Michigan Wolverines: Michigan Wolverines

Picks to click: Week 12

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Saturday is Senior Day at Michigan Stadium. Twelve Michigan football players will play their final home game with a chance to extend their careers into the postseason.

The Wolverines(5-5) host Maryland(6-4) Saturday afternoon in the better of two remaining chances to get a sixth victory and become bowl eligible. Michigan has won three of its past four games. Here's a trio of players who will need to be at their best to win a fourth during that stretch.

 Junior DE Mario Ojemudia: Ojemudia will likely make his second career start Saturday. He and sophomore Taco Charlton are responsible for replacing senior Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the team following his arrest earlier this week. Ojemudia had two sacks in a 10-9 win over Northwestern two weeks ago. Maryland's offense is at its best when quarterback has C.J. Brown has time to throw deep. Ojemudia can help eliminate some of that with a good pass rush.

Junior RB Justice Hayes: Michigan's running game has turned a corner during November. Head coach Brady Hoke said the offensive line played its best game against Northwestern before last week's bye. Drake Johnson and De'Veon Smith produced back-to-back games with a 100-yard rusher. Now it's the speedy Hayes' turn for a big day against a Maryland defense that allows nearly 200 rushing yards per game on average.

Senior QB Devin Gardner: The intangible effect in a game expected to be decided by less than a touchdown will come from seniors like Gardner, who is in the home stretch of his up-and-down career in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines should be capable of sending their seniors out with a win, but need to avoid the turnovers and other mistakes that cost them games earlier in the year. If Gardner came play relatively mistake free, he'll give his team a good chance to win.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
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Michigan denied a two-point conversion attempt Saturday afternoon at Northwestern to win on back-to-back Saturdays for the first time since September 2013. The victory wasn't pretty, but the Wolverines have a winning streak and are one more good result away from a bowl game as they head into the final bye week of the season.

Michigan's defense held the Wildcats to 264 total yards of offense and created three turnovers, leading its team to a win. For the third time in four weeks, the defense kept its opponent to one touchdown in a winning effort. That side of the ball gets the majority of our helmet stickers for Week 11.

Senior DE Frank Clark: Michigan's top pass-rusher provided regular pressure on Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian. He finished the game with 1.5 sacks and another tackle for loss as well as two pass break-ups. His biggest play came at the game's biggest moment. Trailing by one, Northwestern opted to attempt a two-point conversion with three seconds left in the game. Clark read the quarterback roll-out perfectly and forced Siemian to trip and fall, sealing the win for Michigan.

Senior LB Jake Ryan: Ryan maintained his regular spot at the top of the stat sheet for tackles this week. The converted outside linebacker made 11 stops from his spot in the middle of Michigan's defense, bringing his season total to 90 with two games left on the schedule. He also intercepted a pass near midfield early in the first quarter.

Sophomore RB De'Veon Smith: After falling behind Drake Johnson on the depth chart last week, Smith responded with his most productive outing of the season. He ran for 121 yards on 18 carries and mercifully broke a 0-0 tie with the game's first touchdown midway through the third quarter.

Picks To Click: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
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Michigan’s chances of reaching a fourth-straight bowl game under Brady Hoke might be at stake this weekend at Northwestern. The Wildcats (3-5) are also fighting an uphill battle to qualify for the postseason. The loser will have to run the table for the rest of November, and both have teams ranked in the top 15 remaining on their schedules.

Hope for the Wolverines (4-5) has buoyed with a win against Indiana last Saturday. Sophomore running back Drake Johnson provided an offensive spark with two rushing touchdowns in that game. He is one of our picks for players that Michigan will need to step up this week in order to keep the optimism in Ann Arbor.

Sophomore RB Drake Johnson: The Ann Arbor native ran for 122 yards in a breakout performance last Saturday. He had only five carries in Michigan’s first eight games. Hoke remained coy this week when asked if Johnson’s big day would earn him more reps, but it was clear he provides a burst the offense has been missing in the backfield. He could be the spark that finally helps Michigan’s offense come together.

Senior DE Frank Clark: Clark has been Michigan’s most physically impressive pass-rusher this season. He has 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Northwestern ranks 108th nationally in sacks allowed per game (2.88). Clark will get his chances to apply pressure Saturday. In a game that is expected to be a low-scoring battle, a couple big plays behind the line of scrimmage could be enough to flip field position and give the Wolverines an edge.

Senior P Will Hagerup: Speaking of field position, no individual controls that more than the punter. Hagerup has punted 40 times this season for an average of 43.9 yards per attempt (23rd nationally). Michigan and Northwestern each average less than 22 points per game. One or two drives will likely decide Saturday’s winner, and if Hagerup can force the Wildcats to cover as much ground as possible, he could prove to be a difference-maker.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
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Michigan’s young talent got a chance to shine against an overwhelmed Indiana team during Saturday’s homecoming game in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines beat the Hoosiers, 34-10, thanks to an offensive outburst led by a pair of redshirt sophomores. They may be adding more stickers to their helmets before the season is over. For now, here are this week’s winners.

Sophomore RB Drake Johnson: The Ann Arbor native ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on his 16 carries. Johnson had just five carries this season heading into the Indiana game, but gave Michigan’s offense a quicker, shiftier option in the backfield. Expect to see more of Johnson – who went to school across the street from the Big House and whose mother has coached Michigan’s cheerleaders for 31 years – during the final month of the season.

Sophomore WR Amara Darboh: Not only did Darboh lead the Wolverines' passing attack Saturday, he led the entire Big Ten with nine catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. After dropping a few balls in a loss to Michigan State, Darboh rebounded with the best performance of his career against the Hoosiers. Both Darboh and Johnson are rounding into form after missing significant time because of injuries earlier in their careers.

Sophomore DL Ryan Glasgow: Sticking with the redshirt sophomore theme, Glasgow was one on nine Michigan defenders to register a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on Saturday. He also knifed into the Indiana backfield in the third quarter, pried the ball loose from Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont and fell on the fumble. Glasgow’s individual effort helped set Johnson up for his first touchdown run of the game.
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Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in a news conference on Monday he doesn't expect to talk to his bosses about his job until the end of the season. That could pose a problem for recruiting as prospects are left wondering what the future holds for the Wolverines now sitting with a 3-5 record on the season.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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Praise-worthy performances have been hard to come by during Big Ten play for Michigan this season. Saturday’s 35-11 loss to Michigan State was more of the same for the Wolverines. They did snap a two-year touchdown drought against their in-state rival and hold the Spartans below their average offensive output, which is reason enough to hand out some helmet stickers.

Sophomore RB De’Veon Smith: Smith’s final stat line (11 carries for 39 yards) leaves a bit to be desired, but he did lead Michigan’s running attack and added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. That score was Michigan’s first against the Spartans since the fourth quarter of their 2011 meeting. It also snapped a streak of 10 consecutive games in which the Wolverines scored fewer points against Michigan State than the previous year.

Senior DE Frank Clark: Smith’s touchdown was set up by Clark’s fumble recovery on the Michigan State 33-yard line. Clark has been Michigan’s most productive pass-rusher this season. He added a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss to his total against the Spartans while helping to hold Connor Cook in check for a good portion of the game.

Senior LB Jake Ryan: Twelve tackles Saturday gives Ryan 68 stops so far this season. He is the only Big Ten linebacker to make the 15-man semifinalist list for the Butkus Award released Monday morning. He tied Joe Bolden in total tackles against the Spartans, but gets the nod over his teammate in helmet stickers because the only things he drove into the Spartan Stadium turf Saturday were opposing ball carriers.

Picks to Click: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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It’s rivalry week for Michigan, and perhaps a turning point game for head coach Brady Hoke.

A win against in-state rival Michigan State would bring the Wolverines to 4-4 on the season and perhaps turn the tide of negativity surrounding Hoke and his program. A performance like last year’s, when the Spartans held Michigan to minus-48 yards rushing, might prove to be a Rubicon crossing for Hoke’s chances to keep his job. Here are a few players that can play key roles in avoiding a repeat in East Lansing.

Junior WR Devin Funchess: During its bye week, Michigan went back to the drawing board to try to find ways to create more explosive plays. Quarterback Devin Gardner hasn’t been shy about feeding Funchess whenever possible. They connected for a 43-yard touchdown pass -- the team’s longest completion of the season -- in Michigan’s recent win over Penn State. The Spartans defense has been susceptible to big plays this season, and Michigan will need a few of them to keep pace with the country’s third-best scoring offense.

Junior RB Justice Hayes: Michigan’s running backs had 19 carries in the win over Penn State, and nine of those came in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines aren’t likely to find any more consistency in the run game against a fast and physical Michigan State front seven.

Hayes, though, can play a crucial role in the passing game. He’s the Wolverines’ best pass-protection back and can help buy time against Michigan State’s pass rush (which is averaging 3.71 sacks per game). He can also keep the blitzing Spartan linebackers honest by slipping into the passing attack as a receiver at times. The Wolverines gave up seven sacks a year ago in this rivalry. They won’t survive with a similar showing on Saturday.

Junior S Jarrod Wilson: Michigan State’s offense has found ways to pick apart just about every defense its played this season. Whether it’s Big Ten-leading receiver Tony Lippett, emerging tight end Josiah Price or one of the Spartans’ talented running backs, Wilson has a chance to slow down Michigan State’s weapon du jour. The junior made eight tackles in the win over Penn State. He’ll need to have a big day against quarterback Connor Cook to keep the score manageable for Michigan’s offense.
When Michigan kicker Matt Wile struggled in his first two games this season, he said it helped that his teammates were behind him.

That’s not quite as cliché as it may sound.

Sure, Wile’s fellow Wolverines told him not to worry when he missed three of four kicks from that dastardly right hash to start the season. They had his back after he went 0-for-2 in a shutout loss to Notre Dame in the metaphorical way good teammates should. They told him he was still their guy and he’d get the next one, and certainly that steadied the senior’s shaken confidence. What really helped, though, was when they got behind him in a more literal sense.

Michigan’s field goal practice this season has included a chorus of hecklers who stand a few feet behind Wile every time he lines up for a kick. They do their best to distract him, chirping the type of things they hope will make the buzz of 100,000 screaming fans fade in comparison. Dennis Norfleet, the team’s top punt returner/on-field break dancer, is usually the ring leader.

“Norfleet likes to be pretty loud,” Wile said. “They only ever succeed if they can make me laugh. ... They talk about my nonexistent hamster. I apparently have a hamster. I don’t know where that came from.”

Fictional hamsters aside, the wheels inside Wile’s head are now spinning at the right pace when he lines up for a kick. He's made seven of his eight attempts since losing to the Irish. He said the biggest adjustment during that stretch has been not psyching himself out. His only miss in the last five games was a 56-yard attempt that Rutgers freshman Kemoko Turay needed moonshoes to block.

“The guy from Rutgers made a great play,” Wile said. “I definitely would’ve liked to see how that turned out otherwise. I thought I hit it pretty well.”

In his last outing, an 18-13 win over Penn State, Wile made all three of his field goals, including a 42-yarder to tie the game in the third quarter and a 37-yarder to take the lead for good in the fourth. The game-tying kick was the closest Wile came to the right hash -- his mental sticking point earlier in the season -- against the Nittany Lions.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he starts the special-teams portion of practice by sending Wile down the right hash attempting kicks at different lengths. He didn’t claim to be Sigmund Freud in straightening out Wile's approach but said he’s made it a point to get the kicker to stop pressing if he starts to struggle in practice.

“If he misses a couple in a row, I’ll just tell him don’t overthink it,” Hoke said. “Sometimes he just flat-out overthinks it instead of just going up there and swinging your leg. I don’t know if you want to call that psychology.”

Wile does use a few tricks to keep himself mentally centered. If he feels doubt creeping in on the sideline, he visualizes the referee raising his arms after a successful kick. While he’s lining up, he’ll crunch his upper body into an awkward stance to remind himself to stay compact when he strikes the ball.

He has worked with a kicking specialist back in his hometown of San Diego to remove some kinks from his form. Most importantly, he says, he knows he has his teammates standing behind him.

“Now I don’t care where I kick from,” Wile said. “If I’m on the field, in my mind I’m going to make the kick.”

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
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Michigan had a reason to celebrate this weekend for the first time in more than a month. The Wolverines beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday to avoid the program’s first 0-3 start in conference play in more than four decades.

The atmosphere at the Big House has been lacking excitement this season, but Michigan can still put on a good show in primetime. The Wolverines are now 3-0 when they play at night on their home field. Here are some of the players who shined brightest under the lights:

PK Matt Wile: A week after having a game-winning attempt blocked at Rutgers, Michigan’s Matt Wile connected in the fourth quarter on a field goal that wound up clinching the victory. Wile was 3 for 3 on Saturday, splitting the uprights from 45, 42 and 37 yards out. He buoyed a struggling offense by providing 10 of the team’s 18 points. The senior has made seven of his last eight kicks since missing two against Notre Dame. The only unsuccessful attempt in that stretch was the 56-yarder that Rutgers blocked a week ago.

Gardner
QB Devin Gardner: Gardner showed his growing leadership on the sideline by barking at this team regularly in the second half. He showed it on the field by returning to the game with a hobbled ankle and completing two passes to set Wile up for his fourth-quarter field goal. He also hooked up with wide receiver Devin Funchess for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts since regaining his starting spot against Rutgers.

DE Brennen Beyer: Two of Michigan’s six sacks came from Beyer, who had a dominant day against the Penn State tackles. He finished with four total stops. Beyer’s biggest contribution came late in the third quarter when he and fellow end Frank Clark pinned Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the pocket on a third-down play. Hackenberg panicked under pressure and tossed an interception across his body to cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Michigan tied the game with a field goal four plays later.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
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Michigan has had to settle for moral victories for most of 2014, and even those have been few and far between for the 2-4 Wolverines. Saturday’s 26-24 loss at Rutgers was Michigan’s most competitive game against a Power 5 conference opponent this year.

An offense that struggled throughout September produced three touchdowns and remained perfect in the red zone. The defensive front kept Rutgers under 50 rushing yards and remains a team strength. The leaders of those efforts win our helmet stickers for this week's performance at the midway point of the regular season.

QB Devin Gardner: Head coach Brady Hoke hoped that a week on the sideline would help his veteran quarterback get a new perspective on the mistakes that were holding him back. Gardner returned to the starting lineup Saturday, and while he wasn’t his best self, showed definite signs of improvement. He scrambled for two rushing touchdowns and completed 13 of his 22 passes for 178 yards. The offense demonstrated signs of life that it hadn’t in two previous losses.

LB Joe Bolden : The junior led Michigan with 10 tackles Saturday night, his third double-digit total of the season. Bolden emotionally defended his coaches after losing to Minnesota at home a week earlier. He put the blame on himself and his teammates for failing to execute. He executed well in New Jersey, helping to hold Rutgers to 2.5 yards per carry on the ground.

P Will Hagerup: Specials teams took its lumps against Rutgers with a costly blocked field goal from 56 yards out late in the game. Hagerup did his job well, though. He averaged 47.5 yards on his four punts and kept Rutgers from returning any of them. His 61-yard boot in the second quarter flipped field position and Michigan took advantage on the next possession to take a 17-12 lead, its last of the day.

Video: Struggles hurting Michigan recruiting?

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
4:30
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video

National recruiting analysts Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill break down how schools can recruit against Michigan during the Wolverines’ on-field struggles. National recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton shares how members of the 2015 class are reacting.

Picks to click: Week 5

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
11:30
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Michigan starts the Big Ten portion of its schedule this weekend with a rivalry game they have dominated during the last quarter-century. The Wolverines are looking at Saturday’s meeting with Minnesota as a chance for a clean slate.

Since 1986, Minnesota has beaten Michigan once. The Gophers come to Ann Arbor with one of the top rushers in the nation in David Cobb and the second-most takeaways among FBS teams. Michigan remains a double-digit favorite, but Saturday might be Minnesota’s best chance to upset a reeling Wolverines team since its victory in 2005. Here are a few players who could play a big role in making sure that Michigan retains possession of the little brown jug Saturday:

LB Jake Ryan: The fifth-year senior is settling into his role in the middle of the defense after playing outside linebacker earlier in his career. He made a team-high 13 tackles in a 26-10 loss to Utah last week. He’ll get another chance to shine against a one-dimensional Gophers offense and a workhorse back like Cobb. Another double-digit tackle performance from Ryan could turn him into an all-conference candidate on a team that hasn't had many bright spots so far this season.

TE Jake Butt: Michigan coach Brady Hoke promised changes were coming to a dismal offense this week. One possible new direction could include a bigger role for his sophomore tight end. Butt is still climbing back toward full health after offseason ACL surgery. Hoke said he wants to use the big, versatile pass-catcher as much as his healing knee will allow. After three catches and a touchdown in a win over Miami (Ohio), Butt didn’t see much action last week. He should be getting closer to playing a full role and opening up some options for whoever winds up starting at quarterback.

WR Dennis Norfleet: Michigan’s return specialist and speedster in the passing game gave a passionate defense of his head coach earlier in the week. He has emerged as one of the team leaders in his junior year. Norfleet’s emotion, if he can translate it to the field, could help provide a big special-teams play to spark a Michigan team that will take points any way it can get them.

Picks to click: Week 4

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
11:30
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Heading into their Big Ten slate with a 3-1 record won’t be an easy task for the Wolverines. Michigan will need some of its young players to step up this weekend to get past a Utah team that is averaging 57.5 points per game so far this season. On the other side of the ball, the Utes defense leads the nation in sacks(5.5 per game) and tackles for loss(10.5).

Here are a few players who could make a difference with breakout performances:

 WR Amara Darboh: The sophomore made his first career start in a 34-10 win over Miami(Ohio) last week after missing all of last season with a foot injury. He caught six passes for 88 yards and his first career touchdown against an overmatched RedHawks' defense. Michigan will probably have to take to the air at some point to hang with the high-tempo Utah offense. If senior Devin Funchess (leg injury) can’t play again this week, Darboh becomes a primary target in the passing game.

LT Mason Cole: True freshmen starters on the offensive line are a rare species. At left tackle, they are almost unheard of. Cole has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise so far this season, but he’ll face the stiffest test of his career this weekend. His respect in the locker room will take a big leap if he can hold off Utah defensive ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. That duo has upheld Utah's recent history in the defensive trenches by picking up 2.5 sacks each through two games, an impressive stat line even if two of them came against a woefully inept Fresno State offensive live.

Michigan’s secondary: The Wolverines' defense heads into the weekend tied for dead last among FBS teams (with Utah and a dozen other schools) with only one takeaway. That’s been an emphasis for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison all week in practice.

“Coach Mattison keeps pounding it in our head that we need to create turnovers,” said sophomore safety Jeremy Clark. “I think if we keep playing hard and keep hustling to the ball, we’ll get our turnovers.”

Clark, a first-year starter, and true freshman Jabrill Peppers, who played an expanded role at cornerback last weekend, continue the theme of young players who can make a difference against the Utes. Both have the athletic ability to be playmakers in the secondary if they get themselves in the right spots. Eventually, Michigan’s turnover rate has to progress toward the mean. This could be a good week to start.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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The top performers from the Wolverines' 34-10 victory against visiting Miami (Ohio) Saturday:
  • RB Derrick Green: The sophomore powered Michigan’s rushing attack with 137 yards and two touchdowns against Miami (Ohio). He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but his best run of the day picked up only two yards. He sidestepped one would-be tackler in the backfield and dragged another past the first down marker on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter. That second effort helped Green finish the day without getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
  • LB Joe Bolden: The Ohio native made seven stops against the RedHawks, increasing his team-leading total to 22 tackles this season. Bolden also dove to deflect a third-down pass for his highlight-reel moment, which killed Miami’s first drive of the second half when the game was still in question.
  • TE Jake Butt: In his first fully active appearance since tearing his ACL in February, Butt caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Two plays after yanking a potential interception away from a Miami linebacker for his first catch of the season, Butt slipped into a wide-open field on a fake screen play and hauled in a much-needed, 29-yard scoring play. "Things weren’t going exactly how we wanted them that game," he said. "[I] went in there and took the ball out of the defender’s hands and scored the touchdown. It kind of provided a good spark for our team."

Video: Michigan My Wish

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
1:38
PM ET
video
18-year-old Stephen Loszewski, whose football career was cut short by cancer, sees what it is like to be a prized recruit with his favorite college team.

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Maryland Rallies Past Michigan
C.J. Brown and Wes Brown each rushed for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help Maryland edge Michigan 23-16.
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