When Brady Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor, he inherited a defense that was abysmal. While Rich Rodriguez scored points by the bushel with his read option offense, the defense gave up even more, languishing under defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
Has Indiana shown opponents the blueprint to beating Michigan?
While many off-the-field factors (bad relations with alumni, minor NCAA sanctions) contributed to the ouster of Rodriguez, the defensive struggles were the most obvious football failure during his regime. Years of lean recruiting prior to his hiring, the departure of players from the program and discord on the defensive staff resulted in a defense that wasn’t very good.
When Hoke convinced Greg Mattison to leave the Baltimore Ravens to become his defensive coordinator, the move paid immediate dividends. It showed that Hoke was dedicated to bringing in talented assistants and that Michigan would pay to do so.
The turnaround on defense was stunning and practically instantaneous. Mattison and his assistants were able to install schemes that transformed the defense back to respectability, and helped Michigan go 11-2 in Hoke’s first season.
The defense continued to achieve last season, even as the offense struggled to find consistency, reeling from injuries to Denard Robinson.
This season, while Michigan struggled to beat Akron, fell to Penn State and clubbed Indiana, a disturbing trend has emerged.
The Michigan defense is vulnerable to the pass.
Akron threw the ball with abandon and nearly shocked the Wolverines with a second half surge that fell short on the last play of the game.
Needing a touchdown to force overtime, Penn State gashed the Michigan defense, going 80 yards (79 on three pass plays) in 29 seconds for a game-tying touchdown.
While the Michigan offense set records in a 63-47 win over Indiana, the defense surrendered 572 yards (410 passing, 162 rushing), and was caught flat-footed on several plays when the Hoosiers snapped the ball quickly to catch the Wolverine defense in disarray.
All three teams found success when passing the ball, and not giving Michigan time to get personnel packages in the game or catching them before they were in proper position for the next play.
In a press conference posted on mgoblue.com, Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison expressed concern about his team’s performance against Indiana.
“I’m not happy with the amount of points given up or the big plays...anytime this happens you need to look at the game plan.”
But this isn’t the first time that this defense has been exposed by a quick passing attack.
Not all teams are suited to take advantage of the Michigan defense. But remaining opponents Northwestern, Nebraska and Ohio State all have the talent and offensive schemes to do so.
Later, Mattison said, “I know we’ll have a Michigan defense back on the field the way it’s supposed to be.”
That defense had better improve against the pass or Michigan might find themselves in a few more offensive shootouts before the end of this season.
And every opponent remaining on their schedule plays better defense than Indiana.