Maybe it was an attempt to give fans something more than what they received during the spring game—which was very little.
Or maybe Michigan just wanted to show its appreciation to the legions of Wolverines faithful—and maybe show off a certain freshman—by putting on a Saturday night performance just two weeks before 2014 kickoff.
Either way, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the evening; the “under the lights” scrimmage certainly provided a few answers.
And it prompted a few more questions.
Mason Cole Wasn’t Playing
As expected, the offensive line appeared to be a work in progress, a term that Michigan coaches have used for roughly two years…at least. There’s no question that 2014 will present hurdles—the Wolverines just lost their bookends, Taylor Lewan (LT) and Michael Schofield (RT)—so it’ll take some time to recuperate from their absence.
Quarterbacks Shane Morris, Devin Gardner and Wilton Speight were under constant pressure Saturday night. The running game had roughly three or four positive plays, and just about everyone up front was getting beat at one time or another.
Things aren’t anywhere close to being whole.
However, Mason Cole, a 6’5”, 292-pound true freshman, could help expedite that process. Sure, it was only a practice, but the new kid on the block continues to hold his own at left tackle against grown men. It’s hard to believe that he was battling “kids” a year ago.
Those poor kids.
Needless to say, Michigan coach Brady Hoke liked what he saw during the scrimmage, praising the former East Lake Tarpon Springs (Fla.) star’s discipline and technique.
“He didn’t have one penalty, he didn’t have one hold, and he lines up against a pretty good guy when Frank’s [Clark, a senior] on that side,” he said. “He’s a guy who can get off the ball and torture you a little bit. He just is very consistent. To be honest with you, I think sometimes, that’s the least of my worries when you look at it.”
Don't keep your eyes peeled for Cole—he’s not going anywhere and it seems as if he’s bound to become Michigan’s sixth true-freshman starter on the O-line.
Just Three QBs and One Game Day
Gardner, Morris and Speight all want the same thing: To win, and to be the guy leading the way, if possible. But if Gardner catapults the Wolverines to victory, you probably won't hear No. 2 and No. 3 complaining.
But who are No. 2 and No. 3? Gardner's the top guy until he says so; but after Saturday, it's safe to say that there isn't a clear second fiddle, as Speight, a 6'6", 234-pounder with miles of range, did just as well or better than Morris.
Each had their good and bad moments, but by night's end, Speight's arm seemed more valuable than Morris' exceptional set of wheels. That's not to say that Morris didn't throw well, because he did. In all likelihood, personnel (2 vs. 3, etc.) had something to do with the difference.
Run it Back (Again)
Once Ty Isaac clears waivers, the 6’3”, 225-pound USC transfer will add size and should help breathe life into a backfield that just can’t get its motor running. Aside from a late touchdown from each, neither Derrick Green nor De'Veon Smith, two bruising sophomores, turned heads during the practice.
Of course, part of the issue was due to the lack of blocking—oh no, not that song and dance again—and part of it was because they weren’t hitting open holes. Isaac, who sat out due to a "stinger", may not be the savior, but he would certainly provide a fresh set of legs and maybe even better vision—which was something Hoke said he needs to see from his current stable.
So far, the rotation's pecking order looks to be this: Smith, Green/Johnson or Johnson/Green. Or, let's just say that it's unclear. That's probably better.
Depth. Depth. Depth. That’s been the buzzword surrounding the wideouts since 2012. Thanks to recruiting and development, the Wolverines have more toys to play with this fall, and they displayed a few during the scrimmage.
Stats weren’t kept, but DaMario Jones, a 6’2”, 196-pound sophomore, had at least three catches, two of which were made amid heavy coverage. Amara Darboh, a 6’2”, 211-pound redshirt sophomore, caught a couple of nice balls as well.
In regards to physical play, they appeared to be two of Michigan’s top options, right there alongside Devin Funchess, a 6’5”, 230-pound junior who left the party with the grab of the night: A backpedaling snag in the left rear corner of the end zone over Jabrill Peppers, who had his back to the quarterback the entire time (more on the super frosh later).
“DaMario made some good plays, had some good balls,” Hoke said. “But at the same time, he had some things he could do better. I think Funchess, obviously, we’re very excited about… Darboh’s had a great fall camp… I think Jehu [Chesson] has had a pretty good fall camp.”
According to Hoke, Maurice Ways, a 6’4”, 195-pound freshman, had one of his best outings since arriving to college. The former Detroit Country Day standout had a pair of approximately 25-yard touchdowns. Freddy Canteen, a 6'1", 190-pound frosh, had a deep catch but wasn't as visible as the other headliners.
Overall, the receivers were OK. The point of Saturday was for everyone to get a spin, and just about everyone did: JaRon Dukes (6’4”, 197; RS Fr.), Bo Dever (6’2”, 199; RS So.) and, among others, Jack Wangler (6’1”, 196; RS Fr.), each caught some passes, blocked some defensive backs and logged well-rounded reps.
Saturday night was the first time that thousands of people laid eyes on Peppers in action, in full maize and blue regalia. Yeah, he was used by Funchess during that touchdown catch. Not a big deal. Let’s not forget, like Cole, Peppers was checking preps at this time last year.
Give him at least a couple of series vs. Appalachian State before really breaking down his potential (oops, too late for that…)
All things considered, he did just fine during the make-up for the spring game, finishing the night with a handful of tackles and a couple of pass disruptions. Hoke said that he wanted to analyze film before casting real judgment, but he said he saw what the rest of us saw: A 6’1”, 205-pound freshman who’s going to do more than challenge for a position.
“The safeties are really, I think proving [themselves]…I think the competition at cornerback with Ray [Taylor], Blake [Countess] and [Channing] Stribling and Jourdan Lewis and Peppers—that’s real. It’s good.”
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer