M FOOTBALL-2016: HAWKEYES EDGE WOLVERINES 13-14

 

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!

 

M FOOTBALL 2016- MARYLAND’S TERPS BLASTED BY RISING WOLVERINES 59-3.

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.

M FOOTBALL 2016- WOLVERINES BUSINESS LIKE IN SMASHING ILLINOIS 41 TO 8.

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.

Go Blue!!!

M FOOTBALL 2016: WOLVERINES COMPLETE 15 ALLOWED 2016 SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICE SESSIONS WITH FAN ANTICIPATION AND EXPECTATIONS SURGING. AN ESTIMATED 45,000 FANS WERE IN ATTENDANCE.

The period since the Wolverine’s win in the Citrus Bowl has been an outstanding Coach Harbaugh success on behalf of his Wolverines.

It is widely recognized that Harbaugh favored circus entertainment as a youth, and Michigan’s sometimes quirky, but always effective and intense second year head coach, has a natural touch of Ringling Brothers or Barnum and Bailey at times, as he invokes his innovative football ideas. It is predictable that he will set one trap and then another as the rules allow to enhance his charges position. Even so, he is no snake oil salesman, but honestly is totally dedicated to his winning ways, and enjoys his job.

The first week of practice at IMG in Florida provided a vehicle to tweak some of the SEC coaches who argued laughable concerns, as well as keeping the program in a national attention spotlight, and perhaps establishing a Florida recruiting presence.

How much it actually will help recruiting is to be seen, but the net benefit appears outstanding in all regards. That Harbaugh donned a Tigers uniform and coached first base, at a Detroit Tiger’s spring training game, was another nice touch.

The acquisition of one of the most highly touted defensive players in the country, Rashan Gary, was the cherry on the sundae of this year’s recruiting cycle. Gary was introduced at half time as were the rest of the 2016 recruits. He will be on board in the fall. It will be interesting to watch his progress on defense. He has the physique to immediately contribute.

So the beat went on through the end of spring training. It went nothing but well.

The unpredictable Harbaugh did not hold a post-game presser according to reliable reports. I must admit that I was unable to be there because of a recent total knee replacement. Hopefully, that is all I have to miss of the 2016 season.

There appears to be a real competition at Quarterback. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn had success both passing and running. Both scored a running TD. Shane Morris threw a TD from the wide receiver position, and an interception, but will likely also be in the QB competition. Shane threw an ill-advised jump ball late in the first half, after a nifty scramble, but Dymonte Thomas made him pay via an athletic interception. Shane’s use at WR was interesting.

Intensity levels and team enthusiasm were great.

This looks to be one of the best defenses in recent memory as it matures. While there were defensive bright spots Friday, they were being reigned in. For example, Peppers usage. Those usages will likely be more multiple later.  It is predictable that Don Brown’s defense will be hell for leather. It will be all out. More evidence of that is to come.

John O’Korn quarterbacked the Maize, and was responsible for the first and last TDs of the game. Losing 14-13, O’Korn’s Blue team could not punch in what would have been the winning points on a failed two point conversion. The Henry Poggi dive was stopped short, as confirmed by an official and Harbaugh on review.

To me it seemed as though O’Korn won the QB day, but only by the slimmest of margins. He hit Drake Harris on a nice 30-yard out to the 11 as part of a 70-yard, 15-play drive to the game’s first 6.

Drake Harris had a good afternoon, as did defender Mike McCray, who had a 6-yard TFL during the drive. Hope this oft injured pair can stay on the healthy side for a change.

Ty Issac was very productive at running back. He has a couple of years left, so it is critical he make a move now or become addicted to pine. Looks like he has now established an appropriate mindset, and is in better physical shape.

A lateral to wide out Shane Morris set up a TD pass to a wide open Drake Johnson. It was Blue 7, Maize 0. They had already matched last year’s spring game TD production.

Winton Speight’s Maize fought back. Speight was 3 of 4, with a 31-yard TD completion to Jake Butt to make it 7 up in the second quarter.

Shane Morris threw an ill-advised bomb that was athletically intercepted by an alert DyMonte Thomas to end the half.

Winton Speight was productive in the second half too, managing a nifty 6-yard run for six and the Maize had the winning points. He also ran another for 9-yards.

Brandon Peters got some time at the QB throttle. He looks good.

Late in the game a roughing the passer penalty facilitated a TD run by the Blue team. Morris caught a short pass and motored 25-yards to the 13-yard line. John O’Korn scrambled and ran for the score, and it was Blue 13, Maize 14. The dive for two from the two failed. Game over.

While one has to be careful leaping to conclusions after a spring game as talent is split between teams and for other reasons, it seems safe to say the both offense and defense are improved over last year at this time. It is appears there will be encouraging answers for problems and shortcomings.

I am really looking forward to fall camp, and know you are too.

Go Blue!

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M FOOTBALL 2015: WOLVERINES CHOMP GATORS IN BUFFALO WILD WING CITRUS BOWL 41 TO 7.

The final chapter of the Wolverine’s 136th season, and the finale of Coach Jim Harbaugh’s inaugural season as the Wolverine Head Coach, was written New Year’s Day at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

The Wolverines met a dedicated and dangerous Florida Gator team in an attempt to secure their 10th victory this season, and prevailed convincingly. This win doubled last year’s total wins, and provided a positive note on which to springboard into the 2016 season. The Wolverines are 3 and 0 all-time against the Gators.

Post-game, Coach Harbaugh was effusive in his praise for all elements of the team, offense, defense and special teams. He even named a list of outstanding players, and this is a coach that doesn’t do that sort of thing ordinarily. Accolades were deserved, as they played their best game of the season in this true team victory.

41 to 7 was the final result of a fine effort by offense, defense and special teams against a Florida team that fought hard, but was overshadowed offensively at QB by Jake Rudock, and a stern defense. The Wolverines were better organized and played harder.

QB Jake Rudock hit 20 of 31 passes for 278-yards, two TDs and no interceptions. He became the second Michigan QB to amass over 3,000 yards (3017) in a season in a season. He took every Wolverine snap at QB.

His Gators counterpart had no such success, tossing a pair of red zone interceptions that hurt. The Gators tried “trickeration” on their opening drive after being stalled after a third down in the Wolverine red zone. They pulled a fake FG out of their bag of tricks. M LB Jenkins-Stone batted the resulting shovel pass to Channing Stribling for an interception. The Wolverines answered with a 73-yard drive for a TD.

Florida answered with more “trickeration”, this time effective as they scored their only TD. The play was a reverse. The QB turned his back on the play, stood still, and then leaked into the end zone to receive a perfect shovel pass for six from a wide receiver, achieving a first quarter tie at 7 up. This play was beautifully conceived and executed to perfection.  The bad part was that it belonged to Florida.

Michigan missed their most talented skill player, Jabril Peppers who did not play. His understudies stepped up. Injured punter, Aussie Blake O’Neill also did not participate, but Kenny Allen stepped up, and filled the punting gap admirably. The defensive backs were very good, including Channing Stribling.

Running Back Drake Johnson rushed for a TD, and caught a TD pass. He rushed 6 times for 58-yards and a TD with a long of 17-yards. He caught two, one for a TD. WR Grant Perry had his best game as a Wolverine, nabbing a TD.  Season MVP and WR, Jehu Chesson produced 118-yards and a 31-yard TD.

SETTING THE STAGE AND OTHER COMMENTS:
Both teams had displayed problematic offenses at times during their regular season, and they seemed fairly evenly matched pregame with both sporting better defensives then offenses for parts of the season. Florida has struggled to score TDs recently, which was very un-Florida like. Last season’s Wolverine OC, Doug Nussmeier is now up to the same task for the Gators.

This season, the Wolverines did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher. At times they could not rush the ball enough to win. This was very un-Michigan like. They got back on track against the Gators. The Wolverines produced 225 net rushing yards.

It seemed that perhaps Jake Rudock was the better QB pregame , and that proved out, but the Gators seemed to have better running backs and a better running game, but that did not prove out.

These were some of the pregame concerns regarding the Wolverines.

Also, the architect of their defense this season, D.J. Durkin had advanced to the position of Head Football Coach at Maryland. Fortunately, M’s astute and experienced Greg Mattison was available to stand in as the DC for the Citrus Bowl game. Mattison and his crew did an outstanding job. For example, the Gators produced 2-yards in the third quarter.

A master of aggressive defenses, Don Brown, lately defensive coordinator for Boston College, has been hired as Durkin’s replacement. He will be coaching at Michigan immediately at the completion of the Citrus Bowl.

M’s stellar defense, supposed to be the success base of the team while the offense matured, but the unit struggled in the last portion of the season, not helped by an injury to the outstanding Wolverine walk on nose guard, Ryan Glasgow. DE Mario Olejumudia was also lost for the season early , and they were missing Jabril Peppers Friday.

The secondary, seemed to perform among the best position groups on the team all season and again Friday, and the entire defense did well. They were the best defense on the field at this year’s Citrus Bowl as previous problems were alleviated or eliminated Saturday. Special teams also stood tall, except for allowing one long runback.

On the other side of the ball, M’s offensive ground game sometimes had added to the team’s difficulties during the regular season. They did not effectively run the ball against the better defenses, and were notably lacking against Indiana and the Buckeyes. That too was in the past Friday.

M’s best back was D. Smith who often presented a remarkable effort, running, and pass blocking Friday. The now healed Smith rumbled for 109-yards in 25 carries and a TD. Sione Houma effectively plowed a path rushing 9 times for 32-yards and a TD. Drake Johnson made a remarkable contribution, looking recovered from last year’s injury and sprinting for 58-yards on 6 carries with a long of 17. Ty Isaac did not play and Derrick Green did not travel with the team according to reliable sources.

The wide receivers have matured and played well. During the regular season, the Rudock to Chesson long ball connection took a while to establish, but it got established again in Friday’s game as Jehu caught one for 45-yards .

TE Jake Butt shored up the respect for Harbaugh’s desire for tight end offensive contributions, and Jay Harbaugh’s ability to coach them, by nabbing three for 34 with a long of 12. TE Ian Bunting got one for 17 and Kahlid Hill had one for 24-yards.

Most notably, QB Jake Rudock again proved much more than a game manager. He concluded his career at Michigan with a flourish.

As the soft spoken graduate transfer from Iowa again proved his toughness, smarts, and ability to hit streaking receivers in stride, he reinforced respect for Harbaugh’s wisdom in securing his graduate transfer services, and he further proved Harbaugh’s ability to teach his system to QBs, and to choose assistants that can teach that system. He again proved his worth as a Big Ten Quarterback with an outstanding and winning performance.

This in spite of the fact of Jake’s early season problematic miscues throwing the long ball downfield, and throwing interceptions. Interceptions were not a problem on Friday! Worries that Jake had lingering effects from the OSU game proved unfounded. The Jake Rudock one year stint as Michigan’s Quarterback was an outstanding success both for Michigan and Jake Rudock. Jake just kept improving.

A BRIEF SCORING RECAPCAP:
Florida won the toss and chose offense. Starting at their own 25, they got to M’s twenty before the fake kick attempt previously described resulted in a Stribling interception.

Smith powered a 73-yard drive, which was capped by a great Drake Johnson cut back run for 4-yards for the first score of the game. M-7, Fla.-0.

Florida answered with a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, with a 75-yard drive culminating in the spectacular two yard trick play TD described above., and it was 7 up. That was Florida’s last incursion into the end zone in this game, which means the Michigan defense was up to the task. M-7, Fla.-7

The offense was rolling. Later, in the second quarter, Jehu Chesson grabbed a 31-yard pass for 6. He has already caught a 24-yarder in the 60-yard drive and Smith was running tough. Michigan was assisted by 15-yard face mask penalty to give the drive early life. It was M-14, Fla.-7.

A Jerrod Wilson end zone interception stopped a threatening Gator drive, and the offense produced an 80-yard drive scoring drive. Chesson caught one for 12, Drake Johnson ran for 17, and WR Grant Perry caught one for 24. An incompletion to Jake Butt brought on Kenny Allen’s FG of 21-yards. The 1st half ended M-17, Fla.-7.

Michigan received to start the second half. Smith ran for a couple, and Amara Darboh grabbed one for 17-yards. Jake Butt collared one for 12-yards. Smith ran for 10 and 2. A three yard TD pass to Grant Perry finished the 69-yard drive, and it was M-24-Fla.-7. Florida’s game was a little rough around the edges. The drive benefitted from a Gator substitution infraction as well as an off-sides penalty.

Ruddock then hit Houma with a long ball, a 45-yard completion and Sione Houma finished the work with a tough two-yard TD run. M-31, Fla.-7.

Next came a wide open Drake Johnson reception for six after an 84-yard drive with the assistance of a couple of Rudock runs, a Florida face mask penalty, and a 24-yard pass to TE Kahlid Hill. Johnson recovered his own fumble, and then caught an 8-yard TD pass for six, making it M-38, Fla.-7.

Ian Bunting contributed a 17-yard catch, Jake Rudock rushed for five and the game’s scoring was completed on another 25-yard Kenny Allen field goal for a final of 41 to 7.

RISING WOLVERINES:
The new management in charge of the Wolverines has wrought remarkable stability, national respect, and favorable results in their first year.

It looks like the program is prospering in all its phases. That tickets are selling again, that there is a better work ethic, that more toughness and player skills are being developed, that there is better game management, that there is a better coaching team resulting in a better coached team, that this is a team playing better away from home, that nation-wide recruiting is prospering, are all indications, inter alia, of program development. These are all among a host of feel goods this football season has bestowed to Michigan fans. They mostly overwhelm the disappointments.

Like most fans early this season, I stated that the season could not be a success without victories over the Spartans and the Buckeyes. I do not believe that now.

While there is plenty of work to do in hammering out the next special Wolverines football team, the work is off to an unbelievably effective start. The trajectory is up as the improvements are developed, and deficiencies diminished, and as recruiting improves speed, toughness, and effective depth. At least a top five, maybe better 2016 recruiting class is on the horizon.

The fact that 2016 recruits QB Brandon Peters, Running Backs Kareem Walker and RB/FB Kingston Davis, LB Devin Bush Jr., WR Ahmir Mitchell, LB/DL Carlo Kemp, and TE Sean McKeon will be enrolled Wolverines the 1st week of January, will help address some immediate and significant depth issues. LB and RB are examples of need. Harbaugh will play freshmen at certain positions if they can prove they are the best competitive answer.

It appears more good things loom in the Wolverine’s Football future if the work is done. And with this team of coaches it is certain the work will be done.

I hope that you and yours have a Happy New Year and Go Blue!