Blogs > On Campus with ross maghielse

A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Purdue Pre-game: Why this is a must win for Michigan

The past two seasons, an undefeated Michigan team lost to rival Michigan State and subsequently saw its season spiral out of control. The Spartans dealt the Wolverines their first loss again two weeks ago, setting up what is, for confidence sake at least, a must win game today for the Wolverines against Purdue (4-3, 2-1) in Ann Arbor.
If Michigan wins today, it will improve to 7-1 and be set up for an 8 or 9 win season. A loss, however, would leave the Wolverines 6-2 heading into back-to-back road games at Iowa and Illinois, followed by home games against Nebraska and Ohio State to finish the season.
That's got late-season swoon written all over it.
This Michigan team has more confidence than talent, and that may be enough to turn in an overachieving season in Brady Hoke's first year. Yet, if that confidence fades, at it very well could with tw0-straight losses, Hokeamania in Ann Arbor could fade into an irrelevant bowl appearance and a bitter tasting offseason.

Safety and defensive team leader Jordan Kovacs it out today for Michigan. He may be able to return next week at Iowa. Troy Woolfolk will start in his place... The Wolverines combined for just 82 yards rushing last game against MSU, 42 of those yards came from Denard Robinson. Look for Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith to get more carries today... Despite turning in the worst statistical game of his career as a starter, both passing and rushing, Robinson remains the unquestioned starter at QB for Hoke. Backup Devin Gardner may see time in certain packages, but Robinson remains Michigan's QB going forward.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Michigan's Beilein shows optimism as season approaches

Expectations for the University of Michigan men's basketball program are the highest they've been since 2009, when Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims returned for their final seasons in Ann Arbor. That Michigan team failed, finishing 15-17 in a dysfunctional season. The Wolverines expect a different outcome this year.
Michigan, ranked No. 18 in the USA Today preseason poll, not only won an NCAA Tournament game for the second straight year, but also nearly knocked off eventual champion Duke in the third round. Coach John Beilein, now in his sixth year at U-M, talked about the high expectations for his team this season at Thursday's Big Ten media day.
"The expectations for us in that season were very high, but Manny (Harris) never got to 100 percent (from an early-season injury), we felt. And we were probably too dependent on him and DeShawn (Sims)," Beilein said. "This team, I think, has a few more pieces and we've got great team chemistry."
Beilein also addressed the issue of replacing point guard Darius Morris, who left early to go to the NBA.
"We've got a scrimmage coming up and we've got an exhibition coming up. That will be a good time for us to figure out (who will replace Morris)," Beilein said. "Probably three or four days before our first game with Ferris State, we'll have made a decision."
Beilein also added: "We have an incredible team-first attitude that's been very healthy so far. I like the progress so far... we love the young men on this team."
The Wolverines return their second leading scorer from last season in Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.9 PPG) along with experienced guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. Without a lot of front court depth, Michigan will likely be a guard-oriented team. Freshman Carlton Brundidge (Southfield) could also get an opportunity to make an impact this season, as the Wolverines lack a true point guard.
Michigan's first test of the season will be Nov. 21, when it faces No. 9 Memphis in the Maui Invitational.
Beilein added about Crisler Arena, "The improvements are striking. You just feel like it's an entirely new arena when you walk into it."
Michigan is also two weeks or so away from the completion of a new practice facility and other basketball-specific facility improvements, which, combined with another good season, will greatly help recruiting.

Here's some more Michigan hoops coverage from around the web:
Beilein, Wolverines will rely on chemistry --
No. 2 prospect Mitch McGary on verge of making decision, Michigan a possibility --
Big Ten watching conference expansion closely, but content to stay put for now: Detroit Free Press

Friday, October 21, 2011

Five keys for Michigan State against Wisconsin

Michigan State knows what its up against when it faces Wisconsin Saturday night. The Badgers, ranked No. 6 in the nation, lead all FBS teams in offense, averaging 50.2 points per game. Defensively, Wisconsin is ranked third in the country, giving up just 9.7 points per game. Wisconsin, however, may not fully understand what its up against heading into East Lansing. Here's five keys for the Spartans to pull out a win Saturday:

1. Crowd must make a difference --
For all of Wisconsin's accomplishment's this season, the Badgers have yet to play a road game. On the road under coach Brent Bielema, Wisconsin is 14-10. Wilson, in his two full seasons as a starter at North Carolina State, was just 3-7 in road games. Michigan State hasn't lost in Spartan Stadium since Sept. 12 2009 (when Central Michigan came from behind to pull out the upset.) Add in an 8 p.m. start with a ESPN College Gamday crowd coming off a fourth straight win over rival Michigan, and you can expect a difficult atmosphere for Wisconsin. Part of me thinks this would have been the better game to unveil the Nike Pro Combats.
2. Score early, and often -- As good as Michigan State's defense is, the Spartans are going to have to put a healthy number of points on the scoreboard to win this game. It won't be a 10-7 outcome like it was over Ohio State. MSU's defense is the best Wisconsin has faced this season and is fully capable of holding the Badgers under 40 points -- but other than that, all bets are off. Kirk Cousin, who's one win shy of becoming MSU's all-time winningest quarterback, has to turn in his best game of the season and Edwin Baker has to keep moving the chains on the ground.
3. Make Wilson hurt -- Michigan State has to continually bring pressure on Wilson, force him to make quick decisions and land hits on him throughout the game. These are all things Nebraska didn't do against the Badgers, and it lost 48-17. Not having William Gholston for this game really hurts MSU. He's the type of player that can continually get off the ball and into the backfield. Jerel Worthy is going to need to have a Ndamukong Suh-type performance.
4. Turnover battle -- The Spartans had two inexcusable fumbles last week against Michigan, which against a better team -- or Michigan on a better day -- would have costs them that game. MSU can't get away with mistakes like that against Wisconsin and will also have to create some turnovers of its own to get a short field.

5. Need a hero -- Somebody other than the Spartan poster boys is going to have to step up in this game. Whether it be sparingly-used Bennie Fowler, Keith Nichole or Nick Hill on offense or players like Marcus Rush or Isaiah Lewis on defense -- a role player is going to have to become a star Saturday. A return for a TD from Hill would like nice, wouldn't it?

Festivities galore
In addition to College Gameday making its first visit to East Lansing since 2005, the Spartan fans have reasons other than Erin Andrews to celebrate. It's also homecoming for MSU. As part of the celebration, Michigan State and National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame will jointly honor former Spartan Gene Washington.
Washington closed out his college career as MSU's all-time leader in receptions (before later being passed by Matt Trannon and then current Spartan B.J. Cunningham this season) and was selected to two Pro Bowls during his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings.

Here's some other reports on conversation on the game from around the web:
A look at the history of 'GameDay' at MSU (and it hasn't always been pretty) -- The Oakland Press

Kirk Cousins used to being a long shot --

Badgers know there's no guarantee of BCS title shot --

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Inexperience will be a good thing for MSU hoops

In wake of Michigan State's basketball media day, focus momentarily shifts away from football and to what will take place inside the Breslin Center this winter.
Tom Izzo said at one point in the middle of last season that his team was "trying to work our way out of hell."
They never really did.
Star players Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas went from borderline first-round picks to scrounging for offers oversees, a quest for a third straight Final Four appearance turned into a first-round exit to UCLA and the Spartans were weighed down with injures, infighting and inconsistency as they finished 19-15, 9-9 in Big Ten play.
Lucas and Summers, along with Korie Lucious (who transferred mid-season after being dismissed), Delvon Roe and Garrett Sherman (transferred to Notre Dame) are all gone.
Returning to the Spartans this season are just two players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game last year (Draymond Green and Keith Appling) and they'll be joined by seven players who have yet to play a minute in a Spartan uniform.
This year will be a chance to start over and get back on track.
Fifth-year transfer Brandon Wood was a huge get for Izzo. Wood was a dominant scorer last season for Valpariaso and will slide in nicely to the starting backcourt along with Appling this year. He's an upgrade over Lucas. Freshman Brandon Dawson is a true talent and will likely start at the small forward spot, replacing Summers. Adreian Payne is penciled in to be the team's starting center and his athleticism and pure talent will ultimately top Roe's work ethic and toughness. Add in Green, one of the more complete frontcourt players in college basketball, and MSU has a solid starting five. Travis Rice and Brandan Kearny are two freshman guards that add depth and Derrick Nix has lost weight and apparently rededicated himself to the program.
The bottom line in college basketball is that talent trumps experience, and this Spartan team is talented. They'll struggle early because of their ridiculously tough non-conference schedule, but by the time Big Ten play begins, MSU will have as good of chance to win the conference as anyone else.
Last year was a setback, not a change of course for Spartan basketball.

Here's some other reports from around the web:
Wood looking to make most of 1-and-done stint -- The Oakland Press

Nix, chemistry the talk of MSU media day -- Detroit Free Press

Izzo says Nix is 'miles ahead of last year' -- Lansing State Journal

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Unlike year's past, Michigan will rebound after loss to MSU

For the third straight year, Michigan had its undefeated boat rocked by rival Michigan State. The Wolverines entered Saturday's game undefeated with a high national ranking (No.11), and yet again were humbled by MSU.
In 2010, Michigan came in 5-0, got blowout 34-17 and finished 7-6. In '09, the Wolverines were 4-0 and the Rich Rodriguez bandwagon was temporarily picking up steam before a 26-20 overtime loss that turned into a tailspin and a 5-7 season.
I don't think that will happen with Michigan this year.
"They need to feel this one," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who admitted the Wolverines were overrated in the polls. "We all need to feel this one for a while. But we'll turn the page."
That's the difference. Michigan will turn the page. There's a level of confidence and composure there that wasn't present under the past coaching era.
"I think it's easy now to say that this is the same Michigan team as the last three years, but there's no doubt in my mind that we're not," junior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We're going to improve, learn from this, and win."
Saturday's loss to the Spartans wasn't a meltdown like in '09 when Tate Forcier gave the game away. It wasn't a complete embarrassment like when the Wolverines were blow out in their own house last season. It was simply a loss to a better, more physical team.
That won't derail Michigan's season.
The Wolverines no doubt have some issues. What to do with Denard Robinson remains the primary one. Robinson again struggled to throw the ball and turned in the worst game of his career statistically. If Saturday's any indication, going to backup Devin Gardner is not the solution. Gardner was held to 3-for-7 passing for 45 yards and had a -15 yards rushing on six carries.
Michigan doesn't have the personnel to have an efficient offense this season. That will take a couple recruiting classes to change. Robinson, however, does give Michigan big-play potential, which combined with a much improved defense will be enough to win some games -- as it already has.
Michigan could easily still finish the regular season 9-3 with a chance to win a bowl game. If that -- or a result close to it -- happens, Saturday's loss won't set back Hoke and the rebuilding process of Michigan's program.
The difference between Saturday and MSU's three previous wins over Michigan was that the Spartans beat a good Michigan team, not a bad one.
Look for the Wolverines to respond after their bye week with a big win over Purdue.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Quick start key for Michigan in East Lansing

If Michigan's going to improve to 7-0 and get a win today at Spartan Stadium, it won't be in come-from-behind fashion like its wins over Notre Dame and Northwestern. The Wolverines have to start fast and stay strong to have a chance.
Michigan State's defense, which outside of the Notre Dame loss hasn't given up more than seven points in a game, won't give up a lead at home. The defensive line is too strong and Michigan's lack of a trustworthy passing attack won't allow for it to happen.
If Denard Robinson breaks loose early, however, the Spartans could be in for a struggle. The Wolverines rushing attack has continually gotten better with the duo of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith -- add in Robinson's mobility and the Wolverines are plenty capable of moving the chains and killing the clock.
As for the Spartans, they need a good game out of Kirk Cousins today. Cousins has taken a step back this season and its not clear why. He's missed receivers and made poor decisions which have resulted in turnovers -- as he did in MSU's last game against Ohio State. That has to change today, and going forward, for MSU to stay in the Big Ten title hunt.
Here's some thoughts from other writers around the state:

Spartans D-line should be able to slow Robinson --

Spartans defense looks to make Michigan one dimensional -- Grinz on Green blog

Big Ten championship game for Michigan anything but farfetched -- The Bleacher Report

If you're watching the game at home, head on over to The Oakland for a live chat with myself, Oakland Press columnist Pat Caputo and JRC college football writer Mike Larson starting at 11:45 a.m.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Deck stacked against Wolverines heading into East Lansing

There may never be a better time to use the "perfect storm" metaphor in sports than this Saturday in East Lansing. That's exactly what the 6-0 No. 11-ranked Michigan Wolverines will be heading into when they face the Spartans (4-1) Saturday at noon.
Disrespected. Angry. Determined. Excited. Confident -- and throw in crazy.
Those words best describe Michigan State's football team for this game. They also describe the mindset of the Spartan fan base, which will be flooding into Spartan Stadium for a noon kickoff Saturday just several hours after celebrating Midnight Madness with the MSU basketball squad at the Breslin Center. That student section may be going on no sleep, but they'll be anything but tired.
Heck, Tom Izzo may even have his faced painted.
As for the players: It's a chance to show off their shiny new Nike Pro Combat uniforms; improve to 2-0 in Big Ten play; better their No. 23 ranking and beat their most emphasized rival for a fourth straight year.
The Spartans are also coming off of a bye week. They've had two weeks to prepare for Denard Robinson and Michigan's new packages which feature backup quarterback Devin Gardner. Two weeks to sit back and seethe over Mike Hart's ever-lasting "little brother" comment.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke emphatically labeled the Ohio State game at the end of the year as "The. Most. Important. Game. On . The. Schedule" in his introductory press conference -- pounding his fist with each fragment of that statement.
This game holds that title for MSU.
MSU coach Mark Dantonio will also be coaching his first game under his new lifetime contract with the school, signed last Saturday. In case there was any doubt, Dantonio won't be heading back to Columbus, Ohio -- or anywhere else -- after this season.
Dantonio loves being in East Lansing. And while he may respect it, he also hates the University of Michigan.
His players share that mindset. Just look at defensive tackle Jerel Worthy's new tattoo, which brands a Spartan stomping on the head of that fabled winged Michigan helmet. You know what the no-flash, all-business Dantonio did when asked about that tattoo? He smiled.
Michigan is without doubt a much improved team and one to be taken seriously again form this point on, but this version of the reborn Wolverines haven't gone up against what they're about to Saturday in East Lansing. A perfect storm.

Can't make it to the game on Saturday, be sure to join myself along with Oakland Press sports columnist Pat Caputo for a live chat during the game. Also, get all the latest sports news and breaking updates sent directly to your phone by texting the keyword "opsports" to 22700.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cousins must combat pressure, inconsistency in wake of Michigan game

Kirk Cousins' play has been so inconsistent this season that fans took to Twitter and various message boards making calls for backup Andrew Maxwell. A "what have you done for me lately" scenario to the bone.
While Cousins hasn't played to the hype of a Heisman hopeful that he entered the season with, he hasn't been terrible either. He was 20-32 with 250 yards and a touchdown Saturday in a win, yes a win, at Ohio State. Whether it be in spite of him or not, MSU is off to a 4-1 start and 1-0 in Big Ten play.
Yes, his accuracy has been shaky.
Yes, he almost gave the game away against the Buckeyes with an interception and a couple other dangerous pass attempts.
But the bottom line is he played well enough to win the game.
"I thought Cousins was on," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said during Saturday's post-game press conference. "Big time. I mean, that ball was humming out there. If you're sitting out there on the field, he was throwing strikes."
Something has been different — and by that I mean off — about Cousins this season. Perhaps it's that he's taken harsh criticism from the fans and media that he hasn't had to deal with ever in his career. As a result, Dantonio removed him and other Spartans from media availability leading up to the Ohio State game.
"He's got a tremendous amount of pressure on him," Dantonio said of Cousins. "Not only pressure to perform on the field but pressure to be the leader on this football team. Pressure in the community to do all the things that he does. And I just think he had a chance to step away from it. And I thought it was a positive thing."
Dantonio still has full faith in Cousins as his quarterback. So do Cousins' teammates. As they should. For fans questioning whether or not he's still the right guy to lead MSU, understand this: Andrew Maxwell can't beat Michigan Oct. 15. Kirk Cousins can. He's undefeated against the Wolverines in his career, by the way.
If the Spartans don't play in the first-ever Big Ten title game this season, it will be a result of their rigorous schedule stacked with tough road games — not because Cousins held them back.
He's still one of the top three quarterbacks in the Big Ten. In fact, he's one of the best quarterbacks MSU has ever had.
Cousins had no major D-1 scholarship offers coming out of high school. When he finally landed at MSU, he was buried on the depth chart. He's done nothing but exceed expectations his whole career. There's no reason to expect he'll crumble under them now.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Robinson/Gardner combo could be just what Michigan needs

Denard Robinson is going to be Michigan's quarterback. Both this year and next. But the the Wolverines may have found another way to use him Saturday. Early in Michigan's 58-0 win over Minnesota, offensive coordinator Al Borges inserted backup quarterback Devin Gardner in the game and moved Robinson into the backfield. He later switched the two and had Gardner out wide. While no major plays came from it, the potential was exciting to watch.
“We’ve been doing that in practice and working on it and Coach Borges has been telling us to be ready for it," said Robinson, who had his best passing game of the season going 15-for-19 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. "We love doing new stuff like that on offense because it gives us an opportunity to make more plays.”
Gardner said they've been lobbying for the package to be used in a game ever since they started working on it in spring practice.
"We've been pushing for it but I don't think Al (Borges) cares much. It's a dictatorship," Gardner joked. "We trust him to come up with situations that will work for everybody and he knows what he's doing. I think that’s a really dangerous formation because you’ve also got guys like Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith back there too. You’ll have to wait and see, but I really like it.”
Smith joked that they call the package "2" after his jersey number. After all, he was the biggest benefactor of it when he was able to throw for a touchdown pass on a trick misdirection play.
The bottom line is that Michigan, along with any other team, is better when all of its best athletes are on the field. Gardner is one of those athletes.
"Devin will probably be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten once he gets a chance to start," Robinson said. "He's got a strong arm and is really fast and athletic so we like seeing him out on the field."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn't make any promises, but hinted that the Garnder/Robinson combo package, along with further developments, will be a part of the Wolverines' game plan going forward.
"We worked on it in camp and then we put it to bed for a little bit but that way the kids had the knowledge of it so they could come out and execute. Believe me, Al is very, very creative. It's not just going to be that package with those guys. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of creativity with our offense."
Hoke also knows the importance of finding other ways to use Robinson as well as getting other players involved in the offense now that Big Ten play has started. When asked if Michigan could contend in the Big Ten with Robinson carrying the bulk of the workload, Hoke didn't shy away from the reality.
"I don't think so," he said. "We're going to go up against some really good coaches with good personnel and when you do that they're going to make adjustments. You can't go out there and run the same thing each week."
Michigan faces a high-scoring Northwestern team in its first road game next week. The Wolverines may be using more of the "2" package in their second Big Ten game.

Follow me on Twitter @Maghielse.

My Michigan football column for Sunday's Oakland Press

Five Keys for Michigan today vs. Minnesota

Michigan comes in ranked No. 19 in the country and with a perfect 4-0 record. Minnesota enters coming off back-to-back losses against New Mexico State and North Dakota State. This one could be ugly. Nonetheless, here are five keys to the game for the Wolverines today in their pursuit of winning the Little Brown Jug, which has been on hiatus since 2008:

1. Let Denard be Denard -- I've said it all season, just let Denard say hut and see what happens. He leads the Big Ten in rushing and is fourth in the country. Passsing, however, has not been very effective. Just let him go.

2. Find a back -- Fitzgerald Toussaint has been sharing time with Vincent Smith, but this may be an opportunity for Toussaint to establish himself as the feature back. I say give Toussaint 25-plus carries today, regardless of how the game's going, and see how he does.

3. Every win is a win -- Michigan has not fared well in Big Ten play the past three seasons. The Wolverines are undefeated in the past three Septembers, all non-conference games, but have fallen quickly in October. Starting 1-0 in a winnable game at home is critical.

4. Get a look at Gardner -- There's no reason Michigan shouldn't be able to jump on the Gophers and get out to a big lead today. If the Wolverines can do so, Brady Hoke should get backup quarterback Devin Gardner into the game, and much earlier than he did against Eastern Michigan. With the way Robinson plays, he's one hit away from being sidelined. Gardner is going to need game action at some point.

5. Keep it rolling -- We still don't really know how good this Michigan team is. The body of work isn't there yet. However, the Wolverines think they're really good. Good enough to win a Big Ten title even. Their very confident, perhaps overconfident. But in the words of George Costanza, "It's not a lie, if you believe it." Michigan needs a big win to keep its momentum and confidence sky high as it approaches two tough road games at Northwestern and Michigan State the next two weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @Maghielse for commentary during the game.