The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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per grab, and four different U-M wideouts caught touchdown passes. The Bad: Michigan receivers caught a combined 24 passes during the four games leading up to the Big Ten season. Should they continue to average six catches per game in league competition, expect a whole lot of runstacking defenses daring them to accomplish more. The Key Stat: See ���The Bad.��� Six grabs per game represents what might be expected out of a leading receiver for any given contest, not a combined effort. The Forecast: This crew ��� from the wideouts, to Robinson, to Borges working out how it all fits together ��� will improve. Route running, catching the ball, Robinson���s throws, comfortzone plays ��� all of those should begin to click more efficiently while the Wolverines move through the season. That said, the defenses get tougher as the slate moves along, so Michigan���s wideouts will certainly need more Notre Dame-type performances to lift the Wolverines in the bigger battles. Offensive Line The Good: For the most part, the Wolverines stayed healthy up front during the non-conference season. They certainly produced on the ground, featuring the Big Ten���s thirdbest rushing offense (250.0 yards per game), and Robinson has been sacked just once in four games, best in the Big Ten. Fifth-year senior center David Molk has been outstanding, and redshirt sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan has proven consistently good. The Bad: The line has not opened the big holes for a rushing attack that doesn���t require Robinson���s special skills. The creases are small, for the most part, and with Michigan���s throwing game not scaring anyone (except Notre Dame), the men up front may face an even tougher job creating running lanes. The Key Stat: Michigan rushed for an even 1,000 yards in four games. Robinson or not, that���s nothing to dismiss. The Forecast: Continuity remains the key. If the Wolverines stay healthy up front, they���ll get better as a unit as the weeks go by. They���ve been very disciplined with regard to penalties, U-M entering league play No. 2 in the Big Ten in that department. They���ll be called upon to lead the charge when the games get tougher and the strate22��� the wolverine��� ������ October 2011 gies more focused on blunting Robinson���s run game. Defensive Line The Good: Michigan���s defensive line enjoyed a coming-out party of sorts against San Diego State, recording a sack, forcing a fumble and getting consistent pressure on Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley. Following slow starts, performers such as juniors Craig Roh and Will Campbell have begun to contribute at a higher level. Fifth-year senior Ryan Van Bergen provided consistent playmaking and leadership, sophomore Jibreel Black delivered edge pressure, and senior Mike Martin is ramping up the heat he brings. The Bad: There were plenty of doubts early on, with the aforementioned slow starters not factoring in enough. The Wolverines also looked somewhat porous in the early parts of the first three games, foes generating strong rushing offenses and overall attacks. In addition, Michigan still lacks depth up front, especially if a key player or two goes down. The Key Stat: Michigan stood 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense entering the Big Ten season, yielding an average of 156.0 yards per game on the ground. If that continues, it will be tough for the Wolverines to maintain the very solid scoring defense they posted in the first four games. The Forecast: This crew should get nothing but better, through strong coaching and a heavy emphasis. Hoke noted if he could substantially improve any facet of Michigan���s team prior to Big Ten play, it would be the front seven. They���re getting all kinds of instruction and attention, and it began to show in the win over San Diego State. Linebackers The Good: Redshirt junior Kenny Demens has been consistent and particularly strong against the running game. He stood tied for ninth in the Big Ten in average tackles per game (7.5) entering conference play. Fifthyear senior Brandon Herron proved opportunistic in the opener, taking back a pair of Western Michigan turnovers for touchdowns. Junior Brandin Hawthorne and redshirt freshman Jake Ryan have stepped up and enjoyed some encouraging moments at the weakside and strongside linebacker spots, respectively. The Bad: As a group, this crew needs to get better at run fits, pass coverage, and everything that falls into its list of responsibilities. Hawthorne and Ryan are inexperienced, and thus fall victim to punctuating big plays with occasional big mistakes. Also, Michigan���s projected starter at the strongside linebacker spot, redshirt sophomore Cameron Gordon, didn���t play a down in the non-conference due to back issues. Junior Craig Roh (left) and senior Mike Martin (right) applied pressure on the quarterback versus Eastern Michigan and then ramped up the intensity versus San Diego State. photo by lon horwedel

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