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November 22, 2013
The Week That Was: Derrick Green takes over at RB
Freshman tailback Derrick Green was one of the Michigan representatives to meet the media this week. Green should continue to play a prominent role these last two games. However, Fitz Toussaint is healthy now, leading to a debate over who should start at tailback.
Derrick Green competes with Fitz Toussaint
With Toussaint sitting out last week's game with a concussion, Green earned his first career start and rushed for 79 yards on 19 carries (4.2 yards per rush), giving Michigan a positive final yardage total for the first time in three games. Toussaint, who has 601 yards on 172 carries (3.5-yard average), has been cleared to play medically, though, and head coach Brady Hoke has said he is not sure who will start Saturday.
What They're Saying
MLive.com beat writer Nick Baumgardner knows this will not be easy for the Wolverines, but thinks it's time Michigan goes with Green and classmate DeVeon Smith: "This week, Hoke and Borges have maintained that they're not sure who will get the nod as the team's starting running back. Will it be Green again? Or will Michigan go back to 200-pound fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint?
"This situation is delicate, to be sure. Toussaint is a veteran. He's been through more crap than most two players combined, some of it self-inflicted, some of it not. But through it all, he's never complained. He's showed up to work every day and he's busted his butt.
"There isn't one player on this roster that doesn't respect Fitzgerald Toussaint. Which is, exactly, why this is a delicate deal. You rip Toussaint from the lineup and bench him completely, you risk messing with locker room politics.
"But, at the same time, forcing Toussaint to continue to carry the load in this offense is the very thing Borges and Hoke tried to avoid two years ago: It's a square peg slamming into a round hole. Toussaint wasn't brought here to be a power back, he was brought here to be a spread back.
"Green and Smith? This is what they're here to do. They're here to run through people. To gain strength as the game goes on. To pound teams. This is who they are. It's not who Toussaint is."
If it is the young backs that get the call, MaizenBrew.com's Anthony Mammel writes that they have a responsibility to the Michigan offense: "Michigan won't have a dominant running attack any time soon, but the team must continue to build on the strides it made on the ground a week ago against Northwestern.
"Outside of improving on the offensive line, Michigan's young backs have to continue to run with confidence. This shouldn't be an issue after last week, when both Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith put Northwestern defenders down with punishing blows. It wouldn't surprise me if both ball carriers flashed even more power this week following a game in which they realized they aren't helpless after all."
My Take: I've been a pretty strong defender of Toussaint this season and over the last two years, consistently pointing at the failings of the offensive line to explain his mediocre numbers. And certainly, we have seen a few games here and there where Toussaint has had big performance and produced more than 100 yards.
However, the offense functioned differently a week ago. It played with more power, more physicality, and while left tackle Taylor Lewan credited the play up front, different ball carriers offer different identities to an offense, and Green and Smith played a key role in establishing a stronger presence.
At this point, there is no reason to play Toussaint over the two rookies. The Big Ten title is out of reach, and the future is now. It would be different if the senior was on his way to a 1,200-yard season, but he's not, and this offense seems stuck in reverse with him toting the football (and pass protecting like he's not even interested).
It should be the Green and Smith show this weekend and next.
Austin Hatch talks about his hoops future
Originally a 2013 recruit, shooting guard Austin Hatch finally signed a letter of intent with Michigan. He missed both the 2012 and 2013 basketball seasons after recovering from a plane crash in June 2011 that claimed the life of his father and stepmother. Hatch had previously survived a plane crash eight years earlier that killed two siblings and his mother.
Through it all, U-M coach John Beilein said the Maize and Blue would honor that scholarship promise, and last week Hatch officially became a Wolverine.
While it remains uncertain (some say doubtful) that Hatch will ever play in a Division I game, he is optimistic.
"Beilein told me that he wouldn't offer me a scholarship if he didn't think I had a role on the team that would help them win. He said, 'Austin, whatever you are able to do, whether it be a manager or a practice player or whatever, you're on scholarship no matter what.'"
What They're Saying:
LATimes.com writer Eric Sondheimer said it's hard not to be really impressed with Hatch: "There was so much interest in Austin Hatch's news conference on Wednesday in a lecture hall at Los Angeles Loyola that a TV station from Indiana went live with some of his comments.
"Hatch was able to handle a nearly 30-minute question and answer session with confidence and poise and displayed unreal determination for a 19-year-old who has been through so much.
"There simply is no one quite like him. He has survived two plane crashes. He was in a coma for eight weeks. He's practicing again, trying to regain some of the instincts and skills that caused Michigan to offer him a scholarship when he was attending Canterbury High School and averaging 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds his sophomore year.
"He signed with Michigan last week. Loyola Coach Jamal Adams remembers his first conversation with Michigan Coach John Beilein last summer when he found out Hatch was headed to Loyola. 'He asked me if I wanted to participate in a miracle,' Adams said."
YahooSports.com's Jeff Eisenberg wrote, perhaps, the pinnacle story on Hatch this week, and you can find it here: "Just after Austin Hatch finished a drive to the rim with an acrobatic up-and-under in practice Tuesday, the defenders the Michigan-bound wing had just beaten reacted in an unlikely manner.
"They celebrated with him.
"'Everyone was elated,' said Jamal Adams, coach of Loyola High School in Los Angeles. 'It was an amazing move, a high Division I basketball move. There was a dog pile on the court. The celebration caused us to miss about five minutes of practice.'
"It's rare for a basket in practice to inspire such a reaction, but anyone familiar with Hatch's story surely understood the jubilation. The layup served as a reminder of the skill and athleticism Hatch routinely displayed before the second deadly plane crash of his life splintered his family and left him clinging to life."
My Take: I know it's unlikely Hatch every steps on the court in a Division I game, but those close to him have every right to believe it's possible based on the young man's attitude and commitment. I pray that he does get a chance, even if it's for five minutes on Senior Night, and not because of the way it would make everyone in Crisler Arena feel or how his coaches and teammates would react - but because it would be the most deserving of awards for a man that will work every day to make that dream a reality.
And isn't that what we all want? We all want to see our greatest ambitions come to fruition, and Hatch is one step closer. Karma owes him a memory that will live with him for the rest of his life. He's had to experience too many awful moments. He's due for something truly amazing.
Taylor Lewan snubbed by Outland Trophy
A first-team All-American a year ago, a preseason All-American this year, and still a projected top 10 pick in next April's NFL Draft, senior left tackle Taylor Lewan was not one of the six finalists for the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the top lineman in the nation.
What They're Saying:
Baumgardner notes that the season Lewan envisioned for himself and for the team has disintegrated: "Taylor Lewan returned to school this season to win a Big Ten championship. That's not going to happen.
"Lewan also returned to school and talked in the summer about possibly being able to compete for the 2013 Outland Trophy, which is awarded to college football's top lineman, offensively or defensively. Well, that's not going to happen either.
"An All-American last season and a preseason All-American in 2013, Lewan passed up a shot at possibly being a top 10 NFL draft pick last winter to return to Ann Arbor for his senior season. It hasn't, exactly, gone as planned."
Michigan's offensive line play this season hasn't seem to affect Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield's draft stock considerably, but it will be scrutinized more heavily after the season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt writes:
"Here's what confounds me, and what is troubling a few NFL scouts I've talked to recently: Michigan is having trouble running the ball despite having two NFL-ready offensive linemen, senior tackles Taylor Lewan (No. 3 on my Hot 100) and Michael Schofield (No. 51). Lewan could end up being a top-10 draft pick in May.
"But the talented bookends have a lot of questions to answer first, and not only about their team's rushing attack. They have also given up 14 total sacks the past two weeks. QB Devin Gardner has been responsible for some of them, but not all. Teams are feeling very comfortable blitzing Michigan into submission.
"I like Lewan and Schofield quite a bit, but it's difficult to explain what has happened the past two weeks. And I guarantee you, in draft season, NFL teams will be requesting tapes of the Michigan State and Nebraska games and examining the play of Michigan's offensive line very closely."
My Take: Lewan might be disappointed, and Hoke might be too that he wasn't a finalist, but neither should be surprised. National awards are as much about the team as they are about the individual. With rare exceptions, hardware goes not to the best lineman in the country or best wide receiver or best defensive back, but the best on a good team unless the statistics are just so overwhelming a player cannot be denied. But the only numbers for linemen are team tallies for rushing yards and sacks allowed, and neither favor Michigan and Lewan.
In the end, so what. So he doesn't win the Outland Trophy. No big deal. The far greater anguish for Lewan will be that he returned for his senior season and the Wolverines are sitting three games out of first place with two weeks to go, and are now just scrapping for a decent New Year's Day bowl.
Lewan will go on to great success in the NFL and didn't really cost himself anything (well except one more year of getting paid) to return. However, his legacy will not be what many expected. Players are defined by their senior years, and this will be one of those where the struggles of the entire offensive line muddies the memories of the player Lewan was on the field.
Like Chad Henne, who could never shake his 0-4 record against Ohio State, Lewan will be remembered as a very good left tackle for the Maize and Blue, but he'll be shut out of that pantheon of linemen that rank at U-M among the all-time greatest.