Michigan Wolverines

Young group has potential but must make improvement

Scott Dochterman, The Gazette
Published: June 16 2014 | 9:18 am - Updated: 16 June 2014 | 10:59 am in Doc's Office by Scott Dochterman, Hawkeyes, Sports,

The third installment of a series ranking potential B1G championship game opponents that Iowa will not play in the regular season: No. 3 Michigan


Conference: Big Ten, East Division

2013 record: 7-6 (3-5 Legends Division, lost 31-14 to Kansas State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)

Returning offensive starters (7): QB Devin Gardner, TE/WR Devin Funchess, TE Jake Butt, C Graham Glasgow, RG Kyle Kalis, OL Erick Magnuson, FB Joe Kerridge

Projected starting offense: QB Devin Gardner, sr., 6-4, 218; RB Justice Hayes, jr., 5-10, 190 OR Derrick Green, so., 5-11, 227 Or De’Veon Smith, so., 5-10, 223; FB Joe Kerridge, jr., 6-0, 247; TE A.J. Williams, jr., 6-6, 263 OR Jake Butt, so., 6-6, 250; WR/TE Devin Funchess, jr., 6-4, 230; WR Amara Darboh, so., 6-2, 214 OR WR (slot) Freddy Canteen, fr., 6-1, 170; LT Erik Magnuson, so., 6-6, 295; LG Kyle Bosch, so., 6-5, 301; C Jack Miller, jr., 6-4, 297; RG Kyle Kalis, so. 6-5, 204; RT Ben Braden, so., 6-6, 319

Returning defensive starters (7): DE Brennen Beyer, DE Frank Clark, DT Willie Henry, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, LB James Ross III, CB Blake Countess, CB Ramon Taylor, S Jarrod Wilson

Projected starting defense: DE Frank Clark, sr., 6-2, 270; DE Brennen Beyer, sr., 6-3, 256; NT Willie Henry, so., 6-3, 297 or Ryan Glasgow, so., 6-4, 297; DT Matt Godin, so., 6-6, 283 OR Chris Wormley, so., 6-5, 292; MLB Jake Ryan, sr., 6-3, 235; OLB Desmond Morgan, sr., 6-1, 232 OR Joe Bolden, jr., 6-3, 225; OLB Royce Jenkins-Stone, jr., 6-2, 221 OR James Ross III, jr., 6-1, 225; CB Raymon Taylor, sr., 5-10, 182; CB Jourdan Lewis, so., 5-10, 174 OR Blake Countess, jr., 5-10, 183 OR Jabrill Peppers, true fr., 6-1, 210; S Jarrod Wilson, jr., 6-2, 202; S Delano Hill, so., 6-0, 205

Returning specialists (3): P Will Hagerup, sr., 6-4, 225; KR/PR Dennis Norfleet, jr., 5-7, 167;

Other specialists: K Matt Wile, sr., 6-2, 223

Key losses: T Taylor Lewan, T Michael Schofield, WR Jeremy Gallon, RB Fitz Toussaint, DT Jibreel Black, SS Thomas Gordon, K Brendan Gibbons

Key additions: CB Jabrill Peppers, 6-1, 210 (Paramus, N.J.); WR Freddy Canteen, 6-1, 270 (Elkton, Md.); TE Ian Bunting, 6-7, 235 (Hinsdale, Ill.); OL Mason Cole, 6-5, 275 (Tarpon Springs, Fla.); LB Michael Ferns, 6-3, 233 (St. Clairsville, Ohio); WR Drake Harris, 6-4, 180 (Grand Rapids, Mich.); LB Chase Winovich, 6-3, 220 (Jefferson Hills, Pa.)

2013 review: Michigan had a subpar season, not just in terms of overall record, but in style of play. With a 2-0 start and a No. 11 ranking, Michigan required a goal-line stand to hold off 5-7 Akron 28-24. Then Michigan needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat 3-9 UConn 24-21. It notched one decisive win in Big Ten play — 42-13 against Minnesota, which was without Coach Jerry Kill — then outraced Indiana 63-47 and edged Northwestern 27-19 in three overtimes.

The losses showed Michigan’s weakness up front on offense. The Wolverines ranked 11th in Big Ten rushing offense, running for just 2.5 yards a carry in league play. It failed to rush for positive yards against Nebraska and Michigan State, and four times finished with 65 yards or less.

But Michigan displayed its talent against unbeaten rival Ohio State 42-41 before falling flat 31-14 to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Its last two games symbolized the season where the Wolverines could match the Big Ten’s best team (up to that point), yet were soundly defeated by a midlevel Big 12 squad in a midlevel bowl game. In all, Michigan lost five of its final six games,

Perhaps no player nationally regressed from his expectations like quarterback Devin Gardner, who entered the season with Heisman aspirations. Statistically, Gardner was impressive with 2,960 yards passing and 21 touchdowns and also 483 rushing yards and 11 scores. But there were 11 interceptions and he was sacked 34 times. He lacked confidence except for a 451-yard, four-touchdown performance (on a broken foot, no less) in a 42-41 loss to Ohio State. He’s now considered a slight favorite to hold on to the starting quarterback over sophomore Shane Morris this year.

2014 schedule: A30 Appalachian State; S6 at Notre Dame; S13 Miami (Ohio); S20 Utah; S27 Minnesota; O4 at Rutgers; O11 Penn State; O25 at Michigan State; N1 Indiana; N8 at Northwestern; N22 Maryland; N29 at Ohio State

Key Stretch: Michigan’s season breaks up nicely among the powers, the battlers and the bottom-feeders. The Wolverines get buffers before and after rivalry games. But a two-game window spread over three weeks will determine whether Michigan is a league contender or still trying to gain traction. On Oct. 11, the Wolverines host Penn State in their third-ever night game (and first in Big Ten play) at Michigan Stadium. It’s the first game between the teams in Ann Arbor since 2009. Two weeks later, Michigan plays at in-state rival Michigan State for the second straight year. Wins in both likely means a winner-take-all showdown with Ohio State. Losses in both means Brady Hoke will start to get some serious heat from fans and boosters.

Trap game: Michigan and Indiana have engaged in quite a few shootouts in recent years, and last year’s 63-47 Wolverines’ win was shocking for both its score and yardage (751 for Michigan alone). In 2009, Michigan won 36-33 and followed with a 42-35 victory in 2010. This year, the teams meet in Ann Arbor one week after the Michigan-Michigan State game. In a fiercely contested rivalry (like Michigan-Michigan State), there’s always an emotional letdown. Indiana has lost 18 straight and 33 of the last 34 in the series but with its offensive firepower, it’s capable of taking advantage of a vulnerable Michigan squad. The question (as always) is can Michigan outpace the porous Indiana defense?

Glass half-full: Michigan returns one of the Big Ten’s top defenses with nine starters back and competition at most spots. If Devin Gardner plays at his best under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (and the offensive line makes major strides), this squad is capable of opening the season 7-0 before battling Michigan State in East Lansing. Should the Wolverines win that showdown, they face potential bowl teams in Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland but none can match Michigan’s talent. Without playing Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa from the West Division, it’s not impossible for Michigan to enter the Ohio State game 11-0 or 10-1.

Glass half-empty: The offensive line was a disaster last year with the exception of tackle Taylor Lewan. Twice the Wolverines rushed for negative yards and the lack of push up front cost the Wolverines in close games against Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa. Michigan ranked 11th in Big Ten rushing, and if the offensive line doesn’t improve, there are plenty of opponents who can play with the Wolverines. Michigan lists only 11 seniors, a number that rarely elevates contenders. Michigan could trip up against a team like Minnesota or Indiana, and ultimately lose games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

The Iowa angle: Michigan Coach Brady Hoke has expressed a ton of admiration for Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and his squad over the years. He has plenty of reasons why. Iowa has won four of the last five match-ups with Michigan, including last year’s 24-21 game at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit and preserved the win when Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens forced and recovered a QB Devin Gardner fumble late in the game.

Michigan bombed Iowa 42-17 in 2012, but the Hawkeyes put together three consecutive series wins from 2009-2011. Iowa held on 30-28 with a late interception of Denard Robinson in 2009. Iowa knocked out Robinson in 2010 and led 35-14 in the fourth quarter but withstood a furious Wolverine rally 38-28. In 2011, Michigan won 11 games and claimed the Sugar Bowl crown but left Kinnick Stadium with a 24-16 defeat. Over the last 10 meetings with Michigan, Iowa is 6-4.

Two players on Michigan’s roster have ties to Iowa on the recruiting front. Wide receiver Amara Darboh hails from West Des Moines and picked Michigan over Iowa among others. Likely Michigan starting safety Delano Hill was an Iowa commit for several months in 2012 before flipping to the Wolverines in mid-December.

Michigan and Iowa are due to resume pleasantries on Nov. 12, 2016 in Kinnick Stadium. They don’t meet in Ann Arbor until Oct. 5, 2019, a seven-year gap between games at Michigan Stadium.

Quotable: “I think we will have 39 freshman in the fall, we have 38 sophomores here now, 20 juniors, and 12 seniors. So, we need as much work and as many reps for all those guys as we can. I’ll be honest with you, when we got to the scrimmage part I thought it was kind of slow, compared to how we have run the pace and the reps. A big part is the teaching aspect, the reps, the technique, the fundamentals and the other part is putting them in uncomfortable situations because they are going to be a little young. But they are going to be in uncomfortable situations in the fall.” — Michigan Coach Brady Hoke

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@sourcemedia.net

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