Final exams are either ongoing or all wrapped up around the Big Ten, and we're passing out grades for each team's regular-season performance.
Each team receives a grade for offense, defense, special teams and overall play.
Up next: Michigan.
Grading this Michigan group is very hard because it’s difficult to decide which team to grade. The offense that showed up and put up 603 yards and moved the ball with ease against Ohio State? Or the one that only managed 158 yards against Iowa seven days before? One thing is for certain. The Michigan offense gets an F for consistency.
But, if we’re looking at the season as a whole, then it middles out somewhere in the C-plus range. Most of this falls on the offensive line, which didn’t get its act together until far too late. But, when the offensive line finally managed to give quarterback Devin Gardner some time in the pocket and create holes in the run game, the offense really got moving. It’s just that it happened in Game 12 and not sometime in September or October.
Jeremy Gallon was a huge playmaker for the Wolverines and deserves the recognition he gets. He made some catches that were really incredible and rarely dropped the ball, even when it seemed like a terrible throw. Devin Funchess emerged as an offensive weapon, and though his hands were less reliable than Gallon’s, his athleticism allowed him to make huge plays for the Wolverines. And Derrick Green burst onto the scene late. Michigan coach Brady Hoke probably should’ve cut ties with fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint earlier in order to get Green on the field, but he didn’t. As a result, the run game (outside of Gardner) didn’t show up until late, late November.
Through most of the season, Greg Mattison’s defense was the shining light of this team. The Wolverines defense had to deal with several quick-change situations because of offensive turnovers or fast three-and-outs and generally, it responded well enough in a bend-but-don’t-mentality. However, in its last outing of the regular season against Ohio State, the Michigan defense looked its worst (or, maybe that was when Indiana put up 47 points). Regardless, it couldn’t stop the run. It couldn’t get to Braxton Miller. It couldn’t come up with those clutch stops consistently and as a result, the Buckeyes put up 42 points and 526 yards.
The story was the same most of the year: the Wolverines couldn’t establish a consistent four-man rush. Mattison had to dial up blitzes in order for the Wolverines to put up any kind of pressure, which left Michigan below full force in the middle of the field. And in the secondary, where Mattison really didn’t want to rotate guys too much, the Wolverines continued rotating throughout the season out of necessity.
The Michigan defense didn’t finish in the top 30 nationally in yards per game and yards per play. It didn’t even finish in the top 50 for third-down defense. And as far as big plays, which Michigan tries to hang its hat on, well, it allowed 39 completions of 20 or more yards (No. 64 nationally) and 58 rushes of 10 or more yards (No. 45 nationally).
Special teams: B
Their highlight moment this season will be the quick field goal at the end of regulation at Northwestern to force overtime. Brendan Gibbons and Drew Dileo will go down as special teams heroes of 2013. And I refuse to put the Penn State loss on Gibbons, because there were so many other people who didn’t do their jobs well which resulted in putting Gibbons into that situation. Dennis Norfleet never broke out for a return (well he did before it was called back against Ohio State) and there wasn’t a ton of trickery this year. They did fine and deserve a B.
The final record wasn’t great. And as much as people want to gripe and say that the Wolverines were only 11 points away from being 11-1, then people also must acknowledge that they were a handful of plays away from being 4-8 and spending their bowl seasons at home. The offensive line was the issue that kept the offense from realizing its potential earlier in the season and play in the trenches, as a whole, kept the Wolverines from really being the team they wanted to be. The coaches can preach about how they want their team to be strong on the offensive and defensive fronts, but it was more talk than anything else this season.