Sunday, October 31, 2010

New defensive coordinator?

Defensive line coach Bruce Tall

Rumors have begun to float that Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has been or will be replaced by defensive line coach Bruce Tall, at least in the interim.  Rumors are also beginning that the search for a full-time replacement has begun.  I am not vouching for the validity of these rumors, just reporting that they exist.

Bruce Tall's coaching history:

1985-86: Tight ends and special teams coach at Cornell
1987-92: Defensive line coach at Ohio Wesleyan
1993-97: Defensive coordinator and linebacker coach at Northeastern
1998-2001: Defensive coordinator and linebacker coach at Harvard
2002-07: Safeties coach at West Virginia
2008-10: Defensive line coach at Michigan

Penn State 41, Michigan 31

Happier now?  No?  Yeah, me either.

Michigan lost last night.  I'm not sure if you heard, but it was bad.

Sad bullets:

Michigan's defense is still atrocious.  Matt McGloin, a former walk-on who has been the borderline third-stringer for the Nittany Lions, completed 17 of 28 passes for 250 yards and 1 touchdown (plus 1 rushing touchdown).  Furthermore, the Wolverines were unable to force a turnover even once.  Running back Evan Royster was averaging 64 yards a game until this point, and he torched the Wolverines for 150 yards on 29 carries; his 5.2 yards per carry average would have been significantly higher if Penn State wasn't simply trying to run out the clock at the end of the game and slamming into a stacked line.  The defense got one important stop in the game, but a hurting offense - missing its top two tight ends and its starting quarterback, and with a hodge podge offense line - put up 435 yards and 41 points.

Vincent Smith isn't good at running.  You all know my thoughts on where Vincent Smith belongs in the pecking order at running back on this team, but here's where he ranks among the rest of the Big Ten's lead rushers.  Smith had 9 carries for 24 yards against a depleted Penn State defense and behind a solid offensive line.  Stephen Hopkins had a slightly better day running the ball, and Michael Shaw's lone rushing attempt went for 4 yards.  I wish I had a good reason for offensive genius Rich Rodriguez only being able to squeeze out the tenth best yards per carry average for a running back in the Big Ten, but I don't. 

White, UW: 86 carries, 570 yards, 6.6 ypc, 9 TD
Edwin Baker, MSU: 124 carries, 800 yards, 6.5 ypc, 7 TD
Leveon Bell, MSU: 95 carries, 585 yards, 6.2 ypc, 8 TD
Dierking, Purdue: 67 carries, 403 yards, 6.0 ypc, 3 TD
Clay, UW: 160 carries, 887 yards, 5.5 ypc, 13 TD
Royster, PSU: 117 carries, 600 yards, 5.1 ypc, 4 TD
Dan Herron, OSU: 129 carries, 634 yards, 4.9 ypc, 12 TD
Leshoure, Illinois: 158 carries, 780 yards, 4.9 ypc, 6 TD
Robinson, Iowa: 172 carries, 806 yards, 4.7 ypc, 10 TD
Vincent Smith, Michigan: 79 carries, 349 yards, 4.4 ypc, 4 TD
Darius Willis, Indiana: 64 carries, 278 yards, 4.3 ypc, 4 TD
Bennett, Minnesota: 104 carries, 444 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TD
Trumpy, Northwestern: 74 carries, 307 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TD

Freshmen play like freshmen.  On a long completed pass thrown by McGloin last night, I remember seeing freshman cornerback Cullen Christian, freshman free safety Ray Vinopal, and redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-free safety-turned-quasi-linebacker Cameron Gordon converging on the play.  I honestly don't know that I've ever seen a more inexperienced defense.  And that doesn't even include the pain of watching a perfectly positioned Terrence Talbott watch a ball whistle right past his perfectly positioned arm and into the belly of a PSU wide receiver. 

Denard Robinson runs the ball TOO MUCH.  Holy crap, Rich Rodriguez.  When are you going to learn that you're driving Robinson into the ground by running him 27, 28, 29 times a game?  Sure, Robinson had 27 carries for 191 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He had a great game (running the ball, anyway).  But he also missed time due to injury for the sixth time out of eight games.  If he's such a valuable runner, put him at running back and give the snaps to a quarterback who can actually pass the ball, Tate Forcier.  While I haven't been a fan of changing Robinson's position up to this point, the gaping hole at running back makes me think the Forcier/Robinson combo in the backfield might not be such a bad idea after all.  In case you're wondering, Robinson is averaging 20.5 carries a game so far this season.

So much for the bye week.  We thought Michigan would be able to heal its injuries and put together a good game plan for a struggling Penn State team.  But Mike Martin re-injured his ankle injury and missed most of the game, Denard Robinson got dinged up again, and running back Michael Shaw totaled one carry.  Meanwhile, Michigan's defense couldn't cover the flats, couldn't break on deep balls, and couldn't stop a paltry running game.  And Jeremy Gallon still looks like a lineman trying to catch the ball; instead of letting a kickoff go into the endzone for a touchback, he dropped the ball and then kicked it out of bounds at his own 2-yard line.  I don't really feel like the week off helped this team at all.

Greg Robinson is gone after this year.  I'm almost sure of it.  Somebody's head has to roll after this year's performance, and Rodriguez will be lucky if it's not his.  But I do not expect Greg Robinson to return in 2011, whether the defense has been littered with freshmen or not.  This is the worst defense in Michigan history and perhaps the worst in the country.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Preview: Michigan at Penn State

This must be how the remainder of Penn State's two-deep feels.

This is a big Saturday for me.  Not only does Michigan get a chance to avenge two consecutive losses to Penn State and earn a bowl berth, but I live in some fairly heavy Penn State country and these people talk a lot of smack.  I have some friendly bets with some of my players - the loser(s) have to run a mile after practice on Monday.

Rush Offense vs. Penn State Rush Defense
In comparison with a similar offense to Michigan's, the Nittany Lions gave up 282 yards on only 54 carries against the Illinois Fighting Illini two weeks ago, and that defense has further been depleted by injury.  Interestingly, Michigan has the #7 rushing offense in the country and averages . . . 282 yards a game.  Despite that outburst, Penn State sits at a middling #52 against the run.  As one might expect, Penn State's bad opponents (Kent State, Youngstown State, Minnesota) have run the ball poorly, and the solid opponents (Alabama, Illinois) have gashed them.  I have not been impressed with Michigan's running backs this season, but with PSU's injury issues on defense, I expect Denard Robinson and the Running Back du Jour to have a great day.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Penn State Pass Defense
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has suffered a lull in his passing efficiency over the past couple weeks, turning in subpar passing games against both Michigan State and Iowa.  Iowa has the somewhat unique quality of being able to stick to their game plan and do a pretty good job of stopping whatever offense the opponent runs.  Whereas Michigan flops between several defenses, Iowa just played their base personnel and Cover 2 defense and they were able to stifle the previously explosive Michigan passing game.  Prior to the season, I suspected that Tate Forcier would become more valuable when the Big Ten season arrived; true to form, Forcier stepped in once Robinson got hurt in the third quarter and rallied the Wolverines to 21 points.  However, opponents are completing 63% of their passes against the Nittany Lions, and leading interceptor Nick Sukay will miss the game with an injury.  And not that defensive linemen have much of an impact on Denard Robinson, but the injuries to Penn State's defensive ends will make it difficult for Penn State to add to the total of only 4 sacks allowed by the Wolverines this season.
Advantage: Michigan

Rush Defense vs. Penn State Rush Offense
I don't know what to think here.  Running back Evan Royster has torched Michigan over the past couple seasons, rushing for something like 500 yards on 2 carries.  On the one hand, Penn State's offensive line is made up of wet Klee-nex, Stefen Wisniewski, and a balloon animal.  On the other hand, replace "Stefen Wisniewski" with "Mike Martin's sprained ankle" and that's a pretty good description of Michigan's defense, too.  Considering that Michigan hasn't been able to stop the run at all this year, I have to assume that Penn State will gash the Wolverines once again.  It will be the #86 rush offense against the #54 rush defense, but keep in mind that teams feel like they can beat Michigan through the air whenever they want; just ask Indiana and Notre Dame whether the running game was important for running neck-and-neck with Michigan.
Advantage: Penn State

Pass Defense vs. Penn State Pass Offense
Penn State is the #71 pass offense and the #93 pass efficiency offense.  So . . . they're crappy.  Recent reports indicate that freshman starter Robert Bolden will miss Saturday's game with concussion symptoms.  I got a chance to see former Michigan commit Kevin Newsome back in the spring of 2009 when he enrolled early at Penn State, and he looked like me playing quarterback, except only if I drank a fifth of whiskey first.  That means that redshirt sophomore, former walk-on Matt McGloin will likely get the start on Saturday.  McGloin's career stats are 6 completions on 15 attempts, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.  And now that we're aware of the mediocrity that is Penn State's pass offense, you should expect at least 350 yards passing and a few touchdowns.  Okay, maybe not.  I'm feeling gutsy, so . . .
Advantage: Michigan

Final Predictions
  • A healthy Denard Robinson runs for 180 yards
  • Michigan exploits the middle of the field for 220+ yards passing
  • For only the second time this season, Evan Royster rushes for 100+ yards
  • One of Michigan's inexperienced cornerbacks gets his first career interception
  • I won't be running a mile after practice on Monday
  • Michigan 42, Penn State 24

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slightly Attractive Michigan Girl of the Week: Lucy Liu

Actress Lucy Liu graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree in Asian Languages and Culture.  You may have seen her in the TV series Ally McBeal or movies such as Kill Bill and Charlie's Angels.

Feel free to e-mail me at if you know of any other attractive Michigan alumni.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: David Bowens

David Bowens (#6) played defensive end for Michigan
for a couple seasons before running into academic trouble.

This is a blast from the past.  Cleveland Browns defensive end David Bowens had his best career game on Saturday.  Bowens only had 1 tackle in Sunday's victory over the New Orleans Saints, but he made 2 interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.  One interception was returned 64 yards for the TD, while the other was taken back 30 yards for the score.  Bowens has played 12 seasons in the NFL for the Broncos, Packers, Dolphins, Jets, and Browns.  Altogether, he has 294 tackles, 38 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions.  Bowens struggled with academics and personal issues as a Wolverine, although he totaled 12 sacks in his final season in Ann Arbor (1996) before transferring to Western Illinois and playing out his college eligibility.

Honorable mention: Defensive tackle Alan Branch, currently of the Arizona Cardinals, had 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 4 quarterback hurries in Sunday's 22-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

2011 Offer Board Update

JUCO safety prospect Byron Moore

The 2011 Offer Board has been updated:

Quinta Funderburk (WR) committed to Arkansas.

Added Byron Moore (FS).

Ray Ball (OT) committed to Wisconsin.

Demetrius Hart (SB) committed to Michigan.

Added Antonio Kinard (ILB) who will apparently enroll in January. Kinard was also part of the 2010 class.

Jonathan Aiken (SS) committed to Rutgers.

Paul Gaughan (OT) committed to Boston College.

Added Armonze Daniel (LB).

DaVaris Daniels (WR) committed to Notre Dame.

Added Quinta Funderburk (WR).

Brett Hundley (QB) committed to UCLA.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mailbag: How important is motivation?

Hey, Man. Are the "motivational powers" of coaches overrated? How significant is this aspect of coaching compared to game-planning, recruiting and whatever else it is that you guys do?

I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly think the idea of motivation is overrated.  In my experience, motivation comes from within.  True competitors don't need an inspirational sermon or pregame speech to get hyped for the beginning of a game.  Kids are either ready or they're not.  Besides, by the time a team runs out of the tunnel, comes out of the locker room, listens to the national anthem, waits for the coin toss, etc., all that adrenaline from the pregame speech seems to wear off.

The more important aspect of motivation comes on a daily basis when it comes time for practice.  Even some of the better game-time competitors need to be inspired to practice hard, condition hard, use the correct footwork, etc.  Coaches play a lot of mind games during the week, not only to get kids prepared for the game, but to prime them for competition.

Personally, I don't like to lie to kids.  If a kid is doing something wrong, I'll tell him.  If he's not good enough to get on the field, he needs to know that.  It's not that he doesn't have a chance to get on the field, but my job is to help win football games, and there's no way to keep everyone happy.  For example, I had a kid yesterday ask me if he could get some time during defensive practice.  I told him no.  He asked why, and I said, "It's not in the game plan.  You haven't shown us that you can work hard consistently in practice, and that carries over to games.  You take plays off."  During scout team a little later, I tried to give him a breather by sending in another player.  He didn't want to come out.  When I asked why, he said, "I need the reps.  You say that I don't go hard in practice, so I'm not going to take plays off."  I don't know that yesterday's practice will turn him into a star or even a starter, but if nothing else, he played harder and gave our offensive players a better look.

There's also a lot to be said for positive reinforcement.  I've worked with coaches before whose lone tactic is to scream at players who screw up.  They want to terrify those kids into thinking that mistakes are unacceptable.  But the problem with that is that not all kids respond to being screamed at to submission.  I've seen kids shut down mentally from being yelled at too much.  I've also seen kids lose their aggressive nature because they're afraid of making mistakes.  As a coach it's important to know the difference between the kids who respond to yelling and the kids who respond to encouragement.

I do think that "bulletin board material" is helpful for motivating players.  Kids (and adults) really like to prove people wrong, so quotes in newspapers, rumors kids hear through the grapevine, actions from previous years' games, etc. are all effective for keeping kids focused.  In the fourth quarter of a football game, kids still latch onto the idea of beating the player across from them because of something that was said or done previously.  When an opponent or the public in general shortchanges your team, players, or program, that can be a very unifying event.

To summarize up to this point, I think the idea of motivation in the form of pregame speeches and hokey stuff like that is overrated.  If your team is full of kids who aren't intrinsically motivated to beat an opponent, then no amount of hype is going to overcome that emptiness in their competitive soul.  The key is to keep kids confident and excited throughout the week, so that they're ready to perform on Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

As for how motivation compares to other aspects of coaching, I think they're all pretty equal parts of the pie.  Game planning is extremely important, but the best game plan can't be executed if the players aren't confident in themselves.  Scouting is extremely important, because we need to know what plays have been shown from which personnel groupings and formations.  Discipline is important because teams can't be successful if kids don't realize that their decisions and actions affect every one of their teammates. 

I can't speak for recruiting much because I'm a high school coach, but I do believe that's one of the most important aspects of college recruiting.  The old saying goes, "It's Jimmys and Joes, not X's and O's."  And there's another relevant saying: "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit."  Coaches don't simply need great players to be successful (ask Boise State), but they need solid players who will be disciplined, stay within the system, and work hard to achieve a common goal.  As a high school coach, recruiting is a non-factor.  For college coaches, it is perhaps the most important aspect of the job.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Michigan vs. Iowa Awards

Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Tate Forcier.  I'm not advocating for Forcier to be the starter or take away Denard Robinson's playing time.  Robinson has been excellent for the most part.  But this issue popped up in the Michigan State loss, and again this week against Iowa: Forcier is the better overall passer.  If and when Michigan is down by a few scores late, I think Forcier offers a better chance of leading a comeback via the pass.  He's better at reading defenses and understands the passing concepts better.  And to be completely honest, he looks more comfortable dropping back to pass than Robinson.  Forcier is like a solid long reliever.  If the starter isn't getting it done, #5 might be able to give you a few innings of good pitching and a chance to get back in it.  The Wolverines only had 7 points up until the point in the middle of the third quarter when Robinson got hurt.  In about 1.5 quarters, the Forcier-led Michigan squad put up 21 points (1 rushing TD by Stephen Hopkins, 1 passing TD from Forcier to Junior Hemingway, and 1 rushing TD by Forcier himself).

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Vincent Smith.  Please.  He averaged 3.9 yards a carry and had a key fumble on Iowa's 14-yard line.  There are better options, and Smith can see some time in passing situations or at slot receiver.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Kenny Demens.  Demens seems to be an upgrade at the middle linebacker position, at least against a power running team like Iowa.  He plays downhill more than Ezeh and offers more pop.  At this point in the season, Michigan is #82 in scoring defense and #105 in total defense.  Any change at all just might be worth it.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Adam Patterson.  It's not because I have anything against Patterson himself.  It's just that Mike Martin, the starting nose tackle, is perhaps the most valuable player on the defense right now.  Michigan's pass rush was virtually non-existent in the Iowa game, and the penetration up the middle that has at least slowed down running games this season was absent with Martin out of the game.  Hopefully the ankle injury caused by MSU's illegal chop block will heal quickly, because Patterson isn't a nose tackle.  I'm not quite sure why the coaches wouldn't put Renaldo Sagesse at NT instead of Patterson, but regardless, a 275 lb. nose tackle is begging for trouble.

MVP of the Iowa game . . . Tate Forcier.  He gave Michigan a spark when they needed it most.  He still showed some of the poor ballhandling and decision-making immaturity that he had last year, but he still finished 17/26 for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 passing) and led another scoring drive.  He needs to tuck the ball away when scrambling and make better decisions throwing the ball, but 21 points in 1.5 quarters is pretty productive.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Iowa 38, Michigan 28

Tate Forcier (#5) jumps for joy after a Stephen Hopkins rushing TD.

I expected an Iowa victory on Saturday, but once again, Michigan's defense failed in spectacular fashion.  Giving up 38 points to a team with mediocre offensive personnel is extremely frustrating.  I can't imagine what a team with a truly good offense - Oregon, for example - might do to Michigan's D.  Some bullets:

Tate Forcier is quarterback 1b.  I'm not prepared to call for the benching of Denard Robinson.  Robinson is still the prototype for Rich Rodriguez's zone read option offense.  However, Robinson also feasted on defenses early in the season who a) lacked athleticism or b) lacked complex defensive schemes.  How many times did we see him torch defenses that committed an extra safety or two to the run game, only to see Robinson and one of his receivers beat man coverage with a throw over the top?  Meanwhile, Forcier made a couple questionable throws, but provided a spark when relieving an injured Robinson late in the game.  Tate finished the day 17-for-26 for 239 yards, 2 touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 passing), and 2 interceptions.  Is there any question at this point that Forcier ought to be one of the top two quarterbacks on the team?  We haven't seen freshman Devin Gardner since the Big Ten season started, so I still can't understand why the coaches burned his redshirt against UConn . . . unless Gardner comes down with a mysterious "injury" or "illness" that allows him to get a medical exemption.

Denard Robinson runs the ball too much.  Posters over at MGoBlog have done "studies" to show that mobile quarterbacks and pocket quarterbacks have similar rates of injury.  When people have made the argument that Denard Robinson is bound to get hurt because of his small stature, some internet message boarders have scoffed.  Well, my study of Denard Robinson says this:
  • On 143 pass attempts, Denard Robinson hasn't suffered an injury that caused him to miss playing time.
  • On 137 rushing attempts, he has suffered injuries that have caused him to miss time in 6 games.
Robinson is too slight and/or injury prone to be carrying the ball nearly 20 times a game.  If I remember correctly, he had 17 carries at halftime.  Should Michigan really be running its MVP and starting quarterback 34 times in a single game?

Rocko Khoury is a solid backup.  Unlike last year, when right guard David Moosman replaced David Molk at center due to Molk's injuries, redshirt sophomore center Khoury played admirably after Molk aggravated an ankle injury early in the game.  Khoury had a case of the jitters early on and had some snap issues, but those seemed to get solved pretty quickly.

Vincent Smith should be relegated to backup duty.  I know I'm a broken record, but at least Rich Rodriguez finally figured out what I've been saying for awhile: Smith isn't a short yardage back.  Hopkins was the short yardage back on Saturday, and he responded with 8 carries for 38 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and a goal line touchdown (pictured above) in which he actually ran through a tackle.  Meanwhile, Smith had 10 carries for 39 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and a critical lost fumble on Iowa's 14-yard line.  For the record, Smith also had 2 catches for 22 yards and 1 touchdown, so he wasn't exactly useless.  But that's my thing with Smith: if he's lined up in the slot or catching passes out of the backfield, I'm okay with him being out there.  But he shouldn't be leading the running backs in carries.

Tate Forcier and Darryl Stonum are in love.  When Denard was in the game, Darryl Stonum got visibly frustrated with having to dig out a couple errant passes from hitting the ground.  When Forcier entered the game, it seemed like the QB was looking for #22 on every play.  Stonum ended the day with 9 catches for 97 yards, most of which came after Forcier's entrance into the game.  Forcier also hit Junior Hemingway a few times and Hemingway ended the day with 9 catches for 134 yards and 1 touchdown.

Run the ball, damnit.  It would have been nice if Michigan's offense could have kept Iowa off balance by running the ball late in the game.  I know they were running short on time, but passing on every down is extremely difficult.  Once Forcier entered the game, the playcalling seemed to want him to sling the ball all over the field.  Maybe it's just me, but I thought Forcier's second interception was the result of the lack of a running threat.  Like I said, the clock might have dictated the playcalling, so I don't have a huge problem with the call.  But it sure would be nice if a dangerous running back (hopefully Demetrius Hart in the near future) could make defenses think twice before getting to their drops.

Michigan's defense is atrocious.  I'm not going to spend too much time talking about the defense.  We all know which unit most needs to improve for Michigan to have any chance of success.  Michigan failed to come up with key defensive stops and allowed a mediocre running back to run for 142 yards.  And while Iowa's passing offense isn't prone to huge plays, quarterback Ricky Stanzi completed 71% of his passes.  My frustration reached its apex when JT Floyd aligned himself inside of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos to take away the slant and force the receiver to the sideline.  Johnson-Koulianos deked outside, Floyd jumped him, and Johnson-Koulianos waltzed untouched into the endzone after catching - what else? - a slant.  I don't know if that's poor coaching or poor execution, especially because Floyd made the same mistake a couple drives later (although it didn't go for a touchdown).

Jordan Kovacs is oh so close to being good.  On a corner blitz in the first quarter, safety Kovacs jumped a fade route near Michigan's end zone.  If Kovacs were a half step faster, the ball would have been picked and returned about 100 yards for a touchdown.  But since Kovacs is who he is, the play resulted in a PBU.  Kovacs played well for the most part, but his physical limitations will continue to make me wish brain transplants were feasible.  If Justin Turner had Kovacs' knowledge and work ethic, Turner would be an All Big Ten safety.

Kenny Demens played well.  He still did some frustrating things, but Demens showed more promise than Obi Ezeh has shown this year.  I'm still not entirely sold on Demens as the savior at MLB, but he made some strides against Iowa.

Special teams were atrocious, too.  Walk-on kicker Seth Broekhuizen has beaten out redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons.  Gibbons must be horrible, because Broekhuizen had a field goal blocked for the second week in a row.  He also booted at least two (three?) kickoffs out of bounds to give Iowa great field position.  That's effing ridiculous.  And if you've been wondering why William Campbell hasn't earned more playing time on the defensive line, maybe that blocked field goal gives you an inkling - Iowa defensive tackle Broderick Binns got lower than Campbell and blew open a gap in the protection.  At least Will Hagerup played well and averaged 50+ yards a punt.  I wonder if he can kick off.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Preview: Michigan vs. Iowa

Iowa running back Adam Robinson averages 96 yards a game rushing.

I haven't had time this week for a full preview, so this is going to be fairly brief.

Rush Offense vs. Iowa Rush Defense
Iowa has the #2 rush defense in the country.  Michigan has the #6 rush offense.  Something has to give.  I'll bet that Michigan runs for more than 63.2 yards (Iowa's average), but Denard Robinson won't be getting 200 yards against the Hawkeyes.  I like Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan as a football player, but Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn is probably going to eat him alive.  Still, Iowa hasn't played a team yet that has a great running game.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Iowa Pass Defense
Iowa is #28 in pass defense (179 yards a game), but #10 in pass efficiency defense.  I have a feeling that Denard Robinson is going to continue struggling in the passing game this week, because Iowa should be able to get a pass rush and harass him.  If Iowa's defense can corral him with their front four, then Iowa's back seven should be able to confuse Robinson and force him into some turnovers.
Advantage: Iowa

Rush Defense vs. Iowa Rush Offense
Iowa running back Adam Robinson is averaging 96 yards a game.  His backups are somewhat meaningless, but the starter averages 4.9 yards per attempt and Michigan can't stop the run very well.  The game won't be won on the ground by Iowa, but they should be able to pick up some yards in chunks, especially if nose tackle Mike Martin's sprained ankle slows him down.  Reports indicate that middle linebacker Kenny Demens might get significant playing time, so perhaps there's some hope for improvement against the run.
Advantage: Iowa

Pass Defense vs. Iowa Pass Defense
I've never been very impressed with Ricky Stanzi, but he's doing well so far this year.  He's thrown 10 touchdowns compared to only 2 interceptions.  Meanwhile, Iowa has a couple big play receivers in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (15.9 yards a catch) and Marvin McNutt (18.3).  Those could be killer combinations for a Wolverines secondary that ranks #119 in the country against the pass.
Advantage: Iowa

Final Predictions
  • Denard Robinson throws two interceptions but breaks a 60-yard run.
  • We see more of the backup running backs than we did last week.
  • Ricky Stanzi throws a stupid interception like the gimme he tossed to Donovan Warren last year.
  • Cameron Gordon gets beaten up the seam by a tight end.
  • Iowa 28, Michigan 24

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Mike Hart

Indianapolis Colts running back Mike Hart had 11 carries for 50 yards and 1 touchdown in Sunday's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Honorable mention: Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham had 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble in Sunday night's win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update on Injured Player

I posted this morning about a player in our program (and by that I didn't mean Michigan's program, but the program for which I coach - sorry for the confusion).

I have great news to report tonight.  Further testing has revealed that his neck wasn't broken after all.  He still received trauma to his head and neck that limited his movement, but I talked to his father this evening and he has full movement at this point.  He's wearing a solid neck brace, but he should have a full recovery.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.

Today is a good day.

If You Pray, Your Prayers Would Be Appreciated

A player in our program recently suffered a broken neck on the football field.  He was airlifted from the field and remains in the hospital.  He has sensation in his extremities, but his movement is limited and the long-term prognosis is unclear at this point.

If you're one of those people who thinks prayer helps, please say a quick one for him and his family.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Demetrius Hart, Wolverine

Running back Demetrius Hart (Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, FL) committed to Michigan on Friday.

The long awaited commitment from Demetrius Hart finally occurred on Friday night.  Hart had originally scheduled a press conference for Friday afternoon, but then changed his announcement time to his post-game.  Hart is a 5'8", 180 lb. running back from Orlando.  He's a 4-star prospect to all three major recruiting services, and while he's the #1 all purpose back to Rivals, he's the #9 overall running back to both Scout and ESPN.  In other words, he's good.

The story of Hart has been repeated over and over on Michigan blogs and message boards, so I won't waste anyone's time recapping his recruitment in minute detail.  He was a good friend of Michigan freshman wide receiver Ricardo Miller when Miller attended Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando.  Once he was offered by the University of Michigan, the Wolverines jumped to the forefront of his recruitment.  The only thing preventing Hart from committing was the uncertain job status of Rich Rodriguez and the impending NCAA sanctions.  If not for those issues, Hart likely would have committed much earlier.  But when Michigan reached 5-0 on the season and Rodriguez's tenure seemed strengthened, Hart decided it was time to commit.

As for Hart's talent, he's essentially pre-ACL tear Vincent Smith on steroids.  Hart is two inches taller than Smith, but he's also quicker, faster, and shiftier with better vision.  Back in June, I ranked the the 13 available running backs that Michigan had offered up to that point.  Hart was placed at #2 (behind current Clemson commit Mike Bellamy) on that list.  I'm also on the record as saying that Hart is the most exciting Michigan recruit in the combined 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes, except perhaps Devin Gardner.  I have been a big critic of Michigan's running backs so far this season, but I believe Hart is the answer at running back.  Oft-injured Fitzgerald Toussaint is bigger and stronger than Hart and has plenty of wiggle, but Hart has more potential as an all-around back and playmaker.  If he can avoid injury, Hart should combine with Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner to create an extremely dangerous rushing combo in Michigan's backfield.

This commitment gives the Wolverines 11 commitments in the Class of 2011, a class on pace to max out at 22 scholarships.  Michigan is also pursuing Florida running back/slot receiver Devondrick Nealy, who made an official visit for Saturday's game against Michigan State; and Thomas Rawls, a powerful back from Flint, MI, who has yet to earn an offer but could do so if he gets his academics in line.  Coach Rich Rodriguez has been looking for at least one slot receiver for the entire recruiting process, and Rawls could take the place of the departed Austin White, so it's not infeasible that Michigan would take all three players in this class.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Michigan State 34, Michigan 17

Michael Shaw carried 4 times for 29 yards in Saturday's loss.

Well, that was ugly.  I guess this is what it looks like when Michigan's offense gets shut down (or, in this case, shuts itself down).  I predicted an MSU victory in Friday's game preview, but I didn't think it would be a blowout.  Unfortunately, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson reverted back to 2009 form at times on Saturday, throwing 3 interceptions and making poor reads in the running and passing games.  Here are some thoughts on yesterday's performance.

Denard Robinson was exposed . . . a little bit.  This has been kind of a problem for Robinson all year long, but yesterday Michigan State's defense took advantage of it: Denard doesn't have great ball placement.  When defenses play zone coverage, his receivers do a good job of sitting down in a hole and waiting for the ball.  In turn, Denard does a good job of throwing to those holes in the zone, too.  However, when teams play man coverage, Denard's accuracy on slants and crossing patterns is erratic.  Rather than throwing low and inside, he tends to throw the ball a) high or b) behind the receiver.  That trait was exposed on Saturday when two throws behind receivers were intercepted by trailing defenders.  In addition, another quarterback rule is "Don't throw late over the middle of the field."  Late in the game, Denard threw deep down the middle into double coverage after delaying a bit; the ball was intercepted and ended most of my hope that Michigan could pull one out.

Vincent Smith is not a short yardage running back.  He's not.  Coach Rodriguez, put someone else - anyone - in at running back on 3rd-and-1.  This is just getting ridiculous.  How many times must you fail at gaining a yard with a 5'6", 180 lb. running back before you put in somebody capable of breaking a tackle or pushing the pile?  Not only has it happened a few times this year, but Rodriguez also failed to put in a bigger, more powerful back in the 2009 Illinois game after Roy Roundtree was caught at the 1-yard line; Rodriguez left in a notoriously soft runner (Carlos Brown) instead of running Kevin Grady or Brandon Minor.  This is becoming a weekly, yearly problem.  Rodriguez obviously trusts freshman Stephen Hopkins enough to play him in a big rivalry game like this (Hopkins's two carries went for 7 and 6 yards).  He's 6'0" and 227 lbs.  Give him the ball.

Run the ball.  Michigan averaged 4.8 yards a carry, and the running backs carried 13 times for 76 yards (5.8 yards per carry).  Late in the game, I understand going away from the pass.  Until then, Michigan should run run run when it's working.

Maybe Tate Forcier should have played.  Forcier, 2009's season-long starter, was sitting on the bench.  Robinson, a potential Heisman contender, was having a bad day.  Once the game reached a point where passing the ball every play was a given, I wouldn't have minded if Forcier was inserted.  He's a more accomplished passer and has better recognition skills.  He's also 13-for-13 on the season and has some experience - and success - with late-game heroics (see: Indiana 2009, Notre Dame 2009, Michigan State 2009).  Robinson has improved greatly as a passer, but many of his passing stats can be attributed to the threat of the run.  Once defenses can sit back and play the pass almost exclusively, he's going to be behind the eight ball.  I don't think Forcier could have necessarily won the game for Michigan at that point, but he would have given the Wolverines a better chance, in my opinion.

Mike Martin is a beast.  Martin left the game late due to an illegal chop block that caused a lower leg injury.  However, before that he was making Michigan State center John Stipek look like a statue.  Martin repeatedly beat Stipek off the snap and into the A-gap of Martin's choice.  Hopefully his injury isn't too serious, because backup nose tackle Adam Patterson isn't very good at all.

Rich Rodriguez's clock management needs work. 
  • At the end of the first half, Rodriguez made bad decisions.  After a run play on which the clock was left to run, Rodriguez had two timeouts but ran the ball on first down.  Instead of calling one of those timeouts immediately, he wasted precious seconds before calling the first.  Then Robinson completed a long pass down the right sideline to Martavious Odoms, leaving :03 seconds on the clock.  Really the only choice at that point was to send out Seth Broekhuizen for a field goal, which Broekhuizen made.  However, if the first timeout had been called quicker, Michigan would have had approximately :07 seconds on the clock; they could have taken a shot at the end zone and still had time to kick the field goal if that attempt failed. 
  • At the end of the game, Rodriguez made another mistake.  With about 6 minutes left (if I remember correctly), Michigan was down by three scores and had a 3rd-and-19.  He called for an immediately checkdown to Michael Shaw, which gained 10 yards.  Okay, that's fine.  I understand the theory.  Get half the yards on 3rd down, and then gain the other 9 yards on 4th down, right?  Nope, after the "give up" pass to Shaw, Rodriguez sent out his punting unit.  Down three scores with six minutes left . . . and you're going to punt?  Go for the win!  What difference does it make if you fail to get a first down and MSU wins by a score of 41-17?  I'd rather have a chance to win the game than save face.
Michigan's defense isn't good enough to give up penalty yards, too.  The team only had three penalties for 35 yards on Saturday, but all three were against the defense.  Obi Ezeh and James Rogers each had a 15-yard facemask penalty, and Tony Anderson's running into the kicker penalty at the end of the game sealed the Wolverines' fate.

Michigan's secondary is S-L-O-W.  Especially once James Rogers exited the game due to cramps, holy cow . . . I've never seen a slower secondary at Michigan.  Cam Gordon had no chance to catch Edwin Baker on Baker's 61-yard touchdown run.  Rogers's replacement at cornerback, Cullen Christian, has been noted by this blog (and many others' observations) for his lack of speed; he was almost immediately beaten deep by Spartan receiver Mark Dell.  Cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs both lack speed, too, although neither one was really exposed on Saturday.

Denard Robinson was off.  I don't know what exactly was wrong.  He seemed to be moving fine.  He just wasn't making the right reads in the passing or the running game.  It didn't seem like he was seeing holes as quickly as in previous weeks.  Some credit goes to the Spartans for getting penetration with their defensive front four, but I don't think Robinson was on top of his game.  And after throwing only one interception in the previous five weeks, he threw three today to an average MSU secondary.  It didn't help that his receivers had subpar days, either.  I thought Roy Roundtree would have a big day - and he had opportunities - but Roundtree dropped two passes, and Robinson missed him a couple times, too.  He also overthrew a wide open Darryl Stonum in the endzone in the first quarter.  The deep ball needs work.

The defense continues to be crappy.  Michigan State's quarterbacks completed 73% of their passes for 287 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions.  The Spartans averaged 5.9 yards per carry, and running backs Edwin Baker (6.7 yards per carry) and Le'Veon Bell (11.1) were outstanding.  The good news is that since MSU likes to run the ball, Michigan has now moved up to #119 in the country against the pass (ahead of only Tulsa).  The bad news is that Michigan has dropped ten spots to #112 in overall defense (New Mexico is better) since last week, on the strength of MSU's 536 total yards.

I realize this post is quite negative, but on the heels of a blowout and three straight losses to Michigan State, I have a hard time finding positives.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Preview: Michigan State at Michigan

Michigan State freshman running back Le'Veon Bell

Rush Offense vs. Michigan State Rush Defense
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is currently the #1 rusher in all of college football, and the Wolverines are the #3 rushing offense in the country.  Co-starting running back Michael Shaw should return from a tweaked knee to help out fellow starter Vincent Smith in the backfield, but neither has been extremely productive this season.  Shaw picked up a good chunk of his numbers against UMass, and Smith was unspectacular until his 56-yard touchdown run last week against Indiana; aside from that outburst, he's averaging 3.78 yards per carry.  Meanwhile, Michigan State is ranked #20 against the run this season and just finished beating a run-heavy Wisconsin team.  Many media outlets suggested that MSU shut down Wisconsin's run game, but UW averaged 5.3 yards per carry throughout the contest.  While the Spartans should be the toughest run defense Michigan has seen, no team has been able to come close to shutting down Robinson and his minions in the run game.  Despite the underperforming running backs, Robinson averages 9.2 yards a carry - and that's despite missing the majority of the BGSU game due to injury.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense
It seems that a lot of people are overlooking this aspect of the matchup.  The Wolverines are the #38 passing offense in the country, while MSU lingers at #78.  With all the talent that MSU has recruited up front in the past few years, the secondary is suspect.  Tate Forcier had a subpar day for most of the 2009 game, but he finished with 223 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, including some big plays in the passing game.  If Michigan has early success in the running game, that should open up downfield throws.  Denard Robinson missed a couple streaking, wide open receivers last week against Indiana, and he'll need to capitalize on those opportunities this week.  I don't expect that Robinson will end up throwing for 400 yards or anything crazy like that, but big plays are bound to be there for the taking. 
Advantage: Michigan

Rush Defense vs. Michigan State Rush Offense
Michigan is ranked #37 in rush defense, although that statistic is a bit misleading.  With as bad as Michigan's secondary is, teams like Indiana, Notre Dame, and UConn have been content to chuck the ball all over the field.  Of those top 37 teams, Michigan allows the fourth-highest yards per carry average (3.66).  This might be where the game is won or lost.  MSU's starting running back, Edwin Baker, is averaging 7.1 yards per carry . . . and there's not much dropoff when he comes out of the game, with top backup Le'Veon Bell averaging 7.4 yards per carry.  In fact, that's not a dropoff at all.  Michigan has done a pretty good job of preventing huge runs so far this season, but teams have been able to get yards in chunks.  The difference this week might be that Baker and Bell have the ability to turn 15- or 20-yard runs into 80-yard runs.  Baker has speed that Michigan's safeties can't match, and Bell has the power to run through a lot of tackles.  Unlike previous opponents, I wouldn't be surprised to see MSU run the ball, run the ball, and run it some more.
Advantage: Michigan State

Pass Defense vs. Michigan State Pass Offense
Ugh.  Rushing the ball is probably the safer option, but if the Spartans need to pass, they'll be able to do so at will.  MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins is completing 67.5% of his passes and has a few good options to whom to throw the ball.  The only good thing is that Cousins has thrown four interceptions in his five games, so Michigan does have a chance to force some turnovers.  However, I truly believe that Michigan needs to rush four or more defenders in order to have a chance against the pass.  If the Wolverines keep rushing three, Cousins will have all day to pick apart Michigan's makeshift secondary.  Michigan is literally last in the country against the pass, and there's no reason to believe that Saturday will show any kind of significant turnaround in that area.
Advantage: Michigan State

Final Predictions
  • For the second time this season, Michigan will get outgained by an opponent.
  • Denard Robinson will get injured and miss time . . . again.
  • We see Michigan's first trick play of the season (double pass, reverse, fake field goal, etc.).
  • Roy Roundtree will have a huge game.
  • Michigan State 38, Michigan 35

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Poll: Who should be the backup free safety?

Freshman safety Marvin Robinson

A couple weeks ago, a poll question asked "Now that Vladimir Emilien has transferred, who should be the backup free safety?"  Here were the results out of 98 votes:

Marvin Robinson: 61%
Ray Vinopal: 34%
Brandin Hawthorne: 4%
Other: 0%

The poll winner, Marvin Robinson, is still listed as the backup to Jordan Kovacs at Bandit.  So the coaches have obviously chosen Vinopal to move up from fourth string to second string (remember, aside from the Emilien transfer, Jared Van Slyke is out for the season due to injury).

I'd like to see what Marvin Robinson can do on the football field, whether it's at Bandit or free safety.  I think he's a superior athlete to Vinopal.  However, there were some questions about Robinson's speed coming out of high school, and it probably wouldn't be a good idea to concentrate multiple linebacker/safety hybrids at the free safety position, like Robinson and Cameron Gordon.  I'm okay with Robinson staying at Bandit for this year, but I do think that Michigan should continue to look for solutions at free safety.  I don't know that a long-term answer at FS is currently on the roster.

Slightly Attractive Michigan Girl of the Week: Rima Fakih

Rima Fakih

Okay, she attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  That's not exactly the same as going to school in Ann Arbor, but she is Miss Michigan, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Charles Woodson

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson had a great game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.  He finished the day with 13 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and 1 interception that was returned 48 yards for a touchdown.  The Packers won by a final of 28-26.

Honorable mention: St. Louis Rams defensive end James Hall finished with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry.  The Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks, 20-3.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mailbag: Why the Roy Roundtree love?

RE: Roundtree: His lack of speed is evident. It basically cost us the Illinois game last year, and almost cost us the Indiana game this year. (Its never just about one play, but if he doesn't get caught on those plays we maybe/probably get 7 extra points that don't make these gains seem so bad) Speed and big play ability has been hailed in this blog (Shaw on O and the critiques for Gordon/Kovacs on D) but Roundtree has gotten a bit of a free pass.

Most of Roundtree's big plays are the result of Denard and scheme. He runs, untouched, thanks to the defense's attention being elsewhere. He's a good player (that ND catch to get to the goalline was the best play of his career IMO) but he's benefiting from circumstance. Odoms was pretty productive in the same role and Grady has had some big plays in the backup guy.  The slots all have a similar YPC, while Stonum, TRob, and Hemingway all have bigger YPC.

I'm not saying Roundtree should be benched, I'm just wondering why the love for Roundtree is so strong but another productive/reliable player like Smith gets killed.

First of all, let's take a look at the facts.  Lankownia says that the slots all have similar yards per catch, and a few other wide receivers have better yards per catch.  So let's see . . .

Roy Roundtree: 25 catches, 337 yards, 13.6 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns
Darryl Stonum: 15 catches, 226 yards, 15.1 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns
Martavious Odoms: 14 catches, 165 yards, 11.8 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns
Kelvin Grady: 8 catches, 105 yards, 12.1 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns
Junior Hemingway: 6 catches, 190 yards, 31.7 yards per catch, 1 touchdown
Jeremy Gallon: 2 catches, 25 yards, 12.5 yards per catch, 1 touchdown
Terrence Robinson: 1 catch, 43 yards, 43.0 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns

So if we're just talking about yards per catch, Roundtree is fourth on the team behind Terrence Robinson, Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum.  Robinson only has one catch this season, so it's hard to tell how talented he is.  Surely his 43.0 yards per catch wouldn't hold up throughout an entire season.

That leaves Stonum and Hemingway as legitimately more dangerous players, right?  Sure, I guess.  But those solid numbers are also a function of their positions.  In Rich Rodriguez's offense, the outside receivers are expected to a) block, b) run intermediate routes, and c) run go routes.  It should be expected that these players will have higher yards per catch, because short routes aren't in their arsenal.  They either catch the ball downfield, or they don't catch the ball at all.

In the meantime, Roy Roundtree plays slot receiver.  Slot receiver in this offense is much like running back, because a large portion of Roundtree's catches are bubble screens, which are essentially long handoffs.  Lankownia states that Martavious Odoms was pretty productive as a slot receiver, too, but these two slot receivers don't compare.  Between 2008 and 2009, Odoms averaged 35.5 receptions, 357.5 yards, and .5 touchdowns.  In 10 career games as a slot receiver, Roundtree has 57 catches for 771 yards and 5 touchdowns.  And while Odoms only averaged 10.1 yards per reception in 2008-09, Roundtree has him beat by about 3.5 yards per catch.  That's a pretty significant difference.

Lankownia seems to be frustrated that Roundtree has been unable to score on a couple long receptions.  He had a 76-yarder against Illinois last year on which he was caught at the 1-yard line, and there was the 74-yarder against Indiana this past weekend on which Roundtree was stopped on the 2-yard line.  I have a hard time criticizing a guy whose biggest fault seems to be that his 75-ish-yard catches don't turn into 77-ish-yard catches.  Those plays would probably be remembered more fondly if Rich Rodriguez hadn't chosen noted softy Carlos Brown and 5'6" Vincent Smith, respectively, to try to punch those subsequent plays into the endzone; in case your memory is failing you right now, both Brown and Smith failed. 

Regarding Roundtree's supposed lack of speed vs. the lack of speed for Cameron Gordon and Jordan Kovacs, I don't see Roundtree's footspeed as a huge problem.  Again, when a guy is averaging 13.6 yards a catch and has the ability to make 76-yard catch-and-run plays, I'm not going to complain.  Roundtree has the necessary skills to be a very successful wide receiver, even if his speed leaves a tiny bit to be desired.  The problem with Cam Gordon and Jordan Kovacs is that their lack of speed specifically prevents them from doing their jobs.  As safeties, their jobs presumably entail preventing the other team from making big plays and scoring.  When an Indiana running back outruns you for 85 yards (Jordan Kovacs) and when a 265 lb. tight end outruns you for 95 yards (Cam Gordon), there's a problem with that.  And when both of those guys are playing in the same defensive backfield, it's a recipe for disaster.

Lankownia also says that Roundtree's production is the result of Denard's running ability.  If that's true, then why did Roundtree catch 32 passes for 434 yards and 3 touchdowns with Tate Forcier running the show last year?  Teams weren't really afraid of Forcier's running, but Roundtree still found a way to lead the team in receiving in scant playing time.

The premise for Lankownia's statement about Smithis questionable, in my opinion.  It presumes that Vincent Smith is a productive running back.  As I noted in a recent post, Smith is the 8th-best running back (by yards per carry) in the Big Ten + Notre Dame.  Those mediocre numbers are in conjunction with a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a good offensive line.  Even if Smith is the best running back Michigan has to offer - which I obviously don't believe - that doesn't mean he's productive.  Meanwhile, Roundtree consistently finds himself in open areas of the field, whether the quarterback is Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson.  I don't know what it is, but Roundtree has that "It Factor" that some guys just happen to have.  He catches the ball, makes an occasional big play, blocks well (watch Brandon Minor's TD run against Purdue in 2009), makes people miss, and most importantly, he gets open.

I can't make this clear enough, but it's worth repeating: I don't hate Vincent Smith.  I don't have a personal grudge against him.  I'm not against short backs (I loved to watch Darren Sproles when he was at Kansas State), I'm not against dreadlocks (Denard Robinson has quickly grown into one of my favorite players), and it's not about recruiting rankings (Michael Cox wasn't a highly touted recruit, either).  I quite simply believe that Smith shouldn't be getting the most carries for this team.  And while Smith has been just so-so in his two seasons, Roundtree has been somewhere between above average and spectacular.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Michigan vs. Indiana Awards

Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Darryl Stonum as a good kick returner.  Seriously, what happened?  Stonum set a Michigan record for kick return yardage last year.  He has improved as a receiver this year, but the team is #102 in the country in kick returns this season.  It's not all Stonum's fault - the blocking hasn't been there.  But yeesh . . . as I said in yesterday's post, every unit on the team has been bad except the offense.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson as punters.  It's not that Tate and Denard have done a bad job of punting.  But the punter position was created for a reason.  If you're allotting a scholarship for a punter, then use him.  Saturday's "surprise" punt came from Tate when Michigan was sitting in its own territory on a 4th-and-1.  Just send Hagerup out there and let him kick it.  These "surprise" punts aren't surprising when the QB lines up 8 yards behind the ball for the shotgun snap and when you run it almost every week.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Jibreel Black.  He seemed to be getting a decent pass rush throughout the game, which is impressive for a freshman defensive end.  I don't think he should be the starter because I think he's a liability against the run right now, but Indiana was a good matchup for him with their 64 pass attempts.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Jeremy Gallon as punt returner.  Another game, another muffed punt.  Luckily he recovered this one, but man, these punt return experiments just need to end.  I don't understand why Michigan, with all its athleticism, can't find a good punt returner.  Gallon has the running skills to be a good returner, but he doesn't judge punts or catch them well.  Drew Dileo's redshirt has already been burned, and returning punts is his forte.  Put Dileo back there, or someone else who can at least catch the ball consistently.

MVP of the Indiana game . . . Denard Robinson.  Yet again.  These really are video game numbers.  He finished 10-for-16 for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He also carried the ball 19 times for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns.  And just like the Notre Dame game, he led the game-winning touchdown drive and scored the go-ahead TD.  How ridiculous is 27.7 yards per completion and 11.4 yards per carry?  Pretty ridiculous.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Michigan 42, Indiana 35

You can close your eyes and pray all you want, #46, but you're not gonna catch him.
  Yesterday's victory was at once entertaining, frustrating, and boring.  The entertainment factor was apparent: Michigan put up 574 yards and 42 points on a Big Ten team, with quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Denard Robinson accounting for 494 of those yards.  The frustration part was apparent, too: Michigan allowed 568 yards and 35 points to a perennial Big Ten cellar dweller, and Indiana held the ball for over 41 minutes.

The boring part was less obvious, but throughout the entire game, I knew Michigan was going to win this game.  I've rarely been this confident during a contest, but I feel I've reached a near level of zen when it comes to watching this Michigan team.  Michigan's offense will score loads of points as long as Denard Robinson is at the helm, and Michigan's defense sucks.  I no longer hope for competence from Michigan's defense.  They are overmatched and there's virtually no hope for them to improve this season.  Sure, they'll make a timely sack once in awhile (Mike Martin) or flash some anticipation in the secondary that results in an interception (Cam Gordon).  But ultimately, both defenses yesterday were atrocious and Michigan's offense is better.  A 7-point margin is . . . just about right.

Some praise and a few gripes . . .

Denard Robinson is awesome.  I feel like I say this in almost every post, but there's no getting around it.  He is having one of the best statistical seasons in college football history and is currently on pace to run (2,353) and throw (2,621) for 2,000 yards and account for 39 touchdowns over a 13-game season.  The easiest part of the schedule has passed, so I don't expect that Robinson will maintain his torrid pace.  Regardless, the first five starts of his career must be on par with or better than every other quarterback in NCAA history.

Michigan's defense is bad.  This was noted above, but there's no reason to expect significant improvement in the second half of the season.  I heard Michigan's official motto is "Let's hope the other team drops the ball or something."  After Saturday's game Michigan is ranked #120 (out of 120 teams) in pass defense, giving up 307.8 yards a game in the air.  Michigan is also #88 in sacks, #88 in net punting, #99 in punt returns, #102 in total defense, and #104 in kickoff returns.  Basically, Michigan is bad at everything that doesn't involve offense.  And the Wolverines haven't even played the tough part of their schedule.

Michigan's goalline offense needs rethinking.  Roy Roundtree caught a 74-yard pass that took the ball down to Indiana's 2-yard line.  On first down, Michigan lined up in the I-formation and shot a BB at Indiana's defense in the form of 5'6", 180 lb. Vincent Smith.  That didn't work.  Then Michigan lined up in the I-formation again, and the center-quarterback exchange was promptly fumbled, providing Indiana the chance to drive 99 yards for a touchdown (on which Indiana capitalized).  Rich Rodriguez has a 6'0", 211 lb. tailback (Michael Cox) and a 6'1", 227 lb. tailback (Stephen Hopkins) at his disposal.  That personnel decision makes no sense whatsoever.

Vincent Smith had a good game.  I don't think anyone has been more critical of Vincent Smith than I have.  It's not that I dislike him or think he's a horrible player, but I just think there are better options.  Against Indiana he had a 56-yard touchdown run on which he was nearly untouched.  Altogether he had 9 carries for 80 yards and the touchdown.  After five games, here's how Smith stacks up against the rest of the Big Ten's (and Notre Dame's) leading rushers, listed according to yards per carry:

1. Edwin Baker (Michigan State): 75 carries, 536 yards, 7.1 ypc, 5 TDs
2. John Clay (Wisconsin): 94 carries, 581 yards, 6.2 ypc, 6 TDs
3. Mikel Leshoure (Illinois): 77 carries, 478 yards, 6.2 ypc, 3 TDs
4. Dan Dierking (Purdue): 38 carries, 205 yards, 5.4 ypc, 2 TDs
5. Evan Royster (Penn State): 67 carries, 353 yards, 5.3 ypc, 1 TD
6. Adam Robinson (Iowa): 98 carries, 480 yards, 4.9 ypc, 6 TDs
7. Armando Allen (Notre Dame): 80 carries, 392 yards, 4.9 ypc, 2 TDs
8. Vincent Smith (Michigan): 53 carries, 252 yards, 4.8 ypc, 4 TDs
9. Dan Herron (Ohio State): 65 carries, 287 yards, 4.4 ypc, 5 TDs
10. Duane Bennett (Minnesota): 91 carries, 400 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs
11. Darius Willis (Indiana): 64 carries, 278 yards, 4.3 ypc, 3 TDs
12. Arby Fields (Northwestern): 56 carries, 160 yards, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD

For what it's worth, prior to this week Smith was averaging 3.9 yards per carry, which would have put him at #11.  Against varying levels of competition, Michael Shaw (5.6 ypc) would be #4, Stephen Hopkins (4.7 ypc) would be #9, and Michael Cox (9.3 ypc) would be #1.  So there is some statistical backing for my argument that Michigan's starting running back position needs to show some more productivity.

Indiana fans are tools.  Unless something odd happened in the stadium that wasn't caught on camera, it sure seemed like the fans in Bloomington cheered when Denard Robinson fell to the ground injured.  On the one hand, it's certainly a backhanded compliment, like "Hooray, we might have a chance to win this game if he sits out the rest of it!"  On the other - and far more important - hand, it was a classless response from the Hoosier crowd.  You don't cheer when someone gets hurt, period.

Junior Hemingway is slow but good, I guess.  Hemingway caught a slant from Denard Robinson that he turned into a 70-yard touchdown.  After he broke the cornerback's tackle and got up to full speed in the open field, I started wondering, "Did he pull a muscle?"  Nope, that's just how Hemingway runs.  It was reminiscent of Roy Roundtree's 76-yard catch against Illinois in 2009, on which Roundtree was run down by Terry Hawthorne.  Luckily, Indiana's defense isn't very fast, either.  Hemingway also made a clutch 42-yard reception near the end of regulation that set up Robinson's game-winning touchdown, and finished with 3 catches for 126 yards and 1 touchdown.

Jordan Kovacs must hate Darius Willis.  Last year Darius Willis outran Kovacs (among others) for an 85-yard touchdown.  This year Willis caught a pass in the flat, shook Kovacs on the sideline, and trotted in for a touchdown.  Kovacs is normally a sure tackler, but I have to admit, the thing that ran through my mind was "If he can't tackle and he can't run fast, why is he out there?"  That was just a fleeting thought, though, because Kovacs is probably one of the better tacklers on the team.

Roy Roundtree should get the #1 jersey next year.  Prior to the season, I predicted that Roundtree would get 60 catches and 900 yards this year.  Through five games, he's on pace for 65 catches and 876 yards, which is pretty darn close.  If he continues in this vein, then I think he deserves to wear the #1 jersey in 2011.  He's a likeable, hardworking kid, he's successful on both long and short passes, he's a willing blocker, and he has a knack for getting open.  He might not be the physical freak that Michigan is used to seeing out of its #1 wide receivers (6'3", 215 lb. guys who can jump high and run really fast), but Michigan fans couldn't ask for much more out of him.

Taylor Lewan better learn quickly.  We've been hearing for months that Lewan is a bit of a hothead.  His emotions could have cost Michigan the game on Saturday, though.  After Denard Robinson scored a touchdown to put Michigan up 41-35 with 17 seconds left in the game, Lewan was trying to get over to Robinson to celebrate.  Supposedly an Indiana player on the ground tried to trip Lewan, which resulted in an altercation and a 15-yard penalty on Lewan.  I don't care what an opponent tries to do - there's no good excuse for getting a 15-yard penalty when your team scores the potential game-winning touchdown.  If he trips you, fall to the ground, get up, and go celebrate.  What, you've never been tripped before?  Were you afraid that he ruined your pretty maize pants?  Suck it up, and think about the team first.  And while you're at it, you might want to learn how to block without holding.  On the game-winning drive, he should have been called for holding at least twice that I saw on television.

Michigan found a way to win.  Regardless of what went down from the starting whistle to the final whistle, Michigan won the game.  The offense was mostly awesome, and the defense did just enough to win.  There are definitely some things to fix or tweak, but when it comes down to it, the Wolverines' record is 5-0.  Go Blue!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Preview: Michigan at Indiana

Expect to see a lot of this: Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell picking
on Michigan's secondary.

Rush Offense vs. Indiana Rush Defense
Michigan is currently the #2 rushing offense in the country with 331.25 yards a game.  Meanwhile, Indiana has been giving up 177 yards a game to the likes of Western Kentucky, Akron, and Towson to rank #92 in the nation.  This is a bad matchup for the Hoosiers.  Despite the return of starting middle linebacker Tyler Replogle, who missed last week's game with a concussion, the Wolverines should be able to have their way.  Quarterback Denard Robinson is the leading rusher in the NCAA, and the only way Indiana should be able to stop him is by bruising his knee after a 30-yard run.  One caveat, though - there's a strong possibility that running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint (shoulder; 2 carries for 66 yards and 1 TD last week) and Michael Shaw (knee; 44 carries, 256 yards, 5 TDs this year) will miss Saturday's game.  That leaves sophomore Vincent Smith, redshirt sophomore Michael Cox, and freshman Stephen Hopkins to pick up the slack in the running back rotation.  That shouldn't matter too much, although those two missing players are big-play threats for Michigan's offense.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Indiana Pass Defense
Michigan's quarterbacks have only been sacked once this year, and the likelihood of Indiana's front seven catching up to Denard Robinson is low.  The Hoosiers have only mustered four sacks this season in those three games against feeble opponents.  The biggest matchup problem here is 2010 Denard Robinson vs. 2009 Denard Robinson.  If 2010 Denard Robinson keeps up his torrid pace and throws like the 16th most efficient QB in the country, then this should be a clear victory for the Wolverines once again.  I haven't seen any evidence that Robinson will regress to 2009 form, but his performance so far this season seems too good to be true.  He's bound to have a bad game at some point, but will it happen against Indiana?  Well . . . probably not.
Advantage: Michigan

Rush Defense vs. Indiana Rush Offense
The Wolverines have done a better job of limiting big runs in 2010.  With eight men consistently in the box, Michigan's run defense hasn't been great (#53 in the country, 135.25 yards a game), but big plays have been rare.  Hopefully that can remain true this week, too, because leading rusher Darius Willis (46 carries, 219 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 2 TDs) had an 85-yard TD against Michigan in 2009, and wideout Tandon Doss had a 25-yard TD in last year's game, too.  One of the most memorable images from the 2009 season was of Willis outrunning safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd to the endzone.  That was not a happy moment.  The only guy who had a prayer of catching Willis from behind was safety Troy Woolfolk, who's currently healing from a broken ankle.  Michigan's secondary is even a bit slower this year, as Floyd and Kovacs are back but Woolfolk's replacement is Cam Gordon, who gets outrun by 265 lb. tight ends and MAC wide receivers.  Improved play from Michigan's linebackers - as well as the eight-man front - should be able to stall Willis a little better this year, but there will be some frustrating moments.
Advantage: Indiana

Pass Defense vs. Indiana Pass Offense
This is what scares me.  Bad opponents or not, Indiana averages 304 yards a game through the air (#11 in the country).  Michigan played a couple patsies and Notre Dame, but ranks #105 in the country in pass defense (264 yards a game) and #55 in pass efficiency defense.  Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell threw for 270 yards last year, and he's supported by some good-sized receivers with decent but not great speed.  Free safety Cameron Gordon has been a liability in pass coverage, and I expect Indiana to test him repeatedly; the Hoosiers would be silly not to try.  Michigan hasn't shown the ability to shut down a decent passing game, and I don't think this is the week that they'll step up.  Michigan fans will just have to pony up and expect some big plays through the air.
Advantage: Indiana

Final Predictions
  • Denard Robinson rushes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • Ben Chappell increases the team's passing average by throwing for 305 yards or more
  • Michigan finally gets a big play out of the return game
  • My preseason upset pick will be proven wrong because . . .
  • . . . Michigan will win 45-31