The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Wolverine WATCH ������ john borton What A Difference A ���D��� Makes Michigan football, as I know it, is playing defense, first and foremost. I think nationally, people think about Michigan football and playing defense, and then running the football. ��� Brady Hoke F or three seasons, Michigan���s defense appeared last and hindmost. The Wolverines scored boatloads of points, except when running aground against some of the nastier defenses they faced. But one aspect of the Wolverines��� play appeared a constant ��� they couldn���t stop anyone. Never in Rich Rodriguez���s ill-fated tenure in Ann Arbor did that fact demand recognition more than last season, when the Wolverines wound up 108th in the nation in scoring defense. They surrendered an eye-exploding average of 35.2 points per game, making it to a bowl in part because of a 67-65 win. There were a lot of smiles that day, along with quiet murmurs about never again getting gouged for 65 points in a victory, triple-overtime or not. When Michigan athletics director David Brandon announced a change in the big office at Schembechler Hall, he pointedly stated that even the team managers in the new regime would understand defense. Brandon then backed it up, bringing in the defensive line boss from the 1997 national champion U-M squad as head coach, and digging into the vault to pry Greg Mattison away from the Baltimore Ravens as defensive coordinator. The early returns are enough to make Charles Woodson yell, ���Hail, yes!��� Michigan entered November at 7-1, with Hoke proclaiming every game from here on out a championship contest. The Wolverines aren���t desperately hoping for one more win to make a bowl. They���re not dreaming about taking down Ohio State, 45-44, to salvage something out of the season. They traveled to Iowa in a threeway tie for the Legends Division lead, with enough success behind them to at least dream about a berth in the inaugural Big Ten champion8��� the wolverine��� ������ November 2011 The Wolverines have shown tremendous improvement on defense this season, holding opponents to far fewer yards and points than they allowed in 2010. Photo by per kjeldsen ship game in Indianapolis. And that���s nothing short of remarkable. Understand, this defensive roster isn���t now what it will become. Hoke���s crew never uttered a peep about what they inherited, but they likely cringed a little about a lineup with enough slot receivers to play a pick-up basketball game, measured against obvious defensive neglect. Remember, this is largely the same lineup that college football analyst Chris Spielman dismissively referred to as ���Mike Martin and a bunch of nice little subs at Indiana.��� Spielman overstated the case, but the current crew isn���t ���97 revisited, either. They are playing together. They do believe in what they���re being taught, and they are getting a high level of instruction. Eight games in, all of that translated into some almost unfathomable numbers, especially compared to the recent past. Michigan entered the Iowa game No. 7 in the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average 15.29 points per game. (U-M has actually surrendered an average of 14.6 over the course of eight games, but NCAA statistics don���t recognize the lightning-shortened opener against Western Michigan.) The Wolverines stood No. 35 in total defense, surrendering 340.57 yards per game, compared to 110th (450.77) a year ago. They were 26th nationally in pass defense (196.29 yards allowed a game) in 2011, compared to 112th (261.85) in 2010. In other words, Mattison is earning his money, and Hoke���s emphasis is taking hold even before his recruiting takes over. In the meantime, Michigan hasn���t sacrificed scoring, averaging 34.86 points per game, compared to an average of 32.77 through eight games last season. ���They���re real big, they���re real strong, and they do a great job of penetrating the line of scrimmage,��� Purdue coach Danny Hope observed. ���We knew coming into the game that they were a big, strong defensive front, there���s no question about that.��� ���They���re very stout in the middle,��� said Boilermakers��� wideout Justin Siller, after Michigan���s 36-14 win. ���They have nice, big, physical linemen, so our running game was going to be hard to get going.��� You remember Siller. He���s the guy then-Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller yanked from another position to start at quarterback against Michigan three years ago. The Purdue boss probably figured he had nothing to lose, since his team was 0-4 in the Big Ten and scoring an average of 10 points a game going in. The Boilermakers won that day, 48-42. Tougher tests remain this season, and the Wolverines could ultimately still prove undermanned to seriously challenge toward a first-year stunner under Hoke. But the fact that they���re even in the conversation says plenty. Junior defensive end Craig Roh gave his own description of Michigan defense, following the win that got the Wolverines to 7-1. ���Michigan defense is just dominating everything, in every aspect of life. That���s a rough definition,��� Roh noted, with a huge grin. Roh can be forgiven for riding the hyperbole bus. He and others from his side of the ball aren���t riding the back of the team bus any longer. ��� Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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