Despite a 5-0 start to the season, the Michigan offense didn’t seem to be taking the next step that many expected based off the flashes in 2012. Devin Gardner was still very hot and cold, thanks in part to inconsistent offensive line play in front of him.
The Wolverines have since gone 1-3, losing to Penn State, Michigan State, and Nebraska. And even more concerning, their last two games have produced a combined 19 points, a far cry from their 42 points per game average for the previous seven.
Unfortunately for Michigan, these offensive woes won’t be an easy fix. From puzzling offensive play designs to poor decisions by Devin Gardner, to receiver’s lacking enough separation, to an offensive line doing no one any favors, the Wolverine offense has spiraled to a concerning downturn, but for their post-season bowl expectations and their draft-eligible prospect’s draft value.
Offensive Line Play: Taylor Lewan Can’t Do Everything
Senior left tackle Taylor Lewan is still really good. But the rest of the Michigan offensive line, especially the interior unit, has struggled mightily as of late, especially against Nebraska. Of the interior three offensive lineman, only redshirt sophomore center Graham Glasgow has experience. Struggling in blitz pickup, delayed stunts, and initially quick pass rushes, the entire interior unit has forced Devin Gardner to rely on running back blitz pickup far too often along with needing to make pocket escape plans earlier than he’d like. Also, in the run game, the offense struggles to get significant push downfield, barely winning at the first level and forcing the read-option game to make very late decisions to attempt to get the defense off balance. Unforunately for this offense, experience likely is the only cure for their woes, but they haven’t hit their stride the way the coaching staff likely expected by this point.
As for the offensive tackles in the offense, senior right tackle Michael Schofield has been solid, but not without issues. With adequate leg drive downfield, he’s not an overly athletic mover in space, struggling to consistently keep his balance in space and pickup his man. Suitable for this offense in pass protection, he’s flirting with an NFL future, and he’ll likely be relying on his Michigan bloodlines for him to get a serious shot.
Finally, it’s really amazing to see just how much better Taylor Lewan is compared to the rest of the unit. While he’s had his struggles (especially against Michigan State the week previous), Lewan was in command for the entire Nebraska game in pass protection and was the only Michigan lineman to consistently win downfield as a run blocker. Look at the play below for an example of just how dominant he is, as he holds his pass block perfectly, with near flawless technique from his hands to feet, for seven full seconds.
Despite his incident against Michigan State, Taylor Lewan has shown just how dominant he can be as a pass blocker, and has proved that he still belongs in the 2014 class’s elite. When you also consider his true leadership role on this team, both on the offensive line unit and for the team as a whole, Lewan is the type of building block you want in your NFL locker room and certainly warrants a Top 10 pick still.
Decision Making: Devin Gardner Not Progressing as Expected
I’ll be the first to say that I had very high expectations for Devin Gardner coming into this year. With another year in Al Borges and Brady Hoke’s offense, along with Jeremy Gallon and Taylor Lewan returning, the near-future seemed bright for Gardner. However, he simply hasn’t improved nearly as much as I anticipated. After a promising victory over Notre Dame that was productive yet not flawless, Gardner seemed to have built the communication with his offensive weapons and felt comfortable in the offense.
But after a very unimpressive performance, both statistically and scouting-wise, against Nebraska, I’m very much ready to hit reverse on the Gardner-NFL express. Still possessing the arm strength to drive the ball across the field and the athleticism to make plays with his feet, Gardner consistently missed opportunities to make special throws against the Cornhuskers. Below is a prime example, misreading the safety leverage, bypassing his seam-route running tight end with no safety help, and instead getting sacked.
Gardner’s biggest area of stunted development is his lack of anticipation of the defense and his receivers routes. His timing when he hits the top of his drop back is a major concern, and he doesn’t seem to have a good feel for which receiver will be open based on his pre-snap reads. He also seems tense to target the middle of the field outside of short drag routes, and doesn’t take advantage of no centerfield safety nearly enough. Also, he’s struggled in his decision making of when (and where) to escape the pocket under pressure. The play below shows a mix of poor play design (we’ll get to that) and a poor decision for Gardner to roll out the wrong way on a 3rd and long play instead of trying to find an open receiver.
Overall, it’s clear Devin Gardner will need another year of development. Hopefully by then, his personal development will continue, and the young position players and lineman struggling now will develop along with him.
Position Players: Big Plays Be Damned, this Offense Needs Consistency
Before getting into detail of which position players (running backs, tight ends, and receivers) are having success this year, it’s important to point out that the offensive play-calling has severely limited this offense’s success against more fundamentally sound defenses. The offense has gotten away from shorter timing routes and interior combo routes, instead running more vertical stretching, deep breaking twin-set routes that force Devin Gardner to hang in the pocket far too long. With a struggling Gardner and limited running success thanks to poor interior offensive line play, the offensive play-calling is doing this unit no favors in their attempt to have consistent first down gains.
That being said, the receiving unit’s lack of depth is made up for by the big play ability of receiver Jeremy Gallon and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess. While I won’t touch on Funchess too much because he’s not draft eligible, the long, physically built, strong-handed tight end is likely to become Devin Gardner’s best friend next year and could be a future Top 50 pick himself.
As for Gallon, he’s put up mega numbers this year, thanks in large part to a 184 yard, 3 touchdown performance against Notre Dame and a 369 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Indiana. With plus body control after the catch and the vision to pick up quick chunks of yards, he’s able to consistently pick up yards after catch, and they work to get him in those opportunities as much as possible. But outside of drag routes and vertical routes (along with some comebacks), he doesn’t have much success in getting separation downfield, a big reason why the offense should attack vertically as much as it does. Gallon’s diminutive size and lack of ideal true NFL-level separation is likely why he’ll struggle to be a Top 100 pick on draft day despite his production.
After a start that lead to BCS aspirations, the Michigan offense’s struggles have driven this team to a 6-3 record, with their remaining three games not easy victories. The next two are on the road (against Northwestern and Iowa), and the final game against the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.
The offense likely won’t be able to flip a switch and turn into one of country’s best, despite that expectation coming into this year. But they can salvage the season, give Devin Gardner tools to build on for his expected return, and send seniors Taylor Lewan, Jeremy Gallon, and others onto the NFL Draft process on a positive note.
During the Michigan-Nebraska football game on Saturday, Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was honored for her work before she retires during the Summer of 2014. Coleman was presented with a #12 jersey for her 12 years of work. Coleman took the microphone from Athletic Director Dave Brandon and gave an impromptu speech, where she appeared to be drunk. I was at the game and...
If you’re a Michigan fan, you probably didn’t have a very enjoyable time on Saturday. The Wolverines’ struggles continued as they lost to Nebraska 17-13. Michigan (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) was held to negative yardage on the ground for the second straight week against Nebraska (7-2, 4-1).
What went wrong
Well, just about everything. Michigan’s primary problem all year has been its...
Michigan Football is one of the three finalists with a chance to receive a commitment from super-recruit Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Virginia). The 6-foot-4, 250 pound defensive end is ranked the #1 recruit in the country by rivals.com.
Hand took an official visit to Florida this past weekend and saw the Gators lose to Vanderbilt. He also recently visited Alabama...
To say that the Michigan Wolverines are struggling right now would be a major understatement, The team has lost three of its last four games and has rushed for -69 yards in the last two against Michigan State and Nebraska, respectively. With the offense struggling, head coach Brady Hoke is feeling the heat from Wolverines fans.
Facing doubt from fans is nothing new for coaches, but...
We know a good chunk of the 100,000 or 110,000 or whatever University of Michigan fans were probably drunk on Saturday as Brady Hoke suffered his first ever home loss as leader of the Wolverines. It really sounds like Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was drunk too when she gave this speech.
Coleman was honored for her work before she retires during the Summer of 2014. The University...
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer Michigan had hoped to close the regular season well enough to earn a shot at playing for the Big Ten title.
Officially, that can't happen now, so the Wolverines (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) have adjusted their ultimate goal this year with the conference championship out of reach.
''You got a chance to win 10 football games...
Via It's Always Sunny in Detroit
November 11, 2013
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
The answer is absolutely yes. And who can blame her? That offense could force any Meeeeeeechigan fan to alcohol. After starting the year 5-0, Brady Hoke and his Wolverines have gone 1-3 in their last four, including a stomping at the hands of rival Michigan State and a very uninspiring loss to Nebraska in Ann Arbor Saturday.
Mary Sue Coleman was...
A Michigan man arrested on drunken driving charges two weekends ago said the Wolverines’ pathetic performance against Michigan State led to him getting smashed. True story. The Dearborn Press & Guide says a 25-year-old man who was super drunk and had urinated himself, was arrested by police around 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, not too […]
Just how bad is it getting for Michigan Wolverine fans? They are now blaming the coaches for drinking and driving.
According to the Dearborn Press & Guide, a 25-year-old fan of the Michigan football team was pulled and arrested for driving under the influence in the wee hours of November 3. The previous day, the Michigan Wolverines managed to run for -48 yards against in-state...
Finally, some good news for Michigan fans regarding the progress of Mitch McGary’s back injury.
After the dour news last week of Michigan’s All-American sophomore possibly being held out of game action until the Big Ten season, John Beilein offered some kernels of hope that perhaps McGary will not be out for quite that long. It’s not much, but it’s the first time since McGary’s...
Where do I begin? I don’t even know what to say.
Watching the Michigan – Nebraska game was one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in a while. That says something considering what happened in East Lansing a week ago. The most painful thing to watch was our team’s lack of spirit. It was like they were dead inside. The Michigan State experience was obviously...
In what's becoming a weekly feature on this blog...once again, M bloggers have taken to the streets. Brace for impact.
When the offense took the field with a chance to win the game late in
the fourth quarter there was a stunning sound from the crowd: nothing.
Crickets. Nervous mumbling at best. This muffled din was delivered by
the crowd that unleashed...
Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas and Jon Horford were all on hand after Michigan’s decisive 9-59 victory over South Carolina State to speak with media at the post-game press conference. Stauskas and LeVert discussed their hot shooting, and Horford talked a bit about becoming a team captain. You can watch the interviews using the embedded media players below.
Stauskas and Horford after the jump.
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