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Posts Tagged ‘Wilton Speight’

Michigan State 14 – #7 Michigan 10: Turnovers, sloppy offense doom Michigan versus rival

Monday, October 9th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

With a storm promising 60 miles per hour wind gusts and torrential rain bearing down on Ann Arbor’s primetime matchup between the state’s two premier schools, getting out to a fast start was imperative to winning the game. While neither team featured much offense on Saturday night, it was Michigan State who beat Michigan to the storm and ultimately secured the 14-10 victory.

Michigan appeared to be getting out to a fast start, methodically moving down the field on the game’s opening possession mostly by running right at the Spartan defense. But as it has for much of the season, a promising drive stalled in the red zone and Michigan settled for a field goal to cap its 16-play, seven-minute drive.

Final Stats
Michigan  Michigan State
Score 10 14
Record 4-1 (1-1) 4-1 (2-0)
Total Yards 300 252
Net Rushing Yards 102 158
Net Passing Yards 198 94
First Downs 17 13
Turnovers 5 0
Penalties-Yards 7-53 11-81
Punts-Yards 7-298 11-430
Time of Possession 30:52 29:08
Third Down Conversions 5-of-17 2-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 4-33
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines went right back to the ground game, picking up gains of six and five, but Ty Isaac fumbled at the end of an 8-yard run and Michigan State recovered at the Michigan 38. Six plays later, the Spartans took a 7-3 lead on a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

After back-to-back Michigan punts, the Spartans got on the board once again, this time driving 83 yards in nine plays for a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Madre London.

The Michigan defense made its typical halftime adjustments, gaining a big edge in field position, and it paid off on Michigan’s second possession of the half. A Michigan State punt from the back of their own end zone gave the Wolverines possession at the MSU-33, and four plays later Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard Khalid Hill run to pull within 14-10.

But the storm hit a short time later and neither offense was able to move the ball the remainder of the game. John O’Korn threw interceptions on three straight possessions, but Michigan’s defense held Michigan State to seven straight three-and-outs, keeping the game within reach.

Michigan got one last chance on the game’s final possession, starting on their own 20 with 34 seconds remaining. O’Korn found Karan Higdon for a 15-yard gain and another 15 yards were tacked on for a late hit. On the next play, O’Korn found Eddie McDoom for what would have been a big play, but McDoom dropped the open pass. O’Korn connected with Higdon again for 18 yards, stopping the clock with five seconds remaining at the MSU-37. O’Korn heaved a prayer into the end zone as time expired, but the ball was batted down and Michigan State earned its eighth win in 10 tried against the Wolverines.

Michigan out-gained Michigan State 300 to 252, but that’s no consolation in defeat. The Wolverines managed 102 rushing yards, but only 2.6 yards per carry — the first time in 24 tries under Jim Harbaugh that they lost despite rushing for 100 yards or more. The Isaac fumble was a major turning point early in the game as Michigan was averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on 13 carries prior to that. But Michigan averaged just 1.7 yards per carry the rest of the game.

Higdon led the way with 65 yards on 5.4 yards per carry, but Michigan inexplicably only gave him 12 carries. Instead, in blustery and rainy conditions, the playcalling put the ball in O’Korns arm 35 times, something Wilton Speight has done just three times in 16 games and Jake Rudock did just three times in 13. That may be the most damning statistic for an offense that has regressed in each game this season.

It’s clear that there’s a reason that, until his injury, Speight was the starter despite his early-season struggles, and that with Tarik Black out for the season with injury the offense is full of young talent, but lacking in established playmakers. It’s also clear that for those reasons and more, the offensive coaching staff is lacking in confidence in its offense’s ability to move the ball and find the end zone. Something has to give as the schedule only gets tougher from here on, or Michigan could be looking at four or five losses.

It’s gut-check time and everyone from walk-ons to Harbaugh has to take a long look in the mirror and decide what kind of season they’re going to have. Speight is reportedly done for the season with three cracked vertebrae. Is O’Korn the best option to keep Michigan in contention for the Big Ten title? Or is it time to give Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey a chance to build on the future?

Personally, I ride with O’Korn as long as the title is within reach. But he’s going to need upperclassmen like Isaac to take care of the ball and experienced receivers like McDoom, Grant Perry, and Kekoa Crawford to catch open passes. Offensive line issues that have plagued Michigan for years won’t get fixed this year, but Harbaugh and staff need to devise a way to overcome that. With the nation’s best defense, the offense doesn’t have to be great. It may not even have to be good. Slightly above average would probably do the trick. But can Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton attain that? The next two weeks will be telling.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
In a game in which Michigan showed little ability to move the ball consistently — save for the first possession of the game — Higdon was the one offensive standout, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He had rushes of six and three yards on that opening possession, but Chris Evans was the more featured back on that drive with five carries for 20 yards. Midway through the third quarter, Higdon had four straight carries that went for five, six, six, and six yards before a holding penalty on Mason Cole set the offense back to 1st-and-20. Two plays later, O’Korn was picked off. Often the only back that could gain positive yards, that Higdon got just 12 carries while O’Korn threw the ball 35 times is a big miss by the coaching staff.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
The game followed a similar trend for Michigan’s defense this season. It’s susceptible to a few big plays early in the game, but Don Brown makes halftime adjustments and shuts down the opposing offense in the second half. Michigan State managed just two first downs the entire second half — both on their last possession — and 66 yards on 30 plays in the second half. Hurst was a big part of that, stuffing the Michigan State running game with 2.5 tackles for loss, and drawing high praise from MSU center Brian Allen after the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

#8 Michigan 28 – Purdue 10: O’Korn, U-M defense turn halftime deficit into second half rout

Sunday, September 24th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan was a trendy pick to be upset by upstart Purdue on Saturday, but the Wolverines turned a sloppy first half into a second half route to stay 4-0 this season.

Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game on Michigan’s third possession of the game and John O’Korn came in and led the Wolverines on a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get the scoring started. On the drive, he completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Sean McKeon on 3rd-and-9 and also a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-4.

Final Stats
Michigan  Purdue
Score 28 10
Record 4-0 2-2
Total Yards 423 189
Net Rushing Yards 139 30
Net Passing Yards 284 159
First Downs 24 9
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 7-57 10-82
Punts-Yards 7-284 11-439
Time of Possession 38:59 21:01
Third Down Conversions 6-of-15 0-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-40 4-28
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Red Zone TDs-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Full Box Score

But the lead wouldn’t last for long as Purdue also switched quarterbacks — albeit by choice — and Elijah Sindelar led the Boilermakers right down the field for a game-tying touchdown. The drive was classic Jeff Brohm, using a series of throwback passes to gain 16 yards, 13 yards, 36 yards, and 10 yards for the touchdown.

O’Korn threw an interception on Michigan’s next possession but the Michigan defense held Purdue to just a field goal and the Boilers took a 10-7 halftime lead.

The second half was all Michigan.

It took a couple drives for the Michigan offense to get going, but once it did it didn’t look back, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives that covered 86 yards on 11 plays, 65 yards on nine plays, and 76 yards on five plays.

The Michigan defense was even more impressive, limiting Purdue to just 10 total yards in the second half. Purdue had just one second-half possession that didn’t result in a three-and-out, and it was just five plays long before the Boilers punted. They went three plays for one yard, three plays for three yards, three plays for negative-three yards, three plays for five yards, five plays for three yards, and one play for six yards.

For the game, Michigan’s defense held a Purdue offense that had been averaging 459.7 yards per game to just 189 total yards and 3.8 yards per play — the lowest total the Wolverines have allowed this season.

Purdue quarterback led the Big Ten in passing last season and entered the game tops with a 76.1 completion percentage, but he went just 5-of-13 for 32 yards. Sindelar fared slightly better, going 7-of-16 for 103 yards and a touchdown, but had just a 26.5 quarterback rating.

On the other hand, O’Korn went 18-of-26 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for an 84.9 quarterback rating. It was the first 250-plus passing game on the road for a Michigan quarterback since Jake Rudock did so at Penn State in 2015.

Chris Evans led Michigan in rushing with 14 carries for 97 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Ty Isaac managed just 20 yards and a score on 10 carries. McKeon led the way in receiving with five receptions for 82 yards, while Gentry caught three for 48 and a score. Ten different Wolverines caught a pass.

Chase Winovich earned national defensive player of the week honors with a six tackle (all solo), four tackle for loss, three sack performance. Devin Bush added six tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack.

Michigan gets a bye week before hosting Michigan State (2-1) on Oct. 7.

Game Ball – Offense

John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
It took four weeks but the Michigan quarterback is the offensive player of the week for the first time. But instead of starter Wilton Speight, it’s O’Korn, who took over when Speight was injured on Michigan’s third possession. O’Korn came in and immediately led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive. Although he threw an interception on the next possession, he steadied and led Michigan on three straight touchdown drives in the second half. Is it enough to earn O’Korn the starting job two weeks from now? Who knows, assuming Speight is healthy. But it was an inspiring performance by a guy who has waited his turn.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks)
Winovich gets the nod for the second straight week after terrorizing Purdue’s backfield with four tackles for loss and three sacks. His performance was good enough to earn Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Through four weeks, he ranks third nationally with six sacks and Michigan as a team leads the nation with 18.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)

Four Bold Predictions Results

 Michigan’s offense shows some new looks, gets the tight ends more involved, and Wilton Speight tops 300 yards passing 
– It wasn’t Speight who had the big game passing, but the passing game went about how I expected. Tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry were the top two receivers, combining for 12 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, and John O’Korn came close to 300 yards, finishing with 270.

 The offense also converts all of its red zone attempts 
– Michigan’s offense entered the game just 1-of-10 on red zone touchdown conversions but converted all three chances on Saturday. It did so with a 12-yard touchdown pass from O’Korn to Gentry on 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter, a 10-yard Chris Evans touchdown run in the third quarter, and a 1-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth.

 Donovan Peoples-Jones scores two touchdowns — one on offense and, yes, another punt return 
– The true freshman who returned a punt for a touchdown against Air Force had a quiet day against Purdue, catching just one pass for eight yards and returning one punt for minus-one yard. Even though Purdue punted 11 times, Peoples-Jones was forced to fair catch most of them. He seemed to take a conservative approach, often calling for the fair catch even though he had room, so he was likely directed to do so in order to avoid a costly mistake in a close game.

 The defense gives up two long pass plays, but holds Purdue’s offense to less than 250 total yards 
– This also went pretty much as expected. Michigan’s defense struggled early in the game with Purdue’s misdirection plays and throwbacks, which resulted in Purdue’s only touchdown. On that drive, the Boilermakers completed passes of 16, 13, 36, and 10 yards. But Don Brown made adjustments at halftime and held the Boilers to just 10 total yards in the second half and 189 total yards — the fewest in their last 35 games.

Season Bold Prediction Results
= 5
 = 4
 = 3

#7 Michigan 29 – Air Force 13: Special teams save the day while offense sputters in red zone

Sunday, September 17th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

Last week, Michigan played ugly but still beat Cincinnati by 22 points, leaving fans wondering if it was simply a letdown after a big season-opening win over Florida or a sign of things to com. This Saturday, Michigan picked up an ugly 29-13 win over Air Force.

Michigan looked like it would take command early on as Ty Isaac took the fourth play of the game 62 yards for a touchdown. But it was called back as his foot touched the sideline at the Air Force 30. Instead, Michigan had to settle for three points as the offense stalled at the 17-yard line and Quinn Nordin kicked a 35-yard field goal.

The opening drive was emblematic of the way the rest of the game would go: the offense moving the ball but sputtering in the red zone and settling for three instead of six.

Final Stats
Michigan  Air Force
Score 29 13
Record 3-0 1-1
Total Yards 359 232
Net Rushing Yards 190 168
Net Passing Yards 169 64
First Downs 17 15
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 7-72 3-29
Punts-Yards 3-111 6-231
Time of Possession 29:35 30:25
Third Down Conversions 5-of-14 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-27 2-11
Field Goals 5-for-5 2-for-3
PATs 2-for-2 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 1-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 0-of-4 0-of-2
Full Box Score

After forcing an Air Force punt, Michigan gave the ball right back when Chris Evans fumbled and the Falcons recovered at the Michigan 44. Air Force capitalized with a field goal to tie the game at three. That drive was also symbolic of the way the rest of the game would go as Air Force ran 12 plays but advanced just 24 yards.

Michigan settled for another field goal on its first possession of the second quarter, driving 77 yards in eight plays before stalling at the Air Force 8-yard line. Air Force answered with a 50-yard field goal and Michigan closed the half with a 49-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones scored the first touchdown of the game, taking the punt 79 yards to the end zone for the longest punt return since Steve Breaston went 83 yards against Indiana in 2006.

But the breathing room wouldn’t last long as Air Force threw its first pass of the game and receiver Ronald Cleveland beat safety Tyree Kinnel for a 64 yard touchdown.

Both offenses went three-and-out on their next possessions before Michigan got on the board once again with another field goal after the offense stalled in the red zone. This time, Nordin converted from 29 yards.

The Michigan defense forced another three-and-out, and two plays later, Isaac reeled off another big touchdown run, but again it was called back, this time for a questionable holding on Kekoa Crawford. Michigan settled for another Nordin field goal, this time from 36 yards out to take a 22-13 lead.

Air Force refused to back down, however, putting together a 16-play drive that used nearly seven minutes of the clock and got to the Michigan 5-yard line. But the Michigan defense held strong, forcing a 29-yard field goal attempt that was missed.

Michigan finally scored its first and only offensive touchdown of the game when Karan Higdon scampered around the left side for a 36-yard touchdown run to reach the final score of 29-13.

Michigan’s offense compiled 359 total yards, 190 on the ground and 169 through the air while the defense held Air Force to its lowest yardage total since 2012 (232 yards).

Wilton Speight completed 14-of-23 passes for 169 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass or an interception. Isaac led Michigan on the ground for the third time in three games, finishing with 89 yards on 5.6 yards per carry. Higdon added 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while Evans got just six carries for 30 yards and the fumble. Tarik Black led Michigan in receiving with five receptions for 55 yards, while Peoples-Jones caught two for 52. Nordin tied a program record with five field goals in the game, joining K.C. Lopata (Nov. 8, 2009), J.D Carlson (Nov. 10, 1990), and Mike Gillette (Nov. 5, 1988) as the only Wolverines to do so.

Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman completed 1-of-7 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 60 yards. Running back Tim McVey managed just 62 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, well below his career average of 8.4 yards per carry.

Michigan hits the road for the first time this season next Saturday at Purdue. The game will kick off at 4pm EST and be televised by FOX.

Game Ball – Offense

Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
For the third week in a row, Ty Isaac could have gotten the game ball, and if his two touchdown runs wouldn’t have been called back he most certainly would have this week. But I’m going with Peoples-Jones because his third-quarter punt return began the second half with a statement, putting Michigan ahead by two scores and ultimately sealing the game. The true freshman has been a major weapon in the punt return game in the early season. He also gained 52 yards on a pair of receptions.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (9 tackles — 3 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Devin Bush could have gotten the nod here as he was seemingly all over the field, playing a huge role in slowing down the Air Force triple option running game. But I’m going to split hairs and pick Chase Winovich because he recorded a sack and a half on just seven Air Force pass attempts. He also recorded nine tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)

#7 Michigan vs Air Force game preview

Friday, September 15th, 2017


Michigan played an ugly, mistake-filled game against Cincinnati last Saturday and still won by 22 points thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by Tyree Kinnel and Lavert Hill. Now the Wolverines play host to Air Force at noon on Big Ten Network.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – BTN
Air Force Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (11th season)
Coaching Record: 78-53 (all at Air Force)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Thiessen (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Russ (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (5-3 MWC)
Last Meeting: UM 31 – AFA 25 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 2-0
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 2-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Air Force First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (31-25)
Last Air Force win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Air Force schedule to date
Opponent Result
VMI W 62-0

Air Force had the rare Week 2 bye after dismantling the Virginia Military Institute of the Football Championship Subconference (FCS), 62-0, in Week 1. VMI went just 3-8 last season and hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. In fact, you have to go back to 1977 to find the last time the Keydets won more than six games in a season and 1959 to find the last time they won more than seven.  Never have they won 10 games. They went 9-0 in 1920 and 9-1 in 1923 and that’s about it. Needless to say, success isn’t party of the VMI football tradition, and last week, they lost to mighty Catawba College, a Division II liberal arts school of 1,300 students, 27-20.

So it’s hard to glean much off of Air Force’s schedule to date. Sure, they rushed for 457 yards in the opener and racked up 647 total yards, but VMI’s defense also allowed 415 total yards to Catawba. For those keeping track, that’s more than Michigan’s defense allowed to Florida and Cincinnati combined.

Regardless, Air Force features the triple-option offense that military academy teams tend to run, which will most certainly be a challenge for the Wolverines’ defense, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for just that.

Head coach Troy Calhoun has been very successful in Colorado Springs, with the exception of the 2012 and 2013 seasons when the Falcons went a combined 8-17. Since then, they are 29-12 with a Mountain West Mountain Division title and two bowl wins.

However, last year’s schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet. They beat Abilene Christian, Georgia State, Utah State, Navy, Fresno State, Army, Colorado State, San Jose State, Boise State, and South Alabama. The Boise State win was a big one, keeping the 19th-ranked Broncos out of the MWC title game, but the other nine opponents went a combined 43-69 for a winning percentage of just 38.4 percent.

So how good is Air Force? Who knows. But let’s take a look at the matchup.

Air Force offense

(Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports)

Simply looking at this season’s offensive stats is misleading since Air Force has played just one game and it was against the aforementioned VMI squad that can’t even beat a liberal arts school the size of my high school. Last season, Air Force ranked 36th nationally in total offense (452.2 yards per game), 30th in scoring (35.2 points per game), third in rushing (317.4 yards per game), and 123rd in passing (134.8 yards per game).

It’s no secret that running the ball is the Falcons’ forte as they’ve ranked highly in each of the past four seasons (4th in 2015, 6th in 2014, and 12th in 2013, and 2nd in 2012). A year ago, after a three-game scuffle mid-season, quarterback Nate Romine went down with an injury and Arion Worthman came in and led the Falcons to six straight wins to close the season.

Now the full-time starter even though Romine was granted a medical redshirt, Worthman ran an efficient offense in the season opener. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 33 yards and another score. Romine, meanwhile, went 2-of-2 for 18 yards and carried the ball twice for 32 yards.

The most impressive part of the game was the number of backs that carried the ball. Sixteen different players had at least two carries and the team still averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Granted, the Falcons probably could have pulled someone from the stands and gain positive yards on VMI’s defense, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Senior running back Tim McVey led the way with 98 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last season with 708 yards and 10 touchdowns and entered this season as Air Force’s career leader in rushing average at an astounding 8.4 yards per carry. And yes, that average went UP in the season opener.

Michigan’s run defense has allowed a total of just 79 rushing yards in two games, holding opponents to an average of less than 1.4 yards per carry.

Fullbacks play a major role in Air Force’s option offense and Calhoun had to replace the top two, who carried the ball a combined 20.5 times per game last season. But junior Parker Wilson led all Falcons with 16.0 yards per carry against VMI, racking up 48 yards and a touchdown on just three carries.

While the rushing offense is the bread and butter, the passing offense does just enough to mix it up — and nothing more. The Falcons threw just 150 passes in all of 2016. By comparison, Michigan threw 370 passes and has already thrown 55 through two games this season. Air Force had just one game last season of 20 or or more pass attempts (24) and eight games of 10 or fewer.

But that doesn’t mean the passing game doesn’t work. In fact, the infrequency of the passing game is precisely why it does work. Air Force averaged 11.68 yards per pass attempt last year and 25.76 yards per completion. Michigan averaged 7.45 yards per attempt and 12.09 per completion. That means the average Air Force pass completion was a quarter of the football field and more than twice that of Michigan.

It wasn’t quite that dramatic in the season opener as Air Force threw 14 passes and completed 10 for an average of 13.6 yards per completion, but that’s still more than Michigan averaged in 2016. Last year’s top receiver is gone, meaning Worthman will have to find a new go-to target. Jalen Robinette’s 35 receptions for 959 yards and six touchdowns were by far more than the next closest receiver — McVey — who had just eight for 193 and two. In fact, Robinette’s production was two receptions and 166 yards more than all other receivers combined. McVey led the way against VMI with three catches for 77 yards. But sophomore Geraud Sanders made the most of his two receptions, taking them both for touchdowns from 57 yards and five yards out. Junior Marcus Bennett is the other starting receiver and caught two passes for 24 yards.

The offensive line lost a pair of all-Mountain West performers, but has four seniors with starting experience and with the running system that the Falcons have offensive line is essentially a plug and play position in Colorado Springs.

Air Force defense

(Mike Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force defense under Steve Russ has been steadily improving since Russ took full reign of the unit after spending 2012 and 2013 as co-defensive coordinator. In 2013, the defense ranked 114th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. In Russ’ first season as the lone defensive coordinator, the Falcons improved to 60th in total defense. In 2015 they were 32nd and last season they maintained that performance at 33rd. However, Air Force ranked 49th in scoring defense last season (26.2 points per game). They ranked 10th against the run (114.2 yards per game) and 94th against the pass (250.7 yards per game).

The bad news for Russ this season is that, like Michigan, he had to replace 10 of 11 starters on the defense. And it wasn’t just starters, it was depth as well as 32 seniors departed. Six of the top seven linemen and four of the top five linebackers are gone.

The lone returning starters is senior middle linebacker Grant Ross, who ranked third on the team with 67 tackles and also had 2.5 sacks last season. He has 16 starts under his belt and he recorded three tackles and 1.5 for loss in the opener. Senior Jack Flor is the other middle linebacker and led the team with eight tackles in the opener. He averaged 7.3 tackles per game in three starts a year ago. Senior Ja’Mel Sanders and senior Matt Evans started at the outside linebacker spots but recorded a combined three tackles.

Junior Kyle Floyd is a first-year starter at free safety and nearly matched his career tackles (four) in the season opener (three), while fellow junior Garrett Kauppila played in his first career game against VMI, recording three tackles. Senior Marquis Griffin and junior Robert Bullard are the starting corners. Griffin started two games last season and recorded five tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup against VMI. Bullard made his first career start and recorded one tackle.

The defensive line is made up of junior nose guard Cody Gessler, senior three-tech Cody Moorhead, and senior weakside end Santo Coppola. The latter is the most experienced returner along the line with seven career starts. He leads all returning linemen with two sacks in 2016 and recored another one against VMI. Moorhead has played in 21 career games entering this season but recorded just two total tackles. He made one in the opener. The VMI game was the career debut for Gessler and he collected one tackle.

Air Force special teams

Senior kicker Luke Strebel ranked ninth nationally with 1.69 field goals per game a year ago. He made 22-of-25 and all 51 point after attempts, setting a Mountain West record with 22 straight field goals made after missing his first three of the season. He didn’t get a chance to kick a field goal against VMI. Sophomore punter Charlie Scott booted two punts for an average of 41.5 yards in his debut.

Junior receiver Ronald Cleveland is back to handle punt returns after averaging 10.7 yards per return in 2016. He had two returns for a total of nine yards to start the season.

Analysis
Air Force run game vs Michigan rush defense
Air Force Michigan

This may be the only game this season that Michigan’s run defense doesn’t hold the advantage. Michigan’s defense held both Florida and Cincinnati under 100 yards rushing, but Air Force hasn’t been held below 100 rushing yards in at least the past two seasons. Last season, their low was 149 yards on just 3.8 yards per carry in a 35-26 loss to Wyoming, a team that finished 92nd nationally against the run. Navy was the only other team to hold the Falcons below 200 yards (173) and Army was the only team to do it in 2015 (196). No matter how good Michigan’s run defense is, it will take a major feat to stop the Air Force rushing attack, which leads to…

Air Force pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan’s pass defense has the edge here, and I certainly don’t expect Air Force to put up many passing yards, but there are two reasons I have this closer than it should be. First of all, Cincinnati exposed a little bit of a weak spot in the Michigan defense last week with some screens that picked up a decent chunk of yardage. Teams will play on the aggressiveness of Don Brown’s defense until he can fix it. Secondly, although Air Force doesn’t pass often, it makes the most of its pass attempts. I’m slightly worried by Michigan’s young secondary getting too lulled to sleep by the run and then giving up big plays through the air.

Air Force rush defense vs Michigan running game
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan gets a slight edge here based on how well Ty Isaac has been running the ball, but it remains to be seen whether or not the offensive line can pave the way for a consistent running game. Chris Evans has yet to find much running room and Air Force’s defense is geared around selling out to stop the run. The Falcons held eight opponents below 100 yards rushing last season, though they did surrender 373 rushing yards to New Mexico.

Air Force pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Air Force Michigan 

While Air Force sells out to stop the run it makes their pass defense very vulnerable if opposing quarterbacks have enough time to throw. They ranked 94th in passing yards allowed and 83rd in pass efficiency defense last season, allowing nine opponents to throw for 200-plus yards and six to top 300. Wilton Speight has been erratic through the first two games of the season but I have to believe he’ll settle down and regain the accuracy that he displayed in the first half of last season prior to his injury at Iowa. As long as the line can keep him clean, Michigan should have the clear edge here.

Air Force special teams vs Michigan special teams
Air Force Michigan

There’s not much separating the two teams in the special teams matchup. Air Force has the more experienced kicker who has made 22 straight field goals, while Michigan has a big-legged kicker who doesn’t have much experience. He nailed two from 50-plus in the opener against Florida, but also missed two field goals in the same game. Neither team has an experienced punter. Air Force ranked 9th and 19th nationally last season in kick and punt returns while Michigan has new returners.

Coaching
Air Force Michigan 

It’s not quite the Jim Harbaugh-Luke Fickell disparity, but I would still give Harbaugh the edge over Calhoun, though the man in Colorado Springs has put together an impressive run. He has carried on the success of his predecessor, Fisher DeBerry, with very few hiccups. It’s not easy to sustain success at a service academy, but he has done so, and that warrants respect. It seems Calhoun is rumored for coaching jobs every offseason but he has chosen to remain at his alma mater where he could be a legend someday.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Air Force Michigan 

Air Force won’t be intimidated by the Big House, but — assuming the boo birds don’t come out again — Michigan has the clear home field advantage. It’s also a noon game on the East Coast, which means it’s 10am body time for the Falcons. They might not be affected by that as much as other teams, but it has to count for something.

Edge Average: Michigan 6.4 – Air Force 3.6
Score Prediction: Michigan 33 – Air Force 17
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Ty Isaac is held in check but Chris Evans has a breakout game, using his speed to beat the aggressive Air Force rush defense and breaks a long touchdown run
• Wilton Speight hits a few deep balls, doesn’t make any major mistakes, and holds off the boo birds for another week
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s run defense holds Air Force to its lowest rushing output in the past three seasons but the Falcons still break 100 yards
• Air Force scores two passing touchdowns on an overly aggressive Michigan defense

#8 Michigan 36 – Cincinnati 14: Pair of pick-sixes save lackluster offensive showing

Sunday, September 10th, 2017


(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

After a resounding win over 17th-ranked Florida to open the season, Michigan returned home and received more than it expected from a Cincinnati squad that went just 4-8 a year ago. Still, the Wolverines weathered the storm and survived a plague of mistakes to win going away, 36-14.

Michigan started the game strong with a 7-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession and an interception returned for touchdown a couple drives later to take a quick 14-0 lead.

Final Stats
Michigan  Cincinnati
Score 36 14
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 414 200
Net Rushing Yards 193 68
Net Passing Yards 221 132
First Downs 16 13
Turnovers 2 2
Penalties-Yards 7-68 4-30
Punts-Yards 7-274 10-373
Time of Possession 30:27 29:33
Third Down Conversions 5-of-15 6-of-19
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-23 1-8
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

But after the defense forced a Cincinnati punt, the ball hit a Michigan blocker and was recovered by the Bearcats at the Michigan 38. Cincinnati took advantage of the short field with a 9-play touchdown drive.

The second quarter struggles that Michigan had in Week 1 returned as the Wolverines kicked a 28-yard field goal on their first possession but managed just 51 yards on 14 plays the rest of the quarter.

Cincinnati opened the second half with a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to pull within 17-14 and had two more possessions with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. But the Michigan defense held strong, and after a pair of drives that gained a total of seven yards, the offense finally moved the ball thanks to a 36-yard pass from Wilton Speight to tight end Sean McKeon and a 33-yard touchdown pass to Grant Perry.

A couple drives later, Quinn Nordin kicked a 24-yard field goal to extend Michigan’s lead to 27-14, and on Cincinnati’s ensuing possession the Wolverines forced a three-and-out. On the punt attempt, the ball was snapped past the punter, who batted the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

Michigan’s offense couldn’t capitalize, going three-and-out, but the defense scored its second touchdown of the game when Lavert Hill picked off quarterback Hayden Moore and raced 24 yards to the end zone to reach the final score of 36-14.

The Michigan offense was mistake prone and lackluster most of the day, unable to string together consistent drives against a defense that ranked 72nd nationally a year ago. Sure, the Bearcats’ defense was full of returning starters and now coached by a defensive-minded head coach in Luke Fickell, but there’s no reasons a Michigan offense shouldn’t have more success moving the ball. Take away the two defensive touchdowns and the Wolverines managed just 22 points.

Still, the Wolverines’ defense was strong, holding the Bearcats to just 200 total yards and 68 rushing yards while recording seven tackles for loss and four sacks and scoring two defensive touchdowns. Through two games, the Michigan defense has scored three touchdowns — matching last season’s total — and allowed just two.

Speight completed 17-of-29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Ty Isaac topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game, carrying the ball 20 times for 133 yards, while Chris Evans managed just 15 yards on five rushes. Kekoa Crawford led the way through the air, catching four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Perry caught for for 66 and a score.

Tyree Kinnel led the defense with nine tackles (8 solo), a tackle for loss, a sack, and an interception returned for touchdown. Devin Bush had another strong game with seven tackles and a sack, while Khaleke Hudson recorded two sacks.

Game Ball – Offense

Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Isaac could have taken the game ball in Week 1, but we gave it to Quinn Nordin for his multiple 50-yard field goal day. There’s no question Isaac was the best player on the field for Michigan’s offense in Week 2. While Chris Evans couldn’t find any running room, Isaac took the reigns and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. The senior now has 247 yards through two games, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, though he has yet to find the end zone.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)

Game Ball – Defense

Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles — 8 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception returned for touchdown)
While the Michigan defense lost 10 of 11 starters from last season it still returned plenty of players with experience and Kinnel was one of them. Stepping into the starting safety spot in 2017 for the first time, Kinnel was impressive on Saturday, leading the team with nine tackles, recording a sack, and taking an interception 28 yards for a touchdown.

Previous:
Week 1 – (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)

#11 Michigan 33 – #17 Florida 17: Second half surge, dominant defense carry U-M

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017


(Kevin Goheen, Land of 10)

The first game of the season is always a bit of a mystery as teams break in new players and work out some kinks as they hit the field for the first time after months of preparation. Ohio State struggled with Indiana in the first half before pulling away in the second. Washington struggled with Rutgers and Wisconsin struggled with Utah State on Friday night before both pulled away.

Michigan was one of the few ranked teams nationally to face a ranked power-five opponent, and despite having their share of struggles in the first half, dominated the second half to claim a resounding 33-17 win.

Final Stats
Michigan  Florida
Score 33 17
Record 1-0 0-1
Total Yards 433 192
Net Rushing Yards 215 11
Net Passing Yards 218 181
First Downs 19 9
Turnovers 2 3
Penalties-Yards 7-55 5-45
Punts-Yards 3-82 6-328
Time of Possession 34:13 25:47
Third Down Conversions 6-of-18 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-35 5-22
Field Goals 4-for-6 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Florida took the opening kickoff and went 46 yards in six plays for a 46-yard field goal, but Michigan’s defense held the Gators to just 146 total yards and no points the last 57 minutes of the game. It was a performance that put to rest — at least for now — the notion that the Wolverines’ defense would take a step back after losing 10 starters. The new look defense recorded six sacks, forced five turnovers (three recovered), and held Florida to just 192 total yards and only 11 yards on the ground. Florida’s offense wasn’t held below 200 yards all season a year ago.

Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, had its highs and lows but ultimately turned in a positive performance against one of the best defenses they’ll face all season. The first drive of the season yielded points on a 25-yard Quinn Nordin field goal that capped a 14-play, 68-yard drive. On the next possession, Chris Evans broke loose for a 29-yard run and on the very next play, Wilton Speight connected with freshman receiver Tarik Black for a 46-yard touchdown.

But the fun didn’t last for long as Speight threw back to back interceptions returned for touchdowns and suddenly the Wolverines trailed 17-10. Two possessions later, with John O’Korn in for Speight, Nordin showed off the big leg that earned him the top kicker of the 2016 class ranking, nailing a 55-yard field goal. Florida’s normally reliable kicker, Eddy Pinero, missed a 47-yarder on the ensuing possession and Florida took a 17-13 lead into the half.

The second half was all Michigan as the Wolverines took the first possession 75 yards on 10 plays for a 3-yard Karan Higdon touchdown to retake the lead. Freshman Ambry Thomas forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Michigan tacked on a 30-yard Nordin field goal.

Michigan’s defense forced its second fumble of the game three plays later when Josh Metellus stripped quarterback Feleipe Franks and Lawrence Marshall recovered at the Florida 31-yard line. The offense was unable to move the ball and Nordin kicked a 50-yard field goal, becoming the first kicker in Michigan history to boot two field goals of 50 yards or more in the same game.

In the fourth quarter, Nordin missed from 52 yards and 32 yards to keep Florida within reach, but the Michigan defense closed it out with a Chase Winovich sack of backup quarterback Malik Zaire, who fumbled and Noah Furbush recovered in the end zone for a Michigan touchdown.

All told, the Michigan offense put up 433 total yards in a balanced effort, rushing for 215 yards on 4.4 yards per carry against a stout Florida front seven and passing for 218. Speight completed 11-of-25 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. Ty Isaac led Michigan on the ground with 114 yards on just 11 carries (10.4 yards per carry), while Evans 78 yards on 22 carries (3.5 ypc). Black caught two passes for 83 yards and one score. Grant Perry had the most receptions with four for 46 yards.

Defensively, Devin Bush was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles (five solo), three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Winovich, Mike McCray, Josh Uche, and Khaleke Hudson all recorded a sack as well.

Michigan hosts Cincinnati in its home opener next Saturday at 12pm. The Bearcats, under first-year head coach Luke Fickell, beat Austin Peay 26-14 to open the season.

Game Ball – Offense

Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
One of the big question marks for Michigan entering the season was the special teams play, especially at kicker where the reliable Kenny Allen had to be replaced. I said in my game preview that Florida had a big edge in this category, but Nordin put those fears to rest by nailing his first three field goals of the day, two of which were from 50 yards and beyond. Sure, he missed two in the fourth quarter, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt after his performance prior to that. The Michigan career record for field goals of 50 or more yards is four by Hayden Epstein from 1998-2001. In his first career game, Nordin made half of that, tying him with Mike Gillette, J.D. Carlson, Mike Lantry, and Jay Feely for third all-time.

Game Ball – Defense

Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
With only one returning starter on defense, Michigan needed some of its young talent to emerge and Bush did just that. He looked good in limited time as a true freshman in 2016, but shined in his first start. It almost didn’t happen as he was flagged for a late hit on the game’s first play. The play was reviewed for targeting, which would have ejected him form the game, but the officials ruled that it wasn’t. Good thing, because he was all over the field, recording seven tackles, three for loss, and two sacks.

Four Bold Predictions Results

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting 
– Speight was up and down, making a nice 46-yard touchdown pass to Tarik Black on Michigan’s second possession, but then throwing two pick-sixes. The first wasn’t necessarily his fault — it was a little high but should have been caught by Kekoa Crawford — but the second was a straight overthrow. That led directly to 14 Florida points, the only two touchdowns the Gators scored. Speight finished with 181 yards but completed just 44 percent of his passes. The good news is that he gets to face a few less than stellar defenses in the coming weeks to gain his rhythm heading into the meat of the schedule.

• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing 
– I’m giving myself a push on this one as I was right that Evans wouldn’t lead the team in rushing, but I predicted the wrong guy. Higdon did record Michigan’s lone rushing touchdown, but he was third with 28 yards gained on seven carries. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards on 111 carries, while Evans tallied 78 yards on 22 carries. Isaac was the surprise of the game offensively, looking like a much stronger runner than he did last season.

Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage 
– I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. The defense performed admirably all game, holding Florida to just three points and 192 total yards. But if there is one nit-pick it is that the young secondary gave up a few deep balls. Brandon Watson and Lavert Hill each got beat a couple of times by Florida’s receivers. Franks is far from the best quarterback the Wolverines will face this season, so they’ll have to shore that up before heading to Happy Valley in mid-October. The pass rush got to Florida quarterbacks six times including the game-sealing sack and forced fumble by Winovich that resulted in a Michigan touchdown.

• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be 
– This appeared to be a bad prediction through the first three quarters when sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin nailed his first three field goals, two of which were from 50 yards or beyond. But he came back down to earth a bit in the fourth quarter with two missed field goals that did keep Florida in the game. Nordin did, however, ease some concerns about the placekicking job in Kenny Allen’s absence.

#11 Michigan vs #17 Florida game preview

Friday, September 1st, 2017


The long offseason is finally over. When we wake up tomorrow morning College Gameday will fill our TV screens and college football will be upon us. Sure, it started last weekend with a few tomato can games and Ohio State and Indiana gave us a nice little appetizer on Thursday night, but tomorrow is the first full Saturday of the season. Most importantly, it’s the first Michigan football game of the season.

Quick Facts
AT&T Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Florida Head Coach: Jim McElwain (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 41-24 overall (19-8 at UF)
Offensive Coordinators: Doug Nussmeier (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Randy Shannon (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (6-2)
Last Meeting: Michigan 41 – UF 7 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Record in regular season: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1-0
Last Michigan win: Jan 1, 2016 (41-7)
Last Florida win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 3

For the second straight game, Michigan faces a team from the state of Florida. The Wolverines closed the 2016 season with a 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl and now faces Florida to open the 2017 season. Michigan is 3-0 all-time against the Gators with the most recent win coming at the end of the 2015 season when Michigan throttled Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. This will be the teams’ first regular season meeting as they also faced off in the 2003 Outback Bowl and the 2008 Capital One Bowl.

Florida has had an eventful offseason that will leave them shorthanded on Saturday. Seven players were initially announced as suspended when news came of a debit card scheme involving using school-issued funds and then trying to claim them lost or stolen. Starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway was among them. Then, just this week, two more players were announced as suspended for the same issue, including starting running back Jordan Scarlett. Freshman wide receiver was suspended for a separate incident involving marijuana possession.

That leaves ten Gators on the sidelines for Saturday and puts Michigan in a bad position. If the Wolverines win, pundits will place an asterisk next to it because Florida wasn’t at full speed. Remember last December when Michigan was penalized for beating Colorado without Sifo Liufau — who the Wolverines knocked out of the game — and beating Penn State without a couple of starting linebackers. If the Wolverines lose, it won’t go down as a “good loss” at the end of the season, but rather, will look worse since Florida was depleted.

Regardless, Michigan can do only what it can control, and that is win the game by as many points as possible; leave no doubt who the better team is, suspensions be damned.

Most national pundits have been predicting a Florida win based on the number of starters and production Michigan lost to the NFL in the offseason. But Jim Harbaugh’s third squad figures to be faster and more athletic than his first two and there is still plenty of talent — albeit young — remaining to keep the Wolverines in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Tomorrow’s game won’t change that, but it has a chance to set the tone for the season and put the college football landscape on notice. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Florida offense

Michigan fans will remember Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who coordinated the Michigan offense in Brady Hoke’s final season. He was the big hire in the 2014 offseason out of Alabama as Hoke’s final attempt to right the ship, but his offense failed to produce a winning season. He hasn’t had much success at Florida either, guiding the Gators to the 111th and 116th-best total offense and 100th and 107th best scoring offense in his first two seasons.

Nussmeier finds himself in a quarterback quandary entering 2017 and will start redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who has yet to play a college game. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Crawfordville, Fla. native threw three interceptions in his first four passes in the 2016 spring game, but had a much better spring this year, completing 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown. With good size, he also has decent mobility and reportedly has a big arm, and that was enough for head coach Jim McElwain to name him the starter over Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and upperclassman Luke Del Rio. It’s a pretty good bet to assume that Zaire will see the field as well due to his experience.

Wish Scarlett sidelined, Florida will turn to sophomore Lamical Perine, who rushed for 421 yards on 91 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown last season. He was one of just eight FBS true freshmen to rush for 100 yards in multiple games against Power Five opponents last season when he recorded 105 against Kentucky and 106 against Missouri.

Even with Callaway suspended, Florida boasts a deep collection of talent at receiver that will test Michigan’s young and inexperienced secondary. Sophomores Tyrie Cleveland (14 catches, 298 yards, 2 touchdowns), Josh Hammond (14 catches, 177 yards), and Freddie Swain (8 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns) are all former four-star recruits, and senior Brandon Powell (45 catches, 387 yards, 2 touchdowns) was the team’s second-leading receiver last season out of the slot. Both tight ends, senior DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches, 342 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior C’yontai Lewis (18 catches, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns) are also back.

The Florida offensive line has been pretty poor the past few seasons but there is optimism around Gainesville for a step forward this fall. Junior Martez Ivey, the No. 2 overall player in the 2015 class, is locked in at left tackle, while Jawaan Taylor is back at right tackle after starting 12 games as a true freshman last season. Redshirt sophomore center T.J. McCoy started four games last season, while true freshman Brett Heggie has looked good in the offseason and junior Fredrick Johnson, who has 10 career starts, are the guards.

Florida defense

Like Michigan, Florida has boasted one of the nation’s best defenses the past couple years, but McElwain’s defensive coordinator from those two seasons, Geoff Collins, bolted for the Temple head coaching position in the offseason. Up steps Randy Shannon, who has been on the staff as associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Shannon was perhaps college football’s best defensive coordinator in the 2000s, guiding Miami’s defenses to 6th, 7th, 2nd, 28th, 4th, and 7th from 2001-06. He became head coach in 2007 but had just middling success and has worked his way back up since then through TCU, Arkansas, and now Florida.

He inherits the nation’s 5th-best total defense and 6th-best scoring defense from 2016, but has some holes to fill, most notably in the secondary where cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye are gone. Another safety, Marcell Harris, who started eight games last season, tore his Achilles in the offseason is out for the year.

McElwain said on Thursday that there could be four freshmen playing at a time in the secondary on Saturday. Marco Wilson, a four-star recruit in the most recent class, is likely to be one of them getting the nod at one corner spot, while senior Duke Dawson is the elder statesman of the group, having started eight career games. Fifth-year senior Nick Washington, who has started 10 games over the past three seasons, and sophomore Chauncey Gardner, who started the final three games last season, are the likely starters at safety.

Linebacker is another position that has some holes to fill, replacing Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, who combined for 113 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five sacks. Farmington, Mich. native David Reese, and redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson are the most experienced returning linebackers, having started the last four and five games of the season, respectively. Reese finished the season as the team’s fifth-leading tackler and is ready to step in as the middle linebacker. Johnson recorded 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the final five games. Sophomore Vosean Joseph is the other assumed starter. He played mostly on special teams last season but earned his first career start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and recorded six tackles and one for loss.

The defensive line is the most experienced position group returning, though it does have to replace tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Redshirt junior Taven Bryan is in line to start at defensive tackle and has three starts under his belt the past two seasons, while fellow redshirt junior Khairi Clark should get the nod at nose tackle. Sophomore CeCe Jefferson and redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga are the starting ends. Jefferson was the No. 7 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Fifth-year senior Jordan Sherit, who recorded five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, will also be a key part of the rotation.

Florida special teamsM

While Michigan lost both its kicker and punter, Kenny Allen, Florida returns two good ones in sophomore kicker Eddy Pinero and fifth-year senior punter Johnny Townsend. Pinero connected on 21-of-25 field goal attempts as a true freshman last season including all three tries from 50-plus. Townsend led the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average. Powell or redshirt freshman receiver Dre Massey will handle punt return duties in Callaway’s absence. Powell averaged 4.6 yards per return a year ago. Massey may be in the running to handle kickoff returns as well.

Analysis

As a new feature of our weekly game preview this year, we will break down each unit battle to determine where each team has an edge, and by how much. These will be graded on a 1-10 scale where five is a push, one is a clear advantage for Florida, and 10 is a clear advantage for Michigan.

Florida run game vs Michigan rush defense
Florida Michigan 

Even with Scarlett in the Florida backfield, Michigan’s stout rush defense would still hold the edge, but with Scarlett out the Wolverines should have no trouble shutting down the Florida running game. Michigan held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing last season and the Gators ranked 113th nationally in rushing.

Florida passing game vs Michigan pass defense
Florida  Michigan

Florida gets a very slight edge here because of their returning talent at receiver and tight end. Michigan has a lot of talent in the secondary, but at this point it’s unproven, so like Ohio State’s young corners on Thursday night, it could struggle a bit in the opener.

The reason Florida doesn’t have more of an edge is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Feleipe is mobile and has a big arm, but has no experience and will have to deal with Rashan Gary and the rest of the Michigan pass rush. If Florida’s offensive line is able to hold it off, Florida could put up a big passing number on Saturday. But I’d say Michigan’s pass rush is able to keep Feleipe off balance enough to make this a close position battle.

Florida rush defense vs Michigan running game
Florida Michigan

I’m giving this one a push because the improvement of Michigan’s offensive line is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Florida doesn’t quite have the depth it had last year on the defensive line and the run defense wasn’t their strength anyway.

While the defense as a whole was one of the nation’s best, the run defense ranked just 38th nationally. Five of the final eight opponents last season rushed for over 200 yards against Florida, and although Michigan’s running game wasn’t outstanding, it still ranked 33rd and it should be better this year with a sophomore Chris Evans in addition to Karan Higdon, Ty Issac, and Kareem Walker. If Michigan’s offensive line is significantly improved, Michigan has the edge here, but that’s still an unknown.

Florida pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Florida Michigan 

This unit battle is an interesting one simply because of all of the unknowns. Michigan lost most of its receiving production in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, and Florida lost most of its top-notch secondary. But Wilton Speight gives Michigan the edge here as the one consistent piece of the passing game. He faltered down the stretch last season after suffering an injury against Iowa, but has the experience to help his new young receivers come along against a young and inexperienced secondary.

Florida special teams vs Michigan special teams
Florida  Michigan

If the game comes down to a last-second field goal, are we confident that sophomore Quinn Nordin can make it? He was the nation’s top kicker in the 2016 class and has a big leg, but has yet to see the field. He made a 48-yarder in the spring game, but that’s not the same as the atmosphere he will face on Saturday. Pinero, meanwhile, was ultra-reliable for the Gators last season, especially from long range.

Florida has the edge at punter as well with the nation’s top returning punter. The return game is anyone’s guess. Michigan will have to replace Chesson and Jabrill Peppers and Florida will be without Callaway. Because of experience in the kicking game, Florida has a good edge here.

Coaching
Florida Michigan 

Jim McElwain has had success everywhere he has been, turning Colorado State from a doormat to a Mountain West contender in three seasons, and then reigniting a stagnant Florida program with nine-plus wins in each of his first two seasons after the Gators had just one in the previous five. But Jim Harbaugh has a longer resume, having achieved similar rebuilding jobs at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers, and now Michigan. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, won a BCS bowl at Stanford, and lead Michigan to back-to-back 10-win seasons after inheriting a team that went 5-7 in 2014. Also, Harbaugh whipped McElwain in the 2016 Citrus Bowl so he holds the head-to-head edge as well.

Atmosphere and intangibles
Florida Michigan

Although AT&T Stadium is geographically closer to Gainesville than Ann Arbor, Michigan fans will travel well and represent the Wolverines in Dallas. The neutral site gives neither team the advantage. How each team responds to the big stage and the Jerry World dome will be interesting to watch, but both are young so neither team has the edge there either.

Edge Average: Michigan 5.3 – Florida 4.7
Score Prediction: Michigan 27 – Florida 16
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting
• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage
• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be

The Numbers Game: Despite disappointing finish, U-M showed drastic improvement from Year 1

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017


(MGoBlue.com)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game, U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average, Michigan big-play offense looks to bounce back vs susceptible FSU big-play defense

Despite losing three out of their last four games, by a total of just five points, Michigan made some big strides in 2016. In this last installment of The Numbers Game I hope to give you some optimism heading into next season, based on the increased offensive and defensive production from Year 1 to Year 2 and we’ll speculate on how Year 3 might look based on Harbaugh’s past.

Let’s get right into it. In the Orange Bowl, Dalvin Cook could not be contained, accounting for six of Florida State’s nine total explosive plays (five run, four pass). Add in a botched kick coverage and Michigan lost another game they should have won. Such is life. Back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in over a decade is very good, though, lest we forget this was a 5-7 team two years ago.

Michigan didn’t manage an explosive play until the third quarter when Wilton Speight hit Ian Bunting for 21 yards on a 4th-and-4 pass. In total, Michigan notched just five total explosive plays (four run and one pass) for their second lowest output of the season. Only their three versus Ohio State was worse. That one can be chalked up to an injured quarterback and this one to Florida State doing what I was worried about the most: lining up DeMarcus Walker on the inside to take advantage of Michigan’s weak offensive guard play. I suspected Kyle Kalis would be exploited but it was true freshman Ben Bredeson who bore the brunt of the future NFL lineman’s wrath.

Regardless, Michigan finished the season with their two worst explosive play performances offensively, while giving up 17 to their opponents (OSU – 8, FSU – 9). Not exactly what we expected given how the season started but it is what it is. But as you’ll see, all is not lost.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 87 46 133 14.09% 3.71% 56
2015 47 48 95 10.49% -1.01% -3

For the year Michigan finished with 6.69 explosive runs per game (31st nationally) and 3.54 explosive passes (52nd) for a total of 10.23 explosive plays per game (30th). Their big play percentage for was 14.09 percent (35th).

After the hot 9-0 start to the season these numbers may seem a bit disappointing but when comparing them to 2015 the improvement is actually quite remarkable.

The 2015 offense averaged 3.6 explosive runs per game (116th) and 3.7 explosive passes per game (40th) for a total of 7.3 explosive plays per game (100th). Their big play percentage was 10.49 percent (97th).

Michigan improved upon every single offensive big play metric in a huge way, save for passing. But, if you’ll recall the piece on Harbaugh’s San Francisco teams you’d remember that from the year before Harbaugh to Year 1 with Harbaugh the passing game saw a decrease while the running game numbers took a giant leap. And the running game again took a giant leap in Year 2 with passing staying about the same. Remember, Harbaugh is a run-first guy, so we’re not likely to see huge numbers in the explosive pass department. Even his 2010 Stanford team with a returning starter in Andrew Luck averaged just 3.7 explosive passes per game.

In 2010 (pre-Harbaugh), San Francisco had 40 explosive runs and 36 explosive passes. In 2011, SF had 56 explosive runs and 28 explosive passes. Year 2 (2012) saw 81 explosive run plays and 33 explosive passes. The Niners went from 40 to 56 to 81 2010-2012. In Year 2, Harbaugh doubled the explosive run production from the year prior to his arrival.

Michigan’s explosive run numbers took a dip from 72 in 2014 to 47 in 2015, but then shot up to 87 total in Year 2. Progress is being made, and all with a Brady Hoke offensive line. To put in perspective how much of an improvement this is, the 10.23 total explosive plays per game this year is a 40 percent increase on the 7.3 from 2015. And the explosive runs increased by an astounding 86 percent.

Defense saw a similar theme in improvement. Although the numbers improvements were not as dramatic, the rankings were.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.38 2.08 6.46 10.38% 3.71% 56
2015 4.80 2.40 7.20 11.49% -1.01% -3

The Wolverines gave up 4.38 explosive runs per game (35th) and 2.08 explosive passes (3rd) for a total of 6.46 explosive plays per game (11th). Their big play against percentage was 10.38 percent (30th) and their big play differential was 3.71 percent (21st). Total toxic differential was 56, good for eighth on a per game basis. Three of the four playoff teams finished in the top six in toxic differential per game.

In 2015, Michigan gave up 4.8 explosive runs per game (53rd) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (13th) for a total of 7.2 explosive plays per game (24th). Their big play against percentage was 11.49 percent, good for 59th and their big play differential was -1.01 percent (88th). Their total toxic differential was minus-3, good for 75th on a per game basis.

The 2016 defense improved in every single big play metric and saw significant jumps in their rankings as well. But wait, there’s more.

Let’s talk about tackles for loss and sacks. Michigan had 88 tackles for loss in 2015, an average of 6.77 per game. In 2016, they had 120, an average of 9.23 per game and an increase of 36 percent. The sack numbers were even better. In 2015, Michigan had 32 sacks (2.46 per game). In 2016, they had 46 (3.54 per game), an increase of 43.7 percent.

The team rankings show just how much they improved. Sacks went from 31st in total and 32nd per game to fifth in total and fourth per game. Tackles for loss went from 38th in total and 42nd per game to third in total and second per game. Don Brown took this defense from middle of the pack in sacks and TFL to top five in both in just one year.

All but the offensive explosive pass play numbers were improved upon from Year 1 to Year 2. And given Harbaugh’s past record we weren’t expecting the pass numbers to waver much anyway. Remember, Stanford in 2010 (the 12-1 Orange Bowl champion year) averaged 5.8 runs and 3.7 passes. His best passing team in San Francisco (2012) averaged just two explosive pass plays per game. We’re right in the range we can reasonably expect given the roster. Of course, a guy like Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey might add a new wrinkle and we could possibly see an uptick once they take over.

So what sort of improvement, if any, can we expect in Year 3? If Harbaugh’s history shows us anything it’s that this is likely going to be the norm for the offense: around seven explosive runs per game and 3.5 explosive passes per game. Does that mean the offense won’t improve? No, but at this point I don’t think we can expect another drastic improvement. As Harbaugh builds this roster in his image, perhaps we’ll see an uptick, but don’t look for Louisville type numbers (8.5-plus run and 4.5-plus pass). There were only two teams who averaged more than 12 explosive plays per game this season, so hovering around 10.5 keeps Michigan around the top-25 in that category.

The defense ended up right about where we expected, allowing 6.46 explosive plays per game. There’s not much room to improve upon that, or the sack and TFL numbers, from Year 2 to Year 3. But as Don Brown has more time to teach and implement his system we might see Michigan get into the under six explosive plays allowed per game range, which would easily be top five nationally.

So hold your heads up high, Michigan fans, the future is very bright. No, the season didn’t end like we expected, but Jim Harbaugh took a senior class that went 12-13 their first two years and went 20-6 with them, giving Michigan its second coach ever to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons and the first back to back 10-win seasons in over a decade. Until next season, Go Blue!

#11 Florida State 33 – #6 Michigan 32: Michigan resilient in comeback, but lets Orange Bowl slip away in final minute

Sunday, January 1st, 2017


(Mgoblue.com)

Michigan, playing without Jabrill Peppers, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, dug itself a big first half hole, fought back to grab a late lead, but ultimately fell by one point to 11th-ranked Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami on Friday night.

Florida State took the opening kickoff and marched right through the vaunted Michigan defense for a 6-play, 75-yard scoring drive to make an early statement. The Wolverines got a break after they were forced to punt on their first possession of the game when FSU’s Noonie Murray fumbled Kenny Allen’s punt and Dymonte Thomas recovered at the Florida State 1-yard line. But the Seminoles’ defense held strong, forcing a 19-yard Allen field goal.

Florida State responded with a field goal of their own on their next drive and then forced two straight Michigan three-and-outs. On the first play of FSU’s next drive, Michigan’s coverage broke down and quarterback Deondre Francois hit Murray for a 92-yard touchdown to put the Seminoles up 17-3.

Final Stats
Michigan  Florida State
Score 32 33
Record 10-3, 7-2 10-3, 5-3
Total Yards 252 371
Net Rushing Yards 89 149
Net Passing Yards 163 222
First Downs 16 15
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 4-37 7-65
Punts-Yards 8-379 6-207
Time of Possession 34:17 25:43
Third Down Conversions 7-of-20 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-22 4-26
Field Goals 3-for-3 2-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 3-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 1-of-4 3-of-3
Full Box Score

By the end of the first quarter, Florida State was outgaining Michigan 201 to 22, despite Michigan having more time of possession.

The Michigan defense forced a three-and-out to start the second quarter and put together a 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive. However, after reaching 1st-and-goal at the FSU six, the Wolverines had to settle for a 28-yard Allen field goal to pull within 17-6.

Florida State answered with a 15-play drive to get that field goal back as Robert Aguayo connected from 38 yards out. Florida State took a 20-6 lead into the half.

In the first half, both teams had 34 plays from scrimmage, but Michigan managed just 83 total yards (2.4 yards per play) compared to FSU’s 255 (7.5).

But the second half was a different story. Michigan set the tone on the first possession of the half, marching 14 plays for yet another Allen field goal, this time from 37 yards out.

The two teams traded a pair of punts and Michigan linebacker Mike McCray made the big play the Wolverines needed, picking off Francois at the Florida State 14 and returning it for a touchdown. Wilton Speight’s pass for the two-point conversion fell incomplete.

Michigan’s defense held Florida State to just 15 yards on nine plays in the third quarter while pulling within five points. But FSU wouldn’t roll over, beginning the fourth quarter with a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 27-15 lead.

Two possessions later, Michigan’s offense found the end zone for the first tim in the game when Speight connected with Khalid Hill for an 8-yard touchdown.

Florida State took over with 5:22 remaining and the Michigan defense stood strong, forcing a three-and-out, and giving the offense the ball with a chance to take the lead. And they did just that. The Wolverines went 61 yards in just five plays, capped off by a 30-yard Chris Evans touchdown run to give Michigan the lead with two minutes to play. Speight hit Amara Darboh in the end zone for the two-point conversion, putting Michigan ahead 30-27.

But instead of forcing Florida State’s offense — which had managed just 82 yards in the second half to that point — drive the length of the field for a game-tying field goal, Michigan’s special teams allowed a 66-yard return up the middle to the Michigan 34-yard line. Four plays later, Francois completed a pass to Murray over Jourdan Lewis in the end zone to give Florida State a 33-30 lead. Michigan blocked the extra point try and Josh Metellus returned it for two points to bring the Wolverines within two, but the Michigan offense was unable to move into field goal range as Speight was intercepted to end Michigan’s chances.

Speight finished the game 21-of-38 for 163 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Evans lead Michigan with 49 rushing yards and the one touchdown, while Darboh lead the way with five receptions for 36 receiving yards. Ian Bunting caught three passes for 40 yards filling in for Jake Butt, who tore his ACL in the first half.

For Florida State, Dalvin Cook rushed for 145 yards and one score, while Francois completed 9-of-27 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick.

Michigan finishes the season at 10-3, matching last season’s record, while Florida State also finished 10-3. The Wolverines may fall out of the top 10 in the final rankings, but will look to bounce back next season when they open with Florida in AT&T Stadium on Sept. 2.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (3-of-3 field goals, 8 punts for 47.4 average, 4 downed inside 20)
For the second straight game and third in the last four, Kenny Allen gets the offensive game ball. The Michigan offense struggled to move the ball at all in the first half and Allen kept them in it with two field goals and then tacked on another to start the second half. He also booted eight punts for an average of 47.4 yards, most notably a 61-yarder that forced Noonie Murray to try to catch the ball over his shoulder and fumble, resulting in the first field goal. Allen ends his career as one of the best kickers in Michigan history.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 8 — Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)
Week 9 — Wilton Speight (19-of-24 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 carries for 16 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 10 — Kenny Allen (2-of-2 FGs, long of 51)
Week 11 — De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 158 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 12 — Kenny Allen (2-of-2 field goals, 7 punts for 47.4 average, 5 downed inside 20)

Game Ball – Defense

Taco Charlton (5 tackles (2 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Michigan’s defense gave up some big plays, but played very good when needed in the second half to key the comeback. Mike McCray could have gotten this week’s game ball for his pick-six, but as I think about who made the most impact defensively, it has to be Taco Charlton. The senior defensive end was consistently in the FSU backfield, pressuring Francois, and getting to him once. He showed why he may be the first Michigan player selected in this spring’s NFL Draft, solidifying the hype on the big stage.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery return)
Week 9 — Delano Hill (6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions)
Week 10 — Chris Wormley (6 tackles (2 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 11 — Ryan Glasgow (7 tackles (5 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble)
Week 12 — Taco Charlton (9 tackles (6 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks)

M&GB staff predictions: Florida State

Friday, December 30th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Justin (3)

Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Florida St   
Justin 31 23
Derick 27 21
Sam 24 14
Josh 21 13
Joe 28 20
M&GB Average 26 18

Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.

Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.

Michigan 31 – Florida State 23

Derick (1)

Michigan routed Florida last season after a month of preparation, but Florida State is a tougher test in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan had an outside chance at the playoff, but now that it’s settling for a New Year’s Six bowl, how will it come out?

I think these are two of the best defenses in the country, with tons of NFL talent on both sides.

I think Michigan can at least limit Dalvin Cook and make enough plays in the secondary to pick up win No. 11 by a 27-21 score.

Michigan 27 – Florida State 21

Sam (3)

After narrowly missing out on a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan’s consolation prize is a trip to Miami to face the Seminoles of Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Something tells me that the crowd will not be overly kind to the Wolverines, but we’ll see how well the fan base travels south.

As for the matchup, there looks to be a case of strength versus weakness in Michigan’s pass rush facing a porous FSU offensive line, while Seminole running back Dalvin Cook could cause fits with his explosiveness in the running game. Wilton Speight’s health is still in question after gutting out a so-so performance against Ohio State a month ago, and a potent Florida State defensive line could cause more issues there.

If there’s one intangible for all bowl games, however, it’s the desire to be playing, and I don’t think Jim Harbaugh stands for anything less than full effort. With a star-studded senior class (and the biggest star of them all in Jabrill Peppers) playing in its last game in the Maize and Blue, I like the Wolverines to pull it out in a defensive showcase.

Michigan 24 – Florida State 14

Josh (1)

For me, Michigan is not in the playoff for one simple reason: they do not have a championship OL and if FSU wins that’ll be why. That lack of an elite OL could spell doom against the likes of DE DeMarcus Walker, who also lines up inside, and NT Derrick Nnadi. Mason Cole has struggled against the better NT’s Michigan has faced and Kyle Kalis has whiffed on far too many blocks to count (remember Walker lines up inside too). No team gets to the QB better than FSU (on a per game basis). However, oddly enough two of FSU’s three losses came to teams that aired it out on them. UNC put up 405 yards and Clemson 383. Clemson’s QB/WR combo is much better than Michigan’s, I’d give Michigan the WR edge over UNC, but not at QB. But what this does show is that if the OL can give the QB some time, FSU can be exploited through the air.

On the other side of the ball FSU brings in the best RB Michigan has faced all year, and one of the best in the country. His balance of speed, power, balance and vision is why he’s a surefire first-round pick. The key here is the edge, if Cook gets to the edge consistently I don’t like Michigan’s chances. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. BUT, if Michigan can keep Cook somewhat contained and limit his chances for breakaway plays (read: MUST TACKLE) then Michigan will be in good shape.

Even better for Michigan’s chances is the fact that FSU struggles mightily to protect their RS Freshman QB, Deondre Francois. He gets hit and goes down a lot, 2.83 sacks per game, one of the worst in the nation. This bodes well for Michigan since they’ve spent quite a good deal of time introducing themselves to opposing QB’s and they themselves have one of the best front fours in the country. FSU has given up 2+ sacks in nine of eleven games against Power 5 teams, and 3+ in six of those, including 4 to BC and 6 to Clemson. Michigan has had at least 2+ sacks in eleven of twelve games, 3+ sacks in nine of twelve and 4+ sacks in six of twelve. They should have no problem getting to Francois multiple times.

If the Michigan OL can protect long enough and Speight is hitting the deep ball like he did the first 9 games, this should be a win, but if the Iowa or OSU version of this offense shows up, Michigan will head home with a loss. If FSU can force Michigan into 3rd and longs and unleash Walker and Nnadi on Speight it will be a long day. While the FSU run defense isn’t as stout as their pass rush, I’m not a huge fan of Michigan’s run blocking (in their 2-losses they were held under 100 yards AND under 3 yards per carry) so I think this game will come down to Speight and the OL pass blocking versus the FSU pass rush and coverage. Derrick Nnadi has to be double teamed, but that can become problematic with DeMarcus Walker also there.

Overall I think both defenses are the better units for each team, and better than the opposing team’s offense. However, I think the advantage Michigan’s defense has over FSU’s offense is slightly bigger than FSU’s defense vs. Michigan’s offense. That said, stranger things have happened and we don’t know how healthy Wilton Speight is.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Michigan will get to Francois four or five times. Where I pause is Dalvin Cook. He has 47 runs of 10+ in 268 carries, better than one for every six carries. Way more than anyone else Michigan has faced and Michigan has had some issues tackling this year, though they did a fairly good job bottling up Barrett/Samuels. It all boils down to whether Michigan can contain Dalvin Cook, and not many have. He’s had eight games of at least 120+ all-purpose yards and six of at least 179+, only three times was he held to under 6 yards per touch. The silver lining for Michigan? Both times Dalvin Cook faced Don Brown (at BC) he was held under 90 total yards, and just 57 last year.

Don Brown should be able to whip up a scheme to keep Cook in check, relatively, and the DL should have its way with Deondre Francois. The defense will do its job, this game will hinge on whether Michigan’s offense, the OL specifically, can get enough push for run game and give Speight enough time to survey the field. The OSU game left a bad taste in my mouth but this team is resilient and looking to go out on a high note, that and I don’t think FSU’s defense is as good as OSU’s.

It’ll be a very close game until the 4th when Michigan pulls away.

Michigan 21 – Florida State 13

Joe (6)

This is going to be a fun one to watch. I think this game boils down to 1 big matchup. The Michigan defensive front vs. FSU’s Dalvin Cook. This is most likely the best RB we’ve seen all year and can control the game if he gets going. I have confidence that he won’t as Michigan is healthy and itching to end the season on a high note. Michigan will control the clock and throw the ball often against a suspect FSU defense. Look for dominate performance along the lines with Michigan winning 28-20.

Michigan 28 – Florida State 20