Grading the Michigan Wolverines After Three Games

Jason BarczyCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2008

Sorry I haven't been writing lately everyone. I just got back from Denver and am in the process of moving all my stuff from Michigan to Chicago now. Well, on with the analysis...

The Michigan Wolverines are three games into the 2008 regular season, and what have we learned so far? Well, Rich Rodriguez obviously doesn't have the athletes he needs to run the spread offense effectively, and the defense has weak spots all over the field.

Things look grim so far, and Michigan is looking at the possibility of its first losing season since 1967.

As the Wolverines head into the Big Ten schedule, let's examine and grade their performance thus far unit by unit.


Quarterback play has been abysmal from the very beginning, and Rich Rodriguez must be pulling out what hair he has left knowing it's not going to get any better this season.

But the good news is that he doesn't have many follicles left, and there is a lot of room for improvement.

Steven Threet has gotten progressively better in each game, although Nick Sheridan is absolute garbage. Sheridan should try out for the CFL once his college career is over, which I would assume is after this season

Threet was impressive in the Notre Dame game with the exception of the backwards pass that resulted in a fumble and the Irish's first touchdown of the game.

His efficiency rating is not that good at the moment (80th in the country at 113.4), but it's after only three games, in which he only played good in one game. We'll see if he's any better after a bye week.

Luckily Threet has a guy like Sam McGuffie to hand the ball off to. McGuffie had a breakout performance in the Notre Dame game and showed what kind of playmaking ability we can expect from now on.

The running backs have been quite impressive. Michael Shaw needs more carries, and the veteran guys of Brandon Minor and Kevin Grady have been very serviceable.

I myself would like to see more of Minor, but RichRod seems to be in love with McGuffie, which I don't mind at all, especially if he makes moves like he did against Notre Lame.

Inexperience has reared its ugly head in the wide receiver corps. Greg Matthews is the only one playing up to par at the Division I level.

Martavious Odoms has shown a few bright spots here and there, but for the most part he hasn't shown me much. Darryl Stonum was hyped to be the next big time Michigan wideout, but he's made all of five catches.

Someone has to step it up here, and soon.

The offensive line has also shown its inexperience. The Wolverines are too young along the line and haven't picked up RichRod's offensive blocking schemes nearly as quickly as we would all like.

They seemed to be able to block the stretch draw play better and overall are getting better at run blocking. Pass protection is tough to determine looking at the stats. Michigan quarterbacks have been sacked just three times, but it seems like time and time again they have defenders in their face.

Maybe the sacks aren't there for opponents because Threet and Sheridan are throwing the ball away at the last minute.

Mark Ortmann might be returning this Saturday from a preseason injury, but he has yet to practice in full pads as of Tuesday

My biggest problem with the offense is the fact that the Wolverines are only 9-for-37 on third downs for a 24 percent success rate. That is awful to say the least.

National offensive rankings go like this: passing 100th, rushing 88th, and total 105th.

Offensive Grade: C-


What can I say about the defense other than that they try?

I've seen vast improvements on the defensive side of the ball from what we previously saw during the Lloyd Carr era.

The defensive line is no longer winded in the fourth quarter, and Brandon Graham has come light years under Mike Barwis' strength and conditioning program.

Even Terrance Taylor doesn't resemble Aaron Gibson huffing and puffing off the field after second down. Now he stays in on third and fourth downs. It's incredible.

Obi Ezeh is the only decent playmaker the Wolverines have as far as linebackers are concerned. He leads the team in tackles so far with 26.

John Thompson and Jonas Moutan were an improvement over Martel Evans and Austin Panter, who started the season, but there are still many inefficiencies on the outside.

Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent have been great at defensive back. But too many times teams are avoiding throwing to either one's side.

Warren is still showing his youth, but the sky is the limit for him. Trent has totally redeemed himself from past transgressions.

The big problem though is with the rest of the secondary. Charles Stewart, Stevie Brown, and other safeties are continually getting beat every which way. Whether it's a deep ball or a short check down or slant pattern, these guys can't stop anyone.

Scott Schafer's defense was supposed to be blitz happy and never give the opposing quarterback enough time to allow him to throw the ball. But too many times the Michigan secondary is getting burned downfield.

Our defense has always been more suited to stop the Wisconsins and Penn States of the country and not spread offenses. Apparently six months of practicing against it everyday hasn't helped much.

Let's just pray we see less and less of the zone defense that the opposition loves seeing so much.

National defensive rankings: passing defense 78th, rushing defense 12th, and total defense 27th.

Defensive Grade: B-

Special Teams

Michigan's kicking game has been pretty, pretty good. Zoltan Mesko is actually being considered for the Ray Guy award, and his fake punt run against Notre Dame was amazing.

He is averaging 44.1 yards per punt and has put seven punts inside the 20 so far.

K.C. Lopata is 3-for-4 on field goals, and I haven't had to close my eyes anymore during field goals. Still not singing "Hail to the Victors" after a field goal though.

My biggest beef with special teams is the Wolverines' inability to return any sort of kick.

Donovan Warren should have a restraining order against him on punt returns as is apparent from his 2.7 yards per return and long return of 13 yards.

Brandon Harrison needs to be returning kickoffs full time while Boubacar Cissoko learns the position and learns how to hold onto the ball.

Special Teams Grade: C-


Rich Rodriguez seems to be a bit stubborn by not designing a playbook better suited to tailor the athletes he has.

Would it hurt to run a more pro-style offense that your athletes are more accustomed to until you have the athletes to run the spread?

I understand that the athletes need to learn the spread as quickly as possible, but RichRod's first season at WVU saw a 3-8 finish. No one wants that at Michigan.

In fact some Michigan fans might want to take a drill to the temple to erase the memory of a losing season, which looks like a real possibility.

I do like his aggressiveness though. The fake punt, the shots downfield, the total unexpectedness of everything. I love the play calling, even if it doesn't fit the athletes' abilities.

Scott Schafer needs to coach up the secondary more. Either that or let Barwis have his way with Stevie Brown and Charles Stewart.

Maybe Barwis will feed them to his wolves?

Coaching Grade: B-

Final Thoughts

It's pretty rough to think that Michigan could have a season like Notre Lame had last year, but it looks like that is the case.

I'm struggling to find more than five wins on this schedule. Six wins and a bowl berth would be a miracle at this point. Wisconsin is going to kill us, Illinois might be win number two, Toledo is a win, while Penn State, along with Michigan State and Purdue right after, are all losses. Minnesota should be win number four as long as they beat Illinois.

Northwestern is a win, and Ohio State might win by 50 against us. The only way I see Michigan getting to six wins is by beating Ohio State in Columbus, and I can't see that happening.

Michigan has been beating up on the rest of the Big Ten for years, and karma is going to bite the Wolverines this year. But let all the opposing fans get it in while they can.

Because after this year, the gloves are off.

Overall Grade through three games: C


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