Grading The Performance: Illinois

Quarterback

The QBs really didn’t have to do much in this game thanks to the play of the RBs. Denard opened up the game red hot going 6-6 through the air. Some of the same bad habits that have gotten him into trouble all season crept back in after the hot start. When pressured, Denard went back to throwing off his back foot and had accuracy issues as a result, as well as several poor decision with the football.

The pass to Koger down the sideline in the 2nd quarter should have been a TD, but it was under thrown, Koger had to wait on the ball, and the defender had time to catch up. There were also several passes that should have been picked off, but were dropped. Ball security was also an issue, as Denard put the ball on the ground several times. Denard did do some nice things in the run game and made better reads on the zone read than he has in recent games.

Devin Gardner played reasonably well in relief action after Denard was knocked out of the game. Unlike Denard, Devin has a knack for throwing on the run as his best two passes came on plays where he left or stepped up in the pocket.

Grade: C+

Running Back

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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: 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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Grading The Performance: Notre Dame

Quarterback

I’ve debated long and hard on how to grade Denard’s performance from this game. On the one hand he really struggled to execute in the passing game, there were horrible throws which were matched with even worse decisions. On the other hand Denard was asked to do things that he has long struggled with and that he’s frankly not very good at. Denard was not, is not, and likely will never be a good drop back passer. He makes poor decisions and throws when he is asked to sit in the pocket, scan the field, then make throws. That’s not his strength and it never has been. He was asked to do that a lot in this game and struggled mightily. Denard can’t be completely absolved of the blame however. He flat out made some terrible throws and decisions. He’s been drilled on his footwork and fundamentals all offseason yet still makes the same mistakes over and over. Al Borges can’t be blamed for Denard chucking a screen pass 4 yds over a back’s head, or air mailing go routes. Denard did showcase some of the phenom ability we’ve come to expect. The pass to Hemmingway while being dragged down by a defender was one of the most exceptional plays I have ever seen. In addition Denard made  clutch play after clutch play in the 4th quarter. Still, on a night where Denard finished with only 11 completions and threw 3 interceptions it’s tough not to focus on the negative despite the outcome. In the end both the coaches and Denard are responsible for the performance. In this case I put more blame on the coaches than Denard.

 Grade: C+

Running Back

The backs were mostly non-existent. The efforts to find a complimentary back to help shoulder the load continues. The backs simply weren’t asked to do much as they received a combined 8 carries in the game. I would like to think that the absence of Fitz contributed to the effort but we simply did not use our backs enough to evaluate their performance. Vincent Smith had one of the plays of the game on a screen pass but the Hopkins fumble at the goal line offsets what would normally be a decent grade.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers/TEs

The receivers were really the story of the night offensively. I would give a gameball to the entire receiving core as they were the real heroes of the game. Junior Hemmingway did his best Braylon Edwards impression on a night when his #21 was honored for Desmond Howard and he really bailed out his QB. Despite being one of the smallest guys on the field Gallon had two of the biggest plays in the game, including setting up the winning TD. Roy Roundtree caught the winning TD on a spectacular effort but it was his blocking on the Vincent Smith TD that really caught my eye. The early drops are the only thing that keeps the WR unit from receiving perfect marks.

Grade: A-

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