Yesterday afternoon, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan announced in a press conference that he would return to school for his senior season. It came as a surprise to nearly everybody as the 6’8″, 309-pound junior was projected to be a high first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. It’s rare for a player of his caliber to forego what would have certainly been a large paycheck, but it’s very refreshing to see.
During the Lloyd Carr tenure, especially as his career went on, it seemed that making the jump was pretty much the norm, though Jake Long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart all stayed for their senior season. Long, like Lewan, was a sure-fire high draft pick and parlayed the gamble to come back into the top overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Lewan has the potential to do the same as long as he can avoid the injury bug.
It’s always a risky move to put on hold an NFL contract for one more year of college ball. Just ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley who would have likely been a first round pick last season, but chose to return and suffered through a poor and injury-riddled season that will likely hurt his draft stock this April. On the other hand, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did the same a year ago and it payed off.
What’s most impressive in my opinion is the reasons Lewan stated for his decision. For one, he loves college, and that was evident more than ever during Wednesday night’s basketball game against Nebraska when Lewan got up in front of the band and led them in The Victors. Secondly, he stated that he has unfinished business, having not achieved a Big Ten title yet in his career. Third, Michigan has a long tradition of great offensive linemen such as Jon Jansen and Steve Hutchinson, in addition to Long, who have stayed through their senior years and still went on to long and productive NFL careers. Lewan realized that and what a special opportunity it is to play for Michigan.
“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something you want to be a part of,” Lewan said. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”
The other reason he gave for returning is the most telling and the most important: he wanted to be a leader the way last year’s senior offensive lineman, David Molk, was for the younger guys on the team. Brady Hoke has brought in a great haul of offensive linemen to fill a void that was left thin by the previous regime. While the young guys such as Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, Ben Braden, and Erik Magnuson, as well as this year’s incoming class, are extremely talented, perhaps nothing is more valuable than being able to grow and learn alongside an All-American to see what it takes to become one and what it takes to be a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft.
The foundation that was put in place by Janson and Hutchinson and Long and Molk has now transcended three coaching staffs and personifies exactly what it means to be a Michigan Man. Had Lewan chosen to make the leap, no one would have blamed him for doing so, but it would have left next year’s offensive line extremely young and inexperienced. That’s not a recipe for success in college football. His return provides leadership in addition to talent and it sets an example for the talented young guys.
“Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them develop into something where they can possibly be in my position in a couple years,” Lewan said.
Lewan’s return is probably the best news Michigan could have received this offseason – better than any recruit Hoke will sign on Feb. 6 – because it will have both an instant impact next season and a residual impact on the future of the offensive line. Bravo to Lewan for embodying what college football is supposed to be about rather than simply using it as a stepping stone to the riches of the NFL.
Posts Tagged ‘Taylor Lewan’
A month has passed since Michigan last set foot on the gridiron, yet the sour taste of defeat from that post-Thanksgiving Saturday has not escaped. Because of the rivalry nature of the game and the way it went down, it will continue to sting, but there’s one thing that can at least wash it down until next season: Gamecock.
Michigan is historically average in bowl games (20 wins in 42 appearances), but has won two of its last three and also won the last Outback Bowl it played in 10 years ago.
Raymond James Stadium - Tampa, Florida
In the grand scheme of things, this game won’t have much significance for the program, win or lose, since it’s still in the process of being rebuilt, but it goes without saying that a win would give the team some momentum heading into the offseason.
Perhaps the main thing riding on the game is Denard Robinson’s legacy. The lovable, dreadlocked highlight-reel waiting to happen will long be remembered as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue, but can he shed the perception that he can’t win big games? To go in depth on the topic is for another story, but a great performance against a great defense on the national stage would be a fitting sendoff for the man who has given the program the face of a Michigan Man through the tumultuous times.
South Carolina will be the fourth team in the AP top 11 that Michigan has faced (would be BCS Top 10 if Ohio State were eligible). Michigan lost to the other three. The Gamecocks are statistically very similar to Michigan, but lost just two games, to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks in October. The Gamecocks avoided playing Alabama and Texas A&M, and played a non-conference schedule of East Carolina (8-5), UAB (3-9), Wofford (9-4 FCS), and Clemson (10-2).
When South Carolina has the ball
As we showed in our First Look, South Carolina averages about a point more than Michigan and gives up about a point less. Michigan has the better rushing game by about 45 yards per game, while South Carolina has the better passing game by about 30.
One of the most interesting aspects to watch will be how Steve Spurrier utilizes his two quarterbacks. Connor Shaw was the starter for most of the season and completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,732 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards, but averages just 2.8 yards per rush, sacks removed. His 173.2 passing yards per game ranked 11th in the SEC, but he avoided making mistakes for the most part. His best game of the season came against Tennessee when he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns. His worst game was a 9-for-20, 72-yard performance against Florida.
The other quarterback in the equation is sophomore Dylan Thompson who started two games, against East Carolina and the season finale against Clemson. In those two, he completed 44-of-78 passes for 640 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. He also played considerable time against Florida, completing just 8-of-20 passes for 83 yards and an interception. He’s not the runner Shaw is, but obviously has the better arm.
Shaw is accurate when given time to throw, but will either take off or throw off balance if faced with pressure. Thompson has the ability to pick Michigan’s defense apart. Spurrier has said that both will play, but what is unclear is how much of each we will see.
The running game is average at best without Marcus Lattimore who missed the final three games of the season after tearing his ACL. Lattimore had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry through the first eight games, but the leading rusher now is senior Kenny Miles who has 358 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Miles’ rushing totals in the three games he was the feature back mirrored his season ypc average, but if you remove the game against FCS Wofford, it dips to just 2.7. Freshman Mike Davis split time with Miles late in the season and averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 28 attempts.
The receivers are mostly little guys of the Jeremy Gallon variety. The most dangerous is Ace Sanders, a 5’8″, 175-pound slot man who has 36 receptions for 439 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. He’s coming off his best game, a six-catch, 119-yard performance against Clemson. Bruce Ellington (5’9″) leads the team in receptions (38) and yards (564) and also has six touchdowns. He had back-to-back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas. Lattimore had the third-most receptions on the team prior to going down, while Miles has 16, 10 of which came in the final three games. Tight end Rory Anderson is third on the team with five touchdowns, though he has caught just 13 passes, while fellow tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 receptions for 287 yards.
The offensive line is ok but not great. They are big and athletic, averaging about 320 pounds, and are built to manhandle defensive linemen. But they have allowed 35 sacks on the season and haven’t given the Gamecocks much of a rush offense once Lattimore went down. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines have recorded just 19 sacks all season and may not be able to take advantage of this weakness.
Look for Carolina to try to force Michigan to stop the run at first, to see if Michigan’s defensive line can stop an SEC rushing game. Also expect the old ball coach to let Thompson try to pick apart the Michigan secondary with an underneath passing game, getting the ball to playmakers in space. Also, expect them to test Courtney Avery often, who is filling in for the suspended J.T. Floyd.
When Michigan has the ball
Defensively, SC has the better rush defense and Michigan has the better pass defense and Michigan gives up an average of just one fewer total yards per game. Both defenses hold opponents to 36 percent third-down conversion rate.
All of the talk heading into the game centers around the matchup between Michigan All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and SC’s All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney led the nation 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss and is already talking about contending for the Heisman Trophy next season. He’s the type of freak athlete that NFL teams will love to get their hands on when he enters the NFL Draft following the 2013 season. A lot of pressure will be on Lewan to hold him in check, which virtually no one has been able to do all season, and keep the combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner upright.
But Clowney isn’t the only good player the Gamecocks have on defense. The other end, Devin Taylor, has three sacks and eight tackles for loss and is a good athlete. The interior is merely average, although Michigan’s interior offensive line is just average as well, which will negate any advantage in the interior run game.
The linebackers, led by senior middle linebacker Reggie Bowens, are solid. DeVonte Holloman is a playmaker at the Spur position and free safety D.J. Swearinger is good in run support. The rest of the secondary is made up of aggressive ball hawks that are good cover men, but tend to try to make the big play or strip the ball rather than make the tackle, which leads to extra yards.
For Michigan’s offense to have any success at all, it’s going to have to feature the creativity that Al Borges displayed in the Iowa game. Michigan isn’t going to be able to line up and run right at the Gamecocks or simply rely on Gardner dropping back to pass often. He’ll have Cloweny or Taylor in his face all day. Denard is going to have to line up all over the field and be used in several different ways, both as a playmaker and a decoy. Most importantly, Borges has to show, or at least make the defense believe that Denard can and will pass the ball anytime he has it in his hands. That wasn’t the case against Ohio State and the Buckeyes shut him down in the second half.
The other third
Rushing Attempts: 19 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Kicker Adam Yates made 11 of 15 attempts with a long of 51. He also had two blocked. Punter Tyler Hull averaged just 39.4 yards per punt, which ranked last in the SEC. Where the Gamecocks are dangerous is on punt returns. Ace Sanders ranks fourth nationally with an average of 14.5 yards per punt return. By comparison, Gallong averages just 5.5. Sanders returned one for a touchdown and is capable of doing so at any time. Ellington is the kick returner and is merely average at 22.2 yards per.
The outcome of this game rests squarely on Borges and his ability to find enough offensive creativity to negate Clowney. The good thing is he had five weeks to gameplan and practice with Denard in various packages and formations, as opposed to trying to throw him in during a normal game week. Denard should be much more familiar with the offense from a variety of spots than he was against Iowa or Ohio State. I think this gives Michigan an advantage over South Carolina because the Gamecocks really don’t know how Borges will utilize Denard. It’s not like they have 12 games worth of tape to study.
There won’t be much scoring in this one and. Expect a similar score as last year’s Sugar Bowl. Borges’ offense may work well early in the game, giving Michigan hope, but it will be important to sustain it as Carolina adjusts. If Lewan and Michael Schofield can’t keep Clowney and Taylor out of the backfield, it could be a long day for Michigan.
Defensively, there likely won’t be many big plays given up as SC will run right at Michigan and dink and dunk underneath. Aside from the Lewan-Clowney matchup, the Spurrier-Greg Mattison matchup will be very intriguing as both are considere masterminds on their respective side of the ball. Will Mattison be able to adjust to a multiple quarterback offense?
Overall, it will be a close game with neither team pulling away, but short of Michigan executing flawlessly on offense, it’s hard to see the Wolverines pulling it out. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20
In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.
Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.
To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.
Click here to revisit last year’s awards.
|Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson|
This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.
Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”
It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.
Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.
“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)
|Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.
“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”
Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.
As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.
“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schulz Defensive Player of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.
To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”
He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)
|Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison|
For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.
In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.
“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.
Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).
“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)
|Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State|
After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.
Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.
In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.
It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.
“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)
|Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern|
When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.
Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.
It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.
Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)
|Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force|
After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.
The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.
“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)
|Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)|
Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.
While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.
“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”
Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*|
Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.
Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.
No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.
As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.
Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)
|Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon|
The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.
“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.
The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.
“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)
|Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan|
Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.
In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.
“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”
Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell|
William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.
The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.
“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)
|Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan|
Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.
He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.
“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)
|Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs|
When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.
Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.
“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)
|Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)|
Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.
“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”
Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.
He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.
“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess|
Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.
Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.
“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ‘em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson|
Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.
“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”
“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner|
Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.
In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.
Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.
“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)
* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.
The All-Big Ten teams were announced on Monday night and several Wolverines were among them. Taylor Lewan received the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award and Will Hagerup got the Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award. No other school in the conference had more than two individual players win awards, though Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin also had two each.
Lewan and Patrick Omameh were named to the First Team by the coaches, while the coaches named Craig Roh and Jordan Kovacs to the Second Team. The media had Lewan and Hagerup First Team and Jake Ryan Second Team.
These teams are always gimmicky in that outside of the obvious, the coaches and media tend to differ vastly. The coaches thought Omameh was deserving of First Team honors while the media merely had him Honorable Mention. While Hagerup was named the Big Ten’s best punter, he wasn’t even on the first or second team by the coaches.
The full list of individual awards winners and All-Big Ten teams are listed below. Five other individual trophy winners will be announced on Tuesday.
|First Team||Offense||Second Team|
|Taylor Martinez||Nebraska||QB||Braxton Miller||Ohio State|
|Le’Veon Bell||Michigan State||RB||Ameer Abdullah||Nebraska|
|Montee Ball||Wisconsin||RB||Venric Mark||Northwestern|
|Carlos Hyde||Ohio State|
|Allen Robinson||Penn State||WR||Kenny Bell||Nebraska|
|Jared Abbrederis||Wisconsin||WR||Corey Brown||Ohio State|
|Matt Stankiewitch||Penn State||C||James Ferentz||Iowa|
|Patrick Omameh||Michigan||G||Ryan Groy||Wisconsin|
|John Urschel||Penn State||G|
|Taylor Lewan||Michigan||T||Hugh Thornton||Illinois|
|Rick Wagner||Wisconsin||T||Jeremiah Sirles||Nebraska|
|Jacob Pederson||Wisconsin||TE||Dion Sims||Michigan State|
|Jeff Budzien||Northwestern||K||Brett Maher||Nebraska|
|First Team||Defense||Second Team|
|Johnathan Hankins||Ohio State||DL||Michael Buchanan||Illinois|
|John Simon||Ohio State||DL||Adam Replogle||Indiana|
|Jordan Hill||Penn State||DL||Craig Roh||Michigan|
|Kawann Short||Purdue||DL||Eric Martin||Nebraska|
|Max Bullough||Michigan State||LB||Will Compton||Nebraska|
|Michael Mauti||Penn State||LB||Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
|Chris Borland||Wisconsin||LB||Gerald Hodges||Penn State|
|Micah Hyde||Iowa||DB||Jordan Kovacs||Michigan|
|Johnny Adams||Michigan State||DB||Daimion Stafford||Nebraska|
|Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State||DB||Christian Bryant||Ohio State|
|Bradley Roby||Ohio State||DB||Ricardo Allen||Purdue|
|Mike Sadler||Michigan State||P||Brett Maher||Nebraska|
|First Team||Offense||Second Team|
|Braxton Miller||Ohio State||QB||Taylor Martinez||Nebraska|
|Le’Veon Bell||Michigan State||RB||Venric Mark||Northwestern|
|Montee Ball||Wisconsin||RB||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State|
|Allen Robinson||Penn State||WR||Cody Latimer||Indiana|
|Jared Abbrederis||Wisconsin||WR||Kenny Bell||Nebraska|
|Travis Frederick||Wisconsin||C||Matt Stankiewitch||Penn State|
|Spencer Long||Nebraska||G||Brian Mulroe||Northwestern|
|Andrew Norwell||Ohio State||G||John Urschel||Penn State|
|Taylor Lewan||Michigan||T||Jeremiah Sirles||Nebraska|
|Rick Wagner||Wisconsin||T||Jack Mewhort||Ohio State|
|Kyle Carter||Penn State||TE||Dion Sims||Michigan State|
|Brett Maher||Nebraska||K||Jeff Budzien||Northwestern|
|First Team||Defense||Second Team|
|Eric Martin||Nebraska||DL||Adam Replogle||Indiana|
|John Simon||Ohio State||DL||William Gholston||Michigan State|
|Jordan Hill||Penn State||DL||D.L. Wilhite||Minnesota|
|Kawann Short||Purdue||DL||Johnathan Hankins||Ohio State|
|Ryan Shazier||Ohio State||LB||Jake Ryan||Michigan|
|Michael Mauti||Penn State||LB||Max Bullough||Michigan State|
|Mike Taylor||Wisconsin||LB||Gerald Hodges||Penn State|
|Micah Hyde||Iowa||DB||Johnny Adams||Michigan State|
|Daimion Stafford||Nebraska||DB||Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|Travis Howard||Ohio State||DB||Josh Johnson||Purdue|
|Bradley Roby||Ohio State||DB||Devin Smith||Wisconsin|
|Will Hagerup||Michigan||P||Mike Sadler||Michigan State|
All-Big ten honorable mention honorees can be found here.
For about 25 minutes on Saturday, Michigan remained in prime position to sieze control of the Big Ten Legends division. The Wolverine defense had held Nebraska’s high-powered offense to just seven points and 113 total yards of offense and was marching down the field to take the lead with time running short in the first half. On 2nd-and-7 from the Nebraska 15, Denard Robinson rushed to his left, cut back to his right just before the sideline, and picked up a first down inside the ‘Husker 10-yard line setting up a 1st-and-goal. And then the world stopped.
Like he has done so often in his career, Denard didn’t get right back up, and Michigan fans across the country held their collective breaths. This time, however, he stayed down and when backup Russell Bellomy took over, Denard didn’t come right back in after a few plays. Bellomy proceeded to run for one yard and throw two incomplete passes, leading to a 24-yard field goal to pull within one. It was the closest Michigan would get.
The second half became a show of offensive ineptitude as Bellomy threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan four on Michigan’s first possession. The defense held strong, forcing a field goal. Two straight Michigan three-and-outs led to two more Nebraska field goals and Michigan’s chances were slipping away. Michigan’s lone scoring drive of the second half included 45 yards of Nebraska penalties - a personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct, and pass interference – while the Wolverines gained just 17.
Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a punt and giving the ball back to the offense with a chance to tie the game, but Bellomy responded with another interception that led to Nebraska’s final, game-sealing touchdown.
In the immediate, it puts Nebraska in the driver’s seat for the Legends division. Both teams have one loss in conference, but Nebraska holds the current tie-breaker because of their head-to-head win. If the ‘Huskers win out, they’ll advance to the Big Ten Championship game against the winner of the Leaders division. Michigan almost certainly has to win all of its remaining games against Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State and needs Nebraska to drop one of its remaining contests.
In the broader context, this won’t go down in history as a classic Michigan-Nebraska contest. The chances for that went out the window the moment Denard went down. As Katie discussed last week, the previous seven meetings between the two teams turned in some close contests including a 6-6 tie in 1911 and a 27-23 Michigan victory in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. This one had the makings of an epic showdown until Denard went down, but Bellomy wasn’t ready for primetime. His 3-for-16, 38-yard, three-interception performance was perhaps one of the worst in Michigan history.
So who is to blame for the letdown in Lincoln? Many are calling for Al Borges’ firing and many others are pounding Bellomy for not being ready. In reality, it’s a little of both, but not to that degree. There’s not a team in the nation that has both the playmaking ability of Denard from its starter and a backup that could pick up right where he left off when thrown into the fire. Ohio State would be in trouble if Braxton Miller went down against a competent defense (read: not Purdue). Much has been made about how the only thing that could keep Alabama from running the table is losing A.J. McCarron. The list goes on.
Many are blasting the coaching staff for not having Devin Gardner ready, but they’re also the same ones that were clamoring for moving Gardner to receiver before the season started. The simple fact of the matter is that while Michigan has improved since Hoke took over, the roster is still thin at certain positions. Receiver is one of them, necessitating Gardner’s move, and quarterback is the other since Tate Forcier flamed out.
Hoke and Borges felt that Bellomy was the team’s second best option at quarterback and Gardner’s athleticism was too good to keep off the field. While Gardner hasn’t exactly had a game-changing impact, he does lead the team with four touchdown catches, and the passing game as a whole is pretty bad. How much worse would it be without him? Bellomy, on the other hand, is likely better than his performance showed on Saturday, but like I mentioned above, he was thrown into about the worse possible scenario. As Chris discussed in his MMQ segment yesterday, once Bellomy came in, the Nebraska coaching staff unleashed the defense on him and Borges didn’t adjust the game plan to sufficiently counter it. There was a fantastic diary on MGoBlog that broke down why Michigan’s quarterback situation is the way it is, and I couldn’t agree more.
Of course the loss hurt and it leaves Michigan without control of its own destiny in its pursuit of winning the Big Ten. But let’s be realistic. Most thought this was an 8-4 or 9-3 team before the season started. In fact, it has played out exactly how I thought it would so far, even though I changed my pick against both Notre Dame and Nebraska. There’s a very good chance Michigan would have beaten Nebraska if Denard hadn’t gotten hurt, but we’ll never know. But don’t give up on this team. We have four games and a bowl left to witness a player the likes of which we’ll never see again in a winged helmet. Relish it. And then we can talk about who should be Michigan’s next quarterback.
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UMass kicked off to begin the game, and it sailed out of bounds. The rest of the afternoon wasn’t much better for the Minutemen as Michigan cruised to a 63-13 victory. Michigan had nine touchdowns scored by eight different players and was 6-for-6 inside the red zone. Denard Robinson accounted for almost 400 total yards and four total touchdowns, and Fitz Toussaint looked like his old self again with 85 yards and a TD. No Michigan receiver caught more than three balls (Drew Dileo), as Denard (and Russell Bellomy in the fourth quarter) spread the ball around well.
Devin Gardner showed off his extreme athleticism on a 42-yard touchdown reception in the first half that was almost surreal to watch as he outran the defense, tip-toed the sideline and dove to the pylon after being shoved by a UMass defender. Dileo added a nice 66-yard reception to set up one of Vincent Smith’s two touchdowns, and even redshirt freshman running back Justice Hayes got in on the action late with the first TD of his career.
Speaking of first touchdowns, Taylor Lewan scored his first on a fumble recovery after Denard fumbled on the goal line. Hopefully this is the last time Lewan finds himself in the end zone that way.
Michigan didn’t take long to put points on the board as Denard hit a wide open Devin Funchess on a 26-yard slant on Michigan’s fifth play of the game, and he took it in for six. The rest of the game went pretty much the same way as Michigan put up 42 before halftime.
However, UMass gave a good effort and had its moments. Former Michigan running back and alum, Mike Cox, ran the ball hard and was tough take down, while the Minutemen took back an interception for their only TD of the day. Their best play, however, was a flea flicker in the second quarter that went for a big gain inside the 20. The drive stalled though and they had to settle for a field goal, as they did on one other drive as well. In the end, Michigan was just too much, as we all expected, and the Wolverines prevailed 63-13.
Despite the end result, the Minutemen fought and fought hard. Both their offensive and defensive lines gave Michigan all they could handle in the early going, but faded as the game went on. Denard was 16-24 for 291 and 3 touchdowns, but he wasn’t as efficient as he could have been and still struggled to make good reads and stepping into his throws. The pick-six he threw was a horrible ball that should never have been thrown in the first place.
The Wolverines still have a lot to work on but this game gave them a nice confidence boost and a glimpse of the uptempo spread-style offense Notre Dame will employ next week, as UMass head coach Charlie Molnar is a former assistant of Brian Kelly’s going all the way back to his days at Central Michigan. If Michigan wants to leave South Bend with a win next week they will need to bring their A-game. Notre Dame looked very good, especially up front, against the Spartans in East Lansing on Saturday night and year three looks to be the year for Brian Kelly and the Irish, something not every recent ND coach can say.
Brady Hoke will most likely never be satisfied with his team’s effort, and that’s fine with me. There is always something to be improved upon. Look for Michigan to have a good week of practice and be ready to take on the Golden Domers under the lights next Saturday in what should be another epic battle.
1. Denard Robinson
Passing: 16-24 291 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
Rushing: 10 rushes for 109 yards, 1 touchdown
Why? Denard was his vintage self on his lone touchdown run, pulling down a would-be pass, rushing to his left, cutting back across the field, and outrunning the defense to the end zone. But he also got it done with his arm, passing for nearly 300 yards in three quarters. He spread the ball around to nine different receivers and passed Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh on the career passing yards list.
2. Drew Dileo
Receiving: 3 catches for 91 yards
Why? The diminutive receiver had the best game of his young career, nearly reaching 100 yards receiving. He provided exactly what Michigan needs – another receiving weapon to step up. If Denard can continue to find Dileo and Jeremy Gallon from the slot position, it will take some of the pressure off of Devin Gardner and Roy Roundtree on the outside.
3. Fitz Toussaint
Rushing: 15 rushes for 87 yards, 1 touchdown
Why? In his second game back from suspension, Toussaint showed what we all saw last season: shiftiness and a knack for picking up yards. It was important to get him going with Notre Dame coming up, and he made the most of it, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Lewan. The junior left tackle recorded the first touchdown of his career, recovering a Denard fumble at the goal line. Denard said after the game that Lewan wasn’t happy about it because if he had made the block, Denard wouldn’t have gotten hit and fumbled in the first place, but he’ll happily take the points.
Denard Robinson came up just three yards short of 400 total yards against UMass in just over three quarters of work. He passed Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh on the all-time passing list, and John Navarre on the career total yards list, and tied Chris Perry on the career rushing touchdown list.
- The interception was a bad throw
- He could have played better. He missed some throws he should have made
- He doesn’t worry about records; just being accountable to his teammates
- He’s comfortable with Elliott Mealer
- Taylor Lewan was mad about scoring a touchdown
- He just loves to play football, regardless of who it’s against
- He’s watching the Michigan State – Notre Dame game tonight
Full transcript is below.
On what he saw on the pick-six…
“Jeremy Jackson came open. I just threw it behind him and it was a bad throw. It was a good read, just a bad throw. I need to put my feet into it and follow through with the throw.”
On the block by Joe Kerridge on his long touchdown run…
“When you’re on the football team, everybody on the field has to be accountable, even from the scouts and everybody. When Joe gets on the field I know he’s going to be accountable. He just told me about it.”
On whether this was the type of game they needed to have entering the tougher part of the schedule…
“We needed to get a good win and everyday we need to come out and get better. We came out today (and) I feel like we got better, but we still have some things to work on.”
On his performance…
“I left a couple throws out on the field that I knew I should have made. I missed (Jeremy) Gallon on one throw and I missed Devin (Gardner) on another one, so those are throws that I think I need to improve on and try not to leave them on the field.”
On passing Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh in passing yards…
“To be honest with you, the only thing I think about is winning and just going out there and being accountable to my team. So when it comes to records, it’s just going out there and playing football with the team.”
On the performance of the running backs…
“They ran the ball well and we have to keep doing it. We have to keep getting better every time we get out on the football field.”
On his comfort level with Elliott Mealer after three games…
“I’ve been comfortable with him since the first game. We’ve been working all summer and all winter and all spring, so I feel really comfortable.”
On the importance of no injuries today…
“It’s always good to have healthy guys and always good to have the guys that we count on. If somebody does go down, somebody (else) will be ready to play anyhow. We just have to stay healthy and every time we get a chance, improve.”
On getting Roy Roundtree involved in the game today…
“Oh yeah. Once he got open and I made the right reads and got him the ball, he’s a phenomenal athlete and receiver. I enjoy throwing the ball to him, so when he gets open and I the a chance to throw it to him I know he’s going to make something happen.”
On whether the game plan was to spread the ball around…
“I think whoever comes open, that’s who I throw the ball to. I go through my reads and go through the progression and just look at the defense and see what comes open.”
On the fumble on the goal line and whether Taylor Lewan was happy to get the touchdown…
“Actually he was kind of mad because if I would have kept going outside he would have probably made that block on the guy that hit me. I have to make the right reads and I have to hold onto the ball. That’s first thing’s first – always protect the ball. He just told me we scored and that’s the main thing.”
On still being in the game, up 49-13…
“That was for the team, everybody on the team. We knew we had to come out and play well and Massachusetts was a good team. We knew we had to play well and we have to get better every time we step on the field. So that’s what coach wanted to do.”
On what it is about Notre Dame that brings out the best in him…
“To be honest with you, it’s going out there and playing football. Whenever I get on the football field, I want to play my best and be accountable to my team. So when I get the chance to run the ball or throw the ball, I want to do it to the best of my abilities.”
On Russell Bellomy’s performance…
“He played calm and I enjoyed watching him play calm because even though he had a little pressure on the edge, he tried to step up in the pocket and you could tell that he had confidence. I think he’s going to do pretty well.”
On whether he will watch Michigan State – Notre Dame tonight and whether he can gain anything from watching a game like that on TV…
“Oh yeah. Watching football in general, when you watch the game, you don’t look at it like a regular person anymore. You look at it because you watch and break down film all the time. You watch the plays and you watch how they play. So tonight when I watch the game, I’m going to look at it and see what we can do on them.”
Under Rich Rodriguez, offense was the name of the game and defense was an afterthought. The offense soared to heights Michigan fans weren’t used to, but it struggled against the tougher defenses. It was both exciting and frustrating at the same time.
When Brady Hoke took over and brought in Al Borges as his offensive coordinator, many wondered how the offense would change. Would he do what Rodriguez did in year one and immediately run his offense? This would mean completely transitioning from the spread to the west coast. Would he move Denard Robinson to receiver in favor of a quarterback that better fit the mold of his style of offense? Can the offense be as potent as it was under Rodriguez or would it be as inept as it was in Rodriguez’s first year?
All of those questions were answered convincingly as Borges put his faith in Denard and adapted his offense around Denard’s abilities. Sure it took a few games to really develop an offensive identity, but by the end of the season it was rolling.
This year, Denard and the rest of the offense knows the system and will look to refine it. Borges knows the tools he has at his disposal and will look to add wrinkles that will take it to new heights. So let’s take a look at the personnel that will make up the 133rd edition of Michigan’s offense.
Projected Starter: Denard Robinson
It has been five years since Michigan entered a season with so much promise at the quarterback position. In 2007, Chad Henne was a senior, fourth year starter and Michigan entered , but that didn’t end too well. Henne missed three games with an injury and the Wolverines finished a disappointing 9-4.
It’s no secret that Denard Robinson is the most exciting player in college football at the moment. He has two straight 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He’s poised to finish in the top five in Michigan history in most passing and rushing categories. The past two seasons have been new: in 2010, he was a first year starter and in 2011, he was learning a brand new offense under a new coach. This season, he knows the offense and can take it a step further.
Borges has seen first-hand the kind of improvement that can bring with quarterback he coached, Cade McNown at UCLA. McNown was last in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency during his first year in Borges’ offense, but ranked second in the nation in his second year. Expecting that kind of leap from Denard is probably asking too much, but a noticeable leap should be expected.
Backups: Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy are the backups, though Gardner will likely see more time at receiver this season. Bellomy isn’t the dual-threat quarterback that Robinson and Gardner are, but his progression since last season have allowed Borges to feel comfortable moving Gardner to receiver.
Projected Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint*
The listing of Toussaint as the projected starter is to be taken with a grain of salt. Toussaint was to be the clear starter until is DUI arrest in late July. The junior gave Michigan a dangerous running game to complement and take some of the pressure off of Robinson last season. He was the first Michigan running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Mike Hart in 2007 and he didn’t really even break out until a few games into the season. This year, he was expected to improve on those numbers, but at this point it’s unclear how many games (if any) he will be suspended for.
His arrest opens the door for sophomore Thomas Rawls to step in. The likely starter in the season opener, Rawls has yet to start a game, but has impressed throughout the spring and fall.
“He’s got Mike Hart kind of feet, but a lot faster than Mike,” said running backs coach Fred Jackson. Granted, Jackson hypes every running back, but Jackson also compares Rawls to former Michigan back Chris Perry and former Alabama back Mark Ingram. That’s some good company to be in, and if he’s even close to that, we’re in for a treat the next few years.
Backups: It’s hard to classify Vincent Smith as a backup since he has so much experience and is essentially Michigan’s third-down back, but he’s behind both Toussaint and Rawls. He has started 11 games in his career and played in 33, so he’s the most experienced back on the team. He’s also versatile enough to do more than just carry the ball. Against Minnesota last season, he rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass, and threw a touchdown, becoming the first player in modern Michigan history to do so.
Stephen Hopkins is the biggest back on the team and will be the main fullback. At 240 pounds, he’ll be a force in the backfield when Michigan goes big. Justice Hayes is a redshirt freshman to be excited about. He likely won’t see much time in the backfield this season, but once Smith graduates, he’ll move into the role of third-down back. Hoke likes Hayes’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, so he may see time in certain packages.
Receivers and Tight Ends
A position with the most questions entering the season is receiver. The loss of Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, and Kevin Koger to graduation, as well as Darryl Stonum who was dismissed from the team. The leading returning starter, Roy Roundtree, doesn’t have a lot of hype nationally because of reduced production last season. However, he proved in 2010 that he’s capable of thriving in a leading role. That season, he finished second in the Big Ten with 72 receptions for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.
The main question with Roundtree is how quickly will he recover from arthroscopic knee surgery? The coaches expect him back next week, in time to play against Alabama, but will he be at full strength?
The next most experienced receiver is Jeremy Gallon, a small slot guy who only emerged last season. He had his coming out party against Notre Dame when he caught two passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, the most important being a 64-yard reception to set up the game-winning touchdown. He’s sure handed and plays bigger than he is, but also has the quickness to make plays from the slot position.
Aside from Roundtree and Gallon, Michigan will need some guys to step up and the coaches are hoping Jerald Robinson will be it. He played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season but didn’t record a catch. He has the size (6’1″, 215) to fill Hemingway’s role.
The biggest wild card of the position is Gardner. He hasn’t played receiver in a game yet, but he has the athleticism and knowledge of the offense to excel at the position. At 6’4″, 203 pounds, Gardner will be Michigan’s tallest receiver. Since practices have been closed to the media and the players and coaches haven’t talked about or shown anything regarding Gardner at receiver, how well the experience works out will be a mystery until the season starts.
At tight end, Brandon Moore will get the nod. He was Koger’s main backup last season and Borges thinks he’s ready.
“Brandon’s got some talent,” Borges said. “In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone, and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”
Backups: Jeremy Jackson will see a lot of time, especially if he proves he can catch the ball consistently and block on the outside. The son of running backs coach Fred Jackson has played in 22 career games but has just seven receptions for 91 yards.
Drew Dileo is similar to Gallon, small and quick. Last season, he caught nine passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, so he’ll see some tim ein the slot as well.
Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will both get a chance to contribute. Darboh already has the size (6’2″, 220) of a veteran receiver and Chesson was a track star in high school. Darboh has impressed in the first couple weeks of fall camp.
“He’s really fast and strong,” said Roundtree after the first practice. “He just showed out today. I feel like he’s really being comfortable. I told him ‘it’s football man. It’s just a faster pace,’ and he did it.”
Freshman A.J. Williams will be featured as a tight end backing up Moore. At 6’6″, 283 pounds, he’s a big body, but Hoke likes his ability to run as well. When asked if he was too heavy, Hoke responded.
“Depends on what you want him to do,” Hoke said. “He runs well enough. I shouldn’t say surprisingly, because we recruited him. We must have thought he ran well enough. But for moving that big body around, he’s not bad.”
Lewan is far and away the star of the line. An All-Big Ten second team member last season, Lewan started every game at left tackle and will likely be a first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft if he foregoes his senior year. He has struggled with the mental side of his game and controlling his temper early in his career, but has grown up as a junior.
Barnum is the center, moving into the position from left guard to replace David Molk. Omameh has started 29 straight games at right guard. Though he hasn’t earned any conference recognition, he has been a solid member of the line. Schofield made 10 starts at left guard last year but is moving over to right tackle this season. Tackle is more of his natural position and will allow him to thrive.
The position that hasn’t been locked down yet is left guard where Elliott Mealer and Joey Burzynski are battling it out. I think Mealer will win the job to start the season, and not just because of his epic beard. As a fifth-year senior, he has played in 37 career games in a backup role. Burzynski is a former walk-on who saw time in four games last season. Neither is the future of the position, but Mealer’s experience should give him the nod.
Backups: Kyle Kalis is also in the mix to win the starting left guard spot, but as a true freshman it’s a very hard position to pick up quickly. He’s more likely to take over the center position in 2013. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant is trying to work his way into the lineup and will see reserve time at either guard position. Jack Miller is the backup center ready to fill in if Barnum struggles. Freshman Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden will also get a chance. Magnuson is the heir apparent to Lewan and will move into his role when he departs. Braden has drawn high praise from the coaches while working his way into the two-deep.
For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.
Tomorrow: Defense Preview
Thursday: Record Watch
Friday: Schedule Predictions
With another losing season in the books, the Michigan football program appears to be in disarray to many outsiders, as well as a fraction of the Michigan fan-base.
But is everything doom and gloom for this squad, or is there help on the way? Is head coach Rich Rodriguez in over his head in the Big Ten, or has he already laid the groundwork for success?On this Thanksgiving day, as we visit with loved ones, stuff our faces with turkey and pumpkin pie, and watch the Cowboys and Lions, let’s take an early look at what the 2010 version of Michigan football will look like.
Certainly a lot of questions have to be answered, and I believe it starts with the players Rodriguez already has in the program.
Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier played the entire season and at times looked like a confident veteran, but at times looked every bit the 18-year old freshman he was.
He enrolled early at Michigan last January, a move that greatly helped earn him the starting job over last year’s returning starter, walk-on junior Nick Sheridan.
Forcier led comeback wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, brought the team back from 14 points down to force overtime at Michigan State, and performed well in late-season conference games against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
But he was also prone to throwing the ball up for grabs, not securing the ball when scrambling, and making the wrong reads on zone option running plays.
These mistakes speak more toward his youth and inexperience than his true talent level. His solid performances showed he has the talent to be Michigan’s quarterback for the next three years.
The good thing is that the mistakes are correctable and will be cured by more time spent on the practice field, in the film room, and in the weight room. In short, we have a bright future ahead at the quarterback position.
Another off-season under strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis will help Forcier add muscle to his slight frame and help avoid injuries. Many forget that Forcier played most of the season with a sprained AC join in his shoulder – the same injury Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford suffered, albeit to a lesser degree.
As Forcier gets more practice time and learns more of the playbook, his understanding of Rodriguez’s complicated “spread-n-shred” offense will grow.
Many of those misreads when he kept the ball instead of handing it off, or when he handed it off and should have kept it, will be fixed next year and in the years that follow.
In addition, he will improve with his passing reads, as he gets more comfortable in the system. This season, he tended to pull it down and scramble the instant he sniffed pressure. His creativity and ability to throw on the run covered up some of these problems, but it also led to turnovers or a failure to throw the ball away.
You can’t fault the kid for trying too hard. Some of the ill advised throws were a result of just trying to make something happen, but will be fixed with experience. Some of the plays he made in the comeback against Notre Dame were the same type of plays that resulted in turnovers down the stretch, as was glaringly evident against the great defense of Ohio State.
Forcier’s background leads me to believe he’ll be a fantastic quarterback. He was groomed to play the position, trained under Marv Marinovich, and has two older brothers that play quarterback as well. The mechanics are there, as is the quarterback mentality. Now, he just needs to develop in Rodriguez’s offense and he’ll be fine.
Michigan’s other quarterback, fellow freshman Denard Robinson has a lot further to go in his development, but is also a great fit for Rodriguez’s offense.
Robinson didn’t enroll early, so he had only about a month of practice prior to Michigan’s opening game against Western Michigan. The majority of the action Robinson saw was designed runs to utilize his athletic ability.
Early in the season it worked. He scored four rushing touchdowns in Michigan’s first seven games. As the season progressed and the meat of the schedule was reached, opposing defenses caught on and stacked up to stop the run whenever he entered the game.
It was frustrating at times to see Robinson come in, knowing he was going to run, and get stuffed for little gain. Yet, we have to remember that he had very little practice time and doesn’t yet possess the passing ability needed to be a quarterback for a major Division 1 quarterback.
Unlike Forcier, who already possesses the mechanical skills, Robinson will take more work to develop. But his upside is his athletic ability, which is much greater than Forcier’s.
His touchdown run against Western Michigan left Michigan fans salivating for him to be used in a Percy Harvin-type role.
Late in the season we saw more plays in which Robinson lined up in the backfield next to Forcier or spread out wide running a fly pattern. Against Ohio State, he was thrown to deep a couple of times, although neither was completed, and one was intercepted.
I think we were all a bit impatient throughout the season, assuming that it would be easy to thrust him into plays at running back or receiver. However, with the dire need of quarterback depth in case of a Forcier injury, and merely the fact that Robinson was a true freshman, time spent practicing plays at other positions meant time spent not developing at quarterback.
In the future, when Rodriguez adds to the quarterback depth, he will have more flexibility in using Robinson in other roles. But during the course of this season, I think we overlooked the need to keep him where he was.
Next year, that depth will be added to by Inkster, Mich. quarterback Devin Gardner. The dual-threat quarterback fits the mold of Rodriguez’s ideal quarterback perfectly and his arrival in Ann Arbor is highly anticipated.
In his senior season at Inkster High School, Gardner has thrown for 1,472 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and rushed for over 700 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has led his team to the state championship game against Lowell on Friday.Scouts compare him to Penn State’s Darryl Clark former Auburn (and current Washington Redskins) quarterback Jason Campbell. They are high on his size and strength, as well as his arm strength and running ability.
An ideal situation would be to redshirt him next season and allow him to develop and learn the system until Forcier and Robinson graduate and then take over for his junior and senior seasons.
But with his talent, will he be patient enough to wait in the wings for three years? In order for Rodriguez’s system to succeed, I hope he’s unselfish enough to do so.
Granted, there’s always the possibility of Gardner coming in and beating out Forcier and Robinson for the starting job next season or the year after, and if that’s the case, then by all means, the guy that gives Michigan the best chance to win should play.
Whatever the case, the centerpiece of Rodriguez’s system is in place and the future looks bright at the quarterback position.
The backfield is where Michigan loses the most talent, but due to the nature of Rodriguez’s system and the injuries that Michigan suffered this season, the stable is not empty.
Seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown will be big losses, and certainly their absences in many of the games hurt Michigan’s chances for success, but it also allowed young guys to gain experience.
The most impressive runner late in the season was freshman Vincent Smith. His performance in Michigan’s spring game last April gave Michigan fans a glimpse of what he is capable of, but he didn’t see much action through the first half of the season.
But in Michigan’s final two games, against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Smith emerged as Michigan’s go-to back, displaying quickness and pass-catching ability.
He figures to enter 2010 as Michigan’s starting tailback.
Sophomore Michael Shaw has also shown some ability and as his vision for the field improves, could develop into a nice complement to Smith.
His main problem has been that he doesn’t cut through the gaps quick enough, instead always relying on getting around the outside.
Redshirt freshman Michael Cox got some playing time as Michigan’s fifth running back and still has some time to grow. He’ll certainly get a chance to prove himself and earn some more playing time with the graduation of Minor and Brown.
True freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint is a guy that many Michigan fans were excited about coming out of high school. He redshirted this season and will also get a chance in the off-season to earn a role in the offense.
Incoming freshmen Tony Drake, Stephen Hopkins, and Austin White (all three-stars) should give Michigan plenty of options in the backfield.
Receiver is a position that Michigan certainly isn’t lacking talent. A go-to guy emerged in the second half of the season, in redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree. He caught 30 passes for 390 yards and two touchdowns in the final four games of the season.
Though he lacks elite speed, Roundtree showed great hands and a willingness to go across the middle. He should enter 2010 as Michigan’s number one receiver, but it will be interesting to see if he stays in the slot or moves to the outside to replace senior Greg Mathews.
By the time next season rolls around, Michigan will have a lot of experience with sophomore Martavious Odoms in the slot. Odoms started as a true freshman in 2008 and was one of Michigan’s lone bright spots, leading the team in receiving with 49 catches for 443 yards.
Injuries forced him to miss a couple of games late in the season this year, but that could be a blessing in disguise as it opened the door for Roundtree’s emergence.
Also in the slot, sophomore Kelvin Grady showed good speed early in the season, but dropped balls caused him to lose playing time. The former Michigan basketball player definitely has the athleticism to be effective; he just needs to work on catching the ball and he could develop into a weapon in the next couple of years.
A freshman that redshirted this season, Jeremy Gallon could factor into the equation as well. He was highly regarded coming out of high school last year, and a year learning the system should allow him to see some playing time next season.
A wild card in the slot could be incoming freshman Drew Dileo. A 5’9” 170 pound white guy, Dileo committed to Michigan over Tulane, Stanford, and Rice. I mention “white guy” only because of the inevitable Wes Welker comparison. If he can fit that mold, Michigan has itself a steal, but if his low rankings hold true, he could get lost in the mix.
On the outside, redshirt sophomore Junior Hemingway and sophomore Darryl Stonum bring a couple years of experience to the table and have at times shown considerable promise.
Hemingway started 2008 with a bang, catching a 33-yard touchdown pass in Michigan’s game against Utah, but an injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season.
This season, he came out hot again, catching five passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Western Michigan. But he didn’t catch a touchdown pass the rest of the season, and barely matched the yardage output in the rest of the games combined, finishing with just 16 catches for 268 yards.
Stonum started 10 games as a freshman in 2008 and had his best game against Purdue, scoring on a 51-yard catch and run.
This season, he hauled in only 13 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown, though the touchdown was a thrilling 60-yard play to ignite Michigan’s comeback in the fourth quarter against Michigan State.
Je’Ron Stokes is a freshman that played primarily on special teams this season and could have an impact in 2010. The 6-0 181 pound speedster out of Philadelphia was a top-100 recruit and was rated the eighth-best wide receiver in the nation last season according to Scouts, Inc.
Stokes caught two passes for 16 yards against Delaware State in the only real action he saw this season.
Four-star receivers Ricardo Miller and Jerald Robinson and three-stars Jeremy Jackson and D.J. Williamson make up a solid group of incoming freshmen will help bolster the ranks of what should be the deepest position on the team.
On the offensive line, Michigan returns nearly everybody and should get a big boost from a group of redshirt freshmen that fit Rodriguez’s system.Left tackle Mark Ortmann and right guard-turned center David Moosman both graduate, but neither is a huge loss. Ortmann was serviceable and Moosman was a solid guard, but struggled at the center position when David Molk went down with an injury.
Getting Molk back next season will provide Michigan a solid, experienced center who started every game in his redshirt freshman season in 2008 and would have this season if not for a broken foot. He was rated the No. 1 center in the nation coming out of high school.
Redshirt junior Steven Schilling will probably be Michigan’s best offensive lineman in 2010. Schilling was ranked as the second-best guard in the nation coming out of high school and has started for three seasons, counting this one.
Perhaps the most surprising player is redshirt freshman Patrick Omameh, who earned a starting spot towards the end of the season and played pretty well. Omameh is a Rodriguez recruit who was just a two-star, mostly due to a lack of size compared to the typical offensive line recruit.
His performance has earned him strong consideration to start next season, probably at either right guard or right tackle.
Redshirt sophomore Mark Huyge started much of the season at right guard and figures to start next season either there or right tackle.
True freshman and highly regarded recruit Taylor Lewan is perfect for Rodriguez’s offense, rated as one of the most athletic and versatile linemen in the nation as a senior. He should get a chance to start at left tackle next season.
Another freshman that could get some action next season is Quinton Washington. He was a four-star recruit and the sixth-rated offensive guard as a senior.
Redshirt junior Perry Dorrestein, who has seen some action, should battle for the left tackle spot, while redshirt freshmen Ricky Barnum and Elliott Mealer will have a chance to earn a spot as well.
Incoming freshmen won’t help next season, as offensive line is a position in which recruits need time in a college strength and conditioning program to develop, but the future looks pretty good with last year’s haul. Only one offensive line commitment is secured for this year’s class unless Rodriguez is able to snag the nation’s top recruit, Seantrel Henderson, but that seems unlikely at this point.
At tight end, Michigan is stacked with experience in sophomores Kevin Koger and Martell Webb.
Koger finished fifth on the team in receiving this season, catching 16 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He caught an important touchdown pass against Notre Dame, but had some problems with drops midway through the season and didn’t see as many balls thrown his way in the last few games.
Webb caught just four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, but got a lot of playing time and was a fairly effective run blocker.
Webb was a junior this season and Koger just a sophomore, so the tight end position should be a strength for Michigan next season.
Overall, the Michigan offense made some strides this year, averaging nine more points per game and 95 more yards of total offense per game than last season.
In addition, the offense showed that it could sustain drives this year, and although turnovers were a problem, those are mistakes that are fixable.
We didn’t see all the negative yardage plays that we saw last year when the offense just completely bogged down.
Next year we can expect even more improvement as the Rodriguez system enters its third year. The losses of Minor, Brown, Mathews, Ortmann, and Moosman should not slow this team down very much, since their replacements all got a lot of experience this year.
Most importantly, the core is in place, and there won’t be fresh blood needing to play a crucial role, as there was this season.
So on this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the seniors that stuck out the coaching change and put forth their best efforts. Let’s also be thankful for the young guys that got their feet wet this year and will pioneer our maize and blue back to prominence in the years to come.
And let’s be thankful for an offensive innovator as our head coach – someone who is a proven winner and cares as much about getting the Michigan football program back on track as anyone else does. He will take Michigan to a place far beyond what we have seen if we afford him the time to do so.
The offense is certainly on track. Stay tuned for my defensive preview in the next few days.