Michigan Defense Must Step Up Heading Into Conference Slate

Adam BoutonCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 05: Brandon Graham #55 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after a second quarter sack while playing the Western Michigan Broncos on September 5, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 31-7. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2009 season, the University of Michigan football team had several areas that needed vast improvement.

Defense was definitely one of them.

Through three games this season, the unit has increased production but it needs to step up even more as the Wolverines (3-0) enter their Big Ten schedule.

Michigan has had the luxury of playing the first three games at home and will have that benefit again on Saturday versus Indiana.

However, after that the Wolverines will have to travel to East Lansing, Champaign, Iowa City, and Madison—perhaps the toughest of all those—later in the season.

Even though it looks like a relatively easy road slate—the Wolverines will play host to Penn State and Ohio State—all of those games could potentially be dangerous for the reborn Michigan squad.

That's why it is up to the defense to keep the Wolverines in those games and give true freshman Tate Forcier and the offense a chance to grind out wins. Weaker opponents have a better chance of playing well, particularly on offense, when at home with the crowd behind them.

The Maize and Blue have several senior leaders on defense that should help prepare their younger teammates for the tough conference slate.

Attention Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, and Obi Ezeh.

The squad is coming off a solid yet unspectacular performance defensively against Eastern Michigan University. The Eagles put up 179 yards rushing on a day when they were down the entire contest.

That was after Notre Dame put up nearly 500 yards of total offense and tallied 27 first downs in the Big House. Michigan is seventh in the conference currently in rushing defense and ninth overall in total defense. They are also last in the conference in total sacks with just three.

That effort won't cut it in many conference games.

The unit must stop the run and start forcing opposing quarterbacks to cough up the football. Clausen was nearly flawless in his effort and EMU's Andy Schmitt looked formidable at times last weekend as he led the Eagles to a solid first half.

More importantly, the Wolverine defense must create some turnovers so that the offense can get back on the field and the defense can stay relatively fresh throughout the game and the season. They have forced six so far this season—three fumbles, three interceptions—and hopefully for Wolverine fans, that trend continues.

If Michigan gets into the rut of playing high-scoring affairs, it will be harder for the Maize and Blue to get through the conference schedule without a loss.

The Notre Dame contest was an exciting game and Michigan came out on top, but Forcier can't be expected to bail out his team every game—especially as a true freshman.

The defensive mentality needs to be like it used to be: get a three-and-out and hand the reigns back to the offense.

Easier said than done.

Forcier and the offense have done their job in making headlines so far in the 2009 season.

It's time for the defense to match them.