"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Gallon's levitation skills translated to the college game just fine.
Finishing out the series looking back on the 2009 recruiting class, here's a look at the non-quarterback offensive players, as described in Brian's recruiting posts of yore. But first...
My Bad, Cam
While I remembered to include then-OL, future-NT Quinton Washington on the defensive side of the ball, I forgot to do the same for Cam Gordon, the future defensive positional nomad who came to Michigan with most recruiting services considering him a wide receiver. As Gordon's recruitment wore on, it became more clear that his best spot may actually be in the defensive back seven, and thus we got one of the odder player comps I've seen:
Jason Avant, or maybe Prescott Burgess
Why Avant or Burgess? Bulky 6'2" wide receiver who will push 215 and lacks deep speed == Avant. Rangy linebacker who needs to put on 20 pounds, switch positions (sort of) and probably struggle with the mental part of being a college linebacker for a while == Burgess.
Free safety wasn't mentioned, because only an insane, desperate person would put a player matching that profile on the last line of defen--AAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHH. (Thank you, Denard, forever and always.)
Gordon ended his career as a backup outside linebacker and situational defensive end. Fire Tony Gibson again, just in case.
The Blue Darter
As for prospects who actually ended up at receiver, Michigan had two: consensus top-200 prospect Je'Ron Stokes, and a high school single-wing quarterback who—despite being an Army All-American—earned four-star status on just one site due to his diminutive stature.
PEAK MIXTAPE WEEZY WITH A KEVIN FEDERLINE REFERENCE.
HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON?
Though everyone pegged Jeremy Gallon as a pure slot ninja—he'd prove to be much more, obviously—the eye-opening highlights and strong Army week performance earned him plenty of hype:
Gallon is a Swiss Army knife of a player: pocket-sized, versatile, capable of surprising feats, and… uh… hard to tackle. (If you've ever tried to tackle a Swiss Army knife you know what I'm talking about. They're pointy.) It's hard to envision a scenario in which one of his diverse and sundry talents doesn't find him on the field, if not this fall than next.
Brian, I'd like to hear more about your past attempts to ... tackle ... pocket knives.
As for Stokes...
When Je'Ron Stokes committed to Michigan I was in an airport about to board a plane for Egypt by way of Germany, and as soon as he did I logged off and forgot all about him. Ever since when something reminds me of that commitment, it's like a weird bonus: oh, yeah, that universally-praised wide receiver in the class I never remember. He's like a ghost recruit.
Yeah, that was for the best.
Oh Damn, Fitz
From 2008-09, I worked as an intern at The Wolverine, and one of my primary tasks during football season was posting the stats of Michigan's commits each week. A back from Ohio's Division V Youngstown Liberty by the name of Fitzgerald Toussaint committed a few months before I got that job, so week after week that fall I'd look up his stats, bug out my eyes, and get incrementally more excited for him to see the field at U-M:
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Youngstown Liberty: Senior RB and Michigan recruit went over 250 yards for the seventh week in a row in a 33-28 win over Hubbard. After generating 16 yards on four carries in the first half, Toussaint erupted for 235 yards in the second half and scored two TDs. He has 1,950 yards in eight games.
He'd finish the season with over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Between those numbers and his excellently soundtracked highlights, I thought he'd be the next great Michigan running back:
That wasn't to be, at least in large part for reasons outside his control, but when remembering where Toussaint came from...
It wasn't all flowers and 90-yard touchdowns for Toussaint, though. His dad—also named Fitzgerald Toussaint—ended up in jail after stabbing his ex-wife's boyfriend… at a football scrimmage. Nasty business.
...I'd say 32 career starts, graduating from U-M, and getting a shot to make an NFL roster constitutes a very successful college career.
Vincent Smith's profile started out with similar recounting of a tough upbringing in Pahokee, then mostly waffled between excitement about his highlights/fit in the scheme and trepidation about his size, which was the subject of an awkwardly written ESPN scouting report:
ESPN says Smith lacks size "on paper"—which uh what about real life too—and says he runs "low to the ground," as if he has a choice.
Michigan rounded out a three-man running back class with Cass Tech product Teric Jones, who recorded the fastest time at the Army combine after his junior year but didn't receive much at all in the way of recruiting hype. By the time he got to campus the coaches were already considering a position switch:
In fact, Michigan might be shooting Jones into lots of space as a slot receiver. Rodriguez said Jones was a slot receiver who "may also get reps at running back" at the signing day press conference, and Jones did have some nice receiving numbers as a junior: 24 catches for 306 yards.
Jones ended up playing special teams as a true freshman, bounced between running back and cornerback as the thin roster dictated need, then left the team and went on medical scholarship before the 2011 season after a sophomore-year knee injury.
If You Just Take Two Linemen...
...you might as well make them NFL linemen, and that's exactly what happened with U-M's 2009 O-line class of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Lewan, especially, was quite the steal; he was a total unknown until moving from defensive line to offensive line before his senior season, then vaulted into the top 300 recruits on all three recruiting services and played in the Under Armour AA Game in his first year playing the position. Michigan had a nice in with Lewan—his teammate at Chaparral High, Craig Roh, had been committed to U-M for months when Lewan decided to also head to Ann Arbor.
While this usually doesn't happen, Lewan's high school coach ended up giving the most accurate forecast of his player's potential:
“Michigan is getting, in my opinion, the steal of this year's recruiting class in the country,” Ragle said. “I know that's a bold statement to make, (but) this kid’s ability on the field won't be questioned. He's as good an athlete on the offensive line as I've ever seen.”
"He's as good athletically as any guy I have ever coached," Ragle said. "The thing that makes him so special is his upside when you think he's only been coached at the position for about eight months. But the one intangible that's most impressive is his nastiness --Taylor wants to burry [sic] someone on every play, and you can't coach that."
On point, Coach Ragle.
Schofield's rankings were in a similar range as Lewan's after a strong senior season. What stood out about him most was his athleticism—which translated to the college game, as he seamlessly transition from being Michigan's best pulling guard to a nimble pass-protector at tackle—and considering he's now 6'7" and 300+ pounds this is rather astounding:
In his first two years at Sandburg, Schofield ran the 110 high hurdles for the Eagles’ track team, winning a conference title his freshman year and finishing second his sophomore season. He also moved up to the varsity team for the state tournament during his sophomore year, finishing sixth in sectionals.
Unfortunately, there's no video of this, as the age of someone-on-a-smartphone-will-film-literally-anything hadn't hit yet.
So, with that exercise out of the way, who's ready to go over the 2010 class?
On second thought, let's save that for next summer. Or perhaps never. Leaning towards never.
Reader and graphic designer Brian Downing shows off his skills with the above, which I wish I was aware of before attempting my own "Al Borges is trolling us all" GIF:
Brian's (NTB's) is obviously superior; both of these are exempted from voting this week since they're edited. There's still plenty to choose from after the jump, mostly featuring Indiana not playing defense and various reactions to the on-field insanity. It's a good crop, so...
NOT PICTURED: Indiana's defense (far left: Upchurch; center and right: Fuller)
Michigan comfortably defeated Indiana by 16 points, outgaining them by 161 yards and staying even in the critical turnover battle.
Or something like that, at least.
In real life, the Wolverines and Hoosiers traded haymakers, smashing records while combining for 1,323 yards of total offense. I'll spell that out: ONE-THOUSAND, THREE-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE. 751 (SEVEN-HUNDRED--okay, you get it) of those belonged to Michigan, a school record. Devin Gardner passed for 503 of those yards, another school record, and added 81 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, breaking Denard Robinson's U-M record for single-game total offense. Jeremy Gallon caught 14 passes for 369 yards and two scores, felling not only the Michigan receiving yards record, but also the Big Ten mark.
On the other side of the ledger, Indiana amassed 572 yards and 28 first downs while scoring on seven of their first 11 full drives. We all know this feel, probably-drunk student (via bubbaprog):
When the above occurred during the game doesn't matter, because it could've been any moment of the game.*
Remarkably, the teams traded punts to begin the game; matters escalated quickly. First, Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld hit a wide-open Cody Latimer for a 59-yard touchdown when Michigan's defense couldn't get set against the lightning-fast Hoosier attack; Raymon Taylor got beat over the top, and the safety help it appeared he expected never arrived.
Michigan responded with a five-play, 56-yard march capped by a 13-yard Gardner scoring run; all but one of the plays was a shotgun run. Clearly, Al Borges wasn't pleased with last week's effort; not only did Michigan come out with two new starting guards, Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski, they spread the field to make attacking a porous Indiana defense that much easier.
From there, it was the Jeremy Gallon Show. The Wolverines took a 14-7 lead after a 70-yard Gallon catch set up a two-yard TD run by Fitz Toussaint. By the end of the first quarter, he had 116 yards. Back-to-back first down passes to Gallon set up the next score, too, a seven-yard Toussaint run to the pylon for a 21-7 Michigan lead.
Indiana responded to that score in their trademark lightning-strike fashion, taking just 1:03 off the clock as Tre Roberson took over for Sudfeld, going 3/3 on the drive for 57 yards. That took some luck, as Roberson's second throw went right through the hands of Raymon Taylor, only to be caught by Duwyce Wilson; one play later, Shane Wynn took the top off the defense for a 33-yard score.
The Wolverines looked to carry all the momentum into halftime, going on a methodical 12-play, 91-yard drive that ate 5:19 of the final 5:59 off the clock; a 21-yard touchdown pass to—who else?—Gallon on a wide open flag route. As it turned out, however, 40 seconds was just enough for the Hoosiers to move into field goal range with a little help from a very passive defense, and Mitch Ewald drilled a 50-yarder to make it 28-17 at the half.
Michigan received to start the second half; any hopes of opening up a comfortable lead were quickly dashed, however, when Toussaint dropped a pitch from Gardner and IU LB Flo Hardin returned it 13 yards to the Wolverine five. Three plays later, Tevin Coleman dashed through a huge hole in the middle to bring the Hoosiers within four.
Even as the Wolverines tried to slow the game's breakneck pace, Indiana wouldn't allow them to do so; unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they did this by ceding a 50-yard touchdown pass to Gallon on the fourth play of the next drive. The play came on another very successful adjustment by Borges: bringing in two tight ends, going max protect, and letting Gallon and Devin Funchess work against Indiana's generous secondary. Funchess drew a lot of attention from Indiana's back seven, allowing Gallon to roam freely downfield, almost as if he were invisible.
Indiana came back with a five-yard Roberson pass to an uncovered Wynn on a broken coverage, failed to convert a reverse pass on a gutsy (read: questionable) two-point conversion attempt, and after a Michigan punt another Ewald field goal cut the lead to just one point. The offense once again answered the bell, however, this time in the form of Gardner pump-faking and scrambling through several Hoosiers en route to a six-yard score, eating an illegal late hit after he arrived in the end zone.
Despite kicking off from the 50 with a nine-point lead and a defense seemingly incapable of slowing down Indiana, Brady Hoke elected to have Matt Wile boot the ball through the end zone instead of trying a relatively safe onside kick. The Hoosiers made up the 15-yard difference in one Tevin Coleman rush, then cut the lead to two on a 15-yard Roberson scramble.
Hearts quickly jumped into throats and stomachs plummeted into shoes after Michigan moved their way down to the Indiana two-yard line, only for Gardner to fumble the snap on first-and-goal; Indiana recovered and the Big House fell silent as the Hoosiers took the ball with a chance at the lead. Michigan caught two big breaks, however: first, Roberson dislocated his thumb, forcing Sudfeld back onto the field; second, Sudfeld softly tossed the ball in the direction of an open receiver, only for Thomas Gordon (above, Fuller) to undercut it for a critical interception, giving the Wolverines the ball back just three yards worse for wear.
After two runs were stuffed by the Hoosiers, Gardner dropped back to pass, niftily eluded a corner blitz, and took off up the middle, barrel-rolling over a tackle attempt and into the end zone to make it 56-47. Roberson gamely got Indiana into scoring position again on the next drive, but Hoosier hopes were dashed when either a bad overthrow or a miscommunication with the intended receiver resulted in a ball deflecting off Jourdan Lewis's hands and straight to Gordon for his second pick. Toussaint, who finished with 151 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries, capped the scoring with a 27-yard dash up the middle.
This felt a lot like the 2010 Illinois game, with Michigan looking unstoppable on offense and incapable on defense. The difference, of course, is that the offense was supposed to be the big question mark with the defense being called upon to keep the team afloat. For this game's good signs—the offensive explosion and adjustments from Borges—there were plenty of bad ones, especially the defense allowing five different Indiana receivers to record catches of at least 20 yards. One thing is for sure: this team still looks eminantly beatable, and after this week's bye, the Wolverines face the teeth of their schedule, starting with a trip to East Lansing to face the vaunted Spartan defense (and also, thankfully, a Connor Cook-led MSU offense).
*If you must know, it was after Gardner's fumble on the goal line, which stood out as particularly absurd even in this absurdity of a game.
Split out wide for most of the game, Devin Funchess set career highs in receptions and yards. [Photo: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog]
After two ugly victories against overmatched opponents, Michigan entered their game against Minnesota with a reshuffled offensive line and a pressing need to placate the fanbase by not playing down to their opponent. After a slow start, they did just that, scoring 28 second-half points en route to a 42-13 homecoming victory.
The natives were restless during a plodding first half in which the two teams combined for just eight real drives (the Gophers ran out the last 1:25 of the half), due mostly to a 16-play, 75-yard march by Minnesota—during which they converted five third downs—that saw them tie the game at seven. That came after Jibreel Black forced a fumble by Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner on the game's opening possession; James Ross recovered and the Michigan offense capitalized with six runs in six plays, covering 35 yards and capped by an eight-yard Fitz Toussaint touchdown.
The ensuing Gopher drive ate up most of the first quarter, allowing them to not only knot up the score, but keep it close for the rest of the half. This was "old time Big Ten football" in the worst sense—slow-paced, run-heavy, and not particularly effective. Four consecutive punts followed, and the heated battle for field position eventually went in Michigan's favor—after Matt Wile's 55-yard boot was downed by Dennis Norfleet at the Gopher one-yard line, Minnesota was forced to punt it away from the nine, and Drew Dileo took a line drive kick well into Gopher territory. Four plays later, Devin Gardner hooked up with Devin Funchess—who spent most of the game lined up at wide receiver—on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. Fitting the general tenor of the game, Minnesota decided to forego any chance at points, running twice and carrying three timeouts into halftime.
If that seemed questionable at the time, it looked more so after Michigan drove 75 yards in nine plays to open the second half, bolstered by an improved running game and the emergence of Funchess, Giant Wide Receiver. The first four plays of the drives were runs of 14, 5, 8, and 9 yards; a 21-yard back-shoulder throw to Funchess set up a two-yard Derrick Green touchdown to cap the drive. The Gophers could only respond with a field goal to cut the Wolverine lead to 21-10; that would be the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.
Much of the credit for that can go to Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards—both career highs—and set up a late Gardner touchdown run with a 46-yard grab on the right sideline. Even though the numbers don't bear it out, the running game looked improved as well; though Michigan averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, Fitz Toussaint (right, Upchurch) had an impressive 78 yards on just 17 carries, adding a second touchdown run from 12 yards out to give Michigan a 28-10 third-quarter lead that proved insurmountable. Chris Bryant, the new starter at left guard, proved adept as a puller, which allowed Michigan to run the play they'd like to (eventually) make their offensive identity: power.
Most importantly, considering the troubles of the last two games, Michigan didn't turn the ball over once, the first time they've done so since their 58-0 win over these same Gophers in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. After looking flustered against UConn, Devin Gardner was very sharp, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while showing a calmness in the pocket that wasn't present in previous games. Gardner wasn't needed much as a runner, carrying the ball just seven times for 17 yards and a TD; in a game like this, that's just fine.
While the defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing Minnesota to convert on 8 of 15 chances, they were otherwise solid; the Gophers mustered just 281 total yards on 4.5 yards per play and couldn't score a touchdown after their second drive. The inside linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and James Ross combined for 19 tackles, making it tough sledding for any Minnesota run up the gut. While the Wolverines had trouble covering Gopher TE Maxx Williams, who finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, the rest of the Minnesota passing offense generated just 91 yards. While the Gophers missed a couple chances for big completions late, Michigan made up for that when Blake Countess stepped in front of a Leidner throw and returned it 72 yards to complete the scoring with just 1:19 on the clock. The biggest concern on that side of the ball going forward may be the health of nose tackle Ondre Pipkins, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury; he's a critical backup behind Quinton Washington.
Despite the close calls and consternation from the nonconference slate, Michigan now sits at 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and after two harrowing wins over bad teams the Wolverines beat Minnesota in a wholly acceptable fashion—the slow pace masked a dominant effort until the game broke open late. In the end, Michigan scored five touchdowns on eight offensive drives, with the defense adding a sixth for good measure while forcing Minnesota to fight for every yard. It wasn't pretty in any aesthetic sense; the score, however, speaks for itself.
"I just dropped back and did what I was coached to do, kind of read off his eyes and lo and behold he threw it that way so I was just trying to jump up and make the play on it." — Desmond Morgan
He made a play on it, to say the least.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best GIFs (from a very Michigan-biased perspective) from the UConn game, and make sure to vote for your favorite.]
This whole sequence—Hoke trying to call a timeout as Gardner barely gets the play off, Gardner scoring, Hoke shrugging—is spectacular; the ever-so-subtle smirk at the end just kills me, though. However, is this even the best GIF of the week? Hit the jump to find out my choice and vote for your favorite.
[JUMP like Funchess on a middle screen]