Tag Archives: Jake Rudock

Iowa Hawkeyes Early Football Preview

Before the start of the 2015 season, Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz made an uncharacteristically bold move by naming junior CJ Beathard the starting quarterback over the incumbent Jake Rudock, even after he posted decent numbers in 2014. Some of the Hawkeye faithful were baffled and thought Ferentz was losing his mind choosing an unproven, raw product over a proven commodity.

However, after 17 seasons, Ferentz was frankly getting sick and tired of settling for second place and wanted a taste of the winner’s champagne. Iowa could’ve settled with mediocrity and another appearance in a lackluster bowl game but the coach proved he knew best as Beathard produced stellar results, leading the Black-and-Yellow to a perfect regular season and a place in the Big Ten title game. Although they ultimately lost, the old adage of big risk big reward was once again proven right. With a season under Beathard’s belt and a roster still mainly intact, the Hawkeyes are poised to build upon last year’s success and make another title run.

Schedule

As far as the schedule is concerned, it’s certainly not as easy as last year’s when the Hawkeyes ran the table and went 12-0. Although, there were some close calls like when they needed a game-winning field goal to beat Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, Iowa should get off to a solid start as it takes on lowly Miami (OH), followed by a home game versus in-state rival Iowa State, though the Cyclones could put up a fight even in a down year. The wildcard non-conference game is against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. At 13-2, NDSU dominated the Missouri Valley conference but had Carson Wentz, arguably the top quarterback in this year’s NFL draft, so it’s going to be interesting to see what team the Bison are this season.

If they can clear those non-conference matchups unscathed, the Hawkeyes have three road games in the first four weeks of conference play. All of those are winnable matchups (Rutgers, Minnesota and Purdue) and their home game is versus Northwestern, the toughest out of the four. Then, the Hawkeyes will face the ferocious Wisconsin Badgers, hungry for payback after a frustrating 10-7 loss in Madison before a bye and a tough trip to Penn State. All of this is leading up to a potential Big Ten title game preview in a huge showdown at Iowa City versus the Wolverines. Closing out the year, Iowa visits Illinois and have their home finale taking on Nebraska. With most of their big games at home, there are some who believe they can go undefeated again but I see them dropping their game against Michigan and maybe against Wisconsin or Nebraska for a 10-2 record.

Offense

While other Big Ten teams are searching for quarterbacks, Iowa has stability at the position as Beathard returns for his senior season. Keep in mind he was not 100 percent during the 2015 season due to a lingering hip injury and still threw 3,046 total yards and 23 touchdowns. Yes, he had off-season hernia surgery and is still recovering but it’s not hard to see why Hawkeye fans are excited to see a potentially healthy Beathard with a sturdy set of legs. Remember, he scored six touchdowns on the ground. Named Second Team All-Conference and Iowa’s offensive MVP, he also proven he’s a strong, reliable leader who’s more than capable of taking a team to soaring heights. However, he will need a strong offensive line and a consistent receiving corps to exceed expectations.

All-Conference center Austin Blythe, who started 49 games over four years, has moved on as well as All-Conference guard Jordan Walsh. Losing those kinds of players hurts but the entire line is versatile and has starting experience. Arguably, Iowa’s best returning lineman Sean Welsh, who is a 23-game starter, including 12 games at left guard and two at right tackle last season as a sophomore, is playing center this spring and might stay there in the fall. Meanwhile, James Daniels, who started twice at left guard as a true freshman in 2015 and was injured this spring, will likely join Welsh and Boone Myers inside in the fall. The tackle position is in solid form with Ike Boettger and Cole Croston.

As for wide receiver, the Hawkeyes have lost three of their top five pass catchers, including top tight end Henry Krieger Coble and deep-threat Tevaun Smith, whose 17.6-yard average per catch ranked second in the Big Ten. One of the questions is who will replace them? The team has a good tight end in George Kittles and Matt VandeBerg, who led Iowa in receptions (65) and receiving yardage (703) last year, is the team’s top wideout. Besides those two, it remains to be seen who will step up. Jerminic Smith and Riley McCarron are both listed as starters but neither of them impressed in the spring game as McCarron had three receptions for 17 yards and Smith one for six yards.

Fortunately, even if there is a void in the passing game, Iowa’s rushing attack ranks near the top of the conference. Iowa rushed for 181.7 yards per game last season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten. At first glance, it may seem they’ll be in trouble as they lose leading back Jordan Canzeri, who accounted for 984 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Make no mistake, the Hawkeyes have a three-headed monster at running back that most Big Ten teams would be envious about. Leshun Daniels, a 225-pound workhorse, fought off injuries in 2015 to gain 646 yards while the speedy 185-pound Akrum Wadley added a season total of 496, and Derrick Mitchell rushed for 162 as a predominately third-down back.

Defense

It will definitely be interesting to see how the defensive line responds this season especially with the loss of Drew Ott, who was not granted an extra year of eligibility, and the undersized workhorse Nate Meier, who started every contest last year, registering a team-best seven sacks and 76 tackles. This season the ends will be bigger but also younger as the main contributors look like 6’8″ sophomore Matt Nelson, 6’7″ redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson as well as sophomores Parker Hesse, who filled in admirably last season when Ott went down with a knee injury in wee six and Sam Brincks. While the ends look like to be a work in progress, the interior of the defensive line will be a strength for the Hawkeyes with veteran tackles Jaleel Johnson (45 tackles and 5.5 for loss) and Nathan Bazata returning.

At linebacker, Iowa returns a good amount of talent and experience despite losing Cole Fisher, who started all 14 games and contributed 116 tackles, second on the team. Those returning include junior Josey Jewell, who was named second-team All-Big Ten for leading the Hawkeyes with 126 tackles and tallying four picks as well as juniors Bo Bower and Ben Niemann, who started 14 games last season with four sacks and sat out spring due to injury. Sophomores Aaron Mends and Jack Hockaday, both of whom had some experience as freshmen on special teams, are currently in a position battle for Fisher’s vacant OLB position in Iowa’s 4-3.

Last, the crown jewel of the stingy, Iowa defense is the lethal secondary led by one of the nation’s premier shutdown corners. Desmond King, who was awarded the Jim Thorpe Award for nation’s best defensive back last season, ranked second in the nation for his eight interceptions as well as contributing 72 tackles and 13 pass breakups. Greg Mabin, who missed the spring with injuries, will fill the other cornerback spot after tallying 54 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions a year ago. Safety Miles Taylor also comes back after posting 69 tackles while sophomore Brandon Snyder will fill In the other safety spot after the departure of starter Jordan Lemux. If that wasn’t enough, freshman Michael Ojemudia made an impact by intercepting a pass for a touchdown in the annual spring game and his emergence is likely one of the reasons senior defensive back Maurice Fleming abruptly decided to transfer.

Bottom Line

Even though they lose several key players from last year’s squad, the Hawkeyes are still very deep and talented at every level, especially at running back, in the secondary and in the trenches on both sides. Plus, with one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, a solid coaching staff and a manageable schedule, it’s easy to see why they are the early favorite to win the West. I’m not sure they can win every contest this year like they did last season but even if they drop two or three games, they should be in pretty good shape. I believe they’ll will win the West again with a 10-2 record.

*Featured image courtesy of Flickr/Phil Roeder

Michigan Wolverines Early Football Preview

The Michigan Wolverines have seemingly always been a national powerhouse and a respected program but it wasn’t that long ago that the team was struggling. From 2006, the last time it contended for a national title, to the end of the 2014 season, the team was a shell of its former glory, compiling a pedestrian 55-46 record. The program didn’t win anything of consequence and didn’t deserve to be mentioned among the other titans of the national landscape. Boy, have things changed since Jim Harbaugh has taken the head coaching position. With his illustrious coaching resume, flamboyant sideline antics, hard-nosed personality and khaki pants, he has reinvigorated Michigan and almost overnight, brought the team back to the national conversation. Now this team is poised to make a run at a Big Ten title and a college football championship.

2016 Schedule

As far as the schedule is concerned, getting off to a 3-0 start shouldn’t be too difficult for Michigan as it takes on Hawaii and Central Florida, both of which are coming off disappointing seasons with new coaching staffs, and a Colorado club that accumulated four total victories. The Wolverines will then face Penn State and Wisconsin, but will be within the friendly confines of the Big House. In fact, Michigan leaves the state just once before November 12. After a trip to Rutgers and a bye, the Wolverines will host Illinois before venturing into East Lansing, where they will be hungry for revenge after last season’s devastating loss in the waning seconds. After that battle for state pride, there is a winnable matchup versus Maryland and a tough trip west to Iowa. To close out the year, Indiana, who nearly pulled off the upset in 2015, comes to town, then the grand finale will be a ferocious battle with the Silver Bullets down in Columbus. It’s not inconceivable to see the Wolverines to rack up 9-10 wins this season as they most likely will be favored in most of their matchups. Two possible hiccups are undoubtedly Michigan State and Ohio State, where they have had trouble playing at in the past few years. Iowa will also be fully loaded and Wisconsin is no slouch either but it helps having eight home games.

Offense

Michigan is looking for a replacement under center and a competition has been brewing between John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Shane Morris.

O’Korn was named the American Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year in 2013 at Houston and was sidelined last season due to NCAA rules after transferring to Michigan. He has the most experience out of any of the quarterbacks with 34 career touchdowns and showcased his athleticism as the starter for the Blue team in the spring game, scrambling for three first downs and a rushing touchdown.

Speight has limited experience as he appeared in only five games in 2015 and completed just nine of 25 passes, though he did help Michigan secure a victory against Minnesota. He was the signal caller for the Maize team in the spring game and led two drives that resulted in touchdowns for a 14-13 victory. As for Morris, he saw action in his first two seasons but opted to redshirt and watch from the sidelines after falling behind Jake Rudock in last year’s quarterback competition. Known for his strong arm, the lefty still has yet to throw a touchdown in his career.

It’s a long time until the start of the season but if the spring game was any indication, O’Korn and Speight have pulled ahead of Morris and both look like viable, solid options to run the offense.

Fortunately, whoever quarterbacks the team will have a bevy of options to choose from as Michigan returns virtually all of its offensive production from last season with seniors Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Jake Butt leading the way. All three combined for 159 catches, 2,145 yards and 19 touchdowns and each one is a downfield threat defenses must account for. Butt (51 catches for 654 yards) is arguably the nation’s top returning tight end. If that isn’t enough, a player to watch out for is Grant Perry, who had a breakout game against Florida in last season’s Citrus Bowl with five catches, 51 yards and a touchdown.

For the past several seasons, the offensive line has been an area of concern for Michigan but in 2015, particularly after the Utah game, the line seemed to rebound mightily with better pass protection. Much of that success was due to the strong play of center Graham Glasgow. The Wolverines will no longer have the services of Glasgow but are very high on his potential replacement Mason Cole, a starter for two years at left tackle who moved to center this spring. Sophomore Grant Newsome looks like the most likely starter at left tackle as its three other starters, tackle Erik Magnuson and guards Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis, are all fifth-year seniors, making Michigan one of the most experienced lines in the conference.

Last, it remains to be seen if any of the running backs can break the 1,000 yard mark, something that hasn’t happened since Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 1,041 yards in 2011. They have the personnel to do so but it all comes down to execution. De’Veon Smith accumulated 753 yards and six touchdowns while backup Drake Johnson performed well in a limited role, gaining 271 yards and four touchdowns. Notable departures from last year’s team are Derrick Green, Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma. They combined for 403 yards and eight touchdowns while Houma led the group with 184 yards and five touchdowns.

Defense

It’s no secret that Michigan’s defense was one of the best in college football last season and a big reason for that was the excellent guidance and tutelage from former defensive coordinator, DJ Durkin. But Durkin left to become the head coach of Maryland and many wondered who could replicate his success. Well, the Wolverines made a nice pickup by luring Don Brown away from Boston College. Time will tell if the hire was right and he will undoubtedly be heavily scrutinized if the defense struggles. If numbers are any indication (Boston College defense allowed the fewest yards per game in college football last fall at 254.3), it could be a scary unit for opposing offenses to face.

After finishing fourth nationally in yards allowed per game (280.7), the defensive line has the potential to be even more outstanding if not the best in the country period.  Yes, Willie Henry left for the NFL draft but Bryan Mone, who was slated to be the starter before breaking his leg last fall, is already back. Joining him will be senior defensive ends Chris Wormley, who led Michigan with 14.5 tackles for loss a year ago, and Taco Charlton, as well as the top-ranked recruit in America, five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary. The Wolverines also have Ryan Glasgow, Matt Godin and Maurice Hurst to add to the mix. All of this means that Michigan is fully loaded with talent, experience, depth and versatility up front.

One of the big changes the Wolverines have to deal with is player turnover at linebacker. There is a sizable hole as starters Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden as well as James Ross have graduated. To compensate for the loss, highly-talented sophomore Jabril Peppers has made the transition from safety to strongside linebacker and is a virtual lock for the spot.  If the versatile Peppers improves upon a stellar freshman year, he could be a coveted prospect for the 2017 NFL draft. Throughout spring, seniors Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon have been lining up beside him but will have to hold off junior Noah Furbush and a handful of promising underclassmen, including highly touted early enrollee Devin Bush.

As for the secondary, Michigan ranked first in the Big Ten in pass defense last season and should be even more fundamentally sound as it returns shutdown cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Lewis, a fantastic athlete with solid speed, was second in the conference with a school-record 22 passes defended, which earned him second-team All-American honors. Delano Hill is the current starter at the strong safety position and Dymonte Thomas, who has played four different positions at Michigan, including cornerback and linebacker, has settled in at free safety as team leader Jarrod Wilson (61 tackles and two interceptions) has moved on. Cornerbacks Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark, a fifth-year senior, provide even more experience and will be battling for the other corner position.

Bottom Line

I had a hard time predicting what record this team will end up with. There’s a ton of hype and extremely high expectations surrounding this team this season. They have the potential to win a conference title and make a playoff appearance but could also easily fall short like they did last season especially with their quarterback situation. However, I’m a big proponent that defense wins championships and they will boast one of the top units. Plus, following the results in the spring game, I’d be optimistic because both O’Korn and Speight looked like capable starting quarterbacks. Moreover, they have Jim Harbaugh, who has a proven track record and last season, you could definitely see an improvement as the team epitomized the grit and toughness he exuded. Yet, even so, I still think the Buckeyes are the team to beat and, I believe, will win the Big Ten. Michigan will finish 11-1, 8-1 conference.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Another Beating from the Buckeyes

To beat Ohio State you have to shut down its dominant rushing attack.  If you can’t, you’re doomed.  Ezekiel Elliot ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Michigan Wolverines to prove the theory.  And that’s pretty much the lasting narrative from “The Game” this year.

Ohio State’s behemoth offensive line was too much for Michigan’s defense to handle on Saturday afternoon.  They opened up holes in the interior, held blocks on the exterior and led the Buckeyes to a 42-13 victory in the Big House.

For the second time in three weeks the Michigan defense was trampled.  Last time it was against Indiana, and the Hoosiers don’t play much defense so it wasn’t such a big deal.  The Wolverines went out and won the game with offense.  Ohio State’s defense is not Indiana’s defense.  This time allowing 300+ rushing yards made for an impossible mountain to climb.

While no one will say the Michigan offense played a good game, I’m not sure we can blame them for that.  The Wolverines went down early and were never really able to establish the way they wanted to play.  They do not fare well when having to chase the game.  The offense isn’t built to overcome leads.  It’s built to protect leads.

That brings me to the reason why the Buckeyes took that early lead.  On its second possession of the game Ohio State lined up to punt from its own end zone.  Michigan rushed the punt and was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Buckeyes 15 yards and a first down.  They got it right, don’t get me wrong.  In a season full of officiating blunders, particularly in the Big Ten, this game was free of them.

My beef is with the guy who dove at the punter’s leg.  That’s just a boneheaded play.  Your team just forced an offense that was struggling at the time to go three-and-out deep in its own territory.  Trying to make the game-breaking play is understandable, but you have to do it within the rules.  You have to know better, or else you end up hurting your team.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in this case.

Two plays later Ezekiel Elliot took a handoff around the left edge for a 66-yard gain.  Two more plays later JT Barrett punched it in for six.  At that point the tone was set and there would be very little deviation from it.  Barrett had 139 yards and three scores of his own.  He and Elliot both averaged north of seven yards per carry.

Michigan’s leading rusher on the afternoon managed 29 yards on seven carries.  Not great, but not bad considering it was a defensive back.  That’s right.  Jabrill Peppers led the Wolverines in an offensive category for the first time in his career.

Jim Harbaugh’s offensive play-calling collaborative tried to confuse the Ohio State defense by getting the ball in Peppers’ hands early.  On the first drive of the game he caught a pass, got a carry out of a singleback set, ended up throwing the ball away after looking to pass on an option pitch from Jake Rudock (talk about trust), and was targeted for another pass.  On the second drive he got two more carries.  Six of the Wolverines’ first 13 plays were designed to go to Jabrill.

It’s been interesting watching Harbaugh gradually open up the playbook to accommodate an exciting playmaker like Peppers.  I think Saturday’s display was Harbaugh’s way of declaring that he’s totally comfortable using Jabrill Peppers in every way possible.

Despite the ugly loss, Michigan exceeded my expectations for the 2015 regular season.  I thought it was realistic to expect a 7-5 record and an invite to a bowl game we’d rather not bother with.  I would’ve been thrilled with 8-4 and the Outback Bowl, to be honest.  Instead we’re looking at 9-3 with a shot at the Citrus Bowl if Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State all get their expected New Year’s Six bids.

Of course, the Citrus Bowl is not the ultimate goal, or even a secondary goal.  But it’s a decent bowl game that promises an intriguing matchup against a second-tier SEC team like Ole Miss.  It’s always fun to see how you stack up against one of the best teams from the other power conferences.

All things considered, I’m not sure how you couldn’t be pleased with the way the Wolverines’ season went.  Don’t think of them as being one normal punt away from 10-2.  Even that shouldn’t get you down.  That’s football and that win wouldn’t have gotten Michigan into the Big Ten Championship Game anyway.

Don’t be a poor sport this weekend.  Root for Sparty.

Go Green.  Go Blue.

Wolverines Eyeing Tenth Win against Buckeyes

Before we begin I’d like to send my condolences and well wishes to the entire Carr family.  Former head coach Lloyd Carr’s grandson, Chad Carr, passed away on Monday after battling an inoperable brain tumor for 15 months.  Chad was only five years old… #ChadTough

The Michigan Wolverines bounced back nicely last weekend, winning in a tough environment at Penn State.

The most important takeaway is that the defense looked like itself again.  The secondary locked up the Nittany Lions’ receivers and there wasn’t much quarterback Christian Hackenberg could do since the front seven recommitted to stopping the run.

Penn State’s only touchdown drive came after a blocked punt that set them up at the Michigan 43.  For the first time this season Jabrill Peppers was actually made to look bad.  Peppers got turned around somehow and Hackenberg burned him with a back-shoulder throw from 25 yards out.  I’m still not sure what exactly he was trying to do while that pass was in the air.  Other than that brief lapse, Peppers played a tremendous game.

Every time Penn State gained some momentum Michigan was quick to answer.  Unlike their nerve-wracking trips to Minnesota and Indiana, the Wolverines kept this game in front of them, and in doing so were able to avoid another close call.

Now, we could spend the remainder of our time together going through a solid, uneventful win at Penn State, or we could dive right into the best rivalry in sports.

Yeah, I figured you’d choose the latter.

For many reasons I hadn’t given this game much thought prior to this week.  Looking ahead doesn’t do much good in the ever-changing landscape of college football.  As soon as you think you’ve got a team figured out they remind you they are, after all, a group of unpredictable 18-22 year olds.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure the Wolverines would have much of a chance in this one.  Now that rivalry week is upon us though, it’s safe to say the Wolverines certainly do have a chance against the Buckeyes this Saturday.

This will be Harbaugh-Meyer Part One, a coaching matchup people started looking forward to the day Jim Harbaugh announced he would be coming to Michigan.  Considering their fiery demeanor, many will concentrate on the coaches’ behavior as much as the game itself.  Sideline antics are an entertaining sideshow, but don’t let them distract you from the feature presentation going on in-between the lines.

Watching the Spartans upend the Buckeyes had to be a bittersweet experience for the Wolverines.  The result means Michigan now needs a win and a State loss to clinch the East division.  In the process of putting a likely end to the Wolverines’ playoff hopes however, the Spartans laid a blueprint on how to beat Ohio State.

Michigan State’s front seven hit the Buckeyes in the mouth and they didn’t know how to handle it.  JT Barrett and Ezekiel Elliot couldn’t find any running lanes because there weren’t any running lanes to find.  If there’s one thing we learned on Saturday it’s that Ohio State is not the same physically dominating team that won the national championship last year.

The Buckeyes boast a ferocious pass rush led by Joey Bosa.  That cannot be denied.  But it’s almost like they don’t know how to play defense if they can’t pin their ears back and hunt the quarterback.

State ran the ball as much as possible and drew up quick, easy completions when they needed to throw it.  In executing that gameplan the Spartans, behind two rarely-used backup quarterbacks, were able to neutralize a defense that is defined by its pursuit of the passer.

At this point it’s fair to say that Michigan poses more of an offensive threat than State does.  Harbaugh’s pro-style offense has evolved over the course of the season, as has his quarterback, Jake Rudock.  The graduate transfer has been getting better each week.  The playbook has expanded because of his progression and the increased usage of the electric Jabrill Peppers.

Harbaugh and his coaching staff have probably watched the tape of Michigan State’s offense from last week dozens of times already to see what worked and why.  Expect to see them incorporate a lot of the same schemes the Spartans utilized even though they’ll be operating a much different offense.

Most importantly, the Buckeyes know they can be beaten now.  A loss can be motivating, yes, but when you have your 23-game win streak snapped, that loss can also really shake a team’s confidence.

Unfortunately this year’s clash won’t be for all the Big Ten East marbles like we had hoped.  Even so, how could you not recognize the immensity of this game?

It’s Harbaugh versus Urban for the first time.  It’s Michigan finally looking like it belongs on the same field as Ohio State.  It’s a chance at a ten-win season in Harbaugh’s first year.  It’s a shot at possibly receiving a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

It’s “The Game.”

So work your way out of that Thanksgiving food coma and plant yourself in front of a television at noon on Saturday.

Wolverines Avoid Disaster, Outscore the Hoosiers

On Saturday night the Michigan Wolverines were thrown off their game by the Indiana Hoosiers.  Then, they did what good teams do.  They clawed out a 48-41 road win over a weaker team by playing against their nature.

Normally, the defense does the heavy lifting while the offense scores just enough.  So it was encouraging to see the offense go out and win this game on its own.  Too often we’ve seen the offense stagnate as the defense fights to hold on to a lead.  This was not the case Saturday night in Bloomington.

Hoosier running back Jordan Howard ran all over, around and through the Michigan defense like no one else has been able to this season.  The junior went off for 238 yards and two scores on 35 attempts, with a seven-yard touchdown reception to boot.

The Hoosiers, rushing for 307 yards, more than doubled the previous high of 144 yards that the Minnesota Gophers ran for two weeks ago.  It was just the fourth time this season an entire team had rushed for more than 100 yards against Michigan.

For the first time the Wolverines had no answers to the questions that an offense was posing them.  Howard was able to find the edge and turn it upfield with ease to pick up chunks of yardage seemingly every time he was handed the ball.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has received a significant amount of praise this fall, and for good reason.  There’s no doubt his defense is vastly improved from last year and his man-to-man scheme is the biggest reason why.

Durkin has work to do now, though.  Going forward I would anticipate him making some significant strategic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  He’ll be working on containment drills with his ends and outside linebackers all week.

Durkin cannot allow his bunch to play like they did last Saturday.  If they do, Penn State will make life harder than it needs to be and Ohio State will run them out of the Big House.

Howard’s field day should serve as motivation.  A defense that has played with confidence and energy all season looked confused and flat while failing to stop the Hoosiers.  I didn’t see them flying around the field, making gang tackles.  I didn’t see the lineman and linebackers working together to fill the open running lanes.  I didn’t see the corners locking up like they have been.

Basically, it was a disappointing performance all around from a defense that we’ve come to expect so much from.  Luckily for them, the offense was ready to pick up the slack and secure the win.

Jake Rudock took a gigantic step forward in this game.  Down late, the graduate transfer led his team on a game-tying scoring drive.  It was underthrown, but his 41-yard pass to Jehu Chesson was the play that broke the game.

With that completion the Wolverines were on the doorstep, but still at risk of coming up short.  On fourth and goal with just six seconds left, Rudock threw a pass where only his receiver Chesson could’ve come down with it.  He did and we headed to overtime.

Rudock looked unshakable in the extra time.  In the first frame he hit a wide-open Jake Butt who ran a tremendous route for an easy six, forcing a second session.

On the first play of the second overtime Rudock connected with Amara Darboh in the end zone on a perfectly executed stop-and-go.  The eventual game-winning score caught me by surprise.  The last time we saw that play call (against Utah) Rudock threw it over his receiver’s head.  Again, Rudock is getting better every week whether you’re noticing or not.

Now the focus shifts to Penn State.  The Nittany Lions have had a roller coaster season, taking three tough losses to Temple, Ohio State and Northwestern last week.  They’ll be playing for a raking in front of one of the largest crowds in the country.

The Wolverines better not be looking ahead to the Buckeyes quite yet, or they’ll pay for it.

Five You Must See: Week 7

#18 UCLA (4-1) at #15 Stanford (4-1) Thursday at 10:30 PM on ESPN

It’s rare to have a game featuring two teams coming off their bye week, but that’s exactly what we’ve got here.  UCLA badly needed that week off to get healthy and regroup after taking their first loss of the season two weeks ago against Arizona State.  Last time we saw Stanford they were pounding Arizona back into their place and looking more like the team we expect them to be.

I’ll be interested to see how the Bruins plan to stop a Cardinal offense that is unlike any other in the conference.  Being able to run the ball consistently with Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders (not THE, but his son) has made life much easier for Kevin Hogan whose completion rate is north of 67 percent.

The Bruins have a whole fleet of backs led by Paul Perkins, whose reliability has been a stabilizer for freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.  The kid came out guns blazing, looking like he was ready to set the world on fire, but has since reminded us that he is less than a year removed from playing high school football.

Tune in to find out which Pac-12 contender will be the first to take its second loss this season.  It’s something to watch late Thursday night, and Fridays seem to take care of themselves anyway.

#17 Iowa (6-0) at #20 Northwestern (5-1) Saturday at 12:00 PM on ABC / ESPN2

(Photo: Leon Halip / Getty Images)
(Photo: Leon Halip / Getty Images)

You’re going to turn this game on for three main reasons.  First of all, like me, you probably haven’t seen Iowa play yet.  And why would we have?  Kirk Ferentz never has what you’d consider an exciting team.  But every few years his Hawkeyes rattle off a bunch of wins and end up factoring into the Big Ten discussion.  This is starting to look like one of those seasons and a second win over a ranked conference opponent would obviously boost their resume.

Secondly, you’ll want to see how Northwestern rebounds from getting shutout by Michigan last week.  The Wildcats’ hopes were high just a week ago, but the 38-0 drubbing sent them crashing back down to earth even faster than you’d expect.  This game is crucial for their morale going forward.

Lastly, as is often the case, there is no better option in the noon timeslot.  I mean, sure, you could watch Baylor roll up another 50-spot, or witness Florida State’s weekly routine of squeaking by an inferior ACC opponent, but those games aren’t real football.  What you need is a hearty helping of Big Ten football, and lucky for you we’ve got that on tap.

#10 Alabama (5-1) at #9 Texas A&M (5-0) Saturday at 3:30 PM on CBS

This game, like so many others, will be won, or lost, in the trenches.  The offensive lines will have to lead the way and here’s why:

Alabama needs to run the ball in order to move down the field consistently.  Derrick Henry is a tank of a running back with a nose for the goal line, having rushed for at least one touchdown in each of the Tide’s six games.  However, most of his big runs come on plays where his offensive line opens up a canyon for him to rumble through.  If that doesn’t happen enough and Alabama has to rely on Jake Coker to convert third and longs, it could be a long day.

(Photo: AP Photo / Bob Levey)
(Photo: AP Photo / Bob Levey)

That’s because one of the nation’s top pass rushes will be lined up on the other side.  Can’t-miss NFL prospect Myles Garrett already has 7.5 sacks on the young season.  He’s the type of player you have to gameplan around or you’ll pay for it.

On the other side, A&M needs to figure out how to occupy the Alabama front seven which has allowed fewer than 78 yards rushing per game, good for fourth in the country.  My guess is that quarterback Kyle Allen, whose shown flashes of being a capable runner, will have an increased role in the rushing attack for the Aggies.

Settle in.  This is going to be quite the clash of SEC titans.

#7 Michigan State (6-0) at #12 Michigan (5-1) Saturday at 3:30 PM on ESPN

You like defense?  Good, cause that’s what we’ve got in the great state of Michigan.  The Wolverines are led by their corners.  Jeremy Clark has three interceptions already.  And Jourdan Lewis, who’s near the top of the leaderboard in passes defended, has a couple picks of his own.  These two have been Michigan’s best players.  They’ve kept opposing receivers on complete lockdown which has allowed the safeties and linebackers to step up and fill the holes to stop the run.  This, more than anything else, has been the key to the Wolverines’ success.

Interestingly, Jim Harbaugh seems to be testing out the same formula the Spartans have been working on perfecting for years now.  Nobody was better at single man coverage with no help over the top than State was the past several years.  Now, whether it’s related to Pat Narduzzi’s departure or not, I don’t know.  But the Spartans are struggling a bit with continuing that tradition.  When they get beat, it’s the corners who’ve failed.  It’s not exactly fair because they’re asked to do the bulk of the work, but that’s the system they play.

Shilique Calhoun has five sacks and is another pass rusher you’ll see playing on Sundays soon enough.  There are only a handful of guys in the country who have racked up more tackles than junior linebacker Riley Bullough so far this fall.  The rest of the defense is still just as ferocious as it’s always been under Mark Dantonio.

So, what’s going to break this game open?  Quarterback play.  Connor Cook and Jake Rudock are going to have to challenge those corners when they see the defense setting up in single man coverage.  Whichever one is more successful doing so will provide his team with a distinct advantage.  You do not want to miss this sibling rivalry.

#8 Florida (6-0) at #6 LSU (5-0) Saturday at 7:00 PM on ESPN

All of a sudden Florida’s promising season is up in the air.  This week the Gators found out they will be without their quarterback Will Grier for a calendar year due to a failed drug test that found some kind of NCAA-banned substance.  There are still questions about whether or not Grier knowingly took this PED, but frankly it doesn’t matter we’re here to talk about the game.

Thankfully, the Gator defense is still intact.  They’ll need to step up and carry an even bigger load now.  Charged with the task of slowing Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette, that’s the last thing the Gator defense needed to hear.  At 14.3 points per game, Florida ranks eleventh in the nation in scoring defense.  Staying true to that mark will be essential to winning this game.

(Photo: Getty Images Sport)
(Photo: Getty Images Sport)

You really can’t say enough about what Fournette has done in five games.  He’s tied for the FBS-lead in rushing scores with 12.  The sophomore (that’s right he’s got one more year before hitting the NFL) has run for almost 150 more yards than anyone else in the country despite playing one less game.  Fournette is averaging 204 yards on the ground per game.  I’ll repeat that.  He is averaging 204 yards per game.  That’s superhuman.  The dude has been incredibly fun to watch and I can’t wait to see how he does against the best defense the Tigers have come across this fall.

LSU loves playing at home in primetime.  For some reason the team gets a major boost when the lights are on.  Florida certainly has their work cut out for them here, but I would not count them out.

Basically, this is as good as it gets in college football.  We’ve got two top ten teams set to beat the tar out of each other until one of them breaks.  As Mike Wilson would say, “Get your popcorn ready.”

The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week

Purdue (1-5) at Wisconsin (4-2) Saturday at 12:00 PM on Big Ten Network

You don’t want to watch this game do you?  I didn’t think so.  Wisconsin isn’t a bad team, but they’re not as good as they have been in recent years.  At this point, I think the Badgers are better hoopers than they are footballers.  Purdue, on the other hand, is miserable on the gridiron so their basketball team has no choice but to be better.  Don’t worry Boilermaker fans; it’s almost time to tip-off your favorite season.  Until then, enjoy getting bowled over on a weekly basis.

Wolverines Ranked for First Time since 2013

Did anyone honestly see this coming?  I mean, some people were giving Michigan a chance last weekend against BYU, but I didn’t hear anyone predict a blowout in favor of the Wolverines.  We were all wrong.

Michigan earned itself the #22 ranking in this week’s AP Poll by dismantling the Cinderella Cougars. The win was their first over a ranked opponent since beating #14 Notre Dame in September of 2013.  It’s also the first time the Wolverines have been ranked in the AP Poll since week 10 of the 2013 season.

Clearly, we had all overrated BYU.  Looking back on it now, all they really had done was have their prayers answered twice and come up short against a team whose quarterback threw them three picks.

The Cougars had arguably the most intense schedule in the country over the first month of the season and it finally caught up to them in week four.

Michigan delivered an early knockout blow by hanging 24 points in the second quarter.  The game, with the scoreboard reading 31-0, was over at halftime.

You could say nothing happened in the second half and you wouldn’t be overly exaggerating.  The rest of regulation was a victory lap for the fans who had stayed.  Both teams simply ran the ball, let the clock bleed, and got out of there as soon as possible.  It seemed like the latter half of the game only took an hour to play.

De’Veon Smith had another big day, his second of the season.  He pulled a disappearing act, ran 60 yards and violently broke a tackle on his way to the endzone in a play that might end up the highlight of his career.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with this program for the majority of the past decade, the good news comes with giant grains of salt dumped all over it.  Smith went down in the third with what appeared a very painful ankle injury.  He did walk off under his own power, but was later carted back to the locker room for x-rays that came back negative.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been vague when asked about Smith’s availability this weekend at Maryland.

Jake Rudock had his best day as a Wolverine, mostly because he eliminated the turnovers.  He threw for one touchdown and ran for not one, but two scores.  This guy will never jump off the stat sheet, but that’s not his role here.  So far, the graduate transfer has been adequate at executing his job.  Taking care of the ball last weekend was another sign of progression in Rudock’s game.

Amara Darboh led the team in receiving with just four catches and 57 yards.  A touchdown grab and a one-handed snag that all the highlight shows picked up made his day appear to be more than it was.  It’s safe to say Rudock will not have a true go-to receiver to look for this fall.

The college football gods were so pleased with Michigan last Saturday that for some reason they even allowed Kenny Allen to make his second 40-yard field goal of the year.  Allen has now made four of his five attempts.  With numbers like those, we could be looking at the best kicker the Wolverines have had in 10 years.

All of that is fun and cute but the real takeaway is that the Michigan defense is what wins them ballgames.

The defense made the strongest statement of all last Saturday.  BYU had 11 possessions.  All 11 ended with a punt, seven of which came on “three and out” drives.  The Cougars mustered just 105 total yards.  Offenses of the Big Ten were officially put on notice.  The Wolverines rarely bend, let alone break.

This defense has improved each week, and right now it’s hard to identify a weakness.  The line has set the tone and played in the offensive backfield.  The line-backing corps has been tremendous at stepping up to fill holes and stop the run.  The secondary has kept most everyone in front of them and made sound tackles in the open field.  It looks like 21 points on any given Saturday this fall will be plenty enough for Michigan to win.

Harbaugh takes his Wolverines to Maryland this weekend to open up Big Ten play.  The Wolverines are favored by 16 points.  This might seem like a lot if you haven’t seen Maryland play this season, but I assure you the Terrapins are terrible.

Michigan’s mission this week is to resist the temptation of looking ahead to hosting sixteenth-ranked Northwestern next weekend.  Good teams don’t fall victim to trap games.

I’ll be watching to see how the Wolverines handle their business this weekend before getting to have fun next weekend.  I’m also curious how they will react to a little number being listed in front of their name.

Beating BYU was great, and it did wonders for the outlook of the season.  However, dropping a game to Maryland would shove Michigan right back to square one.  Tune in to the Big Ten Network at 8 o’clock Saturday night to see if the Wolverines take another step forward or two more back.

Statement Game this Weekend, Gentlemen

Last Saturday the Michigan Wolverines beat the UNLV Rebels 28-7 in the least meaningful game on their schedule.

UNLV just isn’t a good football team.  And even though the final score doesn’t scream “blowout” the outcome was never in any doubt.  Michigan took a 21-0 lead into halftime and coasted to an easy victory in the second half.

The Wolverines ran all over the Rebels to the tune of 254 yards and three touchdowns.  Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards and a score on eight carries.  His 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter made his afternoon look much better than it actually was.  Even so, it’s refreshing to see a Wolverine run for 100-plus.

Jake Rudock didn’t have to do much but hand the ball off.  He completed 14 of his 22 pass attempts for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception.  With the game in hand, Wilton Speight was given some snaps in the fourth quarter.  He failed to complete any of his three attempts.

Some are wondering why it was Speight and not Shane Morris.  What is Morris going to show you in garbage time against the worst team you play all season that will convince you he should be starting over Rudock?  Nothing.  That’s just not the venue for that audition.  Instead, you give the youngster a chance to get his feet wet.  The little bit of action Speight saw did much more for him than it would have for Morris.  Well done, Coach.

The defense was hardly challenged all afternoon.  Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark each had an interception.  The Wolverine defense continues to show that it is the strong suit of the team.  No new news there.

Jim Harbaugh knew his team had to do very little to beat UNLV.  The Wolverines did, in fact, do very little and still handled the Rebels.

The fact is last week’s game didn’t tell us much of anything.  Luckily, we have a big game to look forward to this weekend.

The #22 BYU Cougars travel to Ann Arbor looking to get back on track after coming up just short against UCLA last weekend.  The Bruins scored a touchdown with less than four minutes to go that put them up one.  BYU was right where they wanted to be, having miraculously won their first game against Nebraska and their second against Boise State.  This time though, the Cougars’ Hail Mary prayers were not answered.  Still, in keeping UCLA that close BYU exceeded expectations, suggesting they might actually be a good team even without quarterback Taysom Hill.

Michigan has not hosted a non-conference game against a ranked opponent besides Notre Dame since August 31, 2002 when a walk-on kicker made his first career field goal as time expired to beat the eleventh-ranked Washington Huskies 31-29.

That’s right.  The last time a ranked team outside of the Big Ten came to the Big House, John Navarre was handing the ball off to Chris Perry and throwing touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards.

A high school basketball coach of mine used to tell us we had a chance to make a statement anytime we played a team that was perceived to be better than we were.  “Statement game on Tuesday, gentlemen.” Coach Al would say.  Coach Harbaugh should borrow those wise words for this week of practice because that’s the exact situation Michigan faces against BYU.

The Wolverines have a prime opportunity to let their Big Ten foes know they’re not the pushovers they’re expected to be this fall.  Even though it’s at home, beating a good BYU team would serve as the first quality win of the Harbaugh era.  The third win of the season would also bring Michigan halfway to bowl eligibility.

A loss, on the other hand, would be debilitating.  It would halt the bit of momentum that’s been built up by winning the last couple weeks and bring the non-conference portion of the schedule to an ugly 2-2 end.

Last week was a cake walk.  This week will be anything but.  Let’s see what kind of statement Harbaugh’s Wolverines make before embarking on their journey through the Big Ten next week.

Wolverines’ First Win, Harbaugh’s First Temper Tantrum

Last Saturday the Michigan Wolverines did what they were supposed to (not sure what’s with the music on those highlights).  They welcomed an inferior Oregon State Beavers team and beat them handily 35-7.

Two minutes into the game the score was 7-0 Beavers, and it looked like it might be another one of those days.  After that seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive the Wolverine defense was lights out.

Oregon State had eleven more drives.  Of which, seven ended with punts, two on fumbles, they turned it over on downs once, and had the ball when the first half came to an end.  The overmatched Beaver offense, playing with a backup quarterback, gained only nine total yards in the second half.

Don’t overreact.  Don’t start doling out high praise to all the defenders who stepped up.  Keep in mind they were showing out against an already limited offense that was further handicapped by the loss of their playmaking quarterback Seth Collins.

Jabrill Peppers had himself another good game, highlighted by the biggest hit of the afternoon.  Senior captain Joe Bolden led the way with seven total tackles and a fumble recovery.  Chris Wormley feasted.  He had six tackles, three for loss, one a sack.

The Wolverine defense dictated the pace.  They made the Beaver offense react to what they were doing, and took over the game because of it.  That was a refreshing sight.

Also a welcomed surprise: De’Veon Smith finally showed us something.  The junior had, by far, the best game of his career racking up 126 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.  He also caught a couple balls out of the backfield for another 24 yards.  For once, Smith shed tackles and picked up significant yardage after contact.  All three of his scores were tough runs in goaline situations.  Smith’s big day was the most encouraging part of the easy afternoon.

Jake Rudock and the receivers haven’t given us much reason to believe the passing attack will be reliable this fall.  Occasional connections between Rudock and his top targets, Amara Darboh (four receptions, 50 yards), Jake Butt (four catches, 25 yards), and Jehu Chesson (one grab, 14 yards), haven’t been nearly consistent enough for opposing defenses to be worried.

Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez/ Detroit Free Press
Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez/ Detroit Free Press

As will likely be the case in every Michigan game this season, Jim Harbaugh’s behavior on the sideline stole the headlines from his players’ on-field performance.  After a questionable penalty call (which the Big Ten apologized for on Monday), Harbaugh went absolutely ballistic on any official within shouting-distance.  The fans went nuts too, getting louder as the tirade went on, and finally hitting a crescendo as Harbaugh tossed his play-calling sheets.

I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  And I wish I could truthfully say I didn’t participate, but I couldn’t resist.  That moment, however staged or preconceived, was Harbaugh’s official introduction to the Michigan faithful.  His first temper tantrum was a validation for many people who believe he is the perfect coach for this daunting rebuild.

It was a perfect early autumn day in Michigan, sixty degrees with a little rain and a slight breeze.  The Wolverines ran the ball.  They shut the other team down.  They controlled the clock, and the game in general.

Saturday’s win went just how they draw them up in Ann Arbor.

Our First Impression of Harbaugh’s Michigan

Jim Harbaugh’s first game as Michigan’s head coach was a failure.  That’s how the majority of fans are looking at last Thursday’s 24-17 loss to Utah.

And while many people are content to leave it at that, you’re not.  That’s why you’re here.  You know there were some positive signs sprinkled in with the mostly negative performance.  We’ll get to those encouraging sights, but first let’s play the blame game.

It seems everyone wants to pin the loss on quarterback Jake Rudock for his overthrows and interceptions.  It’s not that simple.  He wasn’t the only one who made a mistake on those plays.  The receivers didn’t do him any favors.

Don’t get me wrong, Amara Darboh’s eight catches for 101 yards and a score were a welcome surprise.  Jake Butt did his thing too with eight grabs of his own for 93 yards and the Wolverines’ other touchdown.  Other than that it wasn’t clear if the receiving corps will be much different from last year’s underachieving group.

Photo: AP/ Rick Bowmer
Photo: AP/ Rick Bowmer

First of all, it’s no coincidence Grant Perry was the intended receiver on all three of Rudock’s picks.  The first and the third were lazy routes that Perry rounded off, hanging his QB out to dry.  Someone needs to tell the freshman that at this level you have to actually go get the ball, not just float around waiting for it to get to you.

Then there’s Jehu Chesson and Darboh letting six points fall right in front of them.  Making those catches would’ve taken exceptional effort, but you have got to lay out for those balls, especially when you’re in the endzone.  They failed Rudock by not giving their all.  Those two should know better.

The lack of a go-to receiver stifles the Wolverines’ offensive firepower.  Jake Butt is great target to feature throughout the course of a game, but he’s a tight end.  You need someone with speed who can be a deep threat and open up the field for others.  Someone needs to step up and play that role.

The receivers aren’t the only ones who need to shoulder some blame.  The O-line was bad.  They were generating zero push up-front all night.  There were no holes for De’Veon Smith to run through, and he’s not the type of back to routinely make his own play.

The offense’s only positive takeaway was sustaining solid pass protection.  Rudock stayed relatively clean and avoided being sacked by a defense that had at least one in each of their 13 games a season ago.  Despite the time Rudock had in the pocket, the offense was unable to consistently march down the field.

There is some good news on defense.  The catch is the good news, like the bad news, is nothing but an affirmation of what we already thought might be the case.  Offensively the Wolverines are unimpressive, but defensively they’re right where we thought they should be.

Even with all the hype, Jabrill Peppers did not disappoint, particularly in the second half.  He chased down receivers, shed blocks, and made tackles for loss.  His pass coverage was stout and he aggressively filled holes in the run game.  If you’re looking for Michigan’s player of the game against Utah, it was Peppers.

Photo: USA Today Sports/ Jeff Swinger
Photo: USA Today Sports/ Jeff Swinger

The Wolverines’ front seven were experienced and sound, as advertised.  The only glaring mistake coming on Travis Wilson’s 14-yard read option touchdown run.  Half the team bit on the fake, the other half was nowhere to be found as Wilson cruised into the endzone untouched.

The defense proved they know how to keep Devontae Booker bottled up.  He collected 69 yards and a short touchdown on 22 carries Thursday.  That’s an accomplishment to be proud of considering Booker’s track record.

Special teams are still going to be an adventure.  Kenny Allen’s missed field goal makes you wonder if there’s a more reliable kicker hiding somewhere on campus.  Having Peppers back deep to return kicks fills a void and gives him more opportunities to change the game.  The kick coverages were decent, nothing to get excited about.

Overall, you can’t be too thrilled about our first look at Harbaugh’s Michigan.  For every positive there were a couple negatives.  If anything, the loss to Utah should remind you how much work Harbaugh has in front of him to get this program back to where we all want it.

Take solace in the fact that opening a new regime in a primetime game on the road against a solid Utah team was a tough task.  Oregon State comes to the Big House this weekend for a game that should make us feel much better.