The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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The Key Stat: Thirteen turnovers in four games by the opposition, with Michigan���s linebackers having a hand in many. Herron���s aforementioned heroics lifted the Wolverines in the season opener, but Ryan has pounced on a pair of fumbles, and Demens forced an important one against San Diego State. On a defense that will rely on opportunism, those plays are huge. The Forecast: This position will be pivotal while the Big Ten season moves along. The ability of the U-M linebackers to better slow the run game, stay with the short passing routes and continue to have a hand in turnovers is crucial. It���s tough to predict how two first-time starters on either side of Demens will hold up against the bigger opponents. They���ve shown flashes, but consistency is the key and it should get better with experience. Secondary The Good: Redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs supplies a huge boost, in his ability to make calls and make big plays. Redshirt sophomore safety Thomas Gordon has also delivered some highlight efforts, especially in the turnover department, and the Wolverines��� cornerbacks have held their own. The solid effort of freshman Blake Countess against San Diego State gives reason for optimism regarding more depth and playmaking ability down the road. The Bad: Countess saw the field because fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk can���t stay on it. Already performing with a cast on one arm, Woolfolk left the SDSU contest with a leg injury. The Wolverines have generally done a solid job preventing big plays, but the breakdown that led to Notre Dame���s final touchdown will produce losses in less magical final moments. The Key Stat: If the linebackers have enjoyed a hand in the turnovers, the defensive backs claim an even bigger one. Kovacs, Gordon and redshirt junior cornerback J.T. Floyd have each snared an interception, while Kovacs and sophomore safety Marvin Robinson have each forced a fumble. Gordon has recovered a pair of fumbles, boosting Michigan���s plus-five turnover margin ��� tied for the best in the Big Ten entering league play. The Forecast: Whether through experience, coaching, or a combination of the two, this group looks like a dif- True freshman cornerback Blake Countess was called into action versus San Diego State due to an injury to Troy Woolfolk, and he responded with seven tackles. photo by per kjeldsen ferent crew altogether from Michigan���s 2010 secondary. The Wolverines face some worries at the corners, especially if Woolfolk���s troubles continue and anyone else goes down, but this band of defensive backs is becoming increasingly effective and reliable. Special Teams The Good: Freshman punter Matt Wile never hurt U-M significantly when forced into action in the nonconference season. He averaged a very solid 41.0 yards per punt and didn���t have one blocked. Now sophomore Will Hagerup, who owns an even bigger punting leg, is back for the Big Ten season. Michigan also showed an ability to improve on kickoff coverage, following some rocky early efforts. The Bad: Redshirt sophomore placekicker Brendan Gibbons��� miss of a 40yard field goal against SDSU will get some fretting again about his gameday consistency. The Wolverines haven���t featured an explosive kickoff return, averaging 18.6 yards per try, 11th in the Big Ten. They���re still 11th in the league in kickoff coverage, too, netting 41.4 yards per boot. The Key Stat: Michigan stands atop the Big Ten in red zone effectiveness. The Wolverines made it there 13 times in pre-conference play, and scored all 13, including 12 touchdowns. If they keep producing touchdowns and connecting on shorter field goals, they���ll take a lot of pressure off. The Forecast: Wile has been very solid on kickoffs, while Hagerup should be back to booming punts. Gibbons��� push against San Diego State was unfortunate, but Hoke appeared reassuring rather than angry afterward, and has consistently maintained the third-year kicker has performed well all fall. U-M���s coverage teams can certainly improve, along with its kickoff returns, but overall, special teams hasn���t been a red flag area. ��� Michigan���s Five Best Pre-Conference Stats The Wolverines are looking to put up some numbers in Big Ten play, but several stood out before the Legends Division ever saw its first snap. Here���s a look at the early eye-catchers: 1. Turnover Margin ��� Through four games, Michigan and Michigan State led the league, each at a plus-five. 2. Red Zone ��� The Wolverines not only paced the Big Ten in red zone offense ��� scoring all 13 times, with 12 touchdowns ��� they led the way in red zone defense as well. Opponents scored only 53.8 percent of the time on their 13 chances, with five touchdowns. 3. Scoring Defense ��� U-M surrendered an average of 12.5 points per game in non-conference play. Much tougher games remain, but that���s a long way from 35.2. 4. Rushing Offense ��� Averaging 250.0 yards per game on the ground will win a lot of football games, especially if the passing effort comes alongside a bit more consistently. 5. Sacks Against ��� Michigan has one, and everyone else in the Big Ten has absorbed at least four. Credit the offensive line, but also understand the Wolverines have a quarterback who can get up and go. ��� John Borton October 2011��� ������ the wolverine��� 23

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