As the second half of the season commences the Daily football beat steps back and takes a look at the Wolverines’ performance in the first six games of the 2010 season. And with a 5-1 record, there sure are a lot of things to be proud of. But at the same time, in Michigan’s loss to the Spartans last week, some of glaring issues became painfully clear.
With Iowa on the docket, this week could either send Michigan back down last season’s path of despair into Big Ten title contention. Here’s the Daily’s take on how each position group has done through six games so far.
Many questions surrounded the quarterback position in the offseason, as Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez maintained that it was a three-player race. In reality, sophomore Denard Robinson stole the starting job likely as soon as he threw his first complete pass this spring.
In his first six career starts, Robinson has had three top-10 all-time Michigan performances for total offense – against Connecticut (383 total yards), against Notre Dame (502) and against Indiana (494). Robinson also leads the nation in rushing, with 991 yards so far. Oregon’s LaMichael James sits in second place with 848, and of course, he’s a running back. Not surprisingly after putting up these kinds of numbers, Robinson entered the Heisman Trophy discussion. Since his 502 yards and final-minute scoring drive at Notre Dame, Robinson has been the early-season favorite. But his stock dropped a bit after throwing three interceptions against Michigan State in Michigan’s first loss of the year.
Still, this offense goes as Robinson goes, and he’s a very dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Even if Big Ten defenses figure out ways to contain the 6-foot, 193-pound speedster, Robinson is sure to break plenty of NCAA quarterback records this season.
Hello? Running backs, where have you been? Through the season’s first two games, the tailbackshardly showed up on the stat sheet — at least compared to Robinson. He rushed for 206 yards in the season opener, and two running backs combined for 110 yards.
Then, he went for 258 on the ground against Notre Dame, while two running backs totaled just 30 yards. Thirty? In a 28-24 game? Questions arose after that game about how many carries Robinson could handle before it took a physical toll on his body.
Those questions have quieted a bit in recent weeks as the running backs have started to pile up more yardage, but offensive explosions against teams like Massachusetts and Bowling Green didn’t win over any doubters. Junior Michael Shaw has emerged as Michigan’s go-to back, but he’s been dealing with a knee injury and didn’t seem to be 100 percent against the Spartans last week. He’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry, which is an upgrade over sophomore Vincent Smith’s 4.8. Of all the offensive position groups, running back is certainly the most disappointing. They’re lucky to get above average grades here — what they’ve done on the field screams average.
Wide receivers/Tight ends
The wide receiving corps was well on its way to a solid A here until last week against Michigan State — all those unexplained drops! But let’s talk positives. It’s clear Robinson developed chemistry with all of his slot and wide receivers in the offseason.
Each week, it’s a different receiver putting up 100+ yards and making big catches. Just when you think junior Roy Roundtree is Robinson’s go-to guy, Martavious Odoms has a breakout game. And on and on. Junior Darryl Stonum said it best: “You never know who’s going to be the one having a big game.” It’s almost a competition among the receivers, and that’s the way Robinson likes it. Five receivers who have caught at least eight passes average more than 10 yards per catch.
Eight different receivers/tight ends have caught at least one touchdown pass. Two receivers — Stonum and redshirt junior Junior Hemingway — have touchdowns of 70+ yards. Robinson’s passing was his biggest question mark heading into this season (after only completing 14 passes all of last season), and he’s impressed critics with a 67.2 completion percentage through the first six games. Credit the receivers for making that look easy.
Outside of the quarterback position, the Michigan offensive line may be the biggest contributor to the Wolverines’ 5-1 start; they’re the unsung heroes of the first six games. When Robinson has a wide-open hole to run through, it’s the offensive line’s doing. Entering the Michigan State game, the unit had only allowed one sack all season.
It’s an experienced unit and it seems to be making all the difference. Redshirt junior center David Molk and fifth-year senior guard Steve Schilling are anchoring the line up the middle and are stabalizing that push at the point of attack. With the emergence of redshirt freshman tackle Taylor Lewan and the development of redshirt sophomore guard Patrick Omameh, the unit has developed a quality mix of veterans and youth. And fifth-year senior Perry Dorrestein has been solid at the right tackle position.
They have also minimized the costly penalties. Can you remember any of the Wolverines’ long runs being called back for holding? This is the basis for success for the whole offense. In Rodriguez’s spread offense, Robinson and the running backs need time to make plays and space to operate. This unit, combined with Robinson’s emergence, is the biggest reason Michigan’s offense has been so successful.
On most teams, the defensive line is the first line of defense.
But because the linebackers and secondary have had such a hard time stopping anyone, Michigan’s defensive line is often the first and last line of defense.
The unit arguably has the most talent of the entire defense with junior Mike Martin, who has been extraordinarily consistent, anchoring the middle at nose tackle and redshirt junior Ryan Van Bergen and fifth-year senior Greg Banks surrounding him. Sophomore Craig Roh has been very good playing on the line as well, occasionally moving up from a linebacker spot.
Teams have rushed for an average of 140 yards against Michigan, which ranks a decent 55th out of 120 FBS teams.
The unit has been the one bright spot on a defense that has allowed more than 450 yards per game to opposing offenses, which ranks 112th among FBS teams. Martin has been a beast in the middle, racking up 2.5 sacks despite being almost constantly double-teamed. In the words of Roh, “That’s just … stupid.”
But production has been pretty consistent all around, with Van Bergen and Banks each tallying two sacks of their own.
C for confusion here. This is defensive coordinator Greg Robinson’s position group, an area he took over after a very disappointing 2009 season. But instead of turning it into a reliable part of the defense, Robinson’s linebackers are still the staff’s biggest liabilities.
Senior Jonas Mouton has been a bright spot at times with some key plays, but then there are other times when he has looked lost. Fifth-year senior Obi Ezeh continues to struggle, finding himself out of position a lot and making mistakes a Big Ten player shouldn’t be making — let alone a fourth-year starter. It seems that every time a Michigan linebacker comes up with a big play, it’s overshadowed by a missed assignment or botched tackle.
Even sophomore Craig Roh, arguably the most athletic player on the Wolverines’ defense, hasn’t found as much success as coaches hoped for at his new hybrid linebacker position. Roh would be better utilized on the defensive line, where he could pressure opposing quarterbacks. Michigan ranks as the ninth-best scoring defense in the Big Ten and 75th (out of 120) in the nation, and much of that can be attributed to missed tackles by the linebacking corps. On the bright side, redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens does have the best facial hair on the Michigan football team.
It’s been ugly.
It’s tough to be too critical because of how young the defensive backfield is, but the unit has been historically bad. The secondary has allowed an average of more than 300 yards passing per game (119th in the country). The other side of the coin? Early departures and injuries dealt significant blows to the secondary. Former cornerback Donovan Warren left school early after last season and senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk was lost for the year after dislocating his ankle and breaking his fibula in the preseason.
As a result, the Michigan coaching staff has been forced to play plenty of true freshmen. One of them, Carvin Johnson, started the season at the spur position, but exacerbated the injury problem when he went down with a sprained knee in Michigan’s first game against Connecticut. Freshmen Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery have also seen significant playing time.
Along with the true freshmen, redshirt freshmen have also played quite a bit. Cameron Gordon has been the starting safety for the Wolverines all season and despite some bone-jarring hits he has struggled in coverage. All of these circumstances add up to a secondary that has a hard time stopping any passing attack, FCS team or otherwise.
When Rodriguez asked after the Massachusetts game for any able-bodied student in good academic standing to try out for kicker, you knew the situation is bad. The Wolverines’ kickers have only managed two field goals in seven attempts — good enough for dead last in the Big Ten.
Seth Broekhuizen looks to be the guy for now as scholarship kicker Brendan Gibbons has done nothing but disappoint since he made his way to Ann Arbor. And while no one really knows why they’re missing so many field goals, the coaches are still behind them for the most part. So it must be a mental issue.
Meanwhile, punter Will Hagerup has experienced his share of growing pains trying to keep out of former Wolverine Zoltan Mesko’s shadow. He may never be Mesko, but he looks like his season is on the upswing after last week’s loss to Michigan State, during which he kicked a 62-yarder and had two inside the 20-yard line.
There’s hope for the special teams, but not much. Look on the bright side though: At least none of the specialists have blown a game for the Wolverines … yet.