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Michigan Football Midseason Grades: Special Teams the Biggest Difference this Season

Defense has been Michigan's calling card, but it's special teams that has been galaxies above what it was in recent years.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We've grade the Michigan Wolverines on offense and defense, but now it is time to take a look at a special teams unit that has become one of the best in college football under John Baxter's tutelage.

Here we go:

Field Position (Kickoffs/Punts): B+

A big part of Michigan's success this year has come from winning the field position battles. They are able to mask some of their deficiencies offensively when they don't have to drive 80 yards down the field every time they get the football. On the flip side, opponents have had to do just that and it has helped Michigan's defense by not putting them in high pressure situations right off the bat when drives start.

Regardless of the gaffe against Michigan State, there isn't enough that can be said about how excellent Blake O'Neill has been in the punt game. His 80-yard punt against the Spartans shows just the type of player he is, along with how great the rest of the special teams are.

Michigan gets knocked down a bit here in the grades because of the mistake against MSU. The ramifications of that cannot be ignored, but it was also a fluke play. Still, the result is what it was.

Coverage: A

A large part of O'Neill's success, particularly inside the opponent's 20-yard line, comes from guys that can get down there and make sure the kick doesn't sail into the endzone. Michigan's coverage team deserves a lot of crediit for that.

In kickoffs we haven't seen teams bust out big runs in the return game consistently like we did in the last few seasons, so that's a big plus. When the average fan doesn't notice things like that, it means they're doing their jobs.

Also, Michigan hasn't been caught with 10 men on the field like last year, so there's that.

Returns: A

Jabrill Peppers has been everything we thought he could be in the return game and has proved dangerous when the ball is in his hands. He has not taken a punt or kickoff to the house just yet, but his shiftiness and ability to create something out of nothing gives Michigan a home run threat anytime the ball is kicked to them.

The one time someone tried kicking away from Peppers -- looking at you, Northwestern -- Jehu Chesson used his speed to take the opening kickoff to the house.

Flipping the field position has been Michigan's bread and butter this year, and the return game is a huge part of that.

Field Goals/Extra Points: A-

Kenny Allen has been as close to money as we could have expected from him this season. Inconsistencies in the kicking game hurt Michigan in recent years, but Allen has been very good.

He has not missed an extra point and is perfect on field goal tries from inside 40 yards. From beyond, he is 3-for-5, with his longest being a 47-yarder against Maryland.

With as inconsistent and shaky as kicking in college football can be, Allen has been just what the doctor ordered.

Coaching: A-

Baxter and company probably deserve as close to a perfect grade as you can give, but the mistake at the end of the MSU game was not entire on O'Neill. The Spartans were coming with a full punt block with no returner, yet Michigan still had gunners on the outside. That's a huge mistake.

Overall, though, the impact of Baxter and a renewed emphasis on the importance of special teams has been a night and day difference from last season. It's easy to dog Michigan for one mistake, but take a step back and the overall picture is a pretty one. They've been excellent.

What do you think about our special teams grades? Sound off in the comments below!