Michigan defense seeking consistency before hitting the road for 4 out of 5 games
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
He's looking for better consistency, particularly on defense, as the Wolverines (4-0) kick off their Big Ten slate Saturday against Minnesota (Noon, BTN).
"We don't play with any consistency," Hoke said this week. "We were better last week (against San Diego State), but you don't judge a season by one week. We've got a lot of physicalness we need to bring to the table as a defense. What's helped us to some degree is the ability to get some turnovers at some critical times."
Michigan played its best defensive game of the season last week in a 28-7 rout of San Diego State, and has given up only 10 points in its past two games. The team feels as though it is picking up momentum on that side of the ball.
Now, the Wolverines are looking to generate consistency, after slow starts plagued them early in the year. The defensive line also has been spotty, struggling early to generate a pass rush before turning it on against San Diego State last week.
“Any great defense is going to come out every series and play at a high level, and they’re going to play with great technique, and they’re going to play sound defense, and (not doing that has) been our M.O. so far," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "We haven’t really, play-in and play-out, played the way we’re supposed to play."
Michigan's schedule is about to hit a daunting stretch of four road trips in five games, after starting the season with five home games. It'll be a challenging jaunt.
Next week, the Wolverines travel to Northwestern, which is expected to get back quarterback Dan Persa this week. If he's healthy, that could pose a tricky matchup for Michigan in Evanston, Ill.
The following week, the Wolverines travel to Michigan State, which has an extra week to prepare because of a bye. The Spartans currently have the nation's top overall defense.
Michigan can ill afford to start slow in those games, or not play well defensively.
That makes building on its defensive improvements of paramount concern against Minnesota, a team that has struggled to a 1-3 start and lost last week to FCS-member North Dakota State.
"We just gotta find ways to get stops and get off the field," Hoke said. "We're still looking for that consistency."
Coaches also have been unhappy with the defense's inconsistency on third downs, when Michigan is generating stops at a 47.3-percent clip. That's 104th in the country.
"Third down is a big concern for me," Mattison said. "That’s the two most important phases in my mind, are third down and red zone. We’ve got to get better at third down.”
Hoke also has said getting consistent stops is one of the keys to reversing the Wolverines' trend the past two years of starting fast and finishing slow. They were 5-0 last year and 4-0 in 2009 before finishing those seasons 2-12 against FBS teams.