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Posts Tagged ‘William Likely’

#3 Michigan vs Maryland game preview

Friday, November 4th, 2016


um-maryland-game-preview-header(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Michigan dropped a spot in the national rankings after beating Michigan State last week. Ah, the universe has returned to normal. But really, Michigan remained second in both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll, but opened third behind Alabama and Clemson in the first College Football Playoff poll of the season.

um-maryland_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. ET – ESPN
MSU Head Coach: D.J. Durkin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 6-3 (5-3 at Maryland)
Offensive Coordinator: Walt Bell (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Andy Buh (1st season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 28 – Maryland 0
All-Time Series: Michigan 4-1
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 3-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Maryland 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (28-0)
Last Maryland win: 2014 (26-13)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Maryland Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Howard W 52-13
at FIU W 41-14
at UCF W 30-24 2 OT
Purdue W 50-7
at Penn State L 14-38
Minnesota L 10-31
Michigan State W 28-17
at Indiana L 36-42

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter one bit. Second and third are essentially interchangeable since they play each other in the CFP semifinal. But there are also still four games remaining, plus a conference championship game standing in the way. In other words, there’s a lot of football left to play.

For Michigan, it starts with Maryland tomorrow. The Terrapins enter with a 5-3 overall record and 2-3 in the Big Ten. They won their first four games of the season over Howard (52-13), FIU (41-14), UCF (30-24 in 2OT), and Purdue (50-7) but have lost three of their last four. The only win in the past month was a 28-17 victory over Michigan State two weeks ago. The losses came against Penn State (38-14), Minnesota (31-10), and Indiana (42-36).

Head coach D.J. Durkin is in his first season as a head coach after spending last season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator. He’s the fifth first-year head coach Michigan has faced in nine games, but he’s far from unknown to Jim Harbaugh.

“I follow all the coaches that we work with and pull for them, when they’re not playing us,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a happy-for-the-other-guy’s-success attitude that we have here at Michigan. Personally I like it, I like it a lot, professionally to see guys develop, reach their goals, especially when you know going in what their goals are because you ask them, you talk about it. You want to see your friends have success and be good. He definitely has been at every job that he’s had. He goes all out, does things at a very high level with a lot of enthusiasm. Kindred spirit, so I’m very happy for him.”

Durkin played linebacker for Bowling Green from 1997-2000 and then began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there. He worked his way up through the ranks to defensive coordinator at Florida in 2013-14. When the Gators fired head coach Will Muschamp prior to the Birmingham Bowl in 2014, Durkin assumed the interim head coaching responsibilities and picked up the first win of his career over East Carolina. Harbaugh snatched him up to run his first Michigan defense last season, but when the Maryland job opened up, Durkin couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take his first full-time head coaching gig.

Now, he looks to upset his former boss. Will Michigan suffer a post-rivalry win letdown? Or will Harbaugh keep the Wolverines focused to improve to 9-0? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Maryland has the ball
S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP
MD Off 65 18 47.8% (31) 13 81 40.7% (69) 106 29.5 (71)
UM Def 1 2 24.2% (1) 100 1 21.4% (1) 50 27.0 (16)

While Durkin has always been a defensive guy, he needed to hire a good offensive mind, so he looked to Arkansas State for an up and coming offensive coordinator. Walt Bell guided the Red Wolves to the nation’s 12th-best scoring offense a year ago, averaging 40 points per game. His high-tempo offense topped 300 yards in 24 of his 26 games, 400 yards 18 times, and 500 yards 11 times. Prior to ASU, he coached tight ends at North Carolina where he developed Eric Ebron into a first team All-American in 2013, and prior to that he coached wide receivers at Southern Miss when they set a school record for total offense and went 11-2 in 2011.

Through eight weeks, Bell’s Maryland offense ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 45th nationally in scoring (32.6 points per game), second and 13th in rushing (252 yards per game), 11th and 110th in passing (171.8 yards per game), and fifth and 52nd in total offense (423.8 yards per game).

His quarterback, senior Perry Hills, leads the Big Ten with a pass efficiency of 149.9, but he has thrown just 140 passes all season. By comparison, Wilton Speight, who is right behind him at 149.2, has thrown 207 passes. The past two weeks, however, he has been solid, completing 43-of-60 passes (71.7 percent) for 448 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. But he fumbled twice in the fourth quarter last Saturday, one leading to an Indiana touchdown.

Sophomore D.J. Moore leads the team in receiving with 400 yards and five touchdowns on 28 receptions. He had a big game against FIU in Week 2 with 147 yards and two scores but then three straights games with less than 20 yards. But he has scored a touchdown in each of the last three weeks and has nine receptions for 142 yars combined in the past two. Senior Teldrick Morgan has the same number of receptions as Moore (28) but 316 yards and three touchdowns. He has been pretty consistent all season with three or more catches in six of eight games and around 40-60 yards per game. Senior Levern Jacobs has 26 receptions, but the lowest yards per catch average of just 7.9. After catching just three passes through the first five games, Jacobs has exploded with 23 in the last three.

The running game is what powers Maryland’s offense, lead by the duo of sophomore Ty Johnson and freshman Lorenzo Harrison, who have combined for 1,199 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Johnson leads the way with 624 yards, but has been hot and cold. He had 204 yards on just seven carries against Purdue and has topped 100 yards each of the last two weeks, but managed just 11 against Penn State and 23 against Minnesota — two defenses that are relatively comparable to Michigan’s. Harrison gets more carries and is more consistent with just one game all season below 60 yards. Minnesota held him to 35, and he had a season-high 105 yards against Michgian State, but in the other six games he has been between 64 and 78 in each one. Hills is also a capable runner with 283 yards gained and four rushing touchdowns, though he has been sacked 19 times.

Senior left tackle Michael Dunn and junior left guard Mike Minter form a solid run blocking duo on the left side of the line. Dunn was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last season and has 45 career starts. Sophomore center Brendan Moore is just another guy, while the right side is made up of true freshman right guard Terrance Davis and redshirt sophomore right tackle Damian Prince. They’re better in pass protection than Dunn and Minter, but msot of the running game goes to the left side. Maryland has allowed 24 sacks — worst in the Big Ten — and a big part of that is the pass-blocking weakness of the left side.

When Michigan has the ball
S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP
UM Off 15 21 47.3% (33) 55 9 46.6% (23) 31 36.3 (1)
MD Def 72 127 48.4% (113) 87 31 40.0% (58) 3 30.6 (90)

Instead of hiring a young, up-and-comer like Durkin did on offense with Bell, he picked 18-year veteran Andy Buh to run his defense. Buh has served as a defensive coordinator at Stanford, Nevada, and Cal prior to his stint in College Park. In Jim Harbaugh’s first season at Stanford, Buh was the linebackers coach, but was then promoted to co-defensive coordinator for the 2008-09 seasons. From there, he took the DC position at Nevada, where he turned around one of the nation’s worst defenses and made it a top-50-ish one. He was the linebackers coach at Wisconsin in 2012 before getting another coordinator gig, this time at Cal, where he didn’t have much success. Last season, he coached outside linebackers at Kentucky.

Buh’s defense ranks eighth in the Big Ten and 36th nationally in scoring defense (23.3 points per game), 12th and 109th against the run (220.1 yards per game), fourth and 18th against the pass (181.4 yards per game), and 11th and 63rd in total defense (401.5 yards per game).

The defensive tackles, junior Kingsley Opara and senior Azubuike Ukandu have nine combined tackles for loss and two sacks, but haven’t been very effective in stopping the run. Fifth-year senior end Roman Braglio has 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Juniors Shane Cockerille and Jermine Carter Jr. are the linebackers in Buh’s 4-2-5 system. Cockerille was a fullback last season and played the second half of the Indiana game at quarterback when starter Caleb Rowe was injured. Now being asked to stop the run as one of two linebackers is a tall task. He does lead the team with 73 tackles and ranks third on the team with five tackles for loss. Carter ranks second on the team with 64 tackles and has four for loss, three sacks, and an interception.

The secondary took a huge hit when first-team All-Big Ten corner and first-team All-America punt returner Will Likely tore his ACL against Minnesota, effectively ending his career. Cornerbacks Alvin Hill — a senior — and J.C. Jackson — a sophomore — have three of the team’s four interceptions and have combined for 11 passes defended and eight pass breakups. Junior strong safety Josh Woods is the team’s third leading tackler with 38 tackles, while free safety Darnell Savage has 28. However, Savage missed last week’s game with an injury and freshman Qwuantrezz Knight made his first career start.

The other third

Junior kicker Adam Greene has made 6-of-8 field goal attempts, but his long so far is 36 yards. He has tried just two field goals longer than that and missed both (38 and 51). Freshman punter Wade Lees in an Australian League Football veteran from Melbourne but he averages just 39.8 yards per punt with 15 of 43 downed inside the 20 yard line.

Prediction

Four straight opponents have rushed for at least 200 yards on Maryland’s defense — Indiana (414), Michigan State (270), Minnesota (229), and Penn State (372) and there’s no reason to believe Michigan will end that streak. Look for Harbaugh to give the ball to Michigan’s stable of backs over and over and over again with some jet sweeps mixed in. Of course, Durkin will know that Harbaugh will do this, but his defense won’t be able to stop it consistently.

On the other side of the ball, Maryland will probably hit a few explosive runs. Remember, the Terps actually have nine more explosive runs (10 or more yards) than Michigan does so far this season — which ranks sixth nationally — and Johnson and Harrison average 8.6 yards per carry. They won’t have consistent success against Michigan’s stout defense, especially without a major passing threat, but they’ll bust a few.

But it won’t be enough as Michigan is simply more talented and experienced on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines top 300 yards rushing and score pass just enough to keep the defense honest. Michigan’s defense gets to Hills a few times, but surrenders a few big plays and a couple of touchdowns. Michigan has the game in hand by halftime and cruises to a comfortable win.

Michigan 45 – Maryland 17

M&GB staff predictions: Maryland

Friday, October 2nd, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Maryland(Greg Flume, UMTerps.com)

Michigan and Maryland had very different outcomes last weekend. Michigan simply dominated a BYU squad that had already taken out Nebraska and Boise State and nearly knocked off UCLA. Maryland got blown out by a West Virginia squad that had only played Georgia Southern and Liberty prior to the meeting. Tomorrow, the two meet in College Park before the weather turns nasty and Jim Harbaugh will try for his first road win since taking over as head coach of his alma mater. Here are our predictions.

Justin: The noon kickoff will allow Michigan and Maryland to avoid the bad weather that Hurricane Joaquin will bring, but the forecast still calls for rain and around 20 mile per hour wind. One conventional mode of thinking would say that should even up the matchup, making up for Michigan’s superiority. However, Michigan’s offense is predicated on the run game and Maryland’s defense has allowed all three FBS teams it has played to top 200 yards rushing. Bowling Green rushed for 201, USF for 240, and West Virginia 304.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Maryland
Justin 30 10
Derick 35 14
Sam 24 10
Josh 31 3
Joe 27 9
M&GB Average 29 9

Even if De’Veon Smith isn’t fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in the second half of last week’s game, expect Ty Isaac and Drake Johnson to carry the load and Michigan to still have success against an overmatched front seven. Maryland will, of course, stack the box and try to force Jake Rudock to make plays with his arm, but he has been slowly improving and as long as he avoids turnovers, will be able to do just enough to manage the game and let the running game do the work.

Maryland’s offense hasn’t seen anything close to Michigan’s yet. West Virginia ranks 26th in total defense, South Florida 45th, and Bowling Green 111th. Michigan’s defense is allowing just two-thirds of the total yards West Virginia has allowed per game and the Mountaineers have played just Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Maryland. In addition, Maryland currently leads the nation with 14 turnovers and the wet and windy conditions won’t help in that regard.

Michigan wins a soggy, boring game and racks up 250 rushing yards in the process. The offensive line will wear down Maryland’s defensive front, allowing for one back — Smith or Isaac depending on the former’s health — to top 100 yards. Michigan’s defense shuts down Maryland’s offense, takes advantage of some turnovers, and Jabrill Peppers gets his first career interception as Jim Harbaugh picks up his first road win.

Michigan 30 – Maryland 10

Derick: There’s a hurricane brewing on the Atlantic coast as Michigan makes its first trip to Maryland since the Big Ten’s expansion to 14 teams. But even Hurricane Joaquin can’t save the Terps from the beat down that’s coming.

Michigan is coming off the program’s biggest win in over three years behind a defense that expects to pitch shutouts every Saturday. In fact, the Wolverines have won their last three games by a total score of 94-14. It’s not the wind and rain Maryland should be worrying about.

Maryland’s home field advantage was just enough to keep the Terrapins within 21 points of Bowling Green in Week 2. Michigan has yet to win a road game under Jim Harbaugh, but if the defense continues to dominate against a team with quarterback and turnover problems, Saturday could get ugly.

I don’t expect Michigan to be as perfect as it was in the first half against BYU, but if Rudock takes care of the ball and Michigan’s defense (along with some near-hurricane strength winds) stifles Maryland, the Wolverines should coast to their fourth straight win.

Michigan 35 – Maryland 14

Sam: Michigan’s defense has been performing at an elite level, while Maryland’s offense is struggling mightily. As long as Michigan’s run game continues to truck forward behind an ever-improving line, I’m not sure Rudock will have to throw one pass to secure a win. Give me the Wolverines with their fourth straight win,

Michigan 24 – Maryland 10

Josh: Well, after last week’s game and my prediction of a Michigan loss I ate a large plate full of crow, and boy was it delicious! I love being wrong when it means Michigan wins. Clearly I underestimated the #HarbaughEffect.

It occurred to me that perhaps Michigan’s lackluster offense against Oregon State and UNLV in the second halves was not because it sputtered and died, but rather because Harbaugh is the ultimate tactician and did not want to give any future opponents any additional scouting material once the game was in hand.

It’s been so long since we’ve had that kind of coaching. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in my lifetime. Carr and Moeller weren’t exactly master manipulators and I didn’t really get into football until after Bo retired. But I digress.

Maryland is a bad team, a very bad team with ZERO passing offense and a run game that isn’t anything to write home about. They’ve lost to a MAC team and got obliterated by West Virginia, their only wins came against an FCS school (is that still a term now since both divisions technically have playoffs?) and a very bad USF team. Let’s just say Hurricane Joaquin isn’t the only storm rolling into Maryland this weekend (sorry, I had to).

I fully expect this to be a blowout, maybe not another shut out but it won’t be close. Caleb Rowe is a turnover machine. Thank God he’s on the other team, and I think this Michigan defense is due to force a couple more turnovers. It’s what good teams do to bad teams, and we’re a good team. Wormley and Co. have a field day and force Rowe into some very bad decisions that are ultimately capitalized upon by the secondary and make for a very long night for the turtles. Dare I say we should be on pick-six watch? Yes, I do.

On offense we’re gonna see more of the same: pound the rock and then pound it some more. Mix in a few wrinkles, like the sweet double fake pass to Khalid Hill last week, and Michigan should easily top 30 points again. Maybe we’ll even see Rudock hit on a deep ball, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

The one bright spot for Maryland is their return game and Will Likely. However, Harbaugh is well aware (FULLY aware) of this aspect and like the past few weeks Michigan will be prepared for it. Michigan teams are well prepared and well coached, it feels so good to say that.

I’m not ready to anoint this defense as elite but they’ve far exceeded my expectations thus far and Maryland shouldn’t be any different.

Michigan wins going away and prep begins for what should be a very good game against Northwestern.

Michigan 31 – Maryland 3

Joe: I did not see that last game coming. While I saw some big improvements during the first three games, the fourth sent me into a whole new stratosphere of GO BLUE excitement. This defense is for real and will keep us in games all year. I don’t care who we are playing, this group is big time. Ryan Glasgow is a beast on the line and Jabrill Peppers is…well, he’s Jabrill Peppers. I expect these guys to get better each week. It will be fun to watch.

If this game gets the weather expected, the defense will take control and never let go. I expect a game where the opposition has trouble reaching double digits.

The offense was a pleasant surprise last week and mainly because of Rudock. If we get this Rudock every week, look out. A healthy dose of Butt (giggle), Darboh and Smith/Isaac/Green/Johnson combo should help control the clock. Add a few short fullback carries for first downs (love those) along the way just to keep us old-schoolers happy. I’m hoping we are able to build on the last three weeks and keep this train rolling along. The good guys win it convincingly.

Michigan 27 – Maryland 9

Michigan vs Maryland game preview

Friday, October 2nd, 2015


Game Preview_Maryland_banner

With Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on the Washington, D.C. metro area, Saturday night’s game at Maryland has been moved up to noon. But with a Michigan squad that tore through BYU like a hurricane a week ago, will it matter what time it starts?

Last week, Michigan evened the all-time record with BYU, and while the Wolverines boast a 3-1 all-time win margin over Maryland, the Terrapins now stand as one of only two Big Ten foes to have a winning conference record against mighty Michigan. The other, Rutgers, is the other conference newcomer, and both beat the Wolverines last season. Jim Harbaugh will get a chance to right the record on both of those this season, and that begins with Maryland tomorrow.

UM-Maryland-small
Quick Facts
Byrd Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – BTN
Maryland Head Coach: Randy Edsall (5th season)
Coaching Record: 96-102 (22-32 at MD)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Locksley (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Dudzinski (1st season)
Returning 2014 Starters: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 7-6
Last Meeting: MD 23 – UM 16 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 3-1
Record at Maryland: 1st meeting
Record in Byrd Stadium: 1st meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Maryland: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 1990 (45-17)
Last Maryland win: 2014 (23-16)
Current Streak: Maryland 1

Maryland comes in just 2-2 with wins over Richmond (50-21) and South Florida (35-17) alternating with losses to Bowling Green (48-27) and West Virginia (45-6). For their part, Maryland was tied at 27 with Bowling Green in the fourth quarter in Week 2, but the Falcons scored 21 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes of the game to make a close game look like a blowout. Bowling Green racked up a season high 692 total yards of offense and 35 first downs. Last week, West Virginia also topped 600 total yards against the Terps with 601 and wasted no time keeping Maryland in the game. The Mountaineers scored three first quarter touchdowns and led 38-0 at the half. They took the foot off the petal in the second half and allowed a Maryland touchdown with 11:45 remaining, but that was the only positive of the game for Randy Edsall’s squad.

Early this week, the Maryland players reportedly held a players-only meeting which Edsall claimed to know nothing about on Tuesday’s Big Ten conference call.

“That’s news to me; I don’t think we had a players-only meeting at all,” he said. “We’ve had our normal meetings all week long.”

He then continued with a positive spin.

“If the players had the meeting and something productive came out of it, I think that’s great,” he said. “I’ve been happy with our leadership and I’m glad they did that. I had my normal 7 o’clock meeting and I had no idea that there was a players-only meeting.”

Players-only meetings typically aren’t a good thing. They’re normally a sign of trouble, either amongst the players themselves or more likely between them and their coach. Either way, it’s probably a good thing for Michigan.

Let’s take a look at the matchup.

When Maryland has the ball

Through the first four games of the season, Maryland’s offense ranks 84th nationally in total offense (389.3 yards per game), 50th in rush offense (196 yards per game), 98th in passing offense (193.3 yards per game), 118th in passing efficiency (106.91), and 73rd in scoring (29.5 points per game). By comparison, BYU came into last week’s matchup averaging 30.3 points per game — against better competition — and Michigan shut the Cougars out.

The quarterback position has been a revolving door in the early season with junior Perry Hill starting the first two games but completing just 52.9 percent of his passes. Last year’s backup, Caleb Rowe, took over and led the Terps to a win over South Florida, going 21 of 33 for 297 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. But he struggled against West Virginia last Saturday, completing just 10 of 27 passes for 67 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions. That put him on the bench in favor of Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman, who went 4 of 9 for 86 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Rowe will likely start tomorrow, but if Michigan’s defense treats him like it did Tanner Mangum last week, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley may give him a short leash.

The backfield is one of the bright spots thus far with four players over 100 yards rushing. Senior Brandon Ross is the leading back with 358 yards and two touchdowns on 59 carries (6.1 yards per carry). He carried the ball 18 times for 150 yards and a score in the season opener against Richmond and then 15 times for 130 yards last week, but combined for just 78 yards on 26 carries (3 ypc) in the middle two. Junior Wes Brown rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the opener, but hasn’t done much since, while freshman Ty Johnson is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

The receiving corps lacks a true playmaker after losing Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to graduation. Redshirt junior Levern Jacobs leads the team with 15 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns, while his younger brother Taivon Jacobs leads the team with 22.6 yards per catch thanks to a 70-yard touchdown against South Florida. He has five catches for 113 yards and the one score. The third member of the receiving corps with more than 100 receiving yards is freshman D.J. Moore, who has six catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. Junior Amba Etta-Tawo ranks second on the team in catches (10), but has just 97 yards and has yet to find the end zone. Freshman tight end Avery Edwards matches the elder Jacobs with two touchdowns — both against South Florida — along with his 89 receiving yards.

The offensive line has some solid experience with three of last year’s staters back this season, most notably at the tackle positions. Junior left tackle Michael Dunn and senior right tackle Ryan Doyle bring a combined 57 career starts to the table, senior right guard Andrew Zeller adds 33. However, against West Virginia last week, Doyle was moved to left guard and redshirt freshman, former five-star recruit, Damian Prince, manned the right tackle spot. Sophomore Mike Minter started the first three games of the season at left guard, while senior center Evan Mulrooney has nine career starts under his belt.

When Michigan has the ball

Edsall promoted linebackers coach Keith Dudzinksi to defensive coordinator this offseason and the defense changed from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Dudzinski is trying to turn around a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, 12th in rush defense, and 13th in pass defense last season. So far, however, the Terps’ defense has been one of the worst in the nation. It currently ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 107th nationally in total defense (467.3 yards allowed per game), 13th and 99th in scoring defense (32.8 points allowed per game), last and 100th in rush defense (200.3 yards allowed per game), and 10th and 101st in pass defense (267 yards allowed per game).

Four of last year’s top six defensive linemen are gone, leaving junior defensive end Yannick Ngakoue — an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season — to carry the load. So far, he has done well, leading Maryland with 5.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. On the other side is junior Roman Braglio, whose only start of 2014 came against Michigan. He has started three of four so far this year and has 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Redshirt junior Quinton Jefferson and sophomore David Shaw man the middle. Jefferson has made much more of a splash on the stat sheet with 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Shaw, a first year starter, has six tackles and a half of a tackle for loss. Sophomore end Jesse Aniebonam — a four-star recruit in last year’s class — is the only change to the starting lineup so far this season, having started in place of Braglio against Bowling Green. He has 11 tackles, two for loss, and two sacks.

The linebacking corps is young, starting two sophomores — Jalen Brooks and Jermaine Carter — and a senior — Jefferson Ashiru. Carter leads the team with 46 tackles so far this season and is second behind Ngakoue with five tackles for loss. Brooks has 24 tackles, one for loss, and an interception, while Ashiru, who has 23 career starts, has 20 tackles, one for loss, and one sack.

The best athlete on the team resides in the secondary in the form of junior cornerback William Likely, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media last season. Likely has yet to record an interception so far this season after leading the conference with six a year ago, but he does lead the team with five pass breakups. The other corner is senior Sean Davis, who leads the team with two interceptions and ranks second with 35 tackles. He led all Big Ten defensive backs with 115 tackles last season. The safeties are senior Anthony Nixon and fifth-year senior A.J. Hendy, who have combined for 55 tackles, one for loss, one interception, and two passes defended.

The other third

Senior kicker Brad Craddock is the reigning Lou Groza award winner as the nation’s best kicker. He also won the Big Ten’s Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year award. Over the course of his career, he has made 81.7 percent of his field goal attempts, and this season has connected on five of six with a long of 41. He does have plenty of range, having made a 57-yarder against Ohio State in 2014. He also shares punting duties with freshman Nicolas Pritchard, who has booted 12 punts for an average of 40.8 yards.

The most dangerous player on the field is Likely, who has already returned two punts for touchdowns this season and averages 28.1 yards per punt return. He’s also the main kick returner, but hasn’t broken through that way, averaging 21.7 yards per return. He ranked fourth nationally with a 31-yard average on kick returns last season, including a 100-yard return for touchdown against Stanford.

Prediction

The noon kickoff will allow Michigan and Maryland to avoid the bad weather that Hurricane Joaquin will bring, but the forecast still calls for rain and around 20 mile per hour wind. One conventional mode of thinking would say that should even up the matchup, making up for Michigan’s superiority. However, Michigan’s offense is predicated on the run game and Maryland’s defense has allowed all three FBS teams it has played to top 200 yards rushing. Bowling Green rushed for 201, USF for 240, and West Virginia 304.

Even if De’Veon Smith isn’t fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in the second half of last week’s game, expect Ty Isaac and Drake Johnson to carry the load and Michigan to still have success against an overmatched front seven. Maryland will, of course, stack the box and try to force Jake Rudock to make plays with his arm, but he has been slowly improving and as long as he avoids turnovers, will be able to do just enough to manage the game and let the running game do the work.

Maryland’s offense hasn’t seen anything close to Michigan’s yet. West Virginia ranks 26th in total defense, South Florida 45th, and Bowling Green 111th. Michigan’s defense is allowing just two-thirds of the total yards West Virginia has allowed per game and the Mountaineers have played just Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Maryland. In addition, Maryland currently leads the nation with 14 turnovers and the wet and windy conditions won’t help in that regard.

Michigan wins a soggy, boring game and racks up 250 rushing yards in the process. The offensive line will wear down Maryland’s defensive front, allowing for one back — Smith or Isaac depending on the former’s health — to top 100 yards. Michigan’s defense shuts down Maryland’s offense, takes advantage of some turnovers, and Jabrill Peppers gets his first career interception as Jim Harbaugh picks up his first road win.

Michigan 30 – Maryland 10

Five-Spot Challenge 2015: Maryland

Monday, September 28th, 2015


FiveSpotChallenge-Banner2015

Congratulations to bigboyblue for winning Week 4 of the Five-Spot Challenge. His deviation of 163 barely beat out the 2013 overall winner, Maizenblu62, by two points. Bigboyblue was the closest to BYU’s longest touchdown, which was zero because the Cougars didn’t score. He was also third closest to Tanner Mangum’s passing yards (55) and second closest to Jake Rudock’s passing yards (194),

Boggie was closest to Mangum’s passing yards at 60 yards away. Bluwolf77, Myrick55, JustJeepGear.com, tooty_pops, and MEKMichigan all correctly predicted that it would take eight minutes for Michigan to score its first touchdown. Maizenblu62 was just five away from Rudock’s passing yards, while tooty_pops, Ebenszac, and HTTV136 were all just three away from Michigan’s total made field goal yards (40).

Only two of the 27 contestants picked BYU to win. The average combined score prediction was Michigan 26 – BYU 21. No one correctly predicted the final score. Ebenszac and HTTV136 both correctly predicted Michigan’s 31, but had BYU scoring 20 and 21 points, respectively.

The weekly results have been updated.

Michigan travels to Maryland next Saturday for a primetime matchup. The Terrapins are 2-2 and coming off of a 45-6 loss to West Virginia. Here are this week’s picks:

Senior day letdown: Maryland 23 – Michigan 16

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014


Senior Day 2014(MGoBlue.com)

Twelve seniors took the field in Michigan Stadium on Saturday for the final time, but their senior day was spoiled by conference newcomer Maryland, who came away with its first ever win over Michigan, 23-16.

After forcing a Maryland three-and-out to start the game, Michigan’s offense took over on its own 36. On 4th-and-1, De’Veon Smith was flagged for a false start, moving the ball back five yards and forcing Michigan to punt. But fullback Joe Kerridge took a fake punt 52 yards to the Maryland 8-yard line, setting Michigan up 1st-and-goal. Michigan was unable to punch it into the end zone and had to settle for a 22-yard Matt Wile field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Neither team was able to muster any offense the rest of the quarter until Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown connected with Jacquille Veii for 21 yards to the Michigan 28 on the final play of the quarter. Michigan’s defense stiffened and forced a 38-yard Brad Craddock field goal to tie the game.

UM-Maryland-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Maryland
Score 16 23
Record 5-6, 3-4 7-4, 4-3
Total Yards 398 312
Net Rushing Yards 292 147
Net Passing Yards 106 165
First Downs 23 17
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-24 4-30
Punts-Yards 2-86 4-154
Time of Possession 34:00 26:00
Third Down Conversions 5-of-13 3-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-3 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-17 2-19
Field Goals 3-for-4 3-for-3
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 4-of-5
Full Box Score

Dennis Norfleet returned the kickoff 31 yards, and Michigan quickly moved into Maryland territory. A 24-yard Devin Gardner run followed by a Maryland pass interference set Michigan up 1st-and-goal at the five. But back-to-back runs for no gain and a 11-yard sack on third down forced Michigan to settle for another field goal, this time from 33 yards. Maryland answered with a 41-yards field goal.

On the second play of Michigan’s next possession, William Likely intercepted Gardner at the Michigan 37 and returned it 29 yards to the Michigan eight. Yet again, the Michigan defense held strong and forced a 21-yard field goal to give Maryland its first lead of the game, 9-6.

Michigan got the ball at its own 16 with 1:50 remaining in the half. Five straight Drake Johnson runs gained 49 yards before Gardner found Jake Butt for four yards and 17 yards to the Maryland 9-yard line. But with time running out, Michigan had to kick its third field goal of the half, this time from 26 yards out, to knot the game at nine at the half.

The first drive of the second half was the Gardner show as he completed a 7-yard pass to Devin Funchess on 3rd-and-6, rushed for 22 yards to the Maryland 33, and then found the end zone on a 15-yard run a few plays later. Michigan led 16-9.

Michigan forced a Maryland punt and Norfleet returned it 69 yards for a touchdown, but A.J. Pearson was flagged for an illegal block. Instead of taking a 23-9 lead, Michigan’s offense moved to the Maryland 32, but couldn’t convert a 4th-and-6.

As the third quarter came to a close, Maryland caught the Michigan defense off balance with an up-tempo offense and entered the Michigan red zone. A 3rd-and-12 pass fell incomplete and Maryland had to settle for yet another field goal. But Jourdan Lewis was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Terrapins a 1st-and-goal. They took advantage on the next play with an 8-yard Brown touchdown run to tie the game at 16.

Michigan missed a 39-yard field goal on its next possession and Maryland marched right down the field for its second straight touchdown drive, this time a 1-yard Brown run, to take a 23-16 lead.

Johnson ran for 17 yards on the first play of Michigan’s ensuing possession, but the offense stalled. Justice Hayes lost three yards and a Gardner pass fell incomplete setting up 3rd-and-13. Gardner ran for 10 yards, but on 4th-and-3 from the 49-yard line, Funchess was unable to reel in Gardner’s pass and Maryland took over on downs. The Terps ran the clock out and sent Michigan to its sixth loss.

Gardner completed 13-of-24 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He also rushed 14 times for 82 yards and a score. Johnson led Michigan on the ground with 94 yards on 14 carries. As a team, Michigan racked up 292 rushing yards, its second-best performance of the season, and 398 total yards, good for fourth-best. For the third time this season, Michigan out-gained its opponent in total yards, but lost. Maryland gained 312 total yards.

Michigan fell to 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have to win at Ohio State next Saturday to gain bowl eligibility. A loss would give Michigan its third losing season in the last seven years and the first under Brady Hoke. The Buckeyes clinched the Big Ten East division with a 42-27 win over Indiana, but still have plenty to play for, including a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.

Michigan-Maryland game preview

Friday, November 21st, 2014


Game Preview_Maryland_banner

Two games remain in Michigan’s forgettable 2014 season, but if the Wolverines win one of them they can earn a few extra weeks of practice and one final inglorious bowl game. Whether that happens or not, 12 seniors will play their final games in the Big House tomorrow against the Maryland Terrapins. Jake Ryan, Devin Gardner, Brennen Beyer, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell, Matt Wile, Will Hagerup, Joey Burzynski, Jonathan Keizer, Alex Mitropolous-Rundus, and Alex Swieca will lay their all on the field, fighting for one final game.

UM-Maryland-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – Big Ten Network
Maryland Head Coach: Randy Edsall (4th season)
Coaching Record: 93-98 (19-28 at Maryland)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Locksley (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Stewart (3rd season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Last Meeting: UM 45 – MD 17 (1990)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 3-0
Current Streak: Michigan 3

With Ohio State looming next Saturday, a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff bid for the taking, Michigan’s best remaining chance for a win is tomorrow. Maryland comes in one game better than Michigan overall at 6-4 and 3-3 in the conference, but the Terps are essentially a reverse of Michigan: better offense but worse defense.

Randy Edsall’s squad won four of its first five games of the season, beating James Madison (52-7), South Florida (24-17), Syracuse (34-20), and Indiana (37-15), and falling to West Virginia (40-37). The win over Indiana gave Maryland its first ever Big Ten victory, but it would be short-lived as the Terps met reality with a 52-24 loss to Ohio State. They got back on track with a 38-31 win over Iowa, but were demolished by Wisconsin, 52-7. Then, Maryland topped Penn State 20-19 in State College, but last week got crushed by Michigan State, 37-15.

A season of ups and downs has Maryland bowl eligible, but needing to win its final two to ensure a winning season.

Michigan and Maryland haven’t met since 1990 when Michigan won 45-17. Michigan has scored just 44 points combined in its past two games. Can Michigan beat the Terps to gain bowl eligibility? Or will Maryland force Michigan to go into Columbus fighting for its life next week? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Michigan defense vs Maryland offense: When Maryland has the ball

Maryland’s offense ranks 65th nationally in scoring (28.8 points per game), 111th in rushing (113.9 yards per game), 66th in passing (229.8 yards per game), and 111th in total offense (343.7 yards per game). It also ranks 114th in time of possession (27:26), 116th in third-down conversions 31 percent), and 103rd in sacks allowed (2.8 per game). By comparison, Michigan averages 40 more rushing yards, 60 fewer passing yards, converts third downs seven percent better, and has allowed 10 fewer sacks.

The offense is led by quarterback C.J. Brown, who ranks eighth in the Big Ten in passing with 172.3 yards per game. He has completed just 52.7 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 375 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns.

Brown is the only player on the team with more than 100 carries (117), but running backs Wes Brown and Brandon Ross each average about seven carries per game. Ross is the second-leading rusher with 261 yards and two touchdowns, while Brown has 260 yards and four scores. Neither has a 100-yard rushing game this season.

Maryland’s offense took a huge blow a couple weeks ago when leading receiver Stefon Diggs suffered a lacerated kidney and will likely miss the rest of the regular season. Diggs ranked second in the Big Ten with 5.8 receptions per game and fifth with 72.7 yards per game. His five touchdowns led the team. His absence leaves Deon Long to carry the load. Long is the only other player with more than 20 receptions, with 38 for 450 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Leak has the second-most receiving touchdowns — three — which have accounted for one-sixth of his receptions. The fourth-leading pass catcher is Ross, who has 14 receptions for 212 yards and two scores.

Michigan offense vs Maryland defense: When Michigan has the ball

Maryland’s defense ranks 82nd nationally in points per game (29.0), 97th against the run (198.3 yards per game), 83rd against the pass (238.5 yards per game), and 97th in total defense (436.8 yards per game). It holds opponents to a 38 percent third-down conversion rate — the same as Michigan’s defense — and has been pretty good at getting to the quarterback, raining 23rd with 28 sacks — one more than Michigan.

The line hasn’t been able to stop the run with nose tackle Darius Kilgo, who has 37 tackles, seven for loss, and two sacks. But the ends have been pretty good, especially Andre Monroe, who leads the team and ranks second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks and ranks second on the team with 11 tackles for loss. The other end, Keith Bowers, has 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

The linebacking corps is the strength of the defense, led by outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, who leads the team and ranks fifth in the conference with 12.5 tackles for loss to go along with 5.5 sacks. The other outside backer, Matt Robinson, has just 26 tackles and 1.5 for loss. In the middle, Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree have a combined 169 tackles and six for loss. They rank sixth and 10th in the Big Ten in tackles, respectively.

Cornerback Sean Davis leads the secondary. His 94 tackles and eight pass breakups lead the team and he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in tackles. The other corner, William Likely, leads the Terps with 12 passes defended, which is also tied for first in the conference. His five interceptions also lead the Big Ten and he has returned two of them for touchdowns. Safeties Zach Dancel and Anthony Nixon have combined for 55 tackles, one for loss, six passes defended, and two takeaways.

Special Teams: The other third

Kicker Brad Craddock hasn’t missed yet this season, having made all 14 attempts with a long of 57. Nine of his 14 field goals have been from 40 yards or longer and the 14 average 39.7 yards. Punter Nathan Renfro ranks seventh in the conference with an average of 41.2 yards per punt. He has landed 20 of his 71 punts inside the 20 and 11 have gone longer than 50 yards.

Likely averages 11 yards per punt return — fourth in the Big Ten — and has returned one for a touchdown. He will take over the main kick return duties from Diggs. His seven kick returns so far this season have averaged 32.6 yards, compared to Diggs’ 23.9.

Prediction

Neither team has a very good offense, especially without Diggs, but the main difference in this one is Michigan’s defense compared to Maryland’s. While it took a big hit with the dismissal of Frank Clark, it’s still much better than what the Terps bring to the table.

The weather calls for cold and rainy conditions, perhaps even freezing rain. That’s not conducive to offense and favors the team with the better defense and the better running game. Maryland’s main advantage is its passing game, but that should be negated by the weather.

I expect another ugly offensive game by both teams, similar to the Michigan-Northwestern game. On senior day in Michigan Stadium, Michigan will find a way to pull it out and become bowl eligible.

Michigan 17 – Maryland 16

2014 opponent preview: Maryland

Monday, August 11th, 2014


2014-Opponent-Preview-Maryland

Last week we previewed the first of the two new Big Ten additions, Rutgers. Today, it’s time to take a look at the second, the Maryland Terrapins, who we feel will be the seventh-easiest, or sixth toughest, opponent on Michigan’s schedule. Previously, we previewed Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, Utah, and Indiana, and Rutgers.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 James Madison
Sept. 6 at South Florida
Sept. 13 West Virginia
Sept. 20 at Syracuse
Sept. 27 at Indiana
Oct. 4 Ohio State
Oct. 18 Iowa
Oct. 25 at Wisconsin
Nov. 1 at Penn State
Nov. 15 Michigan State
Nov. 22 at Michigan
Nov. 29 Rutgers

In last week’s Rutgers preview, I mentioned the intrigue that new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen brings to the Rutgers offense. As the head coach at Maryland for 10 seasons, Friedgen raised the Terrapins profile, transforming a program that had just one winning season in the previous decade — and a 6-5 one at that — into a perennial ACC contender. The program hadn’t won a bowl game for 15 years prior to his tenure, but Friedgen guided the Terps to five bowl victories. But he was unceremoniously let go after a 9-4 campaign in 2010 — a season in which Maryland finished second in the ACC, won a bowl game, and finished ranked nationally — and replaced him with UConn’s Randy Edsall.

Edsall proceded to go 2-10 in his first season and 4-8 in his second. He finally broke the .500 mark last season with a 7-6 record, but at least it was a second straight season of progress. The main problem was that his team was incredibly young and injury-ridden. At one point late in the season, 15 players were listed as out. It would be tough for Alabama to have a successful season in that scenario, and that’s with a team full of five-stars backing up five-stars. Marlyand had talent, but not enough to overcome a tidal wave of injuries.

Now, Edsall has to get acquainted to a new conference, and like Rutgers, will have to cope with a less than friendly schedule. The Terps do miss out on Nebraska, but their other conference no-plays are Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern. That’s basically the bottom half of the Big Ten. Maryland’s conference opener and closer will be the two most winnable of the bunch, at Indiana and home versus Rutgers, but the middle six will be as tough as any stretch in the conference. Maryland hosts Ohio State and Iowa, travels to Wisconsin and Penn State, comes back home against Michigan State, and then travels to Michigan. Welcome to the Big Ten.

The good news for Edsall is that he brings a wealth of young talent with him, and if his Terps can avoid the injury bug they could make some noise. But with such a difficult schedule, do they have enough talent to have a good season? Let’s take a look.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB C.J. Brown 6’3″, 218 166-282 for 2,242 yds, 13 TD, 7 INT, 576 rush yds (4.1 avg), 12 TD
RB Brandon Ross 5’10”, 210 776 yds (4.7 avg), 4 TD
FB Kenneth Goins Jr. 5’9″, 230 48 yds (5.3 avg), 4 rec for 49 yds, 1 TD
WR Deon Long 6’0″, 185 32 rec. for 489 yds, 1 TD
WR Stefon Diggs 6’0″, 190 34 rec. for 587 yds, 3 TD
TE P.J. Gallo 6’2″, 250
LT Michael Dunn 6’5″, 300 13 starts (13 career starts)
LG Salvino Altamirano 6’2″, 290 0 starts (0 career starts)
C Sal Conaboy 6’3″, 295 13 starts (22 career starts)
RG Andrew Zeller 6’4″, 310 3 starts (6 career starts)
RT Ryan Doyle 6’4″, 300 13 starts (13 career starts)

Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is no stranger to the Big Ten, having spent four seasons as offensive coordinator under Ron Zook at Illinois from 2005-2008. His 2007 offense ranked fifth nationally in rushing, led by Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Juice Williams. The Illini upset top-ranked Ohio State that season and went to their first Rose Bowl since 1984. A year later, Locksley took the head coaching job at New Mexico, but didn’t have the same kind of success, going 2-26 in two and a half seasons before being fired. Maryland scooped him up to replace current Penn State head coach James Franklin, who took the Vanderbilt job following the 2010 season.

Locksley’s offenses at Maryland have been nothing to write hime about so far, ranking 67th nationally in total offense in 2011, 123rd in 2012, and 77th last season. Last year’s squad also ranked 83rd in scoring (26.2 points per game), 84th in rushing (148.4 yards per game), and 49th in passing (248.2 yards per game).

Former Michigan target Stefon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten

Former Michigan target Stefon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten

The offense will once again be led by dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, now a fifth-year senior with about as much experience as Devin Gardner. He started five games in 2011 and was the starter heading into 2012 before tearing his ACL and missing the entire season. He came back and had a very good 2013 campaign, finishing third in the ACC with 256.2 yards per game. He completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed for 576 yards and 12 touchdowns on 4.1 yards per carry despite missing two games midseason. He became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 500 in a season. Rushing-wise, Brown was hit-or-miss a year ago. He had four 100-yard rushing games, accumulating 487 yards in those games, an average of 122 yard per game. But in the other seven, he had a combined 89 yards — an average of just 12.7 yards per game.

Brown was joined in the rushing game by Brandon Ross, who 776 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. But Ross was the starter in 2013 because Wes Brown, a four-star recruit in the 2012 class, missed all of last season due to a suspension. Brown was the team’s second-leading rusher as a true freshman in 2012. He and Ross are listed as co-starters on the depth chart as of now, but both will likely play a big role in the backfield. Junior Albert Reid and sophomore Jacquille Veii will also serve as change-of-pace backs. The two combined for 109 carries for 440 yards and two scores last season.

The receiving corps is where talent abounds. A pair of five-star receivers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, return from broken legs that kept them out of the second half of last season. The duo will form perhaps the top receiving tandem on the conference this fall. Drew ranked them best and fifth-best receivers in the Big Ten. Prior to getting injured in the seventh game, Diggs caught 34 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team with an average of 17.3 yards per catch. In the same time, Long had 32 catches for 489 yards and one touchdown. Average those numbers out for an entire season and Diggs would  have had 63 for 1,090 and Long 59 for 908.

Instead, their injuries allowed Levern Jacobs to step up. Jacobs led the team in receptions (47) and yards (640), but really emerged in the second half of the season, increasing his catches and yards per game from 1.9 and 35 to 6.8 and 79. He had an eight-catch, 158-yard, one touchdown performance against Clemson. Amba Etta-Tawo finished third on the team with 500 yards on 31 catches, while Nigel King added 450 yards and led the group with four touchdowns. All five of those guys are back this season in addition to Marcus Leak, who missed all of last season, but was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2012. Throw in four-star redshirt freshman slot man Taivon Jacobs, and this is as deep and talented a unit as there is in the conference.

While plenty of experience returns at quarterback, running back, and receiver, the offensive line is where things get interesting. The Terps do return 42 starts from last season and 59 career starts, but it’s a very thin depth chart. The entire left side needs to be replaced after the graduation of guard De’Onte Arnett’s, who started all 13 games, transfer of tackle Mike Madaras, who started eight, and suspension of Moise Larose, who started four. The leader of the line is senior center Sal Conaboy, a Rimington Trophy Watch List member who has 22 career starts. The tackles will be redshirt junior Ryan Doyle (13 starts) on one side and redshirt sophomore Michael Dunn (13 starts) on the other. Redshirt junior Andrew Zeller, who started the final three games last season at right guard will keep the job, while senior Silvano Altamirano will move into the lineup at led guard.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Andre Monroe 5’11”, 282 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 FF
NT Darius Kilgo 6’3″, 319 37 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR
DE Quinton Jefferson 6’3″, 285 47 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF
OLB Matt Robinson 6’3″, 245 73 tackles, 10 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FR
MB Cole Farrand 6’3″, 245 84 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 FF
MLB L.A. Goree 6’2″, 245 76 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FF
OLB Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil 6’2″, 250 18 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT
CB William Likely 5’7″, 175 70 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD
CB Alvin Hill 5’11”, 195 24 tackles, 2 PD
FS Sean Davis 6’1″, 200 102 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PD
SS Anthony Nixon 6’1″, 200 60 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 sack

Following Edsall’s first season at Maryland, he also replaced defensive coordinator Todd Bradford and replaced him with former Houston defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. He inherited a defense that ranked 102nd in scoring defense, 108th in total defense, 111th against the run, and 74th against the pass in 2011. He immediately turned that around in 2012, and it slipped a little bit last season, but still ranked 54th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game), 44th in total defense (375.2 yards per game), 46th in rush defense (150.1 yard per game), and 57th in pass defense (225.1 yards per game).

Despite being just 5'7", William Likely is a good corner and a dangerous return man (G. Fiume, Getty Images)

Despite being just 5’7″, William Likely is a good corner and a dangerous return man (G. Fiume, Getty Images)

While the defense regressed slightly in 2013, it returns nine starters and should be at least above average again this fall. The line should be pretty good with everyone of substance returning. Senior end Andre Monroe led the team with 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season and Drew ranks him as the seventh-best defensive lineman in the Big Ten this fall, one spot ahead of Frank Clark. On the other end is junior Quinton Jefferson, a former four-star who added 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last season. The middle of the line is anchored by seniors Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo. They’re listed as co-starters as of now, but both will play regularly. Kilgo started 12 games last season and contributed 37 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and two sacks. Bowers started nine games and recorded 32 tackles.

The linebacker group returns a lot of production, except for outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield, who finished second on the team with 15.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks a year ago. The second- and third-leading tackles from 2013 are the two returning inside linebackers, seniors Cole Ferrand and L.A. Goree. The pair combined for 160 tackles, nine for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Returning outside linebacker Matt Robinson also tallied 73 tackles, a third-best 10 tackles for loss, and half a sack. Senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil will replace Whitfield. Cudjoe-Virgil played in six games last season, his first after transferring from Seton Hill University, and notched 18 tackles, 3.5 for loss, three sacks, and an interception. The linebacker corps is full of experienced, but there are some touted youngsters waiting in the wings, such as four-star sophomore Yannick Ngakoue and redshirt freshman Jalen Brooks, who had a solid spring.

The secondary is also pretty stacked with potential, most notably sophomore corner William Likely, who Drew ranked as the ninth-best corner in the Big Ten this fall, one spot behind Raymon Taylor. Likely was fifth on the team with 70 tackles as a true freshman last season and led the team with seven passes defended while picking off one pass. Opposite Likely will be a battle between fifth-year senior Jeremiah Johnson, who started 12 games in 2012 and began last season as the starter but broke his toe and missed 10 games, and junior Alvin Hill, who was listed as the starter in the pre-camp depth chart.

Junior free safety Sean Davis was the team’s leading tackler last fall with 102 tackles. He also picked off two passes and had five passes defended. Drew ranked him the seventh-best safety in the conference, right behind Jarrod Wilson. Junior Anthony Nixon returns as the strong safety after a 60-tackle campaign in 2013.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Brad Craddock 6’0″, 190 21-of-25, Long 50
P Nathan Renfro 6’0″, 175 40.8 avg, 18 In-20, 9 TB
KR William Likely 5’7″, 175 28 ret, 26.0 avg
PR William Likely 5’7″, 175 16 ret, 12.8 avg., 1 TD

Both kicking specialists are back from last season. Kicker Brad Craddock is our fourth-best kicker in the conference after converting 21-of-25 field goal attempts in 2013 with a long of 50. He missed only two from inside 50 yards. Punter Nathan Renfro averaged 40.8 yard per punt last season, which ranked 10th in the ACC.

There is big-play potential in the return game from Diggs and Likely. Diggs averaged 23.4 yards per kick return prior to his injury and Likely averaged 26, which ranked third in the ACC. Likely also handled punt return duties and averaged a conference fourth-best 12.8 yards per return, including one touchdown.

Outlook

It’s quite obvious that this Maryland team has a lot of experience and talent in its starting lineup, certainly enough to improve on its 7-6 record if it avoids the injury bug and if it were still in the ACC. But the conference schedule is a tough one and the Terps have West Virginia and Syracuse on the non-conference slate. Both of those teams should be beatable, but they have more meat on them than the usual non-conference foes. Maryland should be able to get through the first four unscathed and then face a shootout at Indiana. The Terps will need to win that one if they want to have a successful season because then the gauntlet begins.

With all the talent Maryland has at receiver and an experienced returning quarterback and backfield, the offensive line is still an issue and could be the stumbling block against Big Ten defenses. Edsall’s squad will need to steal one that it shouldn’t in October or November to ensure a winnings season, but may need to beat Rutgers at season’s end to simply break even. A 7-5 regular season should be considered a positive one for the Terps this fall and anything beyond that a great one. But 5-7 is also a very realistic possibility.

What it means for Michigan

Michigan will be in for a good test from Maryland in late November with a trip to Columbus looming the following week. The good news is that Michigan gets a bye week after Northwestern on Nov. 8 to prepare for Maryland, and by then they’ll have plenty of film to look at. Michigan’s defense projects to be very good this season, and this late in the season will be battle tested. The secondary will have its hands full with Diggs and Long, but Michigan certainly has enough talent and depth on its defense to handle them. Look for a close, hard-fought game throughout that Michigan should be able to win.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Return specialists

Friday, August 8th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-ReturnSpecialists

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the top special-teams performers in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed here are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily those who have performed the best in previous years. On Wednesday, we ranked who will be the five best kicking specialists—placekickers or punters—in the conference. Today, we reveal who will be the five best return specialists in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two |
Special Teams: Kicking Specialists,

5. Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa (WR) | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 205 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 0 0 0 0 20 15.7 83 2
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 4 20.5 23 0 0 0 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 4 20.5 23 0 20 15.7 83 2
(Denny Medley, US Presswire)

(Denny Medley, US Presswire)

So what criteria should be used to determine who will be the best return specialists in the Big Ten? Are the better returners the ones that are more likely to break one for a touchdown on any given return, even if they have fewer returns because they field either only kickoffs or only punts, like Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Purdue’s Akeem Hunt? Or should players that are not only explosive but also expected to pull double duty and return both kickoffs and punts, such as Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Wisconsin’s Kenzel Doe, be given priority? Although all four of the aforementioned players were not ranked on this list, we decided to focus more on the latter group because they will have a larger overall impact on special teams. But this does not mean that a player that specializes in only one type of return cannot crack the top five.

Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley has made a name for himself as a premier punt returner, but this was not the case until recently. After redshirting in 2010, his first two seasons spent on the field were devoted to his true position of wide receiver, where he was quite productive. Martin-Manley turned in a 30-catch, 323-yard campaign as a freshman before becoming Iowa’s leading receiver with 52 receptions for 571 yards as a sophomore. But, during these first two years, he took zero reps as a punt returner, playing only sparingly as a kickoff returner as a freshman. Instead, at that time, the punt returner job belonged to defensive back Micah Hyde, who fielded 29 of the 30 punts Iowa returned in 2011 and 2012. However, Hyde graduated after the 2012 season, and Iowa needed to locate his successor for the following season. Martin-Manley was the choice.

So how did Martin-Manley perform as a punt returner despite having not played the position since he was a high-school senior in 2009? Pretty, pretty good. He led the Big Ten with 314 yards on 20 punt returns for an average of 15.70 yards per punt return. Not only was his average the second-best in the Big Ten, it was the eighth-best nationally. These praiseworthy numbers can mostly be attributed to one spectacular performance against Western Michigan early in the season. In that matchup, he returned four punts for an astonishing 184 yards, averaging 46 yards per return. But the most remarkable feat of the day was Martin-Manley scoring two touchdowns on back-to-back punt returns about a minute apart—an 83-yarder and a 63-yarder. He became the first Big Ten player to ever return back-to-back punts for touchdowns and just the second player in the past decade to return two punts for touchdowns in the same quarter. This achievement alone was sufficient to earn himself a spot as a specialist on last year’s All-Big Ten first team by multiple media outlets.

As a fifth-year senior this fall, Martin-Manley should resume his role as Iowa’s punt returner. Although it is unlikely that he again will have the type of performance he had against Western Michigan, he should still be one of the most feared punt returners in the Big Ten. What makes Martin-Manley such a dangerous returner is not his speed—even head coach Kirk Ferentz admits that Martin-Manley is not a “burner”—but his vision. He is a smart runner that can see the hole before it materializes and set up his blocks accordingly. This is a valuable trait for any returner to have, yet so few possess it. This is why it would not be a surprise to see Martin-Manley return one or two more punts for a touchdown in 2014.

4. Marcus Jones, Minnesota (DB) | Senior – 5’8”, 173 lbs.
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 25 24.9 98 1 11 10.5 65 1
2012 4 18.8 22 0 3 15.7 22 0
2011 13 28.5 92 1 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 42 25.4 98 2 14 11.6 65 1
(Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

(Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

It takes time for some football players to discover their niche on a team. Minnesota’s Marcus Jones is a great example. In all honesty, he should have found his niche as a true freshman. Notwithstanding his status as a former two-star cornerback recruit, Jones impressed the Minnesota staff as a wide receiver the moment he stepped on campus, which led to him starting in the opener against USC. After seeing Jones’ athleticism in action, the staff asked him to start returning kickoffs as conference play began. In his first three Big Ten contests, Jones electrified the crowds in that role. He returned 13 kickoffs for 370 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown against Purdue. If he had maintained his average of 28.46 yards per kickoff for the remainder of the season, it would have been the third-best in the Big Ten. Jones may have been a productive receiver, but his potential as a special-teams star was enormous.

The potential seemed like it would never be fulfilled, though. In a practice after that third Big Ten contest, Jones blew out his left knee, tearing an ACL, which forced him to miss the rest of his freshman year. Then, he had far less of an impact on offense and special teams the following season. The staff rarely utilized him as a returner—he fielded only seven total kicks in the first 11 games—and he played many fewer snaps at wideout. To compound matters, Jones then tore his other ACL near the end of his sophomore campaign, creating another significant setback he would need to overcome. Many began to question whether Jones would lose a step after two serious knee injuries or ever regain the form he had early as a freshman.

Those questions were answered quite swiftly in 2013. In Minnesota’s season opener against UNLV, Jones caught a kickoff at his own two-yard line and exploded through a hole for a 98-yard sprint to pay dirt. The following week, Jones proved that his return touchdown in the opener was not a fluke. In the second quarter against New Mexico State, he hauled in a punt, broke a tackle as soon as he secured the football, and sped 65 yards for his second special-teams touchdown in as many weeks. Jones’ status as Minnesota’s starting kickoff and punt returner was cemented. He finished the season with an average of 10.45 yards per punt return—the third-highest among Big Ten players that returned at least 10 punts—and 24.88 yards per kickoff return. Not too shabby for a player coming off two knee surgeries in successive seasons.

In 2014, there are no more concerns, questions, or doubt about Jones and what is capable of performing on special teams. Although Minnesota has some talented speedsters on its roster, such as Antonio Johnson, KJ Maye, and Berkley Edwards, none of them will supplant Jones as the starting kickoff and punt returner. For the first time since he arrived in Minneapolis as a true freshman, Jones will not be beginning the season after suffering a significant injury the year prior. Accordingly, he should be able to shine more than ever as a special-teams specialist. He may not have the shiftiness that some of the others on this list have, but he will thrive as a cut-and-go returner. This will be his only role for Minnesota this season. It took three years, but Jones finally found his niche.

3. William Likely, Maryland (DB) | Sophomore – 5’7″, 175 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 28 26.0 51 0 16 12.8 63 1
Career Totals 28 26.0 51 0 16 12.8 63 1
(G. Fiume, Getty Images)

(G. Fiume, Getty Images)

This is William Likely’s second appearance in the 2014 Big Ten Position Rankings series. Two weeks ago, Likely was ranked as the No. 9 cornerback in the Big Ten after recording 70 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and eight passes defended in 11 starts as a true freshman last year. He is expected to make a sophomore leap like many have before him and shore up a Maryland secondary that, quite frankly, was only mediocre in 2013. However, this is not the only area where Likely will contribute this season.

In 2013, before he was inserted into the starting lineup as a cornerback, Likely made his debut on special teams, starring as Maryland’s kickoff returner. He proved immediately how exhilarating he could be in that role for the Terrapins, taking the first career kickoff he fielded 43 yards against Old Dominion. He then followed that up with a 45-yard kickoff return versus Connecticut, a 50-yard kickoff return versus Boston College, and a career-long 51-yard kickoff return versus North Carolina State. With the help of four 40-plus-yard kickoff returns, Likely averaged 26.04 yards per kickoff return, which was the third-best in the ACC and would have been the fourth-best in the Big Ten. Likely’s performance as a kickoff returner, along with limited assistance from Stefon Diggs before he suffered a season-ending injury, propelled Maryland to the sixth-best Kickoff Return Efficiency rating nationally according to FEI. But Likely’s impact on special teams did not end there.

Likely’s abilities as a punt returner were just as effective. He returned 16 punts for 205 yards and an average of 12.81 yards per return. His per-punt-return average was the fourth-highest in the ACC and would have been the third-highest in the Big Ten. This can be credited to returning three punts 20-plus yards, including a 63-yarder that he took to the house against Virginia Tech after one shifty juke and a burst of speed. It was not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Likely did muff one punt in the opener against Florida International and admitted he had trouble tracking very high punts. Nonetheless, Likely improved throughout the season and finished as one of the most dynamic returners in the ACC.

Likely should reassume his duties as Maryland’s kickoff and punt returner this fall. As a sophomore, he should be as productive in the return game as he was last season. Not only does Likely possess great speed and lateral quickness, his 5’7” stature makes him a small target for coverage units to bring down. However, the reason he is not higher on this list is because Maryland may rotate other players at both positions. Diggs, a former five-star athlete that averaged 28.52 yards per kickoff and returned two kickoffs for a touchdown as a freshman in 2012, is healthy again, although it is unclear how much he will play there because he took a backseat to Likely before the injury last year. Other options also include brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs, the latter of which was a member of the United States Junior Olympic Track and Field team. While Maryland has lots of pieces with which to work, ultimately, Likely should be featured at both return positions and continue to produce on both defense and special teams.

2. V’Angelo Bentley, Illinois (DB) | Junior – 5’10”, 190 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 10 663 100 1 10 189 67 1
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 10 663 100 1 10 189 67 1
(Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

(Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

Similar to Maryland’s William Likely, Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley is a cornerback and a return specialist. Dissimilar to Likely, though, Bentley is not near being one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Last season was the first time Bentley saw extensive action in the defensive backfield, starting eight games at cornerback. He tallied an impressive four tackles-for-loss but recorded only 22 tackles and three passes defended. Although fewer tackles is not necessarily a slight against cornerback play, Bentley still was a starting defensive back for what advanced statistics considered to be the 108th-ranked pass defense in the country. Bentley has much upon which to improve when it comes to his performance as a cornerback. As a return specialist, though? Not so much.

Last season, Bentley was one of, if not the, best punt returners in the Big Ten. Among all Big Ten players that returned a minimum of 10 punts, no one had a better per-punt-return average than Bentley’s 15.75 yards, which was also the seventh-highest in the nation. It certainly helped that 25 percent of his 12 punt returns gained at least 25 yards. He had a 26-yarder against Cincinnati and a 50-yarder against Miami (OH), but none compared to his 67-yard touchdown return against Ohio State. Not only was the return itself a dandy, but it is even more impressive that he did it against the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s punt coverage unit was exceptional last season. Through its first nine games, it allowed only two punts to be returned for three yards. That is it. But Bentley just shrugged that off and returned three punts for 82 yards against the Buckeyes, scoring the only punt-return touchdown they allowed all season. This feat speaks to the type of talent Bentley has as a punt returner.

However, Bentley needs to work out some kinks as a kickoff returner. Whereas he had the highest per-punt-return average in the Big Ten, he had the second-lowest per-kickoff-return average among Big Ten players with a minimum of 10 kickoffs (21.39 yards). Too many times he would receive the kickoff at the goal line or just in front of it and fail to bring the ball out past the 20-yard line. While some of this is due to poor blocking by his teammates on the kickoff return unit, some of this also is due to Bentley dancing around in an attempt to reel off the big play. Although Bentley can provide that big play every once in a while, like this 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Illinois that features an excellent cutback, he needs to be more patient when there is no hole and power forward for yards to give Illinois better starting field position. If Bentley can make this adjustment next season, he very well could be the best return specialist in the conference given his prowess as a punt returner.

1. Janarion Grant, Rutgers (WR) | Sophomore – 5’11”, 175 lbs
Kick Ret Yds/Ret Long TD Punt Ret Yds/Ret Long TD
2013 21 24.6 100 1 17 9.2 58 1
Career Totals 21 24.6 100 1 17 9.2 58 1
(Tom Ciszek, NJ Sports Photo)

(Tom Ciszek, NJ Sports Photo)

There are ridiculously few college football players that can honestly claim that they scored a touchdown the very first snap of their career. As all Michigan fans know, former quarterback Denard Robinson is one. What Michigan fans do not know—until now—is that Rutgers’ Janarion Grant is another. In Rutgers’ season opener against Fresno State last season, Grant made his collegiate debut when he stepped onto the gridiron to return a kickoff after Fresno State scored on its opening drive. Grant received the kickoff with the soles of his feet on the goal line, spotted a hole, and hit the turbo button as he sprinted 100 yards untouched into the end zone. In just 12 seconds, a special-teams stud was born.

As a true freshman, Grant was one of the best return specialists in the AAC last season. Among all AAC players that returned a minimum of 10 kickoffs or 10 punts, Grant had the second-best per-punt-return average (9.18 yards) and the fourth-best per-kickoff-return average (24.64 yards) in the AAC. While these yardage averages may not seem as impressive in comparison to the averages other returners on this list have earned, it is imperative to remember that not all coverage units that a returner faces are created equal. The AAC had some of the best punt and kickoff coverage units in the nation, and, unlike the specialists in the Big Ten, Grant had the challenge to return against all of them. Accordingly, notwithstanding Grant’s low yardage averages, Rutgers’ FEI rating for Punt Return Efficiency and Kickoff Return Efficiency was ranked second and 13th nationally, respectively. There were few schools, if any, that had a better overall return unit than Rutgers. And Grant was the star of the special-teams show.

Grant likely will produce even better numbers as a return specialist next season. First, Grant likely will face coverage units in the Big Ten that are not as strong as the one he went against in the AAC. The only exceptions are Ohio State, Michigan State, and maybe Michigan only if it scraps its traditional punting formation. Second, Grant should field more kickoffs and punts this season than last. In 2013, he shared his return responsibilities with then-senior Quron Pratt. With Pratt gone, the majority of those remaining returns should be allocated to Grant. This will provide him with more opportunities to score special-teams touchdowns like this punt he returned 58 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. So Big Ten opponents should not be surprised if Grant breaks off a huge return when they face Rutgers this season. He demonstrated from the very first play of his career that he is a threat that cannot be taken lightly.

What do you think? Do you think Rutgers’ Janarion Grant will be the best return specialist in the Big Ten this season? Or do you think it will be someone else? Do you think it was unfair to leave returners like Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Purdue’s Akeem Hunt off the list because they specialize in only one type of return? And do you think any of Michigan’s potential return specialists, whether it is Dennis Norfleet or Jabrill Peppers, should have cracked this top five? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week, we will bend our definition of the word “position” and rank the best Big Ten coaching staffs.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Cornerbacks (part one)

Thursday, July 24th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-CB

This is the eighth installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. The best Big Ten players on offense and in the defensive front seven have been covered. This week, it is time to preview who will be the best cornerbacks in the conference this season. Here is Part One:

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two

10. Nick VanHoose, Northwestern | RS Junior – 6’0”, 190 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 40 21 61 5.0 0 8 0
2012 26 7 33 0.5 0 7 3
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 66 28 94 5.5 0 15 3
(Meghan White, The Daily Northwestern)

(Meghan White, The Daily Northwestern)

Despite having fewer tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups than Indiana’s Tim Bennett, Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose cracks this top-10 list while Bennett is left out in the cold. In fact, Bennett—even with 73 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one interception, and a nation-best 21 passes defended last season—was never really in consideration. There were two or three other Big Ten cornerbacks, including Michigan State sophomore Darian Hicks, who participated primarily on special teams last year, that had better odds to knock VanHoose out of the top 10 than Bennett. How so? There is more to an evaluation of a cornerback than just individual statistics.

Although Bennett led the country in both pass breakups (20) and passes defended (21) last season, he was a member of one of the worst secondaries in the nation. You may want to look away. The following numbers are quite horrifying. Indiana finished 118th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (290.2), 112th in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt (7.7), 103rd in passing efficiency defense (147.15), and allowed more 25-plus-yard completions than any other team in the Big Ten. While all of this cannot be blamed on Bennett, it was his responsibility to cover and contain the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. And Bennett was quite irresponsible. He allowed top wideouts like Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (14 catches, Big Ten-record 369 yards, two touchdowns), Penn State’s Allen Robinson (12 catches, 173 yards, two touchdowns), and Illinois’ Steve Hull (9 catches, 224 yards, two touchdowns) to have their best performance of the season against the Hoosiers. Therefore, do not let individual statistics like passes defended fool you. There is always a bigger picture. And, here, the picture is clear: Bennett is not near one of the best 10 cornerbacks in the Big Ten.

One who will be this upcoming season is VanHoose. He has experience—he started 22 games at cornerback as a redshirt freshman and sophomore the past two seasons—and has produced in various ways. As a redshirt freshman, VanHoose notched 33 tackles and seven pass breakups but made his biggest impact generating turnovers. He intercepted three passes—his average of 0.30 picks per game was fourth-best in the Big Ten—and recovered three fumbles. The following year, the turnovers vanished, as VanHoose forced only one fumble and intercepted no passes. Nonetheless, he found other ways to contribute. Mainly, he improved his run support, accumulating 61 tackles and five tackles-for-loss, which are the most among returning Big Ten defensive backs. And, despite failing to record an interception last season, VanHoose still was in the vicinity of the receiver, breaking up eight passes. Entering his third year as a starter, VanHoose should be able to demonstrate all of these abilities as a pass and run defender in one season and put together the most all-around campaign of his career.

Similar to Bennett and Indiana, questions will be asked about VanHoose and Northwestern’s pass defense overall. The Wildcats’ national rank in passing yards allowed per game was dreadful (99th), but the advanced metrics indicate their pass defense was better than that suggests. The Wildcats were 52nd in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt (6.1) and 73rd in Passing Defense S&P+, an advanced statistical model which analyzes what defenses allow on a given play versus what they are expected to allow. Northwestern’s pass defense was not nearly as poor as Indiana’s last year, but it still was below average.

9. William Likely, Maryland | Sophomore – 5’7″, 175 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 51 19 70 4.5 0 7 1
Career Totals 51 19 70 4.5 0 7 1
(Bruce Chapman, Winston-Salem Journal)

(Bruce Chapman, Winston-Salem Journal)

At 5’7”, Maryland’s William Likely will be the shortest cornerback on this list. However, Likely has never allowed his limited stature to prevent him from excelling as a cornerback on the football field. In high school, Likely was considered a high three-star recruit in 247’s composite national rankings, but two recruiting services—Rivals and ESPN—rated him as a four-star. And Likely certainly had the offers of a four-star prospect, too. Reportedly, he received scholarship offers from LSU, Stanford, and Miami (FL) but chose to enroll at Maryland.

As a true freshman last season, Likely did not expect much playing time in the secondary with experienced starters Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson on the roster. However, McDougle broke his shoulder blade and Johnson fractured his toe early in the year, thrusting Likely into the lineup just a few weeks into his collegiate career. For a true freshman cornerback, Likely performed well in his 11 starts. He led the Terrapins with seven passes defended, one of which was an interception against Syracuse. Likely has a significant height disadvantage when marking outside wide receivers but compensates with his superb speed and agility to maintain tight coverage on his man. In case you are wondering just how superb, he was also Maryland’s kick and punt returner last season. What was even more impressive for a player of his size, though, was his willingness to provide solid run support. Likely had had the fifth-most tackles on the team with 70 and 4.5 tackles-for-loss, which is a high number for any cornerback, let alone one listed at 5’7”. Likely still had his freshman flaws throughout the year, but it was an impressive debut considering the circumstances.

Accordingly, big things are expected from Likely as a sophomore this fall. The question is whether Likely will sufficiently improve to shape up an experienced secondary that was only average against the pass last season. The Terrapins finished 57th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 64th in passing efficiency defense, and 64th in Passing Defense S&P+. However, these probably would have been worse if not for Maryland’s pass rush. The Terps averaged 2.85 sacks per game, which was 18th-best in the country. Consequently, with sacks included, Maryland allowed only 5.7 passing yards per attempt, good enough for 26th-best in the nation. Some of these sacks were the result of excellent coverage where the quarterback had nowhere to throw, but the prevailing thought is that Maryland’s front-seven saved an average secondary’s behind. The bad news for Maryland is that it lost one of its top pass-rushers in linebacker Marcus Whitfield (15.5 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks). The good news is that it returns all of its other key defensive contributors, including the rest of the pass-rushing front-seven. If Likely makes the sophomore leap that many expect, Maryland’s pass defense should see a boost in its performance.

8. Raymon Taylor, Michigan | Senior – 5’10”, 182 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 61 25 86 1.5 0.5 9 4
2012 33 12 45 0 0 1 2
2011 1 1 2 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 95 38 133 1.5 0.5 10 6
(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

For much of last season, Raymon Taylor was the subject of frequent discussion among Michigan fans about whether he had developed into an above-average cornerback in the Big Ten. When Taylor became a permanent fixture in the starting lineup early in the 2012 season as a true sophomore, his impact was limited. Although he intercepted two passes, including a key one he returned 63 yards for a touchdown to ignite a rout of Purdue, he broke up only one other pass all season long. Three passes defended in 11 starts and 13 games? This is the sign of a cornerback who either had such tight coverage that quarterbacks did not throw in his general direction or struggled to stay close with his man. Given that Michigan was ranked No. 54 nationally in Passing Defense S&P+ and eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per attempt, the latter option is the answer here. Plus, Taylor provided little in run support, registering only 45 tackles and zero tackles-for-loss. Accordingly, fans began to look at the depth chart and incoming recruits to see if there was a suitable replacement for Taylor for 2013 season.

Yet Taylor demonstrated that there was no suitable replacement for him, even after Michigan brought in a blossoming crop of freshmen defensive backs in Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, and Dymonte Thomas. He showed improvement in all facets of the game. Against the pass, Taylor transformed from a cornerback that rarely made plays on the ball into one that got his hands on multiple throws. His 13 passes defended were tied for the seventh-most in the Big Ten, and his four interceptions were tied for the third-most. What was most impressive about his interceptions was that they were created by his coverage, not by lucky bounces or ricochets. He played much tighter coverage on his man and, accordingly, saw favorable results. Against the run, Taylor still had issues, but he was much better in 2013 than in 2012. He actually led Michigan with 86 tackles, 61 of which were solo, almost doubling the number of tackles he had the prior season. Although many of Taylor’s stops can be attributed to tackles he made after he allowed his receiver catch the ball underneath against soft coverage, the large increase in tackles indicated he was more willing to assist his teammates in run support.

So, to answer many Michigan fans’ question, yes, Taylor is an above-average cornerback in the Big Ten. He still has room to improve in defending and containing the run on the perimeter, but his coverage is much tighter and more technically sound. Plus, this season, Michigan plans to play more press coverage, which suits Taylor’s abilities more than dropping him into a soft zone where he has a tendency to let free the receiver he is supposed to mark. Of course, even in press coverage, there still are concerns that he will be beat over the top like Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and everyone from Indiana did time and time again. However, Lockett was one of the best wideouts in the nation last season, and Indiana’s no-huddle tempo was the reason for the slipups in coverage. Entering his senior season and third year as a starter, Taylor will put together his best campaign yet. He should have fewer tackles because he will not allow as many catches underneath in press coverage, but his passes defended should increase. Teams will try to test Taylor to avoid Michigan’s other cornerback, who is a bit higher on this list, only to discover that Taylor, too, is one of the better corners in the Big Ten.

7. Doran Grant, Ohio State | Senior – 5’11”, 193 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 43 15 58 2.0 0 13 3
2012 15 4 19 1.0 1.0 2 1
2011 3 3 6 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 61 22 83 3.0 1.0 15 4
(Jim Davidson, The Ozone)

(Jim Davidson, The Ozone)

Ohio State’s Doran Grant is considered by NFL scouts and personnel to be one of the best senior cornerback prospects in the nation. In fact, some scouts foresee Grant being the fourth cornerback selected in the next NFL Draft, meaning he would be taken in the one of the first two rounds. NFL personnel drool over Grant because he oozes with physical talent that can translate to the next level. As a former high four-star prospect in high school, he drips with the type of athleticism that gives him the ability to frequently make game-changing plays. Just look at the impact he had as Ohio State’s second corner in his first full season as a starter last year. Grant posted 58 tackles, 43 of which were solo, two tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, three interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. His 13 passes defended were tied for the seventh-most in the conference, and he proved he could be an asset in run support. Ultimately, with his athleticism, Grant is a player that has unbelievable potential as a cornerback.

However, there is a “but,” and, in this case, it is significant. For all of the positive momentum-shifting plays Grant makes with his dynamic athleticism, he makes just as many negative ones. Grant has too many mental mishaps that allow opponents to break what should be no or small gains into huge plays. Whether it was misplaying his coverage or taking a poor angle on a tackle attempt, Grant simply made too many mistakes. And he was not the only Buckeye defensive back with this problem either. For example, no Big Ten team allowed more completions of 15 yards or more than Ohio State with 77 of them last season. Further, Grant was a member of an Ohio State secondary enriched with NFL talent that was only eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per attempt (7.0). The Buckeyes had one of the best pass rushes nationally, so their sack-adjusted numbers are much better. Nonetheless, this indicates that Ohio State, including Grant, pass defense struggled if the pass rush from the front-seven did not get home. This was a very poor reflection on Ohio State’s secondary.

And it is difficult to see Ohio State’s secondary improving this upcoming season. The Buckeyes lost both of their starting safeties and first-round cornerback Bradley Roby to the NFL this past spring. Grant is the only returning starter of the defensive back-four, and Ohio State’s returning safeties have very little experience. It will be upon Grant to replace the impact lost with Roby’s departure as the top cornerback on the depth chart and shore up the holes in this secondary. Grant continues to receive praise from NFL personnel and Ohio State coaches that claim Grant just needs to continue to “make strides in man coverage” to rise up the draft boards. But how much improvement mentally can be expected from a cornerback that fell asleep too often last season? If Grant realizes his full potential, he easily would be one of the top five cornerbacks in the conference. But the best guess is that Grant will continue to make too many dumb errors next season, which is why he is No. 7 on this list.

6. Eric Murray, Minnesota | Junior – 6’0”, 195 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 44 8 52 1.0 0 10 0
2012 4 1 5 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 48 9 57 1.0 0 10 0
(Amanda Snyder, Minnesota Daily)

(Amanda Snyder, Minnesota Daily)

Minnesota’s Eric Murray probably was the best Big Ten cornerback that no one talked about last season. After contributing primarily on special teams as a true freshman in 2012, Murray stepped into the starting cornerback role as a sophomore last year. Although Minnesota’s defense was somewhat below average, finishing 81st nationally in yards allowed per play and 65th in Defensive S&P+, much of those woes fell on Minnesota’s front-seven, not Murray and the rest of the secondary. Minnesota’s passing defense was slight above average, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per play and 47th nationally in Passing Defense S&P+. And Murray played a big role in this, leading the Gophers with 10 pass breakups, which already ties for the 11th-most all-time in school history. Additionally, Murray registered 52 tackles, 44 of which were solo, one tackle-for-loss, and a fumble recovery. By the end of the season, the Big Ten coaches and media began to recognize his performance, giving him an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. But, during the season, he received no attention.

The key reason why Murray received little press was because, unlike many of the other corners on this list, he did not accumulate any interceptions. Interceptions are flashy and easy indicators that a cornerback is performing well. But there is always a bigger picture. A look at Murray’s game film reveals why he has yet to nab his first interception. Murray thrives in press coverage when Minnesota lines up in man-to-man. At 6’0” and 195 pounds, he is able to jam the opposing receivers on the line, preventing them from releasing into their route. Accordingly, Murray did not have many passes to defend because the quarterback only occasionally had the opportunity to target Murray’s man. On the other hand, many of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers had their worst days against Minnesota. Penn State’s Allen Robinson, who averaged 119.3 receiving yards per game, gained only 18 yards in the nine times he was defended by Murray. Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, who averaged 105.6 receiving yards per game, had only 30 yards in the 11 plays he was guarded by Murray. Indiana’s Cody Latimer, who averaged 91.3 yards per game? Only 25 yards in the 13 plays Murray locked him up. The trend is pretty clear: despite the lack of interceptions, Murray’s press coverage is a difficult challenge for even the Big Ten’s best wideouts.

Expect much of the same from Murray in 2014. With a one year of starting experience under his belt, he will be able to fine-tune his press technique and improve upon it even further. Wideouts will continue to have a hard time releasing off the line of scrimmage against him. There will be times when those wideouts are successful and beat Murray over the top, but this is the consequence of banking on your ability to press and press some more. Also, it certainly would not hurt if Murray decided to record a few interceptions either this year. Because, if he does, he may be better than one—or some—of the next five cornerbacks on this list. And then he would receive all of the attention he would ever need.

What do you think so far? Do you agree with the first five names on this list? Did we leave someone out of the top 10 that deserves to be here? What about Michigan’s Raymon Taylor? Should he be higher or lower than No. 8 on this list? Who do you think will round out the top five tomorrow? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.