The Wolverine

December 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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DECEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 23 BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan defenses under co- ordinator Don Brown have been a regular inhabitant of the national top five in total defense. This year, the Wolver- ines have shockingly relocated. Most understood there would be some adjustment, especially when top cornerback Ambry Thomas opted out of playing this season. But the Wolverines appeared to still feature plenty of defensive firepower. On the plus side, they counted on … • One of the top defensive end tandems in college football, with se- nior Kwity Paye and junior Aidan Hutchinson. • Veteran inside linebackers in red- shirt sophomore Cameron McGrone and redshirt junior Josh Ross, along with talented redshirt sophomore vi- per Michael Barrett. • A sophomore safety Jim Har- baugh said might be the most tal- ented player on the team, Daxton Hill, beside senior Brad Hawkins. It wasn't a total reboot, by any means. Yet the Wolverines fell off the national map defensively in their opening four games of an eight-con- test regular-season slate. They couldn't stop the pass in losses to Michigan State and Indiana, fail- ing to record a single sack or force a turnover in either one. They couldn't slow Wisconsin's rushing attack. They plummeted to high in the top 100 in several national statistical categories, rather than a top-10 neighborhood. They also dumbfounded national commentators like Fox Sports' Ur- ban Meyer, who heaped praise on the Wolverines after their opening-game win at Minnesota. That changed quickly after defense-bedeviled losses to Michigan State (27-24), In- diana (38-21) and Wisconsin (49-11). "Their pass defense is very porous," Meyer told the Big Ten Network. "They're not in position to make plays down the field. You saw Michigan State, who couldn't score a touchdown against Iowa the following week, throw it all over the field on the Wolverines. "And this past week, I'm sitting there — like probably most of the country — almost in awe of what Indiana was doing." Meyer sounded genuinely shocked over what he saw in those games. "They were getting behind the de- fensive backs," Meyer said of Indiana's receivers. "And the defensive backs, at times they're there — but they're not playing the ball. What does that mean down the road? They're in trouble … "When you start seeing Indiana and Michigan State just light them up down the field, throwing the ball for over 300 yards in each game, that's very alarming." The Badgers picked their spots to throw, while rushing for 341 yards and five touchdowns. Secondary Grade: D The Wolverines broke in a new pair of starting cornerbacks this season, calling on redshirt sophomores Vin- cent Gray and Gemon Green to book- end Hawkins and Hill. They experienced baptism by fire after a solid opener against Minne- sota. Michigan State drew first blood, opting to maximize protection on quarterback Rocky Lombardi and al- low him to fire downfield to receiv- ers in one-on-one situations. The bombardment resulted in 323 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That allowed a Mich- igan State team that fell to Rutgers at home in its opener, ending the visitors' 21-game Big Ten losing streak, and got pummeled at Iowa, 49-7, to sneak out a 27-24 victory at Michigan Stadium. A week later, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix similarly unloaded. He completed 30 passes for 342 yards and three TDs, also without a pickoff, in the Hoosiers' first victory over the Wolverines since 1987. Wisconsin generally loves a run- heavy offense and confirmed it, bat- tering U-M on the ground. When the smoke cleared from those opening four games, the Wolverines were looking at their toughest de- fensive totals in the five-plus seasons Harbaugh has been at the helm. After Wisconsin, U-M ranked 11th out of the 14 schools in the Big Ten for scoring defense (34.5) and was tied for 89th in the nation. U-M ranked 71st nationally in pass efficiency defense, at 139.09. The Wolverines were also tied for dead last nationally, at No. 102, in intercep- tions, having secured only one in the opening four contests. PASS/FAIL PASS/FAIL Midseason Grades Find 'D' Needing A Tutor After four contests, Don Brown's defense ranked 78th nationally with 425.8 yards allowed per game and was tied for 89th with 34.5 points given up an outing. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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