The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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M By John Borton ichigan surged unscathed through the non-conference campaign, surviving 14 quarters, 13 minutes and 33 seconds of action under Brady Hoke���s new regime. The sailing wasn���t all smooth, including a lightning-shortened opener and considerable darkness before the dawn against Notre Dame. In the end, Michigan survived September with an unbeaten record. In the meantime, the Wolverines gave their coaches plenty to tweak as they charge into the Big Ten season. Here���s an overview of what the nonconference spotlight revealed. back will continue to give teams fits, his speed and explosiveness serving to push Michigan into the eight- or nine-win category. It���s what happens in the toughest games, against the toughest defenses, that bears close scrutiny. Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State will gear up to stop Robinson on the ground, and he���ll need to back them off through the air. If he can���t, the Wolverines face some tough sledding. Running Backs The Good: Michigan has shown flashes of competent contribution, such as redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint getting free for 80 Status Report Position-By-Position Look After Four Games Shows Mixed Results Quarterbacks The Good: Denard Robinson remains one of the most dangerous and electrifying performers in college football. He threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame, he ran for more than 100 yards in three of Michigan���s four non-conference games, and he can turn around a contest at any moment by turning on the jets. The Bad: Robinson experienced some seriously inconsistent moments throwing the ball in the pre-Big Ten contests, hitting just 7 of 18 throws against Eastern Michigan and 48.6 percent overall in Michigan���s first four games. He struggled against San Diego State, going 8-of-17 passing with two interceptions, and he���s still trying to find greater consistency in Al Borges��� offense. Plus, his backups have barely seen the field, and they���re only a play away ��� The Key Stat: Robinson accounted for 1,176 total yards in Michigan���s four non-conference contests. That means he���s still getting it done, even though the completion percentage represents a concern. The Forecast: The junior quarter20��� the wolverine��� ������ October 2011 yards in the season opener, or junior Vincent Smith breaking free for 118 yards on just nine carries (13.1 yards per attempt) against Eastern Michigan. Smith averaged 8.5 yards per carry through the non-conference schedule, with Toussaint at 5.5. The Bad: Robinson still leads this team in rushing, and certainly will the rest of the year, barring injury. Michigan���s coaches sought a single ball carrier to step up and clearly take the role as lead back, but no one has done so definitively. Plus, Toussaint missed the Notre Dame game (when U-M running backs gained just 10 yards) with an injury, providing flashbacks to his previous time on the shelf. The Key Stat: Michigan���s running backs averaged 112 yards rushing over the course of four non-league contests. That needs to improve during Big Ten play, and the opposition isn���t lightening up. The Forecast: Toussaint and Smith have both enjoyed some encouraging moments. Whether either can hold up as a go-to performer over the course of the season remains to be seen. It���s more likely the Wolver- ines will continue to use a mixture of performers to try and supplement Robinson���s legs. Tight Ends The Good: Senior captain Kevin Koger provides spirit and leadership, along with a big target for Robinson. The fourth-year Wolverine has made a couple of very athletic snags on tough balls to catch. He made five receptions for 48 yards (9.6 average) with one TD grab during the nonconference season. The Bad: Koger occasionally features the wince-inducing drop, such as one that hit him right on the numbers against San Diego State. The senior was running free down the middle and would have enjoyed a huge gain, not to mention building Robinson���s confidence a bit on a rocky throwing afternoon. Plus, Michigan���s other tight ends haven���t really made their presence felt in the early going, so depth is a concern. The Key Stat: The 1.25 catches-pergame average out of Michigan���s tight ends seems low. Koger can be more of a weapon and a safe target for Robinson, provided he can be consistent and reliable down the stretch. The Forecast: This one���s tough to call. Certainly, offensive coordinator Al Borges would like to make good use of the tight end position in the passing game when U-M gets into the meat of the Big Ten schedule. Robinson and Koger have shown flashes of being able to connect, and the Wolverines are a tougher cover when the tight end is a threat. Seeing it on a regular basis constitutes believing, in this instance. Wide Receivers The Good: A number of Wolverines have demonstrated big-play ability, especially in the toughest and most important contest of the non-conference slate. U-M averaged an astonishing 30.7 yards per catch in the wild shootout against Notre Dame, including redshirt junior Roy Roundtree���s leaping game-winner with two seconds remaining. Fifth-year senior Junior Hemingway came out of the nonconference slate averaging 42.2 yards Junior quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 552 yards in U-M's first four games, but he completed only 48.6 percent of his passing attempts for 624 yards. photo by lon horwedel

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