Is The Michigan D Improving? Evaluating Michigan After Non-Conference Play
The general consensus seems to be that Rich Rodriguez's defense took a big step forward against the Bowling Green Falcons. In my opinion, however, the biggest reason the defense gave up 16 fewer points than the previous week was the overall physicality of the opponent.
In particular, the Bowling Green offensive line was simply outmatched by the stronger Wolverine defensive front. Although he Wolverines will not enjoy such a lopsided physical advantage up front against most Big 10 offensive lines, any line anchored by bull-pounder Mike Martin will spend its share of time in the opposition's backfield.
UConn, ND, and UMass all feature noticeably more physical offensive lines than Bowling Green. In those first three games, the Wolverines surrendered an average of 178 yards on 37 carries on the ground.
In previous years, these would be very disturbing numbers. Michigan fans are used to seeing a defense that can totally stuff the run. This year, the team is just built very differently.
Teams can’t realistically expect to outscore Michigan just by getting 150 – 175 yards on the ground. More weeks than not, teams will need to really light up the scoreboard in order to hang with the Wolverines. It will not faze Big Blue most weeks if teams who make a serious effort to run the ball are held to under 175 yards on the ground.
This article covers both last week and the entire non-conference schedule. We’ll go over five observations about the defense and three about the incredible offense.
Let’s start with the defense:
D1: The Secondary Did Not Show Much Growth As A Unit Against Bowling Green
In the chart below, notice how similar the UMass and Bowling Green passing offenses performed against the Michigan pass defense. The previous week, UMass had a senior returning starter at quarterback. On the other hand, due to injury, Bowling Green asked sophomore Aaron Pankratz to make his first career start.
To make matters worse, Bowling Green had to get by with no running game as the Wolverines held the Falcons to just 32 yards on the ground. In comparison, the Minutemen piled up 217 yards on a whopping 49 carries.
Over 20 Yards
Considering the significant disadvantages that the Bowling Green passing game faced, it is fair to say that the Michigan pass defense did not improve as a collective group this week.
D2: More Freshmen In The Secondary Continue To Learn And Make Plays
Although the overall secondary didn’t seem to improve much as a unit, individual freshmen continue to develop into playmakers. For the third straight week, another member of the secondary made his first career interception. This time it was true freshman Ray Vinopal.
Unfortunately Vinopal lost the ball on a play that was almost identical to Cam Gordon’s pick and fumble last week. I expect the coaching staff will emphasize that this mistake absolutely should not happen again for the rest of the season. If Michigan is going to grow into a team that has a chance to win the final game of the regular season in 2010, the young secondary has to start learning from each others’ mistakes.
One player who shined was true freshman nickel-back Courtney Avery. Avery delivered the best game of his very young career with two tackles and two pass breakups. Cam Gordon again delivered mixed results. He continues to be a hard hitter and has notched at least five tackles in every game this year (6 on Saturday). Gordon, however, didn’t have the necessary speed or positioning to close on Tyrone Pronty’s 71 yard touchdown scamper down the sideline.
The defense has six interceptions and two fumble recoveries for an average of two turnovers per game. As young guys keep maturing and delivering more big plays, it will become harder and harder for an opponent to find a way to outscore Michigan.
D3: The Pass Defense Has Shown They Can Limit A Team's Star Receiver
Michigan has faced two teams that have one star wide receiver. Against Notre Dame, much of the pre-game emphasis was whether or not Michigan could contain Michael Floyd. The Falcons primary threat was Kamar Jorden. Jorden came into the game leading the nation with 34 grabs in three games.
The Wolverines held both players to almost identical numbers. Both Floyd and Jorden were limited to five catches each. Floyd and Jorden only managed 66 and 64 yards receiving.
Unfortunately, in both games, Michigan gave up huge plays to other receivers. The Irish had both 53 and 95 yard touchdown strikes. Against the Falcons, there was a 71 yard touchdown.
While there is clearly some give and take in these numbers, I like Greg Robinson’s ability to take away a team’s primary threat in order to force other guys to beat the defense.
D4: Craig Roh Is Not Yet Making High Impact, Game-Changing Plays
It is important to remember that Roh is a true soph who is being asked to do a lot of different things as a hybrid linebacker / defensive lineman. While he is generally playing well, Roh doesn’t have a tackle for a loss in the last two weeks. He is also still without a sack, a forced or recovered fumble, or an interception this entire year.
Roh is frequently in the backfield and around the ball, so hopefully he will start delivering high-impact plays soon. It looks like he needs the game to slow down just another step. Hopefully he will have a breakout game soon.
D5: Although Opponents Are Going To Throw For Significant Yardage...
...yardage doesn't win games - points win games. So far, the defense has given up an average of 23 points per game. I'll take my chances that Michigan will score more than 23 points much more often than not.
Random Last Thoughts About The Defense:
- Kenny Demens had a bit of a breakout game against Bowling Green with five tackles and overall impressive play. Is he moving up the depth chart?
- Jonas Mouton is one heck of a versatile linebacker. Tough against the run and can cover a ton of yardage dropping back into pass coverage. Dude can rock a mean beard too.
- I didn't think Thomas Gordon had a good game against Bowling Green, but he has shown that he can make some plays out there.
- Will Campbell, Marvin Robinson, and Josh Furman are three young guys with unique athletic talents that I hope can somehow be brought out onto the field.
O1: THE OFFENSE: WOW!
This offense is starting to become everything we have been dreaming of since RichRod and Calvin Magee brought their up-tempo, high octane offense to Ann Arbor. Not only has Denard Robinson exploded onto the scene, but Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner both showed that they can also play at a high level. Tate led a perfect six touchdowns on his six drives against the Falcons!
I feel obligated to try and talk about Denard's incredible play, but what is left to be said? Maybe start a Shoelace for Prez campaign? He is unbelievable.
The Bowling Green scare should make Robinson understand the importance of minimizing the number of hits he takes. Hopefully he will realize how incredibly frustrating it will be for defenders to not even get to touch him as he makes play after play.
O2: The Offensive Line Is Becoming Exceptional
While the quarterback play has been phenomenal, the rest of the offense continues to grow. Redshirt freshman left tackle Taylor Lewan looks incredible after making his first career start against the Falcons. The entire offensive line seems to improve every week.
It is no surprise that the O-line is playing great, but it is awesome for Michigan fans to watch.
O3: Mike Cox Or Fitz Toussaint Could Heat Up The Competition At Running Back
While Mike Shaw and Vincent Smith continue to see the majority of the reps at running back, Mike Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint both seem to be extremely dangerous backs. Unfortunately, Fitz is also dangerous to himself as he is now dealing with an injured shoulder.
Toussaint finally got a couple of carries after fighting injuries all of last year and through the first three games of 2010. As if making up for lost time, he busted right through the middle of the line on his first collegiate carry for 61 yards. He then went the final five yards on his next carry for the touchdown.
Cox has only seen 19 carries as a Wolverine, but he has averaged a very nice 5.3 yards per carry. He also seemed to protect the ball very well on Saturday. Mike has all the physical tools to be a great Big 10 running back. If Cox can display the vision and versatility that are required in the spread, then he will likely earn additional playing time.
PS: I Had To Sneak In a Quick Indiana Prediction
Well, basically I'm really excited to begin Big Ten season. After watching a good bit of Indiana play against the Akron Zips, I feel that Michigan is going to be able to put up a lot of points. I think the O-line will be able to dictate play, and that sounds like big-play-palooza waiting to happen.
The Indiana offense features a big strong quarterback and some really strong receivers. I don't think they will be able to run a ton on Michigan. They will put up a decent amount of yardage and points, but they will also throw a couple of picks and give up a fumble recovery.
My prediction: Michigan 45 - Indiana 31