Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: LaMarr Woodley

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 pass break-up in a 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Honorable mention: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Patriots beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 35-7.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Richard Ash, Wolverine

Michigan's new defensive lineman.

Richard Ash, a defensive lineman from Pahokee High School (Pahokee, FL), has committed to Michigan. He had been committed to West Virginia University until he realized that he would have to live in West Virginia, where the women look like they came straight out of The Hills Have Eyes.

Ash is listed at 6'4" and 263 lbs. At that size, one would think that he would bulk up a little bit to play the 3-tech defensive tackle position recently occupied by Ryan Van Bergen. However, he has a bit of chub on him that will be whittled away by Mike Barwis, and 263 lbs. isn't a bad size for a strong-side defensive end. After all, that's about the same size as Brandon Graham.

Watching Ash's film, he's a good athlete who's going to require a lot of refinement. Although he's a 4-star recruit to Rivals, he's raw. He has good explosion off the ball, and he possesses good lateral quickness as well. There's also one play where he sniffs out a middle screen, tips the ball to himself, and runs the other way with it. Like I said, he's an athlete.

But when he finally earns playing time at Michigan, I'm sure we'll see a very different player. He has kind of an awkward stance where his butt sits lower than his shoulders, which forces him to stand straight up as soon as the ball is snapped. As a high schooler who is physically dominant, he can get away with belly-bumping offensive linemen out of his way, but he will get absolutely mauled if he plays like that in college. When he learns to play lower, he'll probably also learn to use his hands better to disengage from blockers. He tends to play "patty cake" with blockers and sometimes stops his feet on contact. In order to see the field at Michigan, he'll need to learn to go hard on every single play.

Ash will give Michigan four players from the same high school; he'll join sophomore running back Vincent Smith, sophomore linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, and junior slot receiver Martavious Odoms on the Michigan campus. The Wolverines have also offered Chris Dunkley, a 4-star slot receiver who transferred from Royal Palm Beach, FL, but Dunkley's recruitment probably won't be affected by Ash's commitment.

I expect Ash to end up at 5-tech defensive end, Brandon Graham's old position. I think he could easily transform his body into a 265 lb. strongside end, whereas I see Terry Talbott as a 3-tech DT. We could still see Michigan add a couple more defensive linemen in the 2010 class, particularly NT prospect Johnathan Hankins from Detroit and DE Clarence Murphy from Florida.

P.S. The picture appeared because it popped up when I did a Google image search for "Richard Ash." I'm not sure what Richard Ash has to do with Kim Jong-Il, but I'm guessing the FBI is checking into that right this very moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Chad Henne

Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, 22-21. Henne was 29-for-52 with 335 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Honorable mention: Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 quarterback hurries. Unfortunately for him, the Steelers lost to the Oakland Raiders, 27-24.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Tight Ends

Alex Smith wrinkles his nose as he watches Mike Barwis eat an opposing band member whole.

Michigan's coaches aren't particularly intent on getting a tight end in this class. Only three have been offered, and Michigan hasn't put up much of a fight with any of them except Alex Smith. Alex Smith is a bit wishy-washy. He committed to Cincinnati then sorta decommitted but not really and then really decommitted and, inexplicably, when it became clear that Cincinnati was turning into a powerhouse, he committed to North Carolina.

In 2009, many fans had a crazy notion that it would be the "Year of the Tight End" for Michigan. I had a spirited discussion with several Michigan fanatics that insisted Kevin Koger would approximate Missouri's Chase Coffman or Oklahoma's Jemaine Gresham. Instead, Koger ended the year with 16 catches for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those numbers aren't chump change, but they're certainly not indicative of Rich Rodriguez becoming enthralled with the tight end position.

Koger will be a junior in 2010 and his backup, Martell Webb, will be a senior. The only other tight end on the roster will be redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore, so I think the coaching staff will recruit tight ends more heavily in 2011.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Wide Receivers and Slot Receivers

Kenny Shaw

So far the most successfully recruited position group for the 2010 class has been wide receivers and slot receivers. In total, Michigan's coaches have secured six commitments from that group. Four of them are wideouts (Ricardo Miller, Jeremy Jackson, D.J. Williamson, and Jerald Robinson); the other two are slots (Drew Dileo and Tony Drake).

Five of those commitments came very early on in the process, and I have maintained since then that not all of these wide receivers would end up signing with Michigan in February. Whether someone is slow-played into decommitting, doesn't qualify, or chooses another school instead, not all six of these kids will end up wearing a Michigan uniform. Fitting with that theory, recent rumors suggest that slot receiver Tony Drake has yet to qualify for admission to the University of Michigan. Although cornerback Adrian Witty from the Class of 2009 did eventually qualify, he had to sit out the 2009 season; the coaches will surely try to avoid a similar situation in 2010.

The only two uncommitted receivers who have Michigan offers are Kenny Shaw (Orlando, FL) and Chris Dunkley (Pahokee, FL). Dunkley received an early offer from Michigan, but he never had much interest in coming to Ann Arbor. Shaw, on the other hand, is still being actively recruited by the Wolverines. His former teammate is none other than Ricardo Miller, who has perhaps been Michigan's best recruiter. I expect that Shaw will end up staying down south, but there's a possibility that he could take the spot of Drake (if the latter fails to qualify) or another wide receiver who might decommit.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ray Vinopal, Wolverine

Ray Vinopal
Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, OH) safety Ray Vinopal celebrated today's state championship victory by announcing that he had committed to Michigan. He called the coaches on Wednesday to let them know about the commitment, but it was kept quiet so Vinopal could concentrate on beating DeSales High School (Columbus, OH) in the championship, which he and his teammates did with a 35-7 win.

Vinopal is a 5'10", 178 lb. high school free safety/running back who will most likely play strong safety in Greg Robinson's defense. (Remember, the strong safety for Robinson is usually the deep safety.) Cardinal Mooney is a traditional powerhouse, having produced players like Penn State RB Brandon Beachum, Ohio State DT John Simon, and Notre Dame safeties Dan and Kyle McCarthy in recent years.

I have been lukewarm on Michigan's pursuit of Vinopal since he was offered. He's a 2-star recruit to each of the three recruiting services (Rivals, Scout, ESPN), but more than that, I'm just not that impressed with the film I've seen. Vinopal has some physical limitations. He's listed at 5'10" or 5'11" and anywhere from 170 to 178 lbs., but he looks small on the field. His 40-yard dash time is listed at 4.56, which you know is a lie, considering the fact that Pat White ran a 4.55 at the NFL Combine last year. Vinopal's other scholarship offers came from the likes of Bowling Green, Kent State, and Air Force.

When I read Bruce Feldman's Meat Market last year, I read an interesting quote from former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. When he and his coaches were looking at a prospect's film, he said something along the lines of, "You can't knock a kid for technical faults. As a coach, you have to believe you can fix that." From reading that book and using that philosophy, I've taken that advice and applied it, not only to my reviews of recruits, but to my coaching.

And that's the problem I have with the Vinopal offer and commitment. When I watch him, I don't see a whole lot to fix. He's pretty technically sound. He reads plays well, he accelerates well, and you can see that he goes full-speed. He goes all out . . . and I'm still not impressed. He's not a great tackler. He's not extremely fast. He's going to get overpowered in the run game, outrun in open space, and outjumped in the passing game. When he gets to full speed, his running form goes completely out of whack, although that's something that may be able to be fixed.

Meanwhile, Michigan still has two somewhat realistic options for 4-star safeties Sean Parker (Narbonne, CA) and Rashad Knight (Jacksonville, FL). They're also recruiting Glenville, OH, safety Latwan Anderson, although he's almost surely ticketed for Ohio State. The Vinopal commitment also puts the Wolverines at 23 commitments for the 2010 class, a class in which Michigan can only take 25 scholarship players. There are still uncommitted players at other positions out there, such as Maryland linebacker Josh Furman, Florida cornerback Tony Grimes, and Grimes's teammate, defensive end Clarence Murphy.

Something has to give. Perhaps Michigan's offer to Vinopal is as a grayshirt player, someone who will pay for his first semester of college until a scholarship opens up. Perhaps Michigan knows that one of their commitments isn't going to qualify; linebacker Antonio Kinard and slot receiver Tony Drake are rumored to be on the verge of not qualifying.

Either way, I'm not excited about Vinopal's commitment. Michigan already has Vinopal's brother on the roster - his name is Jordan Kovacs. Both are short on speed and talent, and both are undersized. I hope Vinopal turns out to be Michigan's version of former Iowa safety Bob Sanders or even former Minnesota safety Tyrone Carter, but I just don't see that happening. Vinopal looks like a career special teamer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson could beat the Lions by himself.

On Thanksgiving Day, Charles Woodson had an excellent day against the Detroit Lions. Woodson had 7 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 4 pass breakups in a 34-12 victory. If he keeps up his current pace, he could end up being the Defensive MVP of the entire league.

Honorable mention: Lamarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers had 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 quarterback hurry, but the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 20-17.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Poll: What position should Cullen Christian play?

Should Cullen Christian play cornerback or safety?

Cullen Christian, Wolverine

Stop reaching!
Cullen Christian, a highly rated cornerback from Pittsburgh, committed to Michigan on Tuesday night. He had long been considered a Michigan lean, although he was supposedly announcing his choice between Michigan and West Virginia. It turns out that during his press conference, he admitted that he had been a silent Michigan commit since May.

Christian is the #6 or the #3 cornerback in the country, depending on whether you prefer Rivals or Scout. Many observers also think Christian could play safety, and I used to be one of those. Christian did play free safety for Penn Hills High School this year, but that was largely because teams could throw away from him if he was on one side as a cornerback. Free safety allows your best athlete to have an impact all over the field.

But the more I've watched of Christian, the more I feel his attributes are better suited for corner. He's decently physical with jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, and despite major concerns about his 4.68 40 time that's listed on Rivals, his anticipation helps him in coverage. My biggest reservation about playing him at safety is that he doesn't seem to be a very good tackler. He has decent size at 6' and 180 pounds, but on his highlight films - which are supposed to be his best plays, naturally - his "highlight" tackles are of him diving at the feet of ballcarriers. Even when he has the opportunity for a solid tackle, he goes low. You can see in the above picture that Christian has gone down to his knees and tried (albeit successfully) to tackle the runner.

Christian does have excellent hips, and he also seems to maintain good awareness of what's going on in the backfield. Some corners are too concerned with what their receiver is doing, and some are too concerned with what the quarterback is doing. He looks like he can process both at the same time, which is important for a good cornerback.

I don't really know what Michigan cornerbacks from recent memory he plays like. When you watch his film, he almost seems to be toying with opposing receivers and quarterbacks. He never seems to be running hard, but he makes the play. As I said, he's not a very physical tackler, and a lot of Michigan corners in recent years have been solid tacklers. As far as finding a cover corner, Christian is going to be okay. But there will be moments where you tear your hair out because he misses tackles in the running game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ohio State 21, Michigan 10

Brandon Graham was the best player on the field.

Bullet point immediate reactions:
  • Brandon Graham had a great game. He is perhaps the player from the senior class that I will miss most. He dominated his side of the line repeatedly, ending the game with a sack amongst 4 or 5 tackles for loss.
  • I really thought Brandon Minor would play, but he was in street clothes. His inside running was missed in this game, as the running game was forced to play the third- and fourth-string running backs (Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith) with Carlos Brown also limited.
  • Vincent Smith might be Michigan's running back of the future. He doesn't have the speed to be a game-breaker, but he gains yards consistently, runs tough for his size, and makes decisive cuts. I was wrong about him being unready to play this year.
  • The defense played extremely well in this game. For the most part, Michigan didn't allow the big play. They did allow the 29-yard TD by Brandon Saine, but OSU picked on walk-on DE Will Heininger on that play.
  • J.T. Floyd got picked on and was beaten a couple times. Fortunately, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor was horribly inaccurate on the two deep balls he threw. I still maintain that Floyd's future should be at safety, but I liked the move by the coaches to move Troy Woolfolk back to safety and re-insert Floyd at cornerback. It may not have helped Michigan significantly, but it certainly didn't hurt.
  • Speaking of Pryor, I've been thinking this all season but had no reason to mention OSU sooner - why does a 6'5", 230 pound, speedy guy run like such a pansy? He runs through arm tackles, but anytime someone gets a chance to tackle him solidly, he wusses out. He either stops moving his feet and collapses into the fetal position, or he prances out of bounds. For example, when he scrambled early in the game and Steve Brown came up to pop him near the sideline, both players bounced off each other, Pryor gathered himself and had a chance to gain two more yards, and he . . . side-stepped out of bounds.
  • Tate Forcier had a horrible game. Ohio State didn't do anything too confusing defensively. Forcier just made bad reads and bad throws. And that fumble on the opening offensive series was inexcuseable. Not only did Forcier retreat into his own end zone, but then he didn't tuck the ball away when he scrambled. He's been lucky all year that his lack of ball security didn't cost him more, but it showed up in the biggest game of the year.
  • I liked the wrinkle where Denard Robinson started in the backfield, shifted to wide receiver, and ran a fly pattern. I did not like the facts that a) Forcier underthrew him and b) Denard was interfered with by the cornerback and it wasn't called. Denard was clearly being pushed while the ball was in the air, and it wasn't an instance where both players were jostling each other. That was a textbook interference call and the officials blew it.
  • I did not like the modified pistol formation. Out of shotgun, Shaw lined up as the deep back with a fullback to either side of Forcier. It led the defense to the play each time, and Michigan didn't show a play to complement it.
  • Roy Roundtree looks like he might be the next Michigan wide receiver to wear the #1 jersey.
  • For the love of all that is good, can Michigan please install the sprint counter draw? It worked against Michigan for the thousandth time over the last several years, where the shotgun QB takes the snap and rolls toward the running back, who pretends to block and then takes the handoff going in the opposite direction. Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon, and Purdue have all torched Michigan with that play, and those are just the times I can think of off the top of my head. I have never seen Michigan run that play, but it works every time against us.
  • I will miss Brandon Minor, Brandon Graham, Greg Mathews, Mark Ortmann, David Moosman, and Steve Brown. All of these players are good to great college players, and it's disappointing that their careers coincided with such a huge reconstruction project for the program. They might have been here during a couple bad years, but they weren't the reasons for these two losing seasons.
  • Go Blue!

Visitors for Ohio State game

WR DeAnthony Arnett - Saginaw, MI (2011)
DT Richard Ash - Pahokee, FL (official)
CB Courtney Avery - Lexington, OH (commit)
RB Dillon Baxter - San Diego, CA (official)
DT Jatashun Beachum - Dallas, TX (official)
CB Cullen Christian - Pittsburgh, PA (official)
LB Trey DePriest - Springfield, OH (2011)
LB Josh Furman - Millersville, MD
CB Doran Grant - Akron, OH (2011)
CB Ryan Griffin - Ann Arbor, MI (2011)
CB Tony Grimes - Hollywood, FL (official)
P Will Hagerup - Whitefish Bay, WI (commit)
RB Demetrius Hart - Orlando, FL (2011)
CB Delonte Hollowell - Detroit, MI (2011)
WR Jeremy Jackson - Ann Arbor, MI (commit)
S Tony Jefferson - Chula Vista, CA (official)
LB Antonio Kinard - Youngstown, OH (commit)
S Rashad Knight - Jacksonville, FL (official)
WR Ricardo Miller - Ann Arbor, MI (commit)
DE Clarence Murphy - Hollywood, FL (official)
OL Christian Pace - Avon Lake, OH (commit)
DE Jordan Paskorz - Allison Park, PA (commit)
DE Donte Phillips - Mequon, WI (2011)
WR Jerald Robinson - Canton, OH (commit)
LB Marvin Robinson - Eagle Lake, FL (official, commit)
WR Kenny Shaw - Orlando, FL (official)
WR Kenny Stills - Carlsbad, CA (official)
CB Terrence Talbott - Huber Heights, OH (commit)
DT Terry Talbott - Huber Heights, OH (commit)
S Ron Tanner - Columbus, OH (2011)
S Ray Vinopal - Youngstown, OH
RB Austin White - Livonia, MI (commit)
DE Ken Wilkins - Washington, PA (commit)
CB Adrian Witty - Deerfield Beach, FL

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Running backs

Just like quarterback, Michigan has two commitments at the running back position. One is Stephen Hopkins (Flower Mound, TX). The other is Austin White (Livonia, MI).

Hopkins is a big bruiser of a running back. His speed has been questioned by many, including me, but his yards per carry have jumped by a full two yards since his sophomore and junior years. He'll probably never be a breakaway threat, but he will be able to get downhill and get tough yards, particularly out of the I-formation.

White is a slasher who runs like Carlos Brown, but without the top-end speed. I've previously compared him to Jerome Jackson. He does make good cuts and can get upfield quickly after running laterally, so he fits this offense, but he's probably not a game-breaking runner like Michigan fans would like to see.

Due to the relative shortage of scholarships remaining, Michigan probably isn't going to take any more commitments from running backs, unless they're absolute studs.

Who fits that category? Lache Seastrunk (Temple, TX), Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, SC), Dietrich Riley (La Canada, CA), and Dillon Baxter (San Diego, CA). The first two have been offered but neither is interested. Riley has mentioned interest in Michigan at various times, but he hasn't visited or made plans to do so.

Baxter is the most interesting case. He says he grew up as a Michigan fan; he knows Tate Forcier and Brennan Clay from their time in San Diego, and he's interested in attending college with them, as well as safety prospect Tony Jefferson. Baxter, Clay, and Jefferson are all taking official visits to Ann Arbor this coming weekend for the Ohio State game. Baxter is a fringe 5-star athlete who's currently committed to USC but is interested in coming to Michigan as a potential . . . quarterback. Yep, he's a high school quarterback, but his future probably lies at running back.

The remaining uncommitted prospects (Cassius McDowell, Corvin Lamb, Jamaal Jackson, Marcus Coker, Tony Jones, and Brandon Gainer) are probably going to be left out in the cold or are just planning to go elsewhere. But keep an eye on McDowell, who could be a late commit if Michigan is trying to fill up their class. Michigan has been his leader all along, but he may have missed his chance to commit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Quarterbacks

I am a bad Michigan fan, because I have been unable to watch the last two Michigan games (Purdue and Wisconsin). It's not for a lack of desire, but our varsity football team had its regular season finale (loss) and its first round playoff game (win) the last two Saturdays, both of which were played at 1:00 p.m. It would be ridiculous of me to analyze a game based on highlights and box scores, so that's why you haven't seen write-ups for either of those games.

But as the season is winding down, so is recruiting, so I thought I'd do a series of posts outlining where we are with regards to recruiting each position. First up - quarterbacks.

Michigan currently holds two commitments at the quarterback position, Devin Gardner (Inkster, MI) and Cornelius Jones (Spartanburg, SC). Gardner ranks as the top overall quarterback to Rivals. A solid commitment, Gardner hopes to enroll in January if he can get all his academic ducks in a row. Gardner's mechanics are questionable, but his athleticism is off the charts. I used to think he was a sure-fire redshirt, but now I think it all depends on Denard Robinson. If Robinson can improve enough in the offseason to warrant staying at quarterback, then Gardner should redshirt in order to put two years between him and incumbent starter Tate Forcier. But it seems the coaches have realized that Denard isn't a competent passer at this point, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him change positions by 2011.

Cornelius Jones is a bit more of a project. In fact, recent newspaper articles from South Carolina have stated that Jones committed to Michigan as a defensive back. While I don't think that's true, it goes to show what most people think of his abilities. Whether he plays quarterback or safety at Michigan, he's probably headed for a redshirt in 2010.

The other prospects remaining on the board are Jeffrey Godfrey (Miami, FL) and Christian Green (Tampa, FL). Godfrey was considered a Michigan lean early in the process, but Michigan took two quarterbacks and Godfrey still hasn't pulled the trigger. He's another diminutive quarterback when Michigan already has two (Forcier, Robinson) on the roster. Meanwhile, Green has maintained that he wants to play wide receiver in college, and he'll probably take his talents to Florida State.

Barring any postseason coaching staff shake-ups, Michigan is done at the quarterback position. The Wolverines were still recruiting Munchie Legaux until he recently committed to Colorado, but from this point on, they'll concentrate mostly on defense.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Charles Woodson

This is how not to fumble a punt - don't let anyone touch you.

Charles Woodson had a great game for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. In a 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Woodson had 9 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. The interception came when Woodson dived in front of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten on the goal line.

Honorable mention:
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant had 8 receptions for 156 yards (19.5-yard average), but the Eagles lost to the San Diego Chargers. Both of those totals are career highs for Avant.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Michigan Wins or Malaria Loses

Several years ago, I started donating $10 to Nothing but Nets for my friends' birthdays. If a friend had a birthday, somebody in Africa got a mosquito net. As I've grown older and busier with my life, I've been doing a worse job of keeping track of birthdays.

I have a weird feeling that Michigan is going to beat Wisconsin tomorrow. Wisconsin is on a roll at 7-2 and Michigan is on a slide at 5-5, but I just have a feeling. And maybe my feeling is wrong, but either way, something good is going to happen.

If Michigan loses tomorrow, I'll donate $50 to Nothing but Nets. If Wisconsin loses, well . . . I'll still donate $10. I encourage any of you to donate if you're feeling generous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Tom Brady

Nobody really had a great game this past weekend, but Tom Brady was the best, I guess. He completed 25/37 passes for 332 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception. The Patriots beat Chad Henne and the Miami Dolphins, 27-17.

Honorable mention: In a 41-21 victory over the Chicago Bears, Steve Breaston had 5 catches for 66 yards and 1 TD. He also had a 25-yard rushing attempt.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Letter to Michael Williams

Dear Michael Williams,

First of all, let me thank you for how hard you work and how hard you play for the Michigan Wolverines. You came back from a tough knee injury as a true freshman, but you run hard and you work hard. And you hit hard, too. It's disappointing that the internet is crawling with so many know-it-all Michigan fans who think you're washed up, that you're just a bad football player, end of story.

When you came out of high school in 2007, I thought you were going to be a good player. You reminded me of Brandon Harrison - short and fast but a hitter. It turned out that the Michigan staff thought the same thing. You were to be groomed as the heir to Harrison, a slot cornerback. You would learn to blitz off the edge, cover slot receivers, force sweeps back to the inside, stuff like that. You were perfect for that position. Then the knee injury happened and you redshirted as a freshman. There's no shame in that.

Then at the end of 2007, Lloyd Carr retired. Rich Rodriguez came in to be the head coach, and he hired a guy named Scott Shafer, a young guy who had success at lower-tier programs. Shafer had plans on using you a little bit differently for the 2008 season. He still used you like Harrison, but by then, Harrison had been switched to strong safety. You had 18 tackles and a sack as a backup strong safety. That's a pretty good year for a backup safety.

But the whole Shafer thing didn't work out. He was fired after an abysmal year, and Rich Rodriguez hired Greg Robinson for 2009. Now here's a coach with a track record. He coached the Denver Broncos defense to a couple Super Bowls, coordinated for the Kansas City Chiefs. This guy clearly knows what he's doing. He worked with you a little bit and figured you'd be perfect for free safety. In his defense, the free safety plays almost like a weakside outside linebacker. This was perfect for you, too - you would be free to make plays in the running game without having to take on too many lead blockers. But then you got dinged up against Notre Dame and Jordan Kovacs took your job for a little bit.

Then came the Iowa game on October 10, 2009. Your buddy Boubacar Cissoko got suspended for the game, which meant the coaches would have to switch the starting strong safety, Troy Woolfolk, to cornerback. But you were a trooper when the coaches said you would have to take Woolfolk's spot as the deep safety. (It was either you or Kovacs, and let's be honest, Kovacs is about as fast as Johnny Thompson.) Of course, Iowa has some pretty good coaches, and they noticed that you were a newbie back there at safety. I mean, when was the last time you played a deep third? In high school when you played free safety? Anyway, the Hawkeyes took advantage of you for one big play, in particular. And then the fan base jumped all over you.

In the Illinois game, you were back to playing close to the line of scrimmage. And I have to admit, you didn't play well. You might have made 17 tackles, but Juice Williams had his way with you. You didn't keep outside contain on the QB, and that gave the Illini some big chunks of yardage. But you know that, right? I mean, I'm sure the coaches didn't have to tell you that you screwed up for you to realize it.

Since the Iowa game, fans have been all over you. You've been yo-yoing back and forth between FS and SS, and the coaches have been trying to figure out which position suits you best. The truth is, you're probably not ready to play. At a lot of schools, you'd probably be sprinting down the field on special teams and standing on the sideline when the defense is on the field.

But these fans, they want perfection. See, when they were 18 and got a job at McDonald's running the cash register, they messed up an order one time. So they immediately got fired and put on the fryer. But on their second day with the fryer, they left the fries in for too long and got moved to sweeping the floors. And they did just fine with that. And that's how they learned that the only way to improve isn't by repetition - it's by being fired from job after job until they find one that they're actually smart enough to do.

I hope you caught on to my sarcasm, because I realize that it must be tough for you. You've played four different positions for three different defensive coordinators and two different position coaches in three years. I want you to perform well, and I get frustrated when you don't. But most of the people who attack you and say you're washed up, they don't understand. They figure that if Greg Robinson plugged you in at middle linebacker or punter, you could be good at those positions within a week. But the smart ones know better. Listen to the smart ones.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Eligibility Count for 2009: 71

Most recent updates:

CB Boubacar Cissoko was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

CB Adrian Witty did not qualify academically. He must attend prep school or improve his test scores, but his Letter of Intent is no longer binding to Michigan.

LB Marell Evans is no longer on the team.

DT Vince Helmuth is no longer on the team.

WR Justin Feagin was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

OL Dann O'Neill is no longer on the team.

OL Kurt Wermers is no longer on the team.

Walk-ons have been added. Scholarship players are now in yellow.

WR Toney Clemons has decided to transfer.

DL Adam Patterson received a medical redshirt for 2008 and will have junior eligibility in 2009.

DL Andre Criswell will not return for a fifth year.

5TH YEAR SENIORS = 6 (Final season 2009)
RB Kevin Grady
WR Laterryal Savoy
OG Tim McAvoy
OG David Moosman
OT Mark Ortmann
P Zoltan Mesko
DE Tim North
DE Lawrence Perry
LB Ohene Opong-Owusu
K Jason Olesnavage
SR Ricky Reyes

SENIORS = 5 (Final season 2009)
RB Carlos Brown
RB Brandon Minor
WR Greg Mathews
DE Brandon Graham
LB Steve Brown

WR Zac Baker

REDSHIRT JUNIORS = 10 (Final season 2010)
QB David Cone
FB Mark Moundros
OT Perry Dorrestein
OG John Ferrara
OG Steve Schilling
DT Greg Banks
DE Adam Patterson
LB Obi Ezeh
LB Jonas Mouton

K Bryan Wright
WR Jon Conover
RB Benjamin Sutton
TE Mike Therman
OT Bryant Nowicki
S Nick Koenigsknecht
P Nick Berry

JUNIORS = 5 (Final season 2010)
TE Martell Webb
DT Renaldo Sagesse

CB James Rogers
CB Donovan Warren
FS Troy Woolfolk

REDSHIRT SOPHOMORES = 7 (Final season 2011)
WR Junior Hemingway
WR Kelvin Grady
OT Mark Huyge
OC David Molk
DT Ryan Van Bergen

OLB Steve Watson
OLB Brandon Herron
FS Michael Williams

FB John McColgan
TE Jon Bills
OG Zac Ciullo
LS Tom Pomarico
DE Will Heininger
DT Dominique Ware
LB Rushdi Furrha
LB Kevin Leach
CB Tony Anderson
S Zach Johnson
S Doug Rogan
S Karl Tech
S Jared Van Slyke
S Jordan Reilly
K Scott Schrimscher

SOPHOMORES = 6 (Final season 2011)
RB Michael Shaw
SR Martavious Odoms
WR Darryl Stonum
TE Kevin Koger
DT Mike Martin
LB J.B. Fitzgerald

REDSHIRT FRESHMEN = 11 (Final season 2011)
RB Mike Cox
SR Roy Roundtree
SR Terrence Robinson
TE Brandon Moore
OG Ricky Barnum
OC Rocko Khoury
OG Elliott Mealer
OT Patrick Omameh

LB Kenny Demens
LB Brandon Smith
CB J.T. Floyd

QB Jack Kennedy
WR Patrick Collins
WR Elias Kos
OC George Morales
LB Paul Gyarmati
S Matt Cavanaugh
S Jordan Kovacs
S Floyd Simmons

FRESHMEN = 21 (Final season 2012)
QB Tate Forcier
QB Denard Robinson
RB Vincent Smith
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
SR Jeremy Gallon
WR Cameron Gordon
WR Je'Ron Stokes
OT Taylor Lewan
OT Michael Schofield
OG Quinton Washington
DE Anthony Lalota
DT William Campbell

OLB Craig Roh
LB Isaiah Bell
LB Brandin Hawthorne
LB Mike Jones

CB Teric Jones
CB Justin Turner
SS Vladimir Emilien
FS Thomas Gordon
K Brendan Gibbons

QB Nader Furrha
RB O'Neil Swanson
FB Jonny Childers
SR Jordan Owens
WR Joe Reynolds
OL Adam Barker
OL Christian Brandt
OL Jareth Glanda
OL Erik Gunderson
OL Tom Lindley
DE Nathan Brink
CB Al Backey
LS Kurt Graman
K Seth Broekhuizen
K Eddie Murray
K Kris Pauloski

It is assumed that players who did not play more than three games in any year were/will be granted one redshirt year. For example, David Cone did not play as a true freshman, so he is counted as a redshirt junior, even though he may not be granted a fifth year of eligibility for 2010. Also, former walk-ons who are given one-year scholarships (such as Kevin Leach) are not counted on the scholarship list, since coaches will give that scholarship to an incoming player if possible.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Scouting Report: Josh Furman, LB - Millersville, MD

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 194 lbs.
Position: Linebacker
Jersey number: #2
School: Old Mill High School in Millersville, MD
40 Yard Dash: 4.36 seconds (reported)

Notes: Holds offers from Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, among others . . . His father, Tyrone, played defensive tackle for Maryland . . . 87 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 2 blocked punts as a junior on defense . . . 105 carries, 796 yards, 14 TDs as a junior on offense . . . Plays RB and LB in high school . . . 3-star recruit and #28 athlete on Rivals . . . 4-star recruit and #20 safety on Scout

Scouting report: Shows very good straight-line speed . . . Frame could easily hold another 25-30 pounds . . . Uses speed well when blitzing off the edge . . . High-motor player who makes plays even when he's seemingly out of them . . . Running technique is excellent as his leg drive and upper body synchronize well . . . Tends to be undisciplined regarding his gap responsibility . . . Does a poor job of using his hands to disengage from blockers . . . Not a big hitter, more of a grabber . . . Does not bring his feet with him when he tackles . . . Too stiff in the hips to play defensive back at the college level

Projection: Although smaller in stature, Furman reminds me a bit of Shawn Crable. He's long and lean with good speed and a good motor, but he's extremely raw. Michigan would probably slot him in the WILL position, as Furman could play at 220-225 lbs. without sacrificing too much speed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Braylon Edwards

New York Jet Braylon Edwards had a decent game in a losing effort on Sunday. His stats weren't overwhelming (4 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD), but his touchdown catch was highlight-reel worthy. Against the Dolphins, Edwards caught a ball at the 1-yard line with a defender draped on his back. He planted his feet and, in a struggle that seemed never-ending, eventually forced himself and the ball across the goal line.

Honorable mention: Jay Feely, also playing for the Jets, hit two field goals and one extra point. Two field goals aren't normally that noteworthy, but one was from 55 yards.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Carvin Johnson, Wolverine

Carvin Johnson, a safety from Metairie, LA, has committed to play at Michigan. Johnson was recruited by running backs coach Fred Jackson and officially visited for the Penn State game on October 24th.

I don't know a lot about Johnson. He was offered back in August, but his name didn't really pop up anywhere. He's unranked by Rivals and when I went to Archbishop Rummel High School's athletics page, it went straight to a fundraising page without offering any information on statistics or records.

From what I've read, Johnson was recruited as a safety and will probably play the weak safety position inhabited mostly by Jordan Kovacs at this time. He's 6'1" and 195 lbs. and supposedly a big hitter, which seems to fit the mold of that position.

Johnson is Michigan's 20th commitment in the 2010 class, which edges the Wolverines closer to the normal 25-scholarship limit. However, due to mass amounts of attrition, Michigan could sign a few January early enrollees back to the 2009 class, giving the program perhaps 28 scholarships to give. Michigan still needs at least one inside linebacker to go along with a few more defensive backs, an offensive lineman or two, and perhaps a tight end.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Illinois 38, Michigan 13

Carlos Brown taken down on first contact? Inconceivable!
Nope...wait a minute...yeah, that's conceivable.

This was a day that will go down in history as . . . a loss to Illinois.

What I learned from Saturday was that Rich Rodriguez is not the savior of the Michigan program. He is not a genius who can make lemonade out of . . . I don't know . . . used bicycle tires. He is a football coach who has huge flaws, especially when his team has huge flaws itself.

Illinois was a 1-win football team before Saturday, and that win didn't even come against an FBS school. They beat the winningest program in college football history, and it wasn't even close. Michigan's inexperienced and untalented defense gave up 500 yards total, 377 of which came on the ground. Illinois had not one 100-yard rusher, but two (running backs Micheal Leshoure and Jason Ford) . . . and that's not counting the 97 yards rushing from their nearly-benched starting quarterback, Juice Williams.

In last week's game against Penn State, the offense seemed to blame. They consistently failed to give Michigan's defense a chance. This week both sides of the ball seem to have regressed from earlier in the year. Michigan continues to turn the ball over on offense (3 fumbles) while failing to get turnovers on defense (uhhh . . . 0 fumbles, 0 interceptions). Prior to Saturday's game, Michigan was 105th in the country. I'm assuming they're even lower now, although I refuse to look up the stats.

I have to admit that I turned off the game with a few minutes left in the third quarter. I'm usually very calm when watching games on TV, but when free safety Mike Williams lost contain on Juice Williams for about the tenth time on the zone read option, I screamed "Stop doing that!" at the TV. I figured that meant I had had enough, so I shut it off. Mike Williams goes full speed all the time. Unfortunately, he's often aimed in the wrong direction, despite racking up 16 tackles. Other leading tacklers this year include walk-on safety Jordan Kovacs and walk-on linebacker Kevin Leach, so when safeties and/or slow, undersized quasi-linebackers are notching the majority of your takedowns, something is wrong.

Speaking of something horribly wrong . . . 38-13. Against a one-win team. A one-win team that led by a score of only 14-13 at halftime.

Offensive game ball goes to...Roy Roundtree? Sure. I guess. I don't know. The offense only mustered one touchdown and two field goals against a bad defense. Choices are slim.

Defensive game ball goes to...Brandon Graham. Seven tackles, one sack, one blocked punt.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...Carlos Brown. I can't believe Rich Rodriguez left Brown in on the goal line. That was the most ridiculous coaching decision from yesterday. Brown is fast, but he hasn't broken a tackle since that one time in his freshman year when he was playing Madden and hit the truck stick. If Minor is healthy enough to come in on fourth down, he's healthy enough to come in on first down. And if he's not? Put Moundros in at fullback and Kevin Grady at tailback. Hell, put John McColgan in at fullback with Grady at tailback. Put Vincent Smith or Michael Shaw at tailback. Brown pussy-footed his way into the hole on 3rd down (maybe 2nd down) and I let out a loud sigh. That whole set of downs was asinine.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...Michael Williams. I'm sorry for predicting that he would/should start at safety prior to the season. I thought he was better than this. He's not. He was single-handedly responsible for Juice Williams's rushing TD and about 50 more of Juice's yards. My high schoolers can defend the zone read option better than he did. Put Troy Woolfolk back at strong safety, move Kovacs to free safety, and plug J.T. Floyd back in at cornerback. I'd rather have a bad cornerback than a bad safety.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Does Michigan have a quarterback?


As I was watching the game yesterday, this thought wandered into my head for the first time. Does Michigan have a starting quarterback for the future? After the first series against Penn State, on which Tate Forcier looked pretty good, everything went downhill.

Tate Forcier
Tate Forcier seems to be the quarterback of the future. He has started every game this year and leads the team in passing. So far he has thrown for 1,167 yards, 9 TDs, and 5 INTs while completing 55.3% of his passes. And in Rich Rodriguez's read option offense, Forcier has 75 carries for 190 yards.

Forcier seems to have regressed this year. Either that or teams have figured out his weaknesses and are exploiting them. Early in the year, Forcier was picking apart man coverages, and it seems more teams are running confusing zone defenses to slow down Forcier's read progression. On designed rollouts, opposing defensive ends and linebackers are taking better angles and hemming Forcier inside the pocket; while Michigan's running backs are doing a good job as personal protectors, Forcier can't get outside and run or find good throwing lanes like he did early in the year.

Forcier's game management has also been somewhat lacking. He's fumbled several snaps, albeit mostly ones from backup center David Moosman. Yesterday he clocked the ball on third down at the end of the first half when he had time to run a quick play and take a shot at the end zone. And before that play, he fell on a fumble and was very slow getting up off the ground. And in a hurry-up offense like Michigan's, there's no reason to take a delay of game penalty like Michigan did near its own goal line.

Denard Robinson
Denard Robinson is most Michigan fans' second option. I have maintained since they were recruited that Forcier was the better of the two, but many fans claimed that Robinson would be a Pat White clone. And while that may end up being true, I guess - although I don't think it will - Pat White redshirted as a freshman, so judging Robinson right now might be jumping the gun.

That being said, Denard Robinson sucks at playing quarterback right now. He's not ready and I've said that all along. Subtracting the game against Delaware State from his stats (because, honestly, they shouldn't count), Robinson's passer efficiency rating is 37.11. Overall, he's 10/21 for 172 yards, 2 TDs, and 4 INTs. He's carried the ball 51 times for 293 yards.

Robinson doesn't make good reads in the passing game. He doesn't make good reads on the read option. He fumbles the ball too frequently as a runner. He's inaccurate on deep balls. He throws the ball too hard on short throws. And other defenses know it, which means they load up against the run whenever he enters the game. So what would be 20- or 30-yard runs for a guy who's also a passing threat have turned into 4- or 5-yard gains for Robinson.

Nick Sheridan
Sheridan is the dark horse in all this. He's not fast and he doesn't have a strong arm. He's a former walk-on. He's a redshirt junior and he might not be around next year.

However, Sheridan does know the offense. He's not fast enough to be a real threat as a runner, but he's fast enough to gain three or four yards if a defensive end crashes on the read option. His accuracy on short throws seems to have improved. We haven't really seen him throw deep this year, but reports suggest that his arm is a bit stronger than it was.

His performance this year has been limited to a couple snaps against Western Michigan and nine passes against Delaware State, so that's inconclusive. But for a team that's struggling, Sheridan is an option to be considered.

Tate Forcier should continue to start. His skills are better suited for this offense than anyone else's. He has the most talent and the best arm. Right now, though, he's not being used effectively. Rodriguez needs to lean on the running game, run some play action out of the I-formation, get the ball to Martavious Odoms on short throws, and keep Forcier out of harm's way a little more. The strength of this team is its running backs; throwing the ball 32 times and running Forcier 14 times is putting too much pressure on Forcier.

Denard Robinson should get fewer snaps at quarterback. He should get occasional plays behind center and Rodriguez needs to find more creative ways to get him the ball. The coaches should start putting in packages where Robinson runs plays out of the slot or at running back; he may be a future quarterback, but that time isn't now. You either have to remove him completely or put him in a position to succeed. You can't keep throwing him out there in situations where he has proven he will fail (i.e. passing the ball on obvious throwing downs).

If Rodriguez decides to rest Forcier's shoulder or if Forcier gets hurt more seriously, Sheridan should get the majority of the snaps. I know this probably isn't a popular statement, but he's a better quarterback right now than Robinson. He's not going to win games by himself, but he can check into the right plays, handle the ball properly, and make the necessary reads. This team doesn't need to throw the ball down the field to be successful, and that's probably Sheridan's biggest weakness.

Meanwhile, class of 2010 commitment Devin Gardner should be licking his chops. There have been rumors that he's considering other schools (Florida, for example), but from everything I've heard, those rumors are untrue. On top of that, Forcier hasn't fully convinced me that he's ready to be the future quarterback, and Robinson hasn't convinced me that he should even be playing quarterback. Unless Forcier's consistency improves over the next five weeks or so, I'd expect Gardner to come in with a decent shot at earning some playing time next year.

Penn State 35, Michigan 10

Alex Smith expresses the sentiment of the day.

My thoughts on this game are incomplete. When Carlos Brown fumbled with about five minutes left in the third quarter, I headed out. Brandon Graham had just blocked a punt in Penn State's territory, and even though I knew Michigan probably wouldn't win (it was already 32-10), I thought Michigan might at least make it respectable.

Instead, I went to a charity cash party and gambled away money. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by Penn State fans.

Yesterday was an offensive abomination. I had issues with the playcalling and substitutions. Previously dependable players weren't dependable. Starting center David Molk returned only to get injured and force somewhat incompetent backup center David Moosman into action as the snapper. Penalties. Poor quarterback reads. Fumbles. Interceptions. It seems like every team has an absolutely horrible game once per year, and hopefully this is Michigan's final one this year.

Everyone and his mother knew the game was over when Michigan produced perhaps the worst offensive series of the year. Starting deep in Michigan's own territory, the Wolverines ran the ball on first down and Mark Ortmann got called for holding. The ball was on Michigan's 4-yard-line. Then Ortmann false started on (er, prior to) the next snap. Prior threw an incomplete pass on second down. Then Tate Forcier took a delay of game penalty, putting the ball on the 1. On third down, while Forcier was calling an audible and stepped to the side, David Moosman inexplicably snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone. Safety. The end.

Even though Michigan gave up 396 yards to Penn State, I really didn't think Michigan played horribly on that side of the ball. For the most part, I thought the players did pretty well. Just like on offense, Michigan was outsmarted.

PSU was able to isolate subpar defensive players in pass coverage. Starting middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was twice exposed, once against running back Evan Royster and once against tight end Andrew Quarless. But he had no business being one-on-one with Royster, who was lined up all the way on the sideline. And in a Tampa Two scheme (in which the two safeties play halves while the MIKE covers the deep middle), both Jordan Kovacs and Mike Williams failed to react to Quarless running straight up the middle of the field; meanwhile, backup Quick Brandon Herron failed to chuck Quarless coming off the line of scrimmage.

Michigan's cornerbacks also did a poor job of covering the wide receivers early in the game. They seemed to be trying to protect Michigan's young, inexperienced safeties and bailing out a little too quickly. This left PSU's receivers wide open on outs and hitches.

I'm depressing myself, so let's finish up.

Offensive game ball goes to...uhhh...Brandon Minor? I don't know. He led the team in rushing, scored a TD, and didn't fumble. Sure. Let's give it to him.

Defensive game ball goes to...Brandon Graham. He had 7 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack. I wouldn't even want to shake hands with that guy, as I would probably incur the most pain I've ever felt. Remember in the movie Speed how there were those big barrels of water on the highway to prevent stray cars from running into concrete barriers? Opposing quarterbacks would be wise to make their pads out of big barrels of water.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...Denard Robinson. He's not being used effectively, and that's on Rodriguez. I hate to say it, but I really haven't seen a single reason to believe that this guy should remain at quarterback for the remainder of his Michigan career. He's a turnover waiting to happen, especially on passing downs. Disregarding the Delaware State game, six of Robinson's 13 drives this year have ended in a turnover. Yesterday he was 0-for-2 with an interception and a fumble. He doesn't make good reads in the passing or running game. And absent the threat of the pass, Robinson's running abilities are becoming less and less effective. Rodriguez should use Robinson on occasional plays in the middle of drives or on two-QB plays at random times, but what's happening right now isn't working. So it needs to be changed.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...Obi Ezeh. I'm not saying he should lose his job, but he's not a three-down linebacker. I'd like to see defensive coordinator Greg Robinson start to mix in some 4-2-5 nickel packages. I like Michigan's four-man front with Roh in there. On obvious passing downs, Coach Robinson should remove Ezeh in favor of a third cornerback. I think Boubacar Cissoko would be a good slot corner, so the back seven would consist of linebackers Mouton and Steve Brown; corners Donovan Warren, Troy Woolfolk, and Cissoko; and safeties Kovacs and Williams.

Picture via TheWolverine.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Elliott Mealer is better than me...

...and not just at football.

This is an "E:60" report from ESPN. It outlines the sad story of the deaths of Elliott Mealer's father and girlfriend two years ago.

If I were Mealer, I would have stood up and walked away from Lisa Salters when she asked me what I whispered to my girlfriend as I held her dying body in my arms. Some things should be left between a person and his maker.

I'm guessing Elliott Mealer doesn't want to be remembered for this car accident. Hopefully Michigan fans will someday know Mealer for his success on the field in Michigan Stadium. On a lot of teams, the fans' favorite player is the backup quarterback. I don't know that I've ever seen the favorite be a backup guard, but there's a first time for everything.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a record-setting day on Sunday. Brady threw for 380 yards on 29/34 passing (85.2%) and 6 total touchdowns in a 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Despite playing in the snow, Brady set a record by throwing 5 touchdowns in the second quarter.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall had 10 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble, but the Bengals lost to the Houston Texans, 28-17.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Highlights: Michigan vs. Delaware State 2009

Michigan 63, Delaware State 6

5th string QB Jack Kennedy

Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday's victory. I don't have the Big Ten Network, so by the time I got out of Saturday morning football practice and got to the sports bar where I watch BTN games, it was about 12:15 p.m. and I had already missed two touchdowns.

But I don't think I learned much about this team. Every Michigan player who looked good was doing so against a walk-on-type player. If you had any doubts about Delaware State's lack of talent, consider fourth-string QB David Cone's final stat line of 3/3 for 54 yards.

Michigan set records with 727 total yards and 461 rushing yards. True freshman running back Vincent Smith had 17 carries for 166 yards and 1 touchdown. Redshirt freshman scout team running back Michael Cox had 82 yards on 11 carries, including a 57-yard TD. Even failed tailback-turned-fullback had 73 yards and a touchdown on a 9.1 yard average per carry.

In short, yesterday was ridiculous.

However, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in Michigan's defense. This is surely nit-picking, but Michigan only recorded 2 sacks (both via Brandon Graham) on 36 dropbacks. The Wolverines didn't force a single turnover. They held Delaware State to 2.5 yards per carry and only gave up two field goals, so I'm not alarmed. However, for a team that's good enough to score 63 points, it sure would be nice to see the defense perform just as dominantly.

Offensive game ball goes to...
Michael Cox. Vincent Smith had better statistics, but I wasn't that impressed with Smith. He has adequate speed, elusiveness, and strength, but nothing I saw really wowed me. Cox, on the other hand, looks like the second coming of Brandon Minor. He runs hard and the first tackler almost never brings him down. And while he didn't exactly look fast on that 57-yarder, he's fast enough to get the job done.

Defensive game ball goes to...
Brandon Graham, I guess. Nobody on defense looked that impressive. Graham had 2 sacks and 3 tackles total. For such a dominating performance, it was kind of a yawner on this side of the ball.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...
backup running backs. It would be great to have both Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor healthy. For once. They've been together for four years, and I don't know if they've been 100% healthy at the same time for even one game in that span.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...
Teric Jones. This was Teric Jones's first extended playing time at cornerback, and it's pretty clear why the coaches moved Troy Woolfolk back to CB instead of perhaps giving more playing time to Jones. He's only a true freshman and he didn't play CB in high school, so he's only been playing cornerback for about two months. But Delaware State was able to pick on him a little bit, and he didn't really seem up to the challenge yet. Hopefully the defensive backfield can stay healthy enough for the rest of this year to keep Jones from having to play critical minutes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Iowa 30, Michigan 28

Single wing QB Denard Robinson

Well, last night was frustrating. Not only because we lost, but because the loss was self-inflicted. Five turnovers, blown coverages, bad coaching decisions. Michigan clearly seemed to be the more talented team, but luckily for Iowa, talent doesn't always win.

I would be remiss if I started this post with anything but a discussion of Rich Rodriguez's decision to go with freshman Denard Robinson on the last drive in the fourth quarter. That was the biggest decision of the night - and the worst, in my opinion - and it might have cost Michigan the game.

Assuming Rodriguez benched starter Tate Forcier because of Forcier's performance (8/19 for 94 yards and an INT, 8 carries for 26 yards), it was an indefensible decision. Two of Michigan's victories this season (Notre Dame and Indiana) are the direct result of Forcier's late-game heroics. Last week's near-victory against Michigan State came after Michigan was down 20-6 halfway through the fourth quarter and Forcier directed two touchdown drives. Meanwhile, backup Denard Robinson has had a couple electrifying TD runs while failing to pass the ball efficiently in spot duty this season. Prior to last night, Robinson was 4/11 for 57 yards, zero touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.

When Robinson entered the game in the second-to-last series last night, Forcier wasn't performing well. Michigan needed a spark. I understand that. Robinson completed two short passes on that drive and ended the series with a short TD run. The offense needed a spark? Mission accomplished.

But with 1:30 left and Michigan needing to go 80 yards with no timeouts, Rodriguez shouldn't have played the running quarterback, no matter how poorly Forcier had played to that point. Robinson is clearly a subpar passer and showed it when he badly overthrew a bracketed Junior Hemingway that resulted in the game-ending interception. Robinson finished the game 3/4 for 30 yards and 1 interception, which raised his passer efficiency rating to 55.39 on the season. By comparison, Forcier's PER is 133.11. Furthermore, Nick Sheridan's PER in 2008 was 81.08. That's right - Robinson is a significantly worse passer than Nick Sheridan. So not only should Forcier have been in the game at the end, but one could make the argument that Sheridan should have been in there instead of Robinson, too.

Now, some theories suggest that Forcier got benched because he and Rodriguez had words on the sideline. I didn't see evidence of that during the telecast, but it's possible. If that's true and Rodriguez was using the benching to teach Forcier a lesson, that might be a good reason. But if it was just based on their play, Forcier should have been on the field.

Otherwise, Michigan turned the ball over too much. The Wolverines fumbled, threw interceptions, muffed punts, etc. They achieved just about every method of turning the ball over. In between playing solid run defense (Iowa averaged 2.4 yards per rush), running the ball well (4.3 yards per carry), and playing decent pass coverage most of the time, Michigan gave the ball away too many times. You will rarely see a team win the game when they've turned the ball over four or five times.

Defensively, former starting cornerback Boubacar Cissoko was suspended for the game due to a violation of team rules. In his place, starting strong safety Troy Woolfolk moved over to cornerback. The starting safeties were walk-on Jordan Kovacs and redshirt sophomore Mike Williams. Woolfolk played better than either Cissoko or J.T. Floyd had earlier in the year, but Williams especially blew some coverages at key times. I can't blame him too much, as he's been playing close to the line for the past two years as almost a glorified outside linebacker. Michigan fans shouldn't expect that he'll be a great center fielder in his first extended playing time at the position, but he does have good speed and he's a solid tackler. If Woolfolk can solidify the cornerback position, I think Williams and Kovacs might be sufficient at the safety spots.

Offensive game ball goes to...
the offensive line. The offensive line got destroyed last week against Michigan State, but center David Moosman (replacing the injured David Molk) made good snaps for the entire game and Michigan got a solid push from their undersized line against a strong Iowa front seven.

Defensive game ball goes to...
Donovan Warren. He opened the game with a pick six and played pretty well for the rest of the game. He did get beat on a 47-yard pass on a 3rd-and-24, but that was at least partly because Mike Williams was slow to help from his safety position.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...
Denard Robinson. Please, God, do not allow Rodriguez to put him on the field to pass the ball in key situations. He has a lower PER than Nick Sheridan and he can't run the full offense. Not only is he unable to pass the ball or even run the famed read option, but he also hasn't taken a single snap from under center (if I recall correctly) in the I-formation, which is the best way to run Brandon Minor. A large portion of the playbook goes out the window with Robinson in the game, and it's just QB draw, QB sweep right, QB draw, QB sweep left, QB draw, QB sweep right, onward to infinity.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...
Boubacar Cissoko and J.T. Floyd. The rest of the defense played well except for the safeties, but there's no help coming for them. Kovacs and Williams need to improve with more experience and more reps. Meanwhile, while Cissoko didn't play at all and Floyd played sparingly, Woolfolk held his own at the cornerback position. Hopefully Greg Robinson keeps Woolfolk at corner and is able to coaches up those other safeties.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Donovan Warren is better than Demarlo Belcher

Bill Lynch will throw his gum in 3...2...1...

The interception that essentially ended Michigan's 36-33 victory over Indiana was strongly disputed. I have to admit that as I watched the play unfold in real time, I assumed Indiana would retain possession. But despite my initial reaction, the on-field call was "interception" and the replays proved to be inconclusive.

On the play, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren jumped a slant pass from Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receiver Demarlo Belcher. Warren reached in front of Belcher with both hands while Belcher waited for the ball to come into his body. Without the ball ever touching the ground, both players fell to the turf and had a momentary tug of war. Possession was awarded to Warren.

The rule on simultaneous possession is as follows:

ARTICLE 8. A simultaneous catch or recovery is a catch or recovery in which there is joint possession of a live ball by opposing players inbounds (A.R. 7-3-6-II and III).

This rule is tricky because it doesn't define "possession." As you can see in the screencaps from Maize n Brew, it appears that Belcher never really had control of the ball. Even though both players fell together with the ball between them, that doesn't mean Belcher ever had possession. My interpretation of the word "possession" is controlling the ball with one's hand(s), and it doesn't seem that Belcher ever had that. The only visual evidence of possession, by that definition, shows that Warren had better control of the ball than Belcher.

As Indiana fans will argue, it doesn't matter who wins the tug of war at the bottom of the pile; when the possessor of the ball is down by rule, the play should be over. But if neither player possesses the ball at the time when the players hit the ground, it's impossible to say who should be awarded the ball. When you see a receiver on the ground who's bobbling the ball, he's not given possession until that ball is controlled without hitting the ground (see Mario Manningham's catch vs. the Cowboys last Sunday). Belcher never controlled the ball and when someone finally did control it, that someone was Warren.

Indiana fans will surely never let this die. As you can see from the Maize n Brew comments, they are bitter. Just like Penn State fans still complain about the :01 left on the clock in 2005 and Michigan fans still complain about MSU's last-"second" TD pass to T.J. Duckett in 2001, Indiana will probably hold on to Interceptiongate for a while.

But I don't care. The referees weren't impressive either way. They missed several holding calls against Indiana, and they called J.T. Floyd for pass interference on a ball that was clearly uncatchable. I don't think Warren's interception was necessarily a bad call, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gone the other way, either.

The bottom line is this: If you leave the game up to the referees, that's your fault. It was a tight game the entire way. Indiana settled for several field goals in the red zone when the Hoosiers offense bogged down. If they had scored a TD on any of those possessions, things might have ended differently.

Michigan 36, Indiana 33

I've been busy this week. Between losing power on Thursday evening, not getting home until after midnight last night, and Saturday morning practice, I didn't have a chance to write a preview for the Indiana game. But these are the games that always scare me the most. Not the Toledo or Eastern Michigan or Appalachian State games, because we win most of those and if we don't, well, that's just how the cookie crumbles.

No, what scare me are the games against second-rate Big Ten teams like Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, etc. Those games are ones that shouldn't be huge impediments on the way to playing for a Big Ten title but too often rise up to bite you in the ass or at least make you nervous.

Today's game was no exception. Indiana made it tough on Michigan before the Wolverines eked one out in the last couple minutes.

Offensively, Michigan frustrated me more today than at any other time this year. They seemed completely out of sync for the majority of the game. Luckily, Carlos Brown scored two early touchdowns and Tate Forcier led two late TD drives in the fourth quarter. Between those points, though, Michigan looked discombobulated.

Replacement center David Moosman had troubles snapping the ball, and both Denard Robinson and Forcier had troubles handling it. Michigan has resurrected the freeze play, where the center snaps the ball when he sees someone jump offsides. It's supposed to earn Michigan five yards, which it did . . . once. But the freshman quarterbacks clearly aren't prepared to run it, and neither is Moosman, since he snapped the ball one time when Indiana defensive end Greg Middleton had already got back onside. In total, it lost yards for Michigan and could end up being a turnover if, for example, the snap on the Middleton play had bounced off Forcier's knee or facemask and ended up in the hands of a Hoosier.

The game always looks like it's going too fast for Denard Robinson. It's like I looked when I was little and watching my brother play Frogger; then my mom would call him to take the garbage out, I'd grab the joystick, adrenaline myself across the road, and then drown in the river. Robinson runs the ball well and has a limit of one good throw per game. He led one good drive today and made a nice throw on a seam route to Kevin Koger. After that play the coaches should have patted him on the dreadlocked head, said "Nice job," and handed him a baseball cap (until, of course, he was needed again once Forcier got hurt).

Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee went away from the running game for a while. I have no explanation for this. Carlos Brown started the game with a 61-yard TD on a screen pass, scored a 41-yard rushing TD on the next drive, and then became a bystander for a couple quarters. We can run the ball. Our co-starters at running back, Brown and Brandon Minor, had 23 carries for 123 yards. That's 5.3 yards per carry. But 23 carries is what ONE of those guys should have, not the combination of the two, especially when Forcier and Robinson combined for 21 rushes. The guys who earned scholarships for running the ball should run it, not the guys who earned scholarships for their throwing arms.

This is partly on Forcier as well. In my opinion, Forcier is horrible at running the read option. Even when the backside defensive end stays home to contain the quarterback, Forcier tries to make things happen on his own. He's simply not athletic enough to make it work. Hopefully his reads will improve as he gets more and more experience. I guess the coaches have to keep calling the play to keep the defense honest, but Forcier needs to realize that the best thing about that play is the element of surprise when he keeps the ball. If I were an opposing defensive coordinator, I would tell my defensive ends, "If you stay home, this chump is going to keep the ball a couple times when he shouldn't, and you better make him regret it."

Defensively, it really hurts to have so little depth and experience in the defensive backfield. I thought the linebackers played better than they did last week and the defensive line did an okay job, but our defensive backfield is in shambles. Donovan Warren made one poor tackle attempt, but the Indiana didn't want to test him much. Boubacar Cissoko was replaced early by J.T. Floyd, and neither played well. Meanwhile, strong safety Troy Woolfolk is a position-changer from cornerback who missed some tackles, and former walk-on Jordan Kovacs started at free safety and missed several assignments. Indiana took advantage of the inexperience on the back end, and you can bet that other Big Ten teams will, too. I think Michigan State will have an excellent day throwing the ball next week.

Offensive game ball goes to . . . Carlos Brown (2). He had 144 yards from scrimmage (83 rushing, 61 receiving) and two touchdowns. He ran the ball well most of the day, and what he lacks in toughness, he makes up for in home run ability.

Defensive game ball goes to . . . Jonas Mouton (1). Mouton led the team in tackles with 11 and had half a tackle for loss. He reacted slowly a couple times but he stepped up to fill a hole a couple times and made some nice hits. He didn't have a great game, but nobody really did.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . David Moosman (1). He can play guard. That's fine. He's a pretty good guard. In fact, with his main competition at center coming from redshirt freshman Rocko Khoury, he might well be our best center with starter David Molk out (broken foot). But I hope Molk is a quick healer. Moosman had a few bad snaps, and his quarterbacks didn't do a great job of bailing him out.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . J.T. Floyd (2). I think Cissoko re-injured his shoulder injury, but I have a hard time believing that freshmen Justin Turner and Teric Jones are significantly worse than Floyd. At this point, I have to believe the coaches are trying their best to preserve Turner's redshirt. Jones's has already been burned. But Floyd was responsible for at least three big plays today: 1) the missed pass break-up that ended in a big gain, 2) the 85-yard rush TD by Darius Willis in which Floyd made a poor attempt to tackle, and 3) the pass interference on the right sideline - the ball was uncatchable, but Floyd still had a hand full of jersey.