Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Defensive Backs

Safety Ty Zimmerman is a potential game-changer at safety if he's healthy.
 The headliner of this group is redshirt sophomore Blake Countess (5'10", 182 lbs.), who's tied for #5 in the country with 6 picks and is #3 in return yards with 169, including a touchdown. He also has 42 tackles and 4 pass breakups to his name. Countess starts on the outside but will slide into the slot when Michigan goes to its nickel packages. The other starter at corner is junior Raymon Taylor (5'10", 183 lbs.), who's tied for the team lead with 81 tackles and has 4 picks and 9 pass breakups of his own. Taylor racks up a lot of tackles because teams attack him instead of Countess, but he's a solid tackler when receivers catch the ball near him. The other sure starter in the defensive backfield is fifth year senior strong safety Thomas Gordon (5'11", 213 lbs.), a guy who lacks speed and isn't a headhunter but who usually seems to be in the right spot; he has 49 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups this year despite missing two games. The likely starter at free safety is sophomore Jarrod Wilson (6'2", 200 lbs.), a potentially violent hitter who sometimes gets caught out of position; he has 45 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups.
Backups: Wilson has lost some playing time to senior Courtney Avery (5'11", 175 lbs.), who has bounced back and forth between corner, slot corner, and safety throughout his career; he has 30 tackles and .5 sacks on the year but looks to have lost a step after an injury over the summer and has been inconsistent. Redshirt junior Josh Furman (6'2", 202 lbs.) is a linebacker in a safety's body, and he has just 11 tackles and 1 pass breakup on the year, despite earning two starts and a variety of backup duty. He can be taken advantage of through the air. At cornerback, when Countess slides into the slot, he's replaced by one of two freshmen: Channing Stribling (6'2", 171 lbs., 15 tackles) or Jourdan Lewis (5'10", 170 lbs., 17 tackles, 2 pass breakups). Whoever has the best week of practice is the one who earns the role that game, so we'll just have to wait and see who gets the nod.

Starters: Fifth year senior safety Ty Zimmerman (6'1", 204 lbs.) is the leader of the group and has been a First Team All-Big 12 selection in both 2012 and 2013; he has 70 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns), and 4 pass breakups this season. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he missed the final two regular season games and is questionable for the bowl game. Sophomore fellow safety Dante Barnett (6'1", 186 lbs.) has 67 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. The Wildcats spend a lot of time in a nickel package, so the fifth defensive back - a safety/linebacker hybrid - is redshirt junior Randall Evans (6'0", 190 lbs.), who has 59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. The cornerbacks are solid but did not earn any all-conference accolades. Fifth year senior Kip Daily (5'11", 180 lbs.) has 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 4 pass breakups on the year, while fifth year senior Dorrian Roberts (5'10", 168 lbs.) has 37 stops, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 8 pass breakups. Roberts is rather inexperienced after playing in junior college for two years, redshirting in 2011, and not seeing the field at all in 2012.
Backups: Redshirt junior Dylan Schellenberg (6'0", 189 lbs.) has been starting in Zimmerman's stead, and he has 19 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception on the year. Fifth year senior Carl Miles, Jr. (5'11", 190 lbs.) has 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup on the season, but he and the other backups are rarely used. Other than subbing Evans in and out for a linebacker, the Wildcats go with their starting unit almost the whole game.

Michigan is #62 in the nation giving up 238 yards/game through the air, but much of that is due to teams throwing instead of running on a stout run defense; they're #32 in passer efficiency rating defense. Kansas State is #24 in the latter category and tied for #47 nationally at 222 yards allowed/game. Two of KSU's worst three games against the pass were in recent games against TCU and Oklahoma before righting the ship against a pathetic Kansas Jayhawks squad. They rank #20 in the country with 16 interceptions on the year. If Zimmerman is unable to go, the Wildcats are without any real playmakers in the defensive backfield, though. Michigan is #17 in interceptions with 17 this year, and the two starting corners are the strength of the backfield with 10 interceptions and 13 pass breakups between them. The safety play leaves a little bit to be desired between a lack of discipline (Wilson) and athleticism (Gordon). Despite having a better defensive unit against the pass, the better group of defensive backs play for . . .


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