Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10

Tag: Troy Woolfolk

4Sep 2011
Uncategorized 23 comments

Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10

Jordan Kovacs, form tackler extraordinaire, gives Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder a tour of his facemask

Well, that was weird.  I’ve never seen a Michigan game called due to weather.  Maybe that’s because it’s never happened before this weekend.  Like every other Michigan fan, I wanted to see the game continue.  These games against MAC teams are typically when you see awesome plays and great statistics – witness the 94-yard interception return by Brandon Herron, the 44-yard touchdown run by Michael Shaw, etc.  By the time the game was canceled with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter, Michigan had taken control and was likely bound for a couple more touchdowns and some more big plays on defense.  Safety is the most important thing, and I don’t question the decision to cancel the game . . . but if someone ends up just short of 1,000 yards rushing or 1,000 yards receiving or some other significant statistical benchmark, we might look back at September 3 and wonder what could have been.

Al Borges isn’t dumb.  People everywhere were concerned that offensive coordinator Al Borges would try to turn Denard Robinson into a quarterback who takes every snap from under center, but that simply wasn’t the case.  It looked as though roughly 75% of the offensive formations were shotgun.  It looks as though Michigan was more likely to pass from the shotgun and run from the “I” but that could change as the season progresses.  Additionally, the offense isn’t as high speed as it has been for the past few seasons under Rich Rodriguez, but it was still effective.  Michigan huddles now, which took some time to adjust to since I got used to watching Rodriguez’s teams.  But the Wolverines averaged 7.5 yards per play against WMU, whereas they had only 5.7 against UConn in last season’s opener.

Hello, Brandon Herron.  I don’t know where the hell you came from, but I’m glad you’re here.  I really thought Herron would be a backup and special teamer based on his play in the past and his multiple position switches over the past couple seasons, but he was in the right place at the right time and made some plays.  Despite being listed second on the depth chart at weakside linebacker, he started the game at WILL, made 8 tackles, returned a batted pass 94 yards for a touchdown, and picked up an Alex Carder fumble for a 29-yard touchdown.  It was the longest interception return in Michigan program history and the first time any defensive player scored twice in the same game.  All that came from a fifth year senior who previously had 34 career tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery.  Herron has always been considered a bit of a physical freak who lacks great instincts, but his instincts looked pretty good on Saturday . . . and nobody really came close to catching the 221 lb. linebacker from behind, either.

Special teams still suck.  Apparently it doesn’t matter who coaches the special teams, whether it’s an offensive or defensive guy, etc.  Some Michigan fans hated that defensive backs coach Tony Gibson was in charge of special teams because he was one of only four defensive coaches under Rodriguez.  Now an offensive guy (tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno) is coaching special teams, and they’re still bad.  Kick returner Kelvin Grady doesn’t look like anything special and made a bad decision to leave the endzone.  Brendan Gibbons had a low extra point attempt blocked.  Western Michigan averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and consistently had excellent field position.  Of course, special teams would have looked better if the suspended Will Hagerup were punting.  Freshman Matt Wile averaged 41.0 yards per punt but didn’t have great hang time, and he averaged over 65 yards per kickoff, which is better than anyone – Hagerup, Seth Broekhuizen, or Gibbons – did last season.  There’s potential there for Wile, but overall the special teams were disappointing.

Greg Mattison is awesome.  Does anyone have any doubt that former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson would have allowed Carder to throw for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns?  Anyone?  It looked like it might be a long day when WMU opened the game with a long drive on which Carder didn’t throw a single incompletion on the way to a touchdown.  Michigan’s players were confused, and at one point near the goal line, safety Carvin Johnson lined up on the wrong side of the field against a five-wide set, leaving cornerback Courtney Avery alone covering two wideouts.  Avery did an excellent job of splitting the two receivers and blasting the guy who caught the ball at the 1-yard line, but it led to a 1-yard touchdown run a couple plays later.  After that initial drive, though, Michigan’s defense settled down.  It’s clear that the Wolverines don’t have a lot of horses on defense, because they weren’t beating MAC players in one-on-one matchups often enough.  But they did come up with timely big plays (Jordan Kovacs’ two sacks and a forced fumble, Jake Ryan’s batted pass, Herron’s two TD returns).  This  is what a “bend but don’t break” defense looks like.

Oh no, Troy Woolfolk.  Fifth year senior Troy Woolfolk, playing in his first game since November 2009 against Ohio State, went down with another injury.  After sitting out last season with a dislocated ankle, he was carted off the field in the first quarter with another ankle injury.  Luckily, it sounds like it’s only a sprain this time and Brady Hoke said that he could have returned if Michigan needed him, but it looked ominous.  Early in the game, he looked like the aggressive, speedy corner that Michigan lacked all of last season.  His replacement, J.T. Floyd, hasn’t changed one bit – he’s still too slow to be good.

Wheeee, Michigan running backs!  Neither of Michigan’s primary running backs looked fantastic, but it looks like the right guys are playing.  Fitzgerald Toussaint had 11 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, both of which required a little bit of oomph that not all Michigan backs have had; included in those 11 carries was a 43-yarder.  Meanwhile, Shaw had 4 carries for 54 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown run.  He also looked good on a toss play on which he ran through a tackle.  Vincent Smith (2 carries, 11 yards) looked like a solid change-of-pace back, and Denard Robinson (8 carries, 46 yards) had a decent but unspectacular day running the ball.

It was a win.  Despite the mistakes and the scares, it looks like Michigan got out of the game relatively healthy, they allowed only 10 points, the defense probably gained a little bit of confidence, and the offense looked consistent at the least.  After the 2007 Appalachian State game and the 2008 Toledo loss, I appreciate these wins a little more.

Congratulations, Brady Hoke!  Congratulations to Coach Hoke, who got his first win at Michigan.  Hopefully many more will follow.  Go Blue!

1Sep 2011
Uncategorized 24 comments

2011 Season Predictions

Hooray for middle linebackers who play like middle linebackers!

Well, it’s always fun to take a look back and see how my predictions panned out, so here’s a link to my 2010 Season Predictions.

And now for this year’s picks:

Leading Rusher
I’m going to rescind my earlier faith in Michael Cox and guess that Michael Shaw will be the Wolverines’ leading running back rusher in 2011.  Denard Robinson would be the obvious pick if Rich Rodriguez were still coaching, but Brady Hoke wants Robinson to run less.  It’s basically a crapshoot with Thomas Rawls, Michael Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Shaw all vying for the starting RB role.  Between injuries Shaw will run for 700 yards and a couple other guys will have a few hundred apiece . . . but Denard should take the lead by a fairly small margin.
Prediction: Denard Robinson, 900 yards

Leading Receiver
The change in offense throws a wrench into my guess here, too.  I think Roy Roundtree is a very good receiver, but I also think he’s going to struggle more now that he’s been moved from the slot to the outside.  The only other serious threat to lead the team is Junior Hemingway, who might be derailed by injury like usual.  I guess I’ll go with Hemingway and pray he stays healthy.
Prediction: Junior Hemingway, 1000 yards

Leading Tackler
I’m pretty confident that middle linebacker Kenny Demens will lead the team in tackles, provided his shoulder injury doesn’t flare up again.  He had 82 last season and finished third on the team, despite only starting for half the year.  Safety Jordan Kovacs was second last year with 116 total tackles, but I think – and hope – that those numbers will drop significantly.
Prediction: Kenny Demens, 100 tackles

Leading Sacker
Considering that Michigan’s sack totals have dropped to 41% of what they were in 2006, I have to think that the new defensive scheme will cause at least a small jump.  Of the defensive linemen and linebackers who graduated last year (Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, Adam Patterson, Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh), none were great pass rushers.  The best rushers return (Ryan Van Bergen with 9 career sacks, Mike Martin with 6.5, and Craig Roh with 2.5) with some youthful potential in the forms of redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, sophomore Jibreel Black, and true freshman Frank Clark.  With all those blitzers and rushers potentially getting to the quarterback, weakside end Craig Roh should lead the team in sacks. 
Prediction: Craig Roh, 7 sacks

Leading Interceptor
Last year’s interception leaders were cornerback James Rogers (since graduated) and free safety-turned-linebacker Cameron Gordon.  So those two are out, since linebackers rarely lead teams in interceptions.  That leaves us with a crew of defensive backs who have a combined four interceptions (Jordan Kovacs has 3, J.T. Floyd has 1).  Cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and Courtney Avery have shown an ability to cover but not make big plays, and Floyd . . . well . . . just doesn’t look like a very good cornerback.  It looks like Thomas Gordon will start at strong safety and he hasn’t had a chance to show his pass coverage abilities yet since he played linebacker last year.  So it looks like Jordan Kovacs is my man.
Prediction: Jordan Kovacs, 3 interceptions

All-Big Ten First Team
Prediction: Denard Robinson, Mike Martin

Leading Scorer (non-QB, non-kicker)
Prediction: Michael Shaw

Breakout Offensive Player
This is a tough choice because almost every offensive starter returns.  Kevin Koger should see a significant leap in production, but he’ll be a four-year starter.  I have a hard time picking a four-year starter as a breakout player.  So I’m going to go with Jeremy Gallon.  Gallon is #2 on the depth chart at wide receiver and should see some time in the slot in three- and four-wide sets.  He’s quick, fast, and thickly built, and he could be an X-factor if he can hold onto the ball (which he couldn’t do last year as a kick/punt returner).
Prediction: Jeremy Gallon

Breakout Defensive Player
I don’t foresee anyone on Michigan’s defense going from an unknown to an All-American, so “breakout” here has to be looked at from a small-scale perspective.  A few days ago, I picked freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan as a potential breakout player, since he’s a frosh and will play at some point this season.  Anybody who starts at weakside linebacker will be a breakout player, really, since all the options are young and inexperienced.  Mike Jones is #1 on the depth chart, although I don’t really think he’s a playmaker.  I think I’ll go with cornerback Courtney Avery.  Avery had a bad year last season, not because he’s a bad athlete but because he wasn’t ready to play.  He should have redshirted and taken a year to add some size.  Now he’s a sophomore with playing experience and he might be the best cover corner on the roster, although true freshman Blake Countess is going to be a good one, too.
Prediction: Courtney Avery

Most Disappointing Offensive Player
Keep in mind that this is my  most disappointing offensive player, as in the one that I think will fall short of my previous expectations.  There was a time when I thought Roy Roundtree was headed toward wearing the #1 jersey.  On top of being a very good slot receiver, he was a good blocker and a playmaker after the catch.  He started to fall off toward the end of last season when he began dropping too many passes, particularly against Wisconsin and Ohio State.  And while he did have over 900 yards receiving last year, many of those receptions came in the middle of the field, an area that he won’t roam as often from his new outside receiver position.  He should start this fall and put up decent numbers, but I don’t know if the #1 jersey is in his future anymore.
Prediction: Roy Roundtree

Most Disappointing Defensive Player
Just like last year, it’s tough to pick someone who’s going to be disappointing, because not much is expected from most of the guys on this unit.  The bar has been lowered so much that it’s almost impossible for anyone to limbo underneath it.  With that caveat aside, I think Troy Woolfolk is going to disappoint some people a little bit.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and many Michigan fans hope that Woolfolk will be Michigan’s Savior in the Secondary this season.  He was a solid free safety and cornerback in 2009 before dislocating his ankle prior to the 2010 season, which might have been fortuitous since he preserved his last year of eligibility to play under a coach who actually knows what he’s doing.  But Woolfolk has zero interceptions in his career, and while he’s a solid tackler with excellent speed, I doubt he’ll suddenly be causing turnover after turnover.  I expect continued solid play in the coming months, but nothing spectacular.
Prediction: Troy Woolfolk

The Big Finish

Sept. 3 vs. Western Michigan: WIN.  Michigan’s offense ought to be too good for Western Michigan to handle.  Denard Robinson torched them in 2009 for one of his best career highlights, and he’ll probably make some more highlights.  MAC teams just can’t handle his speed.

Sept. 10 vs. Notre Dame: LOSS.  Notre Dame should have beaten Michigan in 2010, if not for quarterback Dayne Crist getting injured.  This year the Fighting Irish should be better.

Sept. 17 vs. Eastern Michigan: WIN.  The Screaming Eagles are horrible at football.

Sept. 24 vs. San Diego State: WIN.  I think this will be a pretty easy win.  SDSU lost a couple of their top receivers for the year due to injury.  Otherwise, I thought it was going to be a close win.

Oct. 1 vs. Minnesota: WIN.  The Golden Gophers are just a steap ahead of Eastern Michigan.

Oct. 8 at Northwestern: WIN.  The Wildcats have a solid offense that will put up some points, but I have confidence that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have some better ideas on how to stop the spread than his predecessors.

Oct. 15 at Michigan State: WIN.  It’s about time that Michigan gets another victory against the Spartans, who got lucky repeatedly in the 2010 season.  I can’t see Hoke and Mattison losing to MSU in year one.

Oct. 29 vs. Purdue: WIN.  Purdue is bad, and their starting quarterback from last year is out due to an ACL tear.

Nov. 5 at Iowa: LOSS.  Iowa is going to be good this year, unfortunately.  They always seem to play Michigan tough, and their defense is solid.  If this game were in Ann Arbor, I’d pick the Wolverines . . . but it’s an away game.

Nov. 12 at Illinois: WIN. Illinois lost a couple good players in their defensive front seven, and the couple good players left shouldn’t be enough to beat the Wolverines.

Nov. 19 vs. Nebraska: LOSS.  Nebraska’s too good on both sides of the ball for Michigan to handle.  They might win the Big Ten in their first season.

Nov. 26 vs. Ohio State: LOSS.  I wish I could predict a Michigan victory here, but Ohio State has been so dominant in recent years that I can’t see the Wolverines pulling out a victory.  All of OSU’s suspended players will be back and warmed up for several weeks before coming to Ann Arbor.

Final Record: 8-4

22Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #9 Troy Woolfolk

Defensive back Troy Woolfolk with his father, former Michigan running back Butch
(image via DetNews.com)

Name: Troy Woolfolk
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 191 lbs.
High school: Dulles High School in Sugar Land, TX
Position: Cornerback
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #29
Last year: I ranked Woolfolk at #2.  But by the time I got to that ranking, he had already dislocated his ankle and been declared unable to play.

Thank goodness Woolfolk is back.  With the overall lack of speed and athleticism in the defensive backfield, he will be a welcome sight on September 3.  Last year I was expecting big things from the kid, and he had an unfortunate practice incident that caused his senior season to be delayed.  That absence meant that the cornerback positions were left to senior James Rogers and redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, neither of whom was particularly impressive; Floyd suffered an ankle injury halfway through the season that forced true freshman Courtney Avery into starting action, too.  By the end of the year, Michigan was starting cornerbacks #3 and #4 on the pre-season depth chart.  Rogers played admirably with 40 tackles and 3 picks, Floyd made 66 tackles and 1 interception, and Avery made 36 tackles, but getting 4 interceptions out of your cornerbacks – not to mention oodles of completions in front of them – was hard to watch.

Woolfolk has been earning praise this August for his off-season preparation and his knowledge of the defense, despite being unable to practice full speed in the spring.  Comments from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke suggest that Woolfolk will be a starter in the defensive backfield on September 3.  But once again, his position has been muddied.  Michigan technically has three returning starters at the cornerback position with Woolfolk, Floyd, and Avery; meanwhile, only Jordan Kovacs has started at a safety spot (Carvin Johnson started a few games last year, but as a hybrid outside linebacker).  If the Wolverines want to get their best four defensive backs on the field, that might be a combination of Floyd and Avery at cornerback with Woolfolk and Kovacs at safety.  Whether he’s at safety or cornerback, I’m guessing Woolfolk will be Michigan’s best defensive back.

Prediction: Starting cornerback; 45 tackles, 2 interceptions

Poll Results: You guys really disagreed with me here.  Woolfolk only got 7% of the votes, while Koger (51%), Omameh (20%), and Hemingway (17%) all had more.

19Aug 2011
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Poll Results: Who will be Michigan’s top draft pick in 2012?

Mike Martin eats Vincent Smith a midget

DT Mike Martin: 79%
C David Molk: 7%
QB Denard Robinson: 2%
WR Junior Hemingway: 2%
TE Kevin Koger/WR Roy Roundtree (tie): 1%
OG Patrick Omameh: 1%
LB Kenny Demens: 0%
CB Troy Woolfolk: 0%
WR Darryl Stonum: 0%
DE Ryan Van Bergen: 0%
Other: 0%

In a landslide victory for exactly whom I expected to win this poll, senior Mike Martin pulled in nearly 4 out of 5 votes.  Martin is a 6’2″, 304 lb. nose tackle with surprising quickness.  He might be undersized for playing nose tackle at the next level, which means he’ll likely have to be drafted by a 4-3 team with a need for a 3-tech defensive tackle.  In fact, Martin should probably be playing 3-tech in college, except Michigan has no other viable options at the nose tackle position.  For his career he has 108 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks.

Fifth year senior David Molk took second place comfortably.  Molk is a 6’2″, 286 lb. center who will be entering his fourth season as a starter.  Despite being slightly undersized to be an extremely valuable commodity at the next level, he has consistently been mentioned as the strongest player on the team and was a first team All-Big Ten selection in 2010.  Molk has the quickness, leverage, and intelligence to do well at the college level, but he’ll likely have to add bulk in order to have a chance in the NFL.

Junior quarterback Denard Robinson barely beat out wide receiver Junior Hemingway for the third spot.  Robinson is a 6’0″, 195 lb. quarterback who set the NCAA record last year for the most rushing yards in a season by a QB.  He has struggled as a passer at times and with his lack of height, he could very well have to change positions to play at the next level.  I doubt he will leave early for the NFL when his future position is such a huge question mark.  Last season Robinson threw for 2,570 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 touchdowns.  He also had 1.702 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

Hemingway is a 6’1″, 222 lb. fifth year senior wide receiver.  Due to injuries and illness, he has never played a full season of football.  However, last year was his best statistical season when he grabbed 32 passes for 593 yards (18.5 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns.  Hemingway has demonstrated good hands and leaping ability, and with his strength, he can often outmuscle cornerbacks for the ball.  He has only mediocre speed, though, and his production thus far has been mediocre.

Senior tight end Kevin Koger and redshirt junior wide receiver Roy Roundtree tied for the fifth spot.  Koger is a 6’4″, 258-pounder with excellent athleticism who has been underused for the past few seasons in Rich Rodriguez’s offense.  He has dropped some passes at times, but he has the speed, leaping ability, and size to be a huge mismatch for anyone willing and able to get him the ball.  The new coaching staff will almost certainly use him as a receiver more often than the old one.  In three years as a starter, he has averaged 12 receptions, 170.7 yards, and 1.7 touchdowns per season.

Roundtree stands 6’0″ and only 177 lbs.  Despite a lack of elite size and speed, he set a school record for receiving yards in one game with 246 against Illinois last season.  He also has four career receptions of 74+ yards.  No other player in Michigan history  has more than one reception of over 70 yards.  Still his lack of impressive measurables may cause him not to be a high draft pick, even if he plays out his eligibility and enters the 2013 NFL Draft.

Omameh is a 6’4″, 299 lb. offensive guard.  He has started the last 16 games Michigan has played and projects as the starting right guard in 2011, as well.  He moves well and gets to the second level with regularity, which suits the zone running game perfectly.  He’s also an above average pass blocker.  As just a redshirt junior, however, it would be somewhat of a surprise to see him enter the draft in 2012.  He’s more likely to be a 2013 entrant.

Demens is a 6’1″, 248 lb. middle linebacker who burst onto the scene in 2010.  Despite starting only seven games, he finished the season with 82 tackles and led the Wolverines in tackles per start.  Known as a thumping run stuffer, he needs to work on recognizing pass routes and getting to his pass drops.  He already has the size to play in the NFL and could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 or inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.  He might wait to enter the NFL Draft until 2013, since he has one year of eligibility remaining beyond 2011.

Woolfolk is 6’0″ tall and 191 lbs.  He missed his true senior season in 2010 due to an ankle dislocation, but started all 12 games in 2009, half at safety and half at cornerback.  With a couple exceptions, he played well at safety and improved when he moved back to cornerback for the second half of the year.  He has not proven to be a huge playmaker in his career (61 tackles, 3 pass breakups in three years), but other teams all but completely avoided throwing in his direction when he started at corner opposite current Pittsburgh Steeler Donovan Warren.  Woolfolk ran indoor track during his first few seasons on campus and has blazing makeup speed to go along with good size for the position.  Teams usually don’t spend high draft picks on guys who have zero career interceptions, so turning out big plays this fall will be important if Woolfolk wants a shot at the next level.

Stonum is a 6’2″, 195 lb. wideout whose lack of impressive statistics and keen ability to break the law make him extremely unlikely to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.  For one thing, he was suspended for the 2011 season and will take a redshirt, hoping to return in 2012.  For another thing, his best statistical season came in 2010, when he had 49 receptions for 633 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Those aren’t bad numbers, but his performance wasn’t impressive enough to make a team ignore his person issues.  Stonum also brings some potential value as a kick returner, since he returned 39 kickoffs for 1,001 yards (25.7 yards/attempt), including a 94-yard TD against Notre Dame in 2009.

The player with the least amount of votes was defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, a 6’6″, 288 lb. defensive end.  Van Bergen has played both defensive end and defensive tackle in his career, totaling 90 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 6 pass breakups in his career.  This season he’s bigger than he has ever been before, but Van Bergen works hard and has squeezed out just about every ounce of effort he can with his limited physical skills.  Some players make it to the NFL with superior athleticism, and some make it with a combination of athleticism and talent.  Not many make it that far on sheer determination.  Van Bergen could play at the next level as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but his chances are slim.

The “Other” category received just one vote, and I’d be interested to know which player that voter had in mind.