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November 23, 2013
Notebook: Ryan impresses, Morgan & Ross injured
Redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan may not have put up gaudy statistics in the Wolverines' 24-21 loss at Iowa Saturday, but he turned in a vintage performance.
Ryan tallied five tackles and a pass breakup. His impact on the game was much bigger.
On the Hawkeyes' first drive of the game, Ryan broke through the line and put a big hit on quarterback Jake Rudock. The hit forced a wobbly pass from Rudock, which was intercepted by junior defensive end Brennen Beyer and returned for a touchdown.
Ryan was almost constantly flustering Rudock in the pass game, though he did not register a sack on the day. He also made some big plays outside of the box, like a monster hit on running back Damon Bullock on a pass out into the flat that forced an incompletion.
In short, it was classic Ryan - and he looked like himself for perhaps the first time this season.
After tearing his ACL during spring practice, Ryan found his way back on the field for spot duty in Michigan's 43-40 quadruple overtime loss at Penn State.
After posting eight combined tackles in his first three games back, Ryan has had at least four in each of the last three games.
He is still sharing duty at the SAM spot with fifth-year senior Cam Gordon, who added three tackles, including a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup against the Hawkeyes.
"Jake and Cam both are guys that were very active for us," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "This may have been one of Jake's better games."
At the other two linebacker spots, the Wolverines' usual rotation was thrown for a loop early, when junior Desmond Morgan left the game. He was taken to the locker room for tests, came back to the field but did not check back into the game. His injury was undisclosed.
Sophomore James Ross also suffered an undisclosed injury in the second half.
Morgan, who came into the game ranked second on the team with 69 takedowns, has been rotating between the MIKE and WILL positions, with Ross rotating with him at WILL and sophomore Joe Bolden rotating with him at MIKE.
With Morgan out of the lineup, Bolden took the lion's share of the work at MIKE, and true freshman Ben Gedeon, who had played defensively in just three games prior to Saturday, rotated with Ross at WILL and finished the game after Ross left. Ross, who added six tackles before checking out of the game, has a team-high 81 on the season.
"Those are two guys who have played between them probably 1,000 snaps, individually maybe," Hoke said of Morgan and Ross. "Joe Bolden plays a lot. I thought Gedeon played well. I saw him on some tackles."
Bolden added four tackles, bringing his season numbers to 45, 11 more than he tallied all of last season.
Gedeon posted three tackles against the Hawkeyes, the most he has had since the season-opening game against Central Michigan when he finished with four.
Note: Passing Game Struggling
On a national level, the days of three yards and a cloud of dust may be a thing of the past. But as the game of football focuses more toward aerial prowess, the Wolverines aren't putting up the same kind of numbers.
In Saturday's 24-21 loss at Iowa, redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner hit 13-of-28 attempts for 98 yards.
"I think it's a combination of all 11 guys who are out there," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said, of the Wolverines' offensive struggles. "At times we hit on 11 cylinders, at times it's 10, and then times it's nine. It seems to be rotating through."
In the last 20 years, the Wolverines have failed to pass the century mark in passing offense in just 15 games (see chart), with an 8-7 record in those games.
Between the 1994 and 2006 seasons, Michigan posted just two such performances, a 9-13 loss to Northwestern in 1995 and a 20-17 win at Wisconsin in 2001.
In the last seven seasons, however, the Wolverines have amassed 13 games with fewer than 100 yards passing, almost two such passing performances per season.
Since Michigan coach Brady Hoke took over before the 2011 season, the offense hasn't eclipsed the 100-yard mark through the air six times, including twice this season (97 yards passing in a 24-21 win at Connecticut).
Adapting to former quarterback Denard Robinson, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges were very conservative at the beginning of the 2011 season, amassing less than 100 passing yards in three of the first four games of the year (all wins).
This year, though, the subpar passing performances are a little more befuddling.
The Wolverines have dynamic receivers in fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, who has 71 catches for 1,109 yards (sixth in single-season program history) and eight scores this year, and sophomore Devin Funchess, who has chipped in 43 catches for 686 yards and five touchdowns.
Against the Huskies and Hawkeyes, Gallon and Funchess hauled in a combined 12 catches of 94 yards and one touchdown.
For the season, Funchess is averaging 16.0 yards per catch. He averaged 8.0 yards per game against Iowa and Connecticut.
And Gallon, who is averaging 15.6 yards per catch on the season, averaged 7.8 yards per catch in the two games.
Michigan also had 1,000-yard receivers in 2007 (Mario Manningham, 72 catches for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns) and 2001 (Marquise Walker, 86 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns), seasons in which the offense also recorded games with less than 100 yards passing.
The usually sure-handed Funchess missed a few chances to push the Wolverines over the 100-yard mark against the Hawkeyes.
In the first half, he seemingly snagged a deep ball down the sideline, but juggled it on his way down to the turf, and the ball popped out.
Funchess also dropped a ball on a nicely set up screen pass and had a chance at a catch on a slant route over the middle.
"That always hurts you," Hoke said. "We usually don't drop those balls."
Note: Taking Advantage Of Chances
In Saturday's 24-21 loss at Iowa, the Michigan offense struggled all afternoon, amassing just 158 yards of total offense and scoring just two touchdowns (the first score was on an interception return from junior defensive end Brennen Beyer).
But when Iowa gave the Wolverines a chance, they took advantage of it.
In the second quarter, Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock was picked off by redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess, who returned it to the 28-yard line.
The Wolverines drove down the field in seven plays, capped by a two-yard touchdown toss from redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner to sophomore tight A.J. Williams.
Later in the same quarter, a poor Iowa punt set the Wolverines up at the Hawkeye 47-yard line, and Michigan drove 47 yards in 10 plays for another score.
It was an encouraging sign during an afternoon of offensive struggls, because Michigan has struggled to take advantage of short field recently.
In the first seven games of the year, the Wolverines had 11 drives that began inside the 50-yard line (in regulation). They scored six touchdowns and three field goals and failed to score twice.
Against Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern, the Michigan offense was set up inside the 50-yard line to begin a drive six times, scoring a total of six points on two field goals. On those six drives, the Wolverines combined for negative-17 yards of offense.
Note: Championship Month
The old mantra certainly rings true at this time of year: championships are won and lost in the month of November.
The Wolverines stand at 1-3 since the calendar turned, with a 29-6 loss at Michigan State, a 17-13 loss vs. Nebraska and Saturday's 24-21 loss at Iowa. Last week, they barely escaped a winless mark in November with a 27-19 triple-overtime win at Northwestern.
Since Michigan coach Brady Hoke took over before the 2011 season, the Wolverines are 7-5 in the month of November, with a 3-1 record in both 2011 and 2012.
Michigan has not survived the month of November with an unblemished record since 2003, when the team went 3-0 with wins over Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State to earn a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.
Since then, the Wolverines are 15-18 in November. In that span, Michigan has posted just one season with a winning November record, going 2-1 in 2006, with a season-ending 42-39 loss at Ohio State.
With the loss Saturday, the Wolverines dropped their third game this month, marking just the 12th time in program history that a Michigan team lost three or more games in the month of November.
In the 11 previous seasons, the Wolverines posted a combined 30-65-1 record, with just one non-losing season (4-4 in 1935). Michigan (7-4 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) has already secured a winning record. Even if the Wolverines lose to Ohio State and in a bowl game, it will be the first time a Michigan team lost three or more games in November and finished above .500.
Should the Wolverines loss next week vs. Ohio State, it would be just the fourth time in program history that they have lost four November games: 1958 (2-6-1 overall, 0-4 in November), 1934 (1-7, 0-4) and 1891, (4-5, 0-4).