Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs returns in altered secondary lineup
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
"Felt great," Kovacs said Saturday with a stern face following the Wolverines 24-16 loss at Iowa.
After having his streak of 28 consecutive starts snapped against Purdue last week due to a knee injury, Kovacs returned to an adjusted secondary Saturday against the Hawkeyes.
How'd the unit play with its leader back in the lineup?
"Not well enough to win," he said.
With Kovacs out of the lineup a week ago, Michigan moved senior Troy Woolfolk to safety and inserted freshman Blake Countess into the starting lineup opposite J.T. Floyd at corner.
When he returned Saturday, Kovacs started alongside Woolfolk at safety, with Floyd and Countess getting the start once again at corner and Courtney Avery getting time at the nickel position.
The odd man out in the equation was sophomore Thomas Gordon.
Gordon, who had started the team's eight previous games this season, entered as the Wolverines' second-leading tackler (52 stops).
And though he played on special teams Saturday, he didn't see a single snap at safety.
The new-look Michigan secondary had its moments, but it didn't exactly excel.
Iowa burned the Wolverines twice on its first possession of the game when quarterback James Vandenberg found Keenan Davis on a crossing pattern for a 44-yard pickup on third down. The following play yielded a similar result, as Vandenberg hit Marvin McNutt over the middle for a 20-yard pickup, setting the Hawkeyes up at the Michigan 10-yard-line.
Two plays later, Iowa running back Marcus Coker was in the end zone, and the Hawkeyes were off to a 7-0 lead.
"We missed some tackles, especially on that first drive," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "They hit the under route and the corner should have tackled him and kept it to maybe a 20-yard gain, instead it goes down the sideline."
The defensive backfield didn't fare better on Iowa's second scoring possession, as the Hawkeyes were able to complete a Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley pass on fourth down, beating Avery for a first down.
Five plays later, Michigan's entire defense was fooled near the goal line as Vandenberg found a wide-open Brad Herman for a 1-yard play-action score to make it 14-6.
For the game, Vandenberg finished a productive 14-for-21 with 171 yards and a touchdown. McNutt, the Big Ten's second-leading receiver entering the game, finished with a career-high nine catches to go along with 101 yards.
"I think the timing in their passing game, they did a nice job with first-down throws and max protection," Hoke said.
On the day, Kovacs, Countess and Woolfolk finished with six tackles each, while Floyd finished with four and Avery ended with two. Only Countess was credited with a pass breakup.
Kovacs praised Woolfolk for his play Saturday, but did admit the dynamic changed with Gordon moving out of the secondary.
"I think Troy did a great job of there," he said. "We did a good job of communicating, obviously it's different because it's been a couple years since (Woolfolk) has been back there, but he did a great job today and we did a great job of communicating."
The most consistent member of Michigan's secondary returned Saturday, but it wasn't good enough.
A reality Kovacs says the group will work to change moving forward.
"We could do a better job of containing the football and not giving up big plays, and that's something we're going to work on," he said. "We can improve on third down, that's when we need to get off the field, and we didn't do a good enough job of that.
"We didn't put ourselves in position to make big plays."