by: P.J. Wascher
Brady Hoke year 3. Optimism continues to grow off some great recruiting classes, but the product on the field continues to look like a transition. Denard Robinson will go down as a legend in this program’s history, but his graduation now means Michigan can finally begin to look like the product Hoke promised when he first arrived. Looking at the year ahead, Michigan is finally beginning to get some depth at several positions, but injuries and graduation have left several question marks. Making things even more difficult to predict, we just don’t know how life will be without Denard on offense or Kovacs on defense. Big Ten Championship is always the goal. Is it possible this year? Maybe. With a squad full of question marks, Michigan fans are left in the dark going into the season.
Michigan and the pro style offense is back! We think. Hard to figure out what this offense will really look like this season. Devin Gardner still brings a dangerous running option with him that will make it tempting to leave several spread offense plays in the book. Making things tougher to implement a true pro style offense, Michigan lacks a tall WR to target down the field. Jeremy Gallon will be the team’s number one target this year, but his size will always be his limiting factor. He will have a great season, but it will still limit the way Michigan can call plays. Gallon is dangerous in space and will always excel more in a spread offense. Helping this offense transition is an actual QB that can be considered a passing threat. Devin showed off his arm late last season. The Wolverines finally have a QB that can target receivers without resorting to a heave. Gardner was a promising 5 star recruit when he came to Ann Arbor, but looked like a QB with happy feet his first two seasons. A year at WR and lots of development later, he has settled down and looks ready to be a top QB in the Big Ten.
The offensive line could not run. Let’s be blunt here. It was ugly. The Wolverines were short handed on the interior line and were not ready to throw their highly rated true freshman out there. This left Michigan with no real running threat other than Denard and made their offense very predictable. Not a problem against the cupcakes, but it caught up with them in places like Columbus. This year, Michigan will finally be using those freshmen, now red-shirt freshman. Kalis should help big time at guard. Michigan has still struggled to fill that center spot, but it can’t be any worse than last year. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield at tackle should be a lock for best tackle combo in the Big Ten. We don’t yet know how this running game will look though; we just hope it’s better. Toussaint is the clear number one back this season, despite the gruesome season ending injury last season. All reports say he is healthy this season. It was a rough season for Toussaint last year, but it’s hard to blame him for much considering the offensive line struggles. If Toussaint is not healthy, Michigan will have several options under him. Derrick Green, true freshman, will probably be the true number two.
Running through the offense, it’s hard to not feel optimistic, but we just don’t know. How will Devin Gardner look as the full time QB. How will he adjust to the new offense? How will he deal with teams that are going to be scouting and adjusting to him? Small WR options make me nervous. An injury to his number two target, Amara Darboh, isn’t helping. If the running game can improve, this will help take pressure off Gardner’s passing game. This offense had its moments last season, but found itself predictable against the top teams when they could shutdown all running options other than Denard. They key to a Borges offense is the ability to run the ball. If defenses begin to respect RBs between the tackles, Gardner will be able to let it fly down the field.
It may not steal the headlines this season, but it’s the squad fans should feel more comfortable with. Going through the positions, only safety is leaving me concerned. Life without Kovacs is going to take some adjustment. Jarrod Wilson appears to be the starter until Avery is healthy. Neither will be the playmaker Kovacs has been. Many think Thomas Gordon will fill that role, but I just don’t see it. He’s a solid player, but has never shown that ability to play a LB type role in run support. When I stop worrying about the Safeties, it starts to look a little better. The Cornerbacks will get Blake Countess back from injury, who looks like a possible shut-down corner. Ramon Taylor on the other side will continue to develop along wil several decent options. Jake Ryan’s injury has left some nervous about the linebackers, but his return in October should ease those concerns. The schedule looks manageable till then. Prepare to hear James Ross a lot. This should be his year to shine. The defensive line still has a few question marks. The Wolverines are still looking for more QB pressure from this group. That will rest on Frank Clark this season. He’s a physical beast that just hasn’t shown it on the field yet. His ability to rush the QB will be even more important thanks to Jake Ryan’s injury. No pressure and the secondary will be left out to dry. This secondary is decent, but that can only get you so far at the college level. I trust Mattison to find different ways to put pressure on the QB. His blitz packages have been effective the last two years, but if he could avoid sending an extra guy his defense will really be ready to take off. Probably still a year away from that.
Central Michigan – W – Nice easy opener
Notre Dame – L – Rees gets the last laugh smh
Akron – W – Cupcake game
Connecticut – W – They lost to Towson!
Minnesota – W – Same old Minnesota, the Jug should be safe
Penn State – W – QB still unsettled, Will those scholarship reductions finally hurt?
Indiana – W – Good offense, bad defense
Michigan State – W – Tough game like usual
Nebraska – W – They were lucky to win last year
Northwestern – W – Toss-up game
Iowa – W – Kirk Ferentz is still in rebuilding mode…
Ohio State – L – I really hate Urban Meyer
It’s an optimistic prediction, but you can make a case for every position being better this year, other than Safety. Lots of questions about the offense Borges will run this season, but he should have lots of options, which is never a bad thing. This is still a tough schedule, 5 toss up games (Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, Northwestern and OSU). With that many games up in the air, my prediction could look pretty foolish. In Hoke I trust. As the system moves closer to his personnel, this team should continue to win more of those toss-up games. Big Ten Championship is in reach this season, but it will take a little magic.