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November 11, 2012

Report Card: Grading U-M in a win over Northwestern

Gameday Grades 2012

Rushing offense

C Yet again, it took one long run from redshirt junior running back Fitz Toussaint to bolster the average, and he fumbled inside the 10 after a 50-yard gain. Toussaint ran 17 times for 47 yards without the long run, averaging only 2.76 yards per carry, while junior quarterback Devin Gardner picked up most of his 47 yards on scrambles, not designed runs.

The Wolverines had to go almost exclusively to the passing game in the second half due to a lack of running room up front. They carried only nine times for 25 yards in that stanza and overtime, relying heavily on Gardner's arm to carry them to victory. Michigan rushed 10 times for 12 yards on first down in the first half.

Passing offense

A- Receivers continue to benefit from Gardner's better command of the passing game compared to senior Denard Robinson. Fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree caught five passes for 139 yards, including some perfectly placed balls and one jump ball with nine seconds remaining that saved the game. Redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon added 94 yards on seven catches, and freshman tight end Devin Funchess showed how dangerous he is in the red zone with a third down touchdown grab in the fourth quarter in which he rose above a defender.

U-M receivers did drop a pair of balls early that, while defended well, should have been completions. Overall, however, they gained better separation than they had in weeks with crisp routes, and Gardner was usually on the money (minus one, fourth quarter interception) in showing his potential for the second straight week.

Rushing defense

D Northwestern only threw 21 passes on its 79 offensive plays, primarily because the Wildcats didn't have to air it out. They averaged 4.3 yards per rush, led by speedy running back Venric Mark's 104 yards on 23 carries, and got 82 more from quarterback Kain Colter. The Wolverines gave up over three rushes over 18 yards, including a 30-yarder from Mark and a 21-yard gallop by Mike Trumpy.

Seven of Northwestern's first half, first down runs went for two yards or less, but two of the Wildcats' other first down runs went for 51 yards. They had 118 yards at the half and 248 for the game. U-M saved its best for the overtime session, holding Northwestern to eight yards on four carries after a seven-yard run on first down gave the Wildcats favorable down and distance. Senior linebacker Kenny Demens made the winning plays on third and fourth down to secure the win.

Passing defense

C- The Wolverines had a chance to get off the field with a halftime lead, but quarterback Trevor Siemian picked them apart with precision throws, including a 21-yarder on third and six from the Michigan 40 and a perfectly placed, 19-yard touchdown to tie the game just before the half. The Northwestern quarterbacks combined to go 14-of-21 for 183 yards and three touchdowns despite having the worst passing offense (statistically) in the conference coming into the game.

Dan Vitale's 23-yard pass from Colter to open the second half scoring summed up U-M's difficulties against the pass. Vitale was alone on a wheel route after a linebacker apparently blew a coverage and there was nobody within 10 yards of him when he hauled in the pass that gave the Wildcats a 21-14 lead.

Special teams

B The Wolverines were solid in almost all phases except kick return, getting a break when a 90-plus Venric Mark return was called back on a holding penalty. The dangerous Mark still averaged 31.5 yards per return. Michigan wasted a 37-yard kick return from freshman Dennis Norfleet with an interception on the subsequent drive, but Gallon provided one of the game's key plays with a 23-yard punt return to give the Wolverines a glimmer of hope on the final scoring drive in regulation. Junior holder Drew Dileo picked up a low snap off the carpet, and redshirt junior kicker Brendan Gibbons was clutch again with a 26-yard field goal that sent the game to overtime.

Junior punter Will Hagerup's kicks weren't high, but they were deep. He averaged 51.3 yards on three punts, and the coverage was decent (10 yards per return) despite the low kicks.


C Michigan's defense struggled throughout with the Northwestern offense, except in overtime. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seemed to bait the Wildcats into the run on the last play, and Demens cleaned up to secure the win. Until that point, however, the Wildcats took advantage of mismatches and blown coverages in the passing game and missed tackles or poor technique in the run game to move the ball at will. Michigan's offense was able to move despite the absence of a consistent running game, with Gardner on the money for much of the afternoon. The staff had the players believing they'd win until the end, when they pulled out an improbable victory that kept their Big Ten title hopes alive.

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