Scouting Michigan: Breaking down the Wolverines

2013-11-06T18:30:00Z 2013-11-06T23:59:14Z Scouting Michigan: Breaking down the WolverinesBy BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Coach: Brady Hoke

Record: 6-2 (2-2 Big Ten)

Ranking: none

Series with Nebraska: Michigan leads 4-3-1

Last game: Lost to Michigan State 29-6

Until we meet again

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten and was put in the same division with Michigan, the thought of an annual rivalry developing between two of college football’s most storied programs excited both fan bases. That lasted all of three years. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, and the conference realigning divisions, Nebraska and Michigan are not only no longer in the same division, but aren’t even scheduled to play again until 2018, in Ann Arbor. That will be three trips for Nebraska to Michigan, compared with one visit from Michigan to Lincoln, in Nebraska's first nine years in the Big Ten. It’s not yet known when Michigan will return to Lincoln.

Home cooking

Yeah, Michigan has lost on the road to Penn State and Michigan State, and had an unexpected tussle on the road with a bad Connecticut team. But at home, the Wolverines are tough. Their 19-game home winning streak is the longest current streak among BCS conference schools, and they've yet to lose at home under third-year coach Brady Hoke. Their last home loss came to Wisconsin in 2010. The 19-game streak is the fourth-longest home winning streak in Michigan history.

From one extreme to the other

In its last two games (separated by a bye week), Michigan has played the Big Ten’s worst defense and the Big Ten’s best defense, and it showed in the results. Against Indiana on Oct. 19, Michigan set a school record with 751 yards of total offense, bettering the previous record of 727 yards against Delaware State in 2009. The 751 yards marked the second-highest total in Big Ten history. Two weeks later, the Wolverines were sacked seven times, a key factor in a school-worst minus 48 yards rushing against Michigan State, which boasts the nation’s No. 1 defense.

Wolverines on offense

Formation: Pro

Of the teams Nebraska has played this season, Minnesota most resembles what Michigan will do on offense. That means a more downhill, run-based attack, and more time on the field for Nebraska’s base defensive unit with three linebackers.

One difference: Michigan has a better passing game than Minnesota. That’s in large part because of receiver Jeremy Gallon, who’s caught at least one pass in 34 straight games, or four games shy of Braylon Edwards’ school record. Gallon, second in the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards, had a career day against Indiana with 14 receptions for 369 yards and two touchdowns.

At quarterback, Devin Gardner is averaging 307.9 yards of total offense to rank first in the Big Ten. He’s completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,989 yards and 13 touchdowns. A dual threat, he’s also rushed for 474 yards and nine touchdowns.

But operating in offensive coordinator Al Borges’ pro-style offense, Gardner looks to throw first, and run second.

“He kind of sits in the pocket, wants to pass as much as he can,” Nebraska defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said. “I feel like that’s an advantage for us, with our pass rushers on the end, and then getting a little push through the middle, we can sack him a couple of times, hopefully.”

Michigan State sacked him four times, part of the Spartans’ seven overall sacks last Saturday.Michigan has allowed 19 sacks this season.

Gardner is also turnover-prone. He’s fumbled seven times, fifth-most in the nation, and has lost four. He’s thrown 11 of Michigan’s 12 interceptions, and Michigan ranks No. 84 in the country in turnover margin.

Running back Fitzgerald Touissant leads Michigan in rushing with 595 yards, or 3.7 per carry. Gardner and Devin Green are the only other Wolverines with more than 100 rushing yards.

Points

37.9 / 23

Total yards

411.6 / 64

Rushing yards

154.9 / 79

Passing yards

256.8 / 44

Wolverines on defense

Formation: 4-3

Cornerback Blake Countless is tied for first in the Big Ten with four interceptions this season, and cornerback Raymon Taylor had three, as Michigan has 12 interceptions in the first eight games this year. The Wolverines had only seven interceptions all of last season. Countless has a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Michigan is stout stopping the run. The Wolverines are allowing an average of only 105.1 rushing yards per game, and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in a game this season until last Saturday against Michigan State, when Jeremy Langford rushed 26 times for 120 yards.

Michigan is also stiff in the red zone. Teams are scoring touchdowns only 52 percent of the time after reaching inside Michigan’s 20-yard line. (Fourteen touchdowns, 27 red-zone opportunities).

Taylor is Michigan’s leader in total tackles (56) and solo tackles (27). Defensive end Frank Clark has appeared in 31 straight games, with 12 starts, and leads Michigan with 41/2 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Team captain Jake Ryan returned Oct. 12 after recovering from a torn ACL. The Lombardi Award candidate has played in 29 career games, either at linebacker or defensive end, and is expected to make his second start this season. He has two tackles for loss in his three games this year.

Defensive averages / national rank

Points

27.0 / 68

Total yards

360.1 / 28

Rushing yards

105.1 / 14

Passing yards

255.0 / 96

Wolverines on special teams

Fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons set a school record by making 16 straight field goals, from Oct. 6, 2012, through Sept. 7 of this season. The following week, in a narrow home victory against Akron, Gibbons missed a 45-yarder to end the streak. Since then, he’s missed four field goals, with two blocked. He’s made 136 straight PATs.

Matt Wile averages 39.9 yards per punt and has attempted one field goal, a make from 49 yards. He also handles kickoffs. The Wolverines average 23 yards on kickoff returns, led by Dennis Norfleet, who has a long return of 44 yards.

Players to watch

Jeremy Gallon, WR, sr., 5-8, 184 pounds

He’s certainly not the tallest receiver in the Big Ten, but he’s one of the most dangerous and effective. Gallon is second in the conference in receiving yards (898) and receptions (50) and had 369 receiving yards Oct. 19 against Indiana.

Jake Ryan, LB, yr., 6-3, 240 pounds

Ryan made his season debut Oct. 12 against Penn State after his offseason recovery from ACL surgery, and made his first start last weekend. Last year’s team leader in total tackles and tackles for loss, Ryan has two TFLs in three games this season.

Taylor Lewan, OT, sr., 6-8, 315 pounds

The senior All-America left tackle made headlines this week for his facemask grabbing in the Michigan State game. Whether he’s dirty is up for debate, but his strong play is not. He’s an Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award candidate.

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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