It was a big Saturday of spring games around the Big Ten, and we're recapping all of them today. Let's take a look at how the Michigan Wolverines wrapped up their spring session at the Big House.
Star of the game: The Wolverines' offense kept things very vanilla, but the defense more than held its own and sophomore linebacker James Ross III showed why he'll likely be a big factor in the fall. Ross played the entire scrimmage and logged a game-high eight tackles, including two for loss. Linemen Frank Clark, Jibreel Black and Taco Charlton also stood out for the defense.
How it went down: Michigan fans didn't learn a ton about the 2013 team as the offense, as expected, was "very vanilla, very basic," as starting quarterback Devin Gardner put it. The Wolverines are going back to their traditional pro-set structure and operated mostly under center in an I-formation.
Gardner completed 11 of 16 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and displayed the vertical pass game we saw last fall after he became the starter in finding Devin Funchess and Amara Darboh for gains of 35 and 33 yards. Backup Brian Cleary got in a bit of work along with Alex Swieca.
The defense had the edge in the spring game, starting at the line of scrimmage. The most telling matchup pitted Michigan's defensive front against an offensive line looking for starters at both guard spots and at center. Although the young offensive linemen showed flashes, the defensive front carried the day, getting consistent penetration with players like Clark, Black and Charlton, a man-child freshman at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds.
"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made the pass rush a major priority after Michigan recorded only 22 sacks last season. If Saturday's scrimmage is an indication, the Wolverines will be heating up the pocket more this fall.
"We've got some young kids who have some ability," head coach Brady Hoke said. "With Greg and his passion with how he teaches rushing the passer ... the guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do. We've worked on it. We're not near what we can be and will be, but I think we’re a little better at it."
The interior offensive line will continue to be a major storyline throughout fall camp, and Hoke wants to see Michigan run the ball more effectively. Thomas Rawls had a 14-yard touchdown run in the scrimmage and led the offense with 32 rush yards on six carries.
The best news for Michigan came off of the playing field as Hoke said running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (leg) and cornerback Black Countess (knee) both are on track to return for the opener, and linebacker Jake Ryan, who recently underwent ACL surgery, could be back by mid October. Michigan also picked up a commitment from wide receiver Drake Harris, who originally pledged to rival Michigan State.