Michigan Wolverines defense deserves respect, belongs among nation’s elite


The Michigan football program has long been known for a sturdy and dependable running game, and a punishing defense.

It may be an oversimplification to suggest that new head coach Jim Harbaugh is the reason for this return to Michigan’s roots, but it’s undeniable that this exactly the style he likes to play. Harbaugh-ball can be summarized as a running game that can grind you and a defense that can stop you, and this defense can stop you.

This year the Wolverines are taking that defensive concept to a whole new level. Since halftime in their Week 2 matchup against Oregon State, Michigan has given up seven points over the 14 subsequent quarters, and they’ve only given up 38 points on the season through five games. 24 of those came in the opener against an unexpectedly potent Utah Ute squad.

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Michigan surrendered a fourth quarter touchdown the following week against UNLV, which was the only score they gave up in that game, and have pitched two consecutive shutouts since – against BYU last week and Maryland this week.

Over the course of these two shutouts, Michigan has surrendered a total (yes, a grand total) of 210 yards. Against BYU, the Wolverines gave up 50 yards rushing on 22 attempts, and held Cougar quarterback Tanner Mangum to 55 yards and 12 completions in 28 attempts.

This week against Maryland, they held the Terps to 76 yards passing via just 10 completions on 36 attempts, and held the rushing attack to 29 yards on 26 carries. In addition, they held Maryland to only six first downs, and forced them to punt 13 times. The Terps only converted one of their 18 third down attempts.

In total this season, Michigan has allowed just 357 yards rushing on 154 attempts, which is just 2.32 yards per attempt. They have allowed only 920 total yards on 297 plays, holding their opponents to 3.10 yards per play.

The Wolverines have shown an ability to get into the offensive backfield, racking up 12 sacks through five games, with eight coming in the past two shut outs. If the Wolverine defense has a weakness, it’s an inability to force turnovers. Against Maryland, however, they took the ball away three times, getting interceptions from Jeremy Clark, Jourdan Lewis and Desmond Morgan. If the inability to take the ball away was the aberration, and Michigan is able to force more turnovers going into the conference schedule, that spells trouble indeed for Big Ten opponents.

Next week the Wolverines face the Northwestern Wildcats, who will be a tough matchup, but are far from the most potent offense in the Big Ten. Northwestern is averaging 25.4 points per game through five weeks, which is good for 92nd in the country and came into this week ranked behind Maryland (72nd in scoring) and slightly ahead of BYU (99th). Michigan’s incredible statistics could increase even more if the Wildcats can’t overachieve.

Michigan’s defense is on a fearsome tear right now, simply overwhelming their opposition, and the rest of the Big Ten conference should consider themselves put on notice. The Wolverines are out for blood, and they have the defensive unit to extract it.

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