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Posted on Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

Michigan's defense has issues, but held its own against Bowling Green

By Michael Rothstein

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.


Michigan junior linebacker Kenny Demens and freshman defensive end Jibreel Black take down Bowling Green's Jordan Hopgood in the second half on Saturday.

Melanie Maxwell |

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.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 12:40 p.m.

I really hope Michigan gets a win over Sparty in two weeks...but I'm very concerned about the game. I just wish we had a good defense. Yes our offense will score every time we get the ball and probably have scoring drives of a cpl of minutes or so...but then the Spartans will grind out long drives that take 6 or 7 minutes off the clock and keep our offense off the field and more importantly our defense on the field. Heck even our offense will score so fast that it'll put the defense back out there quick. I still hope we win but no matter the outcome you can look at the Time of Posession stats after the game and it will be a 3-1 advantage for Sparty. I only hope we get an UGLY win and that we come out healthy too. PSU and Wisky look like winnnable games to me now. And having Iowa at home helps alot too. GO BLUE!!!! (Oh and I hate Buckeye fans, Not the team....the fans!!!!)


Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 8:22 a.m.

Here we go again with all the Naysayers and so-called experts predicting how the team will fare in the near future. 3 and Pout & company, according to you, I thought we were going to get blown out by UConn & Notre Dame? Last I checked, we won both those games. If I were you, I would stop predicting so I could stop sounding like an empty barrel making a lot of noise that amounts to nothing.


Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 7:12 a.m.

3 and Pout If MSU keeps pounding the ball at us, we will still get it back and score on their lousy D. So, no advantage either way. I like our chances in a shoot-out. By the way, I can't wait for you to tell everyone our worst rankings by the NCAA this week. I'll be waiting. Thanks for the good info. PS... don't forget to mention our rankings on offence!!!!!!!!!!!!!

3 And Out

Sun, Sep 26, 2010 : 3:33 a.m.

If Im Dantonio's replacement (Tredwell?) I just play keep away with Michigan. I line up my big O Line, my multiple 230 lb plus backs and just milk the clock all day, tossing an occasional pass to keep them honest... i shudder to think about that game because even at home Sparty is entirely capable of dropping a 40 spot on us.


Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 11:02 p.m.

I agree that MSU will score a lot of points against Michigan. However, I don't know that MSU will slow Denard and the offense of UM much, either. It should be a shootout and, as Bill Parcells once said, when teams are in a shootout, there's a 50-50 chance that either will win, usually depending on who has the ball last (just like the ND and UMass games). In other words, Michigan has a 50-50 chance in most games the rest of the way. Not exactly the state I'd like to see UM football in, but it is what it is at the moment.


Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

why doesnt michigan run a 4-3 defense. a3-3-5 is a prevent defense and will be shredded in big ten play.fundamentaly noone knows how to tackle on defense and in 2 weeks we will be blown out by michigan state.


Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 7:30 p.m.

On a positive defensive note...Indiana's defense looks worse.

3 And Out

Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 6:59 p.m.

This defense is going to get shredded by most, if not all Big Ten teams. Let's call it like it is. I do see some potential in guys like Vinopal and Big Will played OK today...but other than a few veterans that play decently like Martin, sometimes Roh... they just are not solid back there. Fundamentals such as tackling and coverage techniques are very poor...and yes, those are coachable issues. After 3 years with these defensive coaches, 2 with Gerg, one would think that those issues would start to be eliminated. After all, teams like Stanford can bring a new DC in as they did this year and dominate on defense... with far less talent than Michigan has back there... one has to question the schematic ability of our defensive staff as well as their ability to teach and ingrain proper technique in to these kids.


Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 6:42 p.m.

to add, ohio state gave up 20 points to a team that has lost 15 straight.


Sat, Sep 25, 2010 : 6:39 p.m.

looked good defensively? 21 points to a crap team that returned almost no starters and was missing its only quarterback worth a damn? No, sorry, that's not looking good. On the good news, Ohio State gave up 20 points today.