson. This time, given great field position at the Michigan 35, Miami took advantage with a 26-yard field goal.

UM-Miami-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Miami (Ohio)
Score 34 10
Record 2-1 0-3
Total Yards 460 198
Net Rushing Yards 276 33
Net Passing Yards 184 165
First Downs 23 8
Turnovers 3 1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 7-40
Punts-Yards 4-172 8-301
Time of Possession 34:05 25:55
Third Down Conversions 6-of-13 2-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-12 1-7
Field Goals 2-for-2 1-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 2-of-2
Full Box Score

Miami pooch-kicked the ensuing kickoff and caught Michigan off guard. Wyatt Shallman fumbled the catch and Miami pounded on it at the Michigan 21. Four plays later, Hendrix found running back Dawan Scott for a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10.

Michigan answered with its most important drive of the season to-date, riding Derrick Green down the field. After a 26-yard completion to Darboh and then a seven-yard sack, Gardner handed off to Green four straight plays. Green went for 27, 11, eight, and one, the final getting into the end zone to give Michigan 17-10 lead, which the Wolverines took into the locker room.

Neither team could muster any offense to start the second half as Miami punted away its first three possessions and Michigan its first two. Finally, Michigan broke through with a big-play drive. Gardner found Jake Butt for a 22-yard gain to the Miami 41, then De’Veon Smith rushed for 12. On 1st-and-10 from the Miami 29, Gardner lofted up a pass to a wide open Butt for a touchdown to give Michigan some breathing room.

Hendrix completed a 31-yard pass to David Frazier at the Michigan 28, but the RedHawks were unable to complete the drive. Miami tried to convert a 4th-and-14, but Brennen Beyer pressured Hendrix and forced an incomplete pass.

Michigan turned to Green once again on its next possession to ice the game. Green carried the ball on seven of the drive’s nine plays, picking up 50 yards including a 12-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead 31-10.

Shane Morris took over on Michigan’s final possession, leading Michigan from its own 19 to the Miami 23. On the drive, Morris scrambled for 27 yards and nearly threw a touchdown pass, but Chesson couldn’t hang on. Matt Wile kicked a 40-yard field goal to reach the final score of 34-10.

If you didn’t watch the game and just looked at the box score, you would assume Michigan won easily. Michigan out-gained Miami 460-198, picked up 23 first downs to Miami’s eight, held the RedHawks to just 2-of-12 on third down, and led the possession battle 34:05 to 25:55. But it was three second quarter turnovers that kept Miami in the game and sent boos raining down from the Big House crowd.

Gardner finished the game 13-of-20 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, but it was Green who stole the show. The sophomore carried the ball 22 times for 137 yards and a score, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He showed a much better ability to find the hole than he did a week ago, and on his touchdown run, showed the ability to bounce outside and outrun the defense to the edge. Without Devin Funchess, who missed the game with an ankle injury, Darboh led all receivers with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Butt caught three passes for 59 yards and a score.

As a team, Michigan rushed for 276 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, and held Miami to just 33 yards rushing on 24 carries. Joe Bolden led the defense with seven tackles, while Beyer recorded Michigan’s only sack of the game.

Michigan hosts Utah next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Utes are 2-0 and had a bye week this week. Stay tuned for more coverage of Michigan’s win over Miami and previews of next week’s game.

Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

Monday, June 9th, 2014


Predicting Michigan- Quarterbacks Gardner

In the first season of the post-Denard Robinson era, Michigan quarterbacks suffered from many of the mistakes that made “Shoelace” so inconsistent. Turnovers and mental errors led to Al Borges’s firing in favor of Alabama’s Doug Nussmeier, who will look to construct a more concrete identity for the Wolverines. Nussmeier has plenty of quarterback options to choose from, as Michigan returns its top two candidates from 2013 and adds a talented recruit to the mix.

The Starter

Despite speculation and fan frustration that call for the senior to lose his starting position in 2014, Devin Gardner will certainly be under center for Michigan at the start of the season.

Devin Gardner

Of the 11 games in 2013 in which a Big Ten quarterback totaled at least 350 yards and three touchdowns, Gardner did it five times. No other quarterback did it more than once (Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Gardner took a small step back early in his first full year as the starting quarterback, throwing 10 interceptions in his first six games. The veteran was reluctant to take a sack and threw passes into coverage instead of protecting the ball. A costly interception in his own end zone nearly cost the Wolverines the game against Notre Dame, and similar plays put Michigan behind against Akron and Connecticut.

But Gardner matured during the second half of the season, taking better care of the football and throwing just one interception in six games. Despite playing behind an offensive line that surrendered 34 sacks in 2013, Gardner managed to throw for 954 combined yards against Indiana and Ohio State, showcasing his potential for the 2014 season.

The top priority for Gardner during the offseason was rehabbing a foot injury that sidelined him for the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wing’s Bowl in Arizona. Gardner battled through the injury in a heroic effort against Ohio State, but it ultimately brought a disappointing season to an early close.

Spring competition will benefit the athletic redshirt senior after he coasted through camp as the consensus starter in 2013. A healthy Gardner makes the Michigan offense more dynamic, as he features both an electric arm and quickness in the scrambling game.

Gardner will have to regroup from the loss of his favorite target Jeremy Gallon and mesh with a new-look receiving core. Freddy Canteen has emerged as one of the top targets for Gardner, who demonstrated the tendency to take shots downfield in 2013. Gardner has excellent arm strength, and Brady Hoke has surrounded him with athletic receivers that can beat defenders deep.

Michigan’s starting quarterback also features a unique type of rushing ability, which allows him to extend plays and find teammates downfield. Unlike typical dual-threat quarterbacks, Gardner prefers to stay behind the line of scrimmage and buy time for his receivers to break open. Though this habit often lead to sacks last season, if Gardner can minimize his movement behind the line and avoid defenders near the pocket, he will take advantage of a deeper and more athletic wide receiver unit.

Improvement along the offensive line will offer Gardner more time to throw in 2014, so expect the fifth-year senior to take advantage of an improved overall offense and resemble the quarterback that dominated the Big Ten during the end of the 2012 season. Gardner holds all of the physical tools to be a dominant quarterback and is poised for a bounce back season in 2014.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2,700 23 9 62% 375 8
Career Stats
2012 2,960 21 11 60.3% 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5% 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8% 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0% 21 1
Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7% 658 20

Veteran depth

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan's BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan’s BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Michigan returns two quarterbacks behind Gardner that have taken snaps during their Wolverine careers. Russell Bellomy returns to the lineup after tearing his ACL in spring practice and missing the entire 2013 season. Bellomy most notably took the reins for Michigan against Nebraska in 2012, throwing as many interceptions (three) as completions in 16 attempts.

Bellomy’s struggles ultimately forced Hoke to return Gardner to his original position of quarterback after he started as a wide receiver for the first eight games of the season. Bellomy represents the fourth quarterback option for the Wolverines heading into the season.

The more intriguing option behind Gardner is sophomore Shane Morris, who made a splash during his start in the bowl game last December. Though he failed to record a touchdown, the youngster demonstrated elite arm strength and completed 24-of-38 passing attempts.

Borges featured the former five-star recruit with a diverse selection of passing plays, and Morris looked comfortable running the offense as a freshman. Though Morris is a popular choice to compete with Gardner for the starting position, the electric sophomore is likely to hold the backup spot when Michigan takes the field on August 30.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
700 7 2 63% 59 0
Career Stats
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Projected Stats – Bellomy
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
70 0 0 55% 5 0
Career Stats
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0

Newcomers

Michigan added one quarterback in this season’s recruiting class: 6’6″, 230-pound Wilton Speight. Speight showcased his accurate arm during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco last season, and figures to compete with Morris for the starting job in the coming years. The freshman is a prototypical pro-style quarterback, and threw for 63 yards as the starter for Team Nitro in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Speight has flown under the radar leading up to the 2014 season, but provides the closest resemblance to the type of quarterback that Nussmeier coached at Alabama. This freshman made dramatic improvements during his final season in prep school and will play a huge role for Michigan in the near future.

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.