Hoke is enjoying success in his first season...so far
There isn't a fan base with a more ambivalent feeling in the pit of their stomachs than Michigan.
Sure, they started 6-0, but they followed it up with a loss to their intra-state rival MSU (the fourth straight). Now, fans are having flashbacks to the previous few years that featured hot starts, and slow finishes. They have the precedent to be apprehensive.
All that considered, Michigan is one of the harder teams to accurately evaluate. Taking into consideration their opponents and performance, not their record, goes a long way into the rankings. These rankings should be able to shed light on the future of Michigan's 2011 season, a future that fans are desperately pondering.
The mystery continues
No player is more indicative of their team that Denard Robinson. Just as Michigan sometimes shows flashes of brilliance and traces of awfulness, so does Robinson.
On one hand, I truly appreciate his running abilities. I realize he has rushed for 762 yards, good for 10th in the nation (but his numbers are down from last year through the same amount of games played).
On the other hand, his passing is simply atrocious. He's completed 53.9 percent of his passes on the season, and has an 11-10 TD-INT ratio. Last week, he completed 38 percent of his passes.
His mechanics are downright awful. Instead of stepping forward into throws, and towards the receiver, he steps sideways. He opens his entire waist, which causes nearly every one of his throws to be three to four feet too high.
The QB situation is starting to take an odd turn as well. More and more, Hoke is having Robinson line up at wide receiver, or take him out of the game altogether, and playing Devin Gardner at QB. The move makes no sense to me, as Gardner isn't a good thrower either, and offers no change of pace or a different skill set to confuse the defense. All it does it take the team out of rhythm.
Toussaint is averaging 5.4 ypc, but disappeared against MSU
If we are considering just the traditional running backs Michigan has, they get a C+. If we consider Robinson as a running back, which I don't know why we would, they would get an A.
Michigan is ranked 14th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging 232 a game. Take away games against Minnesota, SDSU and Eastern Michigan, and their average drops to 141.25 per game. Without those three games (in which they totaled 300-plus yards each), they haven't rushed for more than 200 yards, (although they probably would have against WMU if the game went the distance).
Ftizgerald Toussaint is the team's leading rusher behind Robinson. Against MSU, Toussaint had two rushes for seven yards. Next in line is Vincent Smith, who had eight carries for 37 yards against the Spartans.
Players aren't measured by what they do against the directional Michigan schools. They are measured by what they do in conference play. MSU was the best defense the Wolverines had gone against, and they failed the test. They still have to go against tough rush defenses in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State.
Junior Hemingway leads the boom-or-bust unit
All things considered, Michigan receivers can be viewed as the strength of the offense.
Despite completing just 53.9 percent of passes, Michigan is eighth in the nation at 8.8 yards per attempt. How is this possible? It is because Michigan is averaging 16.3 yards per completion. Simply speaking, they're a boom-or-bust passing team.
One needs to look no further than the game against ND. Robinson completed 11 passes...for 338 yards! These yards come from the receivers coming down with jump balls, and making players miss and gaining YAC. Just look at Jeremy Gallon's effort at 7:07.
The good: The offensive line has allowed Michigan to rush for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. On the season, they have allowed only nine sacks through seven games.
The bad: Seven of those sacks came last week against MSU. Seven!
Five of those sacks came in the fourth quarter. This tells me one thing...Michigan cannot play from behind. Once defenses put Robinson in must-throw situations, they can pin their ears back and get to him. This leads to sacks, or as is the case at :45 in the clip, turnovers.
When MSU blitzed last week, Robinson was 3-for-11 for 45 yards and one interception. He was also sacked three times.
Michigan has had trouble getting pressure from their front four. They have tallied only 11 sacks on the year, and three of those have come from Defensive Back Jordan Kovacs.
Craig Roh leads the team in TFL with 6.5, and is the only defensive lineman with more than one sack (2.5).
Overall, Michigan's rush defense is 56th in the nation, allowing 145.29 yards per game. They let Eastern Michigan rush for over 200 yards against them, and MSU ran for 213.
Still, Mike Martin remains a threat in the middle. Additionally, Michigan is far and away leading the nation in forced fumbles. The Wolverines have forced 10 fumbles, and recovered 14. Three forced fumbles have come from the front four.
Freshman Jake Ryan leads the unit with four TFLs, and is suddenly one of the top players on the defense.
After Ryan, the remaining linebackers have combined for five TFLs. Overall, Michigan has just 32 TFLs on the season, 78th in the nation.
Overall, the unit is forgettable, and hasn't aided in the fair rush defense of the Wolverines. There are no playmakers. Kenny Demens leads the team with 32 solo tackles, but has one sack and no turnovers on the season.
Michigan's secondary has only forced five interceptions, 68th in the nation. This isn't awful, but it doesn't stand out either.
They are allowing just 190.7 yards per game through the air and a solid 6.2 yards per attempt (good for 24th in the nation). Still, the 7.4 yards per attempt against NW and the 8.1 yards per attempt against ND are disconcerting.
As mentioned previously, Jordan Kovacs leads the team with three sacks. He also has an interception, a forced fumble and four TFLs.
While the secondary has turned in only five interceptions, they have also forced five fumbles, a very nice statistic.
Special Teams: C
Michigan is 111th in the nation in kick return average, and 52nd in the nation in punt returns.
They're 54th in the nation in kick return yards allowed, and 63rd in the nation in punt return yards allowed. They haven't allowed a touchdown on either, but they average only 34.4 net yards per punt, 100th in the nation.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons is just 4-for-6 in field goals. His long is 38, and he has missed two from 40-plus.
In every special teams category, Michigan is either fair, or below average (the kick return and punt coverage).