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Posted on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

The biggest thing the Michigan football team must tighten up before the bowl game: pass defense

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan safety takes down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolverines.

Melanie Maxwell |

The Michigan football team's turnaround this season was predicated on defense. That's why the Wolverines aren't alarmed after giving up 34 points last weekend to offensively challenged Ohio State.

But it's clear there's work to be done before they are ready to play in a high-profile bowl, perhaps even the BCS.

The Buckeyes entered the Michigan game 118th in the country in passing — that's worse than even the Wolverines' beleaguered defense from a year ago — and had been struggling to score points.

Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller walked into Michigan Stadium having never completed more than eight passes in a game and surpassing 100 yards just twice. He walked out of it, though, with 14 completions for 235 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs.


Blake Countess works against Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey on Saturday. The Michigan defense struggled to defend several deep passes by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

Melanie Maxwell |

Most alarmingly, the Wolverines had consistent breakdowns on deep balls. They will try to shore that up for their bowl game, particularly if they were to draw a BCS invite. Michigan likely would play Houston in the Sugar Bowl, if they're eligible for an at-large bid.

Houston, led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Case Keenum, has the nation's top passing offense. That could pose problems for the Wolverines, who were shredded by Ohio State' passing game.

"You have to hold your coverage a little longer, you have to be a little more disciplined with our eyes, and we didn’t do that as well as we needed to," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.

Miller completed first-half touchdown passes of 54 yards to a wide-open Corey Brown and 43 yards to DeVier Posey. Converted-free safety Troy Woolfolk appeared to be culpable on both plays.

Woolfolk has struggled since moving from cornerback to free safety after the Michigan State game. He has supplanted former starter Thomas Gordon for three games, while Gordon started the other two.

Gordon, named the starting free safety in the fall, had played well throughout the season. Michigan didn't allow a single 40-yard play in the seven games he was the full-time starter. They have allowed six in the five games since Woolfolk moved to safety (although he's not responsible for all of them).

They both have seen time in recent weeks, with Gordon playing most of the second half against Ohio State after Woolfolk's rough start.

"We think they’re both competing well, practice-wise," Hoke said of what determines who plays at free safety. "I think they both give us something as a team. Thomas, I think he was in on the goal-line stand, which really was a pivotal time in the game.

"Thomas did a nice job in that sequence. Troy did a couple good things in other sequences during the game.”

Defensive lineman Mike Martin said Michigan, which ranks among the country's top 10 in scoring defense, was surprised by Ohio State's aggressive playcalling in the passing game. He said they weren't prepared for so many play-action passes.

Miller, who was averaging just 10 passes per game in Big Ten play, started five of his team's seven first-half drives with a pass, and seven of 11 for the game. He attempted 25 passes overall, more than twice his average.

"They beat us like that, and it's something we talked about on the sideline, having to adjust a few things to make sure we could get some more pressure on them," Martin said.

Hoke said part of the problem was the Wolverines were not applying enough pressure on Miller, which allowed the quarterback to find his targets deep.

Martin, a captain who has been at the center of the defense's turnaround and this week was named a second-team all-Big Ten selection, said his biggest area of focus leading up to the bowl game will be fixing that.

"We're going to have to put in time on days where we're not working with coach and we're not practicing," he said. "We're going to have to get in on the bags and work on some pass rush technique, obviously. We need to get more pressure."

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



Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

A BCS bowl would be a great reward for a well coached team. Even if it eludes M this year, let's get the W against whoever and move on to bigger and better things next season. Last Saturday the defence committed to stop the run - dangerous TB and dangerous running QB - and dared them to throw the ball to beat us. They stopped the run for the most part, our O kept the ball pretty well, and their QB passed better than he did all year. If it weren't for a couple of M miscues (DR fumble, muffed punt) and a bad TD review the game would not have been in doubt at the end. Kudos to Ohio for coming up with a game plan to challange Mich and to BM for having the best throwing day of his career. In the end, however, Mich's D scheme worked and with the O's great job we won. Now on to the next up.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:31 p.m.

love it when M stacks the box then drops into coverage. confuses the O line. i'll be teaching my kids that next year. what concerned me is the wide open recievers that luckily Miller missed. Hopefully M DC's fix that for the bowl game. Can't wait!! GO BLUE!!

Wally the Spartan

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:03 p.m.

I am getting restless waiting for our bowl selection. On one hand if wisconsin loses I believe we pass them in the BCS so we need one more team above to lose. If michigan state loses, not so sure we pass them since they one the head to head. At one time I thought I heard a commenter here say a three loss team doesn't make a bowl, anybody know this or Kyle ? Go Blue.

Wally the Spartan

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Sorry, meant a 'three loss team doesn't make a BCS bowl'.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

The best friend of any pass defense is a good pash rush. An ineffective pash rush exposes the shortcomings of a pass defense. While much-improved, U-M was not able to get much of a pass rush against OSU (with a few exceptions like the safety in the end zone and a few others) unless they blitzed, and even then not on a consistent basis. Part of the credit goes to OSU for devising a good game plan to exploit the weaknesses of the U-M defense. The best thing about bowl preparation is the amount of time to prepare for the opponent, whoever it is. This should help the defense be ready.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7 p.m.

I don't think it's throwing Woolfolk under a bus to point out that his mistakes were the reason Ohio State's brave strategy of having the freshman come in slinging his guns worked so well. Michigan stacked the box and dared Miller to throw. It kept a dangerous running back completely in check. That defense requires the safeties to be, well, safeties. Woolfolk didn't know his assignments. Maybe that's the coach's fault. One would hope a coach would step forward for Woolfolk if that were the case. One didn't, so we have to assume that it was blown coverage. Michigan is 30th in the country on defense in passing yards per attempt, and 16th in total passing yards. However, Michigan is 47th in yards per rushing attempt. That adds up to 9th in scoring defense - this team has been lucky with the bend-not-break, and very good on third downs. What that tells me is that the pass defense has been very good this season. They sold out to stop the run against Ohio State, and wound up allowing 34 points and a lot more passing than usual. I don't think the problem lies in pass defense. The problem, if there was one, was in allowing big passing plays in one game against a team no one thought would throw 26 times with decent efficiency.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Houston has an explosive offense. But, has their quarter back been smashed round for a game. Where Big blue was caught watching the paint dry.....was the fake. all but one deep ball, the CB gobbled up he fake. I didn't see Posie burn out DB's on speed alone. I don't know much about Houston's Offensive Line. But like any gunslinger QB. Remember Texas Tech, Vs Florida. Tech, QB was a gunslinger...That offensive line was blown back again and again.... If Blue faces UH and can blow that O-line up... it could be a LONG NIGHT for Use'tin


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

Excellent article. The Ohio State game was odd. It was a flip flop from the previous games. The defense gave up 34 points and receivers were wide open; while the offense was tremendous and saved the day. Thank goodness Miller can run but but his throws were like Denard against Iowa. Truth is- Borges saved the day by using Denard and Touissant perfectly. There must be tremendous emotional pressure to play Woolfolk at safety after his injuries and efforts, especially since Gordon is just a sophomore.

Lorain Steelmen

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

I doubt that UM will make it to the Sugar Bowl, and I'm ok with that. Houston just doesn't excite me. I would rather take on an SEC foe, in Florida, and post a solid victory there. Our secondary was exposed saturday, but in all fairness, the safeties were playing to stop the run first, and the defense totally shut down Herron...37 yards. Miller did get 100, but much of that was the TD run, when Roh over comitted inside, and the 'contain' was lost. The other yards were third down QB draws, which we did NOT stop. Gotta believe that Mattison will get that 'cleaned up'. Yep, Meinke is thowing Wolfolk under the bus. Reality is tough. Troy's probably a great kid, but in the end, he had a target on his back. The ohio O-line gave Miller the time he needed, but they were unable to establish any kind of running game. (Even with three seniors there, I believe.) In the end, UM COULD run, while ohio could NOT. Um's O-line played a tremendous game, giving DRob the time he needed to manage the offense. (And, they keep Miller on the bench, where he belongs.) I like our chances in the bowl, IF, this team decides they WANT to win it. It will be yet another measure of their character.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:04 a.m.

How can you guys get excited about the 6-6 gators?!?! Hello it's the SUGAR bowl? One of the top four bowls in the country?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:58 p.m.

Agreed- who can get excited about Houston.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

It's been pointed out somewhere that Houston has played only one BCS School which happens to be that juggernaut of a program in UCLA. I think the score was 38-34, so bring on Houston, which happens to be my business partners alma mater, we would have a fun time if the 2 schools were to meet, I'll keep you guys posted on the banter. Also, we did make adjustments against ohio in the 2nd half, they only got 10 points with help from our miscues. Their last TD drive was the only really impressive drive they put together, everything else was busted coverage or a short field position because of the fumble by Denard and the punt return I believe. Besides, we had a TD stolen from us near the end that gave all of us more angst, that game could've easily been a 2-3 TD margin had we not gifted them some things. We on the other hand had numerous long sustaining drives, we had the ball for almost 11 minutes more than they did.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

The title of the article had caught my eye because I Have noticed for a long time when Denard Robinson comments on any aspect of the game, he often prefaces or suffices his comments with the phrase "Thats the biggest thing..." Wondered if I was the only one who noticed that or if possibly Kyle was poking a little fun at Denard... Anyway its kind of off topic but I live in Phoenix so people here arent as impressed with this tidbit but I have to share it.... My wife and daughter and I flew to AA for Thanksgiving and black Friday evening we were at Briarwood Mall... We walked in the Foot Locker and there was none other than Denard Robinson and a partner of his shopping in the foot locker! Couldnt believe it was him so I tried to get a closer look without intruding but when he noticed I was looking he smiled and I knew then and there it was him. He was kind enough to pose for a photo with my daughter and I before he headed on to Macy's... It was the highlight of my vacation, up until the clock showed 0's Saturday afternoon and then that was a reac close second best highlight! What a class act...


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

Great story. Denard's smile is from the heart.; a real gift in a gilded age. I hope he never loses his innocence.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Nice story PHX, thanks for sharing.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

The defense held Miller and Herron in check for most of the game, thereby achieving their primary goal, stopping the run. This left the outcome to BM and he did what was expected of the 118 ranked passing team. They lost! There were major gaffs in the secondary and hopefully Countess, Woolfolk, and the DB coach can correct and learn from it. I'm sure they will. The defensive game plan worked. Michigan beat osu and did it with a nearly blind replay official in the booth. (If the TD counted, there wouldn't have been a 3 and 25 a play later.) A far as Woolfolk is concern, all he has done is overcome a major injury, numerous minor ones, changed positions whenever the coaching staff asked, and played his heart out. If you want to call him out that's your right but don't ever write that you "never" throw Michigan players under the bus again. BTW, where is Tate these days? Appears TW was being a "Team" player after all, and TF wasn't. Troy Woolfolk is Michigan! This is Michigan! Go Blue!

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

You speak of "elevating" his game. Maybe for the most part he is/was doing what the coaches wanted him to do. Did the secondary play flawless vs osu? Don't think so. But did they play the plan set by the coaches and force the 118th rated passing offense to beat them through the air, and did they WIN over osu? Yes! I find calling out one player self serving. BTW that "frosh", how did he play vs osu? Is he next? Maybe he's playing not because he "beat out" TW, but because he needs to get on the field so he will have something to build on next season. And what does TW do? Switch positons in his senior year to help the team win 10 games and help Countess get better. Finally, he should have kicked TF's butt up and down State St. at noon for how he made decisions that affected that team. Might have helped, it surely wouldn't have hurt.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

I am not throwing him under the bus Blu. Your response puzzles me--It seems pretty bitter. I questioned why Woolfolk did not elevate his game. You gave some reasons, which are legit. I clearly say that he was a team guy and I respect that. I do not think it was appropriate for him to call out his teammate publicly--do it behind closed doors, let the coaches do it or whatever. But Woolfolk as a senior was beaten out by a frosh. Is that elevating his game??

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Who is "DeVier Allen" as noted in the caption? The name on the back of the jersey in the picture is "Posey". Glad to help.

Jim Knight

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Blu: We made the fix. Thanks for the note.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

A big pass rush always helps, doesn't give the QB time for those long throws. Michigan had trouble getting pressure for most of the past 3 years and parts of this year. (And even to a degree under Carr). I have always wondered if you could mess up a passing team by routinely rushing 5-6 guys and just not giving their QB time to set his feet. A good QB will just go to quick hitches and make you pay, but sometimes, those lead to quick pick 6's if your corners play tight. I always had to laugh when Troy Woolfolk would call out Tate so publicly, because Troy himself was no superstud (other than speedy). I like him because he is a team player (other than him embarrassing Tate) and because of his legacy, but he has never really elevated his game. But let's be fair, the entire secondary was out of position for much of that game, and even Avery's interception to end the game was a bouncer off of the receiver that Ohio should have had. Houston scares me a lot given their offense, but have they beaten any high profile teams? I didn't check their schedule, and maybe just maybe, our defense compares favorably.

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:25 a.m.

My guess is that given the coaching staff at the time Troy Woolfolk felt he needed to step up and take a stand. Hard decisions sometime come with blowback but two seasons later, after his return from injury, and after Tate was shown not able to help his team, I have to question why you chose now. The same coaches that crafted this great defensive turn around were also the coaches that put him on the field vs osu. How did that turn out? If you want to question someone, try the coach. Otherwise, back off the player. I'm not bitter, I'm thinking to the team. Are you? TiM Go Blue!

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:48 p.m.

Houston's schedule strength is 113th amongst the 120 FBS teams. Its biggest win is probably its last win - at Tulsa for the CUSA west division title. Hard to say how the Cougars would fare against a legitimate top 20 opponent. Unfortunately, the BCS cannot address disparity in schedule, so that opportunity won't come until bowl season. Much of Houston's reputation comes from blowing out mediocre teams, often by passing well into the fourth quarter. Against 2-8 Tulane, Houston led 35-10 at the half, then won 73-17. The previous week, against, 1-7 Alabama-Birmingham, Houston led 35-13 entering the fourth quarter, then won 56-13. The week before, against 2-5 Rice, Houston led 38-20 at the half, then won 73-34. You can't blame Houston for using Keenum to run up the score against poor opponents. That's how a mid-major gets into the BCS and that's how Keenum is a Heisman candidate. But we really don't know much about Houston's quality.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

Houston has had a fine run with CUSA level teams but their best win was their first game, v UCLA. A game which they barely won 38-34 at home. If/when Houston plays a credible team from the B1G, SEC, B12, or P12, look for a mushroom cloud over Houston.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

+1 ... the best past defense is one that doesn't allow the QB to pass in the first place. D-line penetration into the offensive backfield seems to be a big part of a lot of today's defenses -- LSU, Alabama, Florida, Florida State. It's what allowed USC to beat Oregon. I agree playing Houston is no cake walk. My hope is their O-line hasn't seen the likes of our defensive front.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

A couple of things of note from the previous game. It looked like the were playing a lot of zone to combat and running by Miller. That led to some break downs in coverage. It has nothing to do with DB's actually covering a guy off of the line it had to do with communication break downs between the corner and free safety. Woolfolk simply can not be on the field. He is a liability on every play! If Michigan plays against Houston I dont think there will be as big of an issue because Keenum is not a running QB like Miller. Something to look for this coming weekend is if Oklahoma beats OSU and Wisconsin loses and Georgia loses. If these things happen the Big 12 will have 2 teams in the BCS games which will move Houston. If those games play out like that then this will be the BCS games. I dont see Mich or OSU getting bumped out by Houston in this case. Rose- MSU vs. Oregon (unless UCLA pulls a miracle which I doubt) Fiesta- Okl. vs. Stanford Orange- Vtech vs. WVU Sugar- Michigan vs. OSU BCS Champ.- LSU vs Bama and Houston does not get in. The other posibilities are that OSU wins big over Okl. and plays in the championship which I think is going to happen. Then it looks like this. If they dont win big then they flip flop with Bama. Rose- MSU vs. Oreg. Fiesta- Bama vs. Stanford Sugar- Michigan vs. Houston Orange- Vtech vs. WVU BCS- LSU vs OSU I dont think Baylor gets in for a couple of reasons. 1) They have lost 3 games 2) They dont have a big fan base or money that comes with it.

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:13 a.m.

I challenge your statement "Woolfolk simply can not be on the field. He is a liability on every play". Please quanify that, to the extreme. You normally write intelligent stuff but this is uncalled for to a player who has suffered a terrible injury, rehabbed for almost a year, got hurt again, changed positions, and does well enough for the Big Ten Coach of the Year to put him back on the field. Your comment is questioning this defensive's staffs judgement as to who gives Michigan the best chance at winning. Woolfolk was on the field when Michigan ended the streak vs osu. That is ALL I need to know. I hope you have something better than generalities to back up your statements because otherwise you threw a 5 yr senior "under the bus" for no better reason than self-importance. Again, Woolfolk is Michigan! This is Michigan! Go Blue!

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:04 p.m.

Houston is in the BCS, by rule, if it finishes in the top 10 as Conference USA champion. That will happen if Houston beats Southern Miss on Saturday. Michigan's first worry is getting into the top 14. That may require a bit of help from LSU. The second worry is finishing far enough behind the second Big Twelve team (Kansas State or Oklahoma State if it loses to Oklahoma) that the bowls make that selection.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

You have the Rose matchup wrong. Whisky wins the championship game. msmoo does not go to a BCS game this year.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

loots got to happen for mich to play in bcs bowl. i would say it is 50% they get in. either way a bowl game is a bowl game and we welcome it. nice season michigan and great great staff.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Very good article Kyle. Yes, houston could be a challenge. But, we have a explosive offense too. I am sure the Michigan coach's will have the Michigan team prepared for a bowl opponent. Coach Hoke has hired a fantastic coaching staff that has been the difference in many of their games this year. There true strength lies in there ability to make the adjustment's needed during the games to get the victory. Next year looks to be another great season of excitement. The 2012 schedule is much tougher. But, we have a very strong recruiting class coming in also. Go Blue !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

Come on Mort have some faith. I took big abuse early this year when I raved about Coach Hoke's hiring at the beginning of the season. I knew he was an excellent coach and he would turn Michigan around.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:05 p.m.

Mort, Houston is terrible defensively and they do not have the athletes Michigan has. Michigan should win by 2-3 touchdowns. Michigan is going to be the favorite in that game. A substantial favorite actually.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

hate to say this but. i love michigan . lets get this out first. if they play houston they will go down. houston is a good team. now if mich can imporve on pass coverage different picture. closer game.