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Posted on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

Michigan football team addressing 'alarming' secondary play, preparing for potent Virginia Tech offense

By Kyle Meinke

Michigan football players have talked at length about how honored they are to play in a BCS bowl, particularly after the failure of the past three years.

But there comes a point when the team has to get to work, and that time is now.

As preparation for the team's Sugar Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech (8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, ESPN) swings into full force this week, coach Brady Hoke said his top concern is tightening up the "loose" play of his secondary, which led to the Wolverines allowing a season-worst 34 points in their regular-season finale against Ohio State.

"That’s alarming," Hoke said. "(Virginia Tech's) quarterback has ... (29) touchdowns this year. They’re very good at what they do, and we have to be tighter in coverage. We have to be better in zone. All those things are part of it.”

If Ohio State's struggling freshman quarterback, Braxton Miller, can shred the Wolverines' secondary, then what does that say about Virginia Tech's surging sophomore, Logan Thomas?


Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan on Nov. 26, including this pass to DeVier Posey. That performance has Michigan coaches focusing on the Wolverines' secondary leading up to the Sugar Bowl.

Melanie Maxwell |

Thomas burst onto the national scene in his first season as a starter. The sophomore is 215-for-363 passing (59.2 percent) for 2,799 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and could become only the second quarterback in school history to surpass 3,000 yards passing in a season.

Thomas, like Miller, also runs a little bit, carrying the ball 137 times for 416 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. That's an important facet of his game -- in fact, the Hokies' two losses, both to Clemson, happen to be Thomas' two worst rushing games this year.

He began the season slowly, throwing five interceptions and just four touchdowns in his first five games, but showed poise in turning things around. He finished second in the ACC in total offense and touchdowns.

And, much like Michigan's own Denard Robinson, Thomas' dual-threat ability makes him a strong weapon in extending drives. He is 25 for 26 this season in converting third downs of 3 yards or fewer.

"They’ll spread you out and try to loosen you up," junior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But at the same time, they’re a good enough offense where they can get in the I and run downhill."

Is Kovacs concerned about facing such an offense after being gutted by Ohio State for a season-worst 34 points? (Which, ironically, is still better than the 35.2 points they allowed per game last year.)

"I don’t think you can play any opponent like we played Ohio State," the junior said. "We had some missed tackles and some blown coverages. You can’t do that.

"We were fortunate our offense carried us in that game because, defensive back-wise, we didn’t play well enough to win."

Miller had never completed eight passes in a game and surpassed 100 yards just twice before playing Michigan, yet finished 14-of-25 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolverines, all career highs.

He also had deep touchdown passes of 43 and 54 yards, and could have had three more if not for accuracy issues.

Kovacs said the breakdowns were due largely to miscommunication and being out of position.

"If one guy thinks you’re in cover-4 and another guys thinks you’re in cover-2, it’s going to be a big play every play," Kovacs said. "If you communicate, and everybody is on the same page, and you’re playing proper technique, you can’t get beat."

That is what the secondary will be focusing on as they prepare to face a Hokies team that presents a far more prolific offensive attack than Ohio State.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

We all know this is an Achilles heel. Where they made up for those areas. That bad-ass D-line. I haven't check the stats on VT O-Line. UM D-Line did a wonderful job of pushing offensive lines around. VT style of offense shouldn't be a serious problem. Remember Big Blue practices against Danard everyday, well everyday the NCAA allows. During the OSU game. The DB's were like those little fish near the dock...they bite at everything. Blues DBs were caught several times biting on 'The move'. If Braxton could have hit his receiver just once. The game is completely different. The defense will have to work like a tooled and trained specialal OPs team. Every move must be methodical, with a purpose. That goes for the offensen. Time for HOKE BALL....Time to put 3yds and a cloud of dust in the throphy case.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 8:24 a.m.

This secondary was a GINORMOUS surprise this year, I am very pleased with their overall play this year. I have expectations (listen to me I sound like a Michigan football fan) that next year they will be a strength along with the LB crew. As mentioned prior, Michigan sold out to stop the run with often times 9 people in the box to corral the running game of Ohio. It worked.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 6:40 a.m.

It's very encouraging to see the focus of this defense. They're being honest with themselves and not accepting the (relatively few) times when they played poorly. They're using the lessons learned during the season and applying them to the upcoming opponent. In this case it's important for fans to remember that while Hokie QB Logan Thomas has good season stats: ALL of those stats came against weak opponents. The two games against Clemson showed Logan has not yet gained the ability to score more than 7 points against strong opponents . He scored NONE in the first meeting with Clemson. (Hokies had only 1 field goal for total scoring in that game.) Hokie's are 11-2 and so is Wisconsin: yet Hokies are BCS ranked 17th while Wisconsin is ranked #9 and Michigan is ranked #13 -while Clemson is ranked 14th. There's where you see the difference between quality wins and soft wins- and between strong defense and weak defense. So if Logan scores more than 7 points against Michigan: yes, it means Michigan's defense would not be as good as say Clemson's. Anyone want to make bets on this coming to pass? Even if Michigan equals its worst scoring of the past season (that was against MSU) : that still means the probable outcome would be Michigan 14, VT 7. Only MSU and Iowa managed to handle the Borges / Denard offense, and we know that the offense improved thereafter. The other ten teams allowed an average 38 points to Michigan. It's the Hokies defense that needs to concentrate and improve, because they did very well against weak teams but have never faced anything like the Wolverines' offense.

Terry Star21

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 12:43 a.m.

It is scary sometimes, this secondary. Albeit they have improved 10 fold over last year. There is work to be done of course - and our secondary will be doing their best, plus. This isn't last years team, these players are getting the better coaching and the attitude level is showing. I would like to see our defensive front more aggressive and putting more pressure on the QB, making him rush his plays and helping out the secondary. MgoBlueForTiM.......Michigan, plugging all the holes for success.

NC Wolverine 20

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 12:21 a.m.

" (Which, ironically, is still better than the 35.2 points they allowed per game last year.)" How is that ironic? Interesting factoid, perhaps, but not ironic.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

Woolfolk was "coached" to be in the position he was on those plays. This has been documented and even discussed in the presser. Michigan hopes VTech is under the impression they can throw the deep ball.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

Much of Braxton Miller's success throwing was because Michigan sold out to stop the run. They consistently brought Kovacs up near the LOS, leaving the middle deep open while the corners played a lot of man coverage. That won't happen against a QB who has had success throwing the ball. They'll make the necessary adjustments needed and bring more help to the secondary. Go Blue!


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 6:06 a.m. is an amazing source for game breakdowns. They have what they call "UFR" (Upon Further Review), which not only dissects the defensive calls vs. the opposing offense, but literally breaks down every single offensive play and why each did or did not work. For all the bashing Brian Cook and the other bloggers take for not having a seething hatred for Rich Rodriguez's tenure, they are (and have been since long before Rich Rodriguez's name was ever spoken in Michigan circles) running one of the better sporting blogs in existence today.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 11:17 p.m.

There's a really good writeup on the defense used against OSU: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

Your analysis about how Michigan dealt with Braxton Miller are spot on. Michigan was able to handle good throwing QBs all season; WMU, ND, SDSU to name a few. They took care of Martinez of NE pretty well.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

Let's not get too carried away about the secondary. The coaching staff knows what happened in the secondary against OSU. I am very hopeful they will make the adjustments and show improvement. Va Tech played a softer schedule than we did. They lost twice to Clemson. They also gave up 30+ points to U-Miami in a close win. Va Tech is a formidable opponent but this is a very winnable game. I think Va Tech has bigger challenges playing Michigan than Michigan does playing Va Tech.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:18 a.m.

That fundamental weakness has been an awful weakness for three years now thanks to Tony Gibson &amp; Co. and has been shored up BIG TIME this past season. The coaches will work to fix what went wrong against OSU and continue to both coach these players up and improve for the future with top-notch recruiting. Don't worry, the problem is in the process of being addressed.

Lorain Steelmen

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

Michigan has a fundamental problem that will need to be addressed. Tech will not be the last team to get films, and try to exploit that weakness.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7 p.m.

the difference between this year and the last 3 is, this coaching staff WILL make adjustments for their upcoming opponent. GO BLUE!!


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

I don't know how it happens but when somebody finds out the Dallas Cowboys need to know too. Their deep passing D last night looked like a replay of the Michigan D against OSU.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.

I hope so - cause what REALLY worries me is how Ohio State got behind the secondary TWICE on its final drive with seconds remaining - how does this happen? And why no pressure on him? when they blitzed he stunk when they rushed four he carved them up ... seems simple if the QB had better aim U-M would have lost that game - in a terrible fashion

Lorain Steelmen

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

This is the key. Improved secondary play, will be required going forward, as Beamer gets the films. Certainly a decent pass rush, will help this, but the BD's must understand their assignments. An offense that controls the ball, and runs large TOP, is another key. There is a lot of work to be done, before this team can's 11-2. Go Blue, time to finish the job!


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

It seems there are two ways to get beat defensively: (1) DBs getting beat by superior talent (2) DBs making mistakes and getting beat I think Michigan's defensive backfield is pretty good ... not great, but pretty good ... and should be able to run with VT's receivers. I don't see a shut-down performance, but a pretty decent effort. If (2) then we have problems. But I have to believe Mattison and staff have going through the OSU tape with a find-toothed comb. Whatever breakdown in coverage existed should be addressed.