A Closer Look: Michigan Wolverines

No. 9 Ohio State concludes its regular season Saturday with the traditional finale against archrival Michigan. The Wolverines enter at 5-6, having lost their last six against Division I-A foes, and tied for last in the Big Ten with a lone conference win. Still, Michigan has some talented players who are playing for bowl eligibility Saturday in Michigan Stadium.

Michigan (5-6, 1-6 Big Ten)
Saturday, Nov. 21
Noon ET, ABC
Michigan Stadium; Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Wolverines
Head coach: Rich Rodriguez, 8-15 at Michigan, 2nd year (113-77-2 overall)
2008 record: 3-9 (2-6 Big Ten)
Series mark: Michigan leads, 57-42-6
School location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Enrollment: 38,820
Colors: Maize and Blue
Stadium: Michigan Stadium (106,201)
Fight song: "Hail to the Victors"

Michigan Players To Watch
QB Tate Forcier: After last year's debacle at the quarterback position, Michigan had to hope its young guns at quarterback stepped up, and the true freshman has performed well for the most part. Quick with his reads and athletic enough to make teams pay with his feet when they make a mistake, Forcier is also a gamer who has directed two game-winning drives and another that sent a game to overtime in his freshman campaign.

"It's weird," offensive lineman David Molk said. "I never see the kid crumble. Once in a while you'll see a quarterback and they'll start to get kind of shaky, but he's pretty solid."

RB Brandon Minor: Minor has fought injuries throughout the year and his career, but when he's healthy he's the Wolverines' best player. The senior has averaged 5.0 yards per carry during his career, including 5.2 this year, and scored 20 touchdowns. Minor is an excellent, physical between-the-tackles runner who also has the speed to excel on the edge and in the open field.

"We're different when Brandon is in there," head coach Rodriguez said. "He just brings that hard-edge attitude, and I love the passion he plays with."

DE Brandon Graham: Despite playing for a team that has struggled mightily the past two seasons, Graham has been consistently great. He's the only player to rank in the national top 10 in tackles for loss in each of the last two years, placing second with 20 last year and 21 this year. Only Mark Messner has posted at least 20 in two consecutive seasons at U-M, doing so in 1987 and '88.

"He has great explosion," cornerback Troy Woolfolk said. "Most (defensive) linemen are kind of slow off the ball. He doesn't just use his big body to flop on you, he'll blast you."

LCB Donovan Warren: Teams have found plenty of ways to move the ball up and down the field on Michigan this year, but one way that hasn't worked is going after this talented junior. Warren is starting to fulfill his promise as a five-star prospect in the class of 2007, as his four picks in Big Ten play this year lead the conference.

Sept. 5, Western Michigan, W 31-7
Sept. 12, No. 18 Notre Dame, W 38-34
Sept. 19, Eastern Michigan, W 45-17
Sept. 26, Indiana, W 36-33
Oct. 3, at Michigan State, L 26-20
Oct. 10, at No. 12 Iowa, L 30-28
Oct. 17, Delaware State, W 63-6
Oct. 24, No. 13 Penn State, L 35-10
Oct. 31, at Illinois, L 38-13
Nov. 7, Purdue, L 38-36
Nov. 14, at No. 21 Wisconsin, L 45-24

Projected Starters
QB 5 Tate Forcier, 6-1, 188/16 Denard Robinson, 6-0, 185
RB 4 Brandon Minor, 6-1, 218
X 13 Greg Mathews, 6-3, 209
Y 12 Roy Roundtree, 6-0, 170/9 Martavious Odoms, 5-9, 172
Z 21 Junior Hemingway, 6-1, 220
TE 86 Kevin Koger, 6-4, 249
LT 71 Mark Ortmann, 6-7, 284
LG 52 Stephen Schilling, 6-5, 304
C 60 David Moosman, 6-5, 293
RG 65 Patrick Omameh, 6-4, 276
RT 79 Perry Dorrestein, 6-7, 306

DE 55 Brandon Graham, 6-2, 263
DT 53 Ryan Van Bergen, 6-6, 271
NT 68 Mike Martin, 6-2, 292
QE 88 Craig Roh, 6-4, 238
WLB 8 Jonas Mouton, 6-2, 228
MLB 45 Obi Ezeh, 6-2, 243
SLB 3 Stevie Brown, 6-0, 211
LCB 6 Donovan Warren, 6-0, 185
SS 32 Jordan Kovacs, 5-10, 194
FS 40 Mike Williams, 5-11, 188
RCB 29 Troy Woolfolk, 6-0, 193

K 92 Jason Olesnavage, 6-5, 213
KO 43 Bryan Wright, 6-1, 217
P 41 Zoltan Mesko, 6-5, 231
KR 22 Darryl Stonum, 6-2, 196
PR 21 Junior Hemingway, 6-1, 220/9 Martavious Odoms, 5-9, 172

Five Fast Facts
1. Punter Zoltan Mesko is among the best punters in the country. The huge senior averages 44.7 yards per boot on the season, and there are 16 fair catches and 13 balls landed inside the 20 among his 46 kicks. His season-long is 46 yards, and he's hit only two touchbacks for the year. The Wolverines' net punting mark of 41.3 is second in the nation.

2. As the 2000s come to a close, Michigan's record during the decade is the worst for the Wolverines since the 1960s. Michigan has compiled a mark of 81-42 in the 2000s, a winning percentage of .659. In the '60s, Michigan was 55-40-2 for a winning percentage of .579. U-M compiled better records in the 1990s (93-26-3, .775 winning percentage), '80s (90-29-2, .752) and '70s (96-16-3, .848).

3. Michigan is 298-121-20 in November throughout its history, but only 1-5 under Rodriguez.

4. Reserve safety and walk-on Jared Van Slyke is the son of former major league baseball all-star Andy Van Slyke. The elder Van Slyke was an outfielder for 13 MLB seasons, mostly with St. Louis and Pittsburgh, from 1983-95 and is currently the Detroit Tigers' first base coach.

5. The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is the most played for both schools. Michigan is 22-17-3 vs. Ohio State in the Big House.

EXTRA 6. Michigan is minus-8 in turnover margin this year, and their mark of -0.73 turnovers per game is 102nd in the country and 10th in the Big Ten.

Offensive Scouting Report Michigan enters the game against Ohio State as the league's No. 1 scoring offense in all games, boasting an average of 31.27 points to go with 391.4 yards per game.

In league play only, the scoring average drops to 23.9 points per game, seventh in the Big Ten, and the Wolverines' spread option offense accounted for less than 275 yards against Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Though the offense is predicated on the ground attack, Michigan is averaging 125.9 yards per game in Big Ten play, sixth in the league, and only 3.1 yards per carry. The team's 323.0 yards per game in league play is 10th in the conference.

Still, Michigan has enough tools on offense that the Buckeyes are concerned, and the Wolverines have moved the ball, but in Big Ten play U-M has given up eight turnovers inside the red zone.

"Their offense is definitely much-improved," OSU safety Anderson Russell said. "The quarterback situation is really improved for them a lot and having a whole year under the coaching system with his recruits and everything and he's kind of getting things settled in. In all the games I've seen they've been scoring over 30 points except the Penn State game. They've got a high-powered offense so this game is going to come down to how our defense plays."

One of the reasons the offense has slumped as the season has gone on is that quarterback Tate Forcier and top running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown have had their share of bumps and bruises.

Forcier has fought through injuries to his ribs and shoulder and a concussion to start every game. So far, the true freshman has completed 142 of 243 passes (58.4 percent) for 1,824 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing 112 times for 230 yards and three scores.

"He is very fast for a quarterback," Russell said. "He's not the tallest kid in the world but one thing I've seen with him watching film is that he does a great job of throwing the deep ball, so we've got to be ready for that in the secondary. I'm sure we'll see some of those."

Forcier has split the snaps with classmate Denard Robinson, an athletic prospect whose ability to run with the football is well ahead of his throwing acumen at this point. Robinson has completed only 12 of 27 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and four picks, but on the ground the speedster has 59 totes for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

Michigan has been forced to use a gaggle of tailbacks this year because of injury, but when healthy the top two ball carriers are seniors Minor and Brown.

Minor is the Wolverines' most physical back at 6-1, 218 pounds. This year, Minor has fought foot, ankle and shoulder injuries, but he leads the team with 96 carries for 502 yards and eight scores.

"He kind of reminds of Boom (Herron) the way he runs the ball except he's about 220," Russell said. "He really brings it. He's tough to bring down. I've seen four, five, six guys try to tackle him and he's still moving the pile."

Brown brings more speed and can go all the way – he has a 90-yard touchdown – and on the whole he has 81 carries for 480 yards and four TDs.

True freshman Vincent Smith has earned more playing time as others have become banged up, and the 5-6, 168-pounder has 40 tries for 244 yards (a 6.1-yard average) and a TD. Sophomore Michael Shaw of Trotwood (Ohio) Madison has 35 tries for 178 yards and two scores.

When the Wolverines do use a fullback, it's senior Kevin Grady, who was once a five-star tailback prospect.

Michigan has been unable to find a No. 1 receiver, but the Wolverines do have six wideouts with at least 12 catches. Senior Greg Mathews and redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree lead the way with 23 catches apiece. Roundtree, another Trotwood-Madison grad, has a team-high 318 yards and three touchdowns on his catches, 17 of which have come in the last two weeks since ascending to the starting lineup. Mathews has 285 yards worth of grabs and a touchdown.

Martavious Odoms, who shares a slot position with Roundtree but is returning from a knee injury, is next. The small sophomore has 22 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Junior Hemingway has added 15 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns, while senior LaTerryal Savoy and sophomore Darryl Stonum have 12 catches apiece, Stonum for 189 yards and Savoy for 158.

Sophomore Kevin Koger of Toledo Whitmer has become the team's No. 1 tight end. Koger, who boasted an Ohio State offer coming out of high school, has 16 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line has gone through some permutations because of injury, but linebacker Austin Spitler says the Wolverines' group has matured after struggles the past two seasons.

"Their offensive line has really come around," Spitler said. "Obviously, the first-year offense, when a new guy comes in and brings a whole new scheme, it's going to be a lot more difficult and it's going to take a while for guys to get acclimated to a whole new system. Another year under their belt has really helped them out.

Only the left side has stayed the same, as senior left tackle Mark Ortmann and junior guard Stephen Schilling have started every game, giving the latter 35 career starts.

Senior David Moosman has taken over at center after starting the year at right guard because David Molk suffered a season-ending leg injury. Four different players have started at right guard, including current No. 1 option Patrick Omameh, a redshirt freshman out of Columbus DeSales.

At right tackle, junior Perry Dorrestein took over last week for sophomore Mark Huyge, who has played both guard and tackle this season.

Defensive Scouting Report
Much of the preseason talk out of the Michigan camp was that new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson had the team focused on improving its tackling this season, but poor angles and blown chances have allowed teams to break off big plays against the Wolverines all year.

As a result, Michigan is ninth in the league overall in both yardage allowed at 400.2 and points at 28.1. In addition, the Wolverines are in the bottom three of the league in conference play in scoring defense (35.0 points, last place), pass defense (247.7 yards allowed, ninth), rush defense (196.6 yards, last) and total defense (444.3 yards, last).

"The main thing watching film of them is that we know that they've played well at times," OSU wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said, attributing any struggles to a lack of execution. "Obviously they've had struggles, but we know they're going to play so much better than we can see on film. That's always the case with the Michigan game."

Soldiering on despite toiling on the struggling unit is senior defensive end Brandon Graham, who might be the best defensive player in the conference. After finishing with 20 tackles for loss last year to place second in the nation, the Detroit native is in the same spot this year with 21, and his 27½ career sacks are second in the school's record books behind the 36 of Mark Messner (1985-88).

On the season, Graham has 57 tackles, 8½ sacks and two forced fumbles.

"Playing against him from last year, I know he's a great player," Ohio State lineman Bryant Browning said. "Real explosive. He's a quick guy that knows how to make big plays. Its going to be important for us to stay tuned in to where he's at."

On the other side, Michigan uses a hybrid linebacker/end player, known as the quick end. True freshman Craig Roh has held down the spot this year despite being undersized at 6-4, 238. Roh, who has struggled at times holding up in the running game, has 30 tackles, 7½ TFL and two sacks.

Backup end Brandon Herron, a sophomore, has 19 tackles, and sophomore Will Heininger has 10 stops as Graham's backup.

In the middle, sophomore Mike Martin has performed well at nose tackle with 46 tackles and 7½ tackles for loss, while fellow tackle Ryan Van Bergen is a sophomore with 38 stops and five sacks, and he also returned a fumble for a touchdown last week vs. Wisconsin.

The linebacker corps has been in disarray this year, with multiyear starters Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton even being benched for a time.

The leading tackle is senior Stevie Brown, a former safety playing a new linebacker/safety position on the strong side of the field. A 6 senior who has been maligned throughout his U-M career, Brown is having a much better final campaign with 73 tackles, eight TFL, an interception and a forced fumble.

On the weak side, Mouton has 55 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception, but he's ceded some playing time of late to sophomore J.B. Fitzgerald, who has three TFL among his 15 stops. In the middle, Ezeh is a third-year contributor as a junior, but he's lost two starts in late autumn to Kevin Leach. Ezeh is still second on the team with 69 tackles, but Leach is a sophomore with 36 tackles.

The Wolverines seem to have a star in the making in the secondary in junior Donovan Warren. A five-star prospect coming out of high school in Long Beach, Calif., three years ago, Warren leads the Big Ten with four interceptions in conference play. Overall, he has 59 tackles for the season.

Troy Woolfolk started the year at safety but moved back to cornerback, where he played before this year, after the dismissal of Boubacar Cissoko, who started the first four games. Woolfolk, the son of former U-M tailback Butch, is perhaps the fastest player on the team, and he has 39 tackles on the year. Redshirt freshman J.T. Floyd also has a start, and on the year Floyd has 14 stops.

The Wolverines have struggled mightily at safety, where inconsistent play and a lack of depth have led to many of the big plays against the team this year.

The starters are sophomore Mike Williams and redshirt freshman Jordan Kovacs, who hails from Curtice, Ohio. Williams is the free safety, and despite 56 tackles on the year, he hasn't had a hand in any turnovers despite starting all but one game.

Kovacs is a neat story, having made the team as a walk-on from the student body during trials after Rodriguez's arrival, but his lack of physical ability has stood out at times in the open field. Kovacs is a good tackler when playing downhill, though, and he has 66 stops, 4½ TFL, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Brandon Smith has started earning more time as well, and he has 14 tackles.

Despite the verbal barbs tossed the way of the Michigan defense throughout the year, OSU offensive lineman Jim Cordle expects tough sledding for the Buckeye offense.

"If you look at them, they're got Brandon Graham and Warren and Mike Martin and Van Bergen and Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton," Cordle said. "Mouton knocked me out of the game last year. They've got good players. I don't know what they have behind it, so maybe that's why they've had struggles in the second half of the season, they've worn down a bit, but they're going to not be worn down at all for this game. It's going to be like the Super Bowl, obviously. They'll be ready to go."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories