CB Jeremy Clark and OT Grant Newsome are out for the season.
RB Drake Johnson is questionable going forward.
DT Bryan Mone and LB Noah Furbush are cleared to play.
RB Kareem Walker is out due to academic issues and will most-likely redshirt this year.
Losing Clark, one of the top corners so far in the Big Ten this year, is indeed a big loss. He will be missed in nickel and dime packages. The starting lineup doesn't change though (Lewis and Stribling), and there are several viable candidates that can step up to fill the void behind them. Newsome's loss could have more of an impact on the team, particularly the offense. Beyond those two players the team should be at full strength coming out of the bye week.
Starting quarterback Wilton Speight keeps growing into his role and is producing more than Jake Rudock was at this time last year. If he keeps on the same trajectory he will be primed for a big finish. As it stands, Michigan is second in the nation with 50 points per game and Speight is fourth in the conference with an 11-2 TD to INT ratio, which is tops in the conference. And if he ever stumbles or falls due to injury we need not worry too much, as both Shane Morris and John O'Korn have received playing time with an average passer rating of about 151 between the two of them. And let's not forget that Jabrill Peppers has taken some snaps at QB too. While he has not completed a pass, he has rushed the ball five times for 98 yards and two scores. The argument could easily be made that there is no team in the Big Ten with as much depth at the position as Michigan.
The running backs have been outstanding. Freshman Chris Evans leads the team with 400 yards and three scores. His 8.3 yards per carry average is good enough for 10th in the nation. Starter De'Veon Smith is second on the team with 336 yards and two TD's (5.5 yards per carry), which is a big improvement over the last two years as the team's primary back. Expect to see more production from him as we move into the second half of the season. Ty Isaac has four TD's and is averaging an additional 50 yards per game on the ground. The biggest surprises, however, have been starting fullback Kahlid Hill and second-year back Karan Higdon. Hill actually leads the team with seven rushing TD's and Higdon is second on the team with five. Higdon also has 7.2 yards per carry on 35 attempts, which puts him at 29th in the nation in that category. Needless to say, this group has been ultra-productive and has negated the need for any huge passing performances from the quarterbacks. Of course, a lot of credit should go to the O-line for providing a lot of push up front and opening up some holes big enough to drive a truck through.
At receiver, Amara Darboh is having a fantastic season. He currently leads the team in all major categories, including receptions (25), yards (400), and TD's (5). He has really stepped up as opposing defenses have tried to focus on stopping the run. TE Jake Butt is just behind him with 23 receptions and three TD's. Jehu Chessson, last year's team MVP, has had a slow start to the season with only 15 catches and one score. He does have another score on a reverse, but his lack of production has some fans bothered. There is no need to worry though, as he had a slow start to the season last year before having a monster finish. There simply just isn't enough balls to go around at the moment, as 17 different players have caught at least one pass and six different players have caught at least one TD. The fact that the coaches are seeking to spread the ball around so well bodes well for the remainder of the season, as defenses will be scrambling to figure out who to focus on covering.
The offensive line has been very impressive. They have repeatedly shown the ability to adjust to various defensive schemes and appear to be as equally adept at run-blocking as they are pass-blocking. With Newsome out the depth begins to run a little thin, but the coaches do have options if somebody else were to go down. Juwann Bushell-Beatty has done a good job filling in at left tackle, and backups Patrick Kugler, Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu, and David Dawson have all performed well when given a chance to play. Everybody played against Rutgers and gained a little experience albeit against a terrible defense. Every little bit of experience will count as the season moves along.
The Bottom Line: Harbaugh and his staff are proving themselves to be offensive geniuses. Just two years ago this was one of the worst offensive teams in the country. Today they are simply one of the most efficient in the game. They simply produce a lot of points, which is the overall goal of the offense right? Indeed.
Right now - at the midseason mark - the Wolverines' defense is statistically the best in the nation. They rank first in scoring by allowing only 10.3 points per game. They also rank first against the pass with 113.7 yards allowed per game through the air. And while they are not ranked quite as high against the run, they are still ninth in the nation with 99.17 yards allowed per game on the ground. Those are outstanding numbers regardless of who the team has played thus far this season. And just to make things interesting, if you add the Citrus Bowl win against the reigning SEC East Champ Florida Gators back in January, the defense is still only allowing 119.6 passing yards and 101.8 rushing yards per game in their last seven outings. The numbers actually improve in the scoring category by dropping to 9.9 points allowed per game. I wouldn't expect those number to stay that low with some quality offenses still ahead on the schedule, but the unit as a whole is primed to carry the team through the rest of the season.
Even without Clark in the lineup, this secondary is one of the best in the nation. They have continuously shutdown opponents and come up with big plays. CB Jourdan Lewis has returned to his All-American form with three pass breakups, one tackle for a loss, and one highlight reel INT to close out the game against Wisconsin. Opposing teams tried to test him immediately after he sat out the first three games with an injury, but he held his own and has made everybody think twice about looking his way. The problem is that the guy on the other side of the field, Channing Stribling, has also been playing at an All-Conference level. He currently leads the team with three INT's, including one pick-six, and five pass breakups. Look for those numbers to improve as teams avoid throwing at Lewis down the stretch. The one spot in the secondary where at least one team, being Colorado, has had some real success is deep down the middle over the safies. The Buffaloes hit on a few big plays over there and put up 21 points on them, but they have since shutdown that area of the field once conference play opened up. It is worth mentioning here that the Buffs are currently ranked 22nd in passing yards and 13th in total offense, so giving up some big plays to them is not as bad as it might seem. Dymonte Thomas is fourth on the team in tackles (29) and he also has three pass breakups and QB hurry. Fellow safety Delano Hill has been a leader and is currently the only other player besides Stribling with a pick-six. Look for teams to attempt testing the safeties a little more through the final six games as they search desperately for a weakness to exploit.
The problem with looking to go deep on this defense though, is that nobody is getting much time to look downfield. Because as good as the secondary has been, the D-line has been even better. They have simply blown up blocking schemes and terrorized QB's, as they are tied with the Washington Huskies for tops in the nation with four sacks per game. Taco Charlton paces the team with four, despite missing the first few games with an injury. He is looking more like a high draft pick with every game he plays. Chris Wormley is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Maurice Hurst leads the D-line tackles for a loss (5.5) while Chase Winovich is fifth on the team in tackles (22). The most amazing thing about those stats is that only Wormley and Charlton are actually considered full-time starters. In other words, the coaches have been rotating players and getting production from everybody that is playing. Though starting nose tackle Ryan Glasgow might not lead the team in any statistical categories, his leadership off the field and play on it have been crucial components to any success the defense is experiencing. He too is raising his own NFL draft stock with each passing week. The biggest surprise of all though, might be the play of fifth-year senior Matt Godin. He has started some games and garnered a lot of playing time the last few weeks. He currently ranks seventh on the team with 17 tackles and also has 2.5 TFL's and one sack. Not bad for a guy that was on nobody's radar for being an impact player on this defense. Freshman Rashan Gary has also been good and is helping to make this the deepest line in the conference.
Of course, you cannot mention Michigan's defense without talking about Jabrill Peppers. He has been all over the field as a linebacker/safety, leading the team with 10 tackles for a loss. He also has 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five QB hurries, and a forced fumble. Nobody has even attempted to challenge him in the passing game yet so no real opportunities for pass break-ups or INT's have come up. That is probably a smart move by opposing QB's and offensive coordinators. Fellow linebacker Ben Gedeon is the only player that has more tackles than Peppers with 47 to his credit. Gedeon also has three sacks, one QB hurry, one pass breakup, and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He too could be an All-Conference selection. Mike McCray is third in tackles (31) and is the only linebacker with an INT. He also has three pass breakups, five tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble while placing third on the team with 31 total tackles. Overall, the linebackers have been a major strength for the team and they are much improved after returning no starters from last year's squad.
Jabrill Peppers still leads the nation with 249 punt return yards. He also has one TD and was close to bringing a couple more to the house. To put it simply, it's just a bad idea to punt the ball to this guy. If he keeps it up he will go down as Michigan's greatest return man of all-time.
Kenny Allen has been great as the team's punter, with a 43 yard per punt average. However, he has had a lot of struggles kicking field goals, hitting on only four of his eight attempts. He is not the only one though, as Ryan Tice missed his only attempt too. Every fan in Wolverine Nation is just hoping that gets resolved and doesn't come back to bite us all in the ass. Allen did hit on 81% of his attempts last season, so there is a good chance he bounces back in the second half of the season. If not, the kicking duties might fall on the shoulders of true freshman Quinn Nordin, who has yet to play due to an injury. Ryan Tice is the only other player besides Allen with a field goal attempt thus far, and he missed it too.
The Bottom Line: The Wolverines can return kicks and have no problem kicking the ball to the other team, but they desperately need to find some consistency in hitting field goals. We have already seen Harbaugh go for it on fourth downs a few times this year already, and with the success they've been having it would come as no shock to see them continue to do it more over the course of the season.