The Michigan football season ended over three weeks ago but I needed some time to decompress from a woeful 7-5 campaign before I took the time look back and review it. As I started my research a few weekends ago it made me depressed again so I am writing this a few weeks later than I thought.
There is no real pretty way to paint this picture. 2013 was an ugly beast. It started out nice and everyone got their hopes up but cracks started to show in the foundation in late September and eventually everything fell apart in November. I really don’t want to make any more stupid analogies so lets just do this thing…
Schedule Review: Here is the Schedule
The season was split into three nice parts, four games in September, three in October and then a brutal finish with five games in November.
September/Non Con: September got off to a nice start with a win over Central Michigan 59-9. It was basically a scrimmage and Michigan fans felt good going into Notre Dame game. The ND game was under the lights and I was fortunate enough to attend. Devin Gardner put on Tom Harmon’s 98 jersey and played great with 294 yards passing, 82 yards rushing and 5 total touchdowns as Michigan won 41-30. There would be an omen for tough times ahead though with Gardner having a horrible interception for a TD that got ND back in the game. Still, at the time it felt like a blip on the radar screen.
Things would start to go downhill after that as Michigan pulled out a squeaker against a bad Akron team 28-24 and then followed it up with an even worse performance against a horrendous UConn team on the road but pulled it out 24-21. The cracks were starting to show but Michigan made it through non conference 4-0 heading into a bye week.
October/B1G play: Michigan opened B1G play at home with what was thought to be an average team in Minnesota. While they started slow they were able to pull away in the 2nd half and won easily 42-13. The big story of the game was Devin Funchess who moved from TE to WR and had 151 yards and 1 TD. He was a mismatch the Gophers couldn’t handle. (In hindsight this was Michigan’s best conference win as the Gophers ended up 8-4. Little did we know.)
Then came the Penn State game. I went to this game and it basically summed up the whole year in one game. Despair, joy, disbelief all in one long night in Beaver Stadium. Outside of one big catch by Funchess the first half was a turnover fest and PSU led 21-10. Then Michigan led off the 2nd half with a fumble recovery for a TD and played great for the rest of the half up until the end. Up 34-27 Michigan would have had a chance to end the game with a field goal but got called for a delay of game penalty, had to punt and then things went horrible. PSU tied the game and sent it into OT where Michigan had chance after chance to win the game but Gibbons missed a bunch FGs and Michigan ended up losing in 4 OTs 43-40. I sat there outside of the stadium dejected.
The next game against Indiana was absurd and really can be thrown out in terms of stats. The Hoosier D is so bad and gave up 751 yards to Michigan including Gallon’s 369 receiving yards. Michigan won the game 63-47 and it got them bowl eligible heading into the final bye week before November. Then shit got real.
November/B1G stretch run: The month of November was more of a car wreck than anything else. MSU annihilated Michigan’s offense as the Wolverines had -48 yards rushing and lost 29-6. From there Michigan went home and the offense got worse and lost to a bad Nebraska team 17-13. Somehow Michigan pulled out a 3 OT win over Northwestern with a clown car field goal at the end of regulation. (God hates Northwestern, never forget) Michigan then played a great 1st half against Iowa on the road and were up 21-7 before the defense broke down and the offense stalled and Michigan lost. In the finale Michigan’s offense once again showed up but their defense was annihilated by OSU’s run game and Michigan lost a thriller 42-41 when Hoke decided to go for two and the win rather than go to another OT game. (Thank God)
Its over and lets review
Best Win: ND 41-30
Best B1G Win: Minnesota 42-13
Worst win because who we were playing was bad at football: Tie Akron/UConn
Worst loss they should have won: Tie PSU/Nebraska
Worst actual loss: MSU 29-6
Worst loss in terms of heartbreak at the end but moral victories and such: Ohio State
At the beginning of the year there was optimism because Gardner showed promise in his last 5 starts in 2012 when Denard got hurt. Also Hoke and Borges were closer to running “their” style of offense with 2 backs, QB under center and MANBALL and so on. The offensive line was breaking in three new interior guys but it was presumed okay because Michigan had Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. This didn’t happen. Lets break it down
By the numbers: This isn’t so bad when you look at it on the surface. Michigan averaged 33.8 ppg which put them 36th in the country. But once you peel it back Michigan only averaged 382 total yard per game which puts it 83rd. 252 yards passing per game (43rd) and a hideous 130 yards rushing per game. (100th in the nation.) Michigan also gave up more tackles for loss than anyone with 109. (Yes Michigan was 123rd in a statistic.) Michigan also gave up 20 turnovers (55th) which isn’t horrible but when you consider they were one of the worst to start the year and it made Gardner cautious so much that he kept taking sacks as the year went on. Woof
1. The interior offensive line shuffle: Michigan started five different combos on the inside of Lewan and Schofield and it was a disaster. Only walk on Graham Glasgow started every game at either guard or center. Everything else was revolving door of freshman and injured guys and to sum it up, it didn’t work.
2. The run game in general: 131 ypg, 3.2 ypc, 26 TDs. The touchdowns wasn’t bad but everything else was. The O line was the major contributor to that but so was play calling which constantly ran from under center and into eight man fronts. The only time Michigan was effective running the ball was when Gardner was involved in the shotgun. This also led to him getting killed many times so there was a downside to it. Either way the run game is Michigan’s number one problem heading into 2014.
3. Bad Devin: Gardner is a terribly frustrating player to watch. Game to game and snap to snap I never know what to expect. He could have a wonderful game like he did versus ND but then could follow it up with a turnover fest in Akron and UConn. His bad is really bad and we saw that early in the year and he started to curb a lot of it by eating the ball and taking sacks. Heading into 2014 he will be the only Senior on the offense and he needs to cut out all the double bogeys and make them pars. (Golf reference. Btw I miss golf more than I thought I would so far this winter.)
4. Taylor Lewan’s cut on his forehead: Seriously it got worse and worse each passing week and he would just let the blood sit there. The whole thing was weird.
5. Play Calling/Borges: I don’t want to spend too much time here because it will just get me angry but Borges was hampered by the offensive line but also had some horrible games. PSU he ran the ball 27 times for 27 yards from under center and did things like this. Once again Narduzzi owned him. Still Michigan had good games against ND, Indiana and Ohio State. And after three years that appears to be Borges book. He bottoms out often and can call a great game. Consistency is not his thing which, you know, would be a nice thing for an offense to have.
1. Jeremy Gallon: Gallon was one of the many Rich Rod smaller WRs who Borges had to adapt into his system. By the end of last year, with Devin in at QB it was clear he was going to be a big part of the offense in 2013. He did not disappoint as he had 80 catches for 1,284 yards and 9 TDs. This included the best game by a Michigan WR ever against Indiana which included 369 yards receiving. He also had more yards against ND and OSU than any other receiver. He is a big bowl game away from breaking Braylon Edwards single season records. I guess what I am trying to say is he was awesome and Michigan will miss him.
2. Devin Funchess the WR, Butt at TE: Devin Funchess had over 100 yards in his 2nd game at Michigan against Air Force in 2012 and big things have been expected of him since then. Through the first four games of this season there was continued disappointment as he had yet to break out. That changed in the bye week leading up to B1G play. In one of the best moves Borges made all year they moved him to WR and he immediately had over 100 yards against Minnesota. His move opened up the offense and allowed Gallon to see more favorable coverages. All in all Funchess had 47 catches for 727 yards and 6 TDs. He and Gallon only need 50 in the bowl game to be the most prolific receiving duo in one season ever. That is saying something. All of that was possible because true frosh TE Jake Butt was able to slide in and take over his TE spot. AJ Williams provided the blocking and Butt provided a weapon over the middle. He capped off a good season with a 85 yard and 1 TD performance against the Buckeyes.
3. Good Devin: For as much heat he took when he played bad, Gardner could also play specaturalry. As noted here, the offense would not have gone anywhere without him giving up his body for the team. He kept plays alive and despite all the turnovers early in the season, had a good year despite the pounding he took. Lets hope he is healthy enough for the bowl game.
4. Lewan/Schofield: It is scary to think where the Michigan offense might have been had Lewan not come back. Lewan gave up no sacks this year and Scofield only gave up a few and provided some stability as the interior was a revolving door.
5. The Shotgun offense: While I am sure Borges and Hoke hate to hear it, the offense was more productive in the shotgun. The majority of the skill players were recruited for it and the offense was more dynamic when Gardner was a threat to run. I hope they keep that heading into 2014 and beyond.
1. Gallon/Dileo: Sad to see the last of the munchkins go away. Gallon had a great year and Dileo was underwhelming but was effective when healthy.
2. Lewan/Schofield: So sad, can they get 6th years? The Michigan tackles next year are all sophomores and freshman.
3. Fitz: Indifferent. He was a good back but is not effective in a downhill attack. Michigan will miss his ability in the pass game which they didn’t use until OSU anyway.
4. RR offense further away from it: Sad, It sucks to see it go but I don’t cling to the spread like a lot of others do. I just hope Borges uses some of the more effective parts of it.
1. One (THE) concern: Offensive line. This will be the focal point heading into 2014. Any and all discussions about Michigan’s success begin and end here. Good part is Michigan will have a full 15 scholarship players to compete for the 5 spots. Problem is the one established guy is a former walk on. No seniors, all underclassmen. Its gonna be rough.
2. One positive: 5th Year Senior QB: Michigan hasn’t had a full season from a Senior QB since John Navarre in 2003. Both Chad Henne and Denard got hurt their senior years. This is not to say Gardner will be healthy because God only knows behind that offensive line but I am just trying to be positive about something.
3. One thing to note: Size: Other than Norfleet, all of Hoke’s recruits are recruited for the pro style offense. Every position has been recruited for size over speed. One thing to note heading into next year.
The Michigan defense in 2012 was pretty good statistically. They had one of the best pass defenses in the nation which sounds great but I think everyone agreed it had more to do with who they played (B1G) than how talented they were. This got exposed in the Outback Bowl when JT Floyd was suspended and the Michigan D got burned for a bunch of big plays. Heading into this season Michigan had two big questions, could it replaced Jordan Kovacs and could they rush the QB with 4 guys? One was somewhat surprising in that Jarrod Wilson was actually pretty decent in Kovacs spot but the other one was a resounding No as Michigan couldn’t get to the QB.
By the numbers: 26 ppg (63rd nationally), 367 yards per game (38th nationally), 25 turnovers, 23 Sacks (66 nationally), 66 TFL (85 nationally). The theme of the year was bend but don’t break (until it does break.) Michigan clearly lacked the ability to make plays in the opponents backfield but was still able to force a considerable amount of turnovers. Much like the offense the D was inconsistent. It struggled against ND and early in the year and tightened up in November only to get shelled by OSU.
1. Pass rush (Sacks/TFL): Frank Clark came into the season with lots of hype and played well (12 tfl and 4.5 sacks) but failed to be a one man wrecking crew as he was hoped (and hyped) to be. The rest of the defense wasn’t much better with only Cam Gordon having 4 sacks. A lot of that is due Jake Ryan not being healthy as well.
2. Injuries: Ryan, Pipkins, Ross, Morgan, Gordon, Wilson. That is six guys who all missed time. And while Michigan has recruited well, the majority of the backups are too young for Michigan to be able to just put guys in. The depth isn’t built up yet.
3. Dealing with tempo: This was apparent in the Indiana and Ohio State games as Michigan struggles when the opposition goes fast/no huddle. Not that other teams don’t (hell, even Bama does) but it is almost as if they aren’t prepared for it. My only real knock against Mattison is here. This is something they will have to address by the back half of next year which is mainly against spread/no huddle teams.
4. The backup safeties: While Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson were functional safetis, each missed time and the backups were not every good. Courtney Avery and Josh Furman struggled against both the run and pass. Both started against Nebraska which is still a mystery to me.
1. Taylor and Countess: Michigan’s starting corners had 10 INTs between them and the great part is each will be back next year. Countess really came back to form after missing 2012 due to a knee injury. Add that to a good young group of corners behind them and Michigan has some depth in 2014.
2. Desmond Morgan and James Ross: While Ross didn’t have the breakout year that was envisioned he got better as the year went along and thanks to 2 solid backups, Michigan will have depth next year. (2014 sounds lovely for the defense. Lets not talk about offense.
3. Willie Henry: A late commit to the 2012 class, DL Willie Henry came on as the season progressed and gave Michigan one big body with Pipkins out of the lineup. Expect him to possibly to move to Nose in the spring as Pee Wee heals.
4. Brennan Beyer’s versatility: Beyer is a tweener who moved back to SAM with Jake Ryan getting hurt and provided some of Michigan’s limited pass rush. He moved back down to DE when Ryan came back and is expected to start there next year.
1. Quinton Washington/Jabrill Black: Black had a good year but Washington must have been hurt because his playing time decreased immensely. Hurst and Poggi will step in next year.
2. Cam Gordon: Had a good senior year in place of Jake Ryan. Michigan needs to find a suitable backup for Ryan in 2014.
3. Thomas Gordon/Courtney Avery: Michigan will miss Gordon who provided stability in the back end. While not great, he was very solid which Michigan can’t say for a lot of their safeties they have had.
One concern: Stop if you have heard this before, Michigan needs to find a pass rush. They missed on instant impact guy of Da’Shawn Hand and must do it with the guys they have.
One positive: A healthy Jake Ryan and four other seniors on the defense. Ryan will hopefully get back to or exceed 2012 form and the rest of the defense will have upperclassmen with significant playing time under their belts. HOORAY!
One note: Dymonte Thomas’s role next year. Everyone will talk about incoming frosh Peppers impact and rightfully so but it is so hard to predict how much a freshman will play. Thomas is a great example of that who was a big recruit who blocked a punt this year on his first play and then had little to no impact the rest of the way. I expect Mattison to use him as his swiss army knife who will be used to terrorize offenses from the edge and cover the majority of slot receivers.
Special teams: Lets talk about this in great detail
1. Brendan Gibbons vs PSU: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH (Also getting hurt against OSU, could have used him)
2. Matt Wile’s inconsistent punting: Also inconsistent
1. Gibbons versus other teams: I liked this more
2. Norfleet was pretty good on kick returns: Still hasn’t broken one
3. Only that one turnover on punt returns by D’Mario Jones: Burned his redshirt for that, he did.
1. Hagerup back, Wile is now the kicker
2. Will Norfleet break one?: The great question continues
3. Will Peppers have an impact here?
Thoughts on the BWW Bowl: I am not going to go in depth but this is the equivalent of a Minnesota/Iowa game in terms of talent and how the play. K State is a solid team that has a slow paced offense with a strong run game and a solid defense. Michigan split against the Gophers and Hawkeyes so I could see the outcome happening either way. The main thing is can Gardner play the whole game? If he can I think Michigan should be in the game, if not it might get ugly. Either way 2013 will be over. Which is the best news.