- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's time to pass out grades for the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan returned the core pieces from a record-setting offensive unit but also welcomed a new coordinator (Al Borges) with a new system. It resulted in a unit that took some time to find its identity. Borges went with the spread at times and also mixed in some elements from the West Coast offense. Junior quarterback Denard Robinson started strong, struggled midway through the season and then finished with a flourish against Nebraska and Ohio State. Fitz Toussaint emerged at running back and Rimington Trophy winner David Molk led the offensive line. Michigan committed too many turnovers (21) and Borges got too cute at times with his play calls, but the offense produced at a high rate and rated among the Big Ten's best in points and yards.
Few units in college football made a more dramatic improvement than Michigan's defense did in 2011. Under coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison, the Wolverines went from a fundamentally flawed, breakdown-prone unit that couldn't get off of the field to one that ranked in the top 20 nationally in yards allowed and in the top 10 in points allowed. The defense repeatedly rescued Robinson and the offense, and, despite having no first-team All-Big Ten performers, held seven opponents to 17 points or fewer. Hoke and Mattison focused on the front four and received strong play from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and others. Several young linebackers emerged and a secondary that couldn't get out of its own way the previous three seasons significantly cut down mistakes. At times, the defense carried Michigan, something few would have envisioned before the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
After receiving a failing grade in 2010, the Wolverines' kicking game saw some improvement this year. Michigan made 10 of 14 field-goal attempts and ranked fifth in the league in punt returns. The team struggled with its punting, ranking last in the Big Ten in net average (33.7 ypp) and was so-so with its coverage units. Jeremy Gallon ranked third in the league in punt returns (10.1 ypr).
Michigan made significant strides in Year 1 of the Hoke area, improving its regular-season win total by three and rescuing the defense from the depths. The offense was a work in progress but seemed to hit its stride late in the season, which should bode well against Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. While Michigan's schedule wasn't overly daunting, the Wolverines took care of business and have themselves in position to cap an uplifting campaign with a BCS bowl win.
16hAndrea Adelson and Austin Ward
18hJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren
17hAlex Scarborough and Jesse Temple
2dJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren