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Posted on Sat, Oct 8, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

From questionable to impenetrable, Michigan defense pitches second-half shutout

By Nick Baumgardner

Michigan junior safety Jordan Kovacs was just looking for a crease.

With the Wolverines up 11 late, and the chance for the knockout blow in the air, Kovacs found a pressure lane and did what he's done best all season.

Loudly killed an opposing drive.


Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs reaches out to sack Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter of the Wolverines' 42-28 win at Ryan Field on Saturday.

Melanie Maxwell I

Kovacs' hit knocked the helmet off Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa's head, ending the play by rule and also ending any remaining threat the Wildcats had on the evening.

"I just kind of came in, and I guess you could say, I came in and made a play," Kovacs said. "I didn’t really know that was rule. But, we’ll take it."

In the first half, Michigan let Persa throw for 195 yards. The Wolverines also allowed more than 7 yards a play from scrimmage, and Northwestern scored three touchdowns on option plays.

The second half was a different story, though.

Michigan allowed just 17 yards in the third quarter, and outside of one final meaningless drive by the Wildcats, dominated the final 30 minutes.

The Wolverines also forced a pair of turnovers and pitched a shutout on the scoreboard.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that the biggest difference after the break was the fact that Michigan went with a larger lineup, and continued to play as a unit.

"I like how our team respects each other," Hoke said. "I like how they'll play for each other."


Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is chased by Northwestern's Tyler Scott.

Melanie Maxwell I

Denard has another boo-boo
After a 12-yard third-quarter run to bring Michigan inches away from the goal line, junior quarterback Denard Robinson left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Robinson wasn't out long, though, as he returned on the Wolverines very next series, missing a total of three plays. Asked what the nature of the injury was, Hoke said it was a "boo-boo" to Robinson's non-throwing hand.

"I took a little shot (to my hand) and I had to get out," Robinson said. "I didn't want to cost the team."

Robinson was relieved immediately by sophomore quarterback Devin Gardner, who closed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Hoke said he was pleased with Gardner's play in relief, as well as in special packages throughout the game. Gardner finished 2-for-2 through the air for 25 yards and also ran twice for four yards and a touchdown.

"He was good," Hoke said. "I was glad to see Devin be very quarterback-like."

Odoms moves into kick returning role
It appears Michigan has a new featured kick returner.

Senior receiver Martavious Odoms, who has had a diminished role this year after suffering a left forearm injury in the summer, supplanted junior tailback Vincent Smith as the main returner against Northwestern

He also fielded Michigan’s only kick return last week against Minnesota.

Odoms finished with two kick returns for 43 yards. He returned eight kicks last year, averaging 22.6 yards per attempt.

The senior suffered an undisclosed left forearm injury during the summer, though, and had featured a cast or pad since fall camp. He played protection-free for the first time against the Wildcats.

Northwestern chain crew member taken to hospital
Before the game, a member of the chain crew was taken away by ambulance after apparently going into cardiac arrest. Northwestern spokesman Mike Wolf said the incident occurred about 45 minutes before kick off.

The man was loaded into an ambulance and taken to nearby Evanston Hospital. His condition and identity were withheld.

Odds and ends
Michigan converted on 9-of-10 third-down plays in the second half and finished the game 14-for-17 overall. The Wolverines also held the ball for 37:17. ... Michigan fifth-year senior tight end Steve Watson got two firsts out of the way at once Saturday. His first career touchdown in the first quarter was also his first career catch. ... Northwestern called for a moment of silence prior to kickoff to honor fallen Michigan band member Patrick Fleming.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.


James Klock

Mon, Oct 10, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

I'd be a bit careful about praising Kovacs for a play that, had the refs seen it the way the NU coach (and, by many accounts, the replay) saw it, could have been a drive extender for Michigan's opponent. Turn that "over on downs, Michigan ball on the 30ish" into "NU fresh set of downs, on the MI 40", and it could have been a huge momentum shift. NU was down 11 points, with about 8 minutes left, and Kovacs' execution could have quite easily changed the game.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

This team doesn't give up and doesn't have an attitude. They are workman-like, respond to coaching, and the coaching is excellent. My only nit picks are the ongoing issues with kick coverage and Denard's passing accuracy. If he doesn't throw those three picks in the first half and hits two wide open receivers, this is a 56-14 game. That said, we beat a decent team on the road by 18 and moved to 6-0. Looking ahead on our schedule, Nebraska is the only team that *might* be better. MSU and OSU are toss-ups every year, but I think we're better than both of them. Go Blue!

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

There's a phrase for the difference in the defense from the first half to the second. It's called: halftime adjustments. These are pretty common among most teams in the top ranks of the FBS (sarcasm button off), but they have been missing in action for the last three years in the Wolverine program. Glad to see the adults are back in charge. Good Night and Good Luck


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

You're right. During the past three years, Michigan seemingly couldn't adjust at half-time. In last year's bowl game against Miss. State, State beginning in the second quarter began sending either a linebacker of a DB on a blitz nearly every play to disrupt Michigan's attack. Michigan never seemed to adjust and the second half was tear-out-your hair time and last nail in the coffin of Rich Rod.....


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 4:12 a.m.

Slowly but surely, the Michigan team looks like it is playing better and confidently. Love the second half results!! Go blue.