Michigan Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches
Alright, so the 2013 Michigan football season has not exactly gone according to plan. Given the sluggish performances the Wolverines had against lowly Akron and Connecticut, not to mention the abuse their defense took at the hands of Indiana, a 6-1 record feels more like 4-3.
Believe it or not, there still have been plenty of positive signs from this Michigan team. The offense has proven to be dangerous when Devin Gardner is taking care of the football. The defense is forcing turnovers at critical junctures of games. A position change has resulted in a new dynamic threat in the passing game.
Who knows, maybe the offensive line will finally come together and keep Michigan State's front seven completely at bay come Nov. 2. Okay, maybe that is going a little too far too soon, but let's hand out some awards for the first half of the season.
Most Improved Player
Winner: Cameron Gordon
Much of the reason why Cameron Gordon's stats are significantly better this season than they were in 2012 is because of playing time. It appeared as though Michigan's linebacking corps would be in trouble without Jake Ryan, but thanks to Gordon, they are still the best personnel group on defense.
Gordon has 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks through seven games in 2013. The fifth-year senior also has 15 total tackles, which is only two shy of his total from last season.
Remember, this is only Gordon's third season at linebacker. He was originally recruited as a wide receiver, then moved to safety and finally found a home in the front seven once Brady Hoke and the staff took over in 2011.
With Ryan back in the fold, Gordon is likely to see a drop in playing time, but his contributions from the first half of 2013 should not go unnoticed.
Winner: Devin Funchess
Through the first four weeks of the season, this award would not have gone to anyone. Over the past three games, though, Devin Funchess has become a consistent threat in the passing game and has given Michigan a vertical threat it desperately needed.
Since being moved from tight end to wide receiver on Oct. 5, Funchess has racked up 347 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions.
As much as the coaches have been maligned this year by the Maize and Blue faithful, they deserve some serious credit for this move. Funchess is a matchup nightmare at receiver. The Farmington Hills, Mich. native is still built more like a tight end, but his blocking is beyond mediocre for the position.
Hopefully, Funchess can continue to produce big plays in the Wolverines' most important stretch of the season.
Winner: Chris Wormley
Had it not been for a torn ACL last summer, Chris Wormley would have made an immediate impact for the Michigan Wolverines in 2012. After taking a year to recover and redshirt, the Ohioan is showing some serious potential at defensive end.
The former 3-star prospect may not be consistent enough yet to warrant extra attention from opposing linemen, but those days are coming.
Through seven games, Wormley has 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Not bad for a redshirt freshman.
Michigan's pass rush is nowhere near where it needs to be right now, but Wormley has been impressive thus far. There will be plenty of opportunities in November for the 6'4", 289-pounder to make some key plays. Be sure to keep an eye out for No. 43.
Most Cohesive Offensive Line Combination
Winners: Taylor Lewan, Kyle Bosch, Graham Glasgow, Erik Magnuson and Michael Schofield
Entering last Saturday's game against Indiana, the Wolverines were still searching for a cohesive group of offensive linemen. Well, it may have come against one of the nation's worst defenses, but the performance Michigan got out of the five award-winners was a very positive sign.
Sure, there were a few times Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson were beaten physically at their respective guard positions. Both are freshmen. It is going to happen more than a couple of times this year.
What was most impressive, though, were the lack of mental errors by this group. Far too often through the first six games, offensive linemen, mainly the guards and center, either whiffed on blocks or were looking around for someone to block.
None of that happened against the Hoosiers once this group started logging minutes. Bosch in particular showed great athleticism and got to the second level multiple times to open up big holes for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Wolverine running backs rushed for 172 yards on 38 carries versus Indiana.
Again, it was far from a perfect performance by the line and it came against the fourth-worst defense in the country. Still, seeing Michigan's offensive linemen in the right places and getting out to block linebackers was a sight for sore eyes.
These should be your five starting linemen for the Nov. 2 clash with Michigan State.
Winner: Brady Hoke
As odd as it may seem to some, this is an absolute no-brainer. The defensive line is one of the few personnel groups improving weekly and Brady Hoke is still reeling in elite recruits. Also, moving Devin Funchess to wide receiver bolsters Hoke's case.
Many will continue to question the late-game decisions made against Penn State. It is understandable, but slightly misguided. Folks want to look at the conservative approach Hoke took late in the game and say it was gutless.
However, the staff put Michigan in position to win at Penn State at least a half dozen times. A pair of drops by Funchess and three missed field goals were among the most disappointing blown opportunities. Devin Gardner gift-wrapping 14 points to the Nittany Lions via turnovers did not help either. Point being, poor execution cost the Wolverines against Penn State, not decision-making.
Some of this falls back on the coaches for preparation, but at some point the players have to be held responsible.
Although it may not feel like it, Michigan is 6-1 with all of its goals still within reach. The Wolverines are just one game behind Michigan State and Nebraska in the Legends Division with head-to-head matchups looming.
Hoke deserves plenty of credit for keeping this team together despite all of the outside criticism. Will he earn this title come season's end, though? The month of November will tell us all the answer to that question.
Winner: Desmond Morgan's interception against Connecticut
With the Wolverines reeling on the road and in need of a game-changing play, Desmond Morgan delivered the goods. Morgan's one-handed interception set Michigan up on the Connecticut 12-yard line and led to the game-tying touchdown just one play later.
The Wolverines went on to top the Huskies 24-21. Without Morgan's pick, it is likely Michigan goes on to lose a shocker in East Hartford, Conn.
If the Maize and Blue go on to make some noise in November, this play will only gain more traction to be the best of the entire season. It certainly pulled Michigan out of a tough spot and served as a rallying point with the 2013 campaign on the brink of disappointment.
Winner: Blake Countess
The secondary has not been very good this year. Indiana exposed just about every flaw Michigan's defensive backs have en route to racking up 410 passing yards and nearly 600 total yards of offense. This makes the thought of not having Blake Countess back in the lineup absolutely frightening.
Countess has been the only Wolverine defensive back to not wind up on opposing highlight reels several times over.
None of his four interceptions have been overly dazzling, but there is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. Countess also has 149 return yards following those aforementioned picks.
The redshirt sophomore is holding down the fort for Michigan's secondary. Opposing quarterbacks are choosing not to test him too often either.
The Wolverines need a few more turnovers out of Countess if they hope to be legitimate contenders for a Big Ten Conference title.
Winner: Jeremy Gallon
Were it not for what seems like a billion turnovers, Devin Gardner would be the offensive MVP. Seeing as those interceptions and fumbles significantly hurt his cause, senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon has been the player making Michigan's offense go through seven games.
Gallon's 14-catch, 369-yard effort last Saturday was as much of a product of Indiana's atrocious defense as it was his own skills and experience. Turning in the second-most receiving yards in Football Bowl Subdivision history is quite an afternoon no matter who it is against, though.
Eight receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame is looking fairly impressive now as well. Thankfully, the Fighting Irish have bounced back with a couple of quality wins to give Michigan's victory early in the season some actual value.
Overall, Gallon has 831 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 receptions. The Floridian ranks fifth in the nation in receiving yards and is tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns.
If those are not MVP credentials, I have no idea what would be.