Michigan Football: Underclassmen Who Could Be Stars in 'The Game' 2013

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IINovember 27, 2013

At this point, searching for a positive is the only positive that Michigan has heading into Saturday's clash at The Big House with No. 3 Ohio State. 

The Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) are fresh off a disastrous 24-21 loss to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. It was their fourth setback in their past six games, and they are in desperate need of something...anything...

A successful push from underclassmen may be the only way that Michigan ends the year with a somewhat satisfactory feeling. That push would counter the stance that contends that Michigan's staff can't coach up freshmen and sophomores. 

Needless to say, this year has been grossly disappointing.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes (11-0) haven't lost since 2011 and are bound for the Big Ten Championship Game vs. No. 11 Michigan State. Urban Meyer and the guys just have to make a quick stop in Ann Arbor before jetting for Indy. 

Making matters worse for Michigan, 2014 commit Jabrill Peppers—the No. 1-ranked athlete per 247Sportsannounced that he's open to taking visits after the season. That's a bad sign for coach Brady Hoke, who is enduring criticism from "fickle" fans by the minute. 

Likely frustrated, Hoke has to watch his comments get dissected by the word. Some say that his seat has been warming for weeks. Losing to the Hawkeyes punctuated the slow crawl that has been 2013.

Far from a conference contender, Michigan must swallow its pride on Saturday and prepare for its biggest test under Hoke, who's in danger of losing more than "The Game."

It could be "game over" before he sees Year 4. 

For the sake of the future—and possibly Hoke's job—young talent has to shine on Saturday for Michigan. The youngsters deserve a shot to drive, but the head coach has to be willing to hand over the keys. 

In an effort to clarify, the term "star" will be used loosely. The Wolverines are the clear underdogs, and it's doubtful that any player on Team 134 will be a true star this weekend. However, given the circumstances, any underclassman who shows promise would be worthy of mention.


Shane Morris

Folly by folly, blunder by blunder, Devin Gardner has sunk the Wolverines into a hole on a weekly basis. His minus-48 rushing yards during a 29-6 loss to the Spartans were just a sign of more trouble to come. After Michigan State sacked him seven times, Gardner resumed rag-doll status the following two weeks by being grounded no less than 13 more times. 

A bystander during the melee, Morris has stood on the sideline, waiting for a call that has yet to come.

He saw action during Week 1's 59-9 throttling of Central Michigan but has been on the shelf since. Part of that is due to the experience factor. 

He's just not ready, but the Wolverines can't afford to find out that information next year. The time for Morris is wheneveras in whenever Hoke has enough of Gardner. 

Throwing Morris into the fold can't hurt anything—not this week. In past weeks, yes; Michigan still had something to play for. Other than pride, there's nothing left but to give playing time to underclassmen in a game that means something. 

If he sees the field, Morris could provide a spark while facing the Big Ten's No. 5 defensethat's if he can get the No. 10 offense going in relief of Gardner. 


Offensive Line and Running Backs

The midsection of Michigan's offensive line has been a glaring weakness since Week 2 vs. Notre Dame. Despite the 41-30 victory, the Wolverines up front struggled to protect Gardner, who led with 82 rushing yards. 

That was a great average when compared to the now. Michigan's 4.3 yards per tote left something to be desired versus a somewhat porous Irish defense that surrendered 71 yards to Fitz Toussaint, who leads backs with 20 or more carries with a mark of 3.4 yards per touch. 

And he's the No. 1, which is and has been the problem.

That's why it'll be up to freshmen Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith to carry the load. The pair combined for 120 yards en route to the Wolverines' 27-19 triple-overtime thriller over Northwestern. 

But they won't have success against the likes of Ohio State's Ryan Shazier and Noah Spence if they don't get help from their line, particularly from Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow—or whomever else Hoke throws out on the field. He's played with at least five combinations at the guard spots and center position. 

Better late than neverHoke could discover his line's core on Saturday.


Help from the Defense

Redshirt freshman Willie Henry has a blocked kick and a half-sack on his resume this year. With four starts and 10 appearances, he appears to be an up-and-comer for Greg Mattison's defense. Again, a shining effort from Henry could boost Michigan and give the front four a kick before the bowl game.

He has been on the rise and is certainly an underclassman who could "star" for Hoke on Saturday. 


Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson

Other than senior Jeremy Gallon, the Wolverines don't have a lot of productive options at receiver. Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson, at the moment, seem to be the only players not named "Gallon" who can string together stretches of consistent play and turn out a few numbers. 

A sophomore, Funchess would further increase his hype by having a big day versus the Buckeyes. He's due for production. Last year, he didn't have a single catch or yard against the Buckeyes. 

At 6'5" and 235 pounds, he could be a difference maker against the Big Ten's No. 10 pass defense. Jake Butt, along with Funchess, could serve as another eager, big-bodied target on Saturday. 

Experience helps in "The Game." As the saying goes, there is no substitute. However, there could be an adequate alternative, and that's playing hungry newcomers who want to make their presence known. 


Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81


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