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Posted on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football over-under: Will the Wolverines' defense be as stout in 2012?

By Nick Baumgardner


Can Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison take their defensive turnaround one step further in 2012?

Melanie Maxwell |

What, exactly, did the Michigan football defense do last season?

Numerically speaking, the Wolverines' one-year defensive transformation was borderline stupefying.

From 2010 to 2011, Michigan cut its points per game allowed in half, gave up 1,672 fewer yards, recovered 13 more fumbles, added seven more sacks and allowed 30 -- yes, 30 -- fewer touchdowns.

So, Greg Mattison, about that encore?

It's probably not fair (or sane) to expect Mattison to get the same level of improvement from his defense in every category, but in terms of the bottom line, can Michigan maintain its pace from 2011?

The Wolverines had the sixth-best scoring defense in America last season at 17.3 points per game allowed. Mattison isn't a fan of many stats, but he obviously pays close attention to the numbers on the scoreboard.

Michigan has plenty of holes to fill up front with the losses of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, but the Wolverines do return a solid core group of linebackers and basically their entire defensive backfield rotation.

Can the Wolverines maintain their stingy habits?

Over/under: Michigan will allow 17 points per game

Kyle Meinke: One of my lasting impressions from last season was talking to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison in the carport of Memorial Stadium minutes after his defense carried the Wolverines to a win at Illinois. He got choked up talking about how his unit had finally turned a corner -- and it had.

Thing is, that performance didn't arrive until the 10th week of the season, and it was delivered only then because of the strength of the defensive line. That line, incidentally, has been decimated by turnover.

Stalwarts Martin and Van Bergen are in the NFL, and Will Heininger has swapped his winged helmet for a business suit in Chicago. That leaves end Craig Roh as the lone returning starter, and even he is switching spots, sliding from weak to strong side.

Michigan Football Over-Under

This is part of a 14-day series featuring 2012 Michigan football-related debate from sports writers Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner.

Wednesday: Can the Michigan offense maintain its production?

Thursday: Can the Michigan defense be as stout in 2012?

Friday: How many wins will Michigan collect away from home?

So, who takes over for the departed? Likely an underwhelming senior at one tackle (Will Campbell), a 260-pound former end at the other tackle (Jibreel Black) and either an unproven sophomore (Frank Clark) or converted linebacker (Brennen Beyer) at weak-side end. The key reserve could be a true freshman (Ondre Pipkins).

Those five combine for one career start.

Sure, Michigan returns every starter in its back seven. Thing is, though, the Wolverines' defense didn't get good last year until the line came around, no matter how well the secondary played. Mattison's 4-3 defense hinges on the productivity of the line -- he has said so himself.

And when you have a career bust (Campbell) replacing one of the team's best defensive linemen in a decade (Martin), with similar questions elsewhere, a regression is to be expected.

That's not even taking into account Michigan's brutal schedule. It won't face many truly prolific offenses, but it does play a Big Ten-high six games on the road. Last year, it allowed 14.5 points per game at home and 22.0 on the road. This isn't breaking new ground, but it's tough to play on the road in the Big Ten.

Prediction: Mattison and coach Brady Hoke have shown a marvelous ability to coach defense, and defensive line, and it won't be surprising to see the unit make major growths throughout the season. But a swiss-cheese line means there will be growing pains along the way, which will preclude the Wolverines from again fielding the nation's sixth-best scoring defense. Take the over.


Nick Baumgardner: There are several uncertainties up front for the Michigan defense, to be sure. Martin is gone, so is Van Bergen and so is Heininger. Michigan will have to get production from the likes of Campbell, Black, Richard Ash, Quinton Washington and possibly even Ondre Pipkins up front -- but that's far from an impossible task. They're not proven commodities, but -- outside of Martin -- was anyone else when last season began?

Mattison raved about Craig Roh's move to strong side end, something he feels will open up a wide range of possibilities for new athletic weak side ends Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark.

At linebacker, Michigan brings all of its weapons back. In the secondary, everything's back -- and everything's a year older.

And, perhaps most importantly, Mattison's defense seemed to be at its best last season when its back was against the wall. Teams made 41 trips into the red zone last season against Michigan, and came away with a touchdown just 21 times. In total, the Wolverines were able to hold opposing red zone drives to zero points on 13 occasions.

Mattison's motto of "give us a place to stand," was a battle cry for last season's unit -- and will be driven home even more in 2012, as his returners will clearly be more familiar with his schemes and tendencies.

Prediction: Michigan won't face any offensive juggernauts in 2012, even with its brutal schedule. The Wolverines under Brady Hoke are defense first, all the time. And under Mattison, the bend but don't break philosophy seems to work.

This absolutely won't be an easy task, as the bar's been set high. But, hey, no one thought this unit would do the things it did a year ago. It might be a stretch, but I'm in a stretching mood -- I'll take the under.



Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

Assuming that the defensive stays relatively healthy, it will allow 17 or fewer points per game on average. The second year in the system, will in part make up for the people we lost. Further everything we hear about BWC indicates he's bought in on and off the field. Improved technique can compensate for his height, and with consistent effort he can pull the double teams needed to free other linemen to get loose from one on one match ups. I also expect them to get more help from an improved offense.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

what exactly are we voting on here? "michigan football defense will allow 17 points per game". does yes mean over 17 points, or under 17 points? what's the question, "over/under yes/no"?


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:51 a.m.

Even the great Greg Mattison cannot fix this mess. Watching the Wolverine defense this year may be equivolent to viewing new applicants for clown school. We may be re-entering the RichRod era due to a major lack of true talent. I dread the gaping holes that will likely appear for the opponents offense to go rushing straight through. Who can save us from a terrible let down this fall?


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

I think that's an overstatement. The coaching is vastly improved. That in itself will fill the gaping holes.

Terry Star21

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 10:04 p.m.

Rest assured, the defense will be as good if not better than last year. College football's greatest team has prided itself on great defense during three centuries - and that lives on. Mattison and crew will fill the voids, smack down opposing offences with such force they'll be forever trembling. Michigan Defense, the most feared and everyone's threat. MgoBlueForTiM.....Michigan Defense, stand back.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

Mr. Aarox. Thank you. You are a true gentlemen and a true Michigan Man. I appreciate the candor.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

sorry to say SEC you are not far off. We are proud of our record but most of it is pre WW2. Just for example, we are now crowing about our record against an in-state rivalry, Michigan State. Sad to say, most of our success came when they were a D II school. Before they joined the Big Ten (which we unsuccessfully fought) we only played them at Home. That pretty much accounts for the spread. After MSU moved to Div I and joined the Big Ten in 1949, our record against them is almost even - 54% - not the wild numbers a lot of us like to quote. So you are closer to the truth than we want to believe.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11 p.m.

chuckle chuckle..."greatest team"... 0.5 national championships in 64 years...ooohhhh...dominating...


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

I don't believe our D-line was considered a strength last year. IIRC, Martin was the only positive... enter Hoke and staff and the D-line became a strength. My point is, the same is being stated as a weakness this year. I have infinite faith in our coaching staff so I don't expect a huge drop off. The D-line will not be a glaring weakness. They may not be as good as last year's unit but they will not be gashed and pounded into submission. Add the expectation that the LBs and DBs will improve and our defense should be about the same. Now, no one is considering how the offensive improving should help the defense. I expect less turnovers on the offensive side of the ball, which should put the defense in less precarious situations. Nothing certain just expectations, but we'll see. UNDER!!!!!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

I'm by no means sure but if I have the above analyses right - they both indicate that Michigan will have a good (possibly great) pass defense. If that's true, then the psychological war goes to Michigan, there should be few "big plays" against Michigan's defense... If I'm right. OTH: forcing opponents to use the run against Michigan will just make the front line's job harder. And they're mostly unproven. So it should be interesting to see how these unknowns and (so far) under-performers step up against the run. Not so? Will Campbell: you're a Wolverine - it's time to get your grove on!! Go Blue!!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

First off, if Michigan goes over here, it will be because of Alabama and the Bowl Game. Secondly, as dominating as Mike Martin was he sure did his fair share to carry the Michigan defense. With all that said, I still like the under this year. This is the year Big Will Campbell should have a break out year. He still looked decent last year and it appears he has worked extremely hard this offseason and taken a leadership role with the team. Also Ondre "PeeWee" Pipkins is set to make an impact on this defense with his aggressive nasty style play. Maybe not as a starter, but I'm sure he will play as backup in some key situations. One to Two players should not break this defense and it takes a team effort to boast the incredible defense we had last year. Besides Year 2 under Hoke and Mattison should boast some better results.

Wally the Wolverine

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.

The yes/no option for voting isn't exactly clear. Does "no" mean 17 or fewer, or more than 17? The options should be over/under like the rest of the story.

Kyle Meinke

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

Wally, that was a mistake. You're right, it's confusing. We changed it for the polls going forward. I blame Nick!

Wally the Wolverine

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

That said, it's more than likely "over"for points allowed this year. As mentioned earlier, a tougher road schedule makes it an even bigger uphill climb for this squad. Despite the coaching, it's unrealistic to expect a career underperformer to just magically make the impact we need. At worst, Will - and the rest of the line - have to at least play position and not get out physicalled by more experienced O-linemen. It doesn't take much poor play by a D-line before a good linebacking corps is neutralized. It hurt to take my maize-n-blue goggles off there for a moment.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

Alabama here we come. The Alabama game will awaken the kids or not. If you can't get up for that game then we do have a long season. I'm not saying, we will win, all I'm saying is that that game will be a barometer of who has the juice for a very difficult upcoming season.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

Our saving grace is that our weakest position on defense also happens to be the position our coaches thrive on. Hopefully they can get big will, and the rest oft Rhine to play above anything they have shown so far. I think they can, but I still think we are going to be in the "over"

Kyle Meinke

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 10:35 p.m.

michboy, you do bring up a good point. The current makeup of this coaching staff makes D-line the most scrutinized position on the field, and I really do expect the unit to make great strides. ... Will it be enough to be able to match what Michigan did last year? I don't think so. But this staff is the perfect staff to address this kind of weakness.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

I'll take the over. Without Martin to draw the double team we have Will Campbell with the size to do it. Unfortunately he's much taller than Martin and can't get the leverage. Not many guys can play that position at 6'5; that's why the moved him to O- line. If he can't- then everyone's job get harder. Pipkins comes in a few inches shorter but with the same reputation that Campbell did- overweight and a bit of a lazybones. No way he contributes. Maybe Quinton Washington, he's 302 lbs. But so far he hasn't shown anything.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

Pipkins has a rep for being lazy?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

If Will has any aspirations of playing pro ball, it's now or never Will.

Blue Marker

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

There is bound to be some fall off. Martin and RVB are big pieces to replace. This is the best the LB group has looked since David Harris roamed the middle. I'm still concerned about the secondary. Between a tougher schedule and some hits from graduation I'll say over...but not by too much.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

Like all U-M fans. I want the defense to be as good or better than last year's team but realistically it won't be, at least at the beginning of the season. However, as the season progresses and some of these untested defensive linemen gain more experience, the defense should improve significantly and has a chance to be as good as last year's squad at the end of the season. The keys in my view will be: a) Will Will Campbell step up and provide senior leadership and finally play to his potential? b) The injuries need to be kept to a minimum because there is not a lot of depth there. c) Will Ondre Pipkins step up as a freshman and have an impact? The linebackers and defensive backs should be improved since most of the starters are back. We all know that the coaching staff will get them ready to play to the best of their ability, but you can't teach experience. That only comes through getting games under your belt. Even though it coudl get ugly at the beginning of the season, I'm excited about the potential of this team.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

There is not much more I could add with my own comments. One mention is that Michigan lost some key positions to graduation. I trust Mattison to make the most of what he has to work with. What they lose at some, they gain on others with more experience.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

I'll take the under. I think linebacker is the most important position on the defense, not D-line and Michigan is returning all of their linebackers. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison specialize in coaching D-line so if anybody is going to get decent turnover for that position it's them. The defensive backfield is going to be a lot stronger with an experienced Blake Countess and Thomas Gordon. Michigan will be able to stop the run based on the scheme Mattison calls. The only issue this team will have is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Fortunately, there aren't any good quarterbacks in the Big 10 save possibly the Spartans but that's still an unknown at this point. I'd take the under.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

Braxton Miller has accuracy problems. That is his weakness. If he didn't have accuracy problems the defensive gameplan would have been different.

Blue Marker

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Braxton Miller would have had a career day were it not for some accuracy problems. I expect he'll have a lot of that worked out this year, especially in the Shoe. Martinez in Lincoln will be very tough as well. You make a great point about Hoke and Mattison with the D-line. Let's hope Big Will comes alive under their coaching.