Michigan Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches
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Michigan coach Brady Hoke won't want to place this report card on his refrigerator.
That's because through seven weeks of the season, Team 134 has failed to live up to expectations despite its 5-1 (1-1) record.
Now unranked, the Wolverines should consider themselves lucky to have just one loss.
Saturday's 43-40 quadruple-overtime setback to Penn State was the first official notch in the loss column, but Michigan barely escaped its first road test of the year at UConn and slightly edged Akron at The Big House.
Beating two supposedly lowly programs by a combined seven points is a failure in itself, especially for a team with aspirations of winning a Big Ten Championship—a goal that looks less likely each week. As of now, a 5-1 mark has the feel of 3-3.
Needless to say, Michigan, as a team, has failing grades at the midpoint of the year. This slideshow will further examine major areas of concern and tag them with a corresponding measure.
'D-' Devin: UM QB Gardner Is Amiss
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Let's pretend that jersey numbers reflect the opposite of playing level.
While wearing No. 7 and No. 12, Devin Gardner played like a champion. Now that he wears No. 98, he's playing as a 12—that's being generous—at best.
Numerals on a shirt aren't the culprit. But that completely irrational conclusion doesn't sound so off the wall for those who once believed in Gardner, a redshirt junior who's in the midst of his first full year as starting quarterback.
Something beyond description has to be responsible for the signal-caller's nosedive. He's thrown 10 interceptions this season, double what he threw during five starts in 2012.
Gardner was supposed to be the missing link between Michigan and a pro-style offense. Thus far, he's carried a workload suited for Denard Robinson, who is no longer the quarterback. That poses a problem. The offense operates in a spread-like scheme, not as it should.
That's keeping Gardner stuck in mobile mode.
Gardner's arm was thought to be his best asset. However, the interceptions have raised doubts about his accuracy.
He's developed into a screaming liability.
One healthy hit is all it will take to send Gardner, who isn't a running quarterback, for a spin toward the injured list. He's not durable enough to run the ball 20 times per game. Along with Gardner's turnovers, Michigan's offensive—take that word in its literal form—play-calling is to blame for the Wolverines' folly.
The pressure falls on the quarterback, so Gardner gets a "D-" grade. UConn held him to 97 passing yards, and he's yet to break 300 yards in a game this season, an elite quarterback's plateau.
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Grading the entire defense with a "D" isn't entirely fair. But football isn't fair.
The secondary has been better than that less-than-flattering mark. Blake Countess is one of the better shutdown corners in the Big Ten despite being taken advantage of by Penn State's Allen Robinson in Week 7.
Countess' four picks have him tied for No. 1 in the Big Ten. Raymon Taylor and Jarrod Wilson are tied at No. 9 with two interceptions each.
Curt Mallory, the secondary coach, has done enough with the defensive backs to avoid a catastrophic meltdown. But Saturday's blown coverage of Robinson was a sure sign of weakness.
Maybe it's time to get more physical. The secondary gets a grade of "C+" through seven weeks.
The Rest of the Defense
The Wolverines defense hasn't shown up as expected.
It's missing Jake Ryan, one of the Big Ten's best linebackers, but that's no excuse. Not for this team. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is an expert at his craft, but his players have executed at the level of amateurs.
Despite a loss to Penn State, the defensive line actually helped carry Michigan this past Saturday. With his team trailing 21-10 in the second half, Wolverines defensive end Frank Clark returned a fumble 24 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown.
Later in the half, he sacked Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Defensive tackle Jibreel Black also notched a sack of the young Happy Valley hero.
However, earlier failures have made it difficult to have full confidence in the front four, which will miss tackle Ondre Pipkins for the rest of the season. The sophomore suffered an ACL tear in Week 6 versus Minnesota.
The linebackers could certainly use more from Brennen Beyer, who doubles on the line as an end. He has 18 tackles on the season, which averages to just three takedowns per game. Along with Cam Gordon and Desmond Morgan, he's done a respectable job of filling in for Ryan.
But let's face it; teams are running straight up the middle for two reasons: The D-line is giving them real estate, and Michigan's linebackers aren't laying claim to the center lane of the field. Morgan, Beyer and Gordon don't give running backs the shivers like Ryan does.
Grade Time: The defense, minus the secondary, gets a "D," a hair's width away from a "D-."
|Against the run||Against the pass|
|89.5 yards (No. 4 in Big Ten) *Gave up 2 TD||229.7 yards (No. 6 in Big Ten)|
|Grade: B+||Grade: C-|
Stars on Their Cards
Clark leads the team with 3.5 sacks. Gordon has three.
Michigan's 14 sacks are the third-most in the Big Ten.
Michigan team stats via MGoBlue.com.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
An average of 39 points per game has Michigan ranked at No. 4 in Big Ten scoring.
But that's an illusion.
To the naked eye, that type of scoring clip would indicate domination—which clearly hasn't been the case for Michigan, as it is lucky to be at 5-1 (1-1).
No, this average reflects similar deficiencies suffered through the painful Rich Rodriguez era, a time of Wolverines football when points were plentiful but defense was not.
Under Mattison, the defense has promise. But it's still a work in progress. For now, wins aren't ironclad guarantees unless Michigan puts up a huge number on the scoreboard.
And that hasn't always been enough, as Saturday's loss to Penn State demonstrated.
The average is "A"-worthy. But other corresponding statistics simply are not.
Let's take a look.
|395.7 (No. 9 in Big Ten)||222.5 (No. 5 in Big Ten)||173.2 (No. 9 in Big Ten)|
|Grade: C-||Grade: D+||Grade: D|
Explanation of the Marks
Getting nearly 400 yards per game is a feat for any offense. That area was given a below-average grade because of potential. The same goes for the rushing production. There is no reason why the Wolverines shouldn't be at or over the 200-yard mark.
What happened to 300-passing-yard games from Gardner?
Without naming names, here is what Michigan has in the backfield: a former 1,000-yard rusher, a kid once compared to 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram and one of the top-rated backs of 2013. On top of that, there are a speedster with great hands and another bowling-ball runner.
That's enough to carry the load, but Devin Gardner—the quarterback—has been the team's top rusher. During the loss to Penn State, he rushed for a team-high 121 yards. He rushed for 103 during the 28-24 win over Akron.
Achieving wins has been predicated on Gardner's legs being the difference. He leads Michigan with 577 rushing yards (118 yards lost). That's not going to cut it for Team 134.
Taylor Lewan isn't the entire line, but the All-American left tackle is the steadiest contributor. The senior could have left early for the NFL draft, but he chose to finish his career at Michigan.
Likely to his dismay, his counterparts up-front haven't played up to par. The Wolverines have juggled Graham Glasgow and Jack Miller at the center position.
Kyle Kalis and Chris Bryant make appearances at guard, and Michael Schofield anchors the right tackle spot.
The running game has been a no-show. Gardner has been sacked 10 times.
Grading the offensive line is easy: It gets a "U" for unsatisfactory. All isn't lost yet.
Tale of Two Halves, Two QBs
High-scoring second halves against Minnesota and Penn State should give Wolverines fans a little hope. Michigan scored 28 in the second half during a 42-13 routing of the Gophers and put up 24 against the Nittany Lions during the final two quarters of regulation.
But it still lost the four-overtime thriller 43-40.
Obviously, scoring a ton late in the game gives a team a better chance to win. But sometimes, said team finds itself in a hole. Managing the game from that position doesn't always lead to success.
Gardner, who is either wonderfully on-point or dreadfully inconsistent, seems to make timely plays in the second half. But he's also thrown his share of picks and cost his team field position due to poor decisions.
Michael Spath of TheWolverine.com hasn't fully given up on Gardner:
The turnovers are a concern but do not question Devin Gardner's toughness and competitiveness. Kid has been terrific in 2nd half.— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) October 13, 2013
Does Gardner deserve credit for second-half surges, or should he be ridiculed for not showing up for four quarters?
You be the judge.
'F' Is for Fitz
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He's too experienced, despite recovering from a broken leg, to struggle in such a way. Fitz Toussaint's 27-carry, 27-yard performance Saturday against Penn State was horrific to watch.
One yard per touch. That's all. And he spent more time running backward than he did running forward.
He's a senior, so it's possible that Hoke is being a loyal coach by keeping Toussaint engaged each game. Toussaint has barely earned the No. 1 job, and his stats to this point of the year certainly don't indicate that Michigan has a strong No. 1 back.
|Grade: B- (20.5 attempts per game)||Grade: D-||Grade: D-||Grade: C|
In 2011, Toussaint needed 187 attempts to gain 1,041 yards and score nine touchdowns. Since then, in 16 games (10 in 2012, six this year), he's rushed 353 times for 934 yards and 12 scores. He's averaged 3.7 yards per touch during that span.
This season, he's good for 70 yards per game and endless frustration.
Toussaint stats via ESPN.
Funch-Bunch Receivers and Guys Who Catch
On paper, Michigan's corps of wideouts shines due to the "wow" factor.
"These guys are stacked at receiver," you may say. "Gallon, Funchess and Dileo?! That's a nice combination."
You'd be right. Throw in Jehu Chesson, and offensive coordinator Al Borges has something, right?
Thus far, Borges' quarterback hasn't been in tune with his talented pass-catchers. That's on coaching.
Borges has only recently incorporated Devin Funchess into the plans.
But why so late?
That's on coaching, too.
Funchess, a sophomore tight end/receiver, had a career-high 151 yards versus Minnesota and finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns—one of which went for 59 yards—against Penn State. He's a mismatch for defenders.
He's a lock for six points each time.
He's 6'5" and 235 pounds.
He's Michigan's best aerial threat.
ESPN's Chantel Jennings sees the obvious benefits, too.
Devin Funchess. Large human. Good target.— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) October 12, 2013
Michigan WR Stats
|Devin Funchess||19 (only 19?!)||408||21.5||4||A|
To no fault of his own, Gallon only has 31 catches. He's a 1,000-yard threat who averages five grabs per game. That won't get him to 1,000 yards. The 5'8", 184-pound senior is most certainly an eight- or nine-catch guy.
He's contributed to the offense, but he'd be at an "A" if Gardner were playing well.
Funchess, well, his grade needs no explanation. He gets an "A" because he's Michigan's top gun. Throw the ball to him.
Dileo runs in and out of the offense and hasn't been used much. He's been average thus far but could launch his grade much higher with a breakout game. With a bland attack, it's difficult for Dileo to get his catches.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Brendan Gibbons couldn't seal the deal Saturday night at Happy Valley.
Once heralded as a clutch kicker, the Wolverines' senior footsmith missed a pair of extra-session field goals during Michigan's crushing 43-40 quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State. He made four of seven on the day, missing from 33, 44 and 52 yards.
Through seven weeks, Gibbons has converted eight of 12 attempts. That's not a great ratio, especially considering that Michigan has already been involved in three last-minute duels this season.
Gibbons gets a "D."
The following is a condensed special teams report card.
|Service||Attempts||Yards||Avg.||Big Ten rank||Grade|
|Punt return||12||84||7||No. 9||D|
|Kick return||21||499||23.8||No. 5||B-|
|Punting||22||889||40.4 (4.1 return)||No. 11||B-|
Michigan kickers have 22 touchbacks this season, the third-most in the Big Ten.
Big Ten stats via BigTen.org.
Poor coaching led to this.
This one will be short and quite bitter.
With about 50 seconds to play, Penn State was given another chance to win after Michigan opted to punt on fourth down. Instead of draining the clock, Hoke mismanaged a key stretch and directly contributed to his team's loss.
Borges' play-calling has been a hot topic of discussion. Here's the gist of that conversation: People don't like it. He's boring and predictable. There has been nothing special about the way he utilizes talent.
Michigan is playing not to lose.
Hoke was out-coached by Bill O'Brien. He was out-coached by Terry Bowden of Akron, and he was out-classed by UConn's Paul Pasqualoni, who was actually fired shortly after his 24-21 loss to Michigan.
Michigan's coaching staff deserves an "F" for Saturday and a "D" for the first seven weeks of 2013.
During the tantrum of the year, Ryan Ermanni of Detroit Sports 105.1 blew a gasket when talking Team 134 during Sunday's Ryan & Rico show. It's a must-hear for fans looking to gauge their level of frustration with that of a local media member.
Chances are that a fan's summary would sound complimentary compared to Ermanni's eruption. Denny Kapp, a producer at 105.1, would probably agree:
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.