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Posted on Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 5:01 p.m.

Despite win, Michigan defense struggles as serious question marks remain

By Jeff Arnold


Michigan safety Cameron Gordon tackles UMass tailback John Griffin on Saturday. Griffin rushed for 96 yards on 17 carries.

Angela J. Cesere |

Just when Rich Rodriguez figured he had eliminated some of the question marks surrounding Michigan's defense he watched a shoddy showing Saturday in the Wolverines' 42-37 victory.

The Michigan defense yielded 439 yards to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, missing tackles and continually losing contain against a Minuteman offense it felt it was prepared to take on. Defensive tackle Mike Martin said his unit wasn't as focused as it should have been. Safety Jordan Kovacs said the defense struggled with fundamentals, which was glaring early on after the Wolverines missed 10 tackles on Massachusetts' first three possessions.

Afterward, Rodriguez acknowledged he was disappointed, saying Michigan's defense was not on. At all.

“We have some warts that are still out there," Rodriguez said. "Let’s not pretend we’re the 1985 Chicago Bears. Let's not pretend we're that. Three games in, we should get a little bit better."

Just a week after playing a key role in Michigan's 28-24 win at Notre Dame, Michigan's defense struggled to stop Massachusetts. Despite a continuous stream of warnings from Rodriguez as to what was coming, the Wolverines failed to execute against both the run and the pass against Massachusetts, which produced its biggest offensive output of the season Saturday.

"Maybe they caught us off guard today," said Kovacs, who led Michigan with 11 tackles. "But we're going to get back to Michigan football this week. I think UMass is a good team - it's nothing we're going to see in the Big Ten, but they just came out and smashed us in the mouth today."

Despite the final outcome and a third straight victory, the Wolverines said there are plenty of adjustments to make.

"We're not happy with the win - we're happy we didn't lose, but we weren't satisfied with the way we played defensively," Kovacs said. "And we're going to make corrections."

In a microcosm of Michigan's day defensively, redshirt freshman Cam Gordon intercepted a Kyle Havens pass in the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, then fumbled the ball back to the Minutemen. Eight plays later, Massachusetts scored, cutting the deficit to 12 points.

A late Massachusetts touchdown made things even more interesting as Havens threw for his second touchdown with 2:05 remaining.

"We're not good enough to just walk in and just play and get a victory," Martin said. "We've got to play every down, every game no matter who it is. We've just got to continue to do that."

Jeff Arnold covers sports for and can be reached at (734) 623-2554 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyparnold.



Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 10:43 p.m.

The solution: Coach Harbaugh. This is RR's 3rd season it is not a fluke it is a pattern


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 9:41 p.m.

you know, lets just have good practices this week and going on to focus on bowling green, It was just a fluke


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 9:33 p.m.

At the very least, we are going to need a new defensive codinator, and fast? RR would make a great offensive coordinator, however not keeping track of the defense is his fault. Let's go after Bud Foster from Virginia Tech. He is in a rebuilding year at Tech so are we. Let him rebuild at U of M! I think the next few weeks will have Schembeckler rolling over in his grave. DEFENSE!!!! Unless a miracle happens on defense, we better score at least 40 points per game and hope the other teams are all sick with the flu or suspended.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 6:52 p.m.

It is not coach Robinson's fault he needs at least 4 years to put his system in place and RR and Schafaer left the cupboard bare. Where have we heard that before?


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 2:39 p.m.

Hey Flipper...I don't know if this is True or not but according to Michigans Wolverine Website they credit GERG with Running Defenses on two Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos teams


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

Hey AZ, not to be critical, but please cite some evidence that shows Robinson had any previous success - either as a HC or DC.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

1AA team is gashing us for 8 - 20 yards at a time, what do you think a big ten school is going to do? I guess we have to believe that in 2 weeks time Michigan will remarkably learn how to play defense, and that Rodriguez and Robinson are really great coaches. Seems like the major portion of the learning and coaching should have taken place over the summer.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 10 a.m.

Let's make this simple. If you look at the numbers during RichRod's tenure, Michigan gave up an average of roughly 28 points a game in 2008 and 2009. The year-end totals from those two seasons were almost exactly the same. Based on what we've seen so far this year, I think this team will again give up 28 points per game. And so the question is, can this offense score more than 28 points against each opponent over the remainder of the season. If and when they do, Michigan will win. Otherwise, Michigan will lose. The obvious "Yes" answers for me are Bowling Green, Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa (particularly at home), Illinois, and Purdue. The question marks are Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. This is not much different than what we all expected. The talent on this team is on the offensive side of the ball. In the old BO/MO/LLOYD days, the equation was reversed. The defense was more consistent and if the offense scored 20 points or more, Michigan won. It seems to me that in today's college football, offense wins championships, not defense. Nobody is winning games 17-13 anymore. I think we all need to get used to that idea. Right now, the Michigan offense looks pretty good to me.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

RR is the HC and is therefore responsible for the defense. I'm not throwing him under the bus, it's just the facts. He hired Robinson and the other D coaches. That said, I don't think Robinson is wholly to blame for the defense. Robinson has run good defenses at other schools and even in the NFL. I think the problem lies with RR's lackey position coaches, especially in the secondary. Those guys are the ones who need to be replaced with actual coaches. Nothing Robinson does can compensate for those weak link lackey coaches. The fact that the defense stinks falls 100% on RR for bringing in his incompetent buddies to coach the D. By the way, anyone see what Nebraska is doing? They hired Bo Pelini, a DEFENSIVE guru who has had Nebraska playing shut down defense since day 1. Now this year, they have an offense to match their defense. Did they bring in a great system coach and revamp their entire program to score more points? No. They simply brought in an athletic QB who is doing similar things to what Denard is doing at Michigan. It didn't require any major overhaul or change in philosophy or, worse, 3-9 seasons to implement. It simply required recruiting a QB. And while Nebraska waited for that QB, all they did was go 10-4 last year while playing defense. Go figure.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 8:19 a.m.

Greg Robinson should be fired - he has absolutely no history of being either a decent head coach or a coordinater at any level, college or pro.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 7:07 a.m.

The most important thing is that they got the win, but the defense's play was nauseating and disturbing, to say the least. I've commented several times over the past few years on this site how U-M seemes to be concentrating far too much on offense in their recruiting efforts and not enough on defense, and the lack of emphasis on defense by this coaching staff is coming home to roost. The good thing is that the offense bailed them out today.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 6:44 a.m.

I was at the UCONN game and I thought, wow this team has it all together, and who knows Michigan could go 12-0, now, once again will they make it 6-6. I don't know who the coaches are, but Rich needs to sit them down or fire them. The defense, what is the matter with them, Denard can't carry them. They are men, not babies, this is not junior high football, this is Michigan, teams used to be afraid to come into the big house, now they don't worry. I would hope this week the defense would practice and practice until they know what they are suppose to do, and on game day, no more celebrating after one play; Come on boys, there is a whole game to play, not one play; celebrate after the game. What is the matter with the kicking game, Zoltan, where is your twin? Smarten up kickers, or go raid the soccer team. It is not to far away before conference play starts, let's hope the real Michigan team shows up, quick.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

Here we are after 3-years of Richrod recruiting and the best player on the defense is a walk on.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 6:29 a.m.

Safety leads the team with 11 tackles. Do we have any linebackers? What about that vaunted d-line? One sack? Against a I-AA school. Big Will must have ate his 5-stars. The guy is a complete bust.

3 And Out

Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 7:27 p.m.

I knew Mike Ditka coach....and you are no Mike Ditka.


Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 6:26 p.m.

Um, sorry guys, but it wasn't a lack of focus or getting caught off guard that was the issue. If that was the case, everyone would've woken up after halftime. Instead, the defense let UMass do pretty much whatever the hay they wanted. I'm entirely optimistic about this season, but I shudder to think how things are going to turn out once we play a team that has some real playmakers on their offense.