Michigan Wolverines: Football

There’s quite a bit we’ve already learned about Michigan through this 2014 spring season and the scrimmage will reveal even more. However, this spring really only matters because it’s a launching point for what happens next season.. So, to look forward to next fall, here are five predictions for Michigan football in 2014.

No. 4: Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith will account for at least 150 yards in eight games in 2014.

Why: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier believes in a running back by committee game plan, which was a huge change from the featured back days of Al Borges.

Nussmeier said that he likes to spread the carries around so that it’s not just one guy taking the pounding on every down, which means he intends for his running backs to run. That wasn’t always the case last season. Likely, the two backs carrying the most load will be Green and Smith.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDerrick Green is expected to share the rushing load with De'Veon Smith this season.
Both showed promise last season and with another year under their belts of training and conditioning, they should be able to come into the fall more prepared for the daily grind. Green had 83 carries for 270 yards (3.3 yards) while Smith had 26 carries for 117 yards (4.5 yards).

What’s impressive about those numbers is how little negative yardage the two had as freshmen. Green accounted for a loss of 20 yards, which means he accounted for one loss of a yard for every 13.5 yards he gained. Smith accounted for a loss of 2 yards, which means he accounted for a loss for every 58.5 yards gained. Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines’ featured back last season, accounted for a loss of 78 yards while gaining just 648 yards meaning he accounted for one yard of loss for every 8.3 yards he gained.

Toussaint carried the ball so much more frequently than either Green or Smith. But it does show that when given the opportunity, both Green and Smith were more productive -- in limited action -- than Toussaint.

But, like last season, that won’t matter quite as much as the offensive line. If 2013 taught Michigan fans anything it was that a subpar O-line can railroad a team that has weapons. The Wolverines had two great tackles, but the interior of the line was in constant state of change and because of that the offensive didn’t really get going until November.

Because of injuries, there’s a decent chance the Wolverines won’t actually be able to put their best five offensive linemen on the field together until fall camp. But even if they manage to do that, they’ll be ahead of where they were last year. If and when the O-line pulls it together, Green and Smith can get to work.

Stats to know: Looking at how many rushing yards opponents allowed is a good gauge, but it’s all on a sliding scale. If a team allowed 250 passing yards a game then teams might not have rushed against them as much because there was little reason. However, a team might’ve been stout in the secondary and porous on the defensive line.

So with that in mind, here are the rushing yards per game as well as the yards per rush (which give a better idea of exactly how well teams defended the run). But again, since opponents differ, Miami (Ohio) giving up 5.1 yards per rush last year -- mostly to MAC teams -- is quite different that Indiana giving up 5.4 yards per rush mostly in the Big Ten.

  • Appalachian State: 220 rushing yards per game | 4.9 yards per rush
  • Notre Dame: 168 rushing yards per game | 4.2 yards per rush
  • Miami (Ohio): 223 rushing yards per game | 5.1 yards per rush
  • Utah: 130 rushing yards per game | 3.5 yards per rush
  • Minnesota: 158 rushing yards per game | 4.5 yards per rush
  • Rutgers: 101 rushing yards per game | 3.1 yards per rush
  • Penn State: 144 rushing yards per game | 3.9 yards per rush
  • Michigan State: 86 rushing yards per game | 2.8 yards per rush
  • Indiana: 238 rushing yards per game | 5.4 yards per rush
  • Northwestern: 167 rushing yards per game | 4.2 yards per rush
  • Maryland: 149 rushing yards per game | 3.7 yards per rush
  • Ohio State: 109 rushing yards per game | 3.3 yards per rush
Just by looking at those numbers, it’s pretty obvious that Smith and Green will have a harder time against Utah, Michigan State and Ohio State. There’s a greater chance that the duo won’t hit 150 in those games and since they are young, it’s likely that there’ll be another game where they miss that mark as well .

Another important number to consider when looking at rushing stats is how many times defenses held offenses to no gain or negative rushes. Again, no surprise here that Michigan State leads the Wolverines’ 2014 opponents in that category.

In 2013, the Spartans stopped opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage, or behind it, 131 times. What some people might find surprising is that Maryland did the same. The Terrapin defense accounted for 131 stops like that. Teams like Indiana (101), Northwestern (106) and Notre Dame (107) weren’t as strong in that category.

By looking at yards per rush as well as how often defenses stopped offenses at the line of scrimmage, there’s a pretty good indicator of the games when Smith and Green could go off for major yardage -- Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern.

The countdown:
The Wolverines are two practices into their spring season and already the coaches have announced some major changes that fans will see in the spring game in a month. This week, with the players on spring break, we’ll examine some of the changes to expect in 2014.

For the past three seasons the Wolverines were constantly in search of the elusive featured back, which never really materialized. But with a new offensive coordinator comes offensive change and one of the most notable might be getting rid of that featured back notion.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Green has a chance to lead a deep, but somewhat inexperienced running back group next season.
“You’d like to use multiple backs,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “You look at the pounding the running backs take these days and how physical the game is. One back carrying the load all the time makes it awful difficult to stay healthy and sustain success over a season where I think you can accomplish the same things as an offense and get more guys touches.”

In Nussmeier’s two seasons at Alabama his offense featured two main rushers in both seasons, none of whom were quarterbacks. In 2013, T.J. Yeldon led the Crimson Tide rushers with 1,235 yards (6 yards per carry) while Kenyan Drake added 694 rushing yards (7.5 yards per carry). The previous season Alabama had two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy (1,322 yards, 6.5 yards per carry) and Yeldon (1,108 yards, 6.3 yards per carry).

Though those numbers are impressive, and Nussmeier has proved it can be done, that doesn’t mean it will be done at Michigan, especially not next season. But the shift in ideologies isn’t a bad idea considering how poorly the primary back plan has gone the past few seasons. In fact, with each year at Michigan, the “featured back” position did worse and worse.

In Year 1 of the Brady Hoke era, that concept remained a bit hazy, as the team’s leading rusher was also its leading passer, Denard Robinson. The coaches spoke of the featured back but most times it was Robinson taking off down the field rather than handing it off. The team’s second-leading rusher was then-sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint, who through 12 games averaged 87 yards per game (just four yards less than Robinson).

During the 2012-13 season, again, Robinson was the leading rusher. But this time it wasn’t just a few yards difference between his and Toussaint’s numbers. Robinson averaged 115 yards per game while Toussaint averaged less than half of that at just 51 yards per game.

This past season, in Year 3 of Hoke’s tenure, it seemed as though the Wolverines might finally have found that elusive featured back that Al Borges always wanted. With Devin Gardner in the pocket, a dual-threat QB but not in the way Robinson was, there was room was the Wolverines to really work a running back into its game plan. And, in some senses, there finally was a featured back. The team’s leading rusher was, for the first time in the Hoke era, a running back. But the problem was that Toussaint averaged just 54 yards per game -- a far cry from what would be expected from a power-running team. During those three seasons Toussaint’s average per rush dropped by more than two yards per carry (5.6 in 2011, 4.0 in 2012, 3.5 in 2013).

In most instances when a three-year starter left there would be panic. However, with the running backs and the shift into an offense that uses more than one back, there actually seems to be a lot of depth at the position, though not necessarily much experience.

“When you look at the group as a whole, I don’t think we’ve established a runner,” Nussmeier said. “There’s a group of running backs and that’ll be an interesting competition to watch develop. I think those guys have worked extremely hard, they’re learning the system.”

Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, who both had experience last season, will be in the thick of the competition for quality running back snaps. Hoke also said that he was impressed with Justice Hayes near the end of last season and the recovery of Drake Johnson, as well. And to build even more depth, they’ve moved some guys around -- Ross Douglas, who early enrolled as a defensive back last year, will be taking RB snaps this season as will Wyatt Shallman, a fullback.

“I think I feel more comfortable about the depth we have there,” Hoke said.

Depth is one thing, and it will certainly create competition, but the question of whether this shift in how the Michigan offense uses running backs will be effective remains to be seen. It will be a big change when Michigan takes the field in the spring game and next fall, but it could be one that could finally show off the running back talent the Wolverines have in their arsenal.
The excitement of Hollywood’s biggest night isn’t completely over yet. There’s no reason not to carry over Oscar fun and relate it, somehow, to the Wolverines.

So, here are our best guesses for the 2015 Michigan football Oscars, a look ahead to what could be the best performances and must-sees of the 2014-15 season.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDevin Gardner passed for eight TDs and zero interceptions in his final four games last season.
Best picture: This was about as obvious a pick as "Titanic" in 1998. Leo stole our hearts and there just might be a game next year that could do the same. The best picture of the Michigan football season will be the Michigan-Ohio State game. If Nov. 29 isn’t already circled, do so now. It’ll be the must-see of the year. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller returns, but he has lost his running counterpart Carlos Hyde. However, the good thing about this game happening at the end of every season is so each team has enough time to come into its own and develop the talent. Both the Wolverine and Buckeye rosters have a lot of talent that could grow into its own and when these teams take the field expect plenty of nominee-worthy performances.

Best actor in a leading role (offense): Devin Gardner. The QB job is his to lose and as long as nothing goes wrong this spring and he takes his spot, there’s little to no reason why he shouldn’t be the offensive MVP next year. Yes, he was inconsistent last season, but it was a trend of the team, not just him. If he can bottle his performances from the last four games and turn that into a full season, he could have a really fantastic year ahead of him and the Wolverines could, too.

Best actor in a supporting role (offense): The offensive line. It’s kind of a cheat to give this to a group, but with an offensive line at its best, it moves as one. So we’ll go with that. This past season proved that it’s much harder (or nearly impossible) for any quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end to be productive, if the offensive line isn’t effective first. If Gardner has a big season, part of it will be because of what he did in the offseason, but a big part of it will be because the offensive line gave him time and kept him protected. Plus, the offensive line has quite a few interesting and creative guys, so if someone were to craft a speech to rival Jared Leto’s, it’d be someone on the O-line.

Best actor in a leading role (defense): Jake Ryan. He never really seemed to hit his stride last season after returning from his ACL tear. But now in his final year for the Wolverines, expect him to have his best season yet. He has moved inside to the middle linebacker spot so he’ll be reading the opposing running backs instead of tight ends, and Greg Mattison said this will give him a chance to get into more plays. With how instinctual Ryan is and how he has displayed that in the past, putting him a position to get to the ball more seems like a fantastic idea and one that could make him one the Wolverines’ leading men.

Best actor in a supporting role (defense): Frank Clark. Don’t get me wrong, Clark also could have a huge season but in order for Ryan to really play up to his potential, the defensive line will need to get some consistent pressure. Like the offensive line it’ll need to work as a unit, but looking at the Wolverine defensive line, Clark is a name that jumps out as one that could wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The more he can do that, the more double teams he’ll draw and the more space he’ll be able to free up for Ryan to make big plays.

Best costume design: It’s quite doubtful Michigan will ever have a period piece-inspired uniform, though the nice thing about those period pieces is that the color “highlighter yellow” didn’t seem to exist. So, I can’t say I’d totally be opposed to that. However, uniform changes probably will be pretty subtle next season but don’t be too surprised if Michigan pulls something out for the MSU or OSU game. The best bet would be Notre Dame, however, as it is the final matchup. Michigan can’t do fireworks and Queen Bey at an away game, but it can do something big with its uniform.

Best original score: A score is essentially the same thing as a game plan, right? So, let’s go with Michigan’s offensive attack against Michigan State. Last season the Wolverines allowed seven sacks to the Spartans and finished the day with minus-48 rushing yards. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is back so fans can expect that even though the Spartans lost plenty of talent, that MSU will be more than prepared for the Wolverines. But new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier should have some tricks up his sleeve. The Wolverines will have seven games before they face the Spartans so Nussmeier should have a good idea of what Michigan does well and what it doesn’t do as well, so expect his game plans to bring you tears just like the way "Up" did.

Best original screenplay: We can’t leave the marching band out on this one. The Michigan Marching Band will somehow need to find a way to best last season’s Beyonce performance. However, the best guess for when this show-stopping performance happens would be the Appalachian State game. For starters, it’s the App State game and with so many terrible memories for Michigan fans from the last version, an impressive halftime show could add even more to a dominant win. Also, with games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State away from Ann Arbor, the options for blowout shows are kind of limited. Expect the Michigan Marching Band to run the world and make App State fans realize the marching band is the best thing they never had.
Spring football started Tuesday, so the competition for positions is well underway. This week, we’re counting down the five position battles that you should also keep an eye on over the next month. We've counted this down for a week, though you probably knew exactly which position would take the cake at No. 1.

No. 1: left tackle

Who’s in the mix: Erik Magnuson (injured), David Dawson, Dan Samuelson

What to watch: Of the top five position battles to watch, three have been on the offensive line, which makes sense considering the 2013 performance. The O-line needs to see some change going in to next season. They say if there’s youth on a line, it’s best to have it on the outside. If that’s the case, then the Wolverines are in good shape. It’s more than likely the Wolverines will be starting underclassmen at both tackle spots. Yesterday we looked at the struggles in replacing a three-year starter on the right side, but it’s an even bigger challenge to replace a four-year starter on the left side, QB Devin Gardner’s blind side.

Replacing Taylor Lewan isn’t going to be easy. The All-American started 48 consecutive games at left tackle for the Wolverines. He graded out with his best year of football during this past season and now the Wolverines will have to search for his replacement. Magnuson was the frontrunner but will miss the spring season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds Magnuson is a bit smaller than Lewan (6-8, 315), but is agile and athletic. Last season he played in 12 games and recorded seven starts at guard, which will only help his future as a tackle. Since he has experience at both positions, he’ll better know the nuances of the line as a whole, which will only help the chemistry of the left side of the line. However, with him sitting out for the spring, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that Dawson has been taking reps with the first group. He’s a shorter option than the other tackles (6-4, 295) but assuming Magnuson comes back 100 percent, Dawson could likely be repping with the twos at either tackle spot. Samuelson is another option at tackle for the Wolverines. The rising redshirt freshman is 6-5 and 282 pounds.

The countdown:

Spring ball starts on Feb. 25, and until then we’re going to be taking looks at different players, position groups and parts of the team to keep an eye on as the Wolverines wind through their month of spring practices. We continue today with No. 2

No. 2: LT Ben Braden
Height: 6-foot-6
Weight: 318 pounds
2013 statistics: appeared in two games as a reserve offensive lineman

The offensive line is the position group that will need to make the biggest jump during this spring season, but the left tackle position -- which had been occupied by Taylor Lewan for four seasons -- is now open.

The Wolverines struggled this season by having youth on the interior and veterans at the tackles, however, next season the exact opposite will be true. The interior offensive linemen will presumably be the most experienced of the line, while the tackle spots will likely be occupied by redshirt freshmen with limited experience.

Going into the spring, Braden is expected to compete at the left tackle spot, looking to fill Lewan’s shoes. His biggest competition was expected to be fellow redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson, but Magnuson will miss spring football due to a shoulder surgery he underwent this winter.

Braden can use this spring season to establish himself as the top left tackle so that when the fall rolls around, he’s still running with the first group. He’s a bit smaller than Lewan (Lewan played his senior season at 6-foot-8, 315 pounds) but can use his athleticism on the outside to keep his QB safe.

The offensive line’s improvement will be of paramount concern this spring as Doug Nussmeier works to mesh his offense with the arsenal of players in Ann Arbor. As displayed by the Wolverines this season, no offense can get going unless the offensive line is being effective. And for the first time in four years, the Wolverines will be questioning who will effective for them at left tackle.

The countdown:

Mailbag: ACLs, 2014 season, V-Day

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
11:00
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Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope you have one. And if not, I hope you have chocolate.

Keiran, Ann Arbor: What’s up with the ACL issues on this team? Should it be something to worry about?

[+] EnlargeJake Butt
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTight end Jake Butt is the latest Wolverine to suffer an ACL tear.
A: Anytime a given injury crops up over and over again, it’s something to take notice of. Obviously the coaches aren’t going out there and taking two-by-fours to their best players’ ACLs and weird cuts/hits happen. But to have nine ACL tears in three years is pretty incredible. I spoke with another college strength and conditioning coach on Thursday and he said that during his career, ACL tears really only happened at new stops during the first three to five months of his training. During the first three to five months that’s when the body is getting used to the new regimen and if there’s a muscle or ligament or part of the body that has been underworked, that’s when it’ll be injured. The majority of the ACL tears the Wolverines have had weren’t in that three- to five-month window. On top of that, I know that Brady Hoke and his staff pride themselves on having physical practices, but five of the nine ACL tears happened during practice or conditioning. I’m not sure how you fix that or avoid it, but I do know that this should be addressed. Albert Einstein said insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The injury has hit different position groups at different times in different situations. If the coaches have a way that they train and strengthen the ACL, now is the time to reexamine.

Alex, Holland, Michigan: Outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, what’s the big game we should have circled for next season?

A: Well, the obvious one would be Notre Dame. It’s the final scheduled matchup between the rivals. Michigan might have the more talented roster, but it’s on the road early in the season, so that’ll be a good one for sure. But that kind of seems like the obvious choice, so I’ll also say the ones that I’ll be watching a bit differently will be Appalachian State and Penn State. App State, because, well, that was my first game in Michigan Stadium as a student. I remember being at pregames and people playing the scene from The Longest Yard when Adam Sandler says, “In college we’d start every season against Appalachian State or some slack Division II team. Kick the living snot out of ‘em.” And then, we all know how that ended. And I’m interested in the PSU game because it’s not very often that we’re able to so clearly see the evolution of a player -- that, I believe will be evident in Christian Hackenberg. And James Franklin is going to put together one heck of a game plan. Don’t sleep on the Nittany Lions.

Andrew, Hoboken: What’s your best Valentine’s Day story?

A: I assume by best, you mean worst. So that'd be third grade. Anthony Tucker. Mrs. Pohlkamp’s class. Anthony, being the romantic 8-year-old he was, put a bunch of flowers in my desk at school. Unfortunately, I had a sinus infection and terrible allergies to pollen. The two combined made me not able to breathe and everything in my desk had to be cleaned because of the flower allergens. It was literally like that scene from Hitch when Will Smith needs the Benadryl because of the shellfish. #TrueLove
With the graduation of Jeremy Gallon alone, Michigan lost nearly 43 percent of its receiving yardage and 27 percent of its receptions. Add Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds’ contributions to those statistics and the Wolverines are looking to replace more than half of their receiving yardage from last season.

That’s no small feat and that means several reps and opportunities are open for younger guys to step up. Devin Funchess and Jake Butt return at tight end and will be targeted more as they gain chemistry with Devin Gardner and Shane Morris.

But as far as pure wide receivers go, the Wolverines are going to have to reach into the freshmen and sophomore classes next season as they look for production.

And wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski may not need to look any further than the 2014 class, which signed one receiver on Wednesday and had two early enroll in January.

Both Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen are on campus and will participate in spring practices. Maurice Ways, who signed his letter of intent on Wednesday, will enroll this fall.

Hecklinski said he sees a lot of athletic ability in all three wide receivers in the 2014 class. Specifically, Hecklinski pointed out Harris’ ball skills, which were helped by his basketball background. Harris had initially wanted to play both basketball and football in college, committing to Michigan State in June 2013 to do so. He later backed off that commitment, deciding to focus on football. Michigan believes it can use Harris as an X-receiver in a similar way that the Wolverines used Gallon this past season.

Canteen has a lot of speed in the open field and quickness off the ball. Because of his versatility, coaches believe they could use him at the Z-receiver, X-receiver or slot. And Ways, who comes in with a chip on his shoulder after being under-recruited, has a lot of size. At 6-foot-4, 193 pounds, Ways is the biggest WR in the 2014 class and because of his vertical-threat ability he’s projected as a Z-receiver.

It was the second consecutive class with three wide receiver signees. In the 2013 class the Wolverines signed Jaron Dukes, Da’Mario Jones and Csont’e York.

Jones played on special teams and York played in one game as a backup wide receiver, so they will both be sophomores during the 2014-15 season. Dukes redshirted and will still have four years of eligibility remaining.

“I think when you look at last year’s class and the three we added and you look at this year’s class and the three that we added, they’re different,” Hecklinski said. “You don’t want carbon copies of each other out there because then you get tied in to having just one guy.”

While those six will definitely be in the running for playing time, the two who seem to have the biggest jump will be Amara Darboh, who’s coming off a foot injury, and Jehu Chesson, who caught 15 passes this season for 221 yards and a touchdown.

Regardless, there are a lot of catches that are up for grabs and with two early enrollees in the 2014 class and one of the biggest wide receivers on the entire roster enrolling this fall, there’s a decent chance a true freshman receiver could hit the field.

“I think all three complement [one another],” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “And I know that all three of them, we were very excited to have.”

Lunchtime links

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
12:00
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T-19 hours until fax machines have a purpose again.

Lunchtime links

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
12:00
PM ET
Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time.

Big Ten Monday chat wrap

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
5:15
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We started off this week with a great Big Ten chat. With spring football just around the corner (well, not really, but here's to hoping the next few weeks fly by) there were quite a few questions about what to expect in the upcoming months and the 2014 season.

If you missed it you can check out the full transcript.

Here are a few highlights ...

DP (Minnesota): What have you heard about Jeff Jones' recruitment? Do the Wolverines have a chance to flip him or will he stay here with my beloved Gophers?

Chantel Jennings: He had a huge showing at the Under Armour All America game which boosted his recruiting stock and bigger names have been contacting Jones. I think there's a chance the Gophers could lose him, but if he stays, it would be possibly the biggest commitment during the Kill era. A local talent like that can urge other local talents to stay in state. I'm not saying it would be some huge trend, but even a coup here or there could make the difference for the Gophers over the next few seasons.

Brian (Portland, Oregon): The B1G East is going to be brutal. Give us your early predictions for the top 3 next year?

Chantel Jennings: So true, Brian. I'd say MSU and OSU are definitely there and the third spot is a toss up between Penn State and Michigan. I might give the edge to the Wolverines here because they have a few more offensive weapons returning than the Nittany Lions (assuming that those weapons play up to their potential). But Franklin comes in with a lot of confidence in this group and Hackenberg is such a talented QB. The Oct. 11 match up between those two teams will definitely be one to watch.

Trey (Huntsville): What are some OOC matchups you're most looking forward to in 2014?

Chantel Jennings: Aug 30: PSU/UCF (in Ireland), NU vs. Cal, Michigan vs. App State, Wisconsin vs. LSU. Sept 6: MSU @ Oregon is one I'm definitely looking forward to. Sept 13 has Minnesota at TCU which will be an excellent road test. Sept 27 is Wisco vs. USF, another good one.

Bob (Dayton): Chances of Braxton Miller improving enough to be in the Heisman race?

Chantel Jennings: He made huge jumps from 2012 to 2013. His completion percentage went from 58 to 64. In 2012 he threw 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. In 2013 that improved to 24 TDs and seven interceptions. I don't see why he won't make major strides again in this off season. However, he'll have quite the competitor down in the state of Florida for that Heisman race.

Aaron (WI): Are the Badgers consistently overrated? I am a big WI fan but they always seem to be ranked in the top 15. Seems like they always just put up numbers against weaker B10 Teams but EVERY time they play a decent team way from Camp they lose.

Chantel Jennings: Road wins are hard for sure. And Wisconsin didn't exactly rock in that category this season (bowl against SC, @ Penn State, @ OSU) nor were the Badgers stellar in that category last season (Rose Bowl vs. Stanford, @ PSU, @ Nebraska, @ Oregon State). But for the most part, they're not getting completely run into the field in those games. They're competitive on the road which is a good sign. And I think next season, with a few major pieces returning, they'll have an experience factor that helps. And they'll have the opportunity to prove that. Look no further than the season opener.

Thanks for those who stopped by. Hope your new years are off to great starts.
Al Borges was one of the coaches Brady Hoke brought with him when he made the move from San Diego State to Michigan. And many wondered how deep that relationship would carry Borges even when the offense wasn’t finding success.

Even a few weeks ago, Hoke had stood by the fact his staff would remain intact.

But on Wednesday, Michigan announced that Borges had been fired. And by Thursday, it was announced that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier would be his replacement.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallBrady Hoke made the decision to make a change at offensive coordinator.
With how loyal Hoke has been in several situations -- both to his staff and his senior players, many questioned what really happened behind the scenes.

According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, it was a move initiated completely by Hoke.

“This is Brady,” Brandon said. “This is Brady being a leader and knowing that the program comes first and sometimes you have to make changes in the best interest of the program. That’s what has happened.”

Brandon replied that it was “nonsense” that he would’ve forced the hand of Hoke to remove Borges.

“I’m a big believer that leaders get to pick their teams,” Brandon said. “Brady makes all decisions as it relates to the people he wants to surround himself.”

However, Brandon was completely on board with the Nussmeier hire once Hoke showed that Nussmeier would not only be a candidate but an interested candidate.

Brandon said that there were several other candidates that Hoke considered however Nussmeier was “the No. 1, 2 and 3 candidate.”

“Sometimes you look at results and you look at performance and you look at accountability and you have to make changes,” Brandon said. “I respect the fact that Brady stepped up to that. This is an important change. … We needed change. We needed energy. We needed a new direction. We needed an offense that was building and gaining confidence.”

Brandon also squashed any speculation that Hoke is or will be on the hot seat, saying those kind of rumors are coming from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

“This has nothing to do with Brady keeping his job. It’s Brady’s job. Brady is the coach of the University of Michigan football team,” Brandon said. “Brady is making the changes that he thinks will allow us to not lose by two points but to figure out a way to win by two points. That’s what we have to do because we’re Michigan. I give him all the credit in the world.”
Michigan took a real hit with its wide receivers in the fall when it was announced that Amara Darboh would miss the season with injury. Through spring ball and everything that was said last summer, it appeared as though he would be a major contributor.

His absence provided opportunity for other receivers, but no one really stepped forward opposite the Wolverines' top target.

[+] EnlargeGallon
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon's production will be sorely missed.
THE GOOD: Jeremy Gallon. The senior accounted for 1,373 receiving yards (43 percent of the team’s total) and nine touchdowns (also 43 percent of the team’s total). Even when it was obvious Devin Gardner was looking for his security blanket, even when opponents knew that the ball was likely going to end up going to Gallon, they couldn’t keep the ball out of his hands.

Hybrid TE Devin Funchess deserves a nod, too. Named the Big Ten's tight end of the year, Michigan moved him around its offense, frequently splitting him out. He was a huge part of the receiving game, and Gallon definitely owes some of his yardage to the fact teams were caught up with the 6-foot-5, 235-pound sophomore.

THE BAD: It always seemed as though Drew Dileo should’ve been involved more. He caught only 16 passes on the season, four less than he did last year. And after last season it felt like he had proved himself as a reliable and trustworthy receiver. But instead, his average dropped from 26 yards per game to 13.

Dileo was fifth on the team in receptions, which wouldn’t be too bad if second, third and/or fourth had been actual wide receivers. Funchess, Jake Butt and Fitzgerald Toussaint all played vital receiving roles for the team, but when we’re looking at it from a receiver standpoint when your best true receiver averaged 106 yards per game and the next guy averaged 13, there isn’t exactly a ton of depth in your arsenal.

Perhaps if Darboh had been able to play this season there would have been another legitimate threat out wide. Itjust never really felt like Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Jackson or Joe Reynolds was going to be a consistent contributor this season.

THE FUTURE: Funchess and Butt both return (but we’ll get to that more in the tight end section on Thursday). Expect the two top receivers next season to be Darboh, assuming he returns full force, and Chesson, who showed flashes this season. Da'Mario Jones, Csont'e York and Jaron Dukes are three freshmen who could really explode onto the scene next season. Their names were brought up during bowl practice and with time during the spring season to both get more into the playbook and the weight room, these three could be names we hear a bit next season.

And Drake Harris, who enrolled early, will have a chance to see the field if he impresses in spring season and fall camp. He’s 6-foot-4, 180 pounds with speed, quickness and a nose for the ball.

Previous posts:

Quarterbacks.

Running backs.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
12:00
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Seriously though, give the guy back his cat.
The running back position initially was a question of young blood versus a veteran this season.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan tailback Derrick Green had 83 carries for 270 yards and two TDs this season.
Fitzgerald Toussaint was returning from the type of injury that makes everyone want him to succeed again. But there was uncertainty on whether he'd return to his previous form. And when Derrick Green came in overweight and slower than anticipated, the coaches chose their loyalty to Toussaint.

It worked for awhile, but eventually changes had to be made. By the end of the season, it seemed as though Green had positioned himself as the No. 1 guy, but the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl threw all preconceived notions out the window.

THE GOOD: This, like the quarterback position, is so dependent on the offensive line. And like Devin Gardner, the running backs showed their best flashes late in the season when the O-line was finally starting to get its act together.

Against Ohio State, the Wolverines averaged 4.3 yards per rush, as Green had 12 carries for 47 yards, De’Veon Smith added 57 yards on seven carries, and Toussaint picked up five carries for 33 yards and one of the Wolverines’ two rushing touchdowns. On the season, the Buckeyes held opponents to just 3.3 yards per rush. So this game proved that when the O-line did work together, the running backs could exceed expectations (especially against a talented group).

THE BAD: Michigan accounted for more rushing yards than its opponents' season average in just six of 13 games. In fact, 49 percent of the Wolverines total rushing yards came from games featuring the four worst rushing defenses (Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Indiana and Northwestern).

Michigan picked up 795 of its 1,634 yards in those four games, including 15 of its 27 rushing touchdowns. In comparison, against the four best rushing defenses the Wolverines played, Michigan averaged just 89 yards per game.

It’s not a problem when they're picking up major yardage against teams that don’t have strong rushing defenses, but when the discrepancy is that big (110 yards), there’s an issue. And when they did underachieve, it was noticeable.

Four times this season Michigan’s run game was so poor that it was held at least 65 yards below its opponents’ season average for rushing defense.

THE FUTURE: Green and Smith definitely have a future with Michigan. Both showed tons of potential, and they'll have the offseason to continue getting their bodies in better shape.

And with an offensive line that shouldn’t heavily feature any freshmen next season, Green and Smith can run behind a cohesive group.

And looking even further into the future, the Wolverines, who didn't pick up a 2014 RB commitment, got a verbal from Damien Harris, the nation's top RB in 2015.

Campbell slowing down the process 

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
10:55
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- ESPN junior 300 athlete George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) committed to Michigan in July before backing off his pledge just five months later. This time around, the No. 2-ranked player in the country says he wants to slow down the process.

"I’m going to … put it at my pace and I’m going to control it,” Campbell said at registration for the Under Armour All-America junior combine. "I think I’ll slow it down a lot slower than it is. With me opening everything up, I’m going to try to go around and check out several schools and pretty much just let everything open up.”

After the 6-foot-4, 185-pound athlete decommitted, he admits things haven’t really changed that much for his recruitment.

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