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Posts Tagged ‘Terrelle Pryor’

What Comes Around…

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011


When Jim Tressel announced his resignation yesterday, it seemed fitting that the man who constantly spoke out in support of American’s troops chose Memorial Day of all days to resign, thus ending his 10-year reign as one of the best coaches in the nation.

For the past two-plus months since the original Yahoo story was released detailing the cover-up, it seemed as if Tressel was going to fight this thing to the end, refusing to admit wrongdoing or take responsibility. And as such, Buckeye fans have taken to denying his transgressions, defending his standing as a legend, and personifying the “win-at-all-costs” mentality.

Some of the statements I have seen from my Ohio State acquaintances include: “Tressel is a legend & he will be missed at OSU” and “Regardless of what happens with Coach Tressel, and I certainly hope he gets through all of the crap they’re piling on top of him, Ohio State will still beat Michigan.”

That Buckeye Nation is in denial only stands to show just how sad this situation is. As long as you outwardly portray your good deeds, tout your religion, say all the same tired “senatorial” lines, and beat Michigan, you can do whatever you want, flaunt the rules, and claim ignorance, and you’ll go down as a martyr in Columbus.

While George Dohrmann’s Sports Illustrated article that was release last night didn’t drop any further bombshells, it added further substance to the previously known allegations, which will likely make it impossible for the NCAA not to find Ohio State guilty of “failing to monitor.”

It described in more detail Tressel’s turning a blind eye to rules violations while at Youngstown State and even the way he cheated high school kids out of camp raffles as an OSU assistant in the 80s. It also brought to light a dozen more football players on the take over the past eight years.

If Tressel has been cheating his entire coaching career, not just an isolated incident involving a few bad apples as Ohio State spun it back in December, it begs the question of how good a coach he actually is.

Former Buckeye Brian Rolle posted to his Twitter account today, “Since when did ‘receiving extra benefits’ have anything to do with a 106-22 record,what 6 straight against them whores up north #DontFlagOut.”

True, Tressel was 9-1 against Michigan during his career, and the results on the field speak for themselves. But what kind of advantage did Tressel gain from his transgressions? To impressionable 17-and-18-year old high school kids, many of whom come from rough neighborhoods and broken families, one school offering car deals, free tattoos, money handshakes, drugs, and help with getting out of traffic tickets, sounds a lot more appealing than another school offering just an education and a chance to play football.

If those extra benefits of playing for Ohio State are used as a recruiting tactic, either by the coaches or by the players during official visits, and it can sway just a couple of top recruits per class, that’s a decided advantage over schools that play by the rules.

"Here Terrelle, I filled it with some of that Hennessy stuff you like so much."

Tressel was able to get away with it for so long by playing the sweater-vested, bespectacled, politically correct saint. His hospital visits, charity work, and support of the troops are all great things. But if he used those things, consciously or subconsciously, to shield his unsavory behind the scenes work, he’s no better than any other coach who was caught cheating or any priest who was caught abusing children.

I make that comparison, not because I think what Tressel has done over the past two-plus decades is anywhere near as filthy and vile as that, but in a sense, he was taking advantage of kids. For his benefit. For the benefit of winning games and Big Ten championships and beating Michigan.

Sure, the players got to participate. Those in the early 2000s got to be part of a national championship team, and several classes got to lay claim to being undefeated in their careers against Michigan. Some, and probably the majority, will cherish those memories as they move on to life after football. But others, the ones who were really taken advantage of, found a hollowness in those trophies, rings, and golden pants. They weren’t prized possessions full of significance. They were a means to an end – an end, which just like the ink that will always stain their arms, will leave lasting scars on their college experience.

To many a Buckeye fan, Tressel was seen as  role model for kids, a mentor helping bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood for many who lacked significant father figures in their lives. But what did those kids really learn? On one hand, their coach was taking them to visit sick children in hospitals, but on the other hand, he was letting them get impermissible car deals, cash, drugs, and more. Instead of learning right from wrong or being punished for their mistakes, they were taught that winning games and beating Michigan were more important than playing by the rules.

Perhaps the mentality of today’s youth is partially to blame. In an era of Facebook and YouTube, Twitter and FourSquare, over-hyped commitment press conferences, and recruiting rankings that seemingly start at birth, playing for school pride and gaining an education is no longer enough. Making money, driving the sweetest rides, and smoking weed have become symbols of entitlement for many athletes. The problem is, these players don’t realize that if they work hard for two or three years, they can have all of that stuff legally when they become pros. They need role models to help them understand that. Of course, it should start with the parents, but many times these kids don’t have that, and the responsibility falls on the coaches. A true coach of character and integrity wouldn’t recruit those kids in the first place, but certainly would make sure they’re getting the best education possible, both in the classroom and in life. A coach’s job, more than just winning games, is to provide leadership, accountability, and an example of character and integrity, not just write about them.

Upon being hired by Ohio State in 2001, Tressel stood at mid court at halftime of an Ohio State basketball game and stated, “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”And that’s where Tressel failed. He lived up to the “on the football field” part, but failed in the other aspects, and that’s the sad part about this whole thing.

The NCAA investigation will go on for the coming months and eventually sanctions will be imposed on the Ohio State football program. What those sanctions are is yet to be determined, but current players and incoming recruits will be affected, and former players’ careers tainted, whether they participated in the shenanigans or not. But hopefully everyone learns a valuable lesson from all of this: no matter how good your perceived reputation is, the truth will always come out and cheaters never win.

He Is Who We Thought He Was

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


It’s never a good thing when your rival goes down in flames. We may root for them to lose every now and then (okay, or more times than not). We may be glad when they lose out on a top recruit. But when their coach is outed for NCAA violations, we shouldn’t rejoice, right? Yet, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombshell dropped by Yahoo that Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel was made aware of NCAA violations regarding some current players and did nothing with it, I’m met with mixed emotions.

On one hand, it’s bad for the rivalry and bad for the Big Ten Conference as a whole, but on the other hand, it’s been a long time coming.

For the past decade, college football fans that don’t see the world through scarlet and grey lenses have known something just wasn’t right with the guy. The writing was on the wall, if only with laundry detergent* instead of Sharpie. He’s been deified by those in Buckeye Nation as a supreme bastion of integrity, but there’s a reason others dubbed him “Teflon Tressel.” Even though the number of violations involving high-profile players that have occurred under his watch could rival those of any other coach in the country, he always maintained a pristine reputation. Until Tuesday.

Yahoo’s piece by Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel finally revealed enough to perhaps permanently tarnish that reputation. And he didn’t make it any better with the spin job he put on during last night’s televised press conference.

Most expected him to admit wrongdoing, apologize for it, and take his medicine. Instead, he admitted wrongdoing, said he has a tendency to talk in circles, and then talked in circles.

If you haven’t read the emails that form the backbone of this revelation, his explanations probably seemed at least somewhat understandable. He received a startling email from an attorney hinting at involvement of some of his players with the subject of a federal drug trafficking investigation, was so scared and concerned that he didn’t know what to do, decided he didn’t want to break confidentiality and interfere with a federal investigation, so he did nothing. Except that wasn’t actually his reaction.

“Thanks [name redacted]…I will get on it ASAP…Happy Easter to you as well !! Go Bucks !! jt” read his reply to the initial email on April 2.

I’m no expert on email lingo of middle-aged football coaches, but common sense tells me that when you’re truly “scared” and “concerned” about the contents of an email, your reply wouldn’t include multiple exclamation points, and “Go Bucks.”

His reply suggests a “buddy-buddy” relationship with the attorney, a “thanks for giving me the heads up before anybody else found out” reaction.

(AP Photo)

Nowhere in the initial conversation did the word confidential appear, nor was it hinted at. In fact, the attorney said “Just passing this on to you,” which indicates it wasn’t intended to be confidential.

Two weeks passed before the attorney emailed Tressel back with more detailed information and stated that the information was confidential. Tressel had two weeks before confidentiality was requested to report it to somebody (I mean, he did say “I will get on it ASAP”), but as he said in last night’s press conference, “In my mind, I couldn’t think of who that best to be.”

Huh?

You received information which at that point wasn’t confidential, that some of your current players were engaging in what you knew were NCAA violations and you couldn’t think of who to report it to? Seriously? This coming from the coach of a program that has self-reported more minor violations than any other school in the nation the past 10 years ?

His next response was even more puzzling.

“I hear you !! It is unbelievable !! Thanks for your help…keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up…jt”

When thinking of who he could possibly report this to, his boss, school compliance officials, or even the university’s attorney apparently didn’t come to mind, but he asked the attorney who sent these emails to keep him posted as to what he needed to do if anything. Since when does Jim Tressel, head football coach at The Ohio State University, report to this attorney, and why is his take-away action-item that he’s going to “keep pounding these kids until they grow up”?

If he was concerned about the confidentiality of a federal investigation and not compromising the well-being of his involved players, it seems like an appropriate response would be something along the lines of “Look Mr. Attorney, I realize this is confidential, but I’m bound by contract to report any possible NCAA violations to my superiors and ultimately to the NCAA. Would my doing so jeopardize your investigation?” Perhaps then the attorney would have said yes and Tressel would have been faced with a moral dilemma, but at least he would have a paper trail backing up his innocence.

Of course, we have now come to learn the identity of said attorney and it doesn’t help Tressel’s defense from last night. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the attorney who sent the emails to Tressel is Chris Cicero, a former Buckeye player who was on the team while Tressel was an assistant under former head coach Earle Bruce. This means that Tressel likely had some sort of relationship with Cicero, which explains the “buddy-buddy” tone of the emails and furthers the notion that Cicero sent the emails to Tressel as a heads up so he could cover it up before anyone else found out. This certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Cicero, who according to the Dispatch, has been in trouble multiple times previously, including having his law license suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court for a year in 1997.

Chris Cicero, the attorney who sent the "heads up" emails to Tressel (photo from Columbus Dispatch)

This does not bode well for Tressel or Ohio State. Not only did Tressel cover it up initially, but he lied about (or intentionally omitted disclosure of) the incident when NCAA investigators came asking in September and twice in December. When asked in December whether he had any prior knowledge of the tattoo parlor, Tressel said that he had received a tip, but it wasn’t specific. Yet, as the emails show, they were specific and certainly worthy of being brought to the attention of school compliance officials.

The school’s self-imposed two-game suspension and $250,000 fine will undoubtedly be raised by the NCAA and only goes to show the arrogance of Tressel, Athletic Director Gene Smith, and school president Gordon Gee. That they’re willing to concoct a story in front of a national television audience that they think will appease the NCAA and convince everyone that Tressel was really just a martyr shows that they believe they’re above reproach.

And why should they think any differently? Tressel and Ohio State have toed the line between right and wrong the past decade and gotten away with it with a couple of very minor slaps on the wrist.

In just his second season, Tressel ran into trouble with freshman Maurice Clarett, a key member of the 2002 National Championship team, who got in trouble for both academic and legal issues and was dismissed from the team. He claimed that had he told the truth to investigators, “half the team would have been suspended” so he just “took it,” and that he received preferential treatment, phantom jobs, money and favors. At the time, he was written off as a rogue player operating on his own and trying to get back at his former coach who “blackmailed” him.

Then, star quarterback Troy Smith was suspended a couple games for accepting $500 in return for nothing from Robert Q. Baker, a health care product provider, who also said that former OSU receiver Chris Gamble had “worked” for him as well. Interestingly enough, Baker played at Baldwin-Wallace while Tressel’s father was head coach there, so there was a prior relationship. Sound familiar? Neither the program or Tressel received any penalties.

A year later, star linebacker A.J. Hawk and lineman Nick Mangold’s apartment was robbed of $3,000 in cash, $1,425 in movies, a $500 Gucci watch, and more. You know, all the stuff that a normal college student has laying around. Nothing came of it after his dad said he had repeatedly warned Hawk not to keep his money in his apartment. Just like Cam Newton’s dad warned him to act as if he didn’t know he was shopped around.

This past fall, former NFL agent Josh Luchs described meeting with OSU receiver Santonio Holmes in 2005, but Holmes told him that he had already been receiving money from an agent the past couple years and his family had been taken care of.

Finally, since it’s still fresh in our minds, we remember “Tatgate” in December when Terrelle Pryor and several others were found to have sold championship rings, gold pants, and other gear to a tattoo parlor in exchange for tattoos. In addition, Pryor was pulled over driving loaner cars not once, not twice, but three times. Of course, all three were on the up-and-up while his car was getting worked on by this dealership that features autographed Ohio State memorabilia all over its walls.

Of all its transgressions the past decade, Ohio State got dinged the worst for the tattoo incident, with those players being forced to sit out the first five games of next season. AD Gene Smith tried to play it down as “an incident isolated to these young men and this particular instance,” but former Buckeye running back Antonio Pittman said players have been getting hookups on tattoos since 2001 (when Tressel took over).

Co-conspirators Smith and Gee say Tressel won't be fired (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Each of these incidents when taken individually aren’t particularly damning. But when viewed together, with the addition of Tressel’s cover-up, they certainly suggest  a pattern, especially considering that OSU has self-reported a nation-leading 375 minor violations. It seems to suggest that their strategy is to self-report the small things so the NCAA will overlook the bigger things. Yet, even the small things when compiled together, should point to a larger problem.

A married man may be able to receive forgiveness from his wife once or twice for telling her that he mistakenly kissed another woman.** But when it keeps happening, sooner or later, she’s going to realize that he either keeps putting himself in those situations or is having an outright affair and is trying to cover it up by telling half-truths.

Likewise, a coach may occasionally realize he sent one too many texts to a recruit and need to self-report, but when it’s happening 35-plus times a year, you’re either covering up larger issues as an organization or you have incredibly poor compliance educators.

So what should we Michigan fans hope for? Is this a good thing for us?

I say it’s not a good thing, because while we may take some satisfaction about our smug rival’s downfall (finally), he has basically owned us since he took over from John Cooper. We have our own new regime with Brady Hoke committed to restoring Michigan football to its glory days and this provides us a perfect opportunity to recapture the rivalry. We want Tressel at the helm when that happens. We’ll probably never achieve a winning record against him since he’s already so far ahead and won’t stay coaching that long, but at least we could put a dent in it.

Secondly, we just went through an NCAA investigation of our own and are currently on probation for Rich Rodriguez’s violations. Yes, we all caught a lot of flak from our Buckeye brethren during that time, but we don’t have much room to talk.

Finally, even though they’re our arch rival, we want the Big Ten to remain strong and above the cheating reputation that the SEC has earned. It may be too late for that now, but if the NCAA drops the hammer on Ohio State, it could affect their program (and by default, the Big Ten) for years.

That being said, I think we can all agree to paraphrase Dennis Green and say that he is who we thought he was and we never have to listen to a self-righteous Ohio State fan wax poetic about their sweater-vested hero anymore.

It will be interesting to see the fallout from this in the coming months, but this is the last I’m saying about Tressel or Ohio State for the foreseeable future on this site. I now turn my attention back to Michigan !! Go Blue !!

__________________________________________________________________________________

*If you take a brush, dip it in laundry detergent, and write on a wall, it won’t show up in daylight, but if you turn off the lights and shine a blacklight on it, it will glow. Years ago, in college, we painted the NCAA Tournament bracket on the ceiling of our dorm room with detergent and updated it each night throughout the tournament. The RAs had no idea, but it created one of the coolest rooms on campus, and unless they’ve re-painted the ceilings, it’s probably still there. Just like the baggage Tressel left behind at Youngstown State when he took over at OSU.

**I’m not at all saying this is okay or condoning this. Just using it as an example.

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FORECAST FRIDAY: Michigan at Ohio State

Friday, November 26th, 2010


To paraphrase legendary Michigan broadcaster Bob Ufer, we’re going down to the snakepit at Ohio State and our Maize in Blue dobbers are high right now cuz we’re getting ready to do battle with Dr. Sweatervest and his Scarlet and Grey Legions.

Ufer, of course, was talking about Dr. Strangehayes, former OSU head coach Woody Hayes, but a case could certainly be made that Dr. Sweatervest, current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, has his Scarlet and Grey Legions more of a threat to Michigan than Hayes ever did.

In remembrance of good times

Ohio State is looking for its seventh straight win over Michigan, which would be the longest in the 106-year rivalry since Michigan won nine straight from 1901-’09.

Michigan hasn’t won since 2003, when Chris Perry and Braylon Edwards lit up the 4th-ranked Buckeyes as Michigan won 35-21. It hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000 when Drew Henson led the Wolverines to a 38-26 victory.

To do the same tomorrow, Michigan will need its defense to step up and its offense to perform like it did against Illinois three weeks ago. It will be a tall task against a Buckeye team that ranks eighth in the nation, its only loss a 31-18 defeat at Wisconsin on Oct. 16.

Stranger things have happened in the rivalry in which the old cliche “throw out the records” certainly applies, and more often than not, it has been Michigan on the positive end of that.

Michigan will be looking to recapture the magic of the 1969 and 1993 teams which upset highly favored Ohio State teams.

The ’69 team, in Bo Schembechler’s first season as head coach, entered the matchup as 17-point underdogs (which is the same as it is for this season’s game) to the first-ranked Buckeyes, a team many thought was unbeatable. Ohio State had beaten Michgian 50-14 the year before, but when all was said and done, Michigan emerged victorious, 24-12.

The 1993 game is perhaps more similar to this season, as Ohio State entered with a record of 9-0-1, ranked 5th in the nation, and Michigan came in 6-4, having lost to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Virtually nobody gave Michigan a chance, but Michigan dominated, rushing for 285 yards and winning 28-0.

If that happens tomorrow, it will probably signal the apocalypse since Michigan’s defense ranks as one of the nation’s worst and Ohio State’s offense is ninth in points per game.

Michigan vs. #8 Ohio State
Block M logo Sat. Nov. 27
12 p.m. ET
ABC/ESPN
7-4 Record 10-1
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Illinois 67-65 (3OT)
Purdue 27-16
Wins Marshal 45-7
#12 Miami 36-24
Ohio 43-7
E. Michgian 73-20
Illinois 24-13
Indiana 38-10
Purdue 49-0
Minnesota 52-10
Penn St. 38-14
#20 Iowa 20-17
#17 Mich. St. 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
#7 Wisconsin 28-48
Losses #18 Wisconsin 18-31
36.8 Scoring Offense 39.6
257.4 Rushing YPG 216.2
257.2 Passing YPG 230.0
514.5 Total Offense 446.2
33.5 Scoring Defense 13.9
181.3 Rush Defense YPG 86.4
263.9 Pass Defense YPG 155.1
445.2 Total Defense YPG 241.5
17 Takeaways 26
24 Giveaways 14
16/10 Sacks By/Allowed 18/21
70/147 (48%) Third-down Conv. 61/137 (45%)
4/13 Field Goals 16/21
36.9 Net Punt Avg. 34.0

So is this Michigan team capable of pulling off an upset for the ages? I think the answer is yes, but it will take a flawless effort to pull it off.

I believe it all rests on Michigan’s defense selling out to stop the run, which it did not do last week against Wisconsin. One thing that’s fairly certain is that Jim Tressel is going to want to run the ball, control the clock, and keep Michigan’s offense off the field. That’s essentially Tressel’s modus operandi as it is, but as Wisconsin showed last week, Michigan’s defense has been helpless to stop anything other than a second-string Purdue offense in rainy conditions.

Ohio State’s offense averages 216 yards per game rushing, good for 17th nationally. The workhorse is Dan Herron who has run for 893 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season. Two weeks ago, he gashed Penn State for 190 yards and a touchdown, an average of nine yards per carry. Last week, however, Iowa held Herron to just 69 yards on 20 carries, 3.5 yards per carry.

The second-leading rusher is quarterback Terrelle Pryor with 590 yards and four touchdowns. In Ohio State’s offense, Pryor doesn’t have to run as much as Michigan’s Denard Robinson, but he’s certainly dangerous and hard to bring down when he does. In last year’s meeting, Pryor rushed for 116 yards minus sacks.

It’s the passing game where Pryor is most vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong, he’s improved in the past couple of years and has some good targets with Dane Sanzenbacher and Devier Posey, but if there’s any weakness Michigan can try to exploit, it’s Pryor’s tendency to make poor decisions when pressured.

Pryor has thrown for 2,331 yards and 23 touchdowns, but has been picked off in each of the last five games, including twice last week against Iowa. In Ohio State’s only loss, to Wisconsin, Pryor completed just 14-of-28 passes for 156 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.

Michigan has to be able to stuff the run on first and second down, forcing Pryor to make plays on third-and-long.

Sanzenbacher is the most dangerous receiving threat and if Michigan sells out for the run, he could have a monster game. Last week, when Wisconsin decided to pass, the middle of the field was consistently wide open. The only hope defensively is for Michigan to bring a lot of pressure and force Pryor to make mistakes. Yes, it will yield some big plays, but that might be beneficial to give Michigan’s offfense the ball back instead of Ohio State bleeding the clock with time-consuming drives.

Offensively, Michigan is going to have to take advantage of its opportunities. Overthrown open receivers like last week can’t happen. Neither can dropped passes that have seemed to plague the offense this season, leading to intereceptions on the very next play.

To win, it’s going to take around 35 points, a feat Michigan hasn’t accomplished against a ranked team yet this season. One could say Michigan is due for an offensive breakout, but it’s not likely against Ohio State’s defense which boasts the nation’s third-best rush defense, seventh-best pass defense, fifth-best scoring defense, and third-best total defense.

The Bucks allow just 86 rushing yards per game and have allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season, Wisconsin’s John Clay who gained 104 yards on 21 carries. In last year’s matchup, Michigan managed just 108 yards on 31 carries as a team, not counting sacks.

On special teams, I would love to see Darryl Stonum return kicks like he did late in the game last week and all season last year. He consistently gives Michigan better field position, as well as a home run threat, as opposed to freshman Jeremy Gallon. The only catch will be if Stonum isn’t healthy enough after getting injured on a return last week. He is expected to play, but whether he’ll be healthy enough to return kicks isn’t yet known. If he is healthy, I see no reason not to let him return the kicks tomorrow since it’s the last game of the season.

Three Predictions:

1. Denard throws for 250 yards

2. Dan Herron rushes for 150 yards

3. Michigan has the lead at halftime

Overall, I think Tressel will keep it conservative enough to keep Michigan in the game for a while. If Tressel’s game plan is to come out throwing or in the spread on first down, Michigan is in for a long day. If Michigan can stuff the run and force Pryor to make plays on third-and-long, Michigan has a chance.

I don’t think the offense can score enough to keep up, but it should at least be enough to keep it close and assure Rich Rodriguez’s return next season.

Ohio State 33 – Michigan 24

Forecast Friday: Michigan vs. Illinois

Saturday, November 6th, 2010


After losses to Michigan State and Iowa in weeks six and seven, I assumed those were simply because those two teams were much better than Michigan this season, but Michigan was catching up. After last week’s dismantling at the hands of a very injured and average Penn State squad, it’s apparent that this Michigan team isn’t quite as far a long as most had thought.

The offense has done its part, ranking 19th in points per game (35.4), 4th in total offense (518.4 yards), and 8th in rushing yards (275.5). But the defense has been the Achilles heel, surrendering 30 points per game.

Michigan vs. Illinois
Block M logo Sat. Nov. 6
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
5-3 Record 5-3
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Wins S. Illinois 35-3
N. Illinois 28-22
Penn State 33-13
Indiana 43-13
Purdue 44-10
#17 Mich. State 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
Losses Missouri 13-23
#2 Ohio State 13-24
#13 Mich. State 6-26
35.4 Scoring Offense 26.9
275.5 Rushing YPG 194.4
242.9 Passing YPG 143.1
518.4 Total Offense 337.5
30.0 Scoring Defense 16.8
149.8 Rush Defense YPG 117.5
290.5 Pass Defense YPG 183.9
440.2 Total Defense YPG 301.4
9 Takeaways 15
12 Giveaways 15
12/3 Sacks By/Allowed 15/16
47/101 (47%) Third-down Conv. 39/103 (38%)
3/9 Field Goals 15/17
36.8 Net Punt Avg. 40.2

It’s not going to get any better this week as Michigan lost sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd to a season-ending ankle injury. The already young and thin safety is now left with toddlers. True freshman Courtney Avery will most likely fill Floyd’s starting spot, meaning at least three true freshmen will be in the starting lineup against Illinois.

We can talk about excuses or who’s fault it is that Michigan is in this predicament all we want, but the fact of the matter is, in the Big Ten or any other conference, starting multiple true freshman is not a recipe for success. Yet, that’s what has to be done in order for Michigan to win at least another game to become bowl eligible and perhaps save head coach Rich Rodriguez’s job.

Time is running out for Rodriguez to achieve bowl eligibility, with only four games to play, and only the next two seem even remotely winnable at this point: Illinois and Purdue.

Illinois is an interesting comparison to this year’s Michigan squad. Last year, the Illini went 3-9 and many in Champagne were calling for head coach Ron Zook’s head. A year later, Zook has the nation’s 15th-ranked defense leading a 5-3 record.

In the first week of the season, when Illinois lost to Missouri 23-13, I figured this would be another typical Illini team. But no one knew at that time that Mizzou would become a top-ten team, which in hindsight, makes that loss look a little better.

Illinois’ defense makes up for an average offense, which averages 337.5 yards and 26.9 points per game. The offense is lead by freshman quarterback Nate Scheelhaase and junior running back Mikel Leshoure. Both are dynamic players that could tear up Michigan’s defense.

LeShoure is the conference’s fourth best rusher, with 97.5 yards per game and six touchdowns. He had 100-plus yard rushing games in four of the first five games, but had just 23 yards on 15 carries last week against Purdue.

Prior to last week, I would have said that Scheelhaase didn’t scare me, given that he ranks last in the Big Ten in passing with just 137.4 yards per game. But if Penn State walk-on Matt McGloin can shred Michigan’s defense, then Scheelhaase could be in for the game of his life.

Michigan will have its hands full tomorrow and will have to play flawlessly on offense if it wants to gain that ever-elusive sixth win.

In its five wins, Michigan’s offense averaged 565 yards and 41.4 points per game, turning the ball over just five times. But in three losses, the offense has averaged slightly less, as 440.7 yards and 25.3 points, turning the ball over seven times.

Much of that can be attributed to starting the Big Ten schedule, but the turnovers and mistakes that the Wolverines did such a good job avoiding in the first five games have plagued the offense as of late.

Michigan turned the ball over three times against Michigan State and four times against Iowa. For a team with such a porous defense, the offense can’t afford to squander opportunities, and that’s especially important this week against a top-20 defense.

Before the season, I penned this as one of Michigan’s seven wins, but when I compare the two teams now, I’m not nearly as confident. Last week’s beatdown in Happy Valley shook any confidence I had about this team.

Illinois played Ohio State tough a few weeks ago, then thumped Penn State 33-13, but then got hammered by Michigan State 26-6. In that game, Illinois led 6-3 at halftime before Michigan State woke up and outscored the Illini 23-0 in the second half.

Prediction:

Leshoure will run for 100 yards and Scheelhaase will be effective enough to put some points up. Illinois did a pretty good job of stopping Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor a few weeks ago (he did run for over 100 yards, but threw for just 76) and will hold Denard Robinson in check. He’ll still get his yards but I wouldn’t expect the type of game we came to expect from Shoelace in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Michigan won’t be able to find the end zone enough to keep up with the Illini.

Illinois 33 – Michigan 24

From Their View….

Hail to the Orange better be careful what it wishes for, The Daily Illini features some quotes from Scheelhaase that indicate he thinks Michigan actually has a defense, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells what to watch for tomorrow, The Sports Bank on Chicago Now predicts an Illini blowout and says Stephen Schilling is following in the footsteps of Jake Long and Obi Ezeh “will get some looks” (WTF?).

Denard’s Tebow-Like Performance Shows He’s Human

Monday, October 11th, 2010


To some, Michigan’s loss to Michigan State on Saturday only furthers the theory that Rich Rodriguez isn’t the right fit for Michigan and that Denard Robinson’s Heisman-leading start to the season will crumble against the meat of the schedule. They will look at the 17-point margin of victory or the three interceptions in Robinson’s stat line and say, “Told ya so.”

Denard Robinson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but two interceptions in the end zone doomed Michigan on Saturday (photo from MGoBlue.com)

Denard Robinson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but two interceptions in the end zone doomed Michigan on Saturday (photo from MGoBlue.com)

They point to Michigan’s first five games of the season, in which Michigan averaged 41 points and 565 yards of offense per game, and dismiss them as being against poor competition, as if every other team in the country plays only ranked teams all season.

The simple fact of the matter is that every team plays its share of cupcakes and every quarterback occasionally has bad games.

Even God, I mean Tim Tebow, had a similar game in his Heisman-winning season. In fact, he had two straight similar games in Florida losses that season.

After rolling through Western Kentucky, Troy, Tennessee, and Ole Miss to start the 2007 season, Florida fell at home to Auburn, 20-17. Tebow was held to 201 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception, and 75 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries.

The following week, Florida fell to No. 1 LSU, 28-24, and Tebow was held to 158 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception, and 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Both of those performances were worse than the numbers that Robinson put up on Saturday. Robinson passed for 215 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, and rushed 21 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. He still accounted for 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns, but it was the interceptions that proved he’s human after all and ultimately doomed Michigan on Saturday.

Michigan moved the ball with ease for much of the game until it was forced into come-from-behind mode, so it wasn’t exactly the Michigan State defense that stopped Robinson.

On the first drive of the game, Michigan marched 65 yards in nine plays to the MSU 10 before Robinson threw his first pick in the end zone. On that drive, Michigan rushed seven times for 8.1 yards per rush. On the interception, Robinson had Roy Roundtree open in the end zone and also seemed to have room to run for the first down, but threw behind Roundtree.

Michigan’s next drive, which started on its own 10-yard line, was more of the same. Robinson led the team 73 yards to the MSU 17 before settling for a field goal. On that drive, Robinson overthrew a wide open Darryl Stonum in the end zone on a play that would have put Michigan ahead 7-0.

After a three-and-out, Robinson led Michigan’s first touchdown drive of the day of nine plays for 60 yards, completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martell Webb.

Robinson 2010 vs. Tebow 2007
6 Games Played 6
5-1 Win-Loss 4-2
84-125-4 Comp-Att-Int 97-148-3
67.2 Comp Percentage
65.5
1,223 Pass Yds 1,455
9.8 YPA
9.8
8 Pass TD 13
991 Rush Yds 500
8.3 YPC 4.8
9 Rush TD 9
2,214 Total Yards 1,955

Through four drives, Michigan had 207 yards on 34 plays, an average of 6.1 yards per play, but it had only 10 points to show for it. Michigan went into the half leading offensively, 263 yards to 247, but trailed 17-10 due to the two bad throws by Robinson and a blocked field goal.

After a Michigan State touchdown to open the half, Michigan again drove 58 yards down to the MSU 12, but another Robinson interception in the end zone ended the drive. Robinson tried to force it through to Junior Hemingway, who was open with a good throw, but again, the throw was behind him.

Michigan State took advantage with another touchdown to take a 21-point lead, and Michigan was completely forced out of its offense at that point.

On the last possession of the third quarter, Roundtree, Hemingway, and Stonum each dropped passes, but Kelvin Grady pulled down a good pass for a 17-yard gain on fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive. Robinson ran it in to pull Michigan within 14.

But after forcing a Michigan State punt, Robinson threw his third pick of the game on a seam over the middle. He forced it, but it wasn’t entirely his fault, as Grady, the intended receiver, got turned around and failed to find the ball.

Three interceptions, completely the fault of either Robinson or the intended receiver, were the difference in the game and showed Robinson for what he really is – a true sophomore making just the sixth start of his career.

Even the quarterback to whom most compare Robinson to, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, had a similar game last season in a loss to Purdue when he went 17-for-31 for 221 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and also ran 21 times for 34 yards and a touchdown. He was a sophomore in the seventh game of his second season as a starter at that point.

Michigan will be okay going forward. Most expected to give up 34 points to Michigan State on Saturday, so it wasn’t the defense that lost the game. It still held the Spartans two points below their season average and the same point total that Wisconsin gave up in East Lansing the week before. That Wisconsin defense was giving up just 14 points a game heading into that matchup.

Michigan State was the better all-around team and would probably win six out of 10 under the exact same circumstances, but Michigan isn’t as far behind as most believe. The Wolverines moved the ball and put themselves in position to score. But for the first time this season, mistakes did them in.

Every game the rest of the season, with the exception of Ohio State, is a winnable game and 8-4 is a realistic possibility, which is one better than I predicted before the season.

Iowa will be tough next week, bringing the nation’s best defense into Ann Arbor. Even against Arizona, when Iowa gave up 34 points, the defense only gave up 20, and seven of those 20 were set up by a blocked punt that gave Arizona the ball at the Iowa eight-yard line.

Michigan’s offense will have its hands full, but if it executes and doesn’t beat itself, it can win.

Martavious Odoms hauled in the catch of the day at the end of the first half (photo by the Lansing State Journal)

Martavious Odoms hauled in the catch of the day at the end of the first half (photo by the Lansing State Journal)

The following three games, after a bye week, are the most winnable: at Penn State, vs. Illinois, and at Purdue, before finishing with Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Each week, Penn State looks more and more beatable with true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden at the helm. The Nittany Lions were spanked by Illinois at home on Saturday, and are averaging just 18 points per game.

Illinois looks to be getting stronger, having played Ohio State tough and then trouncing Penn State, but they’re still led by a freshman quarterback.

Purdue upset Northwestern last week, but lost to Toledo the week before, and Wisconsin at home could potentially be another win. We will find out a lot more about Wisconsin this week when they host Ohio State.

An 8-4 record is certainly attainable, but 7-5 is probably the baseline, which is right on par with what most predicted before the season started. The hot start raised expectations, but we have to remember that this team is still a work in progress. Denard is just a sophomore who has started six games. He’ll keep getting better as he learns to make the right reads and not throw late across the middle.

Yes, Michigan lost on Saturday, and it hurts to lose for the third straight time to Little Brother, but continue to keep the faith because it’s not as bad as it seems.

Notes:

Michigan_logoWhy didn’t Michael Shaw get more carries? He missed last week’s game with an injury and was listed as probable on the injury report entering Saturday’s game. He played on the first series, carrying the ball three times for 27 yards, including a 21-yard run. From there on, it was Vincent Smith who got the playing time, with freshman Stephen Hopkins getting one series.

I like Vincent Smith, but he’s not nearly effective enough since coming off ACL surgery, and in Michigan’s offenes this season, the backs don’t get screens, which is where he was the most danerous at the end of last season. He’s certainly not the best option on short-yardage situations, like on Michigan’s first possession of the second quarter when he was stuffed for no gain on third-and-one.

Hopkins has run well when given the opportunity this season, though he did fumble earlier in the year. He’s a bigger back than the rest and provides the best down-hill change-of-pace from Denard.

All said, I think Shaw is the most complete back of the bunch and if healthy, should be on the field. Maybe he simply wasn’t healthy enough to warrant much of a work load on Saturday, but he played in the fourth quarter, so that doesn’t seem likely.

Michigan_logoI’m always hesitant to criticize a coach, but Rodriguez did his best Les Miles impression on Saturday. At the end of the first half, when Michigan State had fourth-and-three at the Michigan 39, he chose to let the clock run instead of calling a time out. MSU ended up going for and getting the first down, which ultimately led to a field goal, so that wasn’t an obvious time out instance, but one that I thought he should have made. At the very least, it would have saved about 25 seconds on the game clock.

Then, on the first play after after the kickoff, Robinson ran for four yards and instead of calling a time out right away, Rodriguez waited about eight seconds before calling one with 12 seconds to go. On the next play, Robinson hit Martavious Odoms for 51 yards to the MSU 25-yard line. At that point, there were only three seconds remaining and Michigan was forced to try a 42-yard field goal, which was blocked.

Had Rodriguez called a time out right away when Robinson was tackled, Michigan would have had 10 or 11 seconds left after the long pass, allowing the offense to run one or two more plays to either score a touchdown or get closer to field goal range (which for Michigan this season is about 30 yards and in).

Scoring either a touchdown or a field goal would have been a huge momentum boost going into the half. Instead, the blocked field goal served as a momentum boost for State and was deflating for Michigan.

At the end of the game, with Michigan trailing by 17, Rodriguez chose to wave the white flag of surrender on fourth-and-nine from the Michigan 30 with about six minutes left. Granted, coming back was a long shot at that point, but going for it was the only chance they had, and punting it back to State was effectively giving up. The Spartans got the ball back with 5:41 left and ran out the clock.

Obi Ezeh (45) needs to be benched for good (photo by Getty Images)

Obi Ezeh (45) needs to be benched for good (photo by Getty Images)

Michigan_logoIt’s officially time to get Obi Ezeh off the field. Yes, he’s a senior three-year starter, but he’s still making mistakes that he should have learned in Pop Warner. I find it hard to believe that he’s the best option we have. He’s the most experienced option we have, but experience doesn’t necessarily equal best. At the very least, let’s get a young guy in there who can learn the trade. He certainly can’t do any worse.

I’m now on the bandwagon of moving safety Jordan Kovacs to the position and backfilling the safety spot. Kovacs, though not the best athlete in the world, is probably the smartest player on the team. He always puts himeself in the right spot. He won’t be running down any backs from behind, but he’ll fill gaps and help the run defense. At this point, there’s no helping the pass defense, but if we let teams run all over us too, we aren’t going to stop anybody.

Most of the offenses Michigan faces the rest of the season are similar to Michigan State: traditional Big Ten offenses with power running games. Michigan has to be able to stop, or at least contain, the run if it’s going to have a chance to beat Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. Michigan State ran for 249 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on Saturday. That, in my opinion, is the number one thing that needs to be fixed for the rest of the season.

Top UM Output in 24 Years Shows Growth of Rodriguez’s System

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010


3QBs

In what would have been situation of near panic for most teams, the genius of Rich Rodriguez’s system shone bright. After racking up nearly 200 yards of total offense and a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes, Denard Robinson went down with a knee injury. Instead of going into a shell of the offense, backups Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner didn’t miss a beat, leading seven touchdown drives as Michigan pummeled Bowling Green 65-21.

Just like that it became apparent that Michigan is set at the quarterback position for the next few years and Rodriguez needed only to get his type of players into his system in order to succeed. 

It was a stark contrast to both the team on the other side of the field and Rodriguez’s first couple of years at Michigan.

Bowling Green’s starting quarterback Matt Schilz suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Marshall leaving redshirt sophomore Aaron Pankratz to make the first start of his career. He proved ineffective even against a Michigan defense that entered the game on pace to become the worst in school history statistically.

Michigan sacked Pankratz three times and forced two turnovers, limiting the Bowling Green offense to 283 total yards, 71 of which came on one busted play in the second quarter.

Two years ago, it was Rodriguez who found himself in a quarterback quandary with two quarterbacks that had no experience, one a walk-on, and neither of which suited for his system.

While the offense struggled to put together drives and score points and Michigan fans bemoaned the program’s worst season in 40 years, Rodriguez supporters insisted that he needed to be given time to recruit his guys.

Last season, the offense showed a glimpse of what was possible with Forcier, then a true freshman, leading Michigan to a 4-0 start, including a thrilling come-from-behind win over Notre Dame. Robinson, who didn’t enroll in the spring like Forcier did, provided highlights with his legs but had virtually no grasp of the offense.

Now, as sophomores, and Robinson firmly entrenched as the starter, Michigan has again raced out to a 4-0 start, boasting one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the entire nation.

Robinson has rushed for over 100 yards in all four games, leading the nation in rushing, but has also proven he can be an efficient passer. He currently ranks 18th in passing efficiency, right in between Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.

Offensive stats through four games
2010   2009
4-0 Record 4-0
41.2 Scoring Offense 37.5
1,325 Rushing Yards 961
331.2 Rushing YPG 240.3
926 Passing Yards 728
231.5 Passing YPG 182
562.8 Total Offense 422.3
13/54 (57%) Third-Down Conv. 25/58 (43%)
18/19 (95%) Red Zone Scoring 11/15 (73%)
2* Turnovers 5
1 Sacks Allowed 6
*2 other turnovers were fumbles on a INT returns,
so they don’t count towards offensive stats

He’s certainly the electricity that fuels the dynamic Michigan offense, but in moments like this past Saturday, having a proven starter as the backup allows the offense to keep firing on all cylinders despite a flat tire.

When Gardner, a true freshman, gets added to the mix, one can see how Michigan has perhaps the best corps of quarterbacks in the country. Many believe Gardner to have the most potential of the three, and he has been the first off the bench each time Robinson has been forced out of the game.

His knowledge of the offense is akin to that of Robinson’s last season, but his physical talent and size make Gardner an imposing threat. On Saturday, he showed his passing ability, connecting on 7-of-10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Hidden in those stats is a beautiful deep ball that would have been a 47-yard touchdown pass had Junior Hemingway not developed a case of alligator arms.

Forcier, meanwhile, set a Michigan record for most passes without an incompeltion, connecting on all 12 of his passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

All together, the trio went 23-for-26 for 255 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 15 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

While it’s easy to look at the opponent and say, “Well, it’s just Bowling Green,” consider that the last time Michigan put up offense like that against an FBS team was in 1986.

Michigan plays MAC schools nearly every season and the next closest results were a 59-20 beating of Eastern Michigan in 1998 and 55-0 in 2005. Those teams were led by quarterbacks you may have heard of: Tom Brady and Chad Henne.   

As electric as Robinson is, the offense was just as effective without him for 52 minutes on Saturday, while in Columbus, fellow Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor played all but 16 minutes of his team’s 73-20 win over Eastern Michigan.

Imagine the kind of stats Robinson would have put up had he played another two-plus quarters against Bowling Green.

Despite the initial scare when Robinson got his knee checked out on the sideline, he was cleared to play and could have gone back in had he been needed. Instead, Rodriguez made the right choice to keep him healthy heading into Big Ten play and give Forcier and Gardner some valuable playing time.

Denard is the current front-runner for the Heisman, but he has selflessly embodied Bo Schembechler’s “the team” mindset. By putting the team first, Robinson earned his starting spot, and even though he wasn’t needed for most of the game last Saturday, he’ll be the fuel that keeps the engine running as Michigan travels to Indiana to open the conference schedule this Saturday.

Yes, we have little receivers. Get used to it

When are refs going to realize that just because our receivers are small and required to run block in Rodriguez’s system, it doesn’t mean they’re committing penalties all the time?

Maybe the refs aren’t used to seeing little guys blocking out in the open field, or maybe the defensive backs and linebackers have to get so low to approach them that it looks like it’s illegal, but when Martavious Odoms was called for a personal foul block below the waist in the second quarter, he literally hit the guy in the chest.

It was the second or third time this season a receiver has been called for the penalty when it wasn’t even close. That’s not even a penalty like holding that could be called on every play, or pass interference that is largely subjective. It’s not hard to tell if a guy hits another guy in the chest versus the legs.

Over/Under

If the game would have been three quarters long instead of four, I would have been close. But I’m glad it wasn’t, since it gave us a chance to see the debut of Fitzgerald Toussaint, in which he rumbled 61 yards to set up his own 5-yard touchdown run.

I ended up 17 over on offense and just two over on defense, leaving me 26 to 20 over on offense and defense, respectively for the season.

Redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint made ran for 61 yards on the first carry of his career (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)
Redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 61 yards on the first carry of his career (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)

 

I Said What?

“While Michigan’s offense has looked virtually unstoppable so far this season, it will be that much better with a proven back to take the pressure off of Robinson. Hopefully Shaw continues to emerge as that back, and I think he will.

Over/Under – 99 Rushing yards for Shaw. I’ll take the over. Marshall’s Andre Booker ran for 126 last week against Bowling Green.”

Shaw didn’t really need to do much on Saturday. He carried the ball 12 times for 59 yards and a touchdown, but that only accounted for 21 percent of Michigan’s carries. Counting the three quarterbacks, nine different Wolverines rushed the ball against BG.

Shaw didn’t get over 99 yards, so I was wrong (-1), but he certainly didn’t do anything to warrant losing his spot as the top back.

“Over/Under – 2.5 sacks. I’ll take the over again. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Greg Banks, and Craig Roh have to be licking their chops right now and hope to use this game as a springboard for the rest of the season.”

I was dead on with this prediction as Michigan recorded three sacks. Jonas Mouton, Ryan Van Bergen and Greg Banks each got to Pankratz, besting the total number of sacks Michigan had in the first three games combined. (+1)

“Gardner seems to have passed Forcier on the depth chart, and Rodriguez would love to get him some live reps. On the other hand, Forcier has a year of starting experience under his belt and hasn’t sniffed the field yet this season. Rodriguez would probably like to get him out there as well.

My bet is that Gardner gets at least a few drives to show what he can do and Forcier becomes the Darco Milicic human victory cigar late in the fourth quarter.”

Well, Gardner was the first to relieve Robinson, but Forcier was anything but Darco Milicic and I’m rather embarrassed for even suggesting he would be.

Forcier is a very important piece of this team and I have a much greater respect for the kid after his performance on Saturday and the press conference afterward. He basically said he loves Michigan, he loves Rodriguez, and he’s all in. (-1)

“Over/Under – 49 rushing yards for Devin Gardner. Once more, I’ll go with the over. Of course, this all depends on the first-team offense playing well enough to yield playing time, but my guess is that Gardner will get three or four possessions. The game should be well in hand by then, so Gardner won’t be passing much. I could see him breaking one long run.”

Gardner did show his passing skills but only made it halfway to the rushing yards I predicted, so I was wrong. He has certainly shown his talent, but has missed some reads and seems to get tackled much easier than Robinson does. He’s just a true freshman though, so there’s a long way to go. (-1)

“Michigan puts it away early in the second quarter. The offense will be firing on all cylinders and the defense will force some turnovers. Bowling Green won’t have enough firepower to keep up and Michigan’s backups will finally get a chance to play.”

Well, that about sums it up. It was basically put away in the first eight minutes, but BG fought back before it was officially put away with Shaw’s touchdown run just before the half. (+1)

Denard me!

Denard pryor Week 4

Is This Year’s Hot Start Just a Repeat of 2009?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


Michigan escaped with a win last Saturday over an FCS school leaving Michigan fans on the verge of panic. It was a scene all to familiar in recent years, with Michigan narrowly avoiding another Appalachian State-style loss.

The first two games, wins at home against UConn and on the road against Notre Dame, had Michigan the talk of the nation with super sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. But Saturday’s uninspiring performance in which the Minutemen marched down the field for three touchdown drives spanning 67 yards or more brought back the “Oh, not again” feelings that have inundated  the past two years.

Is Michigan headed for another collapse just like last season, or is this year’s team poised to hold its own in the Big Ten?

Offensive stats through three games
2010   2009
3-0 Record 3-0
33.3 Scoring Offense 38.0
859 Rushing Yards 812
286.3 Rushing YPG 270.7
671 Passing Yards 505
223.7 Passing YPG 168.3
510 Total Offense 439
21/42 (50%) Third-Down Conv. 16/41 (39%)
10/11 (91%) Red Zone Scoring 9/12 (75%)
1* Turnovers 4
1 Sacks Allowed 4
*1 other turnover was on a fumble after an
INT, so doesn’t count towards offensive stats

Through the first three games last season, Michigan averaged more points per game (38) than it has so far this season (33.3), but the offensive output has been much more consistent this year (510 total yards per game compared to 439).

While Michigan’s offensive numbers are better, the opponents have been eerily similar.

Last year, Michigan opened with Western Michigan, a Mid-American Conference school that had a senior quarterback who holds six career passing records at the school. Many predicted the Broncos pull off the upset, but Michigan dominated in a 31-7 win in Tate Forcier’s debut.

A week later, Michigan hosted Notre Dame and won a 38-34 shootout, then followed that up with a lackluster performance against Eastern Michigan. In that game, Michigan led just 24-17 at halftime, but pulled away, winning 41-17.

Those three opponents finished the year with a combined record of 11-25, so what seemed like a great start for Michigan was really just smoke and mirrors.

Prior to this year’s opener against UConn, many predicted the Huskies to waltz into Ann Arbor and come away with a win. UConn was expected to play for the Big East title this season. Instead, Michigan won convincingly in Denard Robinson’s debut, and UConn has now started the season 1-2 with a loss to Temple last week.

In the second week of the season, Michigan traveled to South Bend and pulled out the win when Robinson led the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes to seal the win. Notre Dame followed that up with an overtime loss at Michigan State last week, and could very well lose its next three as well.

Last week, Michigan came out flat, leading UMass just 21-17 at halftime before building a sizeable lead in the third quarter. But Michigan wasn’t able to put UMass away in the fourth quarter, as the Minutemen pulled within five before a failed onside kick allowed Michigan to run out the clock.

Despite being an FCS team, UMass is probably better than Eastern Michigan was last year, considering Eastern didn’t win a single game and UMass is currently ranked 72nd in the Sagarin Ratings. That’s higher than upcoming opponents Bowling Green (90th), Indiana (82nd), and Purdue (77th).

I think this year’s Michigan team is better suited for Big Ten play than last year’s was for a couple of reasons.

1. Denard Robinson.

As long as he stays healthy, he gives Michigan a chance to win every game. Of course they won’t win every game this season, but his ability to run and pass makes Michigan’s offense nearly impossible to defend consistently.

Last year, Forcier played well in the first few games, but Michigan’s offense was ultimately hurt by his inexperience and a lack of a true running game. Forcier was a true freshman with a limited understanding of the playbook, and thus, the offensive variety was lacking.

Running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were constantly injured and neither proved to be a true threat, meaning opponents could key in on the passing game, forcing Forcier to make freshman mistakes, which he did.

Robinson had last season to get his feet wet in the offense and get acclimated to the college game. He came to fall camp just a few weeks before the season started, so his ability to run the offense consisted solely of taking the snap and running left or right. Opponents knew that and he still ran for 5.1 yards per carry.

The offseason gave him a chance to learn the playbook and develop his arm, and it paid off when Rich Rodriguez gave him the nod to start the UConn game. Robinson took advantage, putting up three of the nine best offensive games in Michigan history the past three weeks.

The offensive line opens up a huge hole for Vincent Smith (photo by the Detroit News)

The offensive line opens up a huge hole for Vincent Smith (photo by the Detroit News)

2. The offensive line.

This year’s offensive line is talented and experienced, and it all starts with center David Molk. Last year, the offense started to plummet after Molk went down with an injury. It shook up the entire line, making guard David Moosman move to center. In the first game thereafter, he fumbled three or four bad snaps, and the line was never able to gel the rest of the season.

So far this season, the line has allowed just one sack in Robinson’s 76 pass attempts, and has paved the way for 859 rushing yards in three games (six yards per carry).

Against Notre Dame’s stout defensive front seven, Michigan rushed for 288 yards and averaged seven yards per carry. Robinson also threw for 244 yards without being sacked.

Last week, Notre Dame sacked Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins four times and held State to 4.7 yards per carry, well below its average of 6.6.

The real test for the offensive line will be when Michigan plays Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, but this line is certainly suited to keep Michigan’s offense chugging away.

3. The skills position players.

Running back Michael Shaw stepped up last week against UMass, rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He seems to be the best back Michigan has this season, with Vincent Smith also splitting reps. If the two can combine to give Michigan a running threat outside of Robinson, the offense will be that much harder to stop.

The receivers are perhaps the best position group on the offense, other than quarterback. In Michigan’s last two games, a different receiver has stepped up.

Against Notre Dame, it was Roy Roundtree with eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown and Martavious Odoms with seven catches for 91 yards. Against UMass it was Darryl Stonum with three catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.  

Junior Hemingway, Michigan’s best deep threat, just returned from injury and made a nice 36-yard catch last week, and Kelvin Grady has averaged 13.2 yards per catch out of the slot.

With those receiving weapons at Robinson’s disposal, defenses will have a hard time lining up to stop the run.

Given the electric play of Robinson, the cohesiveness of the offensive line, and the talent of the skill position players, Michigan’s offense is much more suited to continue its output once the Big Ten grind starts than it was last season. The only glaring weakness is the defense, which isn’t going to be fixed this season. Expect a lot of shootouts the rest of the way.

Darryl Stonum had a breakout game against UMass (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Darryl Stonum had a breakout game against UMass (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Over/Under

I was right there with Michigan’s score last week, only one under, but gave the defense too much credit, 16 under. I don’t think anyone really expected UMass to drop 37 points in Ann Arbor, but here’s to hoping it was just a one-game letdown.

For the season, I’m nine over offensively and 18 over defensively, so it’s starting to come back down to the median.

I Said What?

“Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.”

Well, I was right that he wouldn’t need as many carries. He rushed 17 times, as opposed to the 29 and 28 times in the previous two games. Shaw was efficient enough with his 12 carries, scoring three touchdowns, that Robinson wasn’t needed to run as much.

I was wrong, however, about Michigan building a large enough lead that would allow Robinson a breather. (+1/2)

“Robinson needs to establish the passing game. Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.”

Michigan didn’t need to throw the ball more last week, but Robinson was very efficient when he did, going 10-14 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The only miscue was an interception on his first pass of the day.

He showed great touch on a few deep balls that he threw, completing a 36-yarder to Hemingway and a 46-yarder to Stonum.  

I think Robinson did enough to warrant defenses paying attention to the passing game, although until he proves he can do it in Big Ten play, the question marks will still exist. (+1)

“Find a running game outside of Robinson.”

Done. Shaw rushed 12 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and broke a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up another touchdown. Can he do it again? (+1)

Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime.”

The tone that Michigan set was one that lacked emotion coming off a big road win over a rival. UMass took the opening drive down the field for a field goal and Robinson’s first pass was picked off. UMass led 17-7 before Michigan realized it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and scored twice right before the half. (-1)

Denard?

Denard Pryor Week 3
Three games into the season he’s still outperforming everybody’s preseason Heisman favorite Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has 44 more passing yards and two more passing touchdowns, Robinson has 394 more rushing yards and two more rushing touchdowns. He also has a higher quarterback rating, although ever so slight, a higher completion percentage, and has thrown one fewer interception. Interstingly enough, their yards per attempt are exactly the same.

Wolverine Wednesday: The Difference a Year Makes

Thursday, September 16th, 2010


Around this time last year, I wrote this, questioning whether it was time to expand Denard Robinson’s role in the offense. Now, just two weeks into the 2010 season, he’s a human Heisman.

Denard doing his Heisman thing, photo by Sam Wolson / The Michigan Daily

Denard doing his best Heisman pose (photo by Sam Wolson / The Michigan Daily)

I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t expect Robinson’s development to happen this fast, but even in that article after last year’s Iowa loss, it was less about his future as a quarterback, and more about utilizing his athletic ability given where his development was at the time.

Now that he has, to borrow a phrase from the Fab Five, “shocked the world” with his play during the first two weeks of the season, leading the nation in rushing yards and total offense, and vaulting to the top of the list of Heisman Trophy candidates, it seems absolutely ridiculous to think of him anywhere else but lined up behind the center.

While Robinson has captured the attention of the nation, he certainly has his detractors who say there’s no way he can keep it up through the grind of the Big Ten schedule. He’ll end up getting hurt from all the pounding he takes. He still hasn’t proved he can pass.

Those are all legitimate claims and only time will tell whether they ring true or not, but one thing is for certain: Rich Rodriguez has his man.

To be honest, I still haven’t even figured out what happened in South Bend on Saturday.  I think @cjane87 said it best: “I have had every single emotion over the last four hours.”

The game started out ominously with Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist leading the Irish down the field for a touchdown. Michigan responded with a punt. But then instead of Crist coming back out on to the field it was freshman Tommy Rees who proceeded to throw an interception on his second play, and Michigan took advantage with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Roy Roundtree. Just like that it was 7-7.

Jonas Mouton's first quarter interception led to Michigan's first touchdown of the game, photo by the Ann Arbor News

Jonas Mouton's first quarter interception led to Michigan's first touchdown of the game (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

From that point through the rest of the half, the inept combination of Rees and fellow freshman Nate Montana allowed Michigan to pull ahead 21-7. At that point, I was feeling good about the way things were going, but knew for sure that Notre Dame was going to come back.

Sure enough, the momentum swung back to the Irish as Crist returned to bring the Irish back, and ultimately hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 95-yard touchdown to take the lead with just 3:41 remaining. At that point, I may have sworn at the thought of my wife jumping up and down. She’s a Notre Dame fan, and I was out of town for the weekend on a business trip, thankfully.

In retrospect, the quick strike was a blessing for Michigan and served as fuel for the growing wildfire that is Denard Robinson. Unlike the Iowa game last season when Robinson had the chance to lead the offense down the field for the win, but instead threw this (at 2:12), Robinson was fully in command and marched the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ate 3:14 off the clock and sealed the Michigan win.

Just three minutes after NBC announcer Tom Hammond proclaimed that Rudolph’s go-ahead touchdown would go down as one of the greats in Notre Dame lore, Robinson created his own history, becoming the first Michigan quarterback to win his first start in South Bend since Jim Harbaugh in 1986.

That list includes Steven Threet in 2008, Chad Henne in 2004, John Navarre in 2002, Tom Brady in 1998, Todd Collins in 1992, Elvis Grbac in 1990, and Michael Taylor in 1988. In other words: most of the best quarterbacks in Michigan history couldn’t do what Robinson did on Saturday.

Robinson proved he has what it takes to lead the team down the field for the win, not just with his feet, but through the air as well. He hit Roundtree with a perfect pass to the two-yard line to set up the winning score. He actually went 5-6 on that drive for 55 yards and only rushed for 17 yards.

Notre Dame fans will always argue that if Crist had played the entire game, Notre Dame would have won. They may have an argument there and I may have to agree with them, but the cruel nature of the game is dealing with injuries, and Michigan has faced its far share of them this season as well.

After a rocky first game, Tate Forcier was in full support of Robinson against Notre Dame (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)

After a rocky first game, Tate Forcier was in full support of Robinson against Notre Dame (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)

In the same breath that an ND fan can say that, a Michigan fan can say that Rudolph never would have gotten open down field had Troy Woolfolk not suffered a season-ending ankle injury in fall practice.

The fact of the matter is, Michigan won for the second straight year and fourth time in the past five years.

The schedule sets up perfectly for a 5-0 start before another rival, Michigan State, invades the Big House.

We’ll get a good look at MSU this Saturday night as they host Notre Dame.

An ideal scenario for Michigan this week and next is to jump out to an early lead on UMass and Bowling Green, letting the starters play through the first half and possibly into the third quarter before giving way to the backups.

It would be great to get last year’s Notre Dame hero, Tate Forcier, some playing time, as well as freshman Devin Gardner.

Over/Under

Yeah, so I was wrong with my prediction that Notre Dame would win. Don’t call me a sell-out for picking against the Wolverines. As I said in the pick, I desperately want Michigan to win, but have to put bias aside when making my picks. I was only three off Michigan’s point total, but 13 under Notre Dame’s.

For the season, I’m 10 over for Michigan and 34 over for the opponents. I guess I should start respecting defenses, huh?
I Said What?

“The combination of Michigan’s defense this year and Notre Dame’s offense virtually requires Michigan’s offense to score 35-plus points if it wants to win this game.”

If Crist had played the entire game, maybe, but I was a touchdown too pessimistic. (-1)

“While you can’t look at the time of possession alone to determine the outcome of a game, it can certainly go a long way toward helping you win the game.”

Final time of possession: Michigan 34:09, Notre Dame 25:51. Michigan had the ball for just over eight minutes more than Notre Dame. Part of that was due to the 95-yard touchdown pass from Crist to Rudolph, allowing Michigan to put together a game-winning drive while eating the clock, but nevertheless, Notre Dame had just three drives of more than five plays the entire game. (+1)

“Two years ago in South Bend, Michigan lost four fumbles in the rainy conditions and lost 35-17. The weather forecast calls for similar conditions this Saturday, so whichever team takes better care of the ball could be the one that wins.”

The rain held off, but Michigan protected the ball for the second straight week. The only miscue was a fumble by Robinson in the first quarter, but Michigan recovered. On the flip side, Michigan picked off three Notre Dame passes, one of which directly lead to Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. (+1)

“The defense has to employ the bend-but-don’t-break attitude that it used last week, making Notre Dame work to get the ball down the field, rather than making big plays.”

Eh, not so much. The Crist injury may have contributed to Michigan’s success in the first half, but the big plays certainly did happen: A 37-yard pass at the end of the first half, which should have lead to three points, but Brian Kelly chose to go for the touchdown; a 53-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter; and Rudolph’s 95-yard romp for the go-ahead touchdown. Three big plays that lead to 14 (should have been 17) points. All things considered, that’s a success against one of the most talented passing games Michigan will face all season. (-1)

“Michigan’s lines dominated UConn last week on both sides of the ball. There’s nothing to suggest it can’t do the same this week, as Notre Dame has a very young and inexperienced offensive line.”

Michigan didn’t exactly dominate Notre Dame’s offensive line, getting just one sack, though as MGoBlog points out, when Mike Martin and Craig Roh weren’t being double-teamed, they did this, this, and this.

The offensive line did well to not allow a sack for the second straight game and pave the way for Robinson to run for 258 yards. (+1)

So hey, three out of five isn’t bad.

We Can Always Use More Denard

WolverineWatchDenardvsPryor

A new addition to Maize & Go Blue is the Wolverine Watch, which is housed on the right sidebar. Currently, it features a side-by-side comparison of Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as seen above. It will be updated after every game for the entire season to show where the two stand in comparison.

If other Wolverines break out, they will be added to the Watch next to one of the Big Ten’s best at that position. Right now, the only one I could foresee is Roundtree if he continues his pace from the last few games of last season and has more games like his performance on Saturday (eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown).

Go Blue!

The State of Michigan Football (for Dummies)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.

“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.

In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.

So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”

Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.

When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.

Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.

Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.

An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast

Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.

Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.

Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.

The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.

Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.

The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.

The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.

The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.

Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.

To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.

Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.

In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.

By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.

In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.

In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.

Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.

Reporters With an Axe to Grind

The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.

The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.

The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.

While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article being just one of many slanted pieces by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder

There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112. 

This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.

Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.

So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.

I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.

To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back

So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.

If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).

When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.

In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.

The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).  

In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.

Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

________________________________________________________________________________

*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.

In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).

The Top Individual Performances In the Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry

Thursday, November 19th, 2009


Michigan and Ohio State square off on Saturday for the 106th time in college football’s greatest rivalry.

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Ohio State has already wrapped up at least a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.

Michigan leads the all-time series 57-42-6, but enters this week’s matchup needing a win to extend its season through the holidays and take some heat off head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Will someone step up with a historic performance to lead Michigan past the 10th-ranked Buckeyes?

Or will a Buckeye deliver an all-time great showing to capture a sixth consecutive victory over Michigan and send Michigan to its second straight losing season?

There have certainly been some performances for the ages in the past 105 meetings, so we’ll take a look at the top individual performances in its storied history.

Bear in mind that this is the top performances in the Michigan-Ohio State game, not necessarily the best players on each team or the best performances for each team against another team.

This list will go position by position and take into account game implications and past history in addition to pure stats.

Make sure to read all the way through to see who is most likely have a breakout performance this Saturday.

Michigan Quarterback – Jim Harbaugh
*Jim Harbaugh

*Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh completed 16-of-19 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan’s 27-17 win over Ohio State in 1985.

Ohio State had won three of the last four meetings and five of the last seven.

Michigan entered the game 8-1-1 and had just drubbed Minnesota 48-7.

Ohio State came in 8-2 and ranked 12th in the nation.

After sitting out the previous season’s matchup with an injury, Harbaugh would lead Michigan to two straight victories over the Buckeyes, earning first-team All-American honors.

Ohio State Quarterback – Troy Smith
*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

While there have been many great quarterbacks at Ohio State, perhaps none have turned in a better performance against Michigan than Troy Smith.

In the game dubbed, “The Game of the Century,” Ohio State and Michigan ranked first and second in the nation entering the Horseshoe.

Smith proved unstoppable, completing 29-of-41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in leading Ohio State to the 42-39 victory.

The win sent Ohio State to the BCS National Championship game against Florida, while Michigan was relegated to the Rose Bowl against USC.

Additionally, the performance wrapped up the Heisman Trophy for Smith.

Michigan Running Back – Tshimanga Biakabutuka
*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

Tshimanga Biakabutuka, nicknamed “Touchdown Tim,” recorded one of the best all-time performances in the rivalry in 1995.

Ohio State entered the meeting undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Michigan came in 18th with a record of 8-3, hoping to knock off the Buckeyes.

Biakabutuka gashed the Ohio State defense for 313 yards on 37 attempts, out-doing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and leading Michigan to the 31-23 upset.

His 313 yards are the second most in a single game in Michigan history (behind Ron Johnson’s 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968) and helped Biakabutuka secure the school’s single season rushing record.

He went on to become the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

Ohio State Running Back – Bob Ferguson
*Bob Ferguson

*Bob Ferguson

In 1961, Ferguson rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio State to a 50-20 win over Michigan, and helping Ohio State win the national championship.

The win was Ohio State’s 400th victory all-time and the second of four straight over Michigan.

Ferguson finished second in the Heisman Trophy race that season, behind Syracuse running back Ernie Davis.

Michigan Halfback – Tom Harmon
*Tom Harmon

*Tom Harmon

Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon, produced an all-around performance for the ages against Ohio State in 1940.

“Old 98,” as he is known, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns, completed 11-of-12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, kicked four extra points, intercepted three passes (and ran one back for a touchdown), and booted three punts for an average of 50 yards per punt.

The performance led Michigan to a 40-0 drubbing of Ohio State.

After his playing career, he became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, where he earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

Ohio State Fullback – Jim Otis
*Jim Otis

*Jim Otis

Jim Otis is widely regarded as one of the top 50 Ohio State players of all time.

In 1968, for what some regard as the greatest team of all time, Otis led Ohio State to a 50-14 win over Michigan. He rushed 34 times for 143 yards and four touchdowns in the game, the final of which set up a two-point attempt. After the game, when asked why, Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

Otis’ four touchdowns gave him the school’s single-season rushing touchdowns record of 16, which has since been eclipsed.

Michigan Wide Receiver – Marquise Walker
*Marquise Walker

*Marquise Walker

In 2001, Marquise Walker had the best receiving day for a Michigan receiver against Ohio State.

Although Ohio State won the game 26-20 in Jim Tressell’s first season as head coach, Walker was unstoppable, catching 15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

His 15 receptions were enough to pass Anthony Carter on the career receptions list, although that record would be broken by Braylon Edwards in 2004.

The performance helped Walker earn first-team All-America honors in his senior season and was John Gruden’s first draft pick at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

Ohio State Wide Receiver -David Boston
*David Boston

*David Boston

David Boston is one of the most prolific receivers in Ohio State history, but turned in a fantastic performance in 1998.

A year after being humbled by Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, Boston got revenge with 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Boston responded after the game saying, “There were some things said last year after the game, that one of their players was chastising me or something. I didn’t really understand the message there. But today, I just went out and proved that I’m human.”

His performance led Ohio State to a 31-16 win over the defending National Champions.

Boston was drafted eighth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1999 NFL Draft and spent eight seasons in the NFL.

Michigan Tight End – Eric Kattus
*Eric Kattus

*Eric Kattus

While Michigan has never really had a great performance by a tight end against Ohio State, Eric Kattus claims the spot.

In 1985, he helped Jim Harbaugh beat Ohio State 27-17 after dropping three of the past four and five of the past seven to the Buckeyes.

Kattus, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the game, one of the best performances of his career.

Ohio State Tight End -Bruce Janowski
*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

A year after Michigan upset undefeated Ohio State in Bo Schembechler’s first season at Michigan, Ohio State was looking for revenge.

Both teams entered the match-up undefeated, but Ohio State tight end Bruce Jankowski helped that cause. His 26-yard touchdown pass gave Ohio State the lead, and it never trailed, beating Michigan 20-9.

Michigan Defensive Lineman – Glen Steele
*Glen Steele

*Glen Steele

Defensive end Glen Steele was the leader of Michigan’s front seven, helping the Wolverines win the National Championship in 1997.

Against Ohio State that year, Steele recorded five tackles (three for loss), two sacks, and a fumble recovery.

The constant pressure on Ohio State quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine helped Michigan win the game 20-14, and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl against Washington State.

Steele earned first-team All-America honors that season and played six seasons in the NFL for the Cincinnati Benglas. His 24 career sacks rank third on Michigan’s career list.

Ohio State Defensive Lineman -Vernon Gholston
*Vernon Gholston

*Vernon Gholston

Vernon Gholston terrorized Michigan quarterback Chad Henne in 2007, racking up five tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.

Michigan’s offensive line, including the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long, couldn’t stop Gholston as he was always in the backfield.

His four tackles for loss are an Ohio State single game record.

Ohio State won the game 14-3, earning another trip to the BCS National Championship game.

Gholston now plays for the New York Jets.

Michigan Linebacker – Ron Simpkins
*Ron Simpkins

*Ron Simpkins

Ron Simpkins recorded 20 total tackles (15 solo) in Michigan’s 14-6 win over No. 4 Ohio State in 1977 to help the Wolverines capture the Big Ten title.

Just a sophomore at the time, Simpkins recorded the third-most tackles in a single game in Michigan history at the time.

Simpkins would finish his career as Michigan’s all-time leading tackler, with 516, and played seven seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ohio State Linebacker -Chris Spielman
*Chris Spielman

*Chris Spielman

One of the greatest linebackers ever to play for Ohio State, Chris Spielman was a one man wrecking crew in 1986.

Although Michigan won the game 26-24, it was at the fault of Spielman, who recorded a school record 29 tackles.

Ohio State entered the contest 7-0 and ranked seventh in the nation. Michigan came in 6-1, needing a win to share the Big Ten title.

Ohio State missed a field goal with 1:08 to play to spoil Spielman’s career day.

Spielman went on to enjoy 12 seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and Cleveland Browns.

Michigan Defensive Back – Charles Woodson
*Charles Woodson

*Charles Woodson, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Charles Woodson became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1997, and his performance in the Ohio State game that year helped cement the trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

Woodson intercepted a pass, caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan’s only offensive touchdown of the game, and returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.

He also held Ohio State receiver David Boston in check, allowing just three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Woodson also picked off two passes against No. 2 Ohio State in his freshman season in 1995.

He became the fourth overall pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and has 41 career interceptions (seven returned for touchdowns).

Ohio State Defensive Back – Mike Doss
*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

Mike Doss proved pivotal in Ohio State’s 26-20 win over Michigan in 2001 during Jim Tressel’s first season as head coach.

Doss picked off a pass and ran it 36 yards to the Michigan four to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, Doss intercepted another John Navarre pass to set up a field goal.

The interceptions were critical in helping Ohio State win its first game in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

Michigan Defensive Back – Barry Pierson
*Barry Pierson

*Barry Pierson

Michigan defensive back Barry Pearson helped Michigan capture one of the biggest upsets of all time in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

In Bo Schembechler’s first season as Michigan head coach, the Wolverines entered the 1969 meeting ranked 12th in the nation.

Ohio State came in undefeated and ranked first in the nation.

Pierson picked off three passes in the game and also returned a punt 60 yards to the Ohio State three-yard line to set up a Michigan touchdown.

His performance helped Michigan upset what many believe to be the greatest college football team of all time.

Ohio State Defensive Back – Chic Harley
*Chic Harley

*Chic Harley

In 1919 Chic Harley returned from World War I, where he served as an Army pilot, to pick off four passes in Ohio State’s 13-3 win over Michigan.

It was Ohio State’s first ever win over the Wolverines, and Harley’s four picks (still a school single game record) helped lead the way.

He earned first-team All-America honors that season and also played halfback, punter, and kicker.

His number 47 was retired by Ohio State five years ago.

Michigan Punter – Chuck Ortmann
*Chuck Ortmann

*Chuck Ortmann

Chuck Ortmann may not have been the best punter to ever wear the maize and blue, but he holds Michigan’s career single game punting records thanks to Mother Nature.

The 1950 “Snow Bowl” between Michigan and Ohio State was played in the worst blizzard in 37 years to hit Columbus.

Ortmann punted 24 times for 723 yards, helping Michigan win the game 9-3.

Ohio State Punter – Vic Janowicz
*Vic Janowicz

*Vic Janowicz

Ohio State punter Vic Janowicz also gets credit for Ohio State’s career single-game punting records thanks to the blizzard of 1950.

In the “Snow Bowl,” Janowicz booted 21 punts for 685 yards and scored Ohio State’s only three points of the game on a field goal.

After the game, Janowicz said, “It was like a nightmare. My hands were numb and blue. I had no feeling in them and I don’t know how I hung onto the ball. It was terrible. You knew what you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it.”

In addition to punter, Janowicz served as Ohio State’s halfback, kicker, and safety, and won the Heisman Trophy that season.

Michigan Kicker – J.D. Carlson
*J.D. Carlson

*J.D. Carlson

There have been many great Michigan-Ohio State games, but only one has ended as a result of a Michigan field goal.

In 1990, 15th-ranked Michigan needed a win over 19th-ranked Ohio State to secure a share of the Big Ten championship.

Late in the game, tied 13-13, Michigan kicker J.D. Carlson missed a short field goal attempt that would have put Michigan ahead.

But after getting the ball back, Carlson got a chance for redemption, and nailed it with no time remaining to give Michigan a 16-13 win.

Bouncing back from the miss to win the game changed Carlson’s life.

“I will forever be prepared for the rest of my life because I have experienced some of the biggest swings in emotion in a short period of time,” Carlson said of the game. “Not much fazes me now.”

Carlson holds Michigan’s single game field goal record, as well as the highest career PAT percentage record.

Ohio State Kicker – Tom Klaban
*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

In 1974, Michigan and Ohio State entered the annual showdown ranked third and fourth in the nation, respectively.

The game proved to be all about the kickers as Michigan kicker Mike Lantry missed a field goal that would have won the game as time expired, but it was Ohio State kicker Tom Klaban who stole the show.

Klaban booted four field goals to account for all of Ohio State’s points in the 12-10 victory, the only time Ohio State has beaten Michigan without scoring a touchdown. The win sent Ohio State to a Rose Bowl battle with USC.

Most Likely Michigan Breakout Performer
*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For Michigan to win the game on Saturday, it will need a great performance from its defense. The defense has been much of the reason for Michigan’s second half collapse this season.

One player who has stood out all season is defensive end Brandon Graham. The senior had perhaps the best game of his career last week against Wisconsin, recording 11 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, and a forced fumble.

Last season, Graham had three tackles (two for loss) and a sack against Ohio State.

If Michigan wins on Saturday, expect a big day from Graham in the Ohio State backfield.

Other possible breakout performers: Michigan running backs Brandon Minor or Carlos Brown, Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree

Most Likely Ohio State Breakout Performer
*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

Every great quarterback has a career defining game that cements his spot in team lore. For Ohio State sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, this Saturday could be that game.

Pryor received much criticism from Buckeye fans early in the season after losses to USC and Purdue, but has played much better in the second half.

A great showing against Michigan, who hasn’t shown it can stop a mobile quarterback, or anybody for that matter, could sell even the most incredulous of Buckeye fans on his abilities.

If Pryor makes the same mistakes he did against Purdue, Michigan has a shot, but if Pryor uses his legs effectively and makes the throws he needs to, he has a great shot at being 2-0 against Michigan.

Other possible breakout performers: Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey, defensive back Kurt Coleman