Tag Archives: Shane Morris

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.

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.

Depth Chart OR…?

Jim Harbaugh told us he would have answers this Monday.  He said he would release his depth chart three days before the Wolverines open the season in Utah.  In fact, the long-awaited depth chart did finally surface, yet we still have few definitive answers.

Much of Harbaugh’s two-deep reads like the lyrics to the chorus of Black Sheep’s The Choice is Yours.  Two big, bold letters repeatedly remind those reading that the choice is his alone.

“OR”

Apparently there are 16 spots (backups included) still up-for-grabs, each clearly marked with an OR.

The first wideout will either be Amara Darboh, OR Drake Harris.  The other receiver will be Jehu Chesson, OR Grant Perry.  Either Derrick Green OR Ty Isaac will backup starting tailback De’Veon Smith.  Both returner spots are listed as Chesson OR Jabrill Peppers.

Of all the OR’s we see, the one people obviously care most about is at QB.  Shane Morris OR Jake Rudock will start under center on Thursday night, but we won’t find out until the Wolverines take the field.

Morris, the ‘experienced’ junior, still hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in college.  He’s averaged less than four and a half yards per passing attempt while completing just 49 percent of his passes.  The lefty flat out has not looked at all comfortable in any of the games he’s played for Michigan.

Rudock is a graduate transfer from Iowa.  He started 25 of the Hawkeyes’ 26 games in the past two years, making him the real experienced option.  During those two seasons Rudock completed 60 percent of his passes.  He also drastically cut his interception total down to five in 2014 after throwing 13 in ‘13.  He played poorly at home against Michigan in 2013, throwing three picks.  Still, he and the Hawkeyes found a way to win by a field goal.

Despite what the hype machine has the fans thinking, this will be a ‘rebuilding’ season for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.  The goal for this season should be setting the team up for success going forward.  Essentially, 2015 will be the bridge that you can burn after crossing so you never have to think about the Rich Rodriguez/ Brady Hoke era ever again.

That being the case, it would make sense to go with a quarterback who’s already established himself somewhat, a guy who can bring a bit of stability to an offense (a whole team, for that matter) that has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.  It makes sense to give the reins to someone with just one year of eligibility left.

If I’m Harbaugh, I’m looking at it like this: for one reason or another, none of the nine quarterbacks on the current roster fit the ‘franchise quarterback’ profile right now.  Therefore, there’s no point in playing a guy for the sake of building experience.  No good can come out of putting a guy in a spot he is unprepared for.

Continue to develop Morris and all the other backups in practice throughout the week, and let Rudock handle Saturdays.  That way next fall we can have the same conversation about who to start.  Except next time it will be a choice between Morris, OR Alex Malzone, OR Wilton Speight, OR Zach Gentry, OR John O’Korn, OR whoever else comes to Ann Arbor to play quarterback.

It would be a mistake to add to an already long list of question marks.  Rudock has shown far more over his career than Morris has.  That’s why he’ll end up winning the job.

When renting something you want to get your money’s worth while you still have whatever it is.  Rudock is a rental who will only be around this fall.  Failing to utilize him would be an utter waste of his time and Michigan’s season.

The Pipeline – August 29, 2015: A Firing, some Fines, and a new Television Deal

1. Illinois Fires Tim Beckman Seven Days before Season Opener

Our top news story in this week’s Pipeline comes from the University of Illinois.  (Never thought you’d read that, did you?)  Yes, the Illini have attracted national attention, at least for a couple days.

Head coach Tim Beckman was fired Friday afternoon just seven days before Illinois opens its season against Kent State.  Director of Athletics Mike Thomas dismissed Beckman due to the findings of an external investigation into the mistreatment of players.

Beckman is alleged to have deterred the reporting of player injuries, and pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and play through injuries.  There are also some questions as to whether or not seniors were treated fairly with respect to their scholarship status during the spring semester once they were done playing.  He has, of course, denied that the allegations are accurate, setting the stage for a future lawsuit.

These are very serious accusations.  And there must have been quite a lot of damning evidence to substantiate these claims for Thomas to can Beckman so close to the season opener.

Bill Cubit will take over for the 2015 as interim head coach.  He joined the Illini coaching staff in 2013 as offensive coordinator.

The issue of player safety became real for us last fall when Brady Hoke and the Michigan training staff failed miserably in protecting quarterback Shane Morris.  Excuse the video quality, but you should hear how Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham brought this to a live audience.  Now that a coach has been fired for mismanaging his players, it’s officially a hot button issue.

2. Fining College Football Players?

On Wednesday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said some things he shouldn’t have about the possibility of fining players.  Athletic director Whit Babcock was quick to shut the idea down, saying Tech would be doing no such thing.

On Thursday a list of all finable offenses is spotted outside the Tech locker room.  A picture is taken.  The picture makes its way around the internet.  And Foster’s words are legitimized, proving that there was a plan in place to fine Hokie players for misbehavior.

Then, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville seconds Foster’s motion.  The AD in this case, UC’s Mike Bohn does not squash his coach’s idea, but instead agrees with him.

There’s some confusion about whether this is legal.  NCAA rules state that taking money from a student’s scholarship is impermissible.  However, there is supposedly some language in these financial aid contracts which states the school may subtract aid if the violations go against department policy or the student code of conduct.

I’m no legal eagle.  I’ll let the lawyers decide what exactly the contracts allow schools to do with players’ financial aid.  I can say that this will undoubtedly add another convoluted layer to the already complicated cake that is the controversy over compensating college athletes.

3. Pac-12 Network on DirecTV

As our own Mike Wilson wrote last week, west coast football fans might be able to relax soon.  After years of not carrying the Pac-12 Network on their cable package, DirecTV will finally give fans out west what they want.

DirecTV, which was recently bought by AT&T, began testing on Friday that appears to be the first step towards bringing the Pac-12 Network to their customers’ television sets.

Imagine the frustration of paying for sports packages you’re not interested in while your favorite conference’s network is unavailable to you.  This is what some fans have been dealing with since the Pac-12 Network’s inception in 2012.

Luckily for them it seems to be coming to an end just in time for the 2015 season.

4. Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  Apparently, he had too much to drink and had taken some pills he was prescribed.

The press conference was short, but notably odd.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to ‘swear off’ drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

The USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just as they would have had to do for breaking team rules.

The team has moved on and so should the media.  This was a big mistake, but it was not an accurate reflection of Sarkisian’s character.

5. Vernon Adams Wins Oregon’s Starting QB Job

Anyone who was following the quarterback battle at Oregon knew there was a good chance Vernon Adams would end up winning the job.  The Ducks’ week one depth chart was released on Friday, and sure enough Adams was at the top.

This is news mostly because it wasn’t news to those of us who were paying attention.

Adams is a graduate transfer student who played three seasons at Eastern Washington.  He put up the type of numbers you see from Oregon quarterbacks, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while with the Eagles.  With Marcus Mariota gone to the NFL and the rest of the team in place, the Ducks needed a new quarterback who could step in and preform immediately.  In Adams, they’ve got just that.

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Interestingly, Adams will make his first start against his alma mater next weekend when the Ducks host the Eagles.  That’s right, just three weeks after graduating from Eastern Washington he will take the field against his former team.

Ahh, what a glorious loophole in the NCAA’s transfer rules.

No Connection Found

The big question that everyone’s asking is who is going to be the starting quarterback at the University of Michigan. It’s been quite a few years since there’s actually been a debate over who would be behind center for the Maize and Blue. Once Denard Robinson found his groove he held the reigns until injury forced him to hand it over to Devin Gardner.

2015 is a different story though. Junior Shane Morris is the only quarterback on the roster who was even on the roster last season. His obliteration by Minnesota is more well known than the fact that he’s thrown five interceptions and zero touchdowns. There’s no doubt that there’s talent there though. Incoming transfer Jake Rudock threw for 2,400 yards with Iowa last season which is definitely nothing to shrug at. Outside of those two there’s incoming freshmen Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone were the only scholarship players who practiced at quarterback in the spring.

Right now Jim Harbaugh’s “submarine” continue to lurk in the depths, keeping his quarterback secret from everyone. Most likely the U.S.S. Harbaugh will break the surface just before the season opener with Utah to announce his starter. The fact that he hasn’t made it public is worrisome to some people. They are concerned that there is a lack of skill at the most important position on the field, the de facto leader of the football team.

Well, you can’t be a leader if you don’t have anyone to lead.

Take a look at this graphic courtesy of the stats department at ESPN.

receiver stats

 

These aren’t the only guys that caught passes last year but the only Wolverines that caught double-digit passes. In case you don’t like to count, there’s 6 of them. What might be more frightening is that they only caught 8 touchdowns combined.

Look even closer at that list now. Their receptions leader by a large margin in Devin Funchess has departed for the NFL. There is some debate over whether or not Dennis Norfleet is still even on the team. That leaves you with 71 catches between between those remaining receivers (Hayes is a running back). Those numbers certainly don’t inspire confidence.

Michigan did add four-star recruit Drake Harris to their depths but there is no telling what kind of player he will actually become. Rumors are he is listed as one of the starting wideouts but there’s no telling how he’ll actually play when the lights come on. Harris and tight end Jake Butt are the only players coming into the season with any kind of fanfare. The others are all players who were rather disappointing last season.

There are some who claim that a quarterback can make a receiver great. They point to times in the NFL when great quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning lost their primary receivers and still managed to scrape together respectable seasons.

To that I say just go back and look at University of Michigan’s last season. Devin Gardner was not an awful quarterback in 2013 and he and Denard Robinson combined to have a fairly successful 2012. Yet each year the numbers for the University of Michigan quarterbacks continued to decline.

In 2012 there were 5 receivers who had more than 200 yards. In 2013 there were also 5 receivers who cracked 200 yards, including Jeremy Gallon and his 1300 yards. In 2014 there were only 3 receivers who broke 200 yards, paced by Devin Funchess and his 733 yards. The total receiving touchdowns also cut exactly in half from 2013 to 2014 from 20 to 10.

The signal caller stayed the same but the supporting cast did not.

There’s a reason why huge receivers like Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones are in demand: they make a quarterback better. A big tall receiver that can out muscle and out jump the defense is going to make his quarterback look like a stud. A small speedy guy who runs the perfect route will make a quarterback look like he has a surgeon’s precision.

Hopefully you’re old enough to think back to 2004. True freshmen Chad Henne lead Michigan to a 9-2 record and then a 1-point loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl by simply heaving the ball in the air and letting Braylon Edwards go up and get it. Everyone knew that was the plan but no one could stop it. The 6’3 Edwards was just simply bigger and strong and able to out jump them all. It’s that model that lead everyone to hope that Devin Funchess could repeat that performance.

Maybe Drake Harris will be that guy, maybe not. Whoever the starter is might be able to make him and the other receivers look a little better than they are but if they aren’t able to produce, it’s not going to matter whether the Lord and Savior Jim Harbaugh is flinging the pigskin. All that will be awaiting the University of Michigan is another losing season.

The Departing Quarterback

With the end of the season, so must come change.

With the University of Michigan the biggest change to come is at the quarterback position. Two year starter Devin Gardner has graduated leaving a vacancy at the most important position on the field. Much maligned for most of last year, many fans are happy to finally see him leave the school.

But the question is, is what remains behind any better?

Fair or not, Devin Gardner was blamed for all the loses that Michigan had in the last two years. Even the one game that he didn’t start somehow became his fault that they lost. However if there was a better option Brady Hoke would have gone to him.

What remains is Shane Morris who was battered and beaten in his one start this season. Between this season and his start in the previous year’s bowl game, he was less than impressive. The majority of his throws were simple checkdown throws which is less than inspiring. Behind Morris there sits Russell Bellomy who has completed approximately the same amount of passes to his own team as to the other team. All that remains are two freshmen in Alex Malzone and Wilton Speight who have yet to see time on the field.

Suddenly a fifth year senior calling the shots doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

That’s the curse of many quarterbacks: they aren’t appreciated until after they’re gone.

Was Devin Gardner the best quarterback ever? No, not by a long shot but nor was he the worst. He was often maddeningly inconsistent and made questionable decisions with the ball but he never gave up and always played through injury.

Some players will ride the bench with even the slightest injury. Devin Gardner played most of the second half of the 2013 Ohio State game with a broken foot. Not only that but he almost pulled off the win. That’s the kind of player that I want captaining my team.

Gardner isn’t the only Michigan quarterback to go through this though. Denard Robinson went through these same trials and tribulations.

Like him, hate him or think he should have been a wide receiver, Denard Robinson was a special player. He’s one of only a few players to throw and run for 200 yards in a game. He briefly held the record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback with 1702. Yet people thought he should have been moved to play wide receiver.

The guy people thought should play quarterback instead? Devin Gardner. Funny how that works.

Very rarely is a quarterback properly appreciated while he is at school. It’s happened with all the previous quarterbacks at Michigan and it will probably happen with whomever Jim Harbaugh picks to be his starter.

 

The Big Ten in 2014: The Lows

Welcome to the first part of my look back at the 2014 season for the Big Ten Conference.

With the exception of Ohio State playing in the National Championship game, the season is over for the conference. So now is the time to look back at the highs and lows of the Big Ten. In this first installment, we’re going to examine some of the lows. This was originally going to be the highs of the season but after watching my Lions get screwed by the refs, I don’t have a lot of positivity right now.

Obviously I won’t be able to talk about every bad thing that happened in the Big Ten because then this article might drift into the “too long; didn’t read” territory. So if I don’t mention your school… well, I don’t know why you’d be complaining. This is the Lows part. You should be happy to not relive those moments.

Anyways, let’s get this thing started with…

September 6: Black Saturday

This was one of the most high-profile days for the Big Ten. Michigan was facing Notre Dame for the last time for the foreseeable future, Michigan State and Oregon were locking horns in a matchup of potential playoff contenders, and Ohio State was facing Virginia Tech on national TV since the early season is usually devoid of major program matchups.

Well…

Michigan lead things off by getting shut out and blown out by Notre Dame. It wasn’t even a game. MSU weathered an early Oregon storm before surging back into the lead. Then they ran out of gas and Orbreakupegon scored at will to win by almost 3 scores. Ohio State was the Big Ten’s only hope of saving face that day but the inexperience of J.T. Barrett showed as he only completed 9 passes not including his 3 interceptions. The Buckeyes were taken down 35-21 and the ridicule of the Big Ten began.

Black Saturday Part 2: It Got Worse

Since the three big dogs in the Big Ten had been destroyed, people seemed to not notice some of the other action that had happened in the conference.

Or should I say MAC-tion.

The MAC is barely considered a conference at times, one of those groups that you usually forget exists except around bowl season unless you live in that area. Maybe the Big Ten should have taken them more seriously. Indiana went to Bowling Green and the Falcons knocked off the Hoosiers 45-42. Purdue brought in Central Michigan and got demolished by the Chippewas. It wasn’t even a close game as the Boilermakers fell 38-17 in front of their own fans.

Shane Morris

Some schools had great success when they played other quarterbacks (see Ohio State) but Michigan did not.

Struggling starter Devin Gardner got benched for the Minnesota game to see if sophomore Shane Morris might give a struggling offense life. What transpired ultimately contributed to two men losing their jobs.

shane-morris-e7e0d1ab12abc476Morris got bashed around by the Minnesota defense, having to be literally picked up by his offensive line. He could barely walk and barely seemed to know where he was at times. Yet somehow he was cleared to go back into the game. The poor kid should have had his helmet taken away no matter how much he wanted to go back in. The poor handling of what was eventually revealed to be a concussion helped usher athletic director Dave Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke out the door.

Indiana’s Quarterback Situation

The Hoosiers were another team who didn’t have luck with multiple quarterbacks. Of the three quarterbacks they had in 2013 that saw playing time, 2 of them transferred and Nate Sudfeld who stayed separated his shoulder early on in the season.

That left Indiana with Zander Diamont who was supposed to redshirt and Chris Covington, both of whom had never seen playing time. Predictably this did not go well. The three men combined for 7 scores versus 9 interceptions. Granted this is a team with Tevin Coleman but still, you need more than that from your quarterbacks.

Coaching Carousel

Brady Hoke was fired as was expected at the end of the season. What was unexpected was the firing of Nebraska’s Bo Pelini. Pelini had won 9 games every year since he had become the head coach at Nebraska, been highly ranked during most of that time and always contended for a Big Ten title. Yet he was gone and most people were understandably upset. It’s hard to justify firing a coach that wins that much even if he’s a bit rough around the edges.

Then Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen up and left his team after the Big Ten Title game. It looked pretty bad for the conference when one of the participants in its title game that had also won 10 games had their coach jump ship for a PAC-12 school that went 5-7. That almost made it seem like even coaches in the Big Ten viewed other conferences as superior.

Was there more terribleness that happened this season? Yeah, probably but do we really want to dwell on it any further?

Stay turned for something a little more inspiring later.

 

Next Steps for Michigan Football

The Michigan Wolverines finished under .500 for the first time since their second season under Rich Rodriguez in 2009. Fall of 2014 will be remembered in Ann Arbor for some time to come as a new beginning of sorts due to the forced resignation of the athletic director midseason and the head coach being fired at the end of it.

Still, I can’t help but think this is the best case scenario.

We don’t have to watch this team play in a bowl game and the disliked duo of Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke are finally out of town. Both had worn out their welcome and having them stick around any longer would’ve been counter-intuitive. To be fair to Hoke, many players had very nice things to say about him after they were informed he had been let go.

sad hoke

Michigan now has a blank canvas with which to work. And while uncertainty can be a scary thought, at the same time few things are more exciting. It all depends on your outlook. The Wolverines have been blessed with another chance at a fresh start, an opportunity that many programs would love to have. It’s time to get to work.

Going into this offseason the University of Michigan has three tasks to accomplish in order to avoid risking irrelevance next season. Figuring out the AD situation should be the first step. Since interim AD Jim Hackett is heading up the coaching search I think he should and will ultimately be chosen to run the show. I’m not sure why that hasn’t already happened.

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Hiring a head coach is the next step and I can’t stress enough how important it is to make the right pick. We’ve seen what can quickly happen to a prestigious program that makes a questionable hire. The past two coaching searches have not ended ideally for Michigan. This time around, they need to get their man, whoever that may be.

There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of rumored names flying around. I’ve heard Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles and Greg Schiano like everyone else has.  I’ve also heard farfetched ideas like Jim Tressel and Pat Narduzzi.  Of course, these are merely speculation and we’ll likely not find out who is being seriously considered until the hire has been made.

Though he has repeatedly said he will not be coming north, I believe Miles is the man for the job. He’s the kind of crazy you want whereas Harbaugh’s just absolutely nuts.

Harbaugh

Step three, and possibly the most difficult of all, is finding a quarterback. Mercifully, Devin Gardner is gone too. It’s a relief he’s such a good student and overall person because his play this season often made me feel ill. As a general rule, if you throw more picks than touchdowns, you had a bad year. I can’t confidently say Shane Morris is the answer, judging by his brief appearances this fall.

We were forced to witness what happens when a quarterback’s abilities and an offensive strategy don’t align. I’d prefer not to have to go through it again next season. Whether the new guy’s a stud recruit, an unhappy transfer, or a guy currently buried on their own depth chart, the Wolverines need an adequate quarterback and a matching offensive scheme quite badly.

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Ceasing to schedule cupcakes as non-conference opponents is an additional step that would help tremendously. I know this won’t happen because games are scheduled about a decade in advance, but it should. Bringing in higher quality opponents would boost attendance and therefore revenue. Playing in those games would provide players with valuable experience they could use later in the season. Win or lose, those games are resume builders you can point to at the end of a season.

You’re probably feeling uneasy not knowing what’s to come for Michigan. That’s completely normal. Just relax, await the announcement of the new head coach, and prepare for an overdue rebuild. If the future is making you more nervous than excited, look back on the past and ask yourself: Could things be that much worse than they have been lately?

Can Michigan Return to Greatness?

It’s been a long year for the University of Michigan football program.  A bad year always seems longer but it’s starting to become a theme.  It’s beginning to seem more and more like that 11-2 season in 2011 was an aberration, a fluke even.  With the exception of 2011, in the past ten years the Wolverines have only had 9 or more wins three times.  That’s not what this program and its fans have come to expect.

Fans remember and yearn for the old days when going 7-5 on the season was considered a failure instead of wishful thinking.  Younger fans don’t remember that at one point only a decade ago Michigan was routinely considered one of the best teams in the country.  They probably wonder why the crappy school in the Mitten State gets so much more attention than the one that’s actually doing good.  It’s because those doing the reporting and writing the stories do remember.  They remember the greatness.

But greatness is fleeting.

For 12 years the Maize and Blue were lead by Lloyd Carr who never failed to win more than seven games a season.  He always had a winning record, including 5 conference championships and 1 national title.  Stretches like that don’t come along that often, nor do they usually last that long.  Winning games is hard as Carr’s successors have come to find.  Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke combined to win 41 game in six seasons, not counting this current season.  Lloyd won 39 in his first four season.

The greatness may have gone but that doesn’t mean it can’t return.

There’s no reason why Michigan can’t be great again but it will not be an easy path.  Not only is there the recent losses to consider but also the reputation of the entire brand of Michigan was tarnished with the Shane Morris incident, the Dave Brandon situation and now the dismissal of Frank Clark for a domestic dispute.

The first step is to wipe that slate clean.

Two out of the three parts of that have already been taken care of.  Frank Clark has been booted from the team and will most likely only be talked about until season’s end.  Dave Brandon stepped down from his spot as athletic director, paving the way for a fresh face.  If he wasn’t from Michigan, I might actually think Shane Morris might not be at U of M next season but I don’t think he’ll leave.  He will be the one reminder of the ugliness of this season but even then he will only be there for two more years.

The only question left is who will be the one to lead Michigan back to the promised land.  Despite what appears to be a serious knack for recruiting, it will not be Brady Hoke.  Hoke will finish out this year and to no one’s surprise no longer be the head coach.  He will coach again but it will not be in Ann Arbor.

In finding the individual to bring in to lead the team is where Michigan’s old reputation still holds value.  Any established coach out there still remembers the old Michigan, the good Michigan.  The university will need to leverage that legacy to land a big name.  It’s time to move away from “Michigan Men” and get someone with name recognition.  Brady Hoke used to coach at Michigan?  Cool but that doesn’t make him a great head coach.

It won’t be the big name that anyone expects the school to land though.  It won’t be a Harbaugh or Les Miles.  Those guys aren’t going anywhere.  Neither are guys like Jon Gruden or anyone that’s currently in a studio.  Michigan needs to set its sights a little lower.  Bobby Petrino at Kentucky is one name that fans might want to start thinking about.  Or possibly University of Miami’s underappreciated Al Golden.  Petrino fell from grace and is trying to work his way back to the top and Golden took a Miami program rife with suspensions and violations and made them into a respectable team.  Todd Graham of Arizona State always seems to be looking to climb the next step to the top of the food chain, perhaps he’s on the short-list of interviewees.

What’s clear though is that the path back to greatness is not to cling to the past.  What’s in the past was great but it’s not going to help us now.  Those days and those traditions are gone and it’s time that we give those up.  Talking about championships last won a decade ago is not going to make one appear now.  Seriously, 2004 was Michigan’s last conference title.  That doesn’t impress recruits and neither does constantly lowering win totals.

Let it go.

Get an offensive minded coach to lure players that want to put up big stats.  Throw money at Will Muschamp who was a dang good defensive coordinator at Texas and get him to turn the defense into a lock-down unit.  Unless they somehow snag Les Miles, bring in someone that’s not a “Michigan Man”.  It’s time to pull the plug on that theory and just reboot the whole damn thing.

 

Michigan's Embarrassing Losses Continue

Michigan was yet again utterly outplayed on Saturday afternoon. At no point in the game did anyone watching have legitimate reasoning to believe they could pull off the upset.
The Wolverines and their fans should feel ashamed. And they should consider themselves lucky the final score was only 35-11.
In the last seven meetings between the two, the combined score is Michigan State: 197- Michigan: 101. Michigan is 1-6 in those games. Now, that’s what I call domination.
A friend of mine who attends U of M sent me a text shortly after the game ended. It read, “Nothing like three decades of false hubris crumbling at an increasing rate”.
That’s exactly what we’re seeing this season from Michigan football and it’s why the fans are partially to blame as well. For years this arrogance has fueled numerous programs and fan bases around the country to hate everything about Michigan. Until recently there wasn’t much that could be done about it though because the Wolverines were good enough to back up the talk they and their fans constantly spewed. It’s all finally catching up to them.
If you’re going to falsely boast about being the best you need to have at least a little something to focus on. Currently, there’s nothing about Michigan football that you can do that with. That’s why you see people throwing fits, starting petitions, and blaming the Athletic Department.
The Wolverines are a bad football team without anything to get excited about. Their fans simply cannot fathom that fact and things are getting ugly as a result.
There is nothing more I can say about Devin Gardner. He cannot play quarterback at a high level. When he can exploit opposing defenses’ lack of athleticism everything looks fine. However, as he’s finding out, most defenses have a couple guys who can keep him in check. And when he can’t run an improvisational offense, he’s borderline useless.
Why was Shane Morris brought in for a single play, to hopelessly chuck the ball down the field? Gardner does a fine enough job of that. That play call and personnel decision made zero sense. Had he completed his pass attempt, would he have been allowed to remain in the game? Frankly, I don’t care either way because he’s not much of an improvement over Gardner.
We’re finally seeing a return to the Michigan way of playing, at least in theory. Play defense, run the ball, limit mistakes, win the game. That’s the model.
Looking at the last two games it’s evident the Wolverines are trying to implement that strategy. Unfortunately they’re also making it painfully obvious they aren’t capable of winning those types of games.
They can’t play tough defense when they need to. They get absolutely no push up front, making it terribly difficult to run the ball effectively. Not only do they make mistakes, they make them at crucial junctures and compound them with additional errors. Rare is the game that’s won with that recipe.
Every week the team becomes harder to watch and the trend isn’t going to reverse this fall.
Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford outrushed Michigan’s three top rushers from the game- De’Veon Smith, Justice Hayes, and Drake Johnson- by 98 yards. Tony Lippett caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Michigan collected just 125 yards through the air as a team. These embarrassing stats should hammer home just how overmatched Michigan was.
Where are the Wolverines’ playmakers? Even when teams are grossly overmatched you still see some guys on the lesser team showing out. It’s clear to me that Michigan has no such players on their roster. And if they do exist, they’ve given me no reason to show them any love.
What happened late in the fourth quarter on Saturday tells us all we need to know about the current Michigan Wolverines. With three minutes and forty seconds left they finally found the endzone and added a two-point conversion to make the score 28-11. The Wolverines then promptly gave up another touchdown to the Spartans to ensure the final score accurately reflected how much of a blowout the game was.
A self-respecting football team does not allow their in-state rival to score that late touchdown. That’s an issue of pride. It seems Michigan has none left.
The saddest part of all is that Indiana, who visits the Big House this coming weekend, might actually be a good matchup for Michigan.