Andy Andersen, Senior Football Writer email@example.com Andy is a Michigan graduate and long time Michigan Football fan, having attended games during the tenures of Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliot, Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke. He attempts to present articles consistent with the concerns and interests of Michigan Fans.
It is time to move ahead from last year’s disappointing season. With all its high points on and off the field, the season ended with a painful thud. Three critical losses late in the season again provided no run at the B1G playoff or title. This and no national final four or title, together with no bowl victory, put to rest optimistic M fan expectations as they evaporated at seasons end.
LAST SEASON’S WOES, FINAL CALL: No matter that the Wolverine three late season losses were close. The Ohio State University victory drought continued at the hands of the Wolverines yet again, in what appeared a very winnable chance. The fact that this one occurred in double overtime did not alter the fact that it produced another very big ouch. That there was a controversial spot favoring the OSU offense didn’t matter either. The Wolverines did not score or defend well enough to win with everything on the line in crunch time in their most important outing of the season.
Then there was the final game in the Orange Bowl that ended with a controversial FSU off-side non call, perhaps preventing one more M offensive stab at victory. The real bugaboo was the Wolverine gift of the winning TD with 40 seconds on the clock. At clock zero, it was 33-32 for the wrong side. Another big ouch.
The season’s early promise became a miasma as those earlier promising season expectations evaporated. The harmful loss to Iowa that started the skid was simply inexplicable.
It is now time to drop kick our attention forward and attempt to estimate and evaluate what might lie ahead in this, Coach Harbaugh’s critical third year at the Michigan helm. It is the most critical of his Michigan tenure.
GOALS: Any attempted probe into the state of the football program early pre-season is always of questionable value, because the basis for much of its prognosis is what happened the prior season. Any prediction of a team’s future football fortunes is even more “iffy” for those programs attempting a spring to the top of the heap.
It is still true the Wolverines have made many significant steps forward under Harbaugh, with very few compensating steps backward, as their trajectory has mainly been forward and upward and all signs point to a continuance and improvement of rising fortune through achievement of goals.
It is easy to state goals pro-season. The difficult part is for the team to achieve them. The fun for fans is in watching them being achieved.
A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE HARBAUGH ERA: It does not require too big a leap of one’s imagination to expect program progress to continue at an accelerating rate. High among those expectations are the things still unachieved, such as shots at a BIG Championship, and the pot of golden rewards that lie at the end of a successful National Championship Playoff rainbow. You know what they are. The team knows what they are. Harbaugh has established a culture and motivation that is superior. But first things come first. A critical first goal this year is participating in the Big Ten Championship Game. No Wolverine team heretofore has won the privilege.
Competing for these goals is boilerplate every year, but in Harbaugh’s third year expectations will rise.
These are his players, his coaches. They are not as experienced as last year’s edition, but it there are a number of sophomores with athletic talent, and college ready bodies, expected to contribute immediately. Foremost among that group is DE Rashan Gary who leads the group. He will be a prime time player this year. There are at least nine others in his class that played enough last season to be considered experienced this year. WR Eddie McDoom is an example. They will be bolstered by another fine recruiting class this year.
This year’s class had eleven early entries, with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones projected as perhaps the best athlete in the 2017 class, and perhaps even on the team. He will probably receive significant playing time this year if he can best the considerable competition in the position group. Cesar Ruiz is an able bodied, versatile OL that may be able to contribute, even fight for a starting spot. Many of this class will contribute to the two deep. We will get clues as to their identity as spring practice unfolds.
The perceived success of Wolverines this 2017 season to a large extent also depends on success in chasing the rainbows listed above, but this year it is overwhelmingly important that they whip OSU. It has to be done. There will again be a vapor of Scarlet and Gray smugness in the air this fall that can’t be tolerated in M Stadium. That has to be overcome this year. Hmm….maybe that aroma is more pungent than a sniff of smugness!
They must beat all three “States”: MSU and PSU and especially OSU in addition to competing for championships this season.
This is an important season for both this team and its coach. It is important that they surpass last season, which trended so well but finally failed in achievement of their prime goals, and it will be a difficult one. The schedule is tough, but MSU and OSU are at home.
All the aura of success that Harbaugh is managing off field must be equaled on the field to maintain. They must win against the best, home or away to compete for championships. There is work still to be done, and it won’t be easy. But we should expect additional success in year three.
THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: The QB positon has to continue to evolve, especially pass accuracy, and a total mastery of the long ball. This will have to happen with a brand new set of receivers. The fact that Wilton Speight threw for 2,538-yards last season, with 18 TDs, and only 7 interceptions, can’t be ignored.
Still he has to win the job again, and depth must be developed. Obviously, Speight is the experienced frontrunner, but Wilton Speight, Redshirt Brandon Peters, Jon O’Korn, and others will battle for the starting slot, and give no quarter. The QBs that do not achieve starter status may be asked to step in at a critical time during the season, after any offensive snap. It is very important every year that they are well schooled and ready.
This is Harbaugh’s forte. No doubt they will be ready. More Pep has been added to the mix
COACHING CHANGES AND COACHING RESPONSIBILITY CHANGES: I like the coaching additions and responsibility alterations they have made. Pep Hamilton has been added to the staff as Jed Fisch left. The additions and alteration are:
Pep Hamilton: Pep brings a wealth of QB coaching experience from the pro level as well as college as he replaces Jedd Fisch. I expect he will be solid there. He is M’s new Assistant Head Coach /Passing Game Coordinator.
Greg Frey: He was last at Michigan as Rich Rodriguez’s OL coach. He has been named Tackles and Tight Ends Coach. Does his presence mean some change in the blocking style of the OL, and maybe a little more spread? I like the split in the coaching of the OL. It may give the overburdened Drevno a little respite.
Jay Harbaugh: is now the Run Game Coordinator and Co-Special Teams Co-ordinator. Former RB coach Tyrone Wheatley has returned to the pros. There are some slings and arrows directed at Jay because he has no playing experience as a running back. My physician does not share my illnesses, but I expect help to effectively address the situation effectively through training. Jay will do the job.
Tim Drevno: He remains Offensive Coordinator/OL coach. He will coach the center and the two guards.
To accomplish their goals any year, the Wolverines have obstacles to surmount, and rebuilding an effective offensive line is one of them. It appears this task is at the top of the heap this season. Improved pass protection and a consistent running game are both necessary to success.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: This year the offensive and defensive lines are depleted. Experienced and versatile starters Sophomore Left Guard Ben Bredeson returns, as does Mason Cole. Right Guard may be manned by hefty and athletic Freshman Michael Onwenu (350 plus). It is possible that Freshman Cesar Ruiz vies for a spot on the in the two deep. Maybe can compete for a starting position. He has the physical tools. I doubt he will be at center because Mason Cole is experienced there. There is speculation Cole might vacate center. There will be a constant battle pre-season and maybe into the season as the search for the best five for the best five intensifies.
RUNNING BACKS: The style of the RBs will change with the graduation of the hammer that was DeVeon Smith at the position. It looks like the frontrunner at TB at this time is Sophomore Chris Evans. He gained 7-yards an attempt last season, and sometimes he is lightening in a bottle. Ty Isaac is back for his 5th year. He progressed last year and has size and talent. Junior Karan Higdon had six TDs last year and should be improved this year. Kingston Davis has transferred.
Kareem Walker will challenge for time. His light went on in the December Bowl practices. A healed Drake Johnson would be most interesting, but has not yet been cleared yet for a sixth year to the best of my knowledge.
Freshmen O’Maury Samuels is especially quick and Kurt Taylor. He had an outstanding junior year in HS (1,631-yards). At FB, Kahlid Hill will be back for his 5th year. He had 16 TDs last season. He can catch passes.
WIDE RECEIVERS: This is probably the most interesting position group on the team at this time. The oft injured and now recovered Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways have to find gold at the Last Chance Mine, or they will be passed by. They will be pressed by sophomore’s Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. McDoom is fast and Crawford is faster. They are both now fairly experienced. Eddy McDoom had considerable experience last season, producing effective end arounds etc. Truth to tell he was more effective on the ground than receiving as that was the way he was utilized. But he can shine as a receiver, too.
The 2017 recruits are an outstanding group, with Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones considered by most to be hyper talented.
Tarik Black has star potential in this own right.
Brad Hawkins spent a year maturing in prep academy, where he put up outstanding receiving numbers. He is 6’2″ and 205 lbs. H
Martin and Collins also are gifted receivers.
If it turns out that the offensive line can effectively pass protect, I think that by the end of the season this wide receiver position group will be the strength of the offense.
Junior Grant Perry is missing a golden opportunity for football advancement by being in the doghouse for alleged transgressions after last season’s win in East Lansing. His football future remains in limbo. Hope he can work through it. The future looms exceedingly bright for this hyper talented group. Experience is coming their way to blend with their talent.
TIGHT ENDS: Redshirt Junior Ian Bunting will obviously get more opportunities for catches with the progression of Jake Butt to the pros. At 6’7″ and 250 lbs. Bunting is a talented load, along with stable mate Tyrone Wheatley. At 6’6″ and 276 lbs., Wheatley packs a punch, and owns good hands. I expect both these guys to explode this year.
And there is more. Sophomore Nick Eubanks, 6’5″ and 236, but will fight this spring for playing time.
The Wolverines did not land a TE recruit in 2017, but collared a talented 6′ 8″; 236 lb. walk on who has room to grow, Carter Selzer. After a pair of Glasgow walk on successes, and another one in progress, one not cannot help appreciating walk-ons. Besides Selzer, the Wolverines have a number of them this year. If one or more rises it will be noted.
Devin Asiasi, who saw extensive playing time last year as a freshman, has transferred to UCLA for personal reasons. He needs to be closer to home. There are no hard feelings on either side of this transfer.
Part 2 will present defensive comments later in the week.
The Wolverines ran into Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium to face the Hawkeyes in an attempt to secure an important 10th win overall and their 6 th in the Big Ten this season. The Hawkeyes blocked their aspirations as the Michigan Football team did not perform to its season’s standard in Iowa City.
At the beginning of the season, it was thought this would be the second of three tough mandatory road wins necessary to accomplish M’s goal of participating in their first Big Ten East/West Championship game. Only one of the three teams regarded as pre-season toughies, have now been demolished. MSU has been downed, but Iowa was a point better, and that leaves a regular season must win over Indiana, and a must win over you know who.
Long ago it was thought that if the Wolverines downed either of the Spartans or the Buckeyes it would be an entirely successful season. Not anymore. The whole college football enchilada is still in view, but only in view, not yet in reach or in hand. The acceptable margin of error has shrunk with this loss, and the complications have increased. Now they must conquer the offensive minded Hoosiers plus the fabulous Buckeyes at their Columbus home to realize Championship dreams. Those dreams are still achievable, but a little more improbable, after the loss to the Hawkeyes.
HAWKEYES: As this season unfolded the Hawkeyes struggled, and Wolverine chances of a win in Iowa City seemed improved. This season has been more than a little rough on the Hawkeyes, but the Wolverines helped the Hawks forget their woes Saturday as the Hawks ruined the Wolverine’s attempt at a ten game winning streak. That 10th win will have to wait a week for another attempt.
The Hawks had won just 4 overall, and had managed only 3 Big Ten wins. After Saturday against the Wolverines, Iowa had only four Big Ten wins.
If pre-season expectations for the Hawkeyes were accurate, they had sorely underachieved to this point in the season, but they made up for that Saturday.
Even so, they were not overlooked and under estimated by the Wolverines. M knew that there would be a hostile and raucous crowd, with some having all day to prime their enthusiasm for redeeming their season in prime time by whacking the Nations 2nd or 3rd ranked team. The target on the Wolverine’s back had enlarged each game.
The Wolverines also knew that Kinnick had not been kind to the Wolverines on more than one occasion in the past. They also they knew that despite a 41-14-4 pre-game record in the Wolverine’s favor, the Hawkeyes would be determined to win, would be motivated to win, and would be well directed to win by the Head Hawkeye, Coach Kirk Ferentz. And so it proved.
What had seemed an improbable task away from home when the pre-season began, seemed achievable in many fan’s minds as the game approached, but it turned out to not be achievable in fact, as the Hawkeyes played successful David and Goliath.
The play of the Hawkeyes had proved to date to be slow scoring offense attached to a sometimes ineffective defense. To say they had not played well recently was a pregame statement of fact. Unfortunately, none of this applied to Saturday’s game against the Wolverines. The game proved again that football is both a game of talent and emotion. The more emotional Hawkeyes won.
WILTON SPEIGHT WAS NOT AT HIS BEST: Last week he set a first half passing production record. He had improved every game he had started this year, until Iowa.
Prior to Saturday he had averaged 205.3 yards passing per game, had thrown for 2,053 yards through the first nine games, accounted for 15 TDs, and had only thrown 3 interceptions. He had completed 149 passes of 231attempts.
He added to those numbers Saturday against Iowa, but his play against Iowa was not a spectacular performance. He tossed 11/26 for 103-yards. He was some-times good, but not great over all He seemed just a little off. He overthrew two streaking, open receivers. Connections on one of those two throws would have won the game. He had an interception late.
It was a pass thrown into tight coverage, which hit Chesson’s chest, and bounced out his hands into the grasping hands of an alert defender. Fortunately, M’s Stribling shortly returned the favor by capturing a Hawk throw.
There had been a spate of Speight adulations sprouting recently, from coaches, fans, the Big Ten Channel, the media dedicated to Wolverine coverage, and some national coverage. They were all earned and well-deserved, as game by game Wilton had been improving, and becoming an extraordinarily adept quarterback. His play leveled out against Iowa. He still made some great plays, but the offense was not rock solid this time.
Saturday was a learning experience of a different and harsher kind. It was an experience of a kind that he had not had to endure yet this season. He will learn from it, and he will keep working. He will see better days, and compete effectively in the games yet to come.
Of course, he wanted to win Saturday. He said before the game that “we didn’t come this far just to come this far”. That still applies.
THE REST OF THE OFFENSE: The offensive line did not have a good day. While they made some nice plays, when the game was at stake late in the 4th, they could not move the ball to the sticks to secure a first down. That could have saved a victory.
There were no offensive wrinkles for Peppers and he was stopped for short gains, on plays the Hawks expected, and quickly diagnosed.
When a punt ended up near the Michigan goal line, M lined up and tried to run Smith out of the end zone. The OL opened no hole and allowed penetration. Smith was stopped short well into the end zone for a safety. Losing by one point, the two points were critical, and it got the Hawks fired up. It was a turning point. With under 1:54 minutes left, M’s Channing Stribling made an interception that I thought would seal Iowa’s fate. But as in a previous game, the Wolverines could not manage a first down late, and was forced to punt, with nothing less than the game at stake. The Wolverines produced 201-yards of offense, with a paltry 98-yards rushing.
THE DEFENSE COULDN’T STOP THE HAWKS WITH THE GAME ON THE LINE: The defense held Iowa to one TD. That TD was aided by an M personal foul. Iowa had 66-yards passing, and 164-yards passing.
Near the end of the game, an unbelievable call on a Michigan player for a face mask penalty, greased Iowa’s ability to make the slide into winning FG range. A Wolverine player’s hand slid across the Iowa players mask but the mask was not grabbed. There’s a lot of things I don’t understand in this world, and that face mask call remains one of them. While they made many nice plays, M’s defense failed to stop Hawks late in the game when the heat was on. The Hawks had 230-yards of offense, with 164 on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kenny Allen’s field goal kicking was superb. Allen’s punts averaged over 40-yards. He misfired on one KO, striking it out of bounds. He hit two field goals: one for 23-yards, and one for 51- yards. Jabrill Peppers had a nice KO return for 16-yards, plus a punt return for 9-yards.
The M kick off receiver team fumbled on M’s opening drive of the second half. An engaged M blocker brushed the runner, and the ball was suddenly loose and was recovered by Iowa. It was a short kick received by a fullback.
The first quarter contained some oddities. Two consecutive Michigan roughing the kicker penalties spelled doom to a drive. A failed fake punt failed when the kicker tripped rolled head over heals and got bumpeld a little on the helmet of the Hawkeye. It was judged targeting and M’s Devin Bush was expelled for the game.
M v Iowa: M deferred, and the two teams traded punts.
About mid quarter, M finally got rolling, but stalled as several incompletions put the ball on the ground. Kenny Allen put it through the uprights from 26-yards out, and it was three to zip.
Iowa went on an 11-play jaunt but missed a 46-yard FG.
M’s Jake Butt nabbed an 8-yard pass. Peppers, Smith and McDoom rushed for short yardages, Chesson caught a 29-yarder, and Darboh a 5-yard pass. Ty Isaac swept into the end zone on a very nice 7-yard run. The Wolverines were up 10 to zip. It was M’s drive of the day, covering 72-yards in 9 plays.
The Hawks produced a punt of 54-yards to the Michigan 2. This had consequences as Smith was lined up deep in the end zone, and after the snap was tackled there for a safety (two points). The offensive line did not get the needed push, and Smith was stopped dead in his tracks in the end zone. M had to kick to Iowa so the lost a player and the ball to a so-called targeting incident.
Iowa moved from its own 48, starting with a 27-yard pass, and a 7-yard screen. A Michigan personal foul assisted the drive. A three yard pass afforded 6 points, but the two point conversion failed.
At the half it was Michigan 10-Iowa 8.
There was reassurance in the minds of many M fans knowing that their offense would receive to begin the second half. A fumbled KO return trashed those thoughts as the ball fell into the possession of the Hawks. The Hawkeyes got the ball at the M 43.
They then moved to the M 25 with several short runs, but a run stopped for a loss and an incompletion stopped them cold. A 25-yard FG ensued and it was Wolverines 10, Hawkeyes 11.
The Wolverines did not score in the third quarter, so that is how the quarter ended.
In the next Wolverine possession, Evans and Smith had short gains. Jake Butt made a great catch on an off angle pass for 17-yards to earn a 1st down. After a couple of short passes, Allen punted but the holder was roughed, and the ball was at the Hawks 36. Smith had two rushes for nine. Higdon lost 6-yards. Allen hit the longest FG of his career to finish the Wolverines scoring. The Wolverines had 13, and the Hawks 11.
A Wilton pass to Chesson was intercepted, and Michigan’s Stribling returned the favor.
Michigan could not move the ball and punted.
With the call of a face mask penalty on the Wolverines the Hawkeyes proceeded into FG range. The die was cast by the assistance of that nefarious FM call on the Wolverines. The 33-yard Iowa FG put the winning points on the board and it was 13-14 Iowa.
The Wolverines will regroup and be better than ever.
Except now there is a narrower window to a Championship game because they now have to beat Ohio State, on their premises, to stay even. The path would have been easier to enter Columbus undefeated.
Bring on Indiana and Go Blue!
Eight prior Wolverine wins this season were but a prelude to the game that unfolded Saturday against the Maryland’s Football Terrapins. The Wolverine’s sought to step up another notch towards wining the Eastern Division B1G Championship by bringing home their ninth victory of the season.
This Maryland game was at the same time, no less and no more, important than the ones already in the bag, or yet to come, but it was as necessary as all the others this season. Again the Wolverines were the odds on favorites, being pegged as 29.5 point or more winners. The Terrapins had lost to PSU, Indiana, and Minnesota. To this group, add the Wolverines, as they blew out the Terps on Saturday. Overwhelmed, routed, dismantled, swamped, any cliché you want to use to style a butt kicking applies. You could also call it a bit of a Butt kicking as TE Jake Butt contributed necessary yardage. Jake is now the all-time leading tight end receiver at the University of Michigan in terms of yardage.
Coming to Ann Arbor the week after M’s battle in Spartan Stadium, the Terrapins probably wondered what all the shouting was about last Saturday, as they too had dismantled MSU this season (28-17). For the Wolverines, this was a game where they might as well have been wearing a neon sign displaying trap game, but it was the Terps that got trapped. It looked like the Maryland team wore neons with their bright uniforms, and funky helmets.
THE TERRAPINS: The Terrapins are under the leadership of first year Head Coach DJ Durkin. Durkin is a master of hard shell defense, and as you know, was last year’s Wolverine defensive coordinator. This year there is no question the Terrapins have struggled at run defense and pass protection, and it proved so again Saturday.
Because of his experience at Michigan, there was worry Durkin had well-conceived plans based solidly on his previous first-hand experience. He had unique insight into the Wolverines and their methods, but if this made any difference it did not show on the scoreboard. The innovative Harbaugh changed things up. An example: Speight made a handoff to Peppers who passed latterly to a standing Speight. Speight fired it downfield 40-yards to Jehu Chesson. Speight said at the presser afterwards that “That was a cool trick play we’d been practicing for a couple of weeks…I was able to rip it deep”.
Of course Don Brown’s defense was different than that under Durkin last year.The Terps came into Ann Arbor being the second best rushing team in the Big Ten at 252-yards per outing. Only TOSU had piled up more. The pass efficiency rating of Maryland QB Terry Hill led the Big Ten prior to Saturday. Hill was knocked out of the game, after tossing 4 passes, for 4 completions, with a long of 47-yards. He was sacked twice. His back-up, C. Rowe threw 8 for 129-yards, and an interception. He tossed a long of 32 and was sacked once.
They have two very good backs Ty Johnson, and L. Harrison. They broke free occasionally but did not score.
FINAL COMMENT REGARDING THE WIN OVER MSU: Harbaugh mentioned at his Monday Maryland presser that some M players had been ill during MSU game week, including Mason Cole, and Jake Butt. He also said “There’s going to be some things to teach off of this past game, which is a good thing. A good opportunity for us to make further improvements. It’s good that our defense was tested and there’s things we can improve. I say that for all our players, us coaches, it’s a good opportunity for us to make further improvements”.
Many fans felt after the game that the Wolverines seemed to lose concentration late in the game. Harbaugh would have none of that afterwards, but mentioned he would address any conditioning problems of the Wolverines during the MSU battle “by more push-ups, more whole milk”. He also mentioned the significance of alcohol hand wash to prevent illness. There were no signs of player illness for the Maryland game.
M QB WILTON SPEIGHT DRAWS HIGH PRAISE FROM HARBAUGH POST MARYLAND. Wilton passed for a career best 362-yards against Maryland, and for a record 262-yards in the first half. He also ran for his first rushing TD at Michigan. Obviously enjoying himself, he hopped over the goal line. His passing was outstanding. He hit 19 of 24, and he showed adroit mobility while avoiding capture in the pocket. He engineered an offense that produced a combined 660-yards, and a 59-3 win.
Harbaugh was profuse in his appreciation post game, saying “That’s the best half of football I’ve ever seen a Michigan quarterback play…Moving and throwing, and accuracy – I don’t know how you play any better than Wilton did…It was a perfect game as a quarterback and that’s darned hard to do”.
Harbaugh was so pleased he mentioned Speight’s name as belonging in the Heisman race.
SPEIGHT HAD MORE THAN A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS ON OFFENSE: Running Backs: De’Veon Smith had a great day. He was at the top of his blistering running style, running with violence, great balance and good vision. Smith lugged 13 times for 3 TDs and 114-yards. Ty Isaac ran twice for 56-yards with a long of 53. K. Hill scored twice on short yardage dives. Other backs also contributed.
Receiving: Jehu Chesson was active again nabbing five passes for 112/yards and a TD. He had and catch of 40-yards.TE Jake Butt managed to grab 5 for 76, with a long of 37. Amara Darboh had 4 for 47wtih a long of 34.Kekoa Crawford caught a 16-yard TD pass from Jon O’Korn to close the scoring, and caught another for nine.
SPEIGHT HAD MORE THAN A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS ON DEFENSE. The defense provided good field position all afternoon, even if they did give up some yardage. Maryland gained from both running (131-yards) and passing (289-yards). This was more yardage than the Wolverines liked to yield, but when the ball was deep in Michigan territory and near the goal line they stuffed any scoring attempt. In the post- game interview, M’s Chase Winovich was incensed that the Terps kicked a field goal to ruin the zero in their score column when they obviously needed TDs to win. The Wolverines are tuned in.
Ben Godin led the defense with 5 solo tackles and six assists, for 11 total. He had 3 TFLs, plus one half a sack. Delano Hill followed with 5 solo tackles and and assist. Eighteen others had one or two tackles. The group had three sacks total.
WOLVERINES v TERPS: Maryland won the toss and deferred. Despite an illegal block penalty, this 10-play, 91-yard drive was the Wolverines best of the day. Jehu Chesson grabbed one for 23-yards, Smith, Evans, Spieght and Peppers all contributed rushes under ten yards, and Chesson grabbed another for 8. They marched methodically to the Maryland 34. Amara Darboh took it from there, on a 34-yard pass from Speight. The TD with point made it 7-zip.
M got the ball back and produced another score. Darboh caught on for 15, Isaac rushed for 3, Eddie McDoom 12. Chesson nabbed one for forty yards to the Maryland 13, Higdon got three, and then Speight put on his wheels and ran up the middle for a ten yard score, and it was M 14-MND-0 to end the quarter. A Maryland drive stalled and their ensuing FG missed.
On the next possession Smith ran for 14, and Jake Butt got it down to the MND 29 with a 37-yard reception. A pair of short Smith rushes, and a Peppers rush of 13, put it at the MND 3. Smith bulled in for the score and it was 21 to zip.
The Wolverines struck again, overcoming a pair of penalties, one of which negated a catch by M WR Drake Harris.
This unreasonable call negated a beautiful TD catch and run by Harris. Then came another disputed call. Chris Evans caught a short pass and ran to the MND one. Called out of bounds there, the Michigan Fans thought that the review would reverse the call, and validate the score. The call on the field was not overturned to the surprise of fans and Harbaugh. He commented on it afterwards. Kahlid Hill bulled it in, and it was 28-zip. Harris was burned last week on another penalty call which robbed him of a TD.
Maryland moved the ball to end the half, but time ran out as they got to M’s 1-yard line. This was a close call for the Wolverines.
M’s defense started the third quarter with a bang. Delano Hill intercepted and returned it to the MND 49. Smith rushed for eight, then caught a 17-yard pass. Chesson caught one for a short gain, but the drive stalled. Kenny Allen hit a 29–yard FG and it was 38-zip.
The quarter ended with a Butt catch for 15-yards, plus two Smith rushes for a combined 20-yards, and then a short Higdon tote. Smith was back at it with two more short and tough runs, for a combined 11-yards. A Terp penalty got it to their one. Smith ran it in for six, to make it 45-0.
The Terps finally replaced the zero in their scoring column with a 3, culminating a decent drive of 10-plays and 55-yards. The Terps were assisted by an M face mask penalty. It was M-47, UMD-3.
The Wolverine’s Ty Isaac answered with a 53-yard jaunt to the UMD 11, and Smith did the rest in two attempts. Now it was M-52, UMD-3.
A Dymonte Thomas interception put the ball at the M 17, and QB John O’Korn was on tap. He immediately tossed a pass to Kekoa Crawford for 16-yards. A roughing the passer penalty on the Terps, a couple of 6-yard rushes by Karan Higdon, and a Chris Evans push for thirteen yards, plus another by Evans for 10, sandwiched a B.Henderson rush for 8. Kekoa Crawford caught the nine yard TD pass to make the final score Michigan 59, Maryland 3.
This outstanding performance by the Wolverines, offense, defense, and special teams for their ninth win of the season shows solid improvement. They are playing with more and more confidence, with many young talents progressing.
Now it is on to what could be one of their toughest challenges so far this season. The Hawkeyes at home are never easy. It will be another battle for win #10.
The latest version of the Illinois Football team rolled into Ann Arbor to challenge the then six win, no loss Wolverines. The Fighting Illini were burdened by a recent four loss skid, to which Maryland added another loss Saturday. Their losses included North Carolina, rising Western Michigan, Nebraska, and struggling Purdue. They avoided sinking to the Big Ten basement with last Saturday’s 24-7 whipping of Rutgers. That loss firmly fastened Rutgers football to the floor of the B1G, a fate the Illini escaped by its Rutgers win.
Under the tutelage of first year, but highly qualified Illini Head Coach Lovie Smith, the Illini rolled in hoping to change their luck, but the task could not be managed against the three or four ranked Wolverines. The AP poll had M at three, while the Coach’s poll held them at four.
As the Wolverines were 35 point pregame favorites, the ability of the Fighting Illini to top the Wolverines predicted 35 points seemed an improbable, if not impossible accomplishment for the Illini, Fighting or not. Many Wolverine fans feared the bye week blues
The Wolverines had scored 300 points in six games, producing a 50 point average per game. If the first half Wolverine onslaught had continued all the second half the Wolverines would have certainly achieved or exceeded fifty, but three things happened. Later in the game, Harbaugh took his foot off the accelerator, substituted freely, and the Fighting Illini made some adjustments. Even so, 41 points was more than enough.
The Fighting Illini were thought to not be able to stop the run or effectively pass and that proved true as they managed only 107-yards running and 95 yards-passing Saturday. In contrast the Wolverines amassed 309-rushing and 291-passing. M piled up 29 first downs, Illinois just 6.
FOR A TIME, GARY MOELLER AND BO SCHEMBECHLER WERE AT ODDS WITH THE ILLINI FOOTBALL OPERATIONS. Gary Moeller left the University of Michigan’s Assistant Coaching staff for a 1977 thru 1979 stint as the Illinois Head Football Coach. He did not win there, producing a dismal 3-34-3 record. He took the reins at Illinois to over-turn scandalous practices in running the football program there, and he was running a clean program. He was dismissed with hard feelings on both sides without getting to stay the full five years of his contract, which reasonable minds had calculated necessary to right the capsized program.
Welcomed back to the Wolverines, Gary returned to Bo’s staff as the M QB coach when Bo rehired him. He joined Gary in distaste for the Illini shennigans. M walloped the Illini 45/14 in 1980 and 70/21 in 1981 in a low scoring era. Was there a hint of retribution? Fighting Illini fans thought yes, M fans thought no. The Illini stopped that conversation in 1982, besting the Wolverines 6/16.
For a while encounters with the Illini were not friendly for M fans, but that ship has long since sailed.
HOMECOMING 2016: This was the 95th meeting Homecoming battle of the Fighting Illini and the Wolverines. The Wolverines have hosted Illinois for Homecoming 16 times with 15 wins prior to Saturday. Now it is 16 wins.
M had an 88 to 27 overall Homecoming record (excluding old time exhibitions) before Saturday’s meeting. The last time the Wolverines met Illinois in a Homecoming Duel was in 2012, with the Wolverines prevailing 45 zip. A continuing feature is the blast from the past composed of returning veterans of the M Marching Band. Hammering Hank Aaron was the honorary coin tosser to start the game, and Harbaugh said post game that he (meaning Aaron), gave an extremely inspirational talk to the team, which they appreciated.
SATURDAYS OUTTING WAS PROBABLY SPEIGHT’S BEST OF THE SEASON PER HARBAUGH. Coach Harbaugh had indicated that the bye week was to be a week of improvement and it was evident from Wilton’s comments that he took advantage of the opportunity to study film to hone his mind and procedures during the bye. The results showed. Harbaugh said post game that ” I thought Wilton Speight may have had his best game. It was windy out there. Whether we were going with the wind, or against it, he was throwing the intermediate/deep stuff—30-yards throws,35-yard, 40-yard .throws—they were on the money.” Harbaugh added, “Sometimes it is never as good as you think until you look at the tape. But I have a feeling that was his best game.” Speight was 16/23 for the day, tossing for two TDs, and 253-yards.
THE DEFENSE CONTINUES TO SWARM. The M defense has been the best segment of the team for the first six games this season, and that continued Saturday. Pregame, they were Number One in the following NCAA categories: Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Sacks, and in Allowed Third Downs. They were second in Pass Efficiency and TFLs. These numbers reflect great defensive credentials as good as any in the NCAA, and they probably were not diminished against Illinois.
The Wolverines prevented Champagne toasts in Champaign in spite of the fact that Lovie Smith is a highly regarded Coach at both college and pro levels. He is fresh from a head coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Bucs, and earlier with the Chicago Bears, and others. Lovie will hit the fertile Chicago area recruiting grounds hard, and they will become a football threat. But not last Saturday, not now, not yet, someday.
Lovie or not, the Illini were totally dominated by the Wolverines: offensively, defensively, and on special teams.
THE PEPPERS WATCH: Has played at least 13 different positions this year: Linebacker, free safety, strong safety, cornerback, nickel cornerback, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, slot receiver, running back, punt returner, kick returner, gunner and hold up. His Offense, Defense, and Special Teams performance Saturday were not extra special statistically Saturday, but were essential to his team.
Some have his chances categorized as fifth in line for the Heisman currently. Two factors will play a big part in a successful Heisman run for Jabrill. I believe that much of it is contingent on whether he continues to lead his team to victory and stars against teams like MSU, OSU, and the Championship game and in the playoffs. Both Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson highlighted their runs for the Heisman with spectacular special team’s returns for six against OSU.
If you want to get noticed that is about as good a time to display your talents as any on the schedule. Great football plays get noticed more against the best and winning teams-like the 1997 Wolverines.
While he was not a producer of spectacular of statistics Saturday, he still was all over the field, still the best player on the field. We are privileged to watch Peppers play football, Heisman or not. Its only going to get better.
SOME PRE-GAME NOTIONS FULLFILLED OR FAILED: Some thought the Wolverines would score more than their season’s average of points, more than 50 points, and that the Wolverines would dominate on offense, defense and special teams. Reality: They failed to do so for reasons described above.
Also, it was thought the second and third teams would play much of the second half. Reality: Indeed they did. Wilton Speight was relieved after the third quarter, by John O’Korn.
It was thought that we would see 5 running backs, with a healthy Drake Johnson on tap and effective. Reality: I did not note a Drake Johnson appearance on the field. D. Smith had 18 carries in the first half for 86-yards and a TD. Karan Higdon had the run of the day, a 45-yarder, and was impressive with 8 totes for 106-yards. Afterwards, Harbaugh lauded his vision and acceleration and vision. His great run, the nicest run of the day occurred late in the second half, and improved an otherwise somewhat boring second half, when took the handoff, cut to the east sideline, veered towards the post on a zig zag course, and bulled in for six. It was the Wolverine’s last score of the day, and the best run. He had an impressive 13.2 yards per carry.
Ty Isaac had an excellent game too, with 10/48-yards.
Chris Evan took a knock-out blow to the helmet ear piece and was down for the count. He finally arose and walked off. I certainly do not know if the concussion protocol will apply. We will hear more as the week goes on, but after the game I heard optimism regarding his situation from a reliable source. I hope he gets to show the Spartans his abilities. Before injury he ran effectively. Some great still photos by UM Go Blue Photographer Del Callihan showed the hit, the fall, the aftermath, and seemed to me to indicate targeting, but there was no call. The reliable Khalid Hill rammed in from 3-yards out for another TD.
There was a significant change to the left side of the offensive line and it seemed to work well. Ben Braden played at left tackle and Ben Bredeson played at left guard. It seemed to work. Juwann Bushell-Beatty did not play,
THE WOLVERINES AGAIN DISPLAYED A GREAT SET OF RECEIVERS. The usual suspects contributed-the big three: Butt, Darboh, and Chesson. 8 other players copped a pass, including fast Eddy McDoom and Tyrone Wheatley.
Again the list is headed by Amara Darboh. He had 27 and 30-yard receptions for 99-yards. Jake Butt went 3/40 and caught a 22-yard TD.
TE Tyrone Wheatley caught his first collegiate TD pass and was beaming about it afterwards. It was a 21-yarder.
THE WOLVERINES v THE FIGHTING ILLINI. Famed baseball player Hank Aaron was the honorary coin tosser. He spoke to the players earlier and his comments were much appreciated by them and Coach Harbaugh.
Illinois won the toss and deferred to receive the second half. The Wolverines immediately and seriously went to work putting up 21 points in the first quarter.
To start, Smith, Isaac, and Higdon contributed short yardages, but it was a streaking Eddie McDoom that got 33-yards to the Illinois 20. Peppers got short yardages both catching a pass and rushing and the football was at the three. Jake Butt got it the three yards into the end zone to break the scoring ice via a Speight pass.. M was up 7 on their first possession.
On the next M series, Chris Evans made a nice 16-yard run but was blindsided and kayoed, and the ball went to the ground. It was recovered by Jake Butt to enable a 21-yard TD pass to Tyrone Wheatley. Partly as the result of poor defense by the Illini, he could not have been more open, and he made the catch. M up 14 to zip. He had lined up as a wide receiver at 276 pounds.
The defense held again, and fast Eddie McDoom rushed for 19-yards. After some short yardage rushes, Chesson caught one for 13-yards got it to the Illini forty. Darboh caught a 20-yarder. After a short rushing gain, Speight ran for 10 and the first down. He was roughly pushed out of bounds. No flag. Eventually the Illini were called for PI, and M was at the 1. Kahlid Hill moved the scrum and M was up 21 to zip. M had 21 first downs in the quarter, Illinois 3.
Early in the second quarter, K. Hudson blocked a punt and it went out of bounds at the M 47. Smith rushed for 13, Peppers for 4, Higdon for 16, D. Smith lost 4, Amara Darboh caught a 27-yard pass. Peppers rushed for 3. D. Smith ran for a 4-yard TD. M was up 28 to zip.
M’s Dymonte Thomas made a great interception at the Illini 29-yard line to stop a threat.
Kenny Allan whacked a 23-yard field goal for a 1st half final of 31 to zip.
To start the second half, Illinois received, and they were forced to punt. M returned the favor. At about the ten minute mark M’s Mike McCray recovered a fumble, but M returned the favor as Chesson fumbled and the Illini recovered at the M 20. Four defensive plays later the Wolverines had the ball again.
The Wolverines produced a 10-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in Kenny Allen’s second FG on the day, this time from 27-yards. M up 34 to zip.
Early in the 4th quarter, John O’Korn was at QB. Ben Gideon fumbled and recovered to stall the drive.
Then the Wolverines did the unthinkable and let out a 43-yard Illini TD pass, and the zip went bye-bye as it was now 34 to 6. A 2-yard 2 point conversion attempt was good and the Illini had managed 8 points to the Wolverines 34.
It didn’t take long for the Wolverines to answer. A couple of short rushes, and the stunnining beautiful 45-yard gallop by Karan Higdon made it a final score of M- 41, I-8. This run extended Higdon’s yards per carry to 13.2 per attempt.
Now it is time to bring on the Spartans in one we have been waiting for all season. Five losses indicate that the Spartans are not going to repeat their reign as Big Ten Champions, but it does not indicate that the Spartans will not come out fighting in this next “Championship” game.
They may no longer reign, but they want to rain on the Michigan Parade in any way possible. It will be a scrap on their turf.