Mid-Season Observations: What Have We Learned?

Michigan reached the half-way point of its season after Saturday’s win over Illinois and now sits at 4-2 on the season. Despite returning fourteen starters, Michigan came intoElliott Mealer - UMGoBlue.com this season with some key questions. Through the first six games a number of those questions were answered, some continue to be the source of much debate.

After six games so far this season, here are a few of the things we’ve learned (not in order)

While Michigan has yet to hit the meat of its conference schedule, there has been little noticeable step down in the play of the center position post-David Molk. Much was made over Ricky Barnum taking over for Molk at center and while Barnum was talked up throughout both fall and spring camp, Elliott Mealer ultimately proved to the most capable option at center. Molk’s leadership and experience were always going to be impossible to replace. Mealer has actually played better than Molk in a several areas, most noticeably in the man blocking scheme.

2. Jake Ryan is a legitimate star in the making.

Ryan played well a year ago and more than exceeded the expectations most had for him when he signed a little known 3 star prospect out of Ohio. Ryan has taken more than a step forward this season, turning into a dynamic playmaker on defense. Ryan is well on his way to All-Big 10 honors and has been the lone constant force on the Michigan defense on a week to week basis.

Devin Funchess - UMGoBlue.com3. Michigan’s freshman TEs are more than capable of having an early impact.

TE was viewed as a major question mark heading into the season after the loss of Kevin Koger. The emergence of Devin Funchess as a pass catcher and AJ Williams as a run blocker has softened the blow caused by the departure of Kevin Koger. Funchess has arguably been the biggest positive surprise on the offensive side of the ball.

4. A shaky front seven on defense is only cause for concern for a short period of time.

Michigan’s front seven was a mess during the first 3 games of the season. The defensive line got pushed around, the LBers and safeties whiffed on tackle after tackle, and the Wolverines were unable to generate any sort of pass rush. Last season it took 8 games for Michigan’s defense to show significant improvement, this season it took 3 games. The front seven that took the field against Notre Dame on September 22nd was miles away from the defense they played the previous three games.

5. Fitzgerald Toussaint may not be the running back most thought he was.

Michigan is only six games into the season but Fitz has showed no sign of being the same runner than he was a year ago. It took until game 8 for Fitz to emerge as a viable every down back last year and most expected him to hit the ground running and take off right where he left off at the end of last season. That hasn’t occurred and Fitz has looked slow, unmotivated, and hesitant. It is very possible that Michigan will employ a Running Back By Committee approach through the remainder of the season.

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Top 5 Questions Entering Fall Camp

Michigan’s 2012 season officially gets under way on August 4th with the beginning of fall camp. Last year at this time there were a host of questions going into camp. What would the offense look like, how would Al Borges adapt to Denard Robinson, how much would the defense improve, etc. Michigan has reduced the number of question marks entering the 2012 campaign but key issues remain.

Here are 5 key questions for Michigan entering fall camp.

R. Barnum5. Can Ricky Barnum & Brandon Moore fill the shoes left by David Molk and Kevin Koger?

A 4 year starter, Molk was not only the best linemen on the team, but also the heart, soul, and mind of the offensive line. Barnum now steps in as the brains of the operation and while he has starting experience, the majority of that time was spent at guard. In the offense that Michigan runs, the success of the offensive line, and the offense as a whole, depends on the play of the he center. A large drop off in play at the center position could be devastating. Getting good snaps and making sure that the correct calls are made up front can’t be overvalued. Michigan has played without Molk in the past and the results were unspectacular to say the least. Barnum cemented himself as the starter during spring practice but how well he plays with live bullets is unanswered at the present.

Koger’s impact on Michigan’s offense has largely been underrated. While Koger never put up monster numbers in the passing game, his play was critical. Michigan’s success in the running game over the last 2 years, especially from the shotgun, was due in large part to the play of the TE. Without a strong blocking presence at TE, Michigan’s running game will suffer. Brandon Moore goes into his 5th year as a Wolverine, but has seen limited action during that time. Like Barnum, Moore won the starting TE job in the spring but how good he will play has yet to be determined.

4. What kind of production will Michigan get from the WR core?

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Top 5 Questions Entering Spring Practice

Michigan officially kicks off spring practice on March 17th, with the spring game to follow on April 14th. The Wolverines suffered several key losses on both sides of the ball and while a core of veterans return off of last year’s 11-2 squad, there are several key questions heading into spring camp.

Michigan officially kicks off spring practice on March 17th, with the spring game to follow on April 14th. The Wolverines suffered several key losses on both sides of the ball and while a core of veterans return off of last year’s 11-2 squad, there are several key questions heading into spring camp. Cameron Gordon

(Not in order)

1. Who starts at center?

Remington Award winner David Molk graduates leaving behind a gaping hole at center. An underrated position, centers are critical in making calls at the line, changing protections, and snapping the ball. The first series against Virginia Tech demonstrated how valuable David Molk was to the Michigan offense. 3 players will now vie for the starting role as Ricky Barnum moves from guard to center, joining Senior Rocko Khoury and Redshirt Freshman Jack Miller.

2. Who steps up outside at WR?

Big play Junior Hemmingway is gone, as is Odoms and Daryl Stonum. While Roy Roundtree returns he is still better suited at the slot position than outside. Someone has to step up and take over the role of go-to guy on the outside. Denard Robinson probably isn’t going to stop chucking up jump balls so someone will need to make plays on the ball in the air downfield. Juniors Jeremy Jackson and Jerald Robinson are the most likely candidates as they are really the only outside guys on the depth chart. Rumor has it that Cam Gordon asked to move to WR. Cam played WR in HS as well as his first season at Michigan before moving to defense.

3. What kind of production will there be from the DTs?

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An Early Look at the 2012 B1G Legends Division (Pre-Spring)

1. Michigan 10-2 (7-1)

michigan logo

2012 Forecast

IF the Wolverines can find somewhat productive replacements for Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen and find consistency on offense, they should have another very good season.

Key Returnees

Offense: Denard Robinson (QB-SR) 142-258 (55%) 2173 Yds. 20 TD 15 INT – 221 Carries 1176 Yds (5.3) 16 TD. B1G Football Honorable mention.Denard Robinson - OSU

Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB-JR) 187 Carries 1091 Yds (5.6) 9 TD – 6 Rec 1 TD. B1G Football Honorable mention.

Jeremy Gallon (WR-JR) 31 Rec. 453 (14.6) 3 TD.

Taylor Lewan (OT-JR) B1G Football Second Team.

Defense: Jordan Kovacs (SS-SR) 75 Tackles 8 Tfl 4 Sacks 1 Int.

Kenny Demens (MLB-SR) 94 tackles 5 Tfl 3 Sacks. B1G Football Honorable mention.

Jake Ryan (SAM-SO) 37 Tackles 11 Tfl 3 Sacks.

Craig Roh (DE-SR) 32 Tackles 8 Tfl 4 Sacks.

Key Departures

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Grading The Performance: Ohio

Quarterback

Players at Michigan are ultimately judged by how they perform against Ohio. While all position groups have to deal with an added level of expectation against the Buckeyes, no position group endures more pressure than the QBs. QBs are judged above all else by their record and performance against Ohio. For much of the last decade Michigan fans have seen their QB’s outperformed by their Buckeye counterparts. Names like Krenzel, Smith, and Pryor have made more plays in the clutch and fewer critical mistakes than Wolverine QBs. Over the last decade Ohio QBs have outperformed Michigan’s QBs, until Saturday.

Denard Robinson rose to the occasion on Saturday and simply willed the Wolverines to victory. Every time the Buckeyes made a play to take the lead or tie the game, Denard came right back to make a play of his own. Denard performed at the highest of levels on the biggest of stages; became a legend in the process. During one stretch of the game, Robinson completed 11 straight passes and was the most accurate that he’s been this season. The most impressive part of Robinson’s performance, from a passing standpoint, was that he was the most accurate while making the most difficult throws. Denard threw a perfect 15 yd corner route to Drew Dileo that would have gone for a TD had Dileo stayed on his feet. Denard also hit Junior Hemingway on a perfect strike between a safety and a corner. Denard made the difficult throws look easy, something that seems truly amazing when you think back of the season. In addition, Denard showed a tremendous amount of patience before hitting Odoms for a TD. There were no back foot, chuck the ball up for grabs plays, the kind that have gotten Denard into trouble all season. Denard was dialed in from the first snap and amazing enough continued to elevate his level of play throughout the game.

On the ground, Denard ran harder and with more decisiveness than he has since arriving at Michigan. There was only one play where Denard hesitated instead of making up his mind and taking off. Denard burned Nebraska last week with his scrambling ability and he did the same to the Buckeyes this week. Anytime Ohio vacated its LBs from the middle of the field, Denard took off which was great to see. Denard also did a great job on the zone read, an area that he has struggled with his whole career. Denard was determined not to let Michigan lose and he ran like it.

The only imperfections on the day for Denard Robinson were the two balls he put on the ground. On the first play Robinson was ruled down. On the second, Ohio got the ball in Michigan territory and scored a few plays later.

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