The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Friday, November 11, 2011- 7
Offensive line works
to counter Mercilus,
quick Fighting Illini
CHlI i ZOLUMBAK/aily
Redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons has newfound confidence as Michigan's starting kicker this season, hitting seven of his nine field-goal attempts.
Gibbons becomiUng household
na-m-e in bounceback season
went 1-for-5 on field
goals last season, is
7-for-9 in 2011
By STEPHEN J. NESBITT
Redshirt sophomore kicker
Brendan Gibbons grew accus-
tomed to the criticism. He had
After two games as Michi-
gan's starting kicker last season,
Gibbons was 1-for-4 on field-
goal attempts, missing from 39,
40 and 43 yards.
On a trip to Olive Garden last
season, Gibbons and his room-
mate, redshirt sophomore offen-
sive lineman Taylor Lewan,
decided to test their server's
facial recognition of a few Mich-
igan football players.
"So what do you think of the
kicker this year?" they asked
Without helmets and num-
bers, she had no chance on this
She didn't recognize Lewan,
and Gibbons doesn't look much
different than many other col-
"I mean, just make a kick,"
the server said. "What're you
"This is (No.) 34, our kicker,"
Lewan said with a grin.
Uh-oh. The embarrassed
employee tried to make amends,
but the boys' game had run its
he has s
This kind of conversa- longer cringe-inducing ,for
isn't an isolated incident Michigan fans.
So what changed?
appened a couple times "I think I've got my head on
d there," Lewan said. right," Gibbons said. "I wanted
r a week two victory tobe the kicker (this season).
Notre Dame, Gibbons "I wanted to be the kicker last
ttempt another field goal year, too. But I think my head
e Gator Bowl. He missed wasn't on right, I really wasn't
rd field goal to end the focused."
at 1-for-5. The server It's easy to lose focus when
alone, plenty of people it seems like the 110,000-plus
en enough of Gibbons - fans at Michigan Stadium aren't
s helmet on, at least. on your side. That's been a wel-
those critical things comed change for Gibbons.
ith Brendan, and he took But it wasn't all mental. Dur-
heart even though that ing spring camp, Michigan
urts," Lewan said. "No coach Brady Hoke sent the kick-
ers from Schembechler Hall
to the Big House three times a
week to practice kicking with
"All those the wind generated in the bowl.
things As Hoke says, there's a big
itical thi gs difference between football on
State Street and Main Street.
stuck w ith "It's a lot different kicking
up there," Gibbons said. "The
Brendan." uprights are different, kind of."
At the stadium on Main
Street, Gibbons saw something
different. The uprights, with-
s to be criticized." out the crowd swelling behind
ons kept the resentment them, didn't look quite so small
away and the doubters at anymore.
"Just the way (Gibbons)
r a steady offseason walks, talks and acts, he seems
the coaching change, more confident," Lewan said.
urprised everyone. "He believes more in himself
ugh nine games, Gibbons than last year. I think he had a
9. His field-goal percent- rough time believing in himself
8) is good for fifth in the last year."
. Last season, Michigan avoid-
much in his kicking ed its kickers.
h looks different, but With the unit at 4-for-15,
s taking the field is no then-Michigan coach Rich
Rodriguez exhausted his
options. He resorted to sending
the offense back onto the field
on typical kicking downs.
Gibbons didn't blame him.
"It's pretty hard to go out
there and kick when you're not
doing so well - when it's not
money." Gibbons said.
This season, it's been money
for Gibbons. This time, he even
has the offense behind him.
"He's more confident this
year than he's been in the past -
that's a big thing," said redshirt
senior wide receiver Junior
Hemingway. "And we've got his
back 100 percent, so if he does
miss a field goal, pat him on the
butt and tell him you've got his
When Hoke gave Gibbons
the starting nod in 2011, he did
so on one condition: field-goal
attempts from over 42 yards
would likely be placed on the
booming leg of freshman kicker
But the only 40-plus-yard try
went to Gibbons against North-
western. It looks like Wile's
going to have to wait his turn.
"I think I'll kick the rest, but
that's up to him, it's coach's deci-
sion," Gibbons said. "He knows
Matt has a strongleg, but I think
I've proven that I can kick the
long field goal, too."
As Michigan hits the final
stretch of November, the kick-
ing game is increasingly impor-
tant. Finally, the Wolverines
have a headliner.
His face might not be famil-
iar, but his name is getting there.
lineman leads the
nation with 11.5
By MICHAEL FLOREK
Daily Sports Editor
Illinois defensive lineman
Whitney Mercilus is many dif-
ferent things to the Michigan
To redshirt sophomore offen-
sive tackle Taylor Lewan, and
probably most of his teammates,
he's "85." To Michigan coach
Brady Hoke he's "Marcellus
Wiley, err, Whitney." To redshirt
junior offensive lineman Patrick
Omameh he's Whitney Mercilus,
"the leadingsack producer in the
Mercilus's 11.5 sacks do in fact
lead the country.
A year after Michigan and
Illinois combined for a basket-
ball-like 67-65 score in triple
the matchup this Saturday as
both teams have defensive units
ranked in the top 25 nationally.
And to borrow a basketball term,
Mercilus is the best PTPer (read:
Prime Time Player) on the field.
"He's got great body control,"
Lewan said. "That's something
you don't usually see out of
everybody. Some of the play-
ers you go against are power
guys but they can't really speed
rush off the edge. He's doing a
great job of coming off the edge,
also using the power using his
strength all the time."
So No. 24 Michigan has to
double team Mercilus the whole
"I never would want to say
that," Lewan said. "I feel like
if you're going to play football,
especially in this league at this
school, when you get on the field
you have to be the most confident
person on the field and believe
that everything you do is going
to be better than the person in
front of you."
A lot of Michigan's offensive
success will rely on Lewan and
the offensive line's matchup
with Illinois' defensive front.
The Wolverines' 15th-ranked
rush offense averages 232 yards
a game. And with the emergence
of redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald
Toussaint as the lead running
back, Michigan's rushing attack
has found some more stability in
Toussaint, though, will be
running right into the Fighting
Illini's strength. Mercilus has
combined with fellow defen-
sive end Michael Buchanan - a
player Lewan said didn't get
enough credit because he was
behind Mercilus - to help the
Illinois (2-3 Big Ten, 6-3 overall)
become the best rushing defense
in the Big Ten, allowing just 103
yards a game. The two defensive
ends have done most of the dam-
age, combining for 27 tackles for
a loss. No Michigan player has
more than eight tackles for loss
If the Wolverines (3-2, 7-2) can
get by the line, it only means run-
ning into the speedy Illinois line-
backers. Hoke said the biggest
thing about the Fighting Illini
defense was their athleticism,
making it tough to counter their
"You've got to play (with)
great fundamentals," Hoke said.
"You can't chase ghosts."
Michigan's defense faces the
same problem as its offense:
countering athleticism. Illini
dual-threat quarterback Nathan
Scheelhaase torched the Wol-
verines for four total touchdown
passes and over 300 total yards a
Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins
was named to the Biletnikoff
Award preseason watch list.
With Jenkins standing at 6-feet
and 190 pounds, he poses simi-
lar problems as Iowa's Marvin
McNutt, who had 101 receiving
yards a week ago against the
"We could double him and then
you're going to put single (cov-
erage) on two other guys," said
defensive coordinator Greg Mat-
tison. "When teams do that and
havae ability todothatusually
you have a lot of other guys that
can do it. I don't know that we're
ready to do that right now."
It seems an imperfect fit for
the improved Michigan defense.
Though the unit doesn't have its
own Mercilus, the two counter-
parts have similar elements: a
strong defensive line and a lot of
Adding in the mobile quarter-
backs, similar to last year, the
two teams appear to be mirror
images of each other, even if it is
one of the funhouse ones. Except
this time, it likely won't be first
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No. 22 Michigan (-3) attIllinois
No.t Louisiana State(-41) vs. Western Kentucky
No. 3 Stanford(-3) vs. No. 6 Oregon
No.Alabema (-i85)at Mississippi State
No. 5 Boise State (-15.5) vs. TCU
No.8 Arkansas (-3) vs. Tennessee
Nof9Ciemson(i9.5)uvs. Wake Foest
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No.11 Houston(-33)at Tulane
No.12Penn State-3) vs.No.19 Nebraska
No.13 Michigan State (-3) at owa
No. 14Georgia (-12.5) vs. No. 24 Auburn
No.15 South Carolina (-4.5) vs. Florida
No. 16 Wisconsin (-28.5) at Minnesota
Texas A&M (-3)at No.17 Kansas State
No.18 USC (-13.5) vs. Washington
No. 21 Texas(-.5) at Missouri
No. 23 Cincinnati (-3.5) vs. West Virginia
No 25 Southern Mississippi (u0) vs. Central Florida
Northwestern (-15.5)vs. Rice
Ohio State (-8) at Purdue
Southe rn Mississippi
Weste rn Kentucky
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