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.

Grading The Performance: UMass

2012-3umumass-9

Quarterback

There’s no doubt that Denard Robinson improved this off season, in both the run and passing game. Denard’s footwork, mechanics, and decision making have all improved and are as good as they’ve been since he arrived at Michigan. With all that said, there are still moments when Denard reverts back to old habits. Like most QBs, he struggles with pressure in his face. Denard’s “oh no” moments have happened most often when he’s felt pressure. Saturday was no exception as Denard’s decision making, footwork, and accuracy went out the window, resulting in a horrendous pick 6 in the second quarter. Unfortunately the focus for many will be the pick 6, a play that shouldn’t overshadow what was an otherwise great performance.

Denard has made so many spectacular plays over the years that Michigan fans now take it for granted. Denard has turned the spectacular into the ordinary, it has now become something that we expect to see. Denard’s 36 yd TD run (@the 4:45 mark) in the 2nd quarter in a prime example.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlZ1y9riYS8[/tube]

For most of the QBs that Michigan has had over the last 20 or so years, the play above would have resulted in a throw away, a minimal gain, or a sack. For Denard, the play results in a TD. Poor competition or not, that was an unbelievable play and the kind of play that is sure to become extinct after #16 is gone. Yes Denard’s play at times can force you to hurl things across the room and scare family pets. Denard’s bad can be REALLY bad. At the same time, Denard’s good is unlike anything most have ever seen in college football. Denard has made plays in the maize and blue that couldn’t be replicated in a video game. Denard takes a lot of flak and while some of the criticism is warranted, it must be juxtaposed with the fact that Michigan fans are blessed to be in the presence of greatness on a weekly basis.

Backup QB Russell Bellomy finally saw extended playing time on Saturday and was able to flash the athletic ability he has been touted for. There weren’t many opportunities for Bellomy to throw the ball but he made some very good plays with his legFitzgerald Toussaints. Whether he is anything more than a back-up QB remains to be seen.

Grade: A-

Running Back

The Michigan coaches wanted to get Fitz Toussaint 20-25 carries but fell short. Even with relatively few carries, Fitz was able to show the kind of burst and quickness that earned him so many accolades toward the end of last season. Fitz always runs hard and Brady Hoke and Co. love this but his single best quality remains the lateral quickness. Fitz has rare naturally running ability that you just can’t coach. Vincent Smith finished the game with 3 carries, two of which were TDs. Smith also added a 19 gain on a screen pass early in the game that setup another score.

It took 3 games but Thomas Rawls finally showed something in the run game. Rawls flashed decent initial burst and showed the kind of physicality that Fred Jackson and others have raved about. Justice Hayes was the most impressive of the young backs. Hayes didn’t hesitate or tip-toe between the tackles, scored a TD, and clearly has speed to burn. Dennis Norfleet received his first offensive snaps and didn’t disappoint, gaining 14 yds on his one and only carry. The coaches are clearly trying to setup plays for later on down the road using Norfleet. Norfleet’s ability to get to the corner and make plays in the open field is something the Michigan offense is lacking outside of Denard Robinson. It will be interesting to see what Al Borges has planned for Norfleet in the future.

Joe Kerridge filled in for the injured Stephen Hopkins and did a good job of blocking when Michigan went to more “traditional” formations. Kerridge may not blow up a lot of guys in the hole but he does a great job of moving bodies and angling his blocks.

Continue reading “Grading The Performance: UMass”

2012 Michigan Football Defensive Line Preview

Depth Chart:

Freshmen likely to redshirt: Mario Ojemudia – An ideal scenario would have Mario redshirting 100% of the time, but the staff might just have to throw him in there with Frank Clark likely being suspended for a good deal of time.

Strong DE C. Roh Nate Brink Keith Heitzman - Scout
  Craig Roh  Nathan Brink Keith Heitzman 

Freshmen likely to redshirt: Tom Strobel & Chris Wormley

Continue reading “2012 Michigan Football Defensive Line Preview”

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?

Continue reading “Top 5 Questions Entering Fall Camp”

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?

Continue reading “Top 5 Questions Entering Spring Practice”