The Michigan Wolverines opened up their 2014 season in impressive fashion in Saturday’s 52-14 rout of Appalachian State. It’s time to pass out some grades.
Devin Gardner had a very good outing against the Mountaineers, completing 13 of 14 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. His lone “mistake” of the day was an incomplete pass that was thrown behind Devin Funchess. The Doug Nussmeier effect seems to have made an impact on him, as he was decisive and efficient as a passer. The ball was coming out quickly and his footwork looked improved.
Shane Morris came in during mop up time and went 3-of-5 for 37 yards and an interception, which was a thrown he tried to force into Amara Darboh. He still has some work to do, but these were beneficial reps for him.
Running Backs: A+
This was a banner day for this position group, as they racked up 350 yards on 36 rushing attempts (9.7 yards per rush).
The Wolverines were led by Derrick Green, who got the start and ran for 170 yards on 15 attempts and a touchdown. De”Veon Smith had a fantastic performance as well, going for 115 yards and two touchdowns on eight attempts. It was a slow start, but when things started to open up, these guys answered the bell emphatically.
Last year, the production from the running game simply wasn’t there unless Gardner created something from the quarterback position. They were certainly stymied by the offensive’s line performance (more on them, later), but the backs were inconsistent. Saturday was a definite step in the right direction and you could not have asked for a better performance for them.
Wide Receivers: A-
Devin Funchess was surprisingly awarded the famous No. 1 jersey prior to the game, and he did everything in his power to show that he was deserving of that, hauling in seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns. He was the best player on the field Saturday and App State had no answer for him at all. He looks poised for a huge year.
Gardner did a good job of spreading the ball around, so outside of Funchess there were not really any standout performers. Dennis Norfleet caught three passes for 30 yards and Amara Darboh had a catch go for 26 yards. Jehu Chesson added two catches for 22 yards.
Tight Ends: B
Khalid Hill got the start at tight end and had a catch that went for 12 yards. Keith Heitzman, who switched over from defensive end last season, had one catch for 26 yards. All of the tight ends were solid in the run game, but nobody stood out. They will not have a huge impact from this position group until Jake Butt returns, but they got the job done today.
Offensive Line: B+
Coming into the game, the biggest question mark by far was the offensive line. The five starters today were Mason Cole at left tackle, Erik Magnuson at left guard, Jack Miller at center, Joey Burzynski at right guard and Ben Braden at right tackle. Kyle Kalis replaced Burzynski for a good part of the game, as well.
Things started off slow for them, as the running game just was not there early on, but as the game went on they started to improve and create some running lanes for the backs, who had a fantastic day. They were good in pass protection all day long and gave Gardner and Morris a solid pocket to step up into and throw.
Hoke kept the same five guys out there for the entire game to get some extra reps and build chemistry. This was a good start for them heading into South Bend next week.
Defensive Line: B+
The entire defense was fantastic today aside from a few garbage time scores, but the defensive line had a solid showing. Everyone contributed in some shape or form.
Chris Wormley and Willie Henry really stood out to me today as the best two defensive tackles out there. Ondre Pipkins also had a nice game, collecting five tackles. The ends were good today as well. Frank Clark had a tackle for loss and Taco Charlton had a sack.
Simply put, this group did what they needed to do today. They weren’t flashy, but defensive lineman rarely are. These guys can get better, but they took it to a group that they clearly outmatched today.
Again, everyone on the defensive side of the ball showed up on Saturday and did a fine job against a team they were supposed to beat. The linebackers were no exception.
There was a lot of rotating that went on this afternoon on defense, which speaks to the depth that the Wolverines have at linebacker. They did a nice job in both run stopping and pass defense.
Jake Ryan looked a bit lost at middle linebacker at times, but he should figure things out in time. The transition from the outside is still taking place.
Defensive Backs: A
On a defense that completely dominated today’s game, the defensive backs stood out the most. They looked fantastic in switching over to a more press coverage oriented scheme. Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor got the start on the outside with Jabrill Peppers in the middle. Peppers sat out the second half with an ankle injury, but will be good to go against Notre Dame.
The Wolverines allowed only 127 yards passing overall and App State quarterback Kam Bryant simply never looked comfortable, completing only eight of his 18 pass attempts for 58 yards.
Special Teams: B+
The biggest impact that the special teams unit had on the game was a blocked punt by Mike McCray that led to a touchdown return by Ben Gedeon, which stretched Michigan’s halftime lead to 35-0.
There were not many chances for the kicking game to shine today. Will Hagerup had one punt for 46 yards and Matt Wile was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts and 7-for-7 on extra point attempts.
Dennis Norfleet had one kick return and one punt return each, going for 36 and 9 yards, respectively. Jabrill Peppers took one punt for six yards.
Brady Hoke and staff had their team well prepared and ready to go on Saturday afternoon. Right from the first kick, there was absolutely no chance that a repeat of The Horror was ever going to take place. The gameplan was executed well for the most part.
If there was one thing to maybe gripe about, it was how long the starters were in, but any and all reps are important and beneficial, so I can see where they came from there. It was good to keep the offensive line out there for almost the whole game to try and gel and build chemistry.
What did you think about Saturday’s opening day win? Sound off in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter with us at @TBHReport.