Michigan Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter
Week 1 is in the rear view, and Michigan has now turned its attention toward Notre Dame, which hosts the final meeting of the series Saturday night in South Bend.
Going on the road is always a challenge, but according to recent statements made by coaches and players, the Wolverines are clear and focused as they enter one of the most emotional stretches of the fall.
Expectations will be on Team 135's mainstays to shoulder the load, but they'll also be affixed to the new guys, many of whom impressed this past Saturday against Appalachian State.
This slideshow will grade the first-timers' efforts. As always, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes or references were obtained firsthand by the writer.
Mason Cole and Ben Braden Make the Grade on the O-Line
To get things started, let's go back to postgame Saturday when running back De'Veon Smith graded his O-line with an "A++." The sophomore had a huge day on the ground. He's also a new starter.
Back to the line.
Mason Cole (6'5", 292 pounds, freshman LT)
Cole gets an "A" for his showing against Appalachian State. He helped the front create space, lanes and holes for the running backs (which will be discussed later) and pockets of protection for quarterback Devin Gardner, who was only sacked once.
"I thought Mason did a nice job," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said Monday. "[I] talked a little about it last week. Nothing's too big for him. He is a young player, and we knew that going into the game that there were going to be some things that happened; and obviously the one sack that occurred.
"But it's not about the sack—it’s how you react to it. We talk to our guys a lot about 'play the next play.' And it's not about whether the play before was a great play or it was a really bad play. Because it really doesn't matter. It's irrelevant now. I thought [Mason] did an outstanding job. [He was] very focused…very levelheaded…played a good football game."
Ben Braden (6'6", 322, redshirt sophomore RT)
Due in part to Braden, who also gets an "A," the Wolverines were able to run to the right (not so much up the middle) and, again, protect their quarterback. Tackles are important when it comes to establishing a perimeter, and Gardner had his way with the opposing defense, passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns in what seemed to be about five minutes.
Nussmeier also complimented the line as a whole, saying that he was pleased with what he saw this past weekend.
Running Back De'Veon Smith Passes the Test
Smith didn't technically start, but he's a part of the starting tandem. Let's just call Saturday his real debut. The same can be applied to Derrick Green, who's appeared in 14 games and started twice, once more each than Smith...but why nitpick?
Smith makes this.
Why the "A-"?
Early on Saturday, the sophomore had trouble gaining his bearings. Whether or not that was his own doing or due to poor blocking isn't clear. Probably a mixture of both. However, the 5'11", 220-pounder out of Ohio showed a willingness to dish out punishment at a moment's notice.
On Saturday, he said that he wanted to be known as a "powerful runner." By breaking out for a career-high 115 yards with two touchdowns, he certainly cast a message loud and clear.
If not for the slow start, Smith, who needed just eight carries to blaze through the Mountaineers, would be granted the same grade he gave his O-line.
De'Veon Smith discusses Michigan's 52-14 win over Appalachian State http://t.co/aq96WE6rUh— Sports in the Mitten (@SITMBigAndKid) August 31, 2014
All-Purpose Weapon Dennis Norfleet Answers the Call
Eventually, Gardner's going to have to spread the ball to everyone. One of these days, defenders are going to quadruple-team Devin Funchess, so that connection could become more difficult later this season.
But of course, no matter how most try to disrupt, Gardner and Funchess will get theirs. Plenty of it.
But also keep an eye out for secondary options such as Dennis Norfleet, who had a career-high three catches for 30 yards during his first career start.
For that, he gets an "A." It was the first day, Michigan won big and several players were involved. Several new starters, at that. He deserves it, although he stuttered a bit during a punt return.
At 5'9" and 169 pounds, "Fleetwood," by which he's now known, adds incredible speed and variety to the offense. He can also throw himself around if need be.
Nussmeier on Norfleet: Dennis is an exciting guy. ... He is a physical player. ... He does give us another element— Josh Newkirk (@JoshNewkirk7) September 1, 2014
Ryan Glasgow Makes the Most of His Start
On Monday, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spoke of the "young babies" who are growing up before his eyes.
Ryan Glasgow, a 6'4", 296-pound redshirt sophomore, is certainly one of them. This past Saturday, Glasgow helped the Michigan O-line put a stop to just about everything attempted by Appalachian State, which put up 280 yards of offense, most of which came against depth players.
Glasgow gets a "B+," only because the D-line—and he's part of the equation—must be better at stuffing the run in the trenches, something that Mattison said is in the process of being corrected.
Jabrill Peppers Is a Different Story
Given the months of hype and hysteria prior to his arrival at Michigan, most expected Jabrill Peppers, a former 5-star prospect, to get the starting nod in Week 1 and show off a little bit.
It just had to happen.
However, bad luck struck the do-all frosh. Instead, due to an ankle injury, he didn't tear up the field for four quarters. He only played the first half.
On Monday, both Hoke and Mattison said that Peppers isn't seriously injured and that he'll be available Saturday against Notre Dame. Hoke chose not to insert Peppers after halftime on Saturday for precautionary reasons.
On that note, Mattison doesn't plan to use him any differently against Notre Dame, dinged ankle or not. The DC knows what he has, and he plans to use it.
"Jabrill is Jabrill," he said confidently. "He's part of the Michigan defense. So let's go."
Jabrill is also part of the everything else. He debuted with two tackles and a six-yard punt return.
It's probably a bit early to slap a grade upon anyone, but that's especially true for the 6'1", 205-pound ATH who didn't get a chance to get going.
He gets an "I" for incomplete.
Jeremy Clark Is Front and Center
Michigan's secondary is deep.
Jeremy Clark, a safety, has found a way to swim to the top of the pool. The 6'4", 205-pound safety is getting a lot of attention due to a couple of big-play-saving tackles in Week 1. He's also developing a better eye for the ball.
The redshirt sophomore had three tackles and a pass deflection against Appalachian State.
And in light of Monday's "we're going to be aggressive" talk from Mattison and corner Raymon Taylor, look for everyone, including Clark, to show what they have this weekend in South Bend.
Got to like Jeremy Clark as the starter at safety for Michigan. Really long at 6-4 and can cover ground.— Clint Brewster (@clintbrew247) August 25, 2014
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81