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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Breaston’

M&GB Roundtable talks freshmen, but not THAT freshman

Friday, August 1st, 2014



So far this offseason we have discussed the status of Hoke’s hot seat (we pretty much all agreed this is not a make or break season for him) and the Michigan Football Legends jerseys program (we’re all in agreement that we like them, but they need a few guidelines). As we continue our offseason staff roundtable series today, we’re providing our thoughts on freshmen. You may have heard about this incoming defensive back named Jabrill Peppers, but we’re not talking about him. Here’s the question:

Which freshman — true or redshirt — are you most excited about this season, not named Jabrill Peppers? Who, other than Peppers, do you think will have the biggest impact this fall, and why?


Jabrill Peppers is undoubtedly the freshman everyone is excited about. At Big Ten Media Days, it seemed that every other question for Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and Frank Clark was about Peppers. The amount of hype for an 18-year-old kid that hasn’t played a down of college football yet is unreal, and while we all hope it’s warranted, it was clear that Hoke and Michigan’s player representatives were tired of talking about it.

The only other freshman that has received a good amount of hype is receiver Freddy Canteen, and he’s who I’m most excited about. He was the talk of spring practice, showing off great speed, agility, and explosiveness — a combination Michigan has lacked at receiver for years. Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, and Junior Hemingway have been very good receivers the past few years, but they were all different types of receivers than Canteen. Michigan hasn’t had the Mario Manningham or Steve Breaston type of receiver (yes, I know Manningham played outside) that can complement the bigger possession receivers. And with the 6’5″, 230-pound Devin Funchess out wide, a speedy Canteen in the slot would be the perfect complement.

The big question mark for the receiving corps is redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh, who was the offseason hype machine and in line to start last season before breaking his foot in fall camp. That allowed Jehu Chesson, who was behind Darboh at the time, to work his way into the lineup. Chesson had an okay season (15 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown), but didn’t show the consistent playmaking ability. He flashed it — a catch-and-run across the middle touchdown against Akron and a jump ball in double coverage at Michigan State — but averaged barely over one catch a game. His blocking ability — a very important trait for a receiver, especially in Michigan’s offense — will keep him in the rotation, but he’ll likely battle with Darboh for the second outside spot opposite Funchess.

Canteen will likely battle with Dennis Norfleet for the slot job, and if they spring hype is accurate, has the leg up. Norfleet is just 5’7″, 169-pounds, and although shifty, has yet to fulfill the hype many expected of him. He was used sparingly on offense last season, and to mild success, because when he was on the field, it was a tell-tale sign that he was getting the ball on a trick play. Canteen’s size and game-breaking ability will allow him to stay on the field and be available for those trick plays without giving them away.

With Funchess playing the Gallon, Roundtree, and Hemingway role as The Man, Darboh and Chesson providing consistency and reliability on the other side, and Canteen giving big-play potential in the slot, this could be a very good receiving corps. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ but the potential is there, and for the first time in several years, there doesn’t appear to be a weak link in the group. The ideal situation would be for Darboh to return to the level he was pre-injury and start opposite Funchess with Canteen in the slot and Chesson rotating in for Darboh. Of course, the possibility exists that Canteen grabs the No. 2 receiver job on the outside — opposite Funchess — but that would leave Norfleet in the slot and both Darboh and Chesson coming off the bench, so that’s not ideal.


There really are only a few legitimate candidates that can be considered. For the first time in a few seasons, Michigan finally will have experienced depth at most positions this fall thanks mostly to Brady Hoke’s work on the recruiting trail. In 2012 and 2013, the years he brought in his first two full recruiting classes, Hoke received commitments from 53 prospects. Currently, 52 of them still are on scholarship at Michigan, with only linebacker Kaleb Ringer transferring after he suffered a significant knee injury. The superb retention rate and lack of attrition in the 2012 and 2013 classes have allowed talented juniors and sophomores to flood Michigan’s depth chart. Accordingly, there are very few spots where Michigan needs freshmen—true or redshirt—to contribute immediately.

The only freshmen—other than Jabrill Peppers—that have an opportunity to start or see extensive playing time on either offense or defense are wide receiver Freddy Canteen and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr. There are a few other freshmen that could make notable contributions, though. Tight ends Khalid Hill and Ian Bunting may be valuable assets early in the season while Jake Butt completes his recovery from an ACL tear. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone, an early enrollee, may work his way into the defensive-line rotation by season’s end. And there are multiple offensive linemen with freshman eligibility that may be promoted to first string if the presumed starters—four sophomores and a junior—cannot improve upon what was arguably the nation’s worst offensive line last season, but Michigan fans are hoping this development does not come to fruition. Nevertheless, no freshman other than Peppers will have the impact that Canteen or Hurst, Jr. will have.

Although Hurst, Jr. may have a bigger impact as a plausible starter on the defensive line, the freshman not named Peppers that I am most excited about undoubtedly is Canteen. Canteen was a complete unknown when he committed to the Wolverines shortly after participating in Michigan’s summer camp in 2013. However, it was clear that he was unheralded only because his high school team played just three games his junior season. Once Michigan fans saw his game film and Vines of his terrific footwork, they started buzzing. Then, after he enrolled early last January, the coaching staff and his teammates began buzzing, too. Canteen provided a small taste of what he is capable of in the “spring game” when he flashed his swift speed and brisk footwork for what should have been two long completions, including one where he burned All-Big Ten first-team cornerback Blake Countess deep. With his crisp routes, he has the ability to be a playmaker immediately.

Canteen may not start, but he will play many snaps as a true freshman. Michigan lost four wide receivers, including record-setter Jeremy Gallon, to graduation in the offseason. Although the Wolverines still have arguably the Big Ten’s best wideout in Devin Funchess, they will need the younger guys to step up as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Canteen will compete with sophomores Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson for those spots and already may have the edge on both. Plus, Michigan always could slide him in at slot receiver ahead of Dennis Norfleet. Either way, few freshmen will earn as much playing time in 2014 as Canteen, and he should dazzle all of us with his moves.


In a perfect world we wouldn’t be asking this question. Personally, I would like to see ALL first year players get redshirted, sit and learn and pack on some weight without any pressure to perform. Sadly we don’t live in that world and so here we are. At first I wanted to say Freddy Canteen after his spring game showing. I mean c’mon it makes perfect sense, with Jeremy Gallon in the NFL and Jake Butt sidelined, someone has to catch the balls not thrown to Funchess. But after I thought about it a while a certain press conference came to mind, and to paraphrase of one of the greatest sports rants ever; “We talkin’ bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin’ about practice.”

I’m going to head to the other side of the ball and go with Bryan Mone. The defensive line struggles, as with all of Michigan’s struggles in ’13, were well documented. They didn’t generate sufficient pass pressure, didn’t stop the run (to put it lightly) and overall were just, well not that good. Mone is a big boy, a very big boy, and by all accounts the kid can move quite well. A guy who can eat up space and occupy more than one blocker can be devastating, and if he can get into the backfield all the better. Now I won’t go so far as to say I think he’ll be Vince Wilfork, he’s a once in a lifetime player, but I do think given the chance Mone can make some noise and help get Michigan’s defense back to being a Michigan defense.


I’m hoping I don’t jinx him by choosing another wide receiver this year (Darboh didn’t exactly break out last season), but how can fans not be excited about Freddy Canteen? The freshman wide receiver stormed onto the stage during the Spring Game, offering one of the few bright spots in what turned out to be a sloppy performance.

Canteen separated himself from a loaded group of young wide receivers and should line up with the starters along with captain Devin Funchess. His speed will give the offense another dimension that it badly needed after the loss of both Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation.

Canteen isn’t the most talented freshman receiver in Ann Arbor, but unlike classmates Drake Harris and Maurice Ways, the youngster has the offensive coaching staff buzzing about his ability as the calendar turns to August. Look for Canteen to give quarterback Devin Gardner a second option to Funchess early in the nonconference season.


So what do you think? Is Canteen your guy as well, or are you more excited about another freshman? Do you think any other freshmen will make a big contribution to the team this fall? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michigan-UConn game preview

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Seven years ago Michigan hosted Ball State in an odd November non-conference matchup. The Wolverines were 9-0 at that point, ranked second in the nation, but on that day the Brady Hoke-led Cardinals almost pulled of a shocker. In front of a stunned Big House crowd that Michigan squad, led by Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Jake Long, LaMarr Woodley, David Harris, and Leon Hall, nearly suffered a demoralizing defeat. Henne threw a pick-six. Hart fumbled for the first time in two years. The defense gave up nearly 300 yards.

Hoke had some good teams at Ball State, but that wasn’t one of them.

Following the game, Henne acknowledged that with a showdown at Ohio State looming the team wasn’t completely focused.

“I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren’t focused,” Henne said. “Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings.”

Woodley agreed.

Quick Facts
Rentschler Field – 8pm EST – ABC
UConn Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 117-73-1 (10-14 at UConn)
Offensive Coordinator: TJ Weist (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Hank Hughes (1st season*)
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 5-7
Last Meeting: UM 30 – UConn 10 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 1-0
Record at UConn: First meeting
Record vs AAC Teams: Michigan leads 6-0
Brady Hoke vs AAC Teams: First meeting

“Coming into this game, everybody was talking about the hype about Michigan and Ohio State, and it kind of overlooked a team like Ball State. If you disrespect a team, they’re going to come out and give it their all.”

Michigan responded with a 34-3 thumping of Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to just 131 total yards and then played one of the all-time great games in the history of The Game a week later in Columbus, falling 42-39 to the top-ranked Buckeyes.

The point is that even great teams suffer letdowns every now and then. Ball State had a chance to tie the game twice in the final minutes just like Akron had a chance to win the game on the final play last Saturday. Michigan was fortunate to come out with a victory and the man who was on the other side of that 2006 affair knows that all too well.

All eyes will be on how this team responds this week against UConn. With all the negativity surrounding the team following last week’s performance, the Wolverines shouldn’t need anything else to fire them up, but perhaps the fact that it’s a primetime game on ABC rather than a noon start on Big Ten Network will be enough.

UConn is probably a team of a similar level as the Indiana team the 2006 squad rebounded with, and while no one is expecting this Michigan defense to put forth as dominant a performance, the expectations remain for a big, convincing win.

The Huskies enter with an 0-2 record, having lost to Towson of the FCS and Maryland, both at home. The Towson game was closer than the score indicates, but the Tigers racked up nearly 400 yards of offense including 201 on the ground. The Maryland game wasn’t quite as close as the final score shows as the Terrapins widened a 13-10 halftime lead to 32-13 before UConn scored with a few minutes to play.

Paul Pasqualoni is in his third season in Storrs and Husky Nation is already calling for his head after going 5-7 in each of his first two seasons. Prior to taking over in 2011, he spent 14 years at Syracuse, going 107-59-1 with six bowl victories, as well as six seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. In fact, as head coach of Syracuse, he went 1-1 against Michigan, beating the Wolverines 38-28 in 1998 and losing 18-13 in 1999.

In that 1998 matchup, Pasqualoni had Donovan McNabb at quarterback, a luxury he doesn’t currently have. Can he pull off the upset in front of the largest crowd in UConn history? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs UConn offense: When UConn has the ball

Chandler Whitmer has thrown 19 interceptions and 12 touchdowns in the past 14 games (Mark L. Baer, USA Today Sports)

Following a disappointing 2012 season in which the Huskies ranked 118th nationally in scoring offense, Pasqualoni brought in Cincinnati wide receivers coach TJ Weist to run the offense. Weist spent four seasons on Gary Moeller’s staff in the early 1990s, first as a volunteer graduate assistant and then as receivers coach, guiding the likes of Desmond Howard and working alongside Greg Mattison.

He inherited seven returning starters including junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer who completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,659 yards last season. But it was his 9-to-16 touchdown-to-interception rate that Weist is hoping to significantly improve. The results are mixed so far this season with 555 yards on 60.8 percent completions and three touchdowns, but he has also thrown three more picks. Against Maryland last week put up a lot of yards (349), but threw two interceptions and just one touchdown.

His main target is junior Shakim Phillips who has 15 receptions for 255 yards and all three touchdowns so far. By comparison, Jeremy Gallon has 18 receptions for 297 yards and four touchdowns through three games. The former four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant originally attended Boston College before transferring to UConn and sitting out the 2011 season. However, he strained a hamstring at the end of the Maryland game, so while he insists he will play he might not be at full speed. Fellow junior Geremy Davis is the only other Huskie with double digit receptions so far with 10 catches for 154 yards. He was UConn’s leading receiver last season with 44 receptions for 608 yards, but caught just one touchdown pass.

In the backfield, Lyle McCombs is the feature back for the third straight year, but is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on 36 attempts so far. He managed just 53 yards on 19 attempts against Maryland last week. In 2011, he broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns, but those numbers declined last season due to injuries and off the field troubles. No other back on the team has more than three carries this season, so it’s clear McCombs will be the workhorse once again. He’s also the team’s third-leading receiver with eight catches.

Deshon Foxx plays the Dennis Norfleet role, a slot guy with four receptions for 54 yards and three rushes for 21 yards. Weist is counting on Foxx to be the speedy playmaker the offense needs with the ability to take a speed sweep for a big play.

Shakim Phillips is the danger man for Michigan's secondary to contain (Stephen Slade)

The offensive line returns four starters from last season. Sixth-year senior Jimmy Bennett is the left tackle with 16 career starts, while redshirt senior Kevin Friend brings 29 career starts to the right tackle position. However, Friend is questionable this week with a high ankle sprain, which could force Xavier Hemingway into his spot. The redshirt sophomore was pushed around the past two weeks, allowing a pair of sacks against Towson and a safety against Maryland. If Friend is out tomorrow, look for Michigan to pick on the right side of the Husky line.

Tyler Bullock, who started the last eight games of 2012, was supposed to be the starting center, but a leg injury has forced UConn to insert Penn State transfer Alex Mateas into the center position. He was routinely pushed back by Maryland’s defensive line last week. Bullock did play some at right guard at the end of the game last week, but it remains to be seen whether he will see more time this week. Left guard Steve Greene has 20 career starts under his belt, while right guard Gus Cruz started five games last season.

While the UConn offensive line has a lot of starting experience, it was the 121st-ranked rush offense last season and currently ranks 122nd this season. If there was ever a game for Michigan’s defensive line to get off the schneid it is this one. The Huskies have allowed 10 sacks through two games.

Whitmer operates mostly out of the shotgun with one back offset and one tight end. Weist likes to line up three receivers to one side and one on the other, which typically results in a throw to the single receiver, Phillips. This is how Phillips scored a 75-yard touchdown last week. Maryland used a blitz-heavy scheme to pressure Whitmer and attack Hemingway, which is typically Mattison’s style, but we haven’t seen it the past two weeks. After getting torched by Kyle Pohl a week ago by sitting back, expect Mattison to dial up the blitz early and often this week.

Michigan offense vs UConn defense: When Michigan has the ball

Both Maryland and Towson moved the ball well against the UConn defense, and both did so with a fairly balanced attack. Towson passed for 193 yards and rushed for 201, while Maryland gained 277 through the air and 224 on the ground. The 212.4 rushing yards allowed per game ranks 104th nationally and both the Tigers and Terps had individual rushers go over 100 yards. Maryland quarterback CJ Brown gained 122 yards on 16 carries, while running back Brandon Ross was five yards short of 100 on 18 carries. Towson running back Terrance West gained 156 yards on 36 carries.

Only five starters return form last year’s UConn defense which ranked ninth nationally in total defense. Three starters from that unit that are no longer around were drafted this past April, most notably tackle Kendall Reyes who was selected 49th overall by the San Diego Chargers.

The leading player on this year’s defense is the only returning starting linebacker, Yawin Smallwood. He led the Huskies with 120 tackles last season and ranked second with 15 tackles for loss. He already has 30 tackles in the first two games, which is twice as many as the next closest. Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart are the other starters. You and I cheered for Stewart a couple years ago when, while playing for Florida, he blocked an Ohio State punt and returned it for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl. He played in 12 games for the Gators that season before transferring to UConn a year ago. Donohue is a Maryland transfer who played in 20 games for the Terps in 2009-10.

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood has 30 tackles in the first two games (Stephen Slade)

The four-man front includes redshirt senior tackle Shamar Stephen who has played in 34 career games. He ranks third on the team with 14 tackles so far this season. The other tackle is is redshirt sophomore Julian Campenni who started two games last season. End Tim Willman leads the team with 1.5 tackles for loss this season. He started the final game of 2012 and earned the starting role this year, while redshirt junior Angelo Pruitt is the other end.

The secondary is led (on the stat-sheet) by redshirt freshman safety Obi Melifonwu who has 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception so far. Free safety Ty-Meer Brown is the most veteran of the unit with 19 career starts. He has nine tackles and a fumble recovery on the young season. The corners are senior Taylor Mack and redshirt junior Byron Jones. Mack has the team’s only other interception this season.

Last week, UConn played Maryland conservatively, intent on not giving up the big play, which they failed to do. The Huskies didn’t blitz once and mostly sat back in a quarters or cover two defense. Against both Maryland and Towson, UConn’s linebackers were susceptible to the run fake, getting drawn up and allowing space behind them, so look for Michigan to take advantage of the play action.

UConn hasn’t sacked the quarterback yet this season, so the Michigan offensive line – which might be shuffled this week – has an opportunity to perform well. Maryland had good success running the zone read and inverted veer, which Michigan doesn’t do as much with Gardner, but has success with especially later in the game.

The other third: Special Teams

Redshirt senior Kicker Chad Chirsten has made all three field goal attempts with a long of 34. He converted 14-of-21 last season and has a career high of 50. He also handles kickoff duties. Last week, only one kickoff resulted in a touchback, so that could be beneficial for Dennis Norfleet. Fellow redshirt senior Cole Wagner was a second team All-Big East selection last season with a 40.5 yards per punt average. Through two games this season he has already punted 15 times and is averaging just 37.5 yards.

Phillips and Foxx are the kick returners. Neither has broken one yet, but Phillips has a long of 39 yards. Freshman receiver Brian Lemelle is the only Husky who has returned a punt – two for two yards.


A more focused Michigan team will take the field tomorrow night looking to atone for a poor performance last week. Devin Gardner will be crisp like he was against Central Michigan and Notre Dame. Michigan will look to get Fitzgerald Toussaint established early to set up the play action. Later in the game, the offense will mix in the zone read and inverted veer and Gardner will have a big day with his feet and arm.

The defense will be more aggressive rather than sitting back and letting Whitmer pick them apart. It might give up a couple of big plays, but overall it will keep the UConn offense off balance and result in the best performance of the season to date, piling up several sacks.

The nation will be watching to see just how Michigan responds from the Akron letdown. Everybody wants to know if this team is as good as it looked in the first two weeks or if those were just a mirage. A bye week follows, so Michigan will play with a chip on its shoulder and win convincingly.

Michigan 45 – UConn 20

Predicting Michigan: The special teams

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

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

The New Mr. Reliable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack Of Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed Is Exciting

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

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

Around the League – Week 5

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

[Ed: We missed last week’s Around the League, so the season totals will include that week’s stats, but the “Last game” stats will just be this past weekend’s stats].

Michigan has a great tradition of sending players to the National Football League. While the pace has fallen off over the past few years, there are still plenty of former Wolverines in the League. Each week during the season, we will provide an update on how former Michigan Men fared that week.

Tom BradyPatriots QB

LaMarr Woodley celebrates a sack of Matt Hasselbeck. He also had a half sack and an interception in the Steelers' 38-17 win over the Titans (photo by Justin K. Aller, Getty Images)

Last game: Completed 24-of-33 passes for 321 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Season totals: 133-of-196 (67.9%) for 1,874 yards (1st in NFL), 14 TDs (1st), 6 INTs

Chad HenneDolphins QB

Last game: DNP – Our for season (shoulder)

Season totals: 64-of-112 (57.1%) for 868 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs

LaMarr WoodleySteelers OLB
Last game: 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 INT
Season totals: 19 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2 passes defended, 1 INT

Mario Manningham Giants WR
Last game: 5 catches for 56 yards
Season totals: 13 catches for 171 yards (42.8 ypg)

Braylon Edwards49ers WR
Last game: DNP – out for season (knee)
Season totals: 4 catches for 48 yards (24 ypg)

Charles WoodsonPackers DB
Last game: 4 tackles
Season totals: 18 tackles, 3 INT (T-1st), 4 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD

Steve BreastonChiefs WR
Last game: 4 catches for 50 yards, 2 TDs
Season totals: 14 catches for 229 yards (45.8 ypg), 2 TDs

Jason Avant Eagles WR

Last game: 9 catches for 139 yards
Season totals: 23 catches for 310 yards (62 ypg)

Tim JamisonTexans DE

Steve Breaston celebrates a touchdown. He caught his first two TDs of the season on Sunday (photo by John Sommers II, Getty Images)

Last game: DNP
Season totals: 3 tackles, 1 pass defended

Leon Hall – Bengals DB
Last game: 1 tackle
Season totals: 14 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

Morgan TrentBengals DB
Last game: Did not record a stat
Season totals: 6 tackles

David Harris Jets LB
Last game: 9 tackles, 1 sack
Season totals: 31 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles-for-loss, 2 passes defended, 1 INT, 1 TD

Zoltan MeskoPatriots P
Last game: 4 punts for 205 yards (51.3 avg), 1 inside 20
Season totals: 16 punts for 729 yards (45.6 avg), 7 inside 20

James HallRams DE
Last game: Bye week
Season totals: 12 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackle-for-loss, 1 pass defended

Larry FooteSteelers LB
Last game: 1 tackle
Season totals: 14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle-for-loss

Jay FeelyCardinals K
Last game: 1-for-1 FGs, 1-for-1 XPs
Season totals: 4-for-7 FGs (Long 51), 12-for-12 XPs


Alan BranchSeahawks DT
Last game: 3 tackles, 1 sack
Season totals: 14 tackles, 1 sack

Adrian Arrington – Saints WR
Last game: DNP
Season totals: 1 catch for 14 yards (4.7 ypg)

Brandon GrahamEagles DE
On PUP list with knee injury. Expected to return in Week 7

Jeff BackusLions OT

Steve HutchinsonVikings OG

Jonathan Goodwin49ers OG

David BaasGiants C

Jake LongDolphins OT

Jonas MoutonChargers LB
On injured reserve

Stephen SchillingChargers OT
DNP (On practice squad)

Donovan WarrenLions DB
DNP (On practice squad)

Brandon MinorBroncos RB
DNP (On injured reserve)

Wolverine Overtime: Michigan Rises and Strikes Down Notre Dame

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The echoes woke up on Saturday in the Big House, but instead of Rockne, Gipp or Parseghian, the echoes resounded from Weis and much of the Notre Dame fan base.

In the aftermath of Michigan’s 38-34 win over Notre Dame, Charlie Weis refused to take the blame, instead choosing to join the chorus of his fan base in pinning the blame on the officials.

And even as a Michigan fan as thrilled with the win as anybody, I can honestly say I feel for them—at least partially.

The main quip with the officials was the reversal of Armando Allen’s touchdown catch-and-run with 2:22 left in the first quarter.

On that play, junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw a perfectly timed screen to Allen who raced 41 yards to the end zone to tie the game at seven. However, officials reviewed the play and ruled that Allen touched the sideline at the 22-yard line.

I must say that if I were a “Domer” I would be pretty mad about that one. I think we should all admit that from the angles we saw on TV, it was just too close to tell whether Allen touched the line or not.

*Armando Allen's foot appears to touch the line, photo by WNDU

*Armando Allen's foot appears to touch the line, photo by WNDU

When I saw the replays, my maize and blue colored lenses told me the edge of his foot touched the line for sure. But those with Irish eyes saw it the other way. [Editor’s note: this video from WNDU appears to show Allen’s heel touching the line.]

I think it was one of those plays in which the call on the field should have stood, whichever way it was called. If the side judge had ruled him out of bounds, I think it should have stood. But he didn’t, and I feel thankful that it was overturned.

Credit here goes to Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez who, after seeing the replay on the Michigan Stadium big screen, called time out to give the officials time to review the play.

“I thought taking the timeout would give them more time to review, and I still have my challenge,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t want to burn a timeout unnecessarily in the second half. The first half doesn’t bother me as much to take the time out to give them a chance to review. That’s what I did. I said, I’m not going to challenge it, but this gives them enough time to see what I see on the screen up there.

“They said, yes, Coach, they are reviewing it. And they said you still have the timeout. I said that’s fine, as long as it gets called right.”

Whether it was called right or not is anybody’s guess, but it’s hard to tell how it would have affected the outcome of the game.

Notre Dame ended up with a field goal on that drive. The four-point difference between the would-be touchdown and the field goal was the difference in the final score, but it’s impossible to predict how the game would have played out had the score been 7-7 instead of 7-3 after that drive.

Nevertheless, Michigan receiver Darryl Stonum returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, sending Michigan’s defense right back onto the field.

Another situation that had Weis fired up was the way the game ended (or didn’t end, according to Weis).

Michigan kicked off with 11 seconds remaining. The squib kick seemed as if it bounced by Notre Dame return-man Theo Riddick and through the back of the end zone.

The game clock initially ticked down to 10 seconds, prompting questioning from Clausen. The officials got together and ruled that Riddick did, in fact, touch the ball, which replays clearly confirmed. The clock was then set to nine seconds.

Clausen then completed a pass across the middle to Golden Tate. Tate caught the ball at the 40-yard line near the left hash mark with five seconds remaining and was tackled at the 47-yard line near the right sideline.

*UM head coach Rich Rodriguez celebrating the win, photo by the Detroit Free Press

*UM head coach Rich Rodriguez celebrating the win, photo by the Detroit Free Press

The clock hit zero, the officials signaled the end of the game and Michigan players and coaches engulfed the field.

Weis kept his team on the sidelines as he pleaded with the officials to put a second back on the clock. But they were long gone and the final score stood.

“First it went from 11 to 10,” Weis said of the clock. “Then I complained and it went to nine. It went from 11 to 10 to 11 to nine. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Maybe we’d have one more second, throw a Hail Mary.

“Their answer to me was they thought that Theo [Riddick] tipped the ball in the field of play on the kick, which would then start the clock. If he did, which I couldn’t really tell whether he did or he didn’t, so I’m going to take their word for it that that happened.”

The one thing Weis may have a right to be mad about is that the officials didn’t look to see if any time remained after Tate was tackled near the sideline.

The replay (at the 3:25 mark) seems to show one second still on the clock when the ball hits out of bounds.

Had the officials gotten together and looked at the replay, they may have put a second back on. However, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, because Tate was tackled in bounds and the clock would start when the ball is set.

It’s doubtful that Clausen could have gotten another snap off.

Even so, as a Michigan fan, I know what it’s like to feel cheated over one second. Yet, as mad as I was about that ending, it was hard to point the finger because Michigan never should have put itself in that position.

In that game, Michigan State faced 4th-and-16 with 1:25 to play. Quarterback Jeff Smoker’s pass fell incomplete, but a face-mask penalty on Michigan defensive back Jeremy LeSueur gave the Spartans a first down.

On a following play, Michigan was penalized for too many men on the field, moving Michigan State even closer to the end zone.

Had Michigan not hurt itself, that final second wouldn’t have mattered.

Likewise, had Weis run the ball, forcing Michigan to burn its remaining time outs, or had he chosen to throw a short, high-percentage pass on 2nd-and-10, rather than a deep ball towards Michigan’s best defensive back, he wouldn’t have even needed that last second.

Notre Dame fans: I understand your pain and I empathize with you. You do have a right to be mad. But it’s football and things don’t always go your way.

If Notre Dame would have won and the Allen play not been ruled out of bounds, Michigan fans would have had a right to gripe about that play.

Notre Dame will win a lot of games this year and next year, and they’re a fun team to watch with the great play makers they have at receiver.

I’ll be rooting for you to knock off Michigan State next week and USC next month.

This week, however, I’ll bask in the glory of out-scoring Touchdown Jesus.

In sports, just as in life, it’s not always fair.

Quote of the Day

*Forcier celebrates the win, photo by Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images

*Forcier celebrates the win, photo by Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images

“Everybody kept saying, ‘A freshman can’t do it.’ And I did it. I’m happy.

“I’ve been like that my whole life. Ever since I was a little kid, I never got nervous. It showed today. I didn’t get nervous. Our guys kept saying, ‘We can do this. We can do this.’ I believed in them, and we did it.”

-UM freshman quarterback Tate Forcier after beating Notre Dame in just his second college game. Forcier completed 23 of 33 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown, out-staging Notre Dame junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Quote of the Day II

“They will win a lot of games. The quarterback’s an NFL guy. They have two of the best wide receivers I’ve seen in years, and their running back’s a big-time player.

“And geez, did you see the size of the linemen? They could eat peanuts off our guys’ heads, for crying out loud. That’s a good-looking team. But thankfully, our guys made one more play than they did and we won.”

UM head coach Rich Rodriguez on Notre Dame. Michigan had a hard time stopping Notre Dame’s offense all day, especially receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate.

Quote of the Day III

“I’ll hand over my job after today’s performance.”

-UM senior punter Zoltan Mesko after averaging only 32.5 yards per punt, well below his career average of 42 yards.

Meanwhile, quarterback Tate Forcier booted a 50-yard pooch punt that was downed at the four-yard line.

Stat of the Day


The combined points between the two teams were the most points scored in the history of the rivalry. The previous high was 68 points in 2006.

It was also the fifth time Michigan has scored 30-plus points against Notre Dame. Michigan has won all five.

*Steve Breaston returning a kick for a touchdown against Minnesota in 2005, photo by the Detroit News

*Steve Breaston returning a kick for a touchdown against Minnesota in 2005, photo by the Detroit News

Stat of the Day II

The 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by sophomore wide receiver Darryl Stonum was the first since Steve Breaston took one back 95 yards against Minnesota on Oct. 18, 2005.

It was only the second since 1994, when Seth Smith returned a kick 100 yards against Wisconsin, and only the 10th in Michigan history.

Hard to believe it’s only happened 10 times in 1,205 games, given all the athletes Michigan has had over the years. That’s one per 120.5 games, or basically one per decade.

Three Go Blue Stars of the Game

1. Tate Forcier.
I started to say the numbers speak for themselves, but they don’t. Forcier did everything Michigan needed him to on Saturday, and more. The freshman refused to be rattled in his first career rivalry game, showing the poise and moxie of a veteran quarterback in leading Michigan on a game-winning drive.

Most of Clausen’s yards came from dropping back and throwing deep to Floyd and Tate. Forcier, on the other hand, made plays happen all day, from juking ND linebacker Darius Fleming and sprinting 31 yards to a touchdown to eluding the pass rush and delivering perfect throws on the run.

2. Darryl Stonum
Stonum’s kickoff return for a touchdown put Michigan ahead 14-3 early.

Stonum also caught four passes for 54 yards and hustled down the field on Forcier’s punt to down the ball on the Notre Dame four-yard line.

3. Greg Mathews
The senior wide receiver has been a steady sure-handed receiver the past couple of years. Though he doesn’t quite have the breakout speed, he managed to make a great 40-yard reception on third-and-12 in the first quarter.

The biggest play of the day, however, came on the last play of the game, when Mathews caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Forcier.

“It was a slant-and-out,” Mathews said of the game-winning play. “I saw him sitting inside, so I knew we had a chance. I just had to sell the slant as well as I could. Tate was getting pressure. He made a wonderful throw, and I just had to do everything I could to catch the ball.”

Mathews finished the game with five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Five Go Blue Observations

*The Big House - UM vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 12, 2009

*The Big House - UM vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 12, 2009

1. The “maize-out” at the Big House looked great on TV, especially the block “M” in the student section. I haven’t been to a game yet this season, but it sure looks like the atmosphere and electricity in the Big House is a lot higher than past seasons.

Maybe I’m just disillusioned after what happened last season, but I think it’s more of a bi-product of Rich Rodriguez and the excitement he is bringing to Michigan football. I believe the fan base has bought into the “All-in for Michigan” mantra and it definitely shows on TV.

I can’t wait to get to another game.

2. I have to mention the difference that Brandon Minor made today. I wanted to put him in my “Three Stars” section, but snuck Mathews in because he made two great plays.

Minor, I think, really made a big difference in this game with his running in the third quarter. He finished with 16 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown. 80 of those yards came in the second half, helping Michigan take control of the clock and keep Notre Dame’s dynamic offense off the field.

But it’s not just rushing that Minor does well. He excels in pass blocking and is a big reason Forcier stays upright.

“Brandon brings so much because he’s so physical,” said UM offensive coordinator Calvin Magee. “He gave us so much protection on those passes, and then he ran hard. The guys follow Brandon because he’s a senior, and he runs hard and he’s physical.”

Minor will be a huge key to Michigan’s success this season if he stays healthy.

3. Credit Martavious Odoms for a big play for the second straight week. He doesn’t get as many looks this season as he did last season, because he’s not the only play maker Michigan has, but he’s still making a difference.

On Michigan’s game-winning drive, Odoms made a huge catch for a first down. On third-and-four at the Notre Dame 36, Odoms secured a low pass from Forcier to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.

*Michael Floyd makes a catch over Boubacar Cissoko, photy by David Guralnick/Detroit News

*Michael Floyd makes a catch over Boubacar Cissoko, photy by David Guralnick/Detroit News

4. I feel like we have to get Denard Robinson on the field more often. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with our offense. It has been great, averaging 34.5 points per game so far.

But Robinson is such a good athlete, I could see him being a Percy Harvin type player. I know Rich Rodriguez says Robinson is staying at quarterback, which is smart this season at least, in case anything happens to Forcier. But I can’t help but think of how explosive he could be lined up in the backfield, in the slot, returning punts, etc.

I know the coaching staff knows what they’re doing, so I’m certainly not questioning them.

5. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate remind me of Braylon Edwards. I think they make Clausen better than he actually is, just like Edwards helped make a true freshman Chad Henne look great in 2004. Just throw the ball up and they’ll go get it.

Five Non-Go Blue Observations

1. I can’t believe Michigan State lost to Central Michigan. I know Central has a good quarterback in Dan LeFevour, but wow. That gives me some hope that Michigan can go into East Lansing and pull out a road win.

2. I was really impressed with Ohio State’s defense against USC. The USC offensive line is supposed to be one of the top lines in the nation and OSU’s defensive line shredded them most of the game.

I am, however, interested in seeing how Ohio State responds this week against Toledo.

*Braylon Edwards makes a catch against Michigan State in 2004, photo by the Detroit News

*Braylon Edwards makes a catch against Michigan State in 2004, photo by the Detroit News

It’s not exactly a home game—in Cleveland Browns Stadium—and Toledo’s offense has looked great in its first two games. Granted, those two games were against Purdue and Colorado, and Toledo’s defense has given up a lot of points, but Ohio State better watch out in this one.

3. I’m looking forward to the Florida-Tennessee matchup this weekend. It’s in Gainesville, so I don’t think it will be much of a game, but it should be pretty chippy.

We all know the verbiage going back and forth between first-year UT head coach Lane Kiffin and some of the Florida players in the past few months, so it will be a fun game to watch.

4. Houston pulled off the latest upset of the week, beating No. 5 Oklahoma State 45-35. I still think OSU’s Dez Bryant is the best receiver in the nation.

5. I’m also looking forward to Texas-Texas Tech this weekend. I really like Colt McCoy and hope he wins the Heisman this year, but Tech features a QB that shares my namesake, Potts (not related).

He’s been impressive so far, averaging over 400 yards and five touchdowns per game.

Go Blue!