Michigan Wolverines: Top 5 moments

Top 5 moments: Gardner steps up

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Denard Robinson fell innocently to the turf, tackled just one more time on a cold October night in Lincoln, Neb. Unlike so many other times in his career, though, Robinson didn’t get up.

Robinson and Michigan appeared to be driving for a score to take the lead against Nebraska in a game that would have given the Wolverines a stronghold on the Legends Division and a path to the Rose Bowl. But when Robinson went down, everything shifted for the last third of Michigan’s season.

Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy entered the game and missed on his first 10 passes. The Wolverines lost to Nebraska and saw their hold on the division slip away.

The next week, junior Devin Gardner became the starting quarterback, and that shift was the most critical moment of this Michigan football season.

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This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

No. 5 -- Countess injured; No. 4 -- Robinson sets a record; No. 3 -- A game-winning kick

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He showed potential last season when, as an underrated linebacker in his first career game, he seemed to always be around the ball.

Still, few could have anticipated this season’s rise of Jake Ryan from just another Michigan linebacker to one of the best in the Big Ten. While no particular moment stands out, his emergence as a whole is the second most critical thing for the Wolverines this season.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Sandra Dukes/US PresswireSophomore Jake Ryan became Michigan's top pass rusher this season.
Ryan leads Michigan in tackles (84), tackles for loss (14.5), forced fumbles (four), quarterback hurries (two) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (four). Moreover, he seems to be around the ball on almost every big Michigan play -- and many of the routine ones as well.

He has put up three games of 10 or more tackles -- and has hit nine tackles in two other games. He also has converted himself into an every-down linebacker, able to drop down to the defensive line as a rushing end when necessary. He also has learned how to drop in coverage spread wide in a linebacker-nickel formation to cover receivers and tight ends against certain spread offenses.

What has stood out the most, though, is how Ryan hits. When he makes good contact with an opponent, the result is usually a violent collision in which Ryan ends up on the better end.

Some of that is instinctual. The rest, though, just makes it appear so.

“Need to get my job done is what goes through my head,” Ryan said. “Tendencies and stuff, definitely looking for tendencies. Watching film, like what are they going to do before the play, stuff like that.

“That happening and reading my guy and reading what I need to do and coming through with the pass breakup.”

Or the sack. Or the big hit.

Michigan’s coaches insisted Ryan’s play -- literally how he decides to go from starting point to tackling point -- is “unorthodox.” But instead of harnessing it, the Wolverines seem content letting him do his thing.

After results like this season, there would be little reason to change.

Top 5 moments: Gibbons beats MSU

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
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Brendan GibbonsAP Photo/Carlos OsorioKicker Brendan Gibbons hit three field goals against Michigan State, including a late game-winner.
This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Two seasons ago, as a redshirt freshman, Brendan Gibbons was one of the worst kickers in the FBS. He lost his job to walk-on Seth Broekhuizen.

He made only 1 of 5 field goals before seeing his job disappear, a scholarship kicker on the sidelines in the final season of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure.

The shift in coaching staffs from Rodriguez to Brady Hoke, along with a new season in 2011, led to a renewed confidence from Gibbons and culminated last season in a game-winning kick to beat Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

That set up this season, and Gibbons came through again -- this time against a rival. Gibbons made three field goals against Michigan State, including a 38-yarder to give Michigan a 12-10 win over the Spartans, the No. 3 most critical moment of the Wolverines’ season.

“They are all pretty big kicks,” Gibbons said after the game, asked to compare his Sugar Bowl kick to this one. “This one is a big one. Our bigger goal is to win the Big Ten championship, not just beat Michigan State.”

Michigan obviously didn’t reach the Big Ten title game -- although at that point in the season the Wolverines were on pace for it. Instead, beating Michigan State turned into the biggest win of this season.

Michigan had not beaten Michigan State in the four previous meetings, in games ranging from near blowouts to a crushing overtime loss in 2009 that might have shifted Rodriguez’s entire tenure at Michigan, had the Wolverines won.

And the Wolverines, as had happened in those earlier losses, were unable to do much offensively. Michigan failed to score a touchdown, relying on the leg of Gibbons for four field goals and its defense to stifle the Spartans.

Gibbons has changed dramatically from his rough freshman season. He has been relied on more often by his coaches and his confidence has soared.

Gibbons has made 14 of 16 field goals this season and 27 of 33 over the past two seasons. He also has connected on 10 in a row entering the Outback Bowl -- a long way from his first season in Ann Arbor.

Top 5 moments: Robinson sets record

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
10:00
AM ET
This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

No. 5 -- Countess injured

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It came at the end of a blowout, with Michigan’s win against Purdue already guaranteed. And the quarterback who consistently pushed individual accolades aside for team success would have another record all to himself.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesMichigan's QB Denard Robinson had a memorable day against Purdue.
On Oct. 6, Denard Robinson passed former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El to become the Big Ten’s career quarterback rushing leader, also moving him to fourth in FBS history -- the No. 4 most critical moment of Michigan’s season.

“I don’t even think about it,” Robinson told reporters three days after he broke the mark. “I just go out and play football and have fun with the team and try to enjoy this year.”

Robinson’s season ended up being not as enjoyable as he probably hoped -- more on that later this week -- but the Big Ten quarterback rushing record is one of the bigger records Robinson set in his career.

With one game to go in his college career, Robinson has gained 4,395 yards, annihilating Randle El’s mark of 3,895 yards. He still has a shot at Pat White’s FBS quarterback rushing record of 4,480 yards, needing 86 yards to pass White for the record.

He likely would have passed White already -- and had potential shots at more Big Ten and Michigan records -- but an injury to his throwing elbow cost him two-and-a-half games during Big Ten season and turned him into somewhat of a part-time player in the final two games of the regular season.

In many ways, Robinson holding this record in the Big Ten is fitting. His first play from scrimmage in college was an electrifying touchdown run. His most memorable plays -- save for a game-winning touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat Notre Dame in 2011 -- have always been with his feet.

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