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: Northwestern

Quarterback

Wistert - UMGoBlue.comDenard Robinson remained sidelined thanks to the wrath of the elbow gods and Devin Gardner saw his 2nd start of the season. There were thoughts after last week that Gardner’s performance was simply the result of playing a weak opponent in Minnesota. Those ideas where put to rest on Saturday as Devin led Michigan to a come from behind victory over a ranked Northwestern team. Devin continues to learn facets of the offense and how to deal with different game situations on the fly, but so far he has handled it very well. Devin was poised for the majority of the game on Saturday and his ball placement was excellent throughout the game. There are times when the ball gets away from Devin, particularly when he throws over the middle. Locating backside defenders continues to be an issues for Devin and Michigan was fortunate to only turn the ball over once through the air. Devin is very adept when throwing to the sideline and vertically downfield. Devin dropped the ball into holes in the defense like a seasoned vet and put his receivers into great situations simply because of the ball placement. Devin did potentially cost Michigan the game with a very poor decision to force the ball into Devin Funchess on a wheel route, resulting in a horribly timed interception late in the game.

Devin continues to be decisive in the run game. Escaping pressure and scrambling to daylight is one of Devin’s strengths and Michigan was rewarded with a productive 47 yds on 9 carries, including 2 TDs. The great thing about Devin is not just his ability to throw the ball and add to the Michigan playbook, but he is still a very capable runner and dual-threat that opposing defenses have to account for.

Grade: B+

Running Back

Fitzgerald Toussaint was finally able to break off a big run during a meaningful stretch of the game. Unfortunately the play ended with a fumble but it was still good to see Fitz flash the same level of explosiveness that he showed last season. The 50 yd run skewed the day that Fitz had from a statistical standpoint. Fitz ran hard but if you take out the one big run, the numbers show 42 yds and a 2.5 ypc average. The 50 yd run was big and must be taken into account when evaluating the running game but room to run was still hard to come by which effected the production of the backs. Thomas Rawls had just 3 carries, one helped Michigan convert for a 1st down while another was a goal line TD.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers/TEs

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Grading The Performance: Minnesota

Quarterback

Devin Gardner was an All-American QB coming out of HS. Even so, his skills and ability at the QB position has largely been an unknown. Gardner beat out Tate Forcier for the #2 QB job during the fall of 2010 and briefly played in relief action but few outside of the coaches had seen him in extended action before Saturday.

The passing game was shaky early as Devin attempted to shake off the rust associated with not playing meaAnnArbor.comningful snaps at QB for months. Everything about Devin’s 1st quarter interception was bad, footwork, mechanics, and decision making. Once he settled down, Devin really began to dial things in. There were still several ill-advised throws and decisions but for the most part Devin looked like the QB many expected coming out of the high school. Devin adds an element the Michigan offense that fans haven’t seen in quite awhile. Downfield passing has been a major strength in Devin’s game since high. There may be poor decisions and throws but Devin throws one beautiful deep ball.

For the most part Michigan shied away from using Devin on designed runs. With only 2 healthy QBs the risk was just too high to exploit Devin’s true duel-threat ability. Devin did show great anticipation and reaction to pressure and was quick to move out of the pocket and scramble when the plays called for it. Unlike Denard who seems averse to scrambling, Devin was decisive when it came to when to take off and when to wait things out in the pocket.

Grade: A-

Running Back

The running backs continue to be handcuffed by the play of the offensive line. Both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls ran hard but there were limited opportunities to produce big numbers on the ground. Rawls was especially successful in short yardage and is proving to be quite the load for opposing teams on handle. Rawls breaks a lot of tackles and for the most part he has to because of the issues the team has up front. Fitz also ran hard and was finally able to break through late in the game on a long TD run. It seems as though it has been a year since Fitz busted a major run of significance so Saturday’s run was big even if the game was already decided.

Grade: B+

Wide Receivers/TEs

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Grading The Performance: Nebraska

Quarterback

While in the game Denard was dialed in with the passing game for the most part. A mix of short precise routes and downfield passes kept Nebraska off balance and passive. Denard threw a beautiful post route to Roy Roundtree that was later rDenard Robinson - USA Todayuled incomplete after replay and he continually found Jeremy Jackson in holes in the Nebraska zone. Denard missed an opportunity on the zone read in the first half that would have likely resulted in a big play.

Two years ago Michigan fans got used to Denard Robinson getting knocked out of games for extended periods of time. The presence of first Devin Gardner, then Tate Forcier soothed most fears and Michigan rarely missed a beat when #16 left the field. A lot has changed in two years. Russell Bellomy is the next man up and he struggled mightily on Saturday. Down on the scoreboard and on the road in a very hostile environment is never a great place to make your meaningful QB play debut. Bellomy did take over deep in Nebraska territory but accuracy issues and nerves kept him from leading the Wolverines to the endzone. Eventually Bellomy settled down; but the accuracy and decision making did not improve and he never really presented Nebraska with much of a threat. Bellomy didn’t receive a ton of help from his receivers either. Even on those plays where Bellomy did deliver the ball accurately, the ball was dropped more times than not.

Grade: F

Running Back

Fitzgerald Toussaint got off to a fast Saturday on Saturday and looked as good as he has all season early in the game. Fitz was decisive, his cuts were precise, and he fought for extra yards. As the night wore on and the holes closed the production for all the runners declined, Fitz included. Vincent Smith was the only other back that received a carry in the game and he finished with minus 6 yards on the ground.

Joe Kerridge was the first Wolverine to catch a pass from Russell Bellomy, getting him off the snide with a 12 yd reception that went for a first down.

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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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