Last week, I gave the Michigan Wolverines defense a B grade for their performance against Notre Dame in Week 1. It was a below average display for a unit that was statistically one of the best in the country last season. In terms of team defense, they were ranked third last year. The Wolverines had the best third down and pass defense and cracked the top 20 in the nation in run defense.
The Michigan defense showcased in South Bend, demonstrating flashes of brilliance but lacked constant consistency. They will look to have a drastic improvement this week when they take on Western Michigan in their home opener.
“The guys really prepared well for the ballgame [against Notre Dame], not the outcome we anticipated or wanted,” Harbaugh said. “We have to dig deep. Make no excuses.”
Wolverines Need to Limit Penalties and Show Discipline
One of the areas where the Michigan D struggled was taking too many penalties. From a targeting ejection to an illegal facemask and defensive holding, it amounted to seven penalties for 52 yards the entire game. A large amount, according to Wolverines linebacker Khaleke Hudson.
“Stupid penalties,” Hudson said. “We had pass interference calls and some late-hit calls. Just small things that hurt us in the long run.”
Not only were penalties abundant but how they led to points was also a problem. After a Chase Winovich roughing the passer penalty, the Fighting Irish on the subsequent play scored a touchdown, resulting in a four-point swing. As junior defensive end Rashan Gary proclaimed, the penalties were self-inflicted wounds to a defense that found its footing in the end.
“Ain’t nothing going to change the way Michigan flies to the ball, Michigan plays defense. We’ve just got to make sure we control ourselves a little bit better,” said Gary.
“As you can see, second half, once we got settled in and started rolling, it was the Michigan football that we needed. But it was too late by that time.”
Michigan Looking to Build On Second Half Defensive Performance
If the Wolverines are looking to have success this week against Western Michigan, they need to emulate the positive attributes taken from the second half against Notre Dame. The stout defense showed up to play in the second half, only allowing three points and less than 100 yards of total offense. In their first 14 snaps, the Irish averaged upwards of 12 yards per play. Over the span of the next 55 plays, they averaged just a measly 2.4 yards.
The Western Michigan Broncos will be looking to spread their offense and run an up-tempo scheme for the majority of the game. This is where the Michigan D needs to put pressure on WMU’s QB Jon Wassink in collapsing the pocket and bring constant speed off the edge. This is something they could not do against Notre Dame. While facing the Fighting Irish, quarterback Brandon Wimbush was able to escape from the pocket and the Notre Dame offensive line was able to seal the interior from an onslaught of defenders. But, this cannot happen against an athletic Western Michigan team, says Gary.
“If you watch the game, (Wimbush) got us out of pocket a couple of times,” Gary said. “Like I said, that’s just us hurting ourselves. When we did what we had to do, we stayed inside the pocket, (he) made a couple bad throws. He’s a good athlete. He did what he had to do, and we could’ve done better.”
This Michigan defense has too many talented players not to produce stellar numbers. With nine returning starters, they will be ready to respond with a big game. Expect the Wolverines to go out with a chip on their shoulder, solidifying themselves as one of the Big Ten’s premier defensive units.
“We’d rather have this happen in Week 1 than follow it down the line,” Gary said. “I have full confidence in our guys to fix the issues and get better.”