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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The Game Prediction

THE game. The greatest rivalry in all of sport. Whether 0-11 or 11-0, this game is one where you can throw the records out.

Looking at the trends, both teams are trending up. Michigan is on a 3 game winning streak, and frankly, their offense has taken enormous strides during those 3 weeks. Granted one can look at the opponents and make an argument that part of their success can be attributed to that. But last week showed what could truly be a special performance in the Snakepit Saturday, with Denard playing all over the field, and Devin Gardner being as special through the air as Denard can be on the ground.

If there is one thing to look for, its how Michigan chooses to attack a Buckeye defense which has been suspect much of the year. Do they try to run to set up play action and other passes, or pass to pull the safeties back and give Denard, Thomas Rawls and others more running room? My guess is you’ll see a more wide open look similar to what you saw in the ND game at the start. Like ND, Ohio’s secondary is suspect, and ranks 11th in the B1G in passing yards allowed.

Braxton Miller poses quite the threat to a Michigan defense which has been stout for the majority of the season. The 3 games that Michigan struggled the most defensively were Alabama (with an O-line like I’ve not seen since the 2000 UM line), and Air Force/Northwestern, which attacked the edges with the option, and had the speed to make that difficult. Ohio, while it has the speed in Miller, doesn’t really have a back fast enough to really attack the edges with the option on a consistent basis.

The Snakepit is by far the most difficult venue in the B1G to play in. Its fans have no issue showing their class (or lack thereof). That said, I think Michigan will be able to move the ball as much as they need to, and will be able to get enough stops to pull the game out.

Michigan 42, OSU 34.

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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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Minnesota Game Prediction

Michigan heads to Minnesota in another (nearly) annual battle for the Little Brown Jug. After finishing with an amazingly perfect record playing in the Metrodome, Michigan
takes its first crack in the new TCF Bank stadium. 

Normally, even with Denard possibly out, beating Minnesota wouldn’t be all that difficult. But given that Michigan has been held to a pedestrian 21 points total the past two weeks (via. FG no less) nothing is a given, especially after Minnesota was running roughshod over Purdue last weekend.

We’re not even certain the folks inside the usually impenetrable Fort Schembechler know whether Denard will play (although I have a suspicion he will). Hoke told us Devin Gardner took a good deal of snaps this week at QB, and I suspect that even if Denard goes, that he will get some meaningful snaps.

We’ve been waiting 2/3 of the season for Fitz Touissant to have a breakthrough game. Will this be the week? My thought is he will, as will Thomas Rawls, who many have been clamoring to see more action. Much of this will be due to a greater push by a somewhat disappointing performance to date by a veteran, yet relatively inexperienced offensive line. 

Michigan should win this game, if nothing else based on its defense. Even with an offense struggling to move the ball a yard, the Michigan defense played quite admirably last week against a stellar Nebraska offense. While Philip Nelson, a true freshman QB looked good against Purdue last weekend, he hasn’t had Greg Mattison calling plays against him yet. Huge advantage Michigan.

Michigan 27, Minnesota 13

Editor’s Note: Our Recruiting Analyst, Sean O’Connell, will be there in person to cheer on the Wolverines. Go Blue!

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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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