Michigan Football: Position-by-Position Grades for September
A new show unveils itself each Saturday when Michigan takes the field—up and down, back and forth, Team 134 has yet to find consistency this fall.
Ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press, the Wolverines (4-0) have this weekend to regroup and refresh after a humbling, 24-21 victory in Week 4 over UConn. Turnovers, mistakes and communication errors contributed to a second straight close call for coach Brady Hoke, whose team hosts Minnesota on Oct. 5 during its Big Ten opener at The Big House.
Michigan set a benchmark when it clipped the Irish 41-30 in Week 2, proving that when all the parts move together, Team 134 is capable of hanging with high-profile opponents. Nonetheless, Hoke's team has played well enough to earn a C- for September, although its ceiling is much higher.
This slideshow will also hand out individual marks for key starters and other key contributors. From Devin Gardner to Brendan Gibbons, it's report card time for the Maize and Blue.
QB Devin Gardner: C-
Turnovers have been Devin Gardner's nemesis, and that's a fairly new concern. Multiple-interception games weren't part of the plan in 2012, but he's thrown more than one interception in three of four games this season.
The issue may be confidence. Or it could be related to mechanics. Only Gardner knows for sure. The following table shows Gardner's performance through the first four games of 2012 and 2013. The contrasts are worth noting.
His game log can be found on his ESPN profile.
His 294-yard outburst Notre Dame was A-material; he threw four touchdowns and just one interception while completing 63.6 percent of his passes. Since then, versus Akron and UConn, he's thrown two touchdowns, five interceptions and connected on about 50 percent of his attempts. He's also fumbled twice, one of which turned into a 34-yard touchdown for UConn's Ty-Meer Brown.
Throw in a pair of pick-sixes (ND, Akron), and Gardner's turnovers have cost his team at least 21 points. The Wolverines have won their past two games by seven combined points. It's all connected.
Gardner is an A-worthy player who's playing at a D+/C- level. However, he's 7-2 as a starter and has his team unbeaten going into conference play; that counts for something, so he barely avoids a D+ and slides in with a C-.
RB Fitz Toussaint: C-
Considering that he's coming off surgery of his right leg, Fitz Toussaint probably deserves to be graded on a curve. He hasn't dazzled much thus far, but he's been effective enough to command a team-high 79 carries for 379 yards and five touchdowns.
A couple of factors come into play: Healthy Fitz vs. Recovering Fitz.
When healthy, he's a 100-yard rusher. His sophomore season showed that. Prior to being injured this past season as a junior, the 5'10", 200-pound back had 130 carries for 514 yards and five touchdowns in less than 10 complete games.
The following table illustrates Toussaint's rushing totals for the first four games of 2012 and 2013.
His game log can be found on his ESPN profile.
Keep in mind that Denard Robinson did most of the running a year ago. This fall, Toussaint is the No. 1 option out of the backfield, although Gardner's frequency would suggest otherwise.
Averaging four yards per tote—which has been the case for the past two seasons—won't cut it for much longer. Offensive coordinator Al Borges may want to have a meeting of the minds with the coaching staff and decide a new course of action on the ground.
Steadily OK sums up Toussaint's first four outings of the year. He's due for a C-. If not for his game-changing, 120-yard, two-touchdown showing against the Huskies and recovery from injury, Toussaint's first-month grade would most definitely be in the low D/F range.
WR Jeremy Gallon: C
If nine catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the Outback Bowl weren't enough to sway your opinion about Jeremy Gallon, perhaps eight catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame were.
Sitting at No. 4 in the Big Ten with an average of 82 yards per game, Gallon, a 5'8", 187-pound senior, is proving that he's an elite wideout who can tilt a defense within a moment's notice. However, when his rampage against the Irish is subtracted, Gallon is left with mediocre numbers.
Early in the year many players will have stats heavily skewed by one breakout performance. The following table illustrates Gallon's totals this season.
His game log can be found on his ESPN profile.
|CMU (W 59-9)||4||47||1|
|ND (W 41-30)||8||184||3|
|Akron (W 28-24)||6||66||0|
|UConn (W 24-21)||4||31||0|
Considering its struggles, a win over Notre Dame may have lost its luster. But it was still a marquee accomplishment for Team 134 given the circumstances. Gallon's stellar night was a testament to the potency of the offense and his one-man show bravado. He'll have to be a more consistent big-play threat if Michigan is to escape its Big Ten schedule with a favorable record.
WR Drew Dileo: C+
Appearing out of nowhere is Drew Dileo's calling card.
At 5'11" and 177 pounds, the senior is one of the most elusive pass-catchers in the Big Ten. Generally speaking, he isn't a "stat" guy, he's a "play" guy. Only needing a catch or two to impact the game, he has the knack of reeling in receptions at exactly the right time.
During Michigan's 63-13 throttling of UMass in 2012, Dileo quietly racked up 90 yards on three catches, including a 66-yard haul in which he couldn't have been more wide open to receive. That game was a mere preview, or so it seemed.
This year, his magician-like tactics have been few and far between. A six-yard touchdown reception against Notre Dame has been his biggest offensive contribution. If last year is any indication, he's due for one of his patented acts in the coming weeks.
As a whole, Michigan's receiving corps hasn't been overpowering or dominant. Dileo is just as much part of the lukewarm start as anyone. But it's not all his fault, nor is the blame fully on the rest of the wideouts. Order will be restored once Gardner regains his bearings.
In light of a drive-sustaining 13-yard catch that cut UConn's lead to 21-14 (Brendan Gibbons PAT), Dileo gets a C+ for the current four-game stretch.
TE Devin Funchess: A
In 2012, Devin Funchess needed 12 games to amass 15 catches, 234 yards and five touchdowns. This year, through four games, he has eight catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
If the sophomore tight end keeps up that rate of production, bank on him being a megastar by time he's a senior—that is, if he stays in school that long.
He hasn't been fully showcased this fall, but at 6'4" and 225 pounds, Funchess has the size and athleticism for the NFL. He needs seasoning, obviously, but the raw talent is there. He had a 48-yard touchdown catch against Akron and a 36-yard grab versus Central Michigan.
Looking for a reason why Gardner's ultimate safety net hasn't been featured more often?
So is everyone else. Take a number.
Funchess gets an A for effort.
LT Taylor Lewan, Offensive Line: U
Giving the offensive line an F would be out of line.
Sophomore center Jack Miller needs time go grow. Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis, the right guard, is learning. Left guard, redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow, is playing it as he goes too. Prior to this season, neither of them had a start on their resume.
Progress will come in due time, but until that happens, the jury is out on this one. But the line has been unsatisfactory.
Taylor Lewan's play has been decent. He can only do so much while the rest of the line adapts to growing pains. He was "embarrassed" after the scare with Akron (via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press). However, he didn't say much publicly after the UConn mishap.
Lewan gets a B- for play. He's covered mistakes by teammates, and that's gone a bit unnoticed. According to Andy Reid of TheWolverine.com (subscription required to view), Hoke plans to rest Lewan this week—which is an ideal time to have discussions with teammates. He can play coach for a few practices and see how the team responds.
Team 134 needs Lewan.
DE Frank Clark: C+, D-Line: C-
The defensive line came through with a somewhat encouraging performance Saturday against UConn. It wasn't the effort that some would have liked, but it was enough to hold the Huskies to 47 yards on the ground and one third-down conversion on 11 tries.
Frank Clark had two sacks and played some of his best downs of the year in the fourth quarter of the 24-21 nail-biter. The 6'2", 273-pound junior is expected to anchor a unit that features, among others, Ondre Pipkins and Jibreel Black, two improved pass-rushers.
Clark gets a C+ because, let's face it, he's just getting started. There has yet to be a single dominant player to stand out from the line, but he's the closest. As a whole, the line gets a C-.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seems intent on getting everyone in on the action, particularly three redshirt freshmen: Willie Henry, Matt Godin and Chris Wormley. Don't be surprised to see a shakeup on the line once B1G play begins.
This year's secondary has been hyped since the spring game.
As a sophomore in 2012, cornerback Raymon Taylor showed promise. This season, he's been beat in coverage and at times overpowered. For some reason, he doesn't look as "shut-down" as once thought. But again, it's only Week 5. He's not the only one having problems.
Taylor gets a C-.
Blake Countess has been the premier defensive back. The senior corner is coming back from an ACL injury that sidelined him in Week 1 of 2012. So far, so good. He has three interceptions this fall, good for second-most in the Big Ten. He deserves an A.
As a whole, Michigan's secondary has been respectable against the deep ball. With six completions of at least 15 yards, UConn's Chandler Whitmer tested the boundaries of Michigan's secondary on Saturday. There are holes. All it takes is the right quarterback to fully expose them.
Flexible. Almost too flexible. That's been the secondary so far. A grade of C seems just.
LB Desmond Morgan: I
Interceptions during the fourth quarter of a close game are always helpful. Desmond Morgan, a 6'1", 228-pound junior linebacker, found that out Saturday when his pick help set up Fitz Toussaint's game-tying, 12-yard touchdown run (21-21).
For the game, Morgan gets an A. What else would he get? His play essentially iced it for the Wolverines. As for the season, an I is adequate. He's improving. The linebackers are learning to play without Jake Ryan, who's expected to return in mid-October.
So-so would be the phrase to describe the linebackers thus far. Again, not many players have jumped out through four games. But several have given indications of being on the upward swing.
K Brendan Gibbons: A
A missed 45-yard field goal against Akron has been Brendan Gibbons' lowlight, but he's made four of five attempts and hasn't missed an extra point (20-for-20).
As Mr. Automatic, the 6'1", 240-pound senior gets an A.
Now its' time for other notables:
KR Dennis Norfleet: Despite a long of only 39, the Detroit speedster averages 24.4 yards per return. That's A-worthy stuff.
P Matt Wile: 63 yards per kickoff, 57-percent touchback rate. Solid B+ work.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81