Ahead of the No. 2 Michigan football team’s Saturday game against Rutgers, Daily Sports Editor John Tondora sat down with The Daily Targum writer Ellis Gordon to talk about the matchup.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
How have you seen quarterback Gavin Wimsatt transform a Greg Schiano offense when he’s a more defensive minded coach?
Ellis Gordon: What I’ll say is I think Gavin Wimsatt, he still has extreme accuracy issues, but two big things have changed since year: One he’s looked much more composed in the pocket especially under pressure and he’s facing less pressure. The offensive line is still a little average, but it’s no longer like worst in the Big Ten. But last year, I would say every time, any pressure … he would just chuck something downfield and would get picked off so often. So that’s changed this year. He’s thrown no interceptions, so even when his accuracy is off, he’s putting (the ball) in places where quarterbacks can’t pick it.
So (Rutgers will) punt instead of give the opposing team possession in the redzone, which happened countless number of times last year. And also Kirk Ciarrocca — the new offensive coordinator — he’s playing to Gavin’s strengths (with) really impressive play calling. Gavin really struggles with in the field slants, drag routes. But he’s really strong in the out routes. Obviously they’re a run-heavy offense by far, but when they throw it’s been a lot of those out routes, those eight-yard intermediate throws, maybe they’ll go run a little post to the side. And so even when Gavin misses those little times, sometimes it hasn’t resulted in interceptions, which is huge. … He still very much struggles with accuracy. But he’s not he’s not chucking it up praying. Like you know the meme like “he’s down there somewhere”? — Not anymore.
Running back Kyle Monangai had a sizable amount of carries last year with 109. But it seems like he’s really had an uptick in efficiency thus far this year. Is that just purely based on that offensive line or what have you seen from him that’s really popped this year?
EG: It’s kind of funny because (Monangai) was always viewed like he one of (Greg Schiano’s) last recruits in his first class. He was the backup running back to this big, high-end recruit. He’s always the backup. He comes here. He’s the backup behind (Isiah) Pacheco. He was a complimentary running back.
And it’s funny because last year he did have 109 carries, he had a good season but everyone had (running back) Sam Brown as this next big thing — who is right now serving as the backup. (Brown is) still coming back from injuries right now so he’s the backup.
But I think two things to Monangai’s success this year is one: the offensive line is, I would still say it’s a weak point but it’s no longer devastating, so that’s huge. Two: (Monongai) runs like Doug Martin on the Buccaneers. It’s the best player-comp I can give. He’s not the fastest guy but he’s extremely hard to tackle, low center of gravity. He’s just running really, really hard. I think this is the first time (Monongai has) really been given (a chance) because of injuries to shine and he’s just taken it and ran. So it’s been a pleasant surprise because I think if you ask journalists and fans, Sam Brown was the next big thing. … That might still happen, but injuries just kind of slowed his start down to his sophomore season. And Monangai has done so well that they’re slowly bringing (Brown) back.
Michigan calls its defense the no-star defense, especially when it compares it to Ohio State and all that. But I was interested in what’s the mentality of the “Dark-side Defense”? Is that a departure from previous years before they believed in themselves that way?
EG: So it’s interesting because Joe Harasymiak came in last year and numbers-wise … they didn’t put up numbers last year. The offense was against teams like Minnesota who had fine defenses but nothing special. They got past the 50-yard line twice all game. So the defense was on the field for the entire game. So they’re getting gassed. Then, the linebacking corps which this year is a big strength, last year wasn’t, because there were three they were playing there. They were playing their fourth linebacker, and then they converted a running back to linebacker because their first three were all injured. Two got ACL (injuries) and I think there’s Tyreem Powell, who’s now the star linebacker, came back midseason. Regardless, for a time they were super thin. They’ve stayed really healthy (this season).