Michigan State Game Prediction

The long wait is finally over, the bye week is done, the anticipation has built, and Michigan prepares to travel to East Lansing for another 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness. The toughest, hardest hitting, slugfest of the year. With Paul Bunyan finally home after earning his associates degree at MSU the previous four years, and a situation where Michigan can’t lose and expect to earn a berth in Indianapolis, all is riding on this one. Jeremy Gallon - UMGoBlue.com

Predicting Michigan football is as about as easy as a couch escaping an East Lansing party without third degree burns. With youth, comes inconsistency.  10 guys do a great job on a play and one misses an assignment and the play fails.

The key to this game outside of the turnover battle is Michigan establishing the run with players other than Devin Gardner. Whether it’s the jet sweep with Dennis Norfleet, or between the tackles with Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green, Michigan must establish some form of a running game.

MSU likes to load the box and leave their corners on islands. Lining Devin Funchess up outside or in the slot, and making him go up and get passes can make them drop their safeties back to prevent that ND further open an inconsistent run game.

Michigan’s defense is better than it has portrayed the past two games, and has a chance to assert itself against an equally puzzling offense. Slowing the run game, which will reduce the Spartan’s play action passing is another key.

In the end, I don’t see MSU scoring more than 20 points offensively, unless they’re set up with short fields by their defense. Can Michigan move the ball effectively and take their shots when given? Michigan will score just enough, and take care of the ball equally as well as MSU, and squeak out a win,

Michigan 21 MSU 20

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2013 Offensive Depth Chart Preview

With the 2012 season wrapping up this weekend, it’s time to take a way too early look at the 2013 projected depth chart for the Wolverines with some analysis. Note: The only iDevin Gardner - UMGoBlue.comncoming freshmen that I will include in the depth chart are Shane Morris and Jake Butt.

QB: 1. Devin Gardner – Senior

2. Shane Morris – Freshman

3. Russell Bellomy – RS Sophomore

Analysis: Gardner returns for his fourth season as a Wolverine after starting the second half of 2012 at the QB spot following Denard Robinson’s injury. Gardner’s skill set opens up a more vertical passing game that the Wolverines became accustomed to with Robinson at the helm. Gardner has also shown the ability to make teams pay with his feet and should be the future of the position if he is granted a fifth season, something Coach Brady Hoke seems optimistic about. Shane Morris will be the second best quarterback on the roster talent wise, but don’t expect to see him in mop-up duty– that role will fall on Bellomy’s shoulders. However, should Gardner get hurt, expect to see Morris step in as the starter, ready or not.

RB: 1. Fitzgerald Toussaint – RS Senior

2. Thomas Rawls – Junior

3. Justice Hayes – RS Sophomore

4. Dennis Norfleet – Sophomore

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Grading The Performance: Iowa

Quarterback

Devin Gardner continues to improve at an Devin Gardner - UMGoBlue.comamazing rate. The better Devin plays, the more Al Borges has opened up the playbook and there has been little drop off in play. Devin made several NFL caliber throws on Saturday that Michigan fans haven’t seen since 2007. Throwing the deep 15-20 yard out route between the corner and safety is one of the hardest throws in football and Devin passed the test with flying colors. Devin also threw 2 flag routes to Roy Roundtree that were as impressive and difficult a throw as you are going to see in this offense. Devin continues to showcase that he is at his best when throwing to the sideline and vertically down the field. Al Borges has wisely steered away from throws to the middle of the field which can be hit or miss for Devin. Devin still has moments when he throws into double coverage or doesn’t identify hanging defenders which gets him into trouble. Devin’s interception to Micah Hyde occurred on a play where he failed to identify the hanging defender and threw the ball into what appeared to be an open spot.

If they’re smart, Michigan will continue to recruit mobile and dual-threat QBs in the same mold as Devin Gardner. The ability of mobile and duel-threat QBs to make plays with their legs in addition to throwing the ball is too advantageous to pass up in this era of college football. Devin Gardner’s arm has opened up facets of the playbook that Michigan hasn’t been able to successfully access prior to now. Gardner’s legs will allow them to continue to use parts of the playbook that would otherwise disappear once Denard Robinson is gone. Devin “only” carried the ball 9 times but he was extremely efficient and successful on those runs, accounting for 3 TDs and 37 yds. Devin’s legs not only force defenses to play honest, but give Michigan the ability to continue to actively attack opposing defenses on designed runs.

Grade: A

Running Back

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Grading The Performance: Little Brother

Quarterback

The QB play wasn’t always pretty on Saturday, but Denard Robinson made enough plays in the end with both his arm and his legs to put Michigan in position to Denard Robinson - UMGoBlue.comwin the game. Robinson completed just 48% of his passes on the day but converted some critical 3rd down passes to extend drives. Denard took care of the ball for the most part, but there were several occasions when the ball was thrown up for grabs. When the offense continues to struggle in games Robinson has tended to press and try to force plays that aren’t there. Denard didn’t press the issue as much this game but there were still a few “oh no” moments on Saturday. Denard threw behind a wide open Jeremy Gallon in the end zone and misfired on a pass to Roy Roundtree in the end zone early in the game. When plays needed to be made on the final drive however, Denard made them. No play was bigger than the 19 yd. pass to Drew Dileo that setup the game winning FG.

Reads continue to be an issue for Denard in the run game. While in some cases it would not have ultimately made a difference in the success of the play, Denard missed several key reads on the zone read. The fact that Denard hasn’t completely mastered the zone read after 3 years as the starter continues to bewilder. Denard did have the best rushing performance that he’s ever had against the Spartans on Saturday. It took 20 carries for Denard to eke out 96yds on the ground, 44 of which came on a single run.

Denard accounted for all but 67 of Michigan’s 326 yards on Saturday.

Grade: B-

Running Back

After what occurred in last week’s game, there was an expectation that Michigan would continue to use a running back by committee approach. The expectation never materialized as Michigan used Fitzgerald Toussaint on nearly every snap. Fitz probably should have received more touches as he gained 52 yds on just 10 carries (5.2 ypc). Saturday was probably the first game in which Fitz actually looked like the back Michigan fans saw last year. Fitz was decisive, didn’t go down easily, and finished off his runs with physicality. In a game where yards were hard to come by, Vincent Smith had a big 12 run to kick off Michigan’s game winning drive.

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Grading The Performance: Illinois

Quarterback2012-umillinois-04

Eliminating turnovers has been the point of emphasis for Denard Robinson since the spring. Through the early part of the season Denard had seemingly ignored what had been stressed to him by the coaching staff all off season. While Denard was responsible for a fumble a week ago, Denard has cut out the interceptions that plagued him through the first 4 games of the season. While the play calling certain has played a significant role in reducing the number of interceptions, Denard’s footwork, accuracy, and decision making has also improved. That improvement was on display against the Illini as Robinson completed 63% of his passes for 159 yds and 2 TDs. While the passing numbers weren’t out of this world, they represent the kind of passing game that Michigan is likely to have success with in the future. Denard was efficient with the football and had great location on his passes.

Denard racked up 128yds on the ground in addition to his passing numbers. There weren’t as many huge runs as last week against Purdue but Denard picked his spots and consistently picked up 8-9 yds when he kept the ball. Denard also did a much better job on the zone read this week vs. last week.

Russell Bellomy saw his first semi-extended playing time in relief of Denard Robinson. Bellomy wasn’t asked to do much but he didn’t show any signs of the moment being too big for him. Bellomy didn’t have to do more than hand the ball off on his first series but he threw two accurate passes on his 2nd series, both of which were dropped. Bellomy again showed his athletic ability, picking up a first down on a nice QB draw. Bellomy’s lone mistake was a fumbled snap in garbage time after Robinson had returned to duty. There still isn’t a big enough sample size to evaluated what kind of QB Bellomy will be longterm but at the very least coaches and fan know that Bellomy can handle the offense in a pressure situation.

Grade: A-

Running Back

Al Borges has often discussed how much he likes having one back carry most of the load. Going into the year everyone assumed that Fitzgerald Toussaint had established himself as that one back but his production has been average at best heading into Saturday. Michigan switched things up against the Illini using 4 different backs through the course of the game. Toussaint, Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, and Dennis Norfleet all received snaps at RB in the 1st half with varying degrees of success. Fitz had his 2nd best day on the ground on Saturday from a statistical standpoint, racking up 62 yds on 18 carries. The 3.4 ypc average fell well short of the 5.6 yds that Fitz gained a year ago. Fitz did run with more effort and burst than he showed against Purdue but still wasn’t able to post the kind of numbers that Michigan fans have come to expect from him. Thomas Rawls had the best game of his Michigan career gaining 90 yds on just 9 carries including a 62 yd TD run late in the contest. Rawls ran extremely hard on Saturday and was had several critical short yardage runs in the game that netting the Wolverines first downs. Justice Hayes showed the kind of burst and agility that made him such a highly recruited back out of high school. Hayes actually finished with more rushing yards that Toussaint despite receiving 8 less carries.

Michigan fans have been hungry for more production out the backs and their wish was granted in this game. The backs gained 217 yds as unit, by far the most impressive showing of the season.

Grade: A

WJeremy Gallon - UMGoBlue.comide Receivers/TEs

Saturday may have been the weirdest day for any group of receivers to have played at Michigan. The unit combined for 6 catches and 153 yds and no player registered more than a single catch. Jeremy Gallon kicked off Michigan’s scoring affair with 71 yd TD off a screen pass. Gallon continues to operate as an unheralded figure outside the Michigan fanbase, despite the number of big plays that he has been involved in over the last 2 years. Roy Roundtree recorded his longest catch of the season, catching a 33 yd jump ball from Denard Robinson in the 1st quarter. Roy also dropped a critical pass from Russell Bellomy when Michigan needed the senior to help his young QB out.

Devin Funchess made another spectacular play in the passing game, this time on a jump ball in the back of the endzone. Funchess has carved out a nice niche for himself on this football team and is now firmly established as a threat that opposing defenses need to account for. Like Roy, Funchess dropped a sure first down from Russell Bellomy when Michigan really needed a catch. Brandon Moore returned from injury in this game but found himself behind the other TEs in the rotation.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

Michigan ran for 353 yds on Saturday and that doesn’t happen without a dominant performance from the offensive line. Michigan employed a variety of schemes up front and used more traps and isolation run plays than have been used throughout the season. The offensive line did a great job of not only handling the man in front of them but also climbing to the second level and taking on LBers and safeties. Ricky Barnum played surprisingly well despite a 1st quarter injury that saw him leave the field. For the last two years Brady Hoke and Al Borges have talked about their desire to effectively run the power play and push people around and Michigan was able to do those two things effectively in the 2nd half of the game. Once the Illinois defense got worn down, the Michigan offense line produced the most success the Wolverines have had to date using the power play.

The Wolverines pass protection continues to stymie opposing pass rushers at a high rate. The tackles played especially well on Saturday, including Taylor Lewan who continues to play at an All-American level.

Grade: A+

Defensive Line

2012-umillinois-026Michigan was fortunate that Jibreel Black piled drove Nathan Scheelhaase into the ground. Prior to the injury to its starting QB Illinois was moving the ball on Michigan at an unusually high rate. Quinton Washington has experience his share of ups and downs throughout the season. In the first two games Washington really struggled with the physical play up front and holding up at the point of attack. Washington has come a long way in just a short period of time and is not actively making plays as a disruptor in the backfield. On Saturday, Quinton recorded his first full TFL on the season and even provided pressure on the QB which is not something most of have seen from his over the last 2 years.. Ondre Pipkins played well on limited snaps and continues to improve as both a pass rusher and run stuffer. Pipkins has always done a great job of getting of blocks and making plays in pursuit, now it is just a matter of getting Pipkins to play with more physicality inside and start penetrating into the backfield.

The DEs had their best game of the season, especially in run support which they once again held the edge and maintained containment. Mario Ojemudia recorded the first sack of his Michigan career, something the Michigan coaches feel should happen with more regularity. Right now Ojemudia’s major asset on the team is as a situation pass rusher and he finally broke through on Saturday.

Grade: B

Linebackers

The LBers played their best game of the season by far. Jake Ryan led the way on defense from start to finish and was an absolute terror wherever he lined up. Ryan made plays in the backfield, out in space, and as pass rusher off the edge. Ryan was all over the field collecting 11 tackles including 3 behind the line of scrimmage plus 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Ryan wasn’t the only LBer to play well. Kenny Demens had his best game of the season registering 8 tackles, a critical TFL, and an interception. It is encouraging to see the kind of improvement that Demens has made over the last 3 weeks of the season. Freshman James Ross made several nice plays in relief duty. It is easy to see why the coaches try to get him on the field. Ross has a ways to go from an experience and consistency standpoint but his athleticism and instincts continue to impress.

Grade: A+

Secondary

Playing as a member of the Michigan secondary became much easier on Saturday once Scheelhaase went down. The passing g2012-umillinois-023ame has never been the strong point of the Illinois offense but once Scheelhaase left the game it became a non-factor. Michigan finished the game holding Illinois 29yds passing, a record low. The major contribution from the secondary occurred against the run. Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon didn’t finish the game with a lot of tackles but they did a great job of forcing plays back inside and kept opposing players in front of them.

Grade: C

Special Teams

It finally looked like Dennis Norfleet was going to get the return TD that most have been expecting for weeks now. Unfortunately, Norfleet wasn’t able to get past the punter on what ended up being a 42yd punt return. Illinois was held scoreless meaning the only kick return for Michigan occurred at the start of the 2nd half.

Matt Wile punted the ball 3 times on Saturday, all of which were downed inside the 20 yd line. Michigan has found a nice balance between Will Hagergup as the long distance punter and Wile as the short yardage punter. Hagerup’s lone punt travel 43 yds, it was also downed inside the 20 yard line.

Brendan Gibbons had a very busy day kicking extra points but wasn’t asked to do much more in the game. Gibbons connected on his lone FG attempt of the day, an 18 yd kick in the 1st quarter.

Grade: B

A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.

B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.

C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with several errors.

D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.

F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.

Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.

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