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Darius Morris Plans to Announce Tomorrow

Thursday, July 31, 2008 by Tim

Basketball target Darius Morris plans to announce his college decision tomorrow.

Morris attended Michigan summer camp, and sources have indicated that he will pick Michigan. If he does, the first piece to John Beilein's recruiting plan will have landed, and the road will be paved for future recruiting classes.

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2008 Opponent Preview: Northwestern

by Tim

Northwestern Offense:
QBs
CJ Bacher returns for his fifth year to lead the Wildcats offense. He is a returning starter who took nearly every meaningful snap last year. His backup will be redshirt junior Mike Kafka.

Statistics:
Northwestern Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name
Comp
Att
%
Yds
TD
Int
Yds/Att
CJ Bacher
318
521
61.04
3656
19
19
7.02
Mike Kafka
2
3
66.67
11
0
0
3.67
Northwestern Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
CJ Bacher
86
31
4
0.36
Mike Kafka
2
8
0
4.00

Analysis:
Oddly, CJ Bacher is one of the most experienced and tenured quarterbacks in the conference. As a redshirt senior, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but maybe the fact that he also looks to be one of the best is surprising. If he can stop turning the ball over, he may contend for postseason all-conference lists.

RBs
Tyrell Sutton is a true senior and returning starter. However, he hasn't managed to stay healthy during his time in Evanston. Backing him up wil be senior Omar Conteh, who performed admirably in relief duty last year, expecially against Michigan. Behind those two, there is little depth, so Northwestern may see Bacher handing it off to someone with virtually no experience if Sutton can't shake the injury bug.

Statistics:
Northwestern Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Tyrell Sutton
108
522
4
4.83
Omar Conteh
96
447
5
4.66
Brandon Roberson
76
348
4
4.58
Stephen Simmons
4
-3
0
-0.75
Northwestern Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Tyrell Sutton
30
282
0
9.40
Omar Conteh
20
215
2
10.75
Brandon Roberson
9
99
0
11.00

Analysis:
Sutton is good for the NU system, and Conteh was better than decent replacing him last year, but the lack of depth has to be scary. If Northwestern can get some garbage time carries for backups in games against Syracuse and Duke, fans can rest a little easier. However, Northwestern did manage to, you know, lose to Duke last year, so nothing is set in stone.

Receivers:
Eric Peterman was by far the go-to guy for Bacher last year, and Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward (#2 and tied for #3 in terms of receptions last year) both return as well. All are seniors, and the only major contributor the Wildcats lost last year was Kim Thompson. Michigan fans may remember Ward for the long run after catch he had last year... when everyone on the Wolverines though he was down. Jeff Yarbrough, also a senior, is the key backup. Andrew Brewer, who observant fans may remember as the former starting quarterback for Northwestern, is also at wideout.

Statistics:
Northwestern Receivers 2007
Name
Rec
Yds
TD
Yds/Rec
Eric Peterman
66
734
3
11.12
Kim Thompson
46
678
3
14.74
Ross Lane
49
649
7
13.24
Rasheed Ward
46
434
0
9.43
Tonjua Jones
19
196
2
10.32
Jeff Yarbrough
18
188
2
10.44
Drake Dunsmore (TE)
11
141
0
12.82
Brendan Mitchell (TE)
2
28
0
14.00
Kevin Frymire
1
15
0
15.00
Mark Woodsum (TE)
3
9
1
3.00
Josh Rooks (TE)
1
7
0
7.00
Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Eric Peterman
13
58
0
4.46
Jeff Yarbrough
3
23
2
7.67
Mark Woodsum (TE)
4
4
0
1.00
Rasheed Ward
1
-2
0
-2.00

Analysis:
The Wildcats start a very experienced group, with three seniors trotting out on most downs. Behind them is another senior in Yarbrough. Expect this group to avoid mistakes. Ward is the speedster of this group (though Michigan fans may contend that this status didn't prevent him from getting run down from behind by Brandent Englemon, who is a solid player but far from a physical specimen. The group has pretty good size, and they give Bacher some good targets.

Line:
The line is a shaky area for the Wildcats. At left tackle, redshirt sophomore Al Netter is expected to start. He was the second-stringer last year and found his way into 9 games. Left guard is expected to be manned by redshirt denior Keegan Kennedy who, to this point in his career, had always been a defensive lineman. Center finds the first returning starter, though redshirt senior Joel Belding has previously only found time at guard. Taking over for Belding at right guard will be redshirt sophomore Keegan Grant (completing the all-Keegan guard position), who found his way into 12 games last year. The right tackle will be redshirt junior Kurt Mattes, who started each game last year.

Analysis:
Position changes along the starting offensive line are troubling, especially when one of the players moving was an entrenched starter. However, the Wildcats have decent experience everywhere except right guard Keegan Grant. The line is rarely one of Northwestern's strengths, yet they regularly manage to put together good offenses.

Offensive Analysis:
The Wildcats look poised to make a run this year, but there's a good chance their offense will be really, really bad in 2009. They lose seniors at every offensive skill position and 2 offensive line slots. However, that means that these players are starting as seniors, and are likely to find success this year.

Northwestern Defense:

Defensive Line:
The top four tacklers from last year's defensive line return as the starters this year. Seniors John Gill and Kevin Mims are at tackle and guard, respectively, while end Cory Wooton and tackle Adam Hahn are juniors. Wooton was very good as a freshman, but fell off fairly significantly last year. The backups are reatively unheralded or are changing positions from offense to defense.

Statistics:
Northwestern Defensive Line 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sacks
John Gill
50
8.5
4
Corey Wootton
39
7
1
Kevin Mims
38
5.5
2
Adam Hahn
33
3
0
David Ngene
16
5
5
Mark Koehn
14
0
0
Marshall Thomas
10
2
0
Corbin Bryant
5
0
0
Keegan Kennedy
2
0
0

Analysis:
Gill was an honorable mention all-conference performer last year, and if Wootton can reprise his 2006 performance, the NU defensive line will actually be pretty strong. Hahn and Mims are less likely to make noise, but rather will make plays when needed and allow their more productive teammates to carry the load.

Linebackers:
Senior Malcolm Arrington was a part-time starter at OLB last year, and he will move inside for a starting position this year. Senior Mike Dinard, who managed to get 6 starts at the position last year, will be one of the outside 'backers. The other position will be manned by Prince Kwateng, who got 9 starts as on OLB in 2007. Backup Quentin Davie is a redshirt sophomore who managed to make a few waves last year, as is Nate Williams.

Statistics:
Northwestern Linebackers 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Int
Adam Kadela
125
6.5
1
1
Malcolm Arrington
47
5
0
1
Prince Kwateng
44
5.5
2
0
Eddie Simpson
26
0
0
1
Mike Dinard
25
1.5
0
0
Quentin Davie
25
0
0
0
Chris Malleo
19
0
0
0
Nate Williams
6
0
0
0
Rejale Johnson
4
1
1
0

Analysis:
Adam Kadela was the best player on Northwestern's defense last year, by a factor of about 1000. If the players stepping in can step up to fill in as well as they can (he got nearly 3 times as many tackles as the next leading linebacker), they should be able to rely on an improved and experienced defensive line to allow them to flow to the ball and make tackles.

Defensive Backs:
The team's second-leading tackler last year, Reggie McPherson, is gone. Replacing him at safety will be true junior Brendan Smith. The free safety will be Brad Phillips, who was a strong safety (and starter) for most of last year. The corner positions will be manned by junior Sherrick McManis, who started every game last year, and Justin Vaughn, a redshirt sophomore who made his way into 7 games last year.

Statistics:
Northwestern Defensive Backs 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Int
FumRec
Reggie McPherson
78
0.5
0
1
11
Sherrick McManis
75
6.5
1
1
4
Deante Battle
64
2
1
1
4
Brad Phillips
55
1.5
0
1
2
David Oredugba
15
0
0
0
2
Brendan Smith
9
0
0
0
2
Justan Vaughn
9
0.5
0
1
2
Chaz Richart
6
0.5
0
0
2
Ben Rothrauff
5
0
0
0
2
Todd Dockery
2
0
0
0
2

Analysis:
Without McPherson and Battle, the northwestern secondary should struggle. Add that to the fact that they weren't particularly good last year (98th in pass efficiency defense), and this should be the type of year where opponents are able to throw, throw, throw the ball. If the DL can't get to the QB enough to keep pressure off the secondary, it could be another year of having the ball flung all over on them.

Defensive Analysis:
Unless the new defensive coordinator is a miracle worker (he's not: he got fired from Wisconsin for not being up to defensive guru Bret Bielema's standards), this could be a tough year for the Northwestern D. The D-line should be fairly strong, but the other two units are severely depleted. When taking into account that the Wildcats weren't even good with the players they lost, it could spell big trouble.

Special Teams:

Senior Amado Villareal is the returning starter at kicker, and redshirt sophomore Stefan Demos is the retuning punter.

Statistics:
Northwestern Kicking 2007
Name
FGM
Att
%
Long
XPM
Att
%
Amado Villareal
12
18
66.67
49
36
37
97.30
Northwestern Punting 2007
Name
Punts
Yds
Avg
Stefan Demos
54
2168
40.15

Analysis:
Neither Villareal nor Demos was inspiring last year, and Villareal was actually pretty crappy. Unless both improve in the offseason, special teams will not be a strength for Northwestern.

Overall Analysis:
Northwestern has a senior-laden team, and they are counting on that experience to carry them through the year. If Bacher can stop turning the ball over, the offense should be able to move the ball. The defense is expected to improve under a new coordinator, but color me unimpressed. I think Northwestern will be a bit better than they were last year, but don't expect to see dramatic improvement.

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Programming Update

by Tim

Coming later today will be the Northwestern preview. After the usual weekend festivities (a pair of recruiting updates, Big Ten recruiting rankings, and the podcast), the Ohio State and Iowa/Indiana previews will come out. Following that, the Michigan previewing shall begin, with a rundown of each position, in addition to other goodies like a midyear recruiting prospectus and even some predictions if you're lucky.

Anyway, look forward to the Wildcats preview later today, and hang on tight, because the fun is really about to begin.

Labels:

How Coaching Clinics Pay Dividends

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 by Tim

Back in the spring, the Michigan staff opened its doors to high school and college coaches from around the country, and conducted a coaching clinic. Near-legendary Mike Barwis gave presentations about strength training, and defensive and offensive techniques were taught to the attendees. However, the main event (if not Barwis, of course), was the presentation on how the Michigan offense will work, and the principles behind said offense.

Many Michigan fans were curious about why the staff would give away its secrets, especially when the enemies could so easily use this information against the Wolverines (several MSU coaches were rumored to be in attendance). Of course, the coaches wouldn't share all their secrets, nor does a knowledge of the system necessarily reveal the secrets to stopping it.

Instead of focusing on the possible negatives from spreading the... spread..., it is necessary to take note of the positives (and realize that they outweigh any potential negatives). I've brought this up before, but looking at future instate prospects, it really hit home to me how beneficial this sharing can be.

In 2010, the state of Michigan has a fairly strong recruiting class. Included in this class are two top dual-threat quarterbacks: Robert Bolden from Orchard Lake Saint Mary's and Devin Gardner from Inkster (more on them in the upcoming 2010 recruiting primer). OLSM already runs a form of the spread (though not, if I recall correctly, a read-option), but I'm not sure what type of scheme Inkster runs. The Michigan coaching staff, by teaching its system to high school coaches across the state and country, gives itself an advantage. First, the coaching staffs at the high schools have a familiarity with the Michigan staff, and will not hesitate to encourage a player to commit to the Wolverines in the future. Second, players will be comfortable going to a school with an offensive system they ran in high school, and will have a leg up on learning the system by the time they enroll in college.

By giving high school coaches in the state access to the Michigan coaching staff and their knowledge of the spread offense, it helps the high schools develop prospects speficially for Michigan's system, and also gives the Wolverines an upper hand in recruiting these youngsters.

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RichRod's First Year at WVU

by Tim

Many preseason publications warn Michigan fans: Rodriguez went 3-8 in his first year at West Virginia, so expect a very rough year in 2008. However, in order to fully understand what 2001 can tell us about 2008, we have to take a closer look at the 2001 Mountaineers.

The Previous Year
In Don Nehlen's final year at the helm in Morgantown, West Virginia went 7-5, including a bowl victory. The season started on a high note, with a 34-14 victory over Boston College, followed by a 30-17 win over Maryland, both at home. The next week, however, the Miami Hurricanes rolled into town, and pasted WVU by a score of 47-10 (keep in mind that this was when Miami was actually good).

Uncomfortably close victories over Temple and Idaho (29-24 and 28-16, respectively) were followed by a three game slide against Virginia Tech (48-20), Notre Dame (42-28), and Syracuse (note that this was before Syracuse became ghastly bad).

In Don Nehlen's final home game at Mountaineer Field, West Virginia beat East Carolina by a margin of 42-24. Their finish in the Big East gave the Mountaineers an invitation to the Music City Bowl.

Though heavy underdogs, West Virginia upset Mississippi State 49-38, thanks to a career day by QB Brad Lewis, who threw 5 touchdown passes and directed the offense to 432 total yards.

Here is a breakdown of where the Mountaineers ranked in several offensive and defensive categories:
West Virginia Mountaineers 2000
Category
Value
Nat Rank
Conf Rank
Rush YPG
140.82
64
5
Pass YPG
207.45
66
5
Total Offense
348.27
73
6
Points/Game
27.91
46
4
Rush Defense
146.45
53
6
Pass Defense
233.00
89
8
Def Pass Efficiency
121.39
66
6
Total Defense
379.45
69
6
Scoring Defense
29.55
84
7
Turnover Margin
0.64
23
3


In Between
Clemson Offensive Coordinator Rich Rodriguez was hired by West Virginia on November 26th, 2000. The Mounatineers returned starting quarterback Brad Lewis, though they graduated 2nd-leading receiver Kory Ivy, and a couple offensive linemen, but they did return most of their offense. On defense, linebackers David Carter, Cory McIntyre, and Chris Edmonds were the key departees. Kicker John Ohliger also departed.

Though Rodriguez didn't inherit a world-beating team (The Mountaineers tied for 5th in the Big East with BC, whom they beat head-to-head, and as illustrated above, they were in the bottom half of the conference in nearly every category), their were enough returning personnel to expect a similar finish the following year.

Editor's Note: I'm having a tough tiome tracking down 2000 and 2001 All-Big East Teams (even from the Big East office), so if you have access to them, please let me know.

2001
Nearly every Michigan fan knows that Rodriguez went 3-8 in his first year as WVU's Head Coach, so let's take a deeper look at each game.

In the first game of the year, West Virginia traveled to Boston, to take on the Eagles of Boston College. Brad Lewis and Rasheed Marshall combined to throw three picks and zero touchdowns. RB Avon Cobourne was the only Mountaineer to find the end zone on that day, and kicker Brenden Rauh went 1-3 on his field goal attempts. Boston College lit up the scoreboard, putting 34 points on the Mountaineers. RB William Green took it to the house 3 times, and QB Brian St. Pierre threw a TD pass to Dedrick Dewalt.

In game 2, Rodriguez got his first victory as the head coach at West Virginia. The Mountaineers took on the Ohio Bobcats at home. Avon Cobourne ran for 173 yards and two TDs, and Brenden Rauh tacked on a pair of field goals. Brad Lewis threw for a quiet 134 yards, while rushing for 9. For the other side, Bobcats RB Jamel Patterson ran for a mere 53 yards, while QB Dontrell Jackson threw for 87 yards and ran for 34.

In game three, WVU took on another MAC opponent. Facing Kent State at home, the Mountaineers would ultimately walk off the field with a 34-14 victory. Avon Cobourne ran for 181 yards and 1 score, and Brad Lewis threw for 286 and two scores while running one in as well. For Kent State, Josh Cribbs ran and passed for a score each, while throwing 2 interceptions.

The non-conference schedule continued with a trip to College Park, Maryland, where the Mountaineers faced off against the Terps. They would head back to Morgantown as the recipients of a 32-20 loss. Avon Cobourne ran for 128 yards, but no scores, while Brad Lewis attempted 52 passes. He threw for a total of 279 yards with 1 touchdown, but also completed 4 passes to the gentlemen in the red jerseys (one of which a player known to the NCAA statbook only as "Whaley" took to the house). Wide Receiver Shawn Terry ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, and Brenden Rauh added a pair of field goals. For the Terps, Bruce Perry ran for a touchdown, and QB Shaun Hill passed and rushed for one. RB Marc Riley ran one in as well.

The Mountaineers didn't have much time to rest, as they invited Virginia Tech into Morgantown the following week. The Hokies brushed off West Virginia without so much as an effort, shutting out the opponent 35-0. Keith Burnell ran for 2 TDs for Tech, Grant Noel Passed for a pair, and Kevin Jones ran one in as well. For West Virginia, Brad Lewis threw a pick and Avon Cobourne was held to just 31 yards.

Game 6 found the Mountaineers on the road in South Bend, where they dropped a 34-24 decision to the Irish. Brad Lewis threw for 91 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, while Avon Cobourne threw in 169 yards and a TD of his own. For the opposition, Carlyle Holliday threw for just 70 yards, with an interception. However, Julius Jones ran for 2 TDs, and Tony Fisher chipped in with a pair as well. The RB tandem rushed for a total of 211 yards, with Holliday adding another 130 on the ground.

Relief wouldn't come just yet for West Virginia, as they traveled to the OB for a night game against the eventual national champion Miami Hurricanes. WVU managed only a field goal, while the Canes scored 45. Clinton Portis ran for 76 yards and a touchdown, while Frank gore added 124 yards and a couple scores of his own. Ken Dorsey threw for 192 yards, two scores and an interception. Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey each had a receiving touchdown. Some dude named "Jones" threw 4 picks for West Virginia.

Looking to snap the 4-game losing streak, The Mountaineers next invited Rutgers into Mountaineer Field. It wasn't pretty, as West Virginia pasted the Scarlet Knights by a score of 80-7. Rutgers's only points were scored by Marcus Jones, who ran for 105 yards. West Virginia had scoring in bunches, with Avon Cobourne complimenting his 147 yards with 4 touchdown runs, Quincy Wilson running for 129 yards and a score of his own, Rego Cooper chipping in 65 yards and a trip to the endzone, and Cassell Smith getting a touchdown of his own. Brad Lewis threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Defensive back Shawn Hackett did the nearly unthinkable, scoring on both an interception retun and a fumble return.

With a bit of momentum on their side, West Virginia looked to get another Big East win against Syracuse. However, the Orangemen would triupmh 24-13. James Mungro ran for 78 yards and all three Syracuse touchdowns. Rasheed Marshall did the touchdown scoring for West Virginia, on 22 ruching yards (he also threw a pick). Brenden Rauh added a pair of field goals.

Next up for West Virginia was Temple. Though this sounds like a layup, the Owls went home with a 17-14 victory over West Virginia. Avon Cobourne ran for 103 yards, and Rasheed Marshall tacked on 95 of his own (and a touchdown). In his first start, Marshall also passed for 128 yards and a score (to AJ Nastasi), though he threw 2 interceptions. For Temple, Tanardo Sharps ran for 174 yards and Mac Devito threw for 85. The scoring was provided by running back Lester Trammer (who also had 30 yards) and three field goals by Cap Poklemba.

The Backyard Brawl was the last chance for West Virginia to come away from 2001 with a good taste in their mouths, but it was not to be. Pitt won 23-17 at Mountaineer Field. Rasheed Marshal ran for 40 yards and a score, while passing for 64 and another touchdown. For Pitt, David Priestley threw for 172 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.

Let's see how the West Virginia stats from 2001 stack up to their performance in Don Nehlen's final year:
West Virginia Mountaineers 2000
Category
Value
Nat Rank
Conf Rank
Rush YPG
181.09
36
4
Pass YPG
164.64
96
6
Total Offense
345.73
80
4
Points/Game
21.36
89
6
Rush Defense
213.18
104
7
Pass Defense
136.73
1
1
Def Pass Efficiency
99.37
8
3
Total Defense
349.91
40
6
Scoring Defense
24.36
51
6
Turnover Margin
-0.73
98
7

The Mountaineers finished last in the Big East with a 3-8 record (1-6 in conference).

What have we learned?
Rodriguez's first year struggles at West Virginia actually don't appear to be too great a dropoff from Nehlen's final season. The defense was alternately terrible (run defense) and awesome (pass defense). However, it was not a significant weak point, and shouldn't be pointed to as the cause of West Virginia's slide (it is important to note, however, that Michigan will field a much, much better defense in 2008 than WVU did in 2001).

In the offensive stats, the rush yards increased significantly, while the pass yards decreased significantly. This is expected to occur (perhaps to a lesser degree) at Michigan this year as well. Brad Lewis was not an efficient passer (96th in the country) and Michgian fans can hope that a sour-star recruit in Steven Threet can carry the team a bit more.

Turnovers seem to be the main factor in WVU's struggles during the 2001 system. If you subscribe to the theory that they are mostly random, then West Virginia would have had a much better year if only they had a bit more luck. The system transition may have had something to do with it, but 6 picks thrown by the "Jones" guy, and 9 for Lewis and 4 for Marshall seem to imply that maybe the Mountaineers just had bad QB play.

Forecasting
If the past is any indication, Michigan shouldn't have a catastrophic first year under the Rich Rodriguez regime. He has had time to fine-tune his system at the highest levels of play, and the personnel on the team that he is taking over is a ridiculously large upgrade over what he had to work with at West Virginia. Many fans and pundits expect the Michigan defense to carry the load, particularly early in the season, which is somethign Rodriguez wasn't able to do.

So, for those who see a 1-7-1 record in his first year at Glenville State and a 3-8 mark in his first year at West Virginia and predict pain for Michigan this year, I won't go so far as to say expect a conference championship for the Wolverines, but a 34th conecutive bowl game is certainly likely.

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2008 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 by Tim

Minnesota Offense:
QBs
Adam Weber had a very good redshirt freshman season, though it wasn't quite impressive enough to get much attention in the preseason. He is expected to start again for the Gophers. Backing him up will be JuCo transfer David Pittman and true freshman Marquies Gray.

Statistics:
Minnesota Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name
Comp
Att
%
Yds
TD
Int
Yds/Att
Adam Weber
258
449
57.46
2895
24
19
6.45
Tony Mortensen
3
4
75.00
34
0
0
8.50
Minnesota Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Adam Weber
146
617
5
4.23

Analysis:
Minnesota is very inexperienced in the QB ranks, and an injury to Weber could be devestating (especially with the head coach's son transferring away from Minnesota). Weber looks to build upon his good season last year, and Gopher fans would like him to make better decisions, as he threw 19 interceptions last year.

RBs
Amir Pinnix, starter for most of the year, is gone. True sophomore Duane Bennett also got plenty of opportunity to start, and he will be the full-timer this year. Junior Jay Thomas will play behind him. Freshmen will provide depth and get experience for the future.

Statistics:
Minnesota Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Amir Pinnix
106
563
5
5.31
Duane Bennett
107
442
3
4.13
Jay Thomas
40
215
1
5.38
Justin Valentine (FB)
14
42
1
3.00
Damola Ogundipe
1
0
0
0.00
Minnesota Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Duane Bennett
18
145
1
8.06
Jay Thomas
7
81
0
11.57
Amir Pinnix
11
66
1
6.00
Justin Valentine (FB)
8
54
0
6.75

Analysis:
Pinnix was the team's leading RB rusher, but QB Adam Weber actually led the entire team. By the end of the year, Duane Bennett had replaced Pinnix as the starter. Bennett and Jay Thomas will carry the majority of the load, with members of Tim Brewster's ridiculous recruiting class (especially for a coach who went 1-11 in his first year) filling in where needed. These players are expected to be a better fit for the spread than Pinnix may have been.

Receivers:
White Eric Decker has been described by Brewster as "one of the top receivers in the country," and the redshirt junior, who led the team in receiving last year, will again be the #1 option. Ernie Wheelwirght graduated, and true sophomores Tray Herndon (#3 in recieving last year) and Ralph Spry will likely be the second and third receivers. The tight end position (which Brewster coached for the Denver Broncos until becoming the headman in the Twin Cities) will be manned by senior Jack Simmons, who was the starter last year despite never reaching full health. As is the case with any position on a crappy team that has a good incoming recruiting class, expect freshmen to challenge for several positions.

Statistics:
Minnesota Receivers 2007
Name
Rec
Yds
TD
Yds/Rec
Eric Decker
67
909
9
13.57
Ernest Wheelwright
66
775
9
11.74
Tray Herndon
22
235
1
10.68
Ralph Spry
23
226
3
9.83
Jack Simmons (TE)
20
202
0
10.10
Nick Tow-Arnett (TE)
10
149
0
14.90
Mike Chambers
6
54
0
9.00
Marcus Sherels
3
46
1
15.33
Michael Kasten
1
7
0
7.00
Minnesota Receivers Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Mike Chambers
1
38
0
38.00
Eric Decker
3
22
0
7.33
Ernest Wheelwright
1
15
0
15.00
Harold Howell
2
15
0
7.50
Ralph Spry
5
8
0
1.60

Analysis:
Brewster's breathless adoration of Decker may have been a bit much for a player who didn't even garner all-conference honors last year. Wheelwright was a big target for the Gophers (both literally and in terms of catches), but replacing him with more spread-friendly players may help out Minnesota's offense.

Line:
At left tackle, redshirt junior Jason Meinke will be the starter, despite having very limited experience. Next to him will be Nedward Tavale, a redshirt junior who started at right guard his freshman year, and about half the games at left guard last year. Center will be manned by Jeff Tow-Arnett, a redshirt junior whose playing time has primarily come at guard so far. Right guard will be manned by returning starter DJ Burris, a redshirt sophomore. Right tackle will be Dominic Alford, a redshirt sophomore who started the last five games at that position last year.

Analysis:
Minnesota will be starting a fairly young line. That could give Gophers fans nightmares, especially with a nearly-green left tackle protecting Adam Weber's blindside. The spread offense may be able to neutralize a bit of this weakness, though not all of it. The tackles and center are spaced by relatively experienced guards, and Alford actually got some pretty good experience last year.

Offensive Analysis:
Minnesota loses some important personnel, especially in the line, and that may hurt the offense a bit this year. Of course, the offense wasn't the problem with Minnesota last year, as they put up pretty decent yardage. The main issue on this side of the ball was the turnover. A more experienced Weber may lead the Gophers to some pretty decent numbers this year as well.

Minnesota Defense:

Defensive Line:
True junior Lee Campbell and reshirt senior Willie VanDeSteeg are returning starters at defensive end. In the middle, junior Eric Small will start, after being a part-timer last year. Garrett Brown, the other tackle, is the freshest one of the bunch, as the junior only had 3 starts last year. JuCo transfers Tim McGee and Cedric McKinley figure to play a prominent role as backup DTs, while former Tennessee Volunteer Raymond Henderson, a redshirt junior, will be the main backup at DE.

Statistics:
Minnesota Defensive Line 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sacks
Lee Campbell
40
6
2
Willie VanDeSteeg
29
8
1
Garrett Brown
24
1
1
Todd Meisel
20
1.5
0
Allen Neel
18
0.5
0
Eric Small
18
2.5
1
Derrick Onwachi
16
3
2
Matt Stommes
12
2
0
Raymond Henderson
3
0
0

Analysis:
The defensive line for Minnesota didn't do much last year, which may have been the source of the defense's problems stopping people. Only 7 sacks for the entire unit was a complete disappointment, especially considering VanDeSteeg's all-Big Ten second team performance the previous year. The line adds experience from both the JuCo ranks and Tennessee, and they return most of their starters. This figures to be an improved unit, though the degree of that improvement remains to be seen.

Linebackers:
MLB Deon Hightower returns after being second on the entire team in tackles last year. Steve Davis, also a senior, returns as well. Despite not being among the top tacklers last year, this was primarily due to injury. He will take back over on the strong side. Juco transfer Rex Sharpe was in Minneapolis for spring practice, and is expected to be the starter on the weakside. The Gophers don't have a ton of depth at linebacker, especially with the sad story of top recruit Sam Maresh, who will be unable to play do to a heart defect.

Statistics:
Minnesota Linebackers 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Deon Hightower
70
9.5
0
John Shevlin
63
3.5
0
Mike Sherels
55
7.5
2.5
Steve Davis
54
3
0.5
Kevin Mannion
34
0
0
Nathan Triplett
9
.5
0
Thomas Hennessey
7
0
0
John Hoese
4
0
0
Andre Tate
1
0
0

Analysis:
Davis's injury could be used as some sort of excuse for the reason that Minnesota struggled so badly on defense. However, there must be more to it than that. Replacing to departing starters with a former starter and a junior college player is better than replacing them with completely green players, and Minnesota will gladly make the best of the circumstance.

Defensive Backs:
Two starters appear to be set in stone in the secondary, and luckily for the Gophers, they aren't the ones who are returning starters. With Brewster revealing at Big Ten media days that JC transfers Traye Simmons and Tremaine Brock are expected to start at corner and free safety, respectively, the other two positions will likely be left to the incumbent starters, sophomores Ryan Collado at corner and Kyle Theret (who started half the Minnesota games last year) at SS. Dominique Barber is the key player leaving from the secondary.

Statistics:
Minnesota Defensive Backs 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Dominique Barber
100
5.5
3
Ryan Collado
51
2
0
Jamal Harris
44
0.5
0
Kyle Theret
39
2
0
Duran Cooley
34
1
0
Curtis Thomas
28
1
0
Desi Steib
26
1
0
William Brody
12
0
0
Barrett Moen
4
0
0
Daron Love
4
0
0
Michael McKelton
3
0
0
Otis Hudson
2
0.5
0

Analysis:
Brewster's strategy of getting immediate help with junior college players may be able to pay off in the short term. However, these players are likely to be academic risks as well, so he needs to be careful in future classes. The secondary doesn't appear to be facing that much of a dropoff (despite losing the team's leading tackler).

Defensive Analysis:
Minnesota's defense was god-awful last year, and they have pretty much nowhere to go but up. With an infusion of junior college talent, they may be able to do just that. Brewtser has been critical of effort and talent, rather than scheme in the offseason, so the great recruiting class should bring some immediate help.

Special Teams:

Kicker Jason Giannini was replaced by Joel Monroe las year, and Monroe will return for his senior year. Punter Justin Kucek will be a 5th-year senior.

Statistics:
Minnesota Kicking 2007
Name
FGM
Att
%
Long
XPM
Att
%
Joel Monroe
7
9
77.78
54
28
28
100.00
Jason Giannini
1
4
25.00
33
9
9
100.00
Minnesota Punting 2007
Name
Punts
Yds
Avg
Justin Kucek
62
2645
42.66

Analysis:
Giannini was the 2005 and '06, but when he single-handedly lost the Miami game with 3 missed field goals, he was pulled for Monroe who was really, really good. Kucek is a pretty good punter, too.

Overall Analysis:
Tim Brewster is nothing if not optimistic, and his belief in talent over scheme should mean that nothing much will change for the Gophers right away, until some of the talent they bring in starts contributing all the time. The offense should improve slightly from last year, with similar production but fewer turnovers (the Gophers were almost bottom of the barrel in 2007). Minnesota wasn't really as bad as the record seems, with 3 overtime losses, and only 4 of their losses (Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, and... Indiana?) coming by more than a pair of scores. Expect slight, but noticeable improvement from Minnesota in 2008.

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Pahokee Duo Set to Go Blue?

by Tim

Though we've all seen what can happen when social networking sites are relied upon to be a source of recruiting information, sometimes the evidence is overwhelming.

Pahokee Blue Devils Brandon Hawthorne and Vincent Smith won't announce their respective college decisions until August 30th, but it appears as though Michigan has a very good shot at landing both. Several readers have chimed in to let me know that each has changed various aspects of his Facebook page to indicate impending commitment to Michigan.

There is a long time until August 30th, and even longer before signing day, but it appears as though both Hawthorne and Smith intend to don a blue hat at their first game this season.

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New Uniform Photos Released

Monday, July 28, 2008 by Tim

For all the talk about the Big Ten Titles and inspirational messages worked into the new Michigan uniforms, until now, we had no idea what they would look like. Without further ado, the interior details on the new Michigan uniforms:



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Recruiting Update 7-28-08

by Tim

New Information:
SC OL Quinton Washington. Not expected to take an official to Michigan.
FL QB Eugene Smith. Re-widens his focus after previously having narrowed to a top 5.
CA QB Tate Forcier. Top 6.
PA LB Dan Mason. Will commit to a school at the Army AA game. His current plan for official visits doesn't include Michigan.
OK CB Gabe Lynn. Fluff.
FL Slot commit Jeremy Gallon. Most important news EVER: he has dreads.
SC DE Chris Bonds. Official visit schedule shaping up. Notre Dame visit for the Michigan game (and he will be unavailable for the big UM-MSU recruiting weekend, when he will be visiting Tennessee).
FL DE Ryne Giddins. Michigan outside of his top 6.
MD LB Jelani Jenkins. GBW headline says a super linebacker visited on Saturday, and the accompanying picture is of Jenkins, so we can assume he visited this weekend, no? Video fluff:


Removed:
MS S Rod Woodson. Committed to Alabama.

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