Grading The Performance: Purdue

Quarterback

This was by the most efficient day for the quarterbacks that we’ve seen all season. It wasn’t a huge day statistically through the air or the ground but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The offense has been dependent on the play of the QB for the entire year. Saturday was the first game where the QBs have taken a back seat. Denard played the role of distributor more than that of creator or facilitator as he’s done in the past. That isn’t to say that Denard didn’t make some key plays on his own. Denard was in his comfort zone as a passer and it showed. He did get into trouble locking onto Kevin Koger, which cost him a pick, and he once again threw off his back foot into coverage when pressured. Those plays were the exception in the game however. Since arriving at Michigan, Denard’s best throws have come on the intermediate dig route, and Saturday was no exception, as he rifled a perfect strike to Jeremy Gallon in stride, and was on the money on the rest of his short passes.

Devin Gardner continues to receive snaps; which will only help his development. Devin handled managing the offense well enough, but did throw a key interception. He likely kicked himself after watching the film, as there were two wide open receivers; his pass was nowhere near either of them. He is likely still a year or 2 away from being ready.

Grade: C+

Running Back

What a day for Fitz Toussaint, who likely locked himself into the #1 RB role. Fitz showed a burst that we haven’t  seen from him since he arrived at Michigan, but one he flashed in HS. Earlier in the year, Fitz was run down in the open field on several occasions, nothing like that happened on Saturday however. Outside of the speed, Fitz also displayed great vision and cutting ability, which we have really lacked at the RB position since Mike Hart. Even though he didn’t get in the game until late, Mike Shaw continued to show strong running ability. It continues to baffle me why he doesn’t receive more carries, he’s been effective every time he’s touched the ball.

Stephen Hopkins seems to have really taken to the FB position. Hopkins put down some key blocks for the backs, and while he has had trouble holding onto the ball, he’s earned the opportunity for significant playing time at FB

Grade: A+

Wide Receivers

I won’t go as far as calling this a bounce back game for the receivers after their performance against Michigan State, but they did make some very nice plays and bailed out their QB out on occasion. Jeremy Gallon is beginning to live up to the hype he had coming out of HS as an All-American. When he gets the opportunity to make a play in space he’s a real weapon. Roy Roundtree always manages to get himself wide open whenever we play Purdue. I don’t think he has ever let the controversy surrounding his recruitment go. He seems to play with an especially large chip on his shoulder against Purdue.

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Grading The Performance: Michigan State

Quarterback

Saturday was just a rough day for the QB position across the board. While the QB play was heavily influenced by other factors, the QBs didn’t play well on their own. It is certainly difficult to make plays while under constant duress but even on plays where there was time and open receivers, both Denard and Devin struggled. The constant pressure exacerbated Denard’s poor footwork and by the 4th quarter he was completely rattled. In addition, Denard hesitated in the pocket on plays where there were running lanes available and a lot of green grass. Denard looks like a QB who has lost confidence, both in his own abilities and in what he is suppose to be doing. At this point Denard does not trust himself and is over thinking plays instead of being on auto-pilot. The only really successful plays from the QB position occurred when Denard was split out as a wing-back.

There are already calls from some in the Detroit media for Devin Gardner to replace Denard. If said individuals actually rewatch the tape they`d see that Devin struggled just as badly as Denard, just in different areas. Neither QB handled the blitz very well, which isn’t a surprise as most QBs, college or pro, struggle with defenders in their face. From a physical and mechanical standpoint Devin may be ready to play, but he’s nowhere near ready from the mental side. He failed to spot a wide open Stephen Hopkins running free in the secondary, instead choosing to throw into coverage. Devin threw a strike to Hemingway in the endzone only to have it called back because he threw the ball well beyond the line of scrimmage. Devin does a better job of throwing accurate passes to open receivers but first he has to find them. Lastly, he hasn’t reach the point where he can manage the game. It isn’t by accident that Denard is the one who called a timeout with the play clock expiring, Devin had no clue.

The only thing keeping the QB position from receiving a failing grade this week are the extenuating circumstances that had as much, if not more to do with play of the QBs.

Grade: D-

Running Back

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Grading The Performance: Northwestern

Quarterback

Inconsistency was the word of the day for Denard. Denard can go from pinpoint accuracy to complete terror in the span of two plays. 95% of the passes he threw were right on the money, the other 5% were way off the mark While it may seem unfair to judge a QB based on only 5% of his passes but that 5% can lose you games. Eventually the turnovers Devin Gardner8are going to catch up with Michigan. The law of averages makes it inevitable. While Denard seems to be a lock to lead the Big 10 in interceptions, it’s also likely that he will lead in total yards as well after racking up another 500yd day (129yds on the ground, 337 in the air). Once again his poor throws and decisions came on plays where he didn’t set his feet and step into the throw. Whatever was said at halftime worked as Denard came out white hot in the 2nd half, didn’t turn the ball over, and quickly led Michigan on scoring drives.

Devin Gardner was called into relief action for the first time this season and the offense didn’t seem to miss a beat. Devin zipped in a very nice pass on the run plus added a TD run of his own. This game will likely not be his only meaningful action as Michigan State is sure to have a bounty out on Denard’s head.

Grade: B

Running Back

Not a good day for the backs. I would like to blame it all on the offensive line but that would be unfair. Good backs are able to make guys miss in the hole and extend plays on occasion. The running game got no such production from the starting backs. Despite 14 carries Fitz was only managed 30yds, a 1.8ypc average. The only effective back in the game was Mike Shaw who was only inserted late the 2nd half after the other backs proved ineffective. Shaw has become the forgotten man despite having done nothing to lose the preseason form that had him named the starter out of camp. Even the protection from the backs was spotty at times, though the backs did a decent job of blocking for Denard on run plays.

Grade: C-

Wide Receivers

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Grading The Performance: Minnesota

Photo Gallery from Michigan’s 58-0 Thumping of Minnesota

Quarterback

What a bounce back game for Denard Robinson. Amid all the criticism, scrutiny, and even calls for a QB change, Denard came out and produced his best game of the season from a passing perspective. Denard was accurate, efficient, and looked completely comfortable in the pocket, something we haven’t seen from him  since last season. Despite what some may consider a paltry amount of yards this is just the kind of performance Michigan needs the rest of the way through. 15-19, 169yds, 2 TD, 0 INT is the stat line, though I am just as excited about the decision making and the ease at which Denard made completion after completion. When he is in his comfort zone Denard IS a good passer, he showed that on Saturday and hopefully keeps it up the rest of the season. Maybe Denard should have his elbow drained before every game considering the results.

Devin Gardner certainly showed flashes of the ability that made him such a highly rated QB coming out of HS. His passing was a bit hit or miss but there were limited opportunities. Devin is certainly not afraid to thread passes into tight windows as he did on the run to Hemingway.

Grade: B+

Running Back

If Michigan gave out helmet stickers, Vincent Smith would have trouble finding room after Saturday. On Saturday, Smith became the first player in Michigan history to record a passing, rushing, and receiving TD in the same game. Not bad for a prospect out of “The Muck” of Pahokee who was deemed too short and too small by most of the “experts” and coaches in the country. Fitz Toussaint continues to impress with his combination of speed and power. Fitz averaged a Denard Robinson like 9.8 yard per carry on Saturday. He did get caught from behind again, which has happened quite a few times this season. True freshman Thomas Rawls was impressive in his first clip getting extended carries. I`m still not crazy about burning his redshirt, but he definitely had his moments on Saturday. Even Mike Shaw finally got back into the act and had a lot of success on limited carries, especially on the cutback plays.

Grade: A

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Pre LOI Day Recruiting Update

Hello all. Just a quick update on recruiting before commitmas day arrives. Coach Hoke and crew should be commended for the excellent job they have done over their first three weeks on the job. They’ve picked up seven commits since January 11th, six of which were new on the recruiting board. Developing those relationships that quickly illustrates how good these guys are at recruiting. Of course having Greg Mattison is a plus! Hoke also solidified commitments from Tony Posada, Blake Countess and Kellen Jones.

On to the next few days. Michigan is still in on a number of prospects as the 2011 recruiting season nears its end. Thomas Rawls, Jake Fisher, Frank Clark, Leilon Willinghan,  Darian Cooper and Chris Barnett are all still considering the Wolverines and will be making their decisions in the next 48 hours. I believe we have a good shot at all of them, but some more so than others.

1. Thomas Rawls. 99% chance he’s a Wolverine. This is no surprise to anyone that follows recruiting. Thomas is a lifelong Michigan fan and finally received his offer this past weekend. Rawls decides tomorrow at 1:30 PM between Central Michigan and Michigan.

2. Frank Clark. 99% chance he’s a Wolverine. But he’s from Cleveland Glenville?!?! Yup. And coach Ginn is a big Brady Hoke fan. This is a nice foot in the door at a football factory. Frank and the other Tarblooders will decide on Wednesday. His top schools are Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina.

3. Leilon Willingham. 80% chance he’s a Wolverine. Leilon is a new recruit and visited a few weekends ago. Coach Mattison made a great impression and vaulted the Wolverines near the top of his list. Willingham will decide on Wednesday between Arizona State, Central Florida, Colorado, Michigan and Washington.

4. Darian Cooper. 51% chance he’s a Wolverine. Dropped Michigan from consideration after RR was fired, but put us back on his list after a visit from coaches Hoke and Mattison. He visited this past weekend and really enjoyed himself. Cooper is a HUGE need and would be an awesome get. Darian will be choosing between Georgia Tech, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State on signing day. I think he’ll be Blue, but watch Iowa here as well.

5. Chris Barnett. 50% chance he’s a Wolverine. Another new kid at a position of great need. Barnett recently visited and enjoyed it as well. He is currently a “soft” verbal to Arkansas. Here’s the issue, Arkansas already has three tight ends in the fold other than Barnett and a ridiculous 29 verbals already. Chris will make his choice on Saturday after all of the dust has settled in Hog country.

6. Jake Fisher. 50% chance he’s a Wolverine. Jake verballed to Michigan months ago, but got a wandering eye after coach Rod was canned. He visited Oregon this past weekend, so we’ll see what happens. I just don’t have a gut here. If someone put a gun to my head, I’d say it’s the Ducks. I for one hope he stays closer to home and picks up the Michigan hat for the second time on Wednesday morning.

There you have it boys and girls. We’ll have more for you in the coming days. Then it’s on to 2012!!

GO BLUE!!!!!