Michigan Wolverines: Jadeveon Clowney
We'll be breaking down these games for the next few weeks, but we wanted to share our first impressions of the lineup:
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa vs. LSU
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28: Michigan vs. Kansas State
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27: Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Let's begin ...
Adam Rittenberg's first impressions
Worst game: Gator. I'm probably not as upset about this one as Brian (or most Nebraska fans), but a rematch of last season's Capital One Bowl featuring two teams playing without their starting quarterbacks doesn't move the needle. At least running backs Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are fun to watch.
Sneaky good game: Capital One Bowl. Not sure how sneaky this one is, but both teams are talented on both sides of the ball and easily could have better records. The game features the nation's most talented defender in South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney against one of the nation's most accomplished defenders in Wisconsin's Chris Borland. The Badgers' seniors want to go out on a good note after a stunning home loss to Penn State, not to mention three consecutive losses in the Rose Bowl.
The bowl season will be a success if: The Big Ten records a winning record with at least one BCS bowl win. This season's lineup is slightly more favorable, and four wins certainly isn't out of the question. Ohio State and Minnesota both should win their games, and Michigan State, while less experienced than Stanford in BCS games, is playing its best football. Wisconsin needs to rebound, Iowa has a tough draw and both Michigan and Nebraska have been enigmatic, but the Big Ten should expect a little more in its final season of its self-created meat-grinder bowl lineup.
Brian Bennett's first impressions
Best game: The Rose Bowl is tremendous and looks to be the second-best game outside of the BCS title game. But let me also put in a plug for a possible underrated Orange matchup between Ohio State and Clemson. I saw Clemson earlier this season, and while the Tigers stumbled badly against Florida State and South Carolina, they are loaded with athletes. Put Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde all on the same field, and you're guaranteed some fireworks. Both teams score more than 40 points per game so we could have an entertaining shootout with some intriguing back stories (the Woody Hayes punch, Urban Meyer's return to the state of Florida).
Worst game: Minnesota had a great season and has a legitimately good defense and solid running game led by David Cobb. So I was hoping to see the Gophers get a chance to prove themselves against a decent opponent. Unfortunately, they drew a 6-6 Syracuse squad that beat absolutely no one and has an even lower-scoring offense than Minnesota. A bowl win is probably all that matters to Jerry Kill and his players, but I think they deserved a better showcase opportunity.
Sneaky good game: Outback. Iowa will have to make up for a talent gap with LSU -- as most teams do when they play the Tigers. But the Hawkeyes really hit their stride in the season finale at Nebraska, and they have only lost to teams ranked in the top 20. LSU, meanwhile, will be without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL in the season finale, and this was not a vintage Tigers' defense. Both teams like to run the ball a lot, and Iowa linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey must continue to lead the way for Phil Parker's defense. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll get an ending half as good as the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
The bowl season will be a success if: At least one BCS win is a necessity, especially with opponents who are similar in style in both games. Winning at least one of the games against the SEC on New Year's Day is also important; that holiday has been unkind to the Big Ten of late, and Georgia and LSU look more vulnerable than usual. An overall winning record is possible and could start to change the conference's image. Another sign of success will be if Wisconsin can avoid adding to Clowney's postseason highlight reel.
No. On pure ability, we haven’t seen anyone the last eight years with his talent level, not even Robert Nkemdiche although he is a very, very close second. Da’Shawn Hand is a talented prospect, but is not blessed with the same stature or foot speed as Clowney. Hand is a hybrid player dependent upon scheme. If he were to attend Alabama or Florida we don’t feel he’d be a fulltime down lineman, we think he’d be a rush linebacker (Star or Jack) in a multiple 3-man front look. If he were to attend Michigan, we feel he would be a fulltime defensive end. However, he plays the position from a down stance much more like a 5-technique than a 9-technique yet he does not have the physical bulk yet to hold up as a five on an every down basis. Our concern with Hand has always been pad level and hip tightness. He is not an overly flexible lineman. His strengths are power, great hands and the ability to collapse the pocket. He is very strong. At some point he is going to bulk up into a 260-pound guy or more and then he might fit nicely as a 5-technique.
His offensive line coach, Darrell Funk, is just glad Schofield is talking now.
“He’s finally passed the 50-word mark in two years,” Funk said. “He said about eight words the first year. He’s up to a little over 50 now.”
Schofield, entering his second season as Michigan’s right tackle and third year starting on the offensive line, is the antithesis of the Wolverines’ more well-known, publicized left tackle, Lewan.
“I’m kind of a shy guy in general,” Schofield said, and he used shy to describe himself every time he was asked. “I don’t really mind not being in the spotlight. I kind of like that Taylor is in the spotlight so I just kind of sit back.
“I don’t really mind at all.”
It’s why, on Michigan’s media day on Sunday, the 6-foot-7 Schofield crammed next to fellow offensive linemen Kristian Mateus and Gunderson on a bench, reporters occasionally approaching him. Lewan held court in a corner with multiple reporters and television cameras. Schofield noticed, shrugged and laughed.
He enjoys being somewhat unknown as Michigan’s other redshirt senior offensive tackle with NFL ambitions.
“I just recently started finding out things,” Lewan said. “I knew he had a huge family, dad is a firefighter. He wants to be a PE teacher. He doesn’t want that large and glamorous life.
“He just wants to live his life and be happy.”
Happiness for Schofield is surrounded by family, with four sisters, his parents and a younger brother, Andrew, who is an offensive lineman at the University of South Dakota. He never sought the spotlight as a kid with the crush of siblings around him. Even if he wanted it, he’d have to share it.
He hung with Andrew, competing at everything from checkers (Michael insists he’s better) to Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64, where Andrew’s Link usually destroys Michael’s preferred character of Pikachu the Pokemon.
The family life extends to the holidays the two middle Schofield children miss. With Andrew and Michael gone every Thanksgiving, their mother, Kathy, began a new tradition, now three years old.
“Schogiving” is a giant Thanksgiving party in either late July or early August, depending when the Schofield boys report to football camp. The party ballooned to 50 people this year with at least 15 pounds of pork tenderloin, a 35-pound turkey and a 20-pound ham. The food is prepared by Kathy in the Schofield kitchen.
“She kind of made up a holiday,” Schofield said. “She wanted to do it. Our whole family is there. She wanted to make a giant dinner and it became our entire family and friends.”
Kathy did this because fall Saturdays are spent following Michael and Michigan. At least one family member will usually attend Andrew’s games.
Over the past three seasons, the Schofields have seen their son mature from a first-time left guard to an NFL prospect at right tackle. Schofield realized the NFL was a possibility last season after he went up against Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt.
Then, in the Outback Bowl, Lewan cramped up and missed a few plays. Schofield slid from right to left tackle and hung in for a handful of plays against South Carolina’s superstar, Jadeveon Clowney. Those two performances helped give him NFL hopes as well.
It also forced Schofield to realize if he wanted to become a pro, he needed to focus on every opponent like he did Tuitt.
“My redshirt sophomore year, I would always get hyped playing the bigger-name guys,” Schofield said. “Then middle of last year I started to realize I had to dominate whoever I am going against.”
It is a lesson carrying into this season, where for the first time Schofield might go from anonymous bookend to a player recognized on his own merits. Not that it’ll change him at all.
“I’m not going to go out of the way to get attention, I guess,” Schofield said. “I’m just going to stay in the background and just do my thing.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- To many people other than Taylor Lewan, Taylor Lewan should be in his first NFL training camp right now, being hazed as a rookie and preparing for a career as a bookend tackle for whatever NFL franchise drafted him.
The redshirt senior chose to hold off on all of that for another season, surprising his teammates, his coaches and almost everyone else by returning to Michigan for his fifth season.
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With the NCAA focusing on potential ejection for targeting -- described as a player who “target(s) and contact(s) defenseless players above the shoulders” -- one of the premier hits of last season is now back in focus.
“No. And I’m a defensive coach,” Hoke said. “A guy makes a great play and a great move and Smitty hopped right back up. So it didn’t look that way to me.”
He and other Big Ten coaches, though, have some concerns about the targeting rules and the subjectiveness of what could be labeled as targeting, leading to ejections.
Both Hoke and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned the potential of replay being used to determine ejections -- think something like what college basketball does with flagrant elbows to the head -- to make sure calls are correct.
The issue, though, is a serious one for coaches.
“The targeting issue is obviously something we have to do a great job of saving the game of football, to be honest with you,” Hoke said. “There’s some real vicious hits that have been taken and delivered.
“It’s one of those issues where replay is probably going to need to be involved. I’d hate to see a young man get alleged for targeting and he didn’t and the consequences of what happens to his season.”
Most of the league’s coaches who were asked about targeting said they stressed it during spring football as a means of educating players on what they can and cannot do. Hoke said it won’t change, though, how he teaches tackling.
However, with things happening at high speeds on the field, some of these types of hits are inevitable, which leads to the concern from coaches.
“It’s going to be pretty subjective,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “And I don’t think it’s an easy thing to call. And in my opinion it’s going a little bit overboard right now. And some things I’ve seen on TV and different examples that they’ve shown, you know, like even as a coach watching it on TV, I haven’t quite agreed with some of the things they’ve talked about.
“But I understand where it’s coming from. It’s about the safety of the players, and we’re all for that. We just have to make sure that we’re not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it’s supposed to be played.”
Whether it is or not will start to show up in a month.
Six of the top defenders Michigan will play are in the top five of their respective positions for the 2014 NFL draft as rated by Mel Kiper Jr. The top three could all challenge to be drafted as high, if not higher, than Michigan star tackle Taylor Lewan next April as well.
It isn’t a surprise, either, that six of the 10 top defensive players Michigan will play come from the Wolverines’ three major rivals: Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State.
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1. Generally speaking, at which position at the college level is it “easiest” to contribute as a true freshman?
Adam Rittenberg: Running back and wide receiver are the two that jump out. Some freshman running backs aren't physically ready to be significant contributors, but running back and receiver are spots where freshmen can use their natural skills to get on the field. There's learning to do at both spots, but not like what you see at quarterback, linebacker or safety. Unless you're named Jadeveon Clowney, linemen usually need at least one full offseason in the program to have a chance to be a significant contributor.
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There was a moment of trying to process whether or not Taylor Lewan, who has been known for making jokes throughout his career, was being serious.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Quick thoughts after South Carolina's wild 33-28 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl:
It was over when: South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson found receiver Bruce Ellington wide open down the field with 11 seconds left, scoring a 32-yard touchdown. Michigan had scored with 3:29 left on a pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon, all part of a fast-paced fourth quarter.
Game ball goes to: South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders. The 5-foot-8 wide receiver had a massive game, catching two touchdown passes and breaking a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown. Sanders had nine catches for 92 yards and accounted for three of the Gamecocks’ four touchdowns.
Stat of the game: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson finished his four-year career with 4,495 rushing yards, setting an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He passed former West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who rushed for 4,480 yards. The two quarterbacks have always been linked because of the coach who recruited them both, Rich Rodriguez.
Turning point: With 8:15 left in the game, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney broke through the Michigan rush and hit Vincent Smith as he took the handoff, crushing Smith, sending his helmet flying and causing a fumble that Clowney recovered. On the next play, Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Sanders that gave South Carolina a 27-22 lead.
Record performance: Jeremy Gallon had a career-high nine catches for 145 yards to go along with his two touchdowns. He was the only Michigan receiver with more than 27 yards and consistently made big plays and grabs. His first touchdown came in the back corner of the end zone and the second one, which gave the Wolverines a late lead, came on a slant in which he beat his defender inside.
After Gardner became the top signal-caller Nov. 3 at Minnesota, Michigan averaged 38.3 points and 440.3 yards during its next three games. The Wolverines converted 7 of 12 third downs against Minnesota, 7 of 10 against Northwestern and 9 of 12 against Iowa. The trends continued through the first 30 minutes in Columbus against archrival Ohio State, as Michigan piled up 21 points and 219 yards and converted 3 of 5 third-down attempts.
But then Michigan's offense disappeared, quite literally. After a six-play drive to start the second half, Michigan ran just 10 plays during its next four possessions.
The Big Ten's best third-down offense -- Michigan ranks sixth nationally at 51.3 percent -- went 1-for-3 on third-down attempts in the second half. Michigan ran a season-low 47 plays in the game, 23 fewer than Ohio State in a 26-21 Buckeyes win.
"There's no excuse for what happened in the second half, but we had been very productive. Because of how we finished, a lot of people think we're in worse shape than we are."
Like many teams, Michigan has spent a portion of its early bowl practices getting younger players more reps than usual. But as the Wolverines prepare for their Outback Bowl matchup Jan. 1 against No. 10 South Carolina, they're focusing on reviving what has been a very efficient third-down offense.
"That's a high, high emphasis right now," Borges said. "Because when we keep the chains moving, everybody's generally happy. A lot of guys touch the ball, everybody gets a chance to make a play. If you don't get third downs, you don't get calls out. A lot gets left on your sheet.
"We're a 51 percent third-down conversion team, and that includes short yardage. It's been a strength. It certainly hasn't been a weakness. It was in the second half of [the Ohio State] game."
To get back on course, Michigan likely needs to get more rushing production outside of the quarterback position, which has been a struggle at times this season. Denard Robinson, the team's leading rusher as a quarterback (1,166 yards) who played some running back late in the season, can help there. Borges also wants to get Justice Hayes more involved, as well as Thomas Rawls.
It won't be easy against an "incredibly athletic" South Carolina defense ranked 15th nationally against the run (119 yards per game).
"Our running game, we finished with 187 [rushing yards a game], and that's nothing to sneeze at," Borges said, "but at times, I don't think we were as consistent as we could have been. That hurt us a little bit. We have to improve with our home-position running game, that's the biggest thing, giving the ball to the tailback and not having to run the quarterback all the time."
Although Gardner is clearly the team's future at quarterback and changed the offense a bit when he took the reins, Borges continues to "spoon-feed" players some of the pro-style elements that will be Michigan's hallmarks in the future. A strong performance against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina could set up the Wolverines for bigger and better things in 2013.
"You do set the tone," Borges said. "It doesn't have a lot to do with what you do next year because you're playing with a significantly different team, but we need to finish the season on an up-beat. We need to do the things that make you happy in the offseason."
1) Taylor Lewan has a big decision to make, so let's hear it, does he stay or go pro? What are the circumstances for each? Chantel Jennings: He goes. The only way I see him not going is if he gets injured in the South Carolina game. The money is on the table and physically/mentally I think he’s ready. His athleticism and upside make him a no-brainer for most NFL teams. Plus, he’s already tatted up so you’ve got that out of the way.
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Here's my take:
1. Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford (Jan. 1, ESPN, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.) -- The first Rose Bowl featuring a 5-loss team doesn't sound too appetizing, but Wisconsin finished the season with a 70-point performance in the Big Ten title game and has a lot of stylistic similarities to Stanford. But who are we kidding. The real reason to watch is Barry Alvarez, the former Wisconsin coach who won three Rose Bowls and has taken over the head-coaching duties for the game following the sudden departure of Bret Bielema. Barry's back, and he's going for a 4-0 mark in Pasadena.
3. TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, No. 20 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State (Jan. 1, ESPN2, noon ET, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.) -- Everyone knows about Northwestern's bowl drought -- the team hasn't won a bowl since the 1949 Rose -- but bad matchups certainly have played a role. Northwestern finally gets a more evenly matched opponent in Mississippi State, which started strong but faded late. The Wildcats return almost all of their key players in 2013, including star running back/returner Venric Mark and quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, so this game could be a springboard for bigger things ahead if Northwestern comes out on top. Cowbell, anyone?
4. Capital One Bowl, No. 16 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Georgia (Jan. 1, ABC, 1 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando) -- This game usually ranks higher on the intrigue-o-meter, but it's tough to get too excited about a matchup featuring two teams that would much rather be elsewhere. Nebraska comes off of its worst performance in years, a complete clunker at the Big Ten title game. Georgia performed much better at the SEC championship, but once again couldn't get over the hump. There are some exciting individual players like Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Nebraska needs to significantly upgrade its performance to have a chance against the Dawgs.
5. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU (Dec. 29, ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.) -- If your entertainment gauge is based entirely on number of points scored, this probably isn't the game for you. But if you enjoy fast, physical defenses, be sure and tune in as the Spartans and Horned Frogs square off. Michigan State ranks fourth nationally in total defense, and TCU ranks 18th. It's likely the last chance to catch Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell in Green and White, and Michigan State could shake some things up on offense with some extra time to prepare.
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl, Purdue vs. Oklahoma State (Jan. 1, ESPNU, noon ET, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas) -- It's a coin flip for the last spot in the Big Ten bowl rankings, but at least this contest should feature some points. Oklahoma State ranks fourth nationally in scoring and fifth in total offense. While Purdue's offense had its ups and downs, the Boilers finished on a good note behind quarterback Robert Marve and play-caller Patrick Higgins, averaging 482 yards in the final three games. Oklahoma State is a heavy favorite, but Purdue, playing with an interim coach (Higgins) and a large senior class, has nothing to lose and should have some surprises.
7. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (Dec. 28, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET, Reliant Stadium, Houston) -- Again, there's not much separating this game from the one above it, but Texas Tech has an interim head coach after Tommy Tuberville's surprising exit, and Minnesota really struggled offensively late in the season as injuries piled up. It will be interesting to see how cornerback Michael Carter and Minnesota's improved secondary handles a Texas Tech offense ranked second nationally in passing. But unless Minnesota's offense makes major strides in bowl practices, it's tough to see this one being close.
He became a wall on the left side of the offensive line, a left tackle who could block almost anything in his path on the way to the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year award and a gaggle of All-American selections, including the ESPN.com All-America team.
The 6-foot-8, 309-pounder often had to answer questions about the struggles of his offensive line this season and they ranged from agreement -- he criticized the line heavily the first few weeks of the season -- to surliness when he disagreed with the criticism. The one thing that could not be doubted, though, was Lewan’s ability.
He has one year of eligibility remaining, but could depart for the NFL this season and be a high selection -- that is how good the NFL scouts feel he is and can be. While he won’t make that decision until after the Outback Bowl against South Carolina on New Year’s Day, he has proven to be one of the best in the country.
It is in that New Year’s Day game where Lewan might get the best gauge of his future. There could be times then where he is matched up with another ESPN.com All-American, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Lewan, unsurprisingly, also earned a spot on the ESPN.com All-Big Ten team along with Michigan redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan, who led the Wolverines in tackles (84) and tackles for loss (14).
Michigan Outlook: 2014
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD California Northwestern TBD Indiana State Indiana TBD Jacksonville State Michigan State TBD Appalachian State Michigan TBD Florida Atlantic Nebraska TBD Youngstown State Illinois TBD Northern Iowa Iowa TBD Ohio State Navy TBD Western Michigan Purdue 8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin