Michigan's defense has issues, but held its own against Bowling Green
Greg Robinson smiled as members of the media approached him Saturday as he exited the Junge Family Champions Center.
With the elusiveness of the running backs and wide receivers who have made the Michigan football team's defense look mediocre much of the season, Robinson deflected a question about his defense.
“Nah,” Robinson said while walking away briskly.
If the second-year defensive coordinator had stopped to talk after Michigan’s 65-21 pasting of Bowling Green, he would have had to explain why Michigan is allowing opponents an average of 400 yards of offense and 23 points a game.
He could have, however, pointed to Saturday, a day the Wolverines (4-0) looked good defensively.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
It helped that Bowling Green brought in a first-time starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Aaron Pankratz, who was beaten out by a redshirt freshman, Matt Schilz, before the season. Schilz missed the game with a shoulder injury.
Michigan was able to more than double its sack output for the year, getting to Pankratz three times after having two sacks combined in the first three games.
The Wolverines also had a season-high six tackles for loss and had two interceptions. Michigan limited the Falcons (1-3) to 32 yards rushing and 283 yards of total offense, its best effort since Delaware State was held to 216 last season.
Yet Pankratz completed 60.7 percent of his passes (17-of-28) and moved the ball down on the Michigan defense.
“We came out a lot better this week,” said sophomore linebacker Craig Roh, who said Michigan’s defense would never play that poorly again after barely beating Massachusetts last week. “I think we were better schematically this week, and I just thought we did better.”
The Wolverines also recognize “better” against a Mid-American Conference team such as Bowling Green isn’t going to be enough starting well now.
The Big Ten season begins Saturday on the road with a 3:30 p.m. game at Indiana (ESPNU). Michigan’s defense ranked last in 2009 in scoring defense in Big Ten play, allowing 33.2 points a game and last in total defense, giving up 428.5 yards of offense per game.
So when Michigan’s defense allows what first appears to be a small gain into a 71-yard Pankratz-to-Tyrone Pronty touchdown pass, questions remain about the defense.
Tackling is, clearly, Michigan’s biggest defensive issue.
“Just tackling, man,” junior defensive tackle Mike Martin said. “We just have to be a better tackling team. Guys are there, but sometimes we don’t wrap up as well as we can.
“So we just have to practice on that.”
Fifth-year senior linebacker Jonas Mouton said Michigan’s defenders worked on tackling all through the preseason. Mouton said the Wolverines have a good mix of fundamental drilling and scheme preparation during game-week practices.
And on Saturdays, it is about converting.
“Through the past couple games, it’s just making the plays that come to us,” Mouton said. “Guys are, most of the time, in the places and the right spots. It’s just making the plays, you know. It’s a young bunch back there, guys, even myself sometimes; you’re going to miss a tackle here and there.
“That might be the biggest key to our success, just making our plays when they come to us.”
That youth in the secondary, which remains the biggest Michigan defensive question mark, is improving. The Wolverines played several second-stringers in the blowout and even played freshmen defensive backs Terrence Talbott, Courtney Avery and Cullen Christian early.
Michigan, for the first time this season, gave its depth meaningful snaps. So there is potential for growth. For Michigan’s sake, though, it has to come fast. The Big Ten is looming.
“Just keep getting these guys better, man,” defensive backs coach Tony Gibson said. “Get ready to graduate from diapers to Pampers, man. Or pull-ups.”