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Posts Tagged ‘Week 1’

#7 Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3: Opening statement

Monday, September 5th, 2016


WoodleyWoodsonHarbaughJordanJeter(MGoBlue.com)

The dream of any quarterback is to win the starting job, take the field on opening day and immediately lead the team down the field. Those dreams then continue with a national championship, being drafted first in the NFL Draft, winning the Super Bowl, and being elected into the Hall of Fame. But for Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, the dream started off unlike he had ever imagined it would.

“I don’t think that’s how he wanted to start his career,” said junior center Mason Cole. “He probably pictured it a thousand ways and that probably wasn’t one of them. But he’s fine. I don’t know what happened on that play but he threw a pick and he got over it. Next drive he came out and drove it 98 yards.”

The junior from Richmond, Va., who won the starting job in fall camp over fellow junior John O’Korn, took the first snap of Michigan’s season at his own 29 yard line, rolled to his right and fired a pass toward senior tight end Jake Butt. But with Hawaii defensive back Damien Packer dropping back into coverage, the pass never had a chance to reach Butt, and suddenly Michigan’s defense was back on the field.

“Obviously that wasn’t the start I was imagining,” Speight said after the game. “I was kind of rolling to our sideline and my momentum carried me right into Coach. He just grabbed me and held me and kind of starting laughing.”

The defense stood tall with a three-and-out and Harbaugh’s commitment to Speight never wavered. Michigan re-took possession on its own 2-yard line and this time Speight looked like a seasoned veteran, marching the Wolverines 98 yards in 11 plays for the game’s first touchdown. On the drive, Speight converted a 3rd-and-7 from the Michigan five with a 16-yard bullet to Jehu Chesson. He also hit Amara Darboh on a screen for a 31-yard pickup on 3rd-and-7 from the 39. He closed the drive with a perfecly thrown fade to Grant Perry for a 12-yard touchdown.

UM-Hawaii_small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Hawaii
Score 63 3
Record 1-0 0-2
Total Yards 512 232
Net Rushing Yards 306 81
Net Passing Yards 206 151
First Downs 26 16
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 3-33 8-60
Punts-Yards 0-0 6-256
Time of Possession 27:55 32:05
Third Down Conversions 7-of-7 1-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 4-41 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 9-for-9 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 0-of-1
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 0-of-1
Full Box Score

Harbaugh never thought twice about his decision to leave Speight in the game after the interception and said that he used it as an opportunity.

“It’s very difficult to throw an interception on a series and then come right back and lead a touchdown drive on the following series,” Harbaugh said after the game. “It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching (with quarterbacks) and the really good ones can do that. They can think (too much and say) ‘I’m not going to make another bad mistake.’ That’s what some do. Good ones don’t.

“And then to see him start the next drive on the 2-yard line. I mean, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series. You’ve thrown an interception in the first throw of the game and then you find yourself on the 2-yard line. But he responded.”

Two hours later, when the clock read zero and Michigan had collected a 63-3 victory — the seventh-largest in school history and the largest since 1975 — Speight’s interception remained one of the few mistakes the Wolverines made all day. Harbaugh said afterward that he didn’t see a single mistake defensively for the first two-and-a-half quarters…

“Watching our defense go through the first half, and even the third quarter, there wasn’t a mistake made,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t a linemen mistake made. There wasn’t a stance alignment mistake. They were right with their eyes and right with their feet.”

In a season opener, no one truly knows what to expect. It’s why most good teams front-load their schedule with cupcakes, to work out the kinks before the real season — conference play — begins. But aside from Speight’s first pass, it was as perfect a season opener as one could expect.

Playing in front of a who’s who of sporting greats — Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Charles Woodson — Harbaugh used a program record 17 true freshmen. Eleven different players carried the ball, 11 different players caught a pass, four different quarterbacks played, and three lead scoring drives. For just the fourth time in program history, Michigan went an entire game without punting. Only four of Michigan’s 59 plays for the game — Speight’s interception on the first play and three running plays to run out the clock — were not part of touchdown drives.

The defense, which entered the season with expectations to be one among the nation’s best, lived up to its billing, holding Hawaii to negative yards until midway through the second quarter, and only about 140 total yards until the vast majority of defenders on the field were freshmen and backups. Michigan’s secondary, which was playing without All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was held out due to injury — not only picked off two passes but returned them both for touchdowns.

Season openers against overmatched opponents are typically boring affairs, but even as the lead continued to widen, this one kept interest throughout. It was evident that there is more talent and more depth on this team than Michigan has fielded in a decade. It was evident that the 2016 recruiting class was ranked so highly for a reason.

True freshman Chris Evans backed up the fall camp hype with 112 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Fellow true freshman Eddie McDoom flashed his speed, taking two end arounds for 34 yards and also caught a pair of passes. Kekoa Crawford caught an 18-yard pass and freshman tight end Sean McKeon caught two passes. Ben Bredeson didn’t start, but showed his talent on the offensive line, while mammoth freshman Michael Onwenu played on both lines. The nation’s top recruit, Rashan Gary, notched three tackles in his debut and looked like he fit the part.

It was a blowout, yes, but aside from injuries to Bryan Mone (leg), Taco Charlton (ankle), and De’Veon Smith (ribs), it had everything a Michigan fan could want to see from a season opener. Speight looked good enough after the interception and it remains to be seen whether he can build on it. And his coach thinks he can.

“It bodes really well for his career,” Harbaugh said. “To have done that, off an interception and then have the very next drive go 98 yards for a touchdown. Now he knows he can do it. Now we can expect him to do it.”

Game ball – Offense

Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
World, meet Chris Evans. The freshman out of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind. showed the quickness and burst that Michigan hasn’t seen out of the backfield in years. While senior De’Veon Smith started the game and fellow senior Ty Isaac was the second back in, Evans made his mark early. On Michigan’s third series and his first carry was a 7-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 to help set up Michigan’s second touchdown. On the next series he raced 21 yards to put Michigan in the red zone and set up another touchdown. One series later, he found the endzone himself from 18 yards out. He then got the scoring started in the second half with a 43-yard run that showcased his burst as he hit the hole and outraced everyone to the endzone.

After the game, Harbaugh praised Evans as a special football player who will have a much bigger role as the season goes on. Harbaugh noted that he didn’t even show everything he can do, such as catch passes out of the backfield, line up in the slot, and return kicks. He may not replace Jabrill Peppers on offense, but he fits the same role and provides the same type of athleticism that can make a good offense that much better.

Game ball – Defense

Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Injuries have kept Mike McCray off the field so far in his career, but now finally healthy he showed what he’s capable of. In his first career start, McCray lead the team with nine tackles, 3.5 for loss, and two sacks. His speed was a noticeable upgrade from last year’s linebacking corps as he was seemingly in on every play and all over the Hawaii backfield. If McCray can stay healthy and keep up that level of play, one of the only question marks about Michigan’s defense will be much less of a question.

 

#7 Michigan vs Hawaii game preview

Friday, September 2nd, 2016


UM-Hawaii game preview header

Previously this week: First Look: Hawaii, Tailgate Tuesday: Cedar planked scotch eggs, Five-Spot Challenge, Hawaii game poster, A word from our sponsors, History says Michigan’s “Harbaughfense” will be more explosive in Year 2

A long and eventful offseason full of National Signing Day spectacles and satellite camps, Jim Harbaugh subtweets and rap videos, first pitches and White House meetings, finally comes to an end tomorrow. Michigan kicks off its 2016 season against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at high noon in Michigan Stadium.

UM-Hawaii_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ESPN
Hawaii Head Coach: Nick Rolovich (1st season)
Coaching Record: 0-1
Offensive Coordinators: Brian Smith (1st season)
Craig Stutzmann (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Lempa (1st season)
Last Season: 3-10 (0-8)
Last Meeting: Michigan 48 – UH 17 (1998)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 2-0
Record in Ann Arbor: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Hawaii 1st meeting as a coach
Last Michigan win: 1998 (48-17)
Last Hawaii win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 2

While Harbaugh has dominated the headlines since the 2015 season ended with a Citrus Bowl thumping of SEC East champion Florida, new Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich has done his part to get in on the action. In May, after Harbaugh announced a satellite camp in Hawaii, Rolovich jokingly tweeted out a flyer for his own camp at “Dockers High School” in Michigan. He also issued a challenge to Harbaugh for a pre-game quarterback battle. Rolovich was a star quarterback at Hawaii a decade ago. Harbaugh, who worked the Hawaii satellite camp alongside Rolovich, told media this week that he would be open to it.

At the beginning of this week, Rolovich said that he asked Harbaugh to give Hawaii some scrimmage film to even the playing field since Hawaii already played a game — they lost 51-31 to California in Sydney, Australia last Friday — but Harbaugh declined. Of course, the media took the denial and ran with it, but Rolovich claimed yesterday that he was just joking. He then tweeted an apology to Harbaugh.

Tomorrow, the non-football shenanigans come to an end and both Harbaugh and Rolovich will face off on opposing sidelines. So what can we expect? As mentioned above, we’ve already had a chance to see Hawaii in action in a game that yielded 82 combined points, over 1,100 combined yards, and 57 combined first downs. Although they came out on the losing end, the offensive performance was at least enough to excite Hawaii fans after a 3-10 season a year ago.

In that opening loss to Cal, Hawaii piled up 482 total yards of offense including 248 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry. But before you get worried about whether Michigan’s defense can stop them, consider that Cal’s defense ranked 108th nationally last season in total defense and 105th against the run. Michigan’s, of course, ranked fourth and 16th, respectively.

The main reason for excitement tomorrow based on Hawaii’s first game is the performance of their defense. Hawaii surrendered 630 total yards including 441 through the air and didn’t force a turnover. That fits right in line with their 2015 defense, which allowed 35.6 points (105th) and 448.8 yards (104th) per game.

So what can we expect tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Hawaii has the ball

Last season, the Hawaii offense ranked 120th nationally last season in total offense (316.3 yards per game), 118th in scoring (17.6 points per game), 115th in rushing (123.9 yards per game), 98th in passing (192.4 yards per game), and 118th in team passing efficiency (97.08). But with nine returning starters, Rolovich and co-offensive coordinators Brian Smith and Craig Stutzmann should be able to improve on those numbers.

It starts with senior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey, who has 19 career starts under his belt but split time with USC transfer Max Wittek last season. While Wittek started the first eight games and completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and 15 interceptions, Woolsey took over for the last five and fared slightly better with a 49 percent completion percentage for five touchdowns and six picks. Woolsey completed 17-of-34 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against Cal. He also rushed six times for 33 yards.

The backfield returns its top five rushers, including Woolsey, most notably fifth-year senior Paul Harris, who became the first Hawaii back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since 2010. His 1,132 yards and 5.7 average was the highlight of Hawaii’s offense that still ranked 115th nationally on the ground. That’s because there wasn’t much behind him. But Harris barely saw the field last Friday. It was redshirt junior Diocemy Saint Juste who stole the show. An injury in fall camp kept Saint Juste out of last season, but he returned with 14 carries for 118 yards (8.4 ypc) and a touchdown against Cal. Senior Steven Lakalaka carried 11 times for 61 yards and a score, while Harris managed 36 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

If Woolsey can prove to be efficient passer the Rainbow Warriors should be able to improve on their 98th-ranked passing offense with nine of their top 10 receivers returning. Senior Marcus Kemp and redshirt sophomores Devan Stubblefield and Dylan Collie weren’t quite the three-headed monster in 2015 that Michigan had with Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, but they caught a combined 95 passes for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns. Stubblefield didn’t play against Cal, but Kemp lead the team with 73 yards and one touchdown on four receptions. Redshirt freshman John Ursua caught five passes for 70 yards.

The offensive line had to replaced left tackle Ben Clarke, who started 50 career games, but returned four starters with a combined 66 career starts between them. Redshirt junior Dejon Allen slides over to left tackle after starting 12 games at right guard and one at left guard a year ago. With redshirt sophomore Asotui Eli, who started 11 games at center last season, moving to right guard, the big question mark will likely be at center where fifth-year senior Leo Koloamatangi stepped in with seven career starts. Redshirt junior John Wa’a remained at left guard where he started one game last season and two in 2014. Fifth-year senior R.J. Hollis is back at right tackle after starting all 13 games there in 2015.

When Michigan has the ball

While the Hawaii offense was bad in 2015, the defense was not much better. It ranked 104th nationally in total defense (448.8 yards per game), 105th in scoring defense (35.6 points per game), 118th in rush defense (239.8 yards per game), 42nd in passing yards allowed (208.9 yards per game), and 104th in pass defense efficiency (143.42).

The only real connection between Michigan and Hawaii comes in the form of the new defensive coordinator Rolovich brought in. Kevin Lempa was the defensive backs coach at Boston College the past three seasons under new Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. He’ll know Brown’s philosophies and aim to bring some of them to Hawaii. Their Boston College defense led the nation in 2015 and the pass defense ranked sixth.

The best player on Hawaii’s defense last season, defensive end Kennedy Tulimasealli, was arrested twice over the offseason and subsequently dismissed from the team in June. Tulimasealli ranked second in the MWC with 18.5 tackles for loss. Nobody else returning had more than 4.5.

Fifth-year senior Mekani Kema-Kaleiwaher and redshirt junior David Manoa are the starting ends, while redshirt freshman Manly Williams will rotate in. Kema-Kaleiwaher notched a sack against Cal while Manoa managed just one tackle. Fifth-year senior nose tackle Kory Rasmussen is the lone returning starter on the front line and his 4.5 tackles for loss last season are the second-most of any returning player. He made three tackles last Friday. The other tackle spot belongs to sophomore Zeno Choi, who played sparingly a year ago.

Redshirt sophomore Jahlani Tavai moved from end to middle linebacker this season. His five tackles for loss and three sacks lead all returning players and he picked up right where he left off by leading the team with 12 tackles against Cal, including one for loss. Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams was the leading tackler in 2015, but was suspended for the Cal game. In his place was junior Russell Williams, who recorded five tackles, one for loss. Redshirt sophomore Malachi Mageo is the SAM linebacker but managed just three tackles last week.

The secondary is thin but did return some talent and was supposed to be the relative strength of the defense. A pair of fifth-year seniors should hold down the corner spots. Jalen Rogers started seven games last season and ranked third on the team with five pass breakups, while Jamal Mayo played in all 13 games as a reserve and broke up two passes. They combined for 13 tackles against Cal and Rogers had one pass breakup. Junior strong safety Daniel Lewis Jr. returns with 13 career starts, but like Garcia-Williams, sat out the Cal game with a suspension. Fifth-year senior Damien Packer started in his place and made 10 tackles. Free safety Trayvon Henderson returned from an injury that limited him to just two games last season. He ranked second on the team with 63 tackles in 2014 and also picked off a pair of passes. Against Cal, he tied Tavai for the team lead with 12 tackles.

The other third

If there’s one unit that was somewhat respectable in 2015 it was the special teams unit, which ranked 60th nationally in kick returns (21.32 yards per return), 71st in punt returns (7.73 yards per return), sixth in net punting (41.51 yards per punt), and 31st in special teams efficiency. Hawaii didn’t cover kicks very well (111th in kick return defense and 99th in punt return defense) but at least they were fairly good at something.

Senior Rigoberto Sanchez handled everything kick related in 2015, going 8-of-11 on field goals with a long of 50, 23-of-24 on PATs, punting 74 times for an average of 45.1 yards, and handling kickoff duties. Last week, he made his only field goal attempt, from 42 yards, made all four extra point attempts, and punted four times for an average of 37.3 yards.

Redshirt junior receiver Keelan Ewaliko is back to return kicks after averaging 26.3 yards per return last season, while Ursua will get a chance to show what he can do on punt returns. Ewaliko returned five kickoffs against Cal but averaged just 18.4 yards. Harris returned three for an average of 17.7.

Prediction

Cal quarterback Davis Webb showed Michigan how to carve apart a porous Hawaii defense, but with Wilton Speight making his first career start, it’s a safe bet to assume he won’t be given the opportunity to chuck it up 54 times. Instead, Jim Harbaugh will look to make a statement on the ground and Michigan fans will get their first chance to see how much the offensive line has improved — although that won’t be truly evident until the Wolverines face a good team.

Last season, Hawaii traveled to Columbus and hung with Ohio State in the first half, trailing just 14-0 at halftime, but the Buckeyes wore them down for a 38-0 route. With a better offense under Rolovich this season, Hawaii would like to at least put some points on the board, but Michigan features one of the nation’s best defenses. I don’t think Michigan gets the shutout here, but I don’t think it’ll be close either.

Michigan scores early and often, Speight looks crisp and make smart decisions, the running back trio of De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans wear down Hawaii’s defense for over 250 yards, and Michigan rolls to an easy victory. The defense allows 10 points just as it did the last time Harbaugh faced Hawaii, as a quarterback in 1986, but the offense scores more than the 27 it did back then.

Michigan 55 – Hawaii 10

Central Michigan postgame transcript: Players

Sunday, September 1st, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Desmond Morgan

On second half adjustments…
“Yeah, they always kind of bring us together at halftime and decide what they’re hurting us with in the first half, what things that we were kind of sticking to them. So we just assessed some of the things that they were kind of getting us with, a couple of the routes on the passing game and things like that, and just made minor adjustments.”

On the defense’s goals and how many of them were hit…
“As a defense, we always want to keep them the lowest points possible. I know one of the biggest things was redzone defense that we always stress and coming out twice with a stop was a big thing for us, especially holding them to a field goal. They started really close there in kind of a quick change of events with momentum and everything like that, so that’s one of them. As far as turnovers as well, our goal was to get two (and) we got two. I think there were a couple of opportunities that we could have got some more and as the season progresses we need to get more, but overall that’s two of the big things that stand out in my mind.”

On whether he felt if the defense got enough pressure on the quarterback…
“I think that’s something we need to improve on as well. I know me personally blitzing a couple of times, as linebackers have to get home on a couple more blitzes. I don’t think we did that too great today. Then pass rush is something we always like to improve on. There was one, the third down scramble that ended up going for a first down, (we needed to) get a little more pressure and contain that guy. So there were a couple of times where obviously we missed and that’s something we’re going to work on.”

On whether he has started thinking about Notre Dame…
“Just started. Game’s over. We’ll try to enjoy this one a little bit, we’re getting the film tomorrow, but walking off that field last year I haven’t forgotten what that felt like, so I’m definitely looking forward to that game.”

Michael Schofield

On whether Devin Gardner was too fired up at the beginning…
“It’s just the first game of the season, you’re excited to play. We’ve been hitting each other all camp, it’s the first time you get to hit a new team.”

On whether he noticed Devin settle down…
“Kinda. Yeah, in the third series he kind of started to settle down a little.”

On whether Devin is more comfortable out of the shotgun than under center…
“I don’t really pay attention to that much at all. I’m just blocking.”

On whether the offensive line feels more comfortable in the shotgun than under center…
“No, we’re comfortable with whatever.”

On if he feels they struck a nice balance between shotgun and under center…
“I think we definitely did. We’re just trying to balance it up.”

On what it means to have good depth at running back…
“It’s great. Not just relying on one guy to run the ball 30 times a game is going to be nice. We’ve got three guys, four guys, whatever it is to run the ball and kind of take hits off each other.”

Raymon Taylor

On the sudden change situations and how the defense responded…
“We do things like that in practice, so when our back’s against the wall in a game it’s just like in practice. When things like that happen we can’t panic because coach put us in that situation during practice. We just happened to come out on top and win the game.”

On if he thought he was going to score on the interception return…
“Oh yeah, I thought I had him, but came up short.”

On the performance of Channing Stribling…
“He did well. Like I told him before, don’t panic, just play like you play in practice, and get to the ball, know your assignments, and he did pretty well.”

On a CMU quarterback playing who they didn’t expect to play…
“All Central Michigan, the guys are great. He’s a great quarterback. I take my hat off and wish him the best this season.”

Cam Gordon

On the blocked punt returned for touchdown setting the tone for the game…
“Coach Hoke talks a lot about special teams. We really emphasize that a lot, so we kind of saw that at the beginning of the game with the blocked punt for a touchdown, so it was great.”

On what the team talked about regarding Notre Dame on the sideline towards the end of the game…
“We were all just thinking about on to the next one. We have corrections that need to be made and now we’re thinking about Notre Dame.”

On the electric atmosphere of the Notre Dame game…
“It’s going to be great, this being the last game, it’s going to be great.”

On his memories from last year’s game and if there’s one thing that sticks out…
“Not really. I mean, we lost. That stuck with me, so we need a different outcome this year, this week.”

On the importance of getting the win in the last game against Notre Dame in Michigan Stadium…
“It’s very important, especially with it going down in the history books. To be able to say that you beat Notre Dame the last time that you played them, so it’s going to be great.”

On what he saw from the defensive linemen…
“I felt like they did a nice job. I’m always going to say that we need corrections, but I feel like they did a nice job, especially getting the win.”

Michigan-Central Michigan game preview

Friday, August 30th, 2013


Unlike last season’s opener, the national attention isn’t centered around Michigan’s game, but that doesn’t mean Brady Hoke will prepare any less for Central Michigan than he did for Alabama. As he said in his Monday press conference, it’s the fist chance to see where the team stands after a long offseason, with a new quarterback, and plenty of youth to go around.

After all, Central is the team that finished last season with four straight wins, the team that won its bowl game, the team that had the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, and the team that has a running back who has seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games. No other opponent on Michigan’s schedule can lay claim to more than one of those feats.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – Big Ten Network
Central Michigan Head Coach: Dan Enos (4th season)
Coaching Record: 13-24 (Overall and at CMU)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Cummings (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Tumpkin (4th season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 7-6, 4-4 MAC (4th West)
Last Meeting: UM 41 – CMU 17 (2006)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Michigan vs. MAC: 31-1
Michigan in Season Openers: 109-21-3
Michigan in Home Openers: 110-18-2

The last time these two teams faced off was the second game of 2006 when Michigan won convincingly, 41-17. Coincidentally, that game preceded a matchup with Notre Dame, which Michigan also won.

But times are different. Michigan is on its second different coach than the one who won that game, Lloyd Carr, and has suffered its first ever defeat at the hands of a team from the Mid-American Conference. Alas, MAC teams can no longer be taken for granted. Or can they?

Central returns 15 starters and both specialists from last year’s 7-6 squad, but this is still a team that finished fourth in the MAC West. Yes, the Chips finished the season with four straight wins, but they came against Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), UMass, and Western Kentucky – teams who finished with a combined record of 14-35. That sentence above about the claims to fame CMU carries into this game? Not looking so hot right now.

Let’s take a look at how the teams match up.

Michigan defense vs CMU offense: When Central Michigan has the ball

Eight starters return on offense, but the three that don’t are pretty big losses. As we discussed in Monday’s First Look, 99.6 percent of last year’s passing yards are gone with the departure of quarterback Ryan Radcliff. The man who represents the other 0.4 percent is junior Cody Kater who completed 2-of-4 passes for 12 yards last season. But he does have some college experience, albeit in a much smaller capacity. After spending a redshirt freshman season at Cincinnati, he transferred to Grand Rapids Community College, leading GRCC to an 11-0 record. Last season he transferred to CMU where he backed up Radcliff and now has won the opportunity to make his first every FBS start in the Big House.

At 6'2" Titus Davis will test Michigan's secondary (Tim Fitzgerald, CMU Athletics)

Another key departure was receiver Cody Wilson who finished second on the team with 840 receiving yards, which means Kater has one less proven target to throw to. The good news for him is the leading receiver, Titus Davis is back, and the 6-2, 190-pound junior from Wheaton, Ill. has big play ability. He averaged 20 yards per catch in 2012 with a long of 92 and caught eight touchdowns. He had a monster game against Western Michigan, catching 10 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Against a similar opponent, Michigan State, he caught four for 64 yards.

The third big loss from the CMU roster was left tackle Eric Fisher, who was the first pick in the NFL Draft. He helped pave the way for what was actually a mediocre running game, but a very talented running back. Zurlon Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He surpassed 100 yards in each of the final seven games, including a 243-yards performance against Michigan’s Week 3 opponent, Akron. Against Michigan State, he rushed 11 times for 62 yards, and while he averaged 19.4 carries per game throughout the season, his workload went up to 25.3 in the final six games.

Central was a very balanced team last season in terms of plays run with 415 rushing attempts and 413 passing attempts, but the passing game was much more successful. That might not be the case this season with a new quarterback, however, Kater did complete 68.3 percent of his passes for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns for GRCC last season. Yes, quality of competition is a major caveat, but this isn’t simply a kid straight out of high school.

With questions about Michigan’s defensive line yet to be answered, look for Central to feed the ball to Tipton early and often. In that same vein, expect Michigan to gear up to stop the run, forcing Kater to try to beat them with his arm. The matchup with Blake Countess or Raymon Taylor on Titus Davis will be one to watch. Phil Steele put Davis among his top 25 receivers in college football and CMU receivers coach Mose Rison compares Davis to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. At 6-2, he’ll have a good four inches on any of Michigan’s corners.

Michigan offense vs Central Michigan defense: When Michigan has the ball

The Central Michigan defense is led by its duo of returning linebackers, Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton, who combined for 258 tackles a year ago. Chrroci ranked 19th nationally with 132 and led the nation with 89 assisted tackles. Benton ranked 24th nationally with 126 and led the team with 54 solo tackles.

The line returns both on the interior, including sophomore Jabari Dean, who amassed 28 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery as a freshman in 2012. Both ends have to be replaced, but Central got a transfer from Michigan State who will contribute right away. Senior Jeremy Gainer recorded 13 total tackles and two forced fumbles in 28 career games played for the Spartans, mostly on special teams, but he’ll be an instant upgrade for the Chippewas.

Shamari Benton forms a solid linebacking duo along with Justin Cherocci (CMU Athletics)

In the secondary, two starting corners and free safety Avery Cunningham are back, but the main guy who has to be replaced is All-MAC safety Jahleel Addae, who signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent. Cunningham tallied 88 tackles last season, while the other returnees, Jarret Chapman and Jason Wilson recorded 51 and 50, respectively. Wilson added a pair of interceptions.

The 4-2-5 defense that Enos runs relies on good play from the back seven, and that’s what they got last season. But the rush defense was the weak spot, giving up 192 yards per game, which ranked 93rd nationally. That means Michigan will feature a heavy dose of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the rest of his running mates.

However, Michigan State was a very run-heavy team in 2012 and only gained 173 yards on 4.2 yards per carry against CMU last September. Le’Veon Bell was held to 70, his third lowest output of the season behind Ohio State (45) and Michigan (68). Conversely, the Spartans torched Central’s secondary for 322 yards on 25-of-37 passing. It was quarterback Andrew Maxwell’s third-highest total of the season.

Central clearly doubled down on the run after seeing Bell run 44 times for 210 yards against Boise State the week before, and that allowed the Spartan passing game to go off. Expect similar results on Saturday, though Michigan’s offense figures to be a bit more balanced.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker David Harman is gone, and the replacement hasn’t been named as of yet. Redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi and sophomore Matt Cotiguala are battling it out. Senior punter Richie Hogan is back after finishing fourth in the MAC with a 41.8-yard average per punt. Titus Davis is the main man returning punts, while Courtney Williams will handle the kick return duties.

Prediction

Central will test Michigan’s defense with Tipton on the ground and Davis through the air, but don’t expect the Chips to hang around for more than a half. Michigan’s defense will flex its muscle, forcing Kater to try to beat it through the air. We’ll get a nice look at the ability of Frank Clark, Keith Heitzman, Chris Wormley, and Taco Charlton to get to the quarterback.

Offensively, Michigan will use a balanced attack, perhaps more balanced than Hoke would normally want in this type of game. The reason is that instead of simply running the ball at will against an inferior opponent, it will be important to work on the passing game with an unproven receiving corps (outside of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo) before Notre Dame comes to town next weekend. Look for Gardner to give Jehu Chesson some targets to get him involved and see what he can do.

The Wolverines will put this one away by the third quarter and get Shane Morris, Derrick Green, and DeVeon Smith some playing time.

Michigan 41 – Central Michigan 17

Friend vs Foe: Central Michigan

Thursday, August 29th, 2013


The first edition of this year’s Friend vs Foe series features Ron Balaskovitz, the Central Michigan writer for the Mid-American Conference SB Nation site, Hustle Belt. He will provide his perspective on how Central can beat Michigan on Saturday. You can follow Ron on Twitter @Rovitz. On the Michigan side, Josh is taking over this weekly series this season for Maize and Go Blue. You can follow him @Jdemille9.

Three things must happen.

The first, is that Central needs to win the turnover battle. The biggest thing for any team who is hoping to pull off an upset is to keep possession of the ball, and not give the favorite short fields to work with. That is certainly the case for CMU on Saturday. Last season against Iowa, CMU won the turnover battle, but the biggest thing in that game was that they had zero turnovers of their own. Particularly against a team with an offense as good as Michigan is expected to have, CMU needs to have long drives, and force Michigan to drive the length of the field if they’re going to score. Last year, CMU was clobbered at home by Michigan State, but CMU played a strong first quarter, and was only down 7-0 at the end of it. But the second quarter saw multiple turnovers, and the score went from 7-0 to 24-0 in the span of 15 minutes. And that was against a bad offense. If CMU has more than one turnover on Saturday against a good Michigan offense, they’re dead.

Cody Kater has thrown four career passes (MLive.com)

The second, is that CMU needs to establish the running game, to help out new quarterback Cody Kater. CMU has a very strong offensive line, and one of the few advantages that they have over Michigan is at the running back spot, with returning senior, Zurlon Tipton. Last season Tipton ran for nearly 1,500  yards, and had 19 touchdowns, he was the main reason CMU ended last year on a four game winning streak. But the key for CMU to get a running game going is to help ease the burden on the shoulders of new starter Cody Kater. Kater has thrown four passes at the D-1 level, and I think many CMU fans would prefer that he not have to try and make all the plays in his first game. CMU has a talented, and deep receiving corps this year, but if they can’t get the run going, to draw the secondary up, it could be a problem for those guys to get open, and for Kater to try and find them in the smaller windows. This is probably the battle that I’m looking forward to the most on Saturday, seeing if CMU’s big offensive line can open up enough holes to keep the Michigan defense honest.

And finally, CMU needs to figure out a way to make Michigan’s offense as one dimensional as possible. In a perfect world, the front four of CMU will get pressure on Devin Gardner, and cause the passing game to struggle, forcing the inconsistent Michigan running game to step up. But the problem for CMU is that their front four isn’t very good. Last year CMU only had 15 sacks as a team, and struggled to get pressure on opposing QB’s on a consistent basis, which in turn, made their secondary look bad because they were left in coverage for extended periods of time. CMU has to figure out a way to get stops against Michigan, not only so they don’t have to pass every series just to try and keep up, but so that their defense doesn’t spend all day on the field, and get worn out in the second half. The CMU coaches have to know that if they try and matchup one on one with the Michigan athletes, they’re going to get burned, so I expect CMU to send lots of pressure and blitzes, something they don’t normally do, to try and cause havoc and turnovers.

First games are always tough to predict. Inevitably there is some turnover on both sides and each team enters the season with varying degrees of questions. Central Michigan breaks a new quarterback into an offense that was less than stellar last year. They were pretty good passing, but the run game wasn’t anything to write home about. I expect them to be right around the same 7-6 team they were in 2012. MAC teams cannot be taken lightly, as evidenced by Toledo under the last regime, but CMU should not present anywhere close to as tough a test as our season opener last year.

Michigan has come full circle now that Devin Gardner is entrenched in the starting role. Brady Hoke and Al Borges can finally run their offense. We caught a glimpse of what it might look like last year but now that Team 134 has had a full offseason to prepare and hone their craft we will get to see why Devin Gardner was the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the country coming out of Inkster High School in 2009.

If Fitz Toussaint lives up to the preseason hype he's in line for a big game (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Last year Michigan relied on Denard Robinson to provide its run game. Fitzgerald Toussaint was slow out of the gates after his early season suspension and was finally getting some momentum when he broke his leg against Iowa. I wasn’t sure Fitz would come back strong, let alone be the No. 1 running back, but by all accounts it’s his job to lose, and I’m inclined to believe Hoke and Co. when they say he has looked good so far. If Gardner and Fitz can come out of the gate strong and give Michigan a truly balanced attack then this offense has a chance to be really dynamic. Not Oregon dynamic, but tough to stop nonetheless.

The defense is without its heart and soul, Jake Ryan, for at least a few games but they should be able to weather the storm without him. Blake Countess is back, as is his last year’s fill-in, Raymon Taylor. Michigan gave up the fewest plays of over 20 yards last year (35), but that’s all they did against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. All of the Gamecocks’ five touchdowns came on big plays or directly following a big play. If Michigan wants to not only win this game, but compete for a Big Ten title they will need to limit the big plays given up.

On offense, Michigan needs to establish the run, first and foremost. If they can do that it will open up the passing game, namely the play-action. Having the threat of both a run game and a passing attack will be tough to stop. Turnovers were an issue last year, though a lot of them were forced throws into bad situations. An offseason of work should have that under control. Win the turnover battle and you usually win the game.

On defense, Michigan needs to avoid giving up big plays, or at least limit them. Last year the Wolverines struggled to get pressure on the quarterback with just the front four, and that’s something Greg Mattison has made a point of emphasis this season. If they can create some havoc in the backfield the secondary should have easy pickin’s (pun intended). They don’t need to get a ton of sacks or tackles for loss, but if Frank Clark and the rest of the line can become well acquainted with Cody Kater it’s going to be a long day for the Chippewas.

Big Ten Football Coaches Teleconference transcript (Week 1): Brady Hoke

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013


Every Tuesday, the 12 head coaches from the Big Ten participate in a teleconference. Each coach gets 10 minutes to speak, which usually allows the media time to as five or six questions. As part of our expanding coverage this season, we will bring you Brady Hoke’s transcript as well as those from that week’s opposing coach once Big Ten play gets underway, and any stories that come out of these.

This week, Hoke answers questions about Central Michigan, his feelings on the offensive and defensive lines, why he gave Devin Funchess a Legends number, a defensive player winning the Heisman, and the new targeting rule.

Opening statement

“Obviously we’re all pretty excited. I think every team in the country (is excited) to get started. You’re tired of hitting each other. We’ve had a good camp. I think our team selected four very deserving captains the other night and I like the leadership that we’ve shown to this point. But as a coach, you’ve just got to keep trying to improve every time you take the field, the meeting room, or the weight room.”

Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: How far has the defense come since you took over at Michigan and how much further does it have to go to get to where you want it?

“There’s no question that we’ve made a little bit of progress, but I think the bar is set so high, not only by the coaches but by the players, how they go out every day in practice and the things that we’re doing. We’re trying to improve. We’re going to be a very young football team in a lot of ways. Sixty-one of the 85 guys are going to be first or second year players. You look at the defense, the four starters have a career (total) of 17 starts between them all. We’re dealing with a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot and so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: Ideally, how many running backs would you like to feature, and do you envision the college game featuring more two-back sets like the pros?

“I think there’s always that, in any team, any situation, you’ve got to have a multiple number of backs because of the physicalness of the position. I think Fred Jackson, our running backs coach, has done a great job throughout the fall camp to get the reps to some unknown guys, when you look at the two freshmen, Derick and DeVeon, but at the same time the older guys – Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls and Drake Johnson – have really done a nice job. Fitz is obviously the lead cow in the whole deal, so we hope to go one guy for most of the reps but also do a good job of getting the other guys into the football game.”

Dan Chalk, Midland Daily News: Can you talk about the challenges that CMU presents and assess the development of the CMU program the last four years under Dan Enos?

“Well, you know, Dan has done a really good job. I think you look at how they play and I know some of the coaches who are on that staff and have a lot of respect for them – Mike Cummings, up front – and you watch those guys play and the pad level. Then defensively, I think they do a nice job scheme-wise, and they do a nice job in the effort that they play with. They’ve got a veteran team, I think eight starters on one side of the ball and seven on the other, so they’ve got guys who have been in big games. They played a great bowl game, beat a very good Western Kentucky team, so obviously that program has continued to grow under Dan’s leadership.”

Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: How do you feel about the interior of the lines heading into the season?

“Well, we’re young on both sides, but it’s a good young. They’re willing. They’ve been physical in practice. They’ve been touch. I think we in the staff think that we’re going to probably make a mistake here or there where we don’t want to because of some youth, or maybe not play with the great technique that we want to play with early, but we like both lines. Offensively, I think there was great competition and I would say there was great competition defensively also.”

Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: What are the biggest things you’re looking to see out of Devin Gardner?

“Well, I think the improvement that he’s made in making good decisions. I think the improvement of how to lead from the quarterback position. I think he had part of that DNA in him, but you know, he was out of it a little bit. Now, the progress he’s made from decision-making and maturity has been really positive.”

Brandon Folsom, Maize n Brew: Why did you decide to give Devin Funchess, a sophomore, the Ron Kramer Legends jersey?

“Number one, Ron was a tremendous athlete – maybe the best athlete ever to play at the University of Michigan. Being a tight end, we wanted to try to keep it within that position. I think Devin and his growth, and if you look at the tight end position, we don’t have any older guys. I think his growth is something I’ve seen, and we’ve seen on this staff, has been something that’s been very special.”

USA Today Sports: Last year we had a defensive player finish second in the Heisman race. What does it take for a defensive player to win the Heisman?

“Well, obviously, Charles Woodson won the Heisman, so I don’t know (about) the ‘never had a defensive player win the Heisman trophy.’ I get a little confused when I hear that because if we go back and count the snaps that he played on defense they would far outweigh any snaps he played anywhere else.”

Todd Jones, Columbus Dispatch: What are your thoughts on how last year ended up and your expectations for this year?

“I think the expectation when you’re at Michigan is to win the Big Ten Conference championship. That’s never going to change. How we finished a year ago was very disappointing, how we coached and how we played fundamentally, so those things are all things that we need to do a better job, starting with me as the head football coach, help our kids so they can with the Big Ten championship.”

USA Today Sports: How has your staff talked to the defensive players about the targeting rule change this season and do you expect to see any ejections this weekend related to that?

“That’s a good question and one I don’t know as far as if we’ll see any this weekend. The targeting issue is not just a defensive issue. It’s a chop block or a block on a special teams play where someone comes back and blindsides a guy on an interception or an offensive lineman down the field. So we tried to educate our whole team on the safety ramifications that we want to have for our players first, and secondly, the penalties that are going to be pretty stiff, so it’s just not a defensive problem.”

Five-Spot Challenge: Week 1

Monday, August 26th, 2013



Two seasons ago we started the Five-Spot Challenge, a weekly contest that tests your knowledge of Michigan football and involves a little bit of luck as well. Each week we put up five to ten questions such as, “How many passing yards will Devin Gardner record?” If you guess 200 but he actually records 250, you get 50 points. Like golf, the goal is to get the lowest number possible, meaning you want to be as close to correct as possible for each answer. The points will be added up to determine a weekly winner.

The spot you finish relative to the rest of the competitors will be added up throughout the season to determine the overall winner. For example, in Week 1 if you are first out of 20 participants, you will be awarded 20 points. Second would get 19, third would get 18, and so on. For the full season, you want the most points, so you’ll want to make sure to participate each week.

The final question each week will be a score prediction. In this, you must specify which team is which. If you simply put 14-10, it won’t count. You must say Michigan 14 – CMU 10. This is the hail mary pick. If you pick the score exactly, the largest single differential from the other questions will be reduced to zero.

The first season, umichfan1 captured the overall title, scoring a pair of tickets to the following season’s home opener against Air Force. Last year, crp12qb won the title and was awarded a hosted round of golf at the University of Michigan Golf Course. You can be assured that this year’s prize will be of similar nature and value as those two. The weekly prizes will remain the same as last year, $20 gift cards to The M Den.

The weekly results will be announced in the same post as the following week’s questions, while the overall standings will live in the right sidebar so you always know where you stand. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Leave them in the comments below. Good luck!

Here are this week’s questions:

#2 Alabama 41 – #8 Michigan 14: Tide sweeps Michigan out to sea

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012


Despite forcing Alabama into a three-and-out on its first series and looking like they could be formidable opponent, the Michigan defense was completely overmatched the rest of the night. They did record two sacks (and Will Campbell was looking quite nimble on his) but they were dominated up front by the best offensive line in the country.

Alabama's defense gave Michigan no room to run. This was a familiar sight (photo by Leon Halip, Getty Images)

After the three-and-out to start the game, Alabama proceded to score on its next three drives, all in a span of about five minutes. The Tide dominated the line play and created gaping holes for its backs to run through as Alabama ran the ball to the tune of 232 yards, including an astounding 111 yards from true freshman T.J.Yeldon on only 11 carries.

The passing game, however, left much to be desired for the Tide. A.J. McCarron finished a pedestrian 11-for-21 for 199 yards. But when throwing out of play-action, he was 6-for-9 for 123 yards with both of his touchdowns; a 2-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams to start the scoring and then a 51-yard pass on which Courtney Avery slipped and fell during a double move from DeAndrew White.

Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm making a tackle after throwing a pick in the first quarter but recovered as the game went along and looked to be fine. The same can not be said for cornerback Blake Countess, who left the game with an apparent knee injury after a special teams tackle. It appeared as though the trainers were giving him the ACL test on the sidelines and his status going forward has yet to be announced.

Denard threw another interception in the second quarter which went for six and Alabama was up 31-0 before Michigan found the endzone on a Denard 6-yard run towards the end of the first half. The run was preceded by a beautiful 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, but it was one of the few bright spots of the day.

Denard and the offense looked completely out of sync; though his passes in the early going did have good velocity, he overthrew his receivers on several occasions. Devin Gardner got the starting nod at receiver and was targeted several times but didn’t make the most of it until late in the third quarter when he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Denard after the Tide defender fell down.

Neither team was any good on third down. Michigan went 3-for-11 while Alabama only managed 3-for-10, but the Tide had 20 first downs to Michigan’s 11. The passing yards were almost equal but most of Michigan’s yards came on two big plays, the 71-yarder to Gallon and the 44-yard touchdown pass to Gardner.

Bama's running backs ran through arm tackles all night (photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Alabama is an elite program and while incredibly disappointing, Michigan should not hang their heads after this loss. This is a program that could conceivably win its third national title in four years, and not many teams, if any this season, will hang with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

According to ESPN, the Tide are now 40-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards. Alabama’s running backs were only hit in the backfield on four of their 38 runs, and on 13 runs, they were not hit until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s not a recipe for success for any defense.

Perhaps Hokeamaniac put it best last night on his Facebook page, saying, “Alabama was the superior team and outplayed the Michigan Wolverines from open to close. The physical mismatch was glaring. The Wolverine offense was incapable of doing anything and the play execution of the maize and blue was, pathetic at best.”

It’s not that they were not prepared; it’s just that Alabama was physically (and perhaps schematically as well) superior. Michigan looked like a JV team against professional athletes, showing that while they may be on the right track to regain national prominence they are still years away. Alabama is what happens when you have elite athletes playing in the same system under an elite coach. This is what Michigan is striving for and we must be patient while Brady Hoke builds this program back to elite status.

In the grand scheme of the season this does not hurt Michigan’s main goal, though the press will inevitably call this a confidence shaking loss and will posit that the Wolverines may not recover in time. Michigan’s goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and this game does not affect their pursuit of that goal. While there were some big mistakes made, like Denard’s pass directly to CJ Mosley which led to the pick-six, the outcome of the game was not because of poor execution. Michigan was simply overmatched. Luckily for them, they won’t face another team with the type of talent and size that Alabama possesses and should be just fine the rest of the year.

We will have more reaction to the game in the next couple of days as well as a first look at the Air Force Falcons.

M&GB Pick’em: Alabama Staff Predictions

Saturday, September 1st, 2012


Last season, on the day before each game, each of the writers at Maize and Go Blue submitted our game predictions. Sometimes we were way off, but for the most part we were pretty close. This year, we’ve added a couple of staff, so it should make things more interesting and diverse. We’re not doing weekly prizes this year, but we are doing a nice grand prize at the end of the season, so follow along every Friday to see who’s the best M&GB prognosticator.

Justin: As I mentioned in yesterday’s game preview and Thursday’s Friend vs Foe, I think the number one key to winning this game is the ability of Michigan’s defensive line to stop the run. Alabama’s passing game should be held in check by Michigan’s secondary, and Michigan will score some points offensively, so it’s up to the line to at least slow down the run game. Unfortunately, asking a line with several new starters to win the battle against the best offensive line in the country is a bit too much. Michigan will put up a valiant effort and stay close, but Alabama will pull it out.

Alabama 27 – Michigan 23

Chris: Well, here we are folks!  It’s time for some college football!  As we all know, the Maize and Blue open up with the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the Jerry Dome in Arlington, TX.  Let’s take a closer look at this matchup.

Trent Richardson is gone. Can Eddie Lacy pick up where he left off?

Alabama opens this season having retuned 11 starters from last year’s squad.  They lost their top RB, their top WR, and a good portion of their D to the NFL (4 first rounders, 8 selected overall).  This kind of loss of players generally hurts programs, but Alabama is a different story, as they have consistently brought in Top 5 recruiting classes since Head Coach Nick Saban’s arrival and they have reloaded for he 2012 season.

It is very tough to see any place where the Wolverines are going to have any particular advantage in this game.  For example, Alabama lost 4 of their top 5 secondary players.  You would think this would be an advantage for the Wolverines.  However, Michigan’s WR corps is a question mark as well after the losses of Junior Hemingway, Darryl Stonum, and TE Kevin Koger.  Michigan does have the advantage of returning 7 of their top 10 offensive linemen, which will help against the athletic defensive front 7 which Alabama always has.  If the Michigan line can hold their blocks long enough for QB Denard Robinson to find an open receiver, or tuck the ball and find an open lane to run, then I could see the Michigan offense moving the ball some.  The problem I see with this is Saban’s defenses are generally very smart and I believe that Saban will have his guys prepared to face a highly mobile QB like Robinson.

I do like the uncertainty which Alabama is facing in their RB and WR situation.  RB Eddie Lacy has been out part of fall camp with a knew injury and is rumored to be playing, but how effective will he be?  We all know Alabama’s 2nd-team RB, Dee Hart, from when he decommited from the Wolverines last year and went to Alabama.  He was injured in the 2011 fall camp with a torn ACL and he hasn’t played in a live game since high school.  At least the Michigan RB situation is a little better off even if RB Fitz Toussaint doesn’t play.  RB Thomas Rawls has the potential to be a gamebreaker and RB Vincent Smith has playing experience.  Can Offensive Coordinator Al Borges find a way to call plays which will keep the Alabama D guessing as to where the ball is going?

Like I said before, this game is a tough matchup for the Wolverines in all areas.  I like the fact that Michigan scheduled this game because it can’t hurt them, win or lose.  If they win, then they will have shocked everyone because know one is expecting that to happen.  If they lose, Michigan has the benefit of having played one of the top teams in the nation, which will give both the players, coaches, and fans an idea of just where this program is at.  The game is also being played on national TV on Labor Day weekend, which boosts recruiting.  And a loss thie early in the season to the #1 ranked team doesn’t hurt either, as the Wolverines will have plenty of time to recover over the next 11 games.  I think Michigan will come out excited to play and the coaches will have some plays drawn up to surprise the Alabama D.  The same will happen on defense.  But this will only last so long, as the Alabama coaches will make adjustments and the athleticsm of the Alabama team will take over.  I think the game stays close for the first half but Alabama eventually takes over and puts the game away.

Alabama 24- Michigan 13

Josh: Aside from the RichRod years there has nary been a game I felt Michigan couldn’t win. Saturday is one of those few and far between games where I think Michigan will be completely overmatched. Nick Saban has rebuilt Alabama into a national powerhouse and they boast a top 10 defense year in and year out. Which, ironically, is something he couldn’t do at State because he couldn’t out-recruit Michigan there (just saying). Their calling card is their run defense; Alabama has surrendered only 10 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season (90 games), a mark that leads the nation. Since Saban came on board, 2007, they’ve only allowed 5 100-yard rushers in 67 games. Not to mention they’ve only give up 32 rushing TD’s since 2005, a mark that also leads the nation. They simply do not allow you to run on them, which does not bode well as Michigan’s greatest asset on offense is Denard Robinson’s running.

Nick Saban may be the best coach in the game right now, but Michigan had a 3-2 record against him at Michigan State

Michigan is back on its way to being a national powerhouse but they’re not quite there yet. RichRod didn’t leave the cupboards completely bare for the defense (Mike Martin, RVB, etc.) but Michigan’s talent level is nowhere near Alabama’s right now. I think Michigan has a better shot than most people think (Alabama fan seems to think they’re gonna win 70-0 and Michigan won’t even cross the 50) but at the end of the day it is hard for me to pick my Maize and Blue in this game.


Alabama has arguably the best offensive lineman in the country in last year’s Outland Trophy winner, Barrett Jones. Who, incidentally, is so good he has moved from tackle to center for this season. Coming in this line looks to be one of the best in a long time. Which, again, does not bode well for the Wolverines as Michigan is already thin, and mostly unproven, on the defensive line and has a steep hill to climb against these hog mollies. Not to say they will get manhandled up front and not stand a chance, but any plays behind the line will be well-earned. Brady Hoke had this to say about Alabama’s offensive line, “I’m a defensive coach and watching that offensive line, that’s as good an offensive line as I’ve seen in college football.” Call me a pessimist but I just don’t see Michigan matching up very well against these guys.

Trent Richardson is gone to the NFL but much like when Richardson picked up where Heisman winner Mark Ingram left off I expect Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon to do the same. AJ McCarron may not be as sexy a name as Matt Barkley coming in this season but he is a junior with one great year of experience under his belt. His stats won’t blow you out of the water (and they don’t need to with the balanced attack and stable of stud RB’s they throw at you), but he managed to toss 16 TD’s to only 5 INT’s last year and hit receivers at an almost 67% clip, not too shabby. Most of his WR production has left Tuscaloosa but I’m sure their replacements are capable athletes. The offense also takes great care of the ball, in the past four years they’ve only turned the ball over 54 times (just over 1 per game). Yep, you guessed it, leads the nation in the span.

The front seven worries me against the run but I think Michigan’s secondary might really surprise people against the pass though. Blake Countess, while having some struggles late in 2011, has the potential to be a really good CB. Not Charles Woodson or Leon Hall good, but maybe Marlin Jackson good. JT Floyd worries a lot of people but he has a lot of experience and should show marked improvement in year 2 under Mattison’s defense, as should Countess. We all know about Jordan Kovacs, a kid who I must admit I was not a fan of until recently, but he is as solid as they come and a great leader on that defense. He is going to be in position and will make some plays, regardless of who Alabama throws out there. Thomas Gordon was Johnny On the Spot last year with his fumble recoveries and seems to have a knack for being around the ball. All in all, I think Michigan’s secondary is the strongest unit on Team 133 and should fare well against the pass, if ‘Bama even chooses to pass the ball that is.

On the defensive side Alabama lost a lot to the NFL, and are replacing 7 total starters on that side. But they are replacing them with elite level talent, mostly inexperienced but very talented nonetheless. Saban runs a fairly complex defense that is not typically plug and play, kids can’t just come in off the street and be studs in his system. So while the newbies may not have a ton of game experience they do know the system well enough to be starters come Saturday. Expect them to focus on making Denard pass while taking away any opportunities to burn them on the ground. Not an easy task but we’ve seen physical teams, like State, do well playing that way.

Alabama will try to bottle up Denard like MSU did last season

Michigan’s offensive line is anchored by Taylor Lewan and he is a good one, but its cohesiveness (and effectiveness) hinges on Ricky Barnum’s ability to transition to center from guard and replace All-American and Rimington winner, David Molk. A tall task but I think Barnum will handle his job well and perform admirably. However, Alabama has been recruiting to their style for quite some time now while Michigan is still trying to turn quicker, smaller spread-type guys into smash-mouth lineman. It could get ugly and Denard might make friends with the backfield’s turf on more than one occasion.


As I mentioned before, Alabama does not give up rushing yards, to anyone and they will almost assuredly focus on shutting down the run game and force Denard to pass. Denard will be much improved but how much is yet to be seen and the fact that his first real test is against a Nick Saban defense does not exactly make me feel confident. I don’t care who is running the ball for Michigan (Denard, Fitz or Rawls) it will be a big challenge for the line to create holes and for those guys to elude a speedy defense. Of course Denard is always a threat to score six any time he touches the ball but everyone and their mother knows that and I doubt he will eclipse 50-yards rushing against this defense.

We all know about Denard’s passing woes of last year, and to be honest they don’t really concern me. He knows what he did wrong and what he did well and he has worked on his areas of weakness. As we’ve mentioned here on MaizeAndGoBlue.com, the first year in Borges’ system is very tough (Borges’ own admission) and there is always a great improvement in year 2. Do I expect Denard to morph into Tom Brady or Elvis Grbac? No, but I fully expect better decision making, no more back foot throws into traffic and a big drop in his INT’s from last year. 2,500 yards and 18 TD’s to 9-10 INT’s would be great as far as I’m concerned. The question now is who will be catching those balls? We know Roundtree has the talent, and Jeremy Gallon is a consistent WR but after that it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Devin Gardner is a freak athlete who may very well be their best receiver, but we don’t know how much time he will see at WR. True freshman Amara Darboh has shown glimpses in fall camp and Roundtree has lauded not only his play but ability to learn and apply. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much Denard has progressed if these guys cannot get open and catch some passes against Alabama.

For Michigan to win the game they need to be clicking on all cylinders, for all four quarters. Is an upset possible? Of course, anything can happen. Is an upset likely? I just don’t see it happening. Michigan will give Alabama more than most casual (or non-Michigan fans anyway) think they will but in the end Alabama will be too big, too strong and too talented for my beloved Wolverines to overcome. They play a close game in the first half as they feel each other out but Alabama blows it open in the second half to create a score that belies Michigan’s effort and play. Here’s to hoping I am wrong though, Go Blue!

Alabama 38 – Michigan 16

Matt: Like a kid on Christmas Day. I am so excited it’s finally collegevfootball time, and even better, it’s Michigan college football time!!!

With no Junior Hemingway, can Michigan have a vertical passing game?

We ended on a big high, not only beating Ohio State, but also beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl! Our team looked good. We were on top of the world!

This year scares me a little. I think we are only getting better, but we’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. So let’s get started with game one…vs the defending National Champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Obviously they have more depth, and quite possibly more talent. They’re the defending National Champions. Seems like the deck is stacked against us, but haven’t the Wolverines had the deck stacked against them for years now?

Let’s start with QBs. Alabama has AJ McCarron. McCarron is a good QB. Obviously, he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship last year. Michigan obviously has Denard Robinson (ever heard of him?!). Denard is a threat. Not only with his feet, but with his arm too. He has solid power with his arm. The scariest thing about Denard last year, was he would just throw the ball up in the air. He’d throw it, we’d all hold our breath, and hope that someone like Junior Hemingway would jump up and catch it.

That brings me to my next point. Junior Hemingway bailed Denard out quite a few times last season. But Hemingway is gone. Granted we have Roy Roundtree back, we’ve got Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and others. However, Junior seemed to be able to make plays every single down.

Running backs are question for this game. Michigan has Fitzgerald Toussaint coming back for his junior year. But due to off field shenanigans, he could possibly not play this Saturday. He’s on the depth chart, but we’ll have to see. If not we have a little bit of depth at that position, so we could possibly see 5-foot-10, 218 pound Thomas Rawls run the ball on Saturday. He’s younger than Toussaint, but he has seemed impressive. I have confidence with him running the ball for our beloved Wolverines.

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could possibly be injured also. I’ve heard you may not play on Saturday, but again, I don’t think we’ll know until Saturday.

Our offensive line has some questions as well, just because our team is so young. We really need the young players to step up the best they can for us to be able to pull this one out Saturday night in Dallas.

Our defense is another concern, after we lost Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, among others to the NFL. We still see Craig Roh, as well as Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and others. I feel like we have more depth at defense than what some people think. There has been a lot of switching back and forth on our defensive line, but I figure Greg Mattison seems to know what he’s doing. I have faith that he’ll put the right guys in the right positions, and our D will be ready for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama’s defense has some questions as well, as they only have a few returning this year. They have a young defense, but then again, their defending National Champions, so they’re going to have depth there. Nick Saban is a great coach, and he’ll have his crew ready for Saturday just as much as Brady Hoke does.

Overall, I honestly see this game being a high scoring affair. Our defenses have question marks, and so do some of our offensive players. A lot of people are counting Michigan out, and I hope I’m not just being a homer. But I feel like Michigan really does have a chance to go into Dallas and steal a victory from Alabama. If Michigan wins, would I call it an upset? Absolutely. But do I think it’s very much possible? Yes.

If you guys read my predictions last year, I never picked against my Michigan Wolverines, and I’m not going to start today. I have Michigan pulling this one out, in a high scoring very exciting game. And when the game starts on Saturday night, I will be so excited. Like a kid on Christmas Day.

Michigan 45 – Alabama 38

Sam: Certainly all eyes of the college football world this weekend will be on Jerry Dome, where the 2nd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will travel west to take on the 8th-ranked Michigan Wolverines, who will themselves be traveling southwest to duel in the Cowboys Classic. I still am having trouble believing that college football, America’s true pastime, is here, but I must trust the calendar on the wall.

One of these is 'Bama's starting quarterback

Alabama comes into this game the prohibitive favorite, and probably for good reason. Despite losing five defensive starters, including four to the first 35 picks of the NFL Draft this April, the Tide will most certainly reload while looking to match last year’s defense that gave up a measly 8.2 points per game. The secondary is a little banged up and All-Everything Dre Kirkpatrick is off to Cincinnati, but that shouldn’t matter much to Nick Saban. Alabama signed six four-star and two five-star (not including Kirkpatrick) defensive backs from the 2009-2011 recruiting classes. The point is, this team has talent that could easily go three-deep at nearly every position. The defensive line is led by 6’4, 320-pound behemoth Jesse Williams, and you can always count on Alabama’s linebackers to hit hard from sideline-to-sideline.

Obviously the talent will be there staring Denard Robinson and the rest of the Maize and Blue offense in the eyes. The problem for Michigan, however, could be much worse than talent. Let’s get one thing straight – Nick Saban is one hell of a shady coach and recruiter. But the man knows what he is doing on the field. One radio broadcaster put it perfectly the other day in saying that Saban’s forte (straight out of Bill Belichick’s book) is in stopping the other offense’s bread and butter. We all know that is Denard. And we all know that Saban is going to do everything he can to force Denard to throw the ball and to test Michigan’s still-questionable run game early and often. This may sound stupid, and it’s probably – check that, excessively – redundant, but Denard Robinson’s legs are the key to this game for Michigan. If he can run for more than 120 yards and a touchdown, I’ll take the Wolverines straight up.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has been ruled out, and yes, I do think this makes a big difference. Toussaint is by far our best all-around back; I cringe just thinking about Thomas Rawls, a bowling ball of a runner, going up against bigger bowling balls on the other side of the line. Those pins aren’t falling. I still think it comes down to Denard though, as usual.

Going the other way, Michigan’s defense shouldn’t have too many nightmares Friday night. Eddie Lacy is 220 pounds of solid rock who averaged 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season, but I don’t think he is Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram just yet. He’ll run for more than 100 yards on 20 carries and probably score once, but as long as we can contain decently, Alabama shouldn’t score more than 24. AJ McCarron is just a guy at quarterback. He’s efficient (8.03 YPA, 66.8 completion % last season), but he isn’t great. You keep hearing Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison refer to McCarron first as a great leader and then as a good passer. That is coach speak for “he’s pretty average”. He’s Tim Tebow without legs and minus 30 pounds. Michigan’s experienced secondary should be able to stop the killer pass plays before they happen and Mattison will certainly look to pressure McCarron into some awkward throws with blitzes from Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens. Also look for my defensive breakout player, Jibreel Black, to make some noise with a sack. The only problem with getting to McCarron, however, is his offensive line, which is being talked up as one of the best in the nation. If we struggle to get pressure, McCarron can nickel and dime us to our grave, but if we consistently get in the backfield, our chances go way up.

Nick Saban is getting all the hype, but Brady Hoke proved last year he can win the big game

Here comes the tough part. I think Alabama’s defense is going to bottle up Denard a little too well and we are going to come up short. A full-strength Roundtree would help, and an accurate Robinson might give us the game, but two turnovers and we are done for. I like the defense to stand strong but the points to be hard to come by.

Alabama 21 – Michigan 13

Katie: The time has nearly come to suspend our fervent predictions that we have developed around our team for these coming months (welcome back Wolverines and any other football fanatics). Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the greatest game in sports and hopefully watch even the most outlandish dreams of victory come true.

With that being said I think that Michigan’s first game against Alabama is going to be a long, hard-hitting, hailstorm of passing kind of game. The trouble is it’s all up in the air, and if there is any reminder of last year that can be a good thing, or something that comes down into the wrong hands. Personally, I like Michigan in this one. I don’t think Hoke is the kind of man to take last year’s winning season to heart or allow his players to feel that they have vaulted Michigan back into a status that sees us playing three different night games. But levelheadedness isn’t everything. Passion isn’t everything, not without fundamentals, or without practice, or without leadership.  Hoke, however, has provided those things and that’s why he will usher in a new reign at Michigan. He will see to it that we earn the big stage night games, and that the Wolverines never lose sight of the prize: the Big Ten championship.

I know that Alabama is the returning National Champs, and I know they have one massive offensive line and an experienced quarterback to boot. Michigan on the other hand, has something to prove that’s even bigger than a No.1 at the end of the season. We have to get to that ranking, and that’s something that boils in the blood on nights like tonight.

So am I overestimating us? We’ll see, but I think that Denard will be more composed in the pocket and a more efficient, confident passer. And I believe that Robinson’s confidence will inspire not only the line, but his receivers and the backs. I think our defense will step up and fill the gaps left by Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Maybe not perfectly, but sustained effort for a long period reveals the character of a team, and with it perhaps a bit of fear in the hearts of our opponents.

Alabama lost its top four receivers. Michigan should be able to capitalize on that to try and outscore the Crimson Tide. Bama also lost its starting running back and has holes to fill on defense with so many going into the NFL Draft. The Wolverine defense isn’t without its shortcomings, but I think there’s enough of an upward swing from last year to propel us forward and to a win.

Michigan 34 – Alabama 28

#8 Michigan vs. #2 Alabama game preview

Friday, August 31st, 2012


Years after he finished his coaching career, legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes was asked which of his teams he thought was his best. He quickly replied his 1969 team that went unbeaten except for a 24-12 loss to Michigan. He then paused, looked into the crowd and said, “Damn you, Bo, you’ll never win a bigger game.”

The man he looked at and referred to was Bo Schembechler, his former protégé and the man who upset his greatest team. It was Bo’s first year at Michigan, hired to replace a floundering Bump Elliott whose team had lost to Ohio State 50-14 the previous year.

Ohio State entered the matchup riding a 22-game winning streak and the defending national champions. They were thought to be unbeatable. Many considered them one of the greatest teams ever. Michigan was a measly 7-2 entering the contest and was given no shot. OSU was a 17-point favorite, but on that day, an inspired and disciplined Michigan team not only came to play, but sent the Buckeyes home with a 12-point loss.

Tomorrow when Michigan steps on the field against Alabama, the expectations from everyone outside Ann Arbor will be very similar. The national perception of Michigan is that it overachieved last year and is in store for a slight decline this season and doesn’t stand a chance this Saturday because of a tougher schedule and the loss of three starting defensive linemen, despite having a senior third-year starting quarterback, an experienced offensive line, and a proven running back. All the while, the perception of Alabama is that the defending national champs are serious contenders to repeat and will dominate Michigan on Saturday with a powerful offensive line, a returning game managing quarterback and….enough replacements to make Keanu Reeves jealous.

While both of those perceptions have some truth to them, I think they’re not as drastic as we’re being led to believe. But does Michigan have any chance at winning? Let’s examine how the two teams match up.

When Michigan has the ball

Roy Roundtree and the rest of the receiving corps will need a big game against Alabama's young secondary

Everybody assumes this year’s Alabama defense will be just as good as last year’s despite replacing seven starters. There’s no question that last year’s defense was as dominant as it gets in college football and this year’s certainly has enough talent to make a name for itself. But Michigan is in the best possible position it could be entering this matchup: opening the season. The new Tide defenders haven’t had a chance to shake off the rust and get acclimated to their starting spots. But Michigan brings a third-year starting quarterback and an experienced offensive line to the table along with two proven receivers and an unknown x-factor in Devin Gardner.

Look for offensive coordinator Al Borges to spread it out early on and utilize a short passing game and a lot of misdirection to test ‘Bama’s new outside linebackers. The middle of the defensive line will be the Tide’s strength, so Michigan will need to open it up to keep Kirby Smart from stacking the box. I fully expect a more confident and precise Denard Robinson, enough to keep the defense honest with his arm.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s going to be a cakewalk by any means – but Michigan will move the ball better than most expect.

When Alabama has the ball

Quinton Washington will have to be stout in the middle to stop the run (photo by John T. Grellick, Detroit News)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, the strength of the Alabama offense is it’s line. Center Barrett Jones is the best lineman in college football and right tackle D.J. Fluker isn’t far behind. Four of the starters have a combined 95 career starts and the fifth is former five-star Cyrus Kouandjio. Unfortunately, Michigan’s defensive line is where the most turnover occurred this offseason.

When the two-deep was released earlier in the week, most were surprised to see Quinton Washington listed as the starter at nose tackle with Will Campbell at defensive tackle and Jibreel Black starting at weak-side end instead of Brennen Beyer. But what it does is beef up the line and that’s exactly what Michigan’s defense needs if it wants any shot at stopping the ‘Bama run.

Running back Eddie Lacy is a first-year starter, but he has enough experience to be a proven back. Last season, he rushed for 674 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in a backup role to Trent Richardson. If there’s a weakness on the Alabama offense it’s receiver, which returns just 36 percent of its production. The leading returning receiver, Kenny Bell, was the team’s fifth-leading receiver last year with just 17 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron has Alabama fans thinking he’s the second coming becuase of his BCS National Championship game performance, but he’s little more than a game manager. With a host of unproven receivers, he’ll have to hope they step up or rely on the run game. That’s where the big defensive line comes in. Greg Mattison will aim to stop the run and force McCarron to get every ounce of production possible out of his wideouts. And I like Michigan’s odds in that case. The back seven are the strength of the team and can handle a group of inexperienced pass catchers. But that’s all reliant on the line stopping the run, which is a very tall task.

Prediction:

In the grand scheme of things, this game means virtually nothing to Michigan’s season. Of course they’ll do everything they can to win, but Brady Hoke has said since the day he was hired that the goal is to win the Big Ten championship each year and that can still be attained regardless of what happens tomorrow. But it’s an important game for Michigan as far as national prestige and conference bragging rights go. The Big Ten hasn’t done itself any favors as of late and the fact that the SEC has won the last six national titles has the south on top of the college football world. Michigan has been the only Big Ten team that has had the upper hand against SEC foes, but is still getting no respect in this one. And that’s just fine with Hoke. He’ll have the team ready to play and they’ll put up an effort worthy of respect, showing the rest of the teams on the schedule that Michigan is for real.

Regardless of who gets the ball first, I think it’s imperative that Michigan not only score first, but punch in a touchdown first to set the tone of the game. Alabama doesn’t think Michigan can score on its vaunted defense and thinks it can slow down Denard, so an early touchdown would do wonders for the confidence of Michigan and let doubt start to creep in for Alabama. But when it comes down to it, I just don’t see Michigan being able to stop the Alabama run efficiently enough to win the game. It will be closer than most people think and Michigan will score enough to make it a ballgame, but Alabama’s line will outlast Michigan in the end.

Alabama 27 – Michigan 23

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Check back this afternoon for our full staff previews and don’t forget to register for this week’s 5-Spot Challenge for a chance to win a $20 M Den gift card.