Michigan Wolverines: Frank Clark

Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the East:

INDIANA
  • Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he's starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn't changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there -- and Wilson's seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: "They've for sure held their own on a daily basis -- and, in some ways, probably even better -- against the offense."
  • Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it's also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA's top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he's hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.
  • At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers' leading returning receiver, and he's transitioning to playing the outside. It's been a little different for Wynn, who said he's had to watch more film as a result. He's reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.
MARYLAND
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can't focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. "The No. 1 thing I do like," Edsall said, "is we can spread the field."
  • Maryland's staff has already started looking at film of Big Ten teams, so they know what to expect when the conference season begins. Edsall said he wants to at least get a feel for their personnel and what kind of schemes he'll face. He's also confident the Terps will be ready: "We fully expect to be able to compete when we get into the Big Ten this year."
  • Brown said one of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was the coach who recruited him at the time, former Terps assistant and current Penn State coach James Franklin. He's looking forward to squaring off against Franklin this season, and Edsall said there's no question he would like to develop a rivalry with the Nittany Lions.
MICHIGAN
  • The quarterback derby will continue, and Brady Hoke included all three of his options in the discussion heading into the offseason. The Wolverines coach did acknowledge, though, that Devin Gardner “probably would be” the starter if there was a game on the schedule this weekend. There isn’t, so Shane Morris and Wilton Speight will continue to be in the conversation.
  • The first opponent on the schedule will always stir emotions for Michigan fans, but Hoke didn’t attach any revenge or sentimentality to his reasons for wanting to take on Appalachian State in the opener this fall. “We needed a game,” Hoke said. “I thought it would be a good game.” Defensive end Frank Clark was certainly aware of the history between the programs, even though he was still years away from joining Michigan and getting a shot at making up for the upset loss in 2007 -- which he called “shocking” and “shows how hard those guys play.”
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl victory, but coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook would prefer not to think about that any longer. Dantonio said they've talked a lot these last four months about not growing complacent, and Cook only echoed his coach. "A lot of people keep bringing up the Rose Bowl," Cook said. "But we're past that. We're focusing on the now."
  • The offensive line has made some big strides since January, at least according to Cook. He felt like he had no time in the pocket last spring and said the pass rush was getting to him every time. This spring? He doesn't feel rushed in the pocket, and he thinks that's pretty indicative of how far this line has come.
  • Jeremy Langford earned a lot of praise from Cook, who said the running back has become a much bigger part of the passing attack. "He's improved a lot with catching the ball," Cook said, complimenting Langford's versatility. "He's done so many different things for us."
OHIO STATE
  • There is still work to be done in addressing the most glaring weakness on the team last season, but Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s pass defense “drastically improved” and will be watching closely for more signs of progress in Saturday’s spring game. The Buckeyes will play a traditional game, but the emphasis will be on throwing the football and assessing the skill players on both offense and defense -- giving Meyer a chance to evaluate backup quarterback Cardale Jones in a live setting in addition to checking out the secondary.
  • Arguably the strongest part of last season's team is undergoing a transition without four senior starters, and the offensive line is somewhat of a concern for Meyer heading into the offseason. With guard Pat Elflein the only other player to have earned a first-team slot to play alongside junior Taylor Decker at this point, that competition is likely to spill over into preseason camp in August. Both tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood were praised for their work by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are dueling at center.
PENN STATE
  • Franklin said he knew exactly what he was getting into at Penn State, in terms of the current depth and sanctions. He and former coach Bill O'Brien worked together at Maryland, and he said the two had a lot of honest conversations about the current state of the Nittany Lions. The two have continued to talk since.
  • Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are both making transitions from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and Franklin said he has been pleased with their performances so far: "They're doing a good job for us -- and they have to. We're thin at that position."
  • Franklin said he feels especially comfortable with the talent at running back and defensive line. Middle linebacker Mike Hull was more specific about naming the players who impressed him, pointing to backup linebacker Gary Wooten and cornerback Da'Quan Davis. Hull said Wooten is always around the football and that Davis, who missed part of the spring with a hamstring injury, has come up with several interceptions.
RUTGERS
  • Another open competition at the most critical position on the field -- quarterback -- is still playing out at Rutgers, and coach Kyle Flood isn’t ready to declare a winner in what would seem to be a wide-open battle. Flood indicated that Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano are all “really vying for that first-team job.”
  • The change in conference affiliation has been welcomed with open arms by the Scarlet Knights, who can “feel the energy” as theypractice for their first season in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said the team was already buzzing with excitement about the opportunity, and Flood called joining the league a “positive in every way.” The move also presents the opportunity for a rivalry to develop with new divisional neighbor Penn State, with both Flood and Hamilton citing the proximity between the schools as a bonus.

Spring game recap: Michigan

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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Spring (practice) has officially sprung for Michigan, which became the first Big Ten team to hold its spring game on Saturday at the Big House.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 took in the festivities, which included a non-scoring scrimmage. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here. And here's a brief recap:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and completed just two passes in the Wolverines' spring game.
Star of the game: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two interceptions on the day, though he was also whistled for two pass interference penalties.

How it went down: It was just a spring game, and as most teams are wont to do, the Wolverines kept things very vanilla for their first public practice session of the year.

Still, fans had hoped to see some inklings of progress, especially from the new offense led by coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Alabama in the winter. Players had talked about making more big plays in practice in Nussmeier's scheme.

There wasn't much evidence of that on Saturday. On the very first snap of the scrimmage, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Lewis in his own territory. Gardner -- still not 100 percent on his healing foot -- would finish just 2-for-10 for 53 yards, though he's in no danger of losing the job. Backup Shane Morris went 5-for-11 for 73 yards, and his final throw was also picked off by Lewis, who started at corner and made a nice impression in that competition. (He'll need to keep doing that this summer, since Jabrill Peppers is on the way).

"I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year," Lewis said afterward. "We are playing more man-to-man and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it."

The one big play was a 44-yard strike from Gardner to Freddy Canteen, the early enrollee who has been the talk of the spring in Ann Arbor. He looks like the real deal and will likely earn a starting job at receiver.

The running game produced mixed results. De'Veon Smith got the most reps with the first unit, running nine times for 21 yards. Derrick Green added 16 yards on six carries, while Justice Hayes had six attempts for 33 yards. The offensive line, which included early enrollee Mason Cole as the first-team left tackle, struggled to open up holes and get a push up front. The defense registered five sacks, including one each from defensive linemen Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Willie Henry.

"Inconsistent" is how coach Brady Hoke described the offensive performance.

"I think there were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with," he said. "We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of the 15 practices, I think there has been some real improvements made."

Hoke has maintained all along that a team depending on many freshmen and sophomores will need some time to come together. On Saturday, they showed that in several key areas.

"There's no question," Hoke said, "we need a lot of improvement."
video
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- On Friday, Michigan plans to unveil a new museum area inside Schembechler Hall. The centerpiece display is a glass case reaching from floor to ceiling that contains 910 footballs, or one for every Wolverines victory.

There is room in the case for at least a couple hundred more balls. It’s also safe to presume that the all-time winningest program in college football history expects to add more than seven of those per year.

But that’s how many Team 134 contributed in 2013 in a disappointing 7-6 campaign that ended with a thud in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Tony DingThe 2013 season was a frustrating one for all involved in the Michigan program, as Brady Hoke and the Wolverines stumbled to a 7-6 record.
“That wasn’t a Michigan record,” senior linebacker Jake Ryan said.

It seemed almost quaint two years ago when Brady Hoke labeled the 2011 season -- one that included 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl title -- as “a failure” because the team didn’t capture a Big Ten championship. Since then, Hoke has flirted with actual failure, going just 15-11 in his second and third seasons as head coach.

As a result, Hoke made the first major staff shakeup of his tenure this offseason. He fired offensive coordinator Al Borges -- a move he called difficult because of their personal friendship -- and hired Doug Nussmeier from Alabama. He also switched around several defensive roles and took himself out of the defensive line coaching mix. Those moves signaled what had become obvious: Change was necessary to get Michigan back to being Michigan.

“Our first message to the players this offseason was to learn from going 7-6 on every front you can,” Hoke said. “That’s from how you prepared to how you came in the building every day.

“It’s the same thing with us as coaches. We talked a lot about us doing a better job with the fundamentals of playing the game and holding everybody to those expectations. And I think you always have to check yourself before you go anywhere else with it.”

Hoke hopes Nussmeier can help establish the true pro-style, physical offense that Borges could never quite take from vision to reality. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach the linebackers this season while Roy Manning and Curt Mallory will both work with the secondary, an idea Hoke said he got from talking to NFL coaches. Mattison wants to bring more pressure on defense this season, something the Wolverines didn’t do well in 2013. But with experience now in the front seven and incoming star recruit Jabrill Peppers potentially adding a lockdown cornerback, Michigan expects to go on the attack.

“In 2011, I think we had a much more aggressive style of defense,” Hoke said. “We probably got away from that a little bit.”

Perhaps the changes can finally answer last season's unsolved mystery: Who exactly are these Wolverines?

They were a wildly inconsistent crew that could set offensive records one week and fail to find the end zone the next. They nearly upset Ohio State in a thriller and lost four Big Ten games by just 11 points. But they also nearly lost to Akron, UConn and Northwestern and surrendered more than 40 points three times.

“Last year, we lacked an identity,” senior defensive end Frank Clark said. “This year, the main talk around here has been to develop an identity, as a defense especially. You look at every other top team across the country, and everybody either has a tough running game or a crazy pass game or a crazy defense. We want to go into a game and have our opponent say ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be a long day.’”

One of the main differences between his first team and the past two, Hoke said, was that the 2011 Sugar Bowl squad had “some fourth- and fifth-year guys who really understood what Michigan meant.” Leadership is a concern for this year’s team, which has only 12 seniors, though guys such as Ryan, Clark and quarterback Devin Gardner provide a great starting point. Hoke has taken his seniors to California for Navy SEALs training in the past and says he has some new ideas in store for this summer which he’s not yet ready to reveal.

The players and coaches are also trying to develop more of a competitive edge this spring.

“There’s definitely a different focus,” linebacker James Ross III said. “A lot of guys getting on each other, but it’s positive. Last year, I don’t think we had that as much. We’re holding each other accountable now, and I think we let a lot of things slide last year.”

Michigan’s success or failure in 2014 will ultimately depend on how quickly its young players, many of whom were decorated recruits, can develop. It says something about the state of the program that two guys who just enrolled in January -- receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole -- have been among the standouts of the spring. The Maize and Blue are extremely green on offense, particularly up front on a line that has been a sore spot for the past two seasons. With tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield graduated, that group is now mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.

Hoke said the youth on the O-line is a remaining byproduct of the transition from Rich Rodriguez. You might recall that Rodriguez was fired in 2010 after going 7-6 in his third year. Athletic director Dave Brandon remains in Hoke’s corner, and Hoke says the only pressure he feels is the internal pressure to do right by all of his players.

Still, the message should be loud and clear when Hoke walks into Schembechler Hall every day. They don’t dedicate museum displays to teams that go 7-6.

“The atmosphere around this building now is that we’ve got to win,” defensive lineman Taco Charlton said. “That’s period, point blank, whatever we’ve got to do.”

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
5:00
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Spring practice is in full swing around the Big Ten, and we've got you covered. Be sure to check us out on Twitter.

Mail call ...

Lance from Mooresville, N.C., writes: Some hypotheticals for you in regards to the 2013 Spartans: 1. If Le'Veon [Bell] would have stayed, would MSU have won a national title? Or would MSU have used him as a crutch like it did in 2012. 2. If MSU would have beat tOSU in the BIG CCG by 20-plus points and not given tOSU the lead back in the third quarter, would it have gone to the NCG? 3) How crazy is it that the BCS came a year too late for U of M and they didn't get an outright national title, and the playoff came a year too late for MSU, and it didn't get a chance to play for one either.

Adam Rittenberg: 1. I don't think Le'Veon Bell, as good as he is, would have been the difference in Michigan State winning a national title. And as you note, it might have changed how the coaches approached the quarterback position. MSU needed to lean more on its QB, partly because Bell wasn't there, and it allowed for Connor Cook to emerge. 2. Maybe if Missouri had beaten Auburn, MSU could have vaulted into the No. 2 spot. There was a strong push to get the SEC champ in the game after the run of national titles, but Missouri didn't have the backing that Auburn did. 3. I guess the college football powers-that-be are anti-Mitten State. It's really too bad MSU didn't have a chance to participate in a playoff last year.

 




Puck from Chesapeake, Va., writes: What impact does Taco Charlton make the for Wolverines this fall? I want him to be a game-changer!

Adam Rittenberg: Puck, few young players impressed me more physically on my spring trips last year than Taco Charlton. Freshmen simply don't look like that very often. He got a small taste of game action last fall, appearing in 10 games as a reserve and recording two tackles. I'm interested to see if he makes a significant jump in Year 2. Michigan needs more pass-rushing production, and while Charlton is behind Brennen Beyer, he could have a bigger role. Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia are on the other side and boast more experience, but I don't know if any Michigan defensive end has Charlton's physical gifts.

 




Leo from Philadelphia writes: I grew up in close proximity to both Maryland and Rutgers. I feel like I know what both schools represent (having lots of friends from each), and I can't see either being a rival to Penn State (for obvious reasons). I understand why people from those schools try to justify it, but in reality Penn State has no true rival in the B1G. Ohio State might be the closest thing, but at the end of the day it's not (for obvious reasons). If the Big Ten caters to it, Nebraska, Wisconsin or Michigan State have serious potential (mainly Nebraska). Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Leo, the only way Maryland or Rutgers becomes Penn State's rival is if one or both start beating the Lions on a regular basis. James Franklin's connection to Maryland makes that series more interesting, but I can't call it a rivalry until the Terps start winning. Penn State will see Ohio State, Michigan and MSU annually in the East Division, but all three programs have bigger rivals. A lot of Penn State and Nebraska fans wanted to see that series continue annually, but the division realignment makes it tough. Penn State might never have a true Big Ten rival. At least Pitt returns to the schedule in 2016.

 




Stephen from Mount Prospect, Ill., writes: Where do you stand on conference games beginning from Week 1? I think one of the more overlooked parts of the early part of the schedule is the effects it has on rankings and conference prestige. More early conference games will truly show who are the top teams. Look at the Michigan game when it lost to App State. It was the first game of the year, and the Wolverines were ranked fifth. It was a huge deal that they lost, and the perception was that the Big Ten was bad that season. If they played them at the end of the season with three losses, it wouldn't have been as big of a story.

Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, some really good points here. I've long been in favor of earlier conference games because they add some spice to those September Saturdays. No one like the Big Ten's MAC/FCS Invitational, which seems to take place one Saturday per season. Sprinkling in earlier league games, as we'll see in the near future, ensures the league remains somewhat relevant in the national discussion. But your point about early league games shedding light on which teams are good and which teams are not is very valid. I hate preseason polls and early-season rankings, but they would be slightly more accurate if teams faced stronger competition in September.

 




Al Baker from Lincoln, Neb., writes: It's Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, not Edwardsville, a much smaller satellite campus.

Adam Rittenberg: Actually, the Illinois state senators were referring to the Edwardsville campus, in the context of having a Big Ten candidate closer to a larger media market (St. Louis). Carbondale brings nothing to the Big Ten in terms of market. Same goes for Illinois State, Northern Illinois and most of the highly unrealistic candidates for Big Ten expansion. SIU-Edwardsville at least has location in its favor, but not much else.
The excitement of Hollywood’s biggest night isn’t completely over yet. There’s no reason not to carry over Oscar fun and relate it, somehow, to the Wolverines.

So, here are our best guesses for the 2015 Michigan football Oscars, a look ahead to what could be the best performances and must-sees of the 2014-15 season.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDevin Gardner passed for eight TDs and zero interceptions in his final four games last season.
Best picture: This was about as obvious a pick as "Titanic" in 1998. Leo stole our hearts and there just might be a game next year that could do the same. The best picture of the Michigan football season will be the Michigan-Ohio State game. If Nov. 29 isn’t already circled, do so now. It’ll be the must-see of the year. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller returns, but he has lost his running counterpart Carlos Hyde. However, the good thing about this game happening at the end of every season is so each team has enough time to come into its own and develop the talent. Both the Wolverine and Buckeye rosters have a lot of talent that could grow into its own and when these teams take the field expect plenty of nominee-worthy performances.

Best actor in a leading role (offense): Devin Gardner. The QB job is his to lose and as long as nothing goes wrong this spring and he takes his spot, there’s little to no reason why he shouldn’t be the offensive MVP next year. Yes, he was inconsistent last season, but it was a trend of the team, not just him. If he can bottle his performances from the last four games and turn that into a full season, he could have a really fantastic year ahead of him and the Wolverines could, too.

Best actor in a supporting role (offense): The offensive line. It’s kind of a cheat to give this to a group, but with an offensive line at its best, it moves as one. So we’ll go with that. This past season proved that it’s much harder (or nearly impossible) for any quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end to be productive, if the offensive line isn’t effective first. If Gardner has a big season, part of it will be because of what he did in the offseason, but a big part of it will be because the offensive line gave him time and kept him protected. Plus, the offensive line has quite a few interesting and creative guys, so if someone were to craft a speech to rival Jared Leto’s, it’d be someone on the O-line.

Best actor in a leading role (defense): Jake Ryan. He never really seemed to hit his stride last season after returning from his ACL tear. But now in his final year for the Wolverines, expect him to have his best season yet. He has moved inside to the middle linebacker spot so he’ll be reading the opposing running backs instead of tight ends, and Greg Mattison said this will give him a chance to get into more plays. With how instinctual Ryan is and how he has displayed that in the past, putting him a position to get to the ball more seems like a fantastic idea and one that could make him one the Wolverines’ leading men.

Best actor in a supporting role (defense): Frank Clark. Don’t get me wrong, Clark also could have a huge season but in order for Ryan to really play up to his potential, the defensive line will need to get some consistent pressure. Like the offensive line it’ll need to work as a unit, but looking at the Wolverine defensive line, Clark is a name that jumps out as one that could wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The more he can do that, the more double teams he’ll draw and the more space he’ll be able to free up for Ryan to make big plays.

Best costume design: It’s quite doubtful Michigan will ever have a period piece-inspired uniform, though the nice thing about those period pieces is that the color “highlighter yellow” didn’t seem to exist. So, I can’t say I’d totally be opposed to that. However, uniform changes probably will be pretty subtle next season but don’t be too surprised if Michigan pulls something out for the MSU or OSU game. The best bet would be Notre Dame, however, as it is the final matchup. Michigan can’t do fireworks and Queen Bey at an away game, but it can do something big with its uniform.

Best original score: A score is essentially the same thing as a game plan, right? So, let’s go with Michigan’s offensive attack against Michigan State. Last season the Wolverines allowed seven sacks to the Spartans and finished the day with minus-48 rushing yards. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is back so fans can expect that even though the Spartans lost plenty of talent, that MSU will be more than prepared for the Wolverines. But new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier should have some tricks up his sleeve. The Wolverines will have seven games before they face the Spartans so Nussmeier should have a good idea of what Michigan does well and what it doesn’t do as well, so expect his game plans to bring you tears just like the way "Up" did.

Best original screenplay: We can’t leave the marching band out on this one. The Michigan Marching Band will somehow need to find a way to best last season’s Beyonce performance. However, the best guess for when this show-stopping performance happens would be the Appalachian State game. For starters, it’s the App State game and with so many terrible memories for Michigan fans from the last version, an impressive halftime show could add even more to a dominant win. Also, with games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State away from Ann Arbor, the options for blowout shows are kind of limited. Expect the Michigan Marching Band to run the world and make App State fans realize the marching band is the best thing they never had.
For the most part, Brady Hoke really doesn’t like recruiting surprises. The majority of his commitments at Michigan have come early in the recruiting cycle, and by the time signing day rolls around, there aren’t many spots left in Ann Arbor.

That’s largely the case again this season. Michigan had six early enrollees, so only 10 will sign Wednesday. The Wolverines are really waiting on only one possible signee -- in-state defensive lineman Malik McDowell. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound prospect out of Southfield, Mich,. will decide among Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

Most later commits for the Wolverines have happened because Michigan offered a scholarship late in the process. However, the Wolverines have been in on McDowell for years. And on Wednesday, McDowell could join the very short list of Hoke’s signing day surprises. Here’s a look at those players from his first three classes.

2013 | Signing day: Feb. 1

RB Derrick Green | Jan. 26

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Green was a big signing for Brady Hoke at Michigan.
He was the last commitment in the 2013 class for the Wolverines and one of the freshmen who contributed the most this season. He chose Michigan over Auburn and Tennessee, who had both just gone through coaching changes. However, there was quite a bit of tension going into his decision day as to whether Hoke would be able to sign a player of Green’s caliber from outside the Midwest.

DB Reon Dawson | Jan. 14

Dawson changed his commitment from Illinois, the in-state school he had been committed to for nearly eight months. Michigan came in with a late offer, not until about a month before he committed to the Wolverines. However, Dawson attended high school with longtime commit Mike McCray, so he said he had heard plenty about Michigan.

OL Dan Samuelson | Jan. 12

Samuelson was a bit of a surprise for a few reasons. He had been committed to Nebraska for eight months (and before that, he had been committed to Pitt for less than a month). However, he decided he wanted to be closer to his Indiana home and Michigan was only three hours away. But the bigger surprise was that most observers believed the Wolverines' offensive line recruiting was pretty much completed, as Hoke had already secured five four-star linemen.

2012 | Signing day: Feb. 2

WR/KR/PR Dennis Norfleet | Feb. 1

He really has been the only game-time decision during Hoke’s tenure. The Wolverines were able to flip Norfleet’s commitment from Cincinnati in the final days. Hoke had offered a scholarship to Norfleet the week before signing day, but he didn’t decommit from Cincinnati until the night before.

DT Willie Henry | Jan. 31

Henry had taken his official visit to Michigan the weekend before signing day and then chose the Wolverines over MAC and Big East schools. Henry was an important late commit for the Wolverines because he kind of stopped the bleeding after several recruiting runner-up finishes for the Wolverines (TE Sam Grant, CB Armani Reeves, OL Alex Kozan, OL Josh Garnett).

2011 | Signing day: Feb. 3

The 2011 class as a whole was kind of a surprise class, as Hoke had less than two months to put it together. So there were a few guys, such as quarterback Russell Bellomy, offensive lineman Chris Bryant and linebacker Antonio Poole, who committed within two weeks of signing day. Today, that would seem like a lot of late commitments for Hoke, but for the 2011 class, it wasn’t that crazy. The Wolverines picked up three commitments in the few days leading up to Hoke’s first signing day at Michigan.

TE Chris Barnett | Feb. 2

Before Barnett got to signing day with Michigan, he attended four different high schools and broke commitments to Arkansas and Oklahoma. He ended up staying in Ann Arbor for only one season.

DE Frank Clark | Feb. 2

Clark was on campus for the first recruiting weekend of Hoke’s tenure. The late add of not only an Ohio kid, but a player from Cleveland Glenville -- an Ohio State pipeline school -- was impressive for Hoke in his first few months on the job.

RB Thomas Rawls | Feb. 1

Rawls had visited only Michigan and Central Michigan, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he ended up choosing the Wolverines. However, in an interesting turn of events, Rawls was granted his release from Michigan following this season and will play for Central Michigan next season.
The offensive and defensive lines underachieved this season for Michigan. For a program that wants its identity to be in the trenches, this wasn’t exactly a poster year.

[+] EnlargeFrank Clark
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsFrank Clark showed signs of his potential and should provide leadership on Michigan's defensive line.
THE GOOD: Frank Clark didn’t have the season that many anticipated he would, especially after Taylor Lewan had said that when they went up against each other last spring and in the fall, he thought Clark could be an All-American. However, he did show that he could play in the Big Ten and beyond. He led the team in tackles for a loss (12 for 38 yards), sacks (4.5 for 26 yards), quarterback hurries (7) and fumble recoveries (2 for 24 yards). He’ll be back in 2014, which is a very good thing for Michigan. Brennen Beyer who will likely play on the D-line primarily, also returns. Beyer and Clark should provide leadership for some younger D-linemen. Another bright spot for this past season was redshirt freshman Willie Henry, who recorded 32 tackles -- second best on the team for a defensive lineman.

THE BAD: The goal was to get a solid four-man rush, and the Wolverines never consistently achieved it in 2013. Michigan decided not to hire a D-line coach when Jeremy Montgomery left. Instead, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke took over the defensive line responsibilities. With those two leading the way, there was an assumption that this unit would have been more productive than they actually were. Michigan recorded 25 sacks (65th nationally, seventh in the Big Ten) and opposing quarterbacks completed 42 passes of 20 or more yards (69th nationally, eighth in the Big Ten). The sack totals are on the D-line. The long completions are shared by the defense as a whole, but it definitely would’ve been better if the defensive line had been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.

THE FUTURE: Clark, along with Beyer, are the leaders of this group. They’ll probably be the two starting defensive ends. Taco Charlton is a name to keep track of as he’ll likely be a backup at both positions. Henry should look to be more productive inside and will spend the offseason gaining chemistry with Ondre Pipkins. Chris Wormley is another player who showed major potential and will be a big contributor in 2014, especially if the defensive line rotates as much as it did last fall. From the 2014 class, defensive tackle Bryan Mone enrolled early so he’ll have a jump start on the competition during spring football. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he already has very good size for a tackle. By comparison, Henry is 6-foot-2, 306 pounds and Pipkins is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight end
Offensive line

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
11:00
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Brady Hoke might turn out to be a legendary coach who has a long and storied career at Michigan.

But Hoke will be bucking some trends in order to get that done. In his third year in Ann Arbor, Hoke's Wolverines have taken a major step backward. After Saturday's 17-13 home loss to Nebraska, they're 6-3 with some challenging games ahead, and they're probably lucky not to have one or two more losses already.

Most of the truly great college football coaches in recent times have had their programs up and running by the third year. Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles won BCS titles in their third years at their current schools. Pete Carroll won an AP national title in his third season at USC.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBrady Hoke's third season hasn't gone as anyone associated with the Michigan program hoped.
Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and BCS title game appearance in Year 3. Ohio State's Urban Meyer won a national title his second year at Florida, while Bob Stoops did the same in his second year at Oklahoma. Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a national title his second year and then went 11-2 with a Fiesta Bowl win in Year 3.

The same is true for some legends. Joe Paterno guided Penn State to an undefeated record in his third season as head coach. Bear Bryant went 8-1-2 at Alabama in Year 3. And it's the case for revered Michigan Men. Bo Schembechler was 11-1 and had an undefeated Big Ten record in his third year at the helm of the Wolverines, while the third season for Lloyd Carr resulted in the undefeated 12-0 campaign of 1997.

Hoke did have to revamp the program and rebuild for a new system after Rich Rodriguez left, but several of the coaches mentioned in the preceding paragraphs also had to make major transitions. And any argument preaching patience for Hoke loses some steam when you look at Minnesota, where Jerry Kill and his staff have an 8-2 record in Year 3.

There is hope, but Hoke would have to find precedent in two places he'd probably rather not look. Woody Hayes was just 6-3 in his third year at Ohio State before going undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl the following year. Michigan State took a step back in Mark Dantonio's third year with a disappointing 6-7 mark; the Spartans would win 11 games and a share of the Big Ten title the next season.

So maybe Hoke, who is just 6-5 in his last 11 games, will get things rolling after this difficult third season. But history shows that most truly great coaches have done so by this point.

Take that and rewind it back:

Team of the week: Nebraska. Say what you want about Michigan's troubles, the Huskers still went into the Big House and snapped the Wolverines' 19-game home winning streak. And the Big Red offense is being held together by spit and string, at times. All-America guard Spencer Long is out for the season and senior quarterback Taylor Martinez is unavailable. Starting guard Jake Cotton is also out, and on Saturday, starting tackle Jeremiah Sirles went down with a knee injury. The Huskers turned to little-used Zach Sterup to replace Sirles. Take away a pick-six and a Hail Mary against Northwestern, and the Nebraska offense has scored just 30 points total in its last two games. With two victories.

Worst hangover: The nightmare continues for Michigan. If the Wolverines don't win at Northwestern this week -- and the Wildcats are coming off a bye -- then a 6-6 finish with a five-game losing streak becomes a real possibility.

Best play: For the second straight week, a late Nebraska play involving Ameer Abdullah takes this honor. This time, it was quarterback Tommy Armstrong's pitch to Abdullah on third-and-goal from the 5 for the winning touchdown.

Armstrong was ready to run on the option play until Michigan defensive end Frank Clark committed to him, and just before he got flattened, Armstrong had the presence of mind to flip the ball forward to Abdullah. The running back did the rest by diving into the end zone, helped by a nice block on the perimeter from receiver Alonzo Moore. It was one of the stranger-looking option plays and went down in the box score as a pass, but it couldn't have been any prettier for Nebraska fans.

Big Men on Campus (offense): Wisconsin's James White ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against BYU, and he added a receiving touchdown. Indiana receiver Cody Latimer had a career day versus Illinois, catching 11 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory recorded three sacks and a quarterback hurry as part of a dominating effort by the Blackshirts (and yes, they've earned that nickname again).

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Minnesota punter Peter Mortell helped the Gophers hang on in the second half of a 24-10 win. He had punts downed at the Penn State 1, 2 and 12 while averaging 46 yards on four attempts.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota
Brad Rempel/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota ran its record to 8-2 with a trophy win over Penn State on Saturday.
Break-dancing: Forgive Minnesota for being a little new to the whole winning trophies thing. The Gophers captured the Governor's Victory Bell by beating Penn State for the first time since 2004, and in their postgame sideline celebration, they actually broke part of the trophy. “I think we were more worried about keeping [the trophy] together, so we could celebrate with it first,” tight end Maxx Williams told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It's not like there is a lot of great history with that trophy, which has been around since only 1993.

The best part of the Gophers' victory celebration was clearly Jerry Kill's locker room dance. Watch it here.

Back to a bowl: Iowa can officially chalk up last year's 4-8 season as an aberration. The Hawkeyes pounded Purdue 38-14 on the road to earn their sixth win and ensure they will be back in a bowl game this season.

“Obviously, it’s not our endgame, but that’s one nice byproduct of winning,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s something we don’t take for granted. All you have to do is look back to last year. So it’s great to get that accomplished.”

With an off week to get ready for the final two games, Iowa should give Michigan and Nebraska all they can handle.

The Indiana effect: We are thinking of adding a separate helmet sticker post each week just for games involving Indiana. The Hoosiers put up big numbers and allow opponents to do the same in their weekly shootouts. Against Illinois, IU got huge games from Latimer and running back Tevin Coleman (215 yards on 15 carries, two touchdowns). Illini receiver Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards and two scores. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 450 yards in a losing effort. The two teams combined for 1,262 total yards, which sounds like a lot until you remember that Indiana and Michigan went for 1,323 last month.

The winning team has scored at least 41 points in every one of the Hoosiers' nine games, and an average of 80.5 points has been scored in each of those contests. Don't expect that to change, as Wisconsin and Ohio State are next up on the schedule.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Information):

  • In the past two weeks, Michigan lost a combined 49.2 expected points on rushing plays. Expected points added is a metric that measures the contributions of each unit to its team’s net scoring margin. Therefore, Michigan lost almost 50 net points as a results of its rushes and sacks. An average EPA is 0, so if Michigan had had an average rush offense, and all else remained equal, the Wolverines would have been about even with Michigan State and would have beaten Nebraska by about 22 points.
  • Against Nebraska, Michigan gained zero or negative yards on 21 of its 36 rushes (58.3 percent). It was the Wolverines’ second-most rushes and second-highest percentage of rushes that gained zero or negative yards in a game in the past 10 seasons.
  • Overall, Michigan added minus-26.3 expected points towards its net scoring margin on rushes (including sacks). That is the lowest rushing EPA for a team in an FBS game this season.
  • Coleman and his Indiana backfield mate Stephen Houston make an efficient pair. Houston is averaging 7.34 yards per rush, while Coleman is at 7.31. That ranks 10th and 11th, respectively, in the FBS among qualified rushers. They have combined for nearly 1,500 rushing yards despite averaging a little more than 22 rushes per game.
  • There are 123 FBS teams. Here are some of Purdue's national rankings: Points per game (120), rushing (122), passing yards per attempt (121), yards per play (121), points allowed (109), rushing yards allowed (111), third-down defense (122).
  • Minnesota is 8-2 and is passing the ball just 31.3 percent of the time. But that can definitely be a winning formula. Ranking right ahead of the Gophers is Stanford (35.5 percent of total plays are passes), while just below them is Auburn (30.8 percent).


The Legends division race finally begins to take shape this month, and the result of Saturday's game between No. 21 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State could go a long way toward determining which team reaches Indianapolis. In fact, Michigan State can take a significant step toward locking up the division crown by beating Michigan on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans would be 5-0 in league play with three division games left (Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota). Michigan already has one conference loss, albeit a cross-division one, but needs a victory Saturday to keep its main goal -- a Big Ten championship -- in the viewfinder.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Michigan/Big Ten writer Chantel Jennings both will be at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, and they discussed some key questions entering the matchup.

A lot is on the line for this game, but which team gains more from a win or loses more from a loss?

Rittenberg: It's definitely Michigan. The Wolverines already have a conference loss and essentially would be three games behind Michigan State if they fall Saturday in East Lansing. They would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker and would need either Michigan State to lose out or a multi-team tie with two losses apiece. Keep in mind that Michigan also has the tougher remaining schedule. Both teams play Nebraska and Northwestern -- Michigan State faces both on the road -- but Michigan also faces unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 30, while Michigan State doesn't play the Buckeyes. A Michigan State loss isn't a backbreaker by any means. The Spartans would have two weeks to prepare for Nebraska, the only Big Ten team Mark Dantonio has yet to beat, and still would have a decent chance to win out and claim the division crown at 7-1.

Jennings: I agree. From a league race perspective, the Wolverines need this if they want to remain competitive in the Legends division. However, this game is also huge from an emotional/fan base perspective. Michigan will be extremely restless with a loss to MSU this season. The Wolverines also dropped one to Penn State earlier, so losing to Michigan State and possibly Ohio State later this year could mark Hoke's least successful season in Ann Arbor.

Michigan's defense has a lot of questions to answer after its performance against Indiana. How do the Wolverines respond?

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarWith an extra week off, Jake Ryan could be closer to full strength and ready to be a factor for Michigan.
Rittenberg: I don't buy into bye weeks as much as others, but the added prep time allowed Michigan to press the reset button on defense after having few answers against the Hoosiers. Linebacker Jake Ryan should benefit as he works his way back to 100 percent from the knee injury. Michigan State has displayed better passing ability in recent weeks, but the Spartans won't challenge Michigan's secondary nearly as much as Indiana did. It really comes down to Michigan's defensive line and whether the front four can slow down emerging Spartans back Jeremy Langford and pressure Connor Cook. Wolverines end Frank Clark has some good numbers, but I'm still waiting for him to dominate a game. Where is the star power on this Wolverines defense? This would be a good time for it to show up, as Michigan State seems to be gaining confidence on offense, especially along the line.

Jennings: I really don't know. And that sounds like a cop-out answer but having covered this team, it's just so hard to say how they'll respond or how they'll show up or how they'll play. And I do think how a team responds is a bit different than how it'll play. The Wolverines could respond well and come out strong, but the big test will be if they can sustain that through four quarters. This group has just been so inconsistent -- they might be the best in the Big Ten at being inconsistent -- and this is such a physical game. I think we'll find out a lot about the Wolverines' mental fortitude after a few big hits on Saturday.

Michigan State's offense has been a wild card this season -- really bad early on but better in three of the first four Big Ten games. Which Spartans offense shows up Saturday?

Jennings: Connor Cook has gotten better and better every game, and I think the Spartans' offense is settling into a groove. The Michigan defense is still a big question mark, but they're far from perfect and have struggled with finishing on big plays through the season. Cook will have his opportunities down field, and if Langford can start by slashing the Michigan D up front, those opportunities probably will multiply through the game.

Rittenberg: It really comes down to the Michigan State offensive line, a group I've criticized in the past but one that has made noticeable strides during Big Ten play. If the Spartans control Michigan's defensive front, create some room for Langford and allow Cook to make plays against a defense thinking run-first, run-second, they'll be in good shape to win. I can't fully trust this unit after the Purdue debacle two weeks ago, but wide receiver Bennie Fowler seems to make a big difference, and he returned last week against Illinois.

Which position group on either side of the ball will be the MVP (most valuable position group) come Saturday evening?

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsSpartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard will be tested by Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon.
Jennings: Michigan State's defensive line. If the Spartans' defensive front can establish a solid pass rush and get Devin Gardner out of his comfort zone, then good things could happen -- three-and-outs, interceptions, poor decisions. It might be the linebackers or defensive backs finishing off the plays, but they'll happen because the defensive line was stout.

Rittenberg: I picked Michigan State to win, so I'll also go with a Spartans defensive unit: the secondary. Michigan can attack downfield with Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess, which will force the Spartans to make plays in space. Fortunately for MSU, it has the type of defensive backs who can do that and match up in single coverage. I can't wait to see Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a potential first-round draft pick next April, go against Gallon. You're right that Michigan State's front four must apply pressure, but at the end of the day, I think we'll be talking about the secondary.

This is the first time Michigan and Michigan State have played in November since 2007 (Mike Hart "little brother" game). How intense is this rivalry now, and where do you see it going in the East division beginning next season?

Rittenberg: Well, Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint certainly added some fuel this week, repeating Hart's "little brother" tag for Michigan State and talking about the personal nature of the rivalry. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio undoubtedly will bring up Toussaint's comments to his players. Dantonio has done a masterful job of playing up the rivalry, much like his mentor Jim Tressel did at Ohio State with the Michigan game. Michigan State won four straight in the series before falling last year in Ann Arbor, and the Spartans will have plenty of emotion on Saturday afternoon. Can Michigan match it? Brady Hoke told me this week that Michigan "flinched" too many times in 2011 in East Lansing, as Michigan State overwhelmed the Wolverines, personal fouls and all. This is a bigger game for Michigan than Michigan State, as a loss likely means another year without a Big Ten title. I'm very interested to see how Michigan comes out on Saturday.

Jennings: I think it's pretty heated. Specifically for Michigan, the Wolverines have a terrible taste in their mouth from the last time they visited Spartan Stadium. They were embarrassed and beaten up the last time they traveled to East Lansing, and for a group that prides itself on its physicality, that was the biggest insult. A loss is bad. But losing because you were manhandled and bullied is the worst. So not only are the Wolverines fighting for the top of the division, they're also fighting to regain their identity within that stadium. They haven't had to reestablish themselves like that inside an opponent's stadium yet under Hoke.

Midseason report: Michigan

October, 15, 2013
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Michigan has put together one of the most interesting seasons in college football so far this season. The Wolverines started the year with two dominant wins over Central Michigan and Notre Dame but then almost lost to both Akron and Connecticut. After a bye week, Michigan came out refocused and put away Minnesota easily, but then showed both its good and bad sides against Penn State. All in all, the Wolverines have shown that their highs are very high and their lows are very low, but they haven’t shown much consistency yet.

Quarterback Devin Gardner has been at the root of most discussions, however he has been working behind a young and transitioning offensive line. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has been the Wolverines’ featured back, but against the Nittany Lions he picked up just 27 yards on 27 carries. Michigan has been hoping to run Gardner less in an attempt to keep him healthy, but when the featured back only gains one yard per rush, Gardner was forced to take situations into his own hands (and feet) to get first downs. Gardner rushed 24 times for 121 yards against Penn State.

Defensively, coordinator Greg Mattison has put together another impressive group that seems to be coming into its own more and more each game. Linebacker Jake Ryan returned from injury against Penn State and defensive end Frank Clark -- who had been touted as an All-American prospect -- has come on as of late. Time and time again the Michigan defense has bailed out the Michigan offense when it is playing poorly, and given the Wolverines a place to stand.

Offensive MVP: Gardner. The strange thing about this pick is that he has also been the MVP for opposing teams as well a few times this season. Midway through the season the Wolverines have proved that they will basically live and die by what Gardner does. He gets the offensive MVP nod not for his consistency, but for the fact that he has managed to pull out plays most of the time when the Wolverines have needed them most. He isn’t in an enviable position as his O-line hasn’t given him support 100 percent of the time and Toussaint hasn’t been able to take off the pressure for him. This is not to ignore Gardner's mental lapses, but while he has been a key reason why Michigan has found itself in very tough situations, he has also been the reason why they’ve won.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Blake Countess. A year after Countess tore his ACL in the 2012 season opener against Alabama, he returned to the field for the Wolverines. Now, he leads the Big Ten in interceptions (four, returned for 179 yards) and has registered 24 tackles, two tackles for losses and two pass break ups. But most importantly, Countess has been the most consistent player in the Michigan secondary so far this season.

What we learned: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
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The Little Brown Jug will reside in Michigan for the next year. That, most people probably saw coming. But here are three other things we learned in Michigan's 42-13 win over Minnesota.

1. Boring is boring. But, boring is good. Saturday's game was probably not the most exciting game you've seen this season, but it did prove one thing -- fewer risky plays means fewer turnovers, fewer turnovers mean bigger scoring margins. Quarterback Devin Gardner didn't attempt a pass in the first quarter, but the Wolverines did get the run game going, which in turn opened up a few less risky plays in the air. If Michigan can continue to have a solid run game and take a few shots down field -- in moderation, and smartly, of course -- the Wolverines should be able to put together a complete offensive game plan. It might not be one that provides the best highlight-reel footage, but it could be one that provides wins.

2. Devin Funchess creates crazy mismatches. How many Big Ten teams have defensive backs that are really going to match up with the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Funchess? Really, the move to wide receiver makes sense. His blocking -- though Michigan had big hopes for him -- never really developed, and with the emergence of Jake Butt as a more complete tight end and the return of a blocking AJ Williams, the Wolverines really had more need for Funchess at wide receiver than tight end. His background in basketball has always helped him, but it seemed more evident Saturday as he showed off his ball skills with one touchdown and 151 yards on seven catches.

3. The defensive line still isn't getting enough pressure. The Wolverines allowed Minnesota to run right up the middle too many times (and way too many times on third down). Michigan's defensive line needs to step it up. The D-line's leading tackler was redshirt freshman Willie Henry with ... three tackles. Mario Ojemudia, Frank Clark and Quinton Washington also accounted for three tackles. Yes, the Wolverines are shuffling players in and out, but the first level of the defense should be able to pick up more tackles than that, especially when the opponent ran 41 times.
The first bye week of Michigan’s season has come and gone, and we’ll see how much not playing last weekend will help the Wolverines in their homecoming game this weekend.

Here are five things to watch as Michigan gets back on the field tomorrow.

1. Devin Gardner bouncing back. Following the Notre Dame game, Heisman hype surrounded Gardner. Now he’s saying that he deserves the amount of recent criticism he has gotten from fans and the media. That’s quite the swing for anyone, even someone as confident and sure of himself as Gardner. He admitted he strayed from his technique in the Akron and Connecticut games. With a week off to take a step back, spend more time in the film room and work more on the basics, he could step on the field as an entirely new player ... or he could reappear as a turnover risk. However, with the combination of Gardner’s attitude and Minnesota’s defense, expect Gardner to take a few steps forward this game.

2. The new interior offensive line. The Wolverines’ offensive line was inexperienced and lacked chemistry. Now, at the very beginning of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines are changing it up and hoping for the best. Moving Graham Glasgow to center will give Michigan a slightly bigger presence on the inside, but again, they’ll be starting from scratch. He has started four games at left guard and has worked at center through practices but he has never had to direct the line and work with Gardner during game action -- let alone the Big Ten opener. Chris Bryant will likely pick up his first start at left guard, which is again, not the most promising scenario for Michigan. He has been dinged up with knee and shoulder issues and has only appeared in one game so far this season. Perhaps the Wolverines’ O-line will take a few steps forward against the Gophers, but expect the occasional step backward as well.

3. The defensive line moving on up. The Wolverines showed progress with their four-man rush against Connecticut, and with a bye week to get back to the basics (which Greg Mattison had said they needed) as well as time to work together, expect them to continue their movement against Minnesota. They’re going to continue to funnel and shuffle guys through, but we’re still waiting on Frank Clark, while he has been impressive, to have his coming-out party. Saturday seems like a perfect time for that to happen.

4. A possible role change with Devin Funchess. The Wolverines haven’t had a consistent downfield threat this season. At times, Joe Reynolds has shown promise and Jeremy Jackson has shown potential, but that hasn’t exactly resulted in big gains. With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo as Gardner’s current safety nets, it makes sense for Michigan to try something out, like moving Funchess into more of a receiving role down the field. He has tons of pro potential and has always been a better pass catcher than blocker, so don’t be too surprised if you see him line up as a wide receiver against the Gophers.

5. Run game, fun game. The best the run game has looked was against Connecticut, but even so, it wasn’t the way Michigan wants it to be. This week Brady Hoke said that he might give Fitzgerald Toussaint (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) a few less carries from here on out just to mix things up and to get different players/bodies out there. So if you see Derrick Green (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) and De'Veon Smith (5-foot-11, 224 pounds) out there this weekend, don’t be too surprised. And if this sparks the Wolverines run game, be even less surprised.

Planning for success: Michigan

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With Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison as the defensive line coaches at Michigan, the Wolverines’ D-line would likely being under the highest scrutiny of any team in the country.

But the problem is, it hasn’t looked that way. The Wolverines aren’t getting the results they want.

“I told them that on Sunday, I said, ‘It’s not acceptable how we’re pass rushing,’ ” Mattison said. “I said, ‘I’m not doing a good job of teaching you and I’m going to do a good job of teaching you because we’re going to be able to pass rush.’ And we will.”

And they must if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.

The Wolverines narrowly slipped by Akron on Saturday, allowing 311 yards passing and 107 yards on the ground. The Zips gashed the front four time and time again.

The Wolverines ended the day without a single sack, but with six quarterback hurries -- something senior defensive tackle Jibreel Black said was promising.

“Us as a defense, we still have faith in our defensive line,” Black said. “It’s not like we’re not getting to the quarterback at all. We’re getting to the quarterback, we’re getting in his face, he’s just getting rid of it, throwing incomplete passes. … That’s the way it is sometimes.”

UConn’s offensive front might be the weakest Michigan has faced this season as the Huskies are still trying to figure out their starting five. That gives an opportunity for the Michigan defensive line as it returns to the basics this week.
Michigan will likely continue to filter in several players as Mattison has been pleased with the defensive line depth. Even though the numbers haven’t really backed it up, he has felt as though they were solidly three deep at each position on the defensive line.

One of the major problems might be the fact that a lot of the players getting snaps are young and Mattison said that maybe, after he saw much promise in his D-line depth last spring, that he gave them too much to handle this fall.

“Maybe I’ve tried to teach them too many things and we’ve got to go back to the way we were in the spring when we were doing a better job of it and say, ‘OK, let’s go back and do this first,’ ” Mattison said. “Sometimes, when I see good things in the practice field I say, ‘OK, I’m going to teach you this now, this will even help you more.’ Well, you better be able to master the first one first. That’s what we’re going to go with.”

Through three games the Michigan defensive line has accounted for just 30 tackles, one sack and six quarterback hurries.

And most of those numbers are coming from non-starters. Sophomore defensive end Mario Ojemudia leads the D-linemen in tackles with nine and is the only defensive lineman to record a sack.

In fact, the only starting defensive lineman who’s in the top five for D-line tackles is junior defensive end Frank Clark, who has accounted for four tackles (as well as four quarterback hurries). Backups Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley and Matt Godin round out the top five.

Part of that is scheme. Mattison said that starting tackle Quinton Washington (who has registered just two tackles through three games) and Pipkins have seen fewer snaps as Michigan has been in more of its sub package the past few games.

“We just have to go back to the fundamentals,” Black said. “When you’re always having trouble or having difficulties, you just go back to your fundamentals, back to the drawing board and really tune back in to where you started and then build from there.”

Diagnosing the Big Ten

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The doctor is in. Three weeks into the 2013 season, it's my job to diagnose any ailments in the Big Ten. After last Saturday's results, it's not hard to find some.

Let's begin ...

What's ailing the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeDeion Barnes
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsBig Ten defenses would get better with pass-rushers like Penn State's Deion Barnes getting more heat on opposing QBs.
Leaky defenses: Defense hasn't been the Big Ten's biggest problem in recent years, but there are some troubling signs this fall. Four teams are allowing more than 400 yards a game against mostly weak competition. Half of the league's teams are surrendering more than 250 passing yards a game. Only one Big Ten team (Michigan State) ranks in the top 40 nationally in sacks, and only one squad (Minnesota) ranks in the top 40 in tackles for loss. Minnesota end Theiren Cockran is the only Big Ten player with at least three sacks.

What's the cure?

Develop the pass rush: Certain position groups have gone downhill in the Big Ten in recent years, but the league has had no problems producing elite defensive linemen. More players need to emerge in the coming weeks to put some heat on opposing quarterbacks and help out some young defensive backs. I'm looking at you, Deion Barnes, Tyler Scott, Frank Clark and all of Wisconsin's down linemen (the team has only one sack, from linebacker Chris Borland).

And, now, for Part II ...

What's ailing the Big Ten?

Limited pass games: This is hardly a new problem for the Big Ten, which had only one team (Indiana) finish among the top 30 in pass offense last season. There has been a dearth of elite wide receivers throughout the Big Ten, which has been reflected in recent NFL drafts. While certain pass offenses have improved this fall -- Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan -- the league still has four teams averaging fewer than 200 pass yards per game. Minnesota has only 28 completions in three games.

What's the cure?

Develop No. 2 options at receiver: The No. 1 receivers around the Big Ten are pretty strong, from Penn State's Allen Robinson to Michigan's Jeremy Gallon, Nebraska's Kenny Bell to Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley. But not enough teams have found second and third options early this season. The ones who have -- Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois -- are seeing good results through the air. It's important for teams like Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin to find complementary pieces for the pass game.
The Michigan football team kicks of its 2013-14 season Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Central Michigan. The Chippewas are coming off an impressive season that included a win over Iowa and a victory over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Bowl. They pack a solid one-two punch with a talented wide receiver and running back, but their QB is a bit of a question mark.

It doesn’t hold quite as much drama as last year’s season opener against Alabama, but it’s official. College football is back and here are five storylines to watch for as the Wolverines take the field.

1. Youth and inexperience on Michigan’s offensive line.

This really is one of Michigan’s biggest question marks heading into the season. Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis combine for zero starts. Much of the offense’s success rests on how well the offensive line meshes. If these young guys don’t play more experienced than they are, it could be trouble. Michigan wants to go with a group rather than tweaking throughout the season and the Wolverines definitely don’t want to be tweaking the line the following weekend against Notre Dame, so these three need to be stout in the middle.

2. How much the Wolverines give away offensively

On Wednesday, Brady Hoke said they wouldn’t hold anything back against Central Michigan. “We got nothing to hide. We really don't,” he said. “We've got nothing to hide in what we do and how we do it. I think that is really overblown when you're trying to keep something that maybe they haven't seen.” Now, there’s definitely truth to what he said. The Wolverines are going to be who they are and coaches know that. But Devin Gardner also said that this is the thickest the playbook has been at this point in the season since he has been here. They obviously won’t put everything in this weekend, but I do think they’ll show some. Some of that will be to work kinks out but I don’t think it’s completely insane to say that some of that will be to keep Notre Dame on its heels. For example, two seasons ago, Borges and Hoke unveiled the deuce package -- Gardner and Denard Robinson in at the same time -- in a 58-0 rout of Minnesota. Did Michigan need to use that then? Nope. But it did. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was two weeks before the Wolverines traveled to East Lansing to play Michigan State. There were definitely a few wrenches thrown in Mark Dantonio’s game plan.

3. The return of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint

Michigan coaches say he’s 100 percent. He says he’s 100 percent. Teammates say he’s 100 percent. We’ll finally be able to see on Saturday. It’s more and more common these days to see athletes, like Toussaint, return from gruesome injuries, but it’ll be interesting to see how the coaches use him, how he moves on the field and how he takes that first hit. If the Wolverines get an early lead, don’t expect to see too much of him though. Michigan is still working with its running back depth and with six guys on the depth chart, the coaches will be looking for who can really be that third-down back or who they can rely on to step in for Toussaint to give him a rest (or who could overtake him, really). It won’t be too crazy -- depending on the score -- if we do see three or four guys get carries as Michigan tests the waters with multiple guys.

4. CMU’s senior running back Zurlon Tipton

Other than having the best name of anyone playing Saturday, he could also be the best running back on the field. As a junior, Tipton rushed for 19 touchdowns and 1,492 yards on 252 carries. His hands are solid and he accounted for 24 receptions for 287 yards last season. He’s going to be the Chippewas’ best offensive weapon and the Wolverines are prepared for that, but whether they’ll be able to stop him is another subject entirely. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday that Tipton is a "great cutback runner and he’s a very physical back. He earns a reputation. You watch him, he's running down the sideline and a lot of guys would step out of bounds. He turns back in to try and hit somebody." He should provide a test for the Michigan defense right out of the blocks.

5. The depth along Michigan’s defensive line

Mattison said Tuesday that he believes he has enough depth in the defensive line to run three-deep at each position. Obviously, we’d see more of guys like Jibreel Black, Quinton Washington and Frank Clark but don’t be too surprised if you do see second- or third-string players -- Willie Henry, Matt Godin, Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia -- getting into the game and making some plays. Mattison said he had this much depth once before, at Florida. The real test will come when we see if the second and third strings can get as much pressure, from a straight four-man rush, on the opposing QB. Because while Michigan might be able to run three deep against an offensive line and quarterback like Central, they might not be able to do the same against an Ohio State squad.

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Michigan Outlook: 2014
Brian Bennett discusses the outlook for the Michigan Wolverines' football program in 2014.Tags: Michigan Wolverines, Braxton MIller, Brian Bennett, Devin Gardner
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