Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Midseason report: Michigan
By Brian Bennett
Record: 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten
How should we judge Michigan? By two crummy performances against Top 5 teams? Or by the way Wolverines have dominated in their initial two Big Ten games?
For sure, the team's preseason top 10 ranking was too lofty and quickly exposed in the 41-14 loss to No. 1 Alabama to open the year. And Denard Robinson's comedy of errors against Notre Dame further hurt Michigan's rep, though all those turnovers overshadowed an outstanding defensive effort.
Still, Brady Hoke has said his first and main goal will always be to win the Big Ten, and he's got to feel pretty good about his chances the way things have gone in October. The Wolverines embarrassed Purdue on the road 44-13 and annihilated Illinois 45-0 in back-to-back weeks, looking as strong as any league team on both sides of the ball.
The team's defense has steadily improved, to the point where Michigan now ranks No. 10 nationally in yards surrendered. Hoke and defensive line Greg Mattison have made a defensive line that came into the seasons with several question marks work, and the linebackers and secondary have played very well.
The offense remains too reliant on Robinson, but at least offensive coordinator Al Borges has smartly re-emphasized his quarterback's elite running skills since the Notre Dame debacle. Robinson already has over 800 yards rushing, averaging eight yards per carry. If he can keep doing that, he won't have to throw it much.
Michigan must still break its four-game losing streak to Michigan State and go to Nebraska and Ohio State, so the judgment is far from in on this team. But a Big Ten championship would go a long way toward erasing the pain of those early-season losses.
Offensive MVP: Robinson. Sure, he might have been the Least Valuable Player against Alabama and Notre Dame, but there's no denying that as Robinson goes, so goes the Wolverines offense. That's even more true with the disappearance of Fitz Toussaint, who has only 231 rushing yards after a 1,000-yard season in 2011. Robinson has run for 777 yards in Michigan's four victories and just 117 in its two losses.
Defensive MVP: LB Jake Ryan. The sophomore is quickly becoming one of the top linebackers in the league thanks to his manic energy. He leads the team with 42 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, adding 2.5 sacks while providing an excellent pass rush from his outside position.