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September 14, 2013

Report Card: Grading Michigan after a 28-24 win over Akron

Gameday Grades 2013

Rushing offense


D+ his one seems harsh given the Wolverines grossed 217 yards, losing 40 (28 on sack yardage and a fumble), but it's fair given the opponent and the struggles to move the ball consistently. Fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint averaged 3.7 yards per carry - take out his long run of 24 and it's 2.6. His two biggest runs, accounting for around 50 yards, were called back by holding penalties. Michigan's best running plays continue to be redshirt junior Devin Gardner designed runs. Gardner is outstanding with the read option and shifty on the occasional draw. He averaged 10.3 yards per carry and netted 103, though he did fumble on an option play on which he should have pitched to Toussaint. Regardless, he's U-M's best option in the running game right now, concerning in that the offensive line doesn't seem to be creating enough room for Toussaint up front.

Passing offense


D Gardner threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns, but his decisions in the passing game were head scratching. He threw three interceptions, including the game changing pick six in the fourth quarter for the second straight game that allowed the Zips to make a game of it at 21-17. Gardner seemed too anxious to go for the big play and didn't check down enough to his other options open underneath coverage. Head coach Brady Hoke said he might not sleep tonight wondering about some of his quarterback's decisions in the passing game. Highlights included sophomore tight end Devin Funchess' 48-yard catch and run to open the scoring and six more receptions for 66 yards from fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon. Freshman tight end Jake Butt (two catches, 27 yards and an end zone pass interference) continues to impress.

Rushing defense


D+ Akron opened the game with a 12-yard run and only notched one better, for 19 yards. Eleven of their 27 designed runs went for four yards or more, however, making the Michigan defense respect the run despite 49 passing attempts. The Zips managed 107 yards rushing and seemed to get many of their yards against the right side of the Michigan defense. The bright spot: the Wolverines' run stoppers held in the red zone. Akron carried four times for three yards on two trips in the second half, including a two-yard tackle for loss by junior linebacker Desmond Morgan on a pitch on the second to last play that proved critical.

Passing defense


D- Only an end zone interception by sophomore safety Jarrod Wilson and another pick from redshirt sophomore Blake Countess, his third in two games, prevent the failing grade. The secondary was scorched for six plays over 20 yards, three over 30 and two over 40 -- poor against any offense, miserable against Akron -- and uncharacteristic of a Greg Mattison defense. Most concerning: fourth quarter yards against in the passing game. Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl completed passes of 43, 40, 24, 21 and 14 yards in the fourth quarter and faced very little pressure from Michigan's front. Pohl was never sacked - in comparison, James Madison got to the Zips' quarterbacks four times last week - and Akron nearly pulled the upset on the strength of its air attack.

Special teams


D- The kick coverage unit was solid, limiting the Zips to 61 yards on three returns. That's where any minimal praise ends. Junior punter Matt Wile shanked two of his four punts and managed only a 35-yarder on one of his other attempts. Fifth-year senior Brendan Gibbons missed a 45-yarder to end his streak of 16 makes, and the Wolverines didn't accomplish much in the return game. Special teams are going to be critical in Big Ten play, and the punting game in particular could be crucial in helping a defense that has been struggling on third down and to generate a pass rush.

Coaching


D This was expected to be a letdown week, but nobody would have guessed Akron would be inside Michigan's five-yard line with a chance to win on the game's last play. This was an opportunity to rest a number of starters and groom some back-ups with playing time - instead, U-M was within a play of suffering the most embarrassing loss in school history and squandering a potential outstanding season. Preparation wasn't good enough, fifth-year senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said in the aftermath in blaming the captains, but head coach Brady Hoke said the leadership starts at the top. It begins with coaching better, he added, though like most Michigan fans, he was perplexed at some of Gardner's decision making. Gardner had a number of opportunities to make plays but missed his reads, and the offense was undisciplined at the wrong times, taking critical holding penalties to negate a few big runs. Many figured the concentration wouldn't be at the level it would be for a Notre Dame or a conference game, but a 28-24 win over Akron that came down to the wire? Not close to what's expected in the third game of the season.



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