Monday, September 23, 2013
Michigan's non-conference report card
By Chantel Jennings
Michigan finished the non-conference season 4-0 and now, with a bye week to prepare as it enters the Big Ten season, it has a week to fix all the mistakes that popped up over the last month. Each position group had its good days and bad days. Here’s a grading of the Michigan offense through the non-conference schedule.
We’re really only looking at Devin Gardner here. His performances against Central Michigan and Notre Dame were stellar, but his performances against Akron and UConn were not. The Wolverines have had to rely on the “big-risk, big-reward system, " relying on Gardner to make plays in the absence of a consistent running game. And lately (here’s looking at you, Zips and Huskies), other teams have put Gardner into situations in which it’s mainly “big risk, big fail” for Michigan. Now, in both of those games, when the Wolverines needed a play near the end, Gardner has been clutch enough to get that done. But he has also been a big reason why they’ve struggled. He should continue to improve. Yes, he is a redshirt junior and most would expect him to be more polished at this point, but in quarterback years, he’s really only a freshman (eight starts would put him about two-thirds of the way through his first year).
Wide receivers: B/B-
Here, it would really make sense to split it up because Jeremy Gallon probably deserves an A-, but we’re looking at the groups as a whole. Sorry, Jeremy. As a unit their stats look above average, however, if you take out the statistics from the Notre Dame game this season and just look at the numbers from CMU, Akron and Uconn, it’s pretty darn bad. The main receivers (Gallon, Drew Dileo, Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds) in those three games averaged 106 yards on eight receptions. Now, part of that is the fact Gardner hasn’t thrown a ton of catchable passes, but Chesson has left his fair share of plays on the field. Still, it’s hard to downgrade the receivers too much when the passes being thrown their way are often in tough spots to grab.
Tight ends: B+/B
Devin Funchess and Jake Butt have both looked really good. Funchess’ blocking still leaves something to be desired, but it definitely has improved from last season and considering these are a first- and second-year players in Al Borges’ system, they seem to be doing pretty well. There isn’t a ton to say because they haven’t been targeted quite as much as they will two or three years down the road, but when they’ve been called upon, they’ve done well.
Fitzgerald Toussaint had season highs in carries (24) and yards (120) against UConn.
Running backs: B-
Again, like the wide receivers, it’s really hard to accurately grade this one because so much of the running backs' productivity is based on the offensive line (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that). Fitzgerald Toussaint seems to be getting more and more comfortable each game, but he has had far too many runs for 0 or negative yardage. If the Wolverines want to have a power run game and they want to stick with him rather than throwing Derrick Green into the fire more then Toussaint needs to find ways to break tackles. He really hasn’t broken too many this season and the Wolverines keep getting tripped up before they can get to the second level. Now, Gardner has rushed quite a bit and that is good for the Wolverines, but the running backsreally haven’t done enough to earn a higher grade.
Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are doing everything they can to make this offensive line productive and of a Michigan standard. But they say that if you’re going to be young somewhere on the line, it should be on the outside rather than the middle. And guess what? The exact opposite is true for Michigan. Lewan has held his temper pretty well this season, except for his holding penalty which brought back a huge Gardner gain against UConn. Considering how much Michigan has chosen to run behind Schofield, he has done pretty well, too.
Interior line: C-/D+
It has been bad. And ugly. And many other synonyms for those words. With the exception of the Notre Dame game, really, they’ve looked completely lost. They’ve gotten blown up and just totally missed blocks that they should’ve made. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said they would keep having guys compete for the positions, but we’ve really seen only Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis, which either means the guys behind them are hurt, or they’re just not better. Neither of which is a great scenario for Michigan because the interior line just isn’t getting it done. Kalis has been the most consistent of the three, and Lewan said that Glasgow graded out well against Akron, but Miller really hasn’t looked too impressive.