You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 8:32 p.m.

Michigan's defense falls apart Saturday in what seemed like a cloud of confusion

By Michael Rothstein

Donovan Warren and Stevie Brown sat on the Michigan bench, white towels draped over their heads, seemingly waiting for the game to end, for the nightmarish day inside Michigan Stadium to finally, mercifully stop.

Yet almost to add insult to everything else, Brown and Warren had to go back out on the field one more time to let Penn State run one more play in a long-over game.

So it’s no surprise Brown talked to maybe one Penn State player and was the first one up the tunnel Saturday afternoon. He, and the rest of the Michigan defense save for defensive end Brandon Graham, played confused. Played without emotion.

Played, frankly, like they were lost in the Nittany Lions’ 35-10 waxing of Michigan.

“There were a couple of plays when they had trouble lining up,” Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said. “They didn’t know what was coming in some certain plays.”

That is what offenses strive for - to so confuse a defense it has no idea what to expect.

That might have been an understatement, and feel free to cue the circus music with the way Michigan played in every way Saturday. Because as dominant as Michigan looked a week ago against FCS patsy Delaware State, it looked equally exploited against Penn State.

“We never gave ourselves a chance,” assistant head coach Tony Gibson said. “It was just big play after big play. Never could get a rhythm going.

“It’s embarrassing.”

It's also part of a pattern. All season, there have been questions about Michigan’s defense. Some of it could be personnel. Some could be scheme. Whatever it is, it clearly isn’t working against any opponent capable of creating any offensive output.

Michigan may have beaten Notre Dame, but it was torn apart defensively. Indiana’s offense made the Wolverines looked positively ordinary - and afterward Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said there were things Indiana did that he hadn’t expected.

From the sound of it, that may have happened again.

All of this begs the question - what really is going on behind Michigan’s defense? Is it personnel? Is it scheme? Is it a combination of both?

Well, Saturday, at first, Donovan Warren wasn’t sure.

“I couldn’t even tell you what went wrong, man,” Warren said. “No clue.”

Then he said it had nothing to do with defensive coordinator Greg Robinson’s scheme - the same scheme where cornerbacks are routinely 6 to 8 yards from the line of scrimmage in zone coverage. He, instead, said it was on the players.

Except when asked what happened on some of Michigan’s big plays, including a second-half touchdown pass where Clark could have thrown it anywhere on the right side of the end zone and it would have been a sure touchdown, he changed his tone.

“Just part of the scheme, part of the defense that was called,” Warren said about Penn State’s big plays. “They just happened to call the right play on that play.”

That seems to be happening a lot against Michigan this season, and it doesn’t matter whether it is the first half or second half.

On Saturday, Michigan started with its usual secondary cushion - and Penn State threw a bunch of short passes to easily move down the field. Then, at halftime, Robinson switched from zone coverage to man coverage, allowing his cornerbacks to press the line of scrimmage and receivers. That’s when Penn State started throwing deep, using its multiple pass catching options to shred the Wolverines.

Even when Penn State went to its tight end, Andrew Quarless, in the middle of the second quarter there was a defensive breakdown resulting in a 60-yard Penn State touchdown.

On the play, Robinson said linebacker Obi Ezeh was supposed to have help that never showed.

“Those are things that you need everybody working together,” Robinson said.

Michigan didn’t Saturday. Not on defense, at least, when every Wolverine looked like they were playing on their own.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 9:37 p.m.

By the way, the comment that RR is trying to turn around "4 years of neglect" is totally subjective with no basis whatsoever in fact. The objective facts are that over the 4 years before RR got here, Michigan went to 3 New Years Day bowls including two Rose Bowls, came within a game of playing for the National Championship in '06, and beat the Florida Gators and their Heisman Trophy winning QB in a bowl game. They did have a down year, but bounced back with 11 wins the next season. That is all fact. Also, the recruiting classes over those 4 seasons were rated among the best in the nation by the major recruiting services. If that is someone's subjective opinion of neglect, then, by all means, Lloyd "neglected" the program. I wish RR would neglect it like that, too.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:46 p.m.

This article is too negative.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:24 p.m.

So basically it boils down to, if Michigan can beat The Ilini then they can go to a crappy bowl, otherwise they stay home and watch again. I don't see another beatable team on the schedule with a Defense like the one I saw so far this season. and by the way Illinois isnt that bad of a team, they've scored 14, 14, 14, 17 in their last 4 losses with the 17 points coming against penn State. Good luck.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 3:17 p.m.

Rensastinal, you are in a dream world! Ryan mallette is the real deal, he will play on Sundays! I think you have ingested to much "kool-aid"! Robinson is a joke. Why are our dbs' always fifteen feet from the receiver? Are they afreaid to hit because it hurts a little? Gice me a break! The only stud on defense is Brandon Graham. he is a manster(half man-half animal) who undoubtedlt will be terrorizing quarterbacks on Sunday, probably mallette in a couple of years. As much as I hate Arkansas, they are in every ball-game and have a decent coaching staff. Ours sucks! Our program never needed rebuilding, in Carrs' last season he beat Florida and heisman winnner tebow, after Florida had just won a national championship the year before. Yeah I'm critical. I,m critical because RR recruits pop-warner sized football players and mighty-mite quarterbacks that weigh a whopping 170lbs. Think McFly! This ain't the "big-east conference RR, this is the Big-Ten, where midwestern studs come to play and rearrange other players septums. This ain't girlyman football!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 1:29 p.m.

I also love U-M and have followed them all my life. U-M used to take pride in their defense, but for the past few years (even before RR) the defense has been going downhill. That's why they should re-double their efforts to recruit solid defensive players who can make plays. Kovacs is a nice story and all, but when walk-ons outplay your scholarship players, your team has serious issues.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 8:07 a.m.

Don't forget that the defense that lost to App St. and got blown out by Oregon also IMPROVED to the point that it held OSU to 14 points, Illinois and Juice Williams to 17, shutout ND, and had Tim Tebow eating dirt all day. Yes, Florida scored 34, but that's Florida AND Michigan turned the ball over 4 times. That defense helped carry us to 9 wins. 8 starters returned from that defense and it became the worst in Michigan history. No excuse. Coaches coach their players up, just like Ron English did when he turned that defense around after an admitted rough start. This defense has stunk for two years with no turnaround in sight. As for supporting our team, we're all doing that in our own ways. Some of us feel that the only way to 'support' our team is to say RR will turn it around. Okay, fine. Others feel that we need to fire RR to turn around a sinking ship because they care more about their program than a coach they hardly know. That's fine, too, as far as I'm concerned. I can see the argument from both points of view. My own opinion is to let this season play out before I make any judgements on long term decisions. However, I feel that as Michigan fans there is no way we should be happy with the results on the field and accept the fact that PSU is just that much better than us. Fans who accept that might be the ones who need to check their fandom in the mirror. There is no problem with expecting and demanding's part of why Michigan is great.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:18 a.m.

If UM had an offense on Saturday, the defense wouldn't have been exposed so badly. We keep hearing wait until.............thats bs.Tressel won a NC in year 2. UM beat DSU in year 2. Not much of a comparison.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:19 a.m.

While under Robinson Syracuse gave up half-a-hundred to any good team they played. Why does anyone expect anything different at UM. Sincerely Uncle Nit


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 3:11 a.m.

First of all, Mallett has been inconsistent from week to week at Arkansas. Second, he also plays on a team that sucks on defense, with the result really not being that different than it is at Michigan this year (i.e. losing to almost every good team they play, despite how good Mallett is in some of his games). That said, I do think the problem is at least a little bit more than just the scheme being new--some of it is the players, and some of it is their size, as well. Time will reveal whether or not it's also somewhat Robinson...but I think if even Robinson is admitting other teams are doing things he wasn't prepared for...that's unacceptable, and it's also reflected on the field. I mean, I've started to feel disgusted with how the offense is going when you look at the last three Big Ten games--it's too much like 2008--but the defense now is even more sickening than it was starting early in the 2008 season.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 12:07 a.m.

RR stinks! Nuff said.. he gets his jollies recruting toothpicks and midgets! Hey RR, this ain't pop-warner football. This team is in disarray and RR is a coach who does not only "not inspire" he flat out can't coach! The new defensive coordinator sucks, he came from Syracuse, they freakin' smell!. Good job RR go hire a defensive coordinator from a sub-500 hundred team. Think McFly! I think denard and tate are going to be busts at Michigan, both should transfer to division 1AA schools, that are more suited to their midget size and erratic play. Look at Ryan mallete he goes to Arkansas, and he is the best passing QB in the SEC. He has a far superior arm to Tebow. Fire RR and lets' get back to playing smash-mouth Michigan football, with 225 pound running backs and linebackers that weigh 250 and look like neanderthals on "glass". Fire RR!


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 10:04 p.m.

This guy Micheal knows absolutely nothing about football. The defense is playing a new scheme. You dont become a dominate defense the first year you play a new scheme. You have to get used to the scheme. Its like if you take a good WR and switch him to CB. He wont be a good player the first year. I love it when people like Micheal who never played football try to analyze the game. I find it very amusing. Hey Micheal how about you go write for Ohio State.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 9:35 p.m.

And Ron English was let go???


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 9:31 p.m.

The quotes and the images speak volumes, Michael. We've just lost another Big 10 season to a lost defense. With 4 games to go, we can only hope they can get un-confused.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 9:20 p.m.

Let me get this straight, we hire a fired Div I head coach that couldn't get his team to 500 in the big east as our defensive coordinator?? Hey coach, it's not just about the offense, you have to play defense also.