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Posts Tagged ‘Week 11’

Brady Hoke postgame transcript: Iowa

Sunday, November 18th, 2012


Following Michigan’s 42-17 win over Iowa on Senior Day, Brady Hoke spoke to the media about Denard, the new offense, and the upcoming battle with Ohio State.

Brady Hoke speaks to the media after the Iowa game (Justin Potts, M&GB)

Opening Statement
“It was a good game, a good football win. The seniors got to go up the tunnel senior victors for the last time in this game and we put a lot of emphasis on that because of the struggles and what they go through when you look at a guy who’s been here for our five years. So it was great for them and great for our team that the younger guys, younger-classmen, went out there and competed for  them. That’s the expectation and the guys who are seniors who were playing in their last game at Michigan Stadium, I thought they did a nice job of going out there and playing 60 minutes of football.”

On how difficult it is to see the seniors perform for the last time in Michigan Stadium…
“It’s always difficult and that’s because I’m a very emotional person, good or bad. Pick your poison. We get very tight, close with the players because we are there to help them grow, so from a personal life standpoint to the academics to social to everything else, they’re your sons. That’s the way we look at it.”

On when he made the decision for Denard to play and come up with the role he played…
“I didn’t make the decision for him to play. Once he got cleared and he felt good health wise, we had talked about doing this for 18 months. Al [Borges], when he got home last week after the Northwestern game that night, he had nine plays ready. And we put six more in. So I think Al Does a tremendous job of taking your personnel and the playmakers that you have on your team and having the ability to get them the ball and let their God-given ability take over.”

On Fitz Toussaint’s injury…
“He’s in the hospital now and he has surgery. I think we’ll leave it at that for now. His mother wasn’t here, he had two brothers here, so we’ll leave it at that.”

On how important it was to work out some of the kinds with Devin and Denard on the field at the same time before next week…
“Next week really never had anything to do with it. We had to beat Iowa. We’re still in a championship race and we wanted to win this game for our seniors and also because we’re still in a race for the championship.”

On whether there was any thought of using Denard as quarterback…
“Well, I think it would be unjust for us not to use him in the best way that we thought would let him be the most successful. He’s throwing the ball a little bit, he’s not throwing it a lot, so we felt this was the best. This kid has put up with a lot of criticism at times [and] he’s been praised at times. He’s a competitive guy who loves the game and loves his teammates and he showed great maturity the last three weeks and great leadership.”

On whether he had to convince Denard that he would play, but not at quarterback…
“No.”

On whether there was any thought of playing him at quarterback…
“Nuh uh. There really wasn’t. I mean it was you wanna play, where could he help us best playing.”

On whether Denard can throw the ball…
“Yeah, but not as well as he’d like to.”

On Denard’s personality of being willing to not “be the boss” in his last home game…
“I think it tells you about what kind of kid he is, what kind of young man, I should say, he is. His development, his growth, his character, and the integrity. This kid has had some unbelievable moments here at Michigan and in Michigan Stadium and he has had some moments that weren’t so good. But he has grown within this team and this is his team. Him and [Jordan] Kovacs – all the seniors have a big piece of it, and I know Devin said it the other day, he has been the face of Michigan football.”

On how comfortable Devin looked scoring six touchdowns…
“He had six touchdowns? See I don’t remember that stuff. [Reporter: "He was pretty good."] Well, I think you answered your questions, he was pretty good [everybody laughs].”

On whether he heard the crowd chanting ‘Beat Ohio’…
“Yeah, and I said to somebody next to me we need to beat Iowa.”

On the comfort level of the team playing at home, having not lost at home in two years…
“Well, I think you see it in all kinds of sports, playing at home is something that’s treated us well and I think the familiarity with everything. I wish I could tell ya, I just think there’s a comfort, I guess.”

On whether his teams have always played well at home…
“I have no clue. Again, it’s something that I don’t think about.”

On whether the offense used against Iowa will be what we see going forward…
“Going forward where?”

Ohio State and the bowl, or could Denard go back to quarterback?…
“Umm, I don’t know. I guess he could. I don’t know. It’s an option.”

On when Denard was cleared, what he had to do to get cleared, and is he able to grip the football…
“Yeah, yeah. What’s today, Saturday? Probably, umm, six days ago.”

On whether Denard is cleared for good now or if he’s still day to day…
“He might be day to day.”

On whether Fitz’s injury was his ankle or leg…
“I’m not going to [get into that]. I want to make sure his mother has been contacted.”

On what it will mean coaching his first game in Columbus as head coach…
“It’s fun. It is fun. Because it’s a great rivalry and there’s a lot of respect on both sides, both programs. So for both programs it’s fun. It’s fun. It’s going to be fun.”

On the success of the downfield passing game today…
“Well, I think some play action set it up. Gallon made a terrific catch with concentration. The ball was where it needed to be and it was defended pretty decently. One of the best throws that was made – and catches – was an out on the sideline to Roy [Roundtree]. I thought Roy did a nice job with his hands. I said this last week, but I think Roy is really catching the ball more with his hands and not as much in his body as he had earlier.”

On when he noticed Roy starting to catch the ball more with his hands…
“Shoot, I don’t know. Sometime. Probably in practice”

On whether the offense threw things out that Ohio State will have to prepare for…
“You know, if I was that smart to do that, I would have done it. But no, we were trying to beat Iowa. We were trying to put our players – it would be very selfish of us as coaches for us not to give these kids the best chance to win a football game. Whatever we do offensively or defensively to prepare, if we don’t do that, then we’re short-selling this program and these seniors and these kids, and we’re not going to do that.”

On what prevented him from using this offense prior to today…
“How would I answer this. [Reporter: "Honestly." Crowd laughs] I would say in doing it it would have been done kind of like we did last year a little bit more when we had both of them on the field and we just added to it. There’s a maturity level for everybody that it takes to be able to handle those kind of things.”

On whether he meant Devin at quarterback and Denard at receiver…
“Maybe. Sort of.”

On how the job of the receivers and the way Devin is throwing the ball is helping the offense pick up where Denard left off…
“I think there’s a lot of truth to all of that. I think our front is blocking better. I think part of that is the play action game. I think part of it’s the play action out of the I-back that has helped.”

On how tough it is for an opposing defense to prepare for a new formation…
“Well, you’ve got to spend some time on it, so sometimes that’s the biggest thing. You’re spending time maybe on a formation that was run three times and thinking what can you do out of it, what can they do out of it, and so as a coach, you’re spending your time and then you’re taking practice time. So, it’s time and there’s one thing that none of us have is a lot of time.”

On how confident he is that the players can put the emotion of the last home game behind them…
“Well, they’re going to have to. I’m pretty confident in how our seniors have led and how we’ve gone to work every Sunday – win and lose.”

On the defense’s performance…
“Yeah, we missed some sacks, we don’t tackle, they’re knocking us off the line of scrimmage early. It was awful.”

On Desmond Morgan’s status…
“I thought he’d be ready, but he’s not.”

On whether he wants to say what the injury is…
“No.”

On Gary Moeller getting honored during a timeout and what it means to him…
“It means a lot. Coach Mo as a person, as a coach, and a man, means a lot. Means a lot to Michigan.”

Michigan 42 – Iowa 17: Devin and Denard show topples Hawkeyes

Sunday, November 18th, 2012


Michigan scored touchdowns on its first six drives and Devin Gardner had a career day as Michigan routed an Iowa team that had beaten it the past three seasons. Denard Robinson played his last game ever in the Big House, and boy was it a good one.

Michigan 42 – Iowa 17
Final Stats
42 Final Score 17
8-3, 6-1 Record 4-7, 2-5
513 Total Yards 309
199 Net Rushing Yards 128
314 Net Passing Yards 181
23 First Downs 17
1 Turnovers 0
3-35 Penalties – Yards 3-21
1-43 Punts – Yards 4-165
30:23 Time of Possession 29:37
9-of-12 Third Down Conversions 6-of-14
2-of-2 Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-3
2-7 Sacks By – Yards 0-0
0-for-0 Field Goals 1-for-1
6-for-6 PATs 2-for-2
4-for-4 Red Zone Scores – Chances 3-for-4

With his elbow injury still inhibiting his ability to throw Denard took the field as a running back. Most assumed it was just to let the senior get on the field one last time, but Al Borges had other ideas. In a glimpse of what he might be in the NFL, Denard played a little running back, wide receiver and quarterback, though he did not attempt any passes. He even managed to break a couple of his trademark runs; one came on a reception which he turned back and ran the entire width of the field en route to a big gain. While it was great to see Denard be Denard again it wasn’t all fun and games as Fitz Toussaint had to be carted off the field with a broken leg. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope he can be back to 100 percent come next spring.

Much like Ohio State has been the Braxton Miller show all year, this game was the Devin Gardner show as he accounted for all six Wolverine scores: three in the air and three on the ground. And while the Iowa defense isn’t anything to be feared, Gardner did what any good quarterback should do against a poor defense: torch it. Devin went 18-of-23 for a career high 314 yards passing and added 37 more yards on the ground to go along with the aforementioned six touchdowns.

The game appeared as though it might be a battle at first as Iowa moved within four points with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. But Michigan had other ideas and rattled off 28 unanswered after that and closed out the Hawkeyes in convincing fashion.

After Michigan scored to go up 7-0, Iowa mounted a 75-yard drive on the legs of Mark Weisman and it looked like Iowa was going to run all over Michigan. The Wolverines answered, scoring on a 37-yard pass to Roundtree, who has quite the chemistry with Gardner. Iowa added a field goal on its next possession to cut the lead to 14-10, but that would be as close as they got. Gardner ran in a score, then hit Vincent Smith on a great screen play to put Michigan up 28-10 at the half. The only mistake – if you want to call it that – that Michigan made all day was a Gardner pick in the fourth quarter.

It is yet to be determined whether Denard will resume his duties as quarterback next week against the Buckeyes. If I had to guess I’d say that Hoke and Borges will keep Gardner as the starter and continue to use Denard as a receiver/running back. Denard is the heart and soul of this team but there is no denying they are a much better offensive team with Gardner at the helm. Not to take anything away from what Denard means but Gardner is the better passer, plain and simple. That said, Denard is too deadly of an athlete and leader to keep off the field. The freak nerve injury to his elbow may be just what Michigan needs to get past the surging Buckeyes who are still chock full of elite talent, while Michigan is still rebuilding from its failed RichRod experiment. At the very least, we’ve seen a glimpse of what this offense will look like next season with Gardner as the full time starter. I am in no way saying this should have been the set up all year, but now that we’ve seen it I have to say I like it a lot.

Michigan travels to Columbus to take on the undefeated Buckeyes in what is essentially OSU’s bowl game. Before the season I predicted a Michigan loss, but with Devin Gardner under center and Denard Robinson being utilized in other ways I may just change my mind. I will save my prediction for our weekly staff picks later this week.

M&GB Pick’em: Iowa staff predictions

Friday, November 16th, 2012


Last week, Katie captured her second straight win with her 30-24 prediction. The rest of us predicted a much lower scoring game. This week, Michigan closes out its home schedule with the Iowa Hawkeyes. As has been the case the last two weeks, Denard’s status is unknown, but Iowa features one of the worst offenses in the country and Michigan should win regardless of who plays quarterback. Let’s take a look at our picks.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

____________________________

Justin: Michigan 35 – Iowa 17

Chris: Michigan 31 - Iowa 13

Josh: Michigan 27 – Iowa 13

Sam: Michigan 31 – Iowa 3

Katie: Michigan 38 – Iowa 13

Matt: Michigan 41 – Iowa 13

___________________________

Average: Michigan 34 – Iowa 12

Justin (1): There’s no doubt Michigan will win this one. What I’m more interested in seeing is Denard’s send-off. Whether or not he goes on to an NFL career he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue. His injury is unfortunate in that he has missed two and a half games worth of stats that would have continued his assault on the record books. But Denard will always tell you he’s not concerned with stats. Michigan may never see a player like him again and he epitomizes the Michigan Man in every sense of the phrase. Will he start? Will he just see a few snaps? Nobody outside of the Fort knows. But what is certain is that he, and the other 22 seniors deserve a salute that only the fans of college football’s all-time winningest program can give.

Michigan 35 – Iowa 17

Chris (2): Saturday’s matchup against Iowa looks like it could be a nice tune-up for the Big Game on Thanksgiving weekend against Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have muddled through this season with a record so far of 4-6 (2-4 Big Ten). They need to win their last two games just to become bowl eligible.

On offense, the Hawkeyes lack any kind of firepower in both the rushing and passing attack.  They are near the bottom of the NCAA statistical rankings in almost every offensive category. Senior QB James Vandenberg has had a pedestrian year and the leading rusher, Sophomore Mark Weisman, wasn’t even listed on the depth chart to begin the season. His status for Saturday in Ann Arbor is unknown as he is dealing with a leg injury and has missed the last two games. Given the way the Michigan defense has played this season and the fact that Iowa hasn’t been able to put much together when they have the ball, I don’t see many points being scored on the Iowa side.

If this Iowa team has any sort of strength to their team, it’s their defense. Coming into this game, they are ranked 29th in the nation, giving up 22 points per game. These numbers sort of surprise me because I would think that the 29th best scoring defense would be giving up less than 3 touchdowns per game. Any way you look at it, the defense still has a lot of holes that can be exploited by a Michigan offense which has been very productive with Devin Gardner under center. Even if Denard Robinson plays on Saturday, and the offense doesn’t throw the ball as often, the offense should be able to move the ball and score points.

Regardless of who plays, Michigan will win (photo by the Detroit News)

I’m not expecting this game to be as close as last week. I think Northwestern had more talent and better athletes than this Iowa team. One good thing that came from last week’s overtime win is that it likely got the players’ attention and showed them that if they keep fighting until the very end, they can win even if it means making a large comeback. Saturday presents the opportunity to clean things up before the finale in Columbus. As long as the team isn’t looking ahead to that game, I see them winning by a comfortable margin. Michigan wins.

Michigan 31 – Iowa 13

Josh (2): Iowa has one of the worst offenses in college football. Michigan has one of the best defenses. On paper this one should be in the books. They say the game is not played on paper, but I think it’s safe to say Michigan’s seniors will exact revenge on another team they have never beaten.

Iowa started the season strong at 4-2, with their fourth win coming in double OT vs. MSU. Since then, however, they have lost four straight; the last two coming against Indiana and Purdue. With an inept offense and a line that looks nothing like a typical Kirk Ferentz line, Michigan’s defense should have a field day. The Wolverines gave up over 400 yards to Northwestern last week but was only giving up around 250 in their previous seven. Look for Michigan to keep Iowa to under 200 total yards and possibly pitch a shut out.

There is no word on whether Denard will be available, though I suspect he will sit out again to rest up and fully heal for the battle in Columbus the following week. Even if Denard does not play I’d be surprised if he did not at least take the field for one play. It is senior day and Denard Robinson has been one of the all-time greats to ever play in the Big House. He will leave a lasting legacy behind and the impact he has made on this program will be felt for some time. Decades from now his name will still be all over Michigan’s record books. I’m getting a bit misty-eyed thinking about what he’s meant to this team since he arrived in 2009. Moving on..

Devin Gardner has proved he is more than capable of leading this team and while he may not be quite as electric with his feet as Denard, he more than makes up for it with his passing and decision making.

Expect more under-center action and look for Borges to get Fitz and Thomas Rawls in a groove, in preparation for the Buckeyes.This will be a great tune-up game for Michigan but don’t think they will be looking past Iowa. Hoke will have these kids ready to roll. Michigan will keep its unbeaten streak at home alive (under Brady Hoke) and continue to do its part in the race for the Big Ten title game.

Michigan 27 – Iowa 13

Matt (2): What a win against Northwestern last weekend! I said that they scared me, and that game may have knocked a couple years off of my life. That catch by Roundtree… Oh my gosh! And Devin Gardner. I love that kid.

Damon Bullock was held to just 2.6 ypc in the last two games

This week, is Michigan’s last game at the Big House until next season. So hopefully it will be a good one. Michigan will be taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although the Big House visitors locker room isn’t painted pink like Iowa’s, I still think Michigan is going to have quite the advantage this week. Iowa had a lot of hype going into the season. But after their week 1 win against Northern Illinois, they took a loss to Iowa State, and then alternated wins and losses sort of like playing a drum before losing four straight. Michigan is going to look to make it five.

Let’s not forget, next week the Wolverines play Ohio State, in Columbus. This is kind of the warm up game you could say. This is the game Michigan needs to make sure they have everything ready to go, so they can rattle the home town crowd of Columbus and defeat Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.

I’m getting ahead of myself huh?

Iowa’s senior QB, James Vandenberg, just like his team, started the year with quite a bit of hype. That hype has since dissipated. Vandenberg has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards, but has thrown only five touchdowns, and six interceptions. Michigan’s defense is going to look to take advantage of these shaky stats. Iowa’s running game hasn’t been that stellar either. Their whole team has really had an off season. I see Michigan taking advantage of that at full force, forcing turnovers, pressuring Vandenberg, and completely dominating Iowa’s offense.

Their defense hasn’t been too strong either. But there is still no word if Denard or Devin is going to start at quarterback. Another advantage to Michigan I’d say, because Iowa isn’t sure how to prepare. Devin Gardner hasn’t been the running quarterback that Denard has been, but Gardner is still a threat on the ground, and obviously, by air.

Either way, I see Michigan shredding Iowa’s secondary, and punching in a couple of touchdowns on the ground as well. I’d really like to see Fitzgerald Toussaint have a good outing in this one, because he just hasn’t had a rushing season as we all had hoped.

Like I said, I see Michigan running away with this one…big.

Michigan 41 – Iowa 13

Sam (1): For one final time, Michigan’s 23 seniors will run out of the Big House tunnel and onto the field this Saturday as members of the football program. Among them include star offensive players, walk-ons-turned-starters, backups, career special teams’ players, and others who have never sniffed the field during a game. Many will be remembered for years to come; others will come back next year unrecognized and have to pay for a parking spot. All of them, however, are part of the Michigan football team, the 133rd Michigan team in school history, and all of them will be honored for their role on this team over the past four or five seasons.

For one more game, they will play in front of their fans in their city, and they will go out on a high note. If there was ever a game to call before it happened, this is it, as Michigan’s Senior Day opponent, Iowa, is reeling out of control, having lost four straight Big Ten games to middling to bad teams.

Iowa OC Greg Davis is sorely missing Vince Young and Colt McCoy

The Hawkeyes have no running game to speak of, score barely more than 20 points per game, and have seemed to give up hope. Included in the six teams to hand Iowa losses this season are lowly Purdue, Indiana, Central Michigan, and Iowa State. Their last win, a double overtime, barn-burning 19-16 victory over Michigan State, was basically handed to them on a platter. Iowa’s second-best win is over Minnesota. The point is, this team is very, very bad.

Michigan will likely be led again by quarterback Devin Gardner, who has been a revelation in his two starts, wins over Minnesota and Northwestern. The most famous of the seniors, Denard Robinson, continues to suffer from a nerve injury in his throwing arm. Robinson will probably get on the field once to please the fans and to give him one final memory at Michigan Stadium, but coach Brady Hoke is certain to do everything he can to get him healthy for Ohio State next weekend.

If Iowa is to have any chance this weekend, quarterback James Vandenberg will need to step up in a big way and get his 500-yard receivers, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, involved early and often down the field. Unfortunately for Kirk Ferentz and company, Michigan’s pass defense continues to impress and has given up the fewest passing yards per game in the country. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s run defense has been a little bit inconsistent, but when it counts, the Wolverines always seem to come up with the big stop, and Iowa’s run offense has been an absolute disaster throughout the season after an offseason full of injuries and suspensions that led to a former walk-on linebacker taking over the starting running back spot.

So as the old exits and the new continues to usher itself in, Michigan fans will have one last time to see Denard Robinson, Roy Roundtree, Vincent Smith, and many others take to their home field. It’s always a bittersweet feeling to see favorite players exhaust their eligibility, but it should be a happy ending come Saturday for those 17 players who have played through so much. There are more games to be played this year, but Michigan can’t let themselves look ahead to next week. Even if they do, though, they’d probably still win big. Vincent Smith will score his final career touchdown as Michigan rolls.

Michigan 31 – Iowa 3

Katie (2): Iowa’s schedule to date lacks any convincing factor that could as much as hint that they could come into the Big House and walk away with a win.  Of course, there will always be upsets, but Michigan knows how important this win is if they are to have any chance at the Big Ten Championship, and so I doubt that they will put on the cruise control until the regular season is over.  Standing now at an unimpressive 4-6 (2-4) the Hawkeyes have had a rough four weeks, losing to Penn State, Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue (the other two losses to Central Michigan, and Iowa State).  That, along with a quarterback who has struggled late in games, and the loss of both a fullback and a running back will not help Iowa to put up the points it will need to beat Michigan, nor will the absence of two offensive linemen.

The highest score they’ve amassed so far is 31, but even doing so twice doesn’t matter much since they were scored against Minnesota and Central Michigan.  It also doesn’t bode well that the only offense as potent as Michigan’s, the Nittany Lions, put up almost 40 points on the Hawkeyes.  And I would credit the incentive to beat the Wolverines to have a better chance to make it into a bowl as a factor if the last game for Iowa wasn’t against an even higher ranked Nebraska team.

This should be pretty much set in stone by the third quarter.

Michigan 38 – Iowa 13

Michigan vs Iowa game preview

Friday, November 16th, 2012


The final home game of the season is upon us and Michigan will be looking to send its seniors off in style with a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. At this point, the Hawkweys hold the longest winning streak of any opponent over Michigan – three games – and Brady Hoke would love to end that just as he did to the streaks Ohio State and Michigan State had accumulated.

For the third straight week, uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position as Denard Robinson has yet to be publicly cleared to play. Devin Gardner has filled in nicely the past two weeks and will likely be tasked to do the same tomorrow. Michigan remains in contention for the Big Ten Legends division title and a spot in the championship game, but must win out.

Michigan Stadium  -  Ann Arbor, Mich.
12pm EST  -  ESPN
______________

Iowa Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (14th season)
Coaching Record: 100-72 (112-93 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Davis
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Parker
Returning Starters: 8 (5 offense, 3 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (4-4)
Last Meeting: Iowa 24 – Michigan 16 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 40-13-4
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 23-6-3
In Michigan Stadium: 22-5-3
Current Streak: Iowa 3

Iowa should provide a nice tune-up for the epic showdown that looms in Columbus a week from tomorrow. The Hawkeyes come in needing a win to stay alive for bowl contention. At 4-6, Iowa must win its last two to get a bowl bid. Iowa’s four wins were over Northern Illinois (18-17), Northern Iowa (27-16), Minnesota (31-13), and Michigan State (19-16 OT). The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State (9-6), Central Michigan (32-31), Penn State (38-14), Northwestern (28-17), Indiana (24-21), and Purdue (27-24). The latter four of those losses have come consecutively in the last four weeks following the overtime victory over MSU. Can Iowa somehow rekindle the magic it found in East Lansing? Or will Michigan ensure the ‘Hawks will be home for the holidays? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Iowa has the ball

As I explained in Monday’s First Look, Iowa’s offense has been downright anemic this season under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The man who coordinated Texas’ offense for 13 seasons hasn’t been able to get things going, but he also doesn’t have Vince Young at his disposal.

James Vandenberg is a competent quarterback, but doesn’t have much to throw to due to the departure of Marvin McNutt. Vandenberg has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. He hasn’t thrown for 250 yards in a game all season and hasn’t thrown multiple touchdowns in a single game either. Penn State held him to just 47.2 percent completions for 189 yards, a touchdown, and two picks and his numbers against Iowa State, Michigan State, and Purdue were similar.

As mentioned above, he lacks top-notch receivers like he had with McNutt. The leaders are Kennan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley who have 46 catches for 560 yards and 47 catches for 545 yards, respectively. But only Martin-Manley has multiple touchdown grabs (two). Mammoth tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz 31 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown. The main issue has been big plays. The entire offense has just 14 plays of 25 yards or more this season. McNutt had 15 by himself a year ago.

James Vandenberg led the Big Ten in passing last season, but has just five TDs in 2012

In the backfield, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has struck again. The leading rusher, Mark Weisman, had four straight 100-yard games, including a 217-yard performance against Central Michigan and 116 yards against Michigan State. But he left the Northwestern game with an ankle injury and has missed the last two games. He’s likely out this week as well. In his stead, sophomore Damon Bullock has been up and down. He rushed for 107 yards against Northwestern and 150 in the season opener, but has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the last two weeks. Purdue, who Michigan shredded for 304 yards rushing, held him to just 43 yards on 23 carries.

Davis’ offense is of the pro-style variety and calls for a zone running scheme and an underneath passing game. The offensive line has been through its share of injuries this season and has been a major factor in the lack of a run game. The lack of a true deep threat like McNutt has caused the underneath routes to be less effective. Expect Greg Mattison to unleash a blitz scheme designed to pressure Vandenberg into making quick decisions.

When Michigan has the ball

Like the offense, Iowa’s defense is guided by a new coordinator this season. Phil Parker has a solid group of linebackers but not much else. Despite the new coordinator it’s essentially the same defensive style as what Norm Parker ran, as Phil Parker was the team’s defensive backs coach for the previous 13 seasons.

While the Hawkeyes rank 29th nationally in points allowed, the total defense is a mediocre 51st. Each of the last four opponents have racked up over 400 yards of offense, and Penn State surpassed 500.

Junior linebacker Anthony Hitchens is the Big Ten’s leading tackler by a wide margin with 114, while James Morris ranks third and Christian Kirksey ranks 12th. Each of the three has more tackles than Michigan’s leading tackler, Desmond Morgan and they’re all solid linebackers.

The rest of the defense, not so much. Tackle Joe Gaglione has five sacks and nine tackles for loss, but no one else on the team has more than two sacks. The line has trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, ranking 111th nationally with just 11 sacks in 10 games.

The secondary has a pair of experienced corners in Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery. Hyde is the team’s fourth leading tackler with 67, has a pair of fumble recoveries, and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 12 pass breakups. The three-year starter doesn’t get beat often. Lowery, you might remember for knocking down Michigan’s final pass in the end zone last year, thwarting the comeback attempt.

The 4-3 defense employed by Parker isn’t overly aggressive and prefers to sit back and let the play come to it. The last four opponents have scored just an average of just over 29 points per game, and there’s no reason to think Michigan won’t do otherwise.

Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 2 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

The other third

Kicker Mike Meyer has converted 16-of-19 field goals on the season with a long of 50. He made 14-of-20 last season and 14-of-17 in 2010 for a career average of 78.6. Punter Connor Kornbrath has an average of 37.4, which ranks 10th in the conference. Former Michigan quarterback commit John Wienke has also punted a dozen times with similar results.

The return game is below average, although Jordan Cotton leads the Big Ten with a 27.9-yard kick return average with one touchdown. Hyde handles punt return duties with an average of 5.4 yards per return. The Hawkeyes do defend returns pretty well, ranking 31st and 27th nationally in kick and punt return coverage, respectively.

Prediction

The biggest danger for Michigan in this one is overlooking the Hawkeyes for next week’s battle in Columbus. But a couple of factors exist that won’t allow that to happen. First of all, it’s Senior Day, so Denard, Jordan Kovacs, et al. will want to go off in style. Secondly, Michigan has the nation’s second longest home winning streak and hasn’t lost in the Big House since Hoke took over. Finally, Iowa has won the last three meetings and you can bet Hoke won’t let the team overlook that fact. Michigan will come to battle Iowa as if the Hawkeyes were the Buckeyes.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Denard didn’t play much. Michigan can win this one without him and needs him fully healthy for Ohio State, a possible Big Ten championship game, and the bowl game. There’s no use in letting him re-aggravate the elbow in this one. That being said, it is his final game in Michigan Stadium, so he may start and play a series or see a few plays here and there, but don’t expect him to play the full game.

With Gardner at quarterback, Michigan’s offense will look like it has the past two weeks. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will split time in the backfield, although Vincent Smith will likely get some time as well since he’s a senior. Gardner will have another big day throwing and Michigan will cruise to a win, setting up the big one next Saturday.

Michigan 35 – Iowa 17

Friend vs Foe: Iowa edition

Thursday, November 15th, 2012


For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we are proud to welcome RossWB from the ever popular Iowa SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Iowa can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Iowa
by RossWB

How can Iowa win this game? If Michigan contracts a serious case of food poisoning on Saturday morning, Iowa could win this game. If the Iowa bus gets lost and they wind up playing the game against a team of Ann Arbor middle schoolers, Iowa could win this game. If Kirk Ferentz is allowed to use a time machine, Iowa could win this game.

But as far as serious ways for Iowa to win this game…well, if you’ve seen the highlights – or even just read the box scores – from the last four weeks, then you probably know why it’s hard to have even a sliver of confidence in Iowa winning this game. They’ve lost four games in a row in Big Ten play, twice to decent opponents (Penn State and Northwestern) and twice to the Big Ten’s Indiana contingent. And the “decent” opponents absolutely massacred Iowa. The Indiana and Purdue games were close losses that, truth be told, were probably only close because of too many turnovers and penalties by those teams.

The Iowa offense hasn’t put up 20 points on their own since September, when they scored 24 of Iowa’s 31 points against Minnesota. (Iowa scored 21 and 24 points the last two weeks, but each game featured a defensive touchdown by Iowa.) The offense was bad to begin with, but it went from bad to farcical when it lost probably its two best players in back-to-back games (RB Mark Weisman against Michigan State, OT Brandon Scherff against Penn State). Now the offensive line can’t do much of anything, the receivers can’t get open, and the quarterback is a jittery mess still trying to adjust to life as a square peg in the round hole that is Greg Davis’ offense.

Only one of Iowa’s past four opponents has cracked 30 points (Penn State), but the other teams easily could have cracked 30 points if not for some untimely turnovers and red zone miscues. Each of Iowa’s last four opponents has amassed over 400 yards of offense and they’ve done it in a variety of ways; Penn State killed Iowa with balance, Northwestern ripped Iowa to bits on the ground, Indiana shredded them through the air, and Purdue did a little bit of everything. The defensive line can’t get pressure, the secondary struggles to cover, and two of the top three linebackers ended the previous game on the bench, for injuries or other reasons.

So how can Iowa win? They’ll probably need touchdowns from defense and special teams, for one. (And actual touchdowns, not just short fields – I have zero confidence in the Iowa offense being able to take advantage of a short field and score touchdowns themselves.) They’ll need Michigan’s offense to have an absolutely miserable day and turn the ball over several times. They’ll probably need the Michigan defense to forget how to tackle. And they’ll probably need to lock Greg Davis in a closet, give James Vandenberg a playbook from 2011, and hope for the best. Iowa has won three in a row over Michigan and they did pull an upset over Big Blue last year, but that was a better Iowa team, one that wasn’t bereft of talent, good ideas, and confidence. To win this year, Iowa probably needs a minor miracle.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

It’s hard to imagine Michigan losing this one unless Denard doesn’t play and Devin Gardner gets hurt too. Then it’s anyone’s guess. Iowa has surrendered over 400 yards to each of its past four opponents, one of which being a Purdue squad that was previously winless in conference play. Regardless of whether Denard or Devin is piloting the offense, Michigan should be able to move the ball.

But Iowa’s main problems are on the offensive side of the ball where the Hawkeyes are averaging just 19 points per game over the last five. The run game ranks second to last in the Big Ten and took a big hit when Mark Weisman went down two weeks ago. James Vandenberg is a decent quarterback, and the best way for Iowa to try to attack Michigan would be with the passing game. We all saw how Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian was able to shred the Michigan secondary the few series he was in last week. The main difference was that NW had a running game that Michigan was having trouble stopping as well. Despite the No.1 overall pass defense, Michigan’s secondary has been vulnerable to the deep ball all season; opposing quarterbacks just haven’t been accurate with it. If Iowa can hit a couple of them they could back Michigan’s defense off.

But make no mistake about it. If Michigan scores more than 20 points, it will win. And there’s absolutely no reason to think the Wolverines will be held below 20. I have a hard time believing Denard will play much if at all this weekend, so the offense will be the same as it has been the past two weeks: pro-style, power running with a better passing game. Devin Gardner’s command of the offense will continue to improve and he’ll be able to exploit the Hawkeye defense just as the past four opponents have.

The main thing Michigan has to worry about in this one is not looking ahead to undefeated Ohio State next week. That’s where the last three years come into play. Iowa’s three-game winning streak over Michigan allows Brady Hoke to keep the team focused on ending the streak, just like it did against OSU last year and Michigan State a few weeks ago. On Senior Day, you can bet the 18 seniors won’t want their careers to expire having never beaten the Hawkeyes.  In addition to that, Michigan is still in the hunt for the Legends division title, so expect another big day by Garnder leading Michigan to a win setting up a huge showdown in Columbus next Saturday.

5-Spot Challenge: Week 11

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012



Congratulations to our second two-time winner of the season, bluwolf77. His differential of 93 was by far the best of the week and was the second best all season, behind only last week’s winner, kfarmer16. Bluwolf77, who also won Week 4, was only 17 away from the two teams’ combined rushing yards, 23 away from Devin Gardner’s total yards, six away from Venric Mark’s rushing yards, and two away from the longest kick or punt return. Second place KleinoRhino was the closest to predicting Northwestern’s passing yards, just seven off, while Maizenblu62 was just one away from the longest kick or punt return. The overall leader crp12qb finished fourth this week with a differential of 211. He was the closest to predicting Mark’s rushing total, just four short.

Altogether, the 15 contestants this week predicted Michigan to win by an average score of 32-19. Everyone picked Michigan to win and two people, bluwolf77 and Jim Mackiewicz, had Michigan scoring 38 points. Nobody had Northwestern scoring 31, though kashkaav was the only one that had them scoring more (39).

This week, Michigan plays its final home game of the season. It’s senior night and a game the Wolverines should win handily against an Iowa team that has lost four straight. Will Denard play? Or will we see more of Devin? Regardless, it should be fun to watch as Michigan gets ready for the big one the following week.

Brady Hoke post-game transcript: Northwestern

Sunday, November 11th, 2012


Michigan kept its Big Ten title hopes alive with a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win over Northwestern. Brady Hoke spoke to the media afterwards.

Brady Hoke postgame press conference (photo by Justin Potts, M&GB)

Opening statement
“Let me ask them a question: Who started writing the article before the game was over? [room laughs] Obviously we’ve got a lot that we didn’t do well, but we did do well when you win the football game. It was two teams that played hard. I have so much respect for Pat [Fitzgerald] and how he runs his program and how his guys come to work every day and how they play. We knew it would be a dog fight. We missed way too many tackles, but you’ve got to give Kain Colter some of that respect because he made us miss him. We’ve got to do a better job there.

“I think offensively, [we] moved the ball pretty consistently. Still need to rush for more yards from the backfield, which  means we’ve still got to continue to improve up front, how we’re blocking the line of scrimmage. We missed a couple of cuts, but Devin did a tremendous job really managing everything, staying in the game and extending some things and then his athleticism obviously helped on some of the first downs. We were 7-of-10, so that’s all I’ve got to say.”

On whether this is the kind of win where he tells his team to just find a way to win and build from it…
“Well, there’s a lot to build from and a lot to learn from. Our seniors play their last game at Michigan Stadium next week. That’s significant and if we want to send them out the right way, then we’ve got to play better. That starts always with the coaching side of it and that has to be paramount for us.”

On the bit plays by the seniors, Roy Roundtree and Kenny Demens…
“Roy really, I think on a couple of balls, he really had great focus and great intensity into what he was doing. On the last tackle there, number one, I like the call that Greg [Mattison] made because it was one where we may have talked them into running the football because of some of the space inside. Then Kenny did a nice of really working inside out to the ball. Maybe a little bit earlier we were maybe getting to far ahead of them.”

On how much the experience of tight games the past couple years is a benefit in a game like today…
“I think that’s a great question and I think when I look at them on the sideline and communicate with them and talk to them, they are never in doubt that they weren’t going to win the football game, in my opinion. I think all of that helps. I think experience in anything in life helps you get through it the next time, and I think the same thing in the game of football.”

On how Devin Gardner improved from last week to this week…
“I don’t know if I could do that right now. I think he managed the game well. I thought he had two throws [that were] probably not the best throws. He did a nice job getting rid of the ball in the end zone. He made some good decisions.”

On how different the offense is run with Gardner as opposed to Denard…
“I think the biggest thing is there’s a little more to that. There’s a little more vertical run. There’s a little more power play, to some degree, but a lot of lead play – iso, they used to call it in my day. But from that standpoint, there’s still the zone read and all those things from the gun too.”

On what Northwestern was doing to convert third downs so well…
“What were they doing? I think they converted and they were a little more accurate in some of the throws on the seven routs, smash routes. We need to do a better job in the seam part of our defense when they were throwing it. And I think he scrambled at times and either we missed the tackle, which we did a couple times on a scramble, or we didn’t force the ball enough. As far as when you talk about your lanes and compressing the pocket from the outside.

On the resolve of the team to step up and stop Northwestern on third- and fourth-and-short in overtime…
“These kids have been great. It didn’t surprise me. It really didn’t surprise me. There were 18 seconds left when they punted the ball or something like that and Dan Ferrigno did a nice job all week because they would rugby punt, if you want to call it that – it wasn’t a full on rugby – but lining up Gallon where he lined him up. That’s exactly where when we charted a year of punts, that’s where they were going and they rugby punted and it was perfect. It got us great field position and then obviously the throw.”

On Gardner’s throw to Roundtree at the end of regulation…
” Well, I really can’t describe it all for you, but we knew we had to get to a certain point on the field. We knew from the 35, 38 in, is where we wanted to kick the field goal to tie it up. It just so happened that the post part of the route, the combination was where we needed to hit it. Devin through it well and Roy made a football play.”

On if Denard could have played if Gardner had gotten injured in the game…
“Maybe. [room laughs] He was dressed, right? [Yes] Ok.”

On what Roundtree has done to step up the past two weeks…
“Oh I don’t know, he’s always been like that. Roy’s always been pretty focused. He prepares well, he gets himself ready for a game.”

On whether he has seen a change in Roundtree the past two weeks…
“No, not really.”

On where do you start with trying to stop Northwestern schematically…
“Scheme-wise was really good. I thought Greg and the defensive staff, you’ll go back and look and [say] maybe I should have ran this more or whatever it might be, but I thought scheme-wise, especially with some of the things we were doing – I’m not going to explain them, obviously – it was very effective. We kind of got them into one formation. When you can get somebody into one formation, two formations, then you don’t have all the other problems.”

On Denard’s status…
“Day-to-day.”

He didn’t do much in warm-ups…
“Day-to-day.”

On whether he would have written the game story if he were in the reporters’ shoes…
“No. No. Because of those kids. No way. My wife just asked me that on the way in. Did you know you were going to win? I said yes.”

On Northwestern’s success with the option…
“Perimeter of the defense. We need to play better on the perimeter of the defense. Need to get off blocks better.”

On whether he’s surprised Northwestern went away from the option…
“No, because I think he [Colter] got beat up a little bit there for a minute. Siemian’s a very good quarterback, but he’s not the same quarterback. Then when he came back, they went to their bread and butter on the fourth down play – tried to go option.”

On how hard Fitz Toussaint ran and what the offensive line has to do to help him…
“Well, I think we’ve got to finish on blocks a little better, combination wise. I really thought they were getting some movement – probably not as much as we would like, because it never is. I do think he ran extremely hard. I mean, you could hear football on the field.”

On the win keeping the Big Ten title hopes alive…
“Well, we can’t worry about what other people do. We’ve got to worry about what we do. We’ve got Iowa [next].”

On what he will do with the quarterback situation when Denard is healthy enough to come back…
“I think that’s probably something we’ll figure out.”

On his faith in Brendan Gibbons to make the game-tying kick and Drew Dileo to hold it…
“You know, that combination is a pretty good combination. They work so much together, because we kick everyday. But they are two – don’t tell Gibbons I ever said this – two football players.”

On Devin commanding the huddle and leading the offense…
“Well, he’s really done a nice job, and always has. I thought the way he’s gone about his business, the maturity and the growth has been really, I guess, expected.”

Michigan 38 – Northwestern 31 (OT): Roundtree’s heroics propel UM

Saturday, November 10th, 2012


On a day when a trio of tackles were honored as legends, it was a receiver that made the biggest play. Roy Roundtree has become a big play legend in his own right while donning Desmond Howard’s legends jersey and has now been on the receiving end of two of the most improbable comebacks in Michigan history.

Michigan 38 – Northwestern 31 (OT)
Final Stats
38 Final Score 31
7-3, 5-1 Record 7-3, 3-3
419 Total Yards 431
133 Net Rushing Yards 248
286 Net Passing Yards 183
21 First Downs 27
2 Turnovers 1
2-26 Penalties – Yards 8-75
3-154 Punts – Yards 4-164
25:32 Time of Possession 34:28
7-of-10 Third Down Conversions 8-of-16
0-of-0 Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2
2-21 Sacks By – Yards 1-2
1-for-1 Field Goals 1-for-1
5-for-5 PATs 4-for-4
5-for-5 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-5

When Michigan got the ball back at its own 38 with 18 seconds remaining, J.T. Floyd told the offense that the defense did its part and now it was up to them. Devin Gardner launched the ball downfield and Roundtree tipped it in the air and caught it from his knees at the Northwestern 9-yard line with eight seconds left. Brendan Gibbons hit the 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 31.

In overtime, Michigan got the ball first and went right back to Roundtree. A 17-yard reception put the ball inside the 10 and after a pair of Fitz Toussaint runs to the Northwestern one, Gardner faked the handoff and rolled to the right for the touchdown. After the game, Gardner credited Al Borges with the call.

“That was a play call by Coach Borges; it was a great call,” Gardner said. “When I saw how tight they were, I was like ‘this is the best call possible’ and I basically walked into the end zone.”

Northwestern took over needing a touchdown to force a second overtime, but on 4th-and-2, Kenny Demens hit Tyris Jones at the line of scrimmage to seal the deal.

The game was a lot closer than many expected, with both teams fighting to keep their respective Big Ten title hopes alive. Northwestern struck first with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive after forcing Michigan to punt away its first possession. But Michigan matched the Wildcats with a 10-play, 78-yard drive of its own, capped off by a Gardner 8-yard touchdown run. On the run, Gardner appeared to have nowhere to go around the 5-yard line, but pump-faked the defender which gave him just enough space to dive for the pylon.

Michigan appeared to be ready to score again on its next possession as Toussaint broke a 50-yard run inside the NW 10-yard line. But a hit from behind popped the ball loose and Northwestern recovered at its own three.

The Wildcats moved the ball to the 49, but Jibreel Black sacked Colter and knocked the ball loose. Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 37.

Roundtree's acrobatic catch saved the game (photo by MGoBlue.com)

At the beginning of the second quarter, Michigan struck again, this time a 10-play, 37-yard drive punctuated by a Thomas Rawls 1-yard touchdown run. Gardner kept the drive alive with a 17-yard run on 3rd-and-11.

The teams traded punts and Northwestern got the ball back with 1:53 remaining in the first half. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian came in and guided the Wildcats to a game-tying touchdown that covered 56 yards in six plays. The teams entered halftime deadlocked at 14.

In the second half, Northwestern did just what it did on its first possession of the game: march the ball right down the field for a score. The Wildcats went 75 yards on 10 plays as Kain Colter found Dan Vitale for a 23-yard touchdown pass.

Michigan went three-and-out and NW was on the move again. On 3rd-and-goal from the eight, Craig Roh came up with a big sack to force the Wildcats to kick a 34-yard field goal and take a 24-14 lead.

Michigan answered right back with a four-play, 78-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call on Northwestern on 3rd-and-17. Right after that, Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for a 42-yard play and then dumped the ball off to Toussaint who romped 28 yards into the end zone.

After forcing a NW punt, Michigan went 91 yards on 11 plays to regain the lead. On 3rd-and-6 from the Northwestern eight, Gardner hit Devin Funchess in the end zone. Michigan led 28-24 with 8:45 to play.

But Northwestern wasn’t finished. The Wildcats mounted an eight-play, 66-yard drive to take the lead back. Colter had to come out of the game with an injury and Siemian came in and completed passes of 21 yards and 15 yards. The Wildcats were also helped out by a 15-yards roughing the passer penalty on Brennen Beyer, taking away what would have been 3rd-and-11.

Dennis Norfleet returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Michigan 42, but Gardner was intercepted on the first play. With 3:37 remaining, Northwestern forced Michigan to use its time outs and set up 4th-and-1 from theMichigan 41. Colter was stopped by James Ross just short of the 40, but the measurement awarded the Wildcats a first down and it appeared all of Michigan’s hopes were dashed. NW kept running the ball to work the clock and Michigan forced the punt with 25 seconds remaining, setting up the end-of-game drama that unfolded.

Michigan kept its hopes of winning the Legends division alive while dashing Northwestern’s. For the Wildcats, it was a familiar refrain: blowing late-game leads as they have done so often this year.

Michigan hosts Iowa next week in what will be Denard Robinson’s final game in the Big House. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to play. Brady Hoke said he’s still day-to-day. But as Denard has been on the sideline, the legend of Devin Gardner continues to grow. However, Gardner dismissed any notion of replacing Denard in Michigan’s lineup.

“This is Denard’s team and it’s always going to be Denard’s team until he’s gone,” Gardner said. “He’s done way too much for two games to change that.”

M&GB Pick’em: Northwestern staff predictions

Friday, November 9th, 2012


Last week, none of us expected Denard to miss the entire game, but regardless it went about as expected. Katie picked up her first win of the season, nearly getting the score exactly right. Her 38-13 prediction was just three off of the 35-13 result. The rest of us were all close as well. This week, Michigan returns home to face Northwestern. Denard’s status is up in the air once again, but that shouldn’t change the outcome too much in this one.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

____________________________

Justin: Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Chris: Michigan 27 - Northwestern 18

Josh: Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

Katie: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24

Matt: Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

___________________________

Average: Michigan 30 – Northwestern 17

Justin (1): Northwestern will put up its best effort, but Michigan will be too much in this one regardless of who pilots the offense. Look for more passing than usual, especially if Devin Gardner is behind center. Big games from Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, or Devin Funchess are in the crystal ball. The Wildcats will hang tough into the third quarter before Michigan seals the deal.

Check out the game preview, Friend vs Foe and First Look for more.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Chris (2): Northwestern enters this game with two losses (both in the Big Ten) and, like Michigan, is looking for help to make it to the Big Ten Championship.  If they lose on Saturday, their chances of winning the conference are gone.  Similarily, Michigan is also needing a win to stay in contention for the Big Ten title.  However, the Wolverines only need Nebraska to lose one of its remaining games for them to make it to Indianapolis.  So there is a lot on the line for both teams.

The strength of this Northwestern team is its rushing offense.  They are ranked 13th nationally in total rushing behind Junior running back Venric Mark and dual threat quarterback Kain Colter.  The passing game is a different story, however.  The Wildcats rank #113 overall.  So given this, the key for Michigan will be to stop Northwestern from moving the ball on the ground.  I see Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison committing a safety down into the box to provide some extra run support and force Northwestern to the air where the Michigan defense excels.

Defensively, Northwestern is right in the middle of the pack in the NCAA total defense rankings at 60th.  They do give up over 3 touchdowns per game and a lot of yardage through the air.  This should bode well for either Michigan quarterback that starts the game.  We know that Devin Gardner throws a nice ball and if Denard Robinson’s elbow is healthy, he will benefit from a young secondary which has been susceptible to the big play.  Michigan will need to run the ball to win though.  As we’ve seen with these guys, relying on only the pass to win is not a winning strategy.  A good mix of run and pass should open up more plays and help move the ball down the field for the Wolverines.

Colter doesn't pass often, but completes a high percentage (photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP)

On another note, expect an aggressive defensive game plan from Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, especially after seeing some of the holes which both Nebraska and Minnesota exposed in the Michigan offensive line.  The line must play better than they have the last two weeks and keep the pressure from reaching either Denard or Gardner in the backfield before they can make a play.

I expect this game to be close as both teams are fighting for their seasons.  I expect that the Michiagn defense will give up some points, but not more than what the much weaker Northwestern defense will.  Northwestern will play on emotion and look to try to create some big turnovers to give their offense some extra possessions.  But in the end, Michigan will win.

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 18

Josh (2): Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job in Evanston and Northwestern is not the pushover they once were. However, Michigan still has the better team and better coaching staff. Under Hoke Michigan is undefeated in the Big House and that trend should continue.

Northwestern doesn’t pass the ball much (just under 140 yards per game) but they have a versatile QB in Cain Kolter and they can run the ball very well. Kolter does not present the same type of threat Denard does but he is deadly with the ball nonetheless. His backfield mate, Venric Mark, is built from the Vincent Smith mold; small and quick but with more strength than you’d think.

It is yet to be determined if Denard will resume his duties in the backfield, but Devin Gardner is a capable backup and it shouldn’t matter which QB takes the field. If I had to guess, I’d say Gardner gets the nod as Hoke rests Denard for another week just to be safe. If that is the case look for Borges to try to air it out. This Northwestern defense allowed Taylor Martinez to go 27/39 for 342 yards and while improved he is not considered a great passer. Thomas Rawls should play more of a role as Michigan is still looking to get someone other than Denard going on the ground.

Michigan needs to win this game to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title game. Nebraska has Penn St. at home today, Minnesota next week and must travel to Iowa to end the season. Not the toughest road, but anything can happen.

Michigan takes control of this game late and pulls away in a closer than expected battle.

Michigan 31 – Northwestern 17


Matt (2): This game is going to be a good one. It scares me a little. To tell you the truth, it has scared me since the beginning of the season. I knew Northwestern would be good this season. Pat Fitzgerald is doing good things there. He’s a good coach. I knew he’d be able to build them up and make them a player in the Big Ten, something that Northwestern hasn’t been in a while.

Tyler Scott leads the Big ten with seven sacks

Northwestern has only lost two games this season. One to Penn State at Beaver Stadium, and one to Nebraska in Ryan Field. Of course we all know who Michigan has lost to, so let’s not even go there…

Michigan is ranked a little higher in passing than Northwestern, but the Wildcats are ranked higher in rushing. Northwestern has a duo of running backs that are really tearing up defenses. However, Michigan’s defense has turned into a beast this season. After playing horribly against Alabama, and not great against Air Force, our D has really stepped up. I don’t see it being any different this Saturday.

I think that Northwestern will come out being able to move the ball a little at the beginning of the game, but Michigan’s defense is going to wear them out. No matter how many running backs they want to use.

A big question about this game is, will Denard Robinson play? Last week we heard he was going to play. However he did not. Devin Gardner started in his place…and kicked some serious Golden Gopher tail. I heard Denard is day-to-day, which could mean anything. Will we see him Saturday? Not sure. But honestly, if Devin Gardner has to take the snaps as quarterback again, you won’t hear me complaining. But that’s just me.

Michigan comes off of an awesome victory against Minnesota, come into the Big House pumped, take down one of the best in the Big Ten, and never looks back. I predict Michigan will shut down Northwestern’s offense, only allowing a few scores.

Michigan by 25. And they are starting to get pumped for The Game in Columbus…

Michigan 35 – Northwestern 10

Sam (1): This Saturday’s Michigan-Northwestern football game is one big question mark as far as I’m concerned. Sure, Michigan has more talent overall, is the home team, and is playing for a conference championship. At the same time, however, Northwestern is a tough team to figure out, Denard Robinson’s status is up in the air, and the Wildcats won the last matchup between these two teams at the Big House back in 2008.

Still, the oddsmakers give the Wolverines nearly a double-digit edge for this weekend, perhaps because of Northwestern’s inability to close out the big game. And while Northwestern sits at 7-2 overall, with one loss coming at Penn State and another in a one-point heartbreaker against Northwestern, the best team they have beaten is one of Indiana, Vanderbilt, or Iowa – certainly no powerhouses this season. Nebraska and at Penn State are not bad losses for an average team by any means, but the fact that Northwestern blew fourth quarter leads in both of those games raises serious question marks about their ability to stay with and finish off better opponents.

The diminutive Venric Mark is always dangerous

Pat Fitzgerald’s team is quarterbacked by the dual-threat speedster Kain Colter, who has actually run for 100 yards and eight touchdowns more than he has thrown for. The likely reason for that, however, is Northwestern’s other quarterback, Trevor Siemian, who has attempted almost twice as many throws as Colter has but doesn’t have the legs to scare the defense. Fitzgerald will often utilize both of these guys on the field at once to maximize their speed of play and to give defenses a couple drastically different looks using the same exact personnel. Expect more of Colter than Siemian throughout, but I think we will see a decent dose of each.

In the backfield, the cat-like Venric Mark has been remarkable for the Cats, running for 1,072 yards on 166 carries (6.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns. As you may have guessed by now, Northwestern is a team that will keep the ball on the ground, having attempted exactly 150 more rushes than passes through nine weeks. Interestingly, their yards per attempt running (5.3) and passing (5.78) are very similar, hinting that Fitzgerald does a great job of spreading the field. In a running-spread offense, the point is to neutralize defenders and win the numbers game when pounding the rock, which Northwestern has clearly succeeded at so far. More yards per attempt passing would be ideal, but Northwestern just doesn’t have that go-to guy on the outside.

Four receivers for Fitzgerald have recorded at least 200 yards through the air, but no one has more than 266 yards or 26 catches, both fairly low numbers through nine games. Obviously the advantage in using this approach is that defenses need to focus on stopping the run first and cannot key in on any receiver when Colter or Siemian drop back to pass, but the disadvantage is that there isn’t that one reliable guy that can be counted on every night to have a serviceable game.

For Michigan, the receiving woes are quite familiar, as Jeremy Gallon leads the team with merely 22 receptions for 390 yards. The next-leading receiver is Devin Gardner with 16 catches. And Gardner will probably be throwing the balls instead of catching them this Saturday.

The big if for the Wolverines couldn’t be more obvious. If Denard Robinson can safely go, Michigan should have no problem running the ball, and the run should clear up the passing lanes a little bit. If Robinson cannot play, Gardner will step in at quarterback and likely throw and handoff a majority of the time despite his athletic ability because the coaches will do everything in their power to keep him protected; an injury to Gardner in the case of Robinson’s absence would likely see the non-fictional Jack Kennedy taking snaps.

Gardner, of course, will hand the ball off plenty, but the running backs haven’t exactly been a strength for the Wolverines either, as the once-touted Fitz Toussaint has yet to eclipse 100 yards a game, senior Vincent Smith averages just 2.8 yards per carry, and the remaining backs behind them are wildly unproven. This game plan could get very interesting very fast.

Pat Fitzgerald hopes to keep his Wildcats in Big Ten title contention (photo by Terry Gilliam, AP)

With all the uncertainties, a prediction is hard to come up with, but I suppose it’s a requirement to write for this blog. Northwestern has done an above-average job of stopping the run this season and only gives up a tick more than 22 points per game, but Michigan’s defense will be the difference in this game. Neither Colter nor Siemian are big enough passing threats to keep Michigan from stacking the box and slowing the effectiveness of the run. If Denard is back, Michigan has the game in hand going into the fourth quarter. If Gardner is quarterback, this game will come down to the last 10 minutes. Either way, Michigan wins.

Michigan 27 – Northwestern 17

Katie (1): This is where things get interesting. Nebraska and Michigan are tied for first in the Big Ten Legends division, but Michigan, having lost to the Huskers, needs to stay at one loss and see their rival at the top of the standings lose one of its next three conference games. This could very well be a problem if Nebraska goes to 5-1 this weekend by beating Penn State. After that they face a weak opponent in the Golden Gophers before going on the road to Kinnick Stadium to go up against a mediocre Hawkeye team that will likely be looking to play spoiler, and perhaps fighting to remain bowl eligible. That’s also saying that Michigan will finish the season with three more wins against Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State, which makes the loss to Nebraska look more and more like the crack that eventually leads to the breaking of the dam, and the washing away of the dream of a conference championship.

But there are still three weeks left of football to be played, and anyone who watches the top 25 rankings knows just how much can happen in one week, let alone three.

Northwestern is 7-2 (3-2) with losses to Penn State and Nebraska. They have yet to play a ranked team, and have built a record on beating Vanderbilt (the academic pride of the SEC), South Dakota, and a down and out Boston College team.  However, their offense has been able to put up at least 21 points in every game.  Defensively they have three linemen and a safety who all have more than 65 tackles, a pretty impressive statistic even when considering the caliber of teams they have faced.  It’s those assessments that is likely why Northwestern has clawed its way into the AP polls at number 24.

The Wildcats also play two quarterbacks, and seem to do it relatively well.  Mark Venric, their running back, has gone over a thousand yards on the season and has scored nine touchdowns, and their four top receivers are all over two hundred yards.  Other than having a glorified running back as a QB who makes up much of our offense, Michigan fairs about the same statistically.  However, with Hoke being tight lipped about who the starter will be in this weeks game, my vote is for Gardner who showed real determination and poise, albeit against Minnesota.  It can’t be natural to switch position from game to game, and I want to give credit where it is due.  That being said I think that either player will be able to do well under the helm, but as for passing ability I wouldn’t put the ball back in Denard’s hands just yet.  I want to see what Gardner can do, especially when there seems to have been an agreement that he could shift back to the quarterback position next year.  An offensive struggle seems to be in the cards this week.

This one should be close, and as the schools are academic rivals as well as athletic this match up should be fun to watch.

Michigan 30 – Northwestern 24

Michigan vs Northwestern game preview

Friday, November 9th, 2012


Three games remain in the regular season and Michigan must win all of them to stay in the Big Ten title hunt. And just like last week, the Wolverines might have to do it without Denard Robinson. All week, Brady Hoke has been coy about Denard’s status. When asked about Denard’s status on Thursday morning, Hoke said, “We’ve got a plan in place and we’ve been running through it all week.” When asked again, he replied simply, “I don’t know. The plan is to go out and win a football game.”

Michigan Stadium  -  Ann Arbor, Mich.
12pm EST  -  ESPN
______________

Northwestern Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (6th season)
Coaching Record: 47-38
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz
Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 24 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 53-15-2
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 33-6-2
In Michigan Stadium: 29-6-2
Current Streak: Michigan 1

Michigan did win a football game last week without Denard thanks to a solid performance by Devin Gardner and the receiving corps stepping up. But this week’s opponent, Northwestern, is a better team than Minnesota.

Northwestern enters at 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad holds onto extremely slim Big Ten championship hopes, needing to win out and get a lot of help, so the Wildcats will be fighting for their season. The two losses were at Penn State (39-28) and against nebraska (29-28). In that Nebraska game, Northwestern blew a 12 point lead in the fourth quarter. The seven teams Northwestern has beaten have a combined record of 25-38. So is the 7-2 record indicative of a solid squad, or is it more of a reflection of an incredibly weak schedule? Let’s take a look.

When Northwestern has the ball

Quarterback Kain Colter is a version of Denard Robinson that also plays other positions. Sophomore Trevor Siemian started a handful of games at quarterback to allow Colter to play receiver, but Colter has taken back the quarterback job. He has completed 62-of-89 passes for 517 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. But he’s even more dangerous with his feet. He’s the second leading rusher on the team with 622 yards and 11 touchdowns on 114 attempts.

What’s even more dangerous is his backfield mate Venric Mark who is the Big Ten’s second leading rusher in terms of yards per game (119.7). He has eclipsed 100 yards in six of the nine games, including each of the past three. He had 182 yards against Minnesota and 162 yards on 16 carries against Iowa two weeks ago. He’s only 5’8″ but works perfectly in the zone read offense.

The receiving corps doesn’t have a standout, but has several players that contribute. Seven different players have double digit receptions and six of those have over 100 yards. The leading receiver, Tony Jones, hails from Grand Blanc, Mich. and was high school teammates with Justice Hayes and an AAU basketball teammate with Gardner. Oh, and his cousin is Thomas Rawls. He’ll be looking to impress his home state, but the Wildcat passing game isn’t one to be overly concerned with.

Venric Mark and Kain Colter form a dangerous backfield duo

The offensive line is experienced, led by center Brandon Vitabile and seniors Brian Mulroe and Pat Ward on the left side. They have helped pave the way for the Big Ten’s third best rushing offense. They’ve also allowed just 12 sacks, which is second best only to Michigan’s 10. However, a lot of that is a result of the lack of a passing game.

Northwestern runs a zone read offense that aims to get the playmakers – Colter and Mark – to the edge where they can beat cornerbacks and outside linebackers in space. It’s a fast-paced offense that rarely huddles and will sometimes split Colter out wide with Siemian behind center. Similar to last season’s matchup, the Wildcat offense will probably have some success early in the game before Greg Mattison adjusts.

When Michigan has the ball

Northwestern’s defense is slightly above average at stopping the run, but last in the conference against the pass. As mentioned in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, both Penn State and Nebraska were able to put up gaudy numbers through the air in their wins over NW. In the season opener, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib threw for 482 yards on 66 attempts.

The strength of the defense is the linebacking unit. Middle linebacker Damien Proby leads the ‘Cats with 86 tackles. David Nwabuisi is second with 75 and Chi Chi Ariguzo ranks third with 67. They’re a major reason for the success of the run defense, but they’re don’t excel in pass coverage, which is one of the reasons Northwestern has such a weak pass defense.

The line is led by end Tyler Scott who has a Big Ten best seven sacks to go along with 8.5 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories. The other end is Quentin Williams who has 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. The guys in the middle are small and don’t make a lot of impact. Brian Arnfelt has three sacks, but Sean McEvilly has one, but that’s about it.

Safety Ibraheim Campbell is the leader of the secondary. He has 67 tackles and loves to come up in run support. The Wildcats have just three interceptions and only one of them is from a defensive back, Nick VanHoose.

The nation’s 108th-ranked pass defense gives up 272.2 yards per game and it’s a good bed Michigan will have success as well.

The other third

Kicker Jeff Budzien has made 11-of-12 this season with a long of 44. His lone miss was over 50 yards, so he’s about as reliable as it gets in the Big Ten this season. He made 6-of-10 last season. Punter Brandon Williams averages 39.9 yards per punt, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. In the return game, Northwestern is dangerous with Mark averaging 25.1 yards per punt return. He has already returned two four touchdowns this season.

Prediction

Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 3 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Gardner to play tomorrow. Northwestern can be torched through the air and if Denard’s throwing elbow is still at all bothersome, Hoke won’t risk the possibility of Denard playing against Ohio State. Michigan is more of a passing threat with Gardner at the helm and with the aggressiveness of Northwestern’s linebackers, he should be able to find a healthy dose of Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and Devin Funchess underneath. Regardless of who is behind center, expect a big passing day.

Defensively, Michigan will give up some yards in the first half, adjust and clamp down. It will be tough to slow down Colter and Mark, but with no major passing threat to worry about, Mattison can hone in on the run, and he has the advantage of going up against the same type of offense in practice day in and day out.

It will be close through the first half and into the third quarter, but Michigan will be too much for the Wildcats and will keep its title hopes alive.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 17

Notes

As Michigan has done every game this season, another player (or set of players) will be given “legends” distinction prior to kickoff. This time, it is the Wistert brothers – Francis, Albert, and Alvin – who all wore number 11 in the 1940s. All three were first team All-Americans. One Michigan player will be awarded the number to go along with the previous numbers that have been given out: 47 to Jake Ryan, 87 to Brandon Moore, and 48 to Desmond Morgan. The Wistert brothers played offensive and defensive tackle, so my guess as to which player will get the honor is Quinton Washington, who has stepped up this season and been good off the field.

Bonus: the brothers’ nicknames were Whitey, Ox, and Moose.