Sunday, October 5, 2008

So much for that Michigan defense


The optimistic Michigan fan might say Saturday was an aberration.

The 45 points Illinois hung up in the Big House. The 501 yards registered on the Wolverines' defense. Juice Williams' 310 passing yards and 121 rushing yards.

All nasty figures. All indications of the true nature of this Michigan defense.

That's not to say the unit that carried Michigan against Wisconsin a week ago was an aberration, either. That was no fluke.

The big difference between the two weeks was the offense the Wolverines faced. In Wisconsin, they took on a run-oriented team with strong — but slow — bruising running backs. Nobody was scared of Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge.

In Illinois, however, Michigan faced its most feared weapon: the spread offense led by a running quarterback. As has been the case since the spread became popular a few years back, the Wolverines struggled with it.

Ohio State did it a few times with Troy Smith. Illinois just followed the script.

Some thought this Michigan team, led by spread-offense guru Rich Rodriguez, would defend the spread better. After all, the Wolverines practice against it every day.

But here's this column's obvious thought: No offense to Steven Threet, but he can't even study in the same classroom as Juice. That's just how he's built. He's had a few nice runs this year, but Juice could beat him in a race — running sideways.

So there was no way to prepare for Williams besides watching film, which isn't the same as chasing the guy (sorry, that's another obvious thought, isn't it?). And after jumped out to a 14-3 start, Williams and Illinois' offense figured out the the defense, became comfortable and didn't look back.

Illinois 45, Michigan 21.

Lucky for the Wolverines, they play in the Big 10. Explanation: They won't face too many more spread attacks this season. Or, more accurately, there's only one Juice Williams in the conference — though plebe Terrelle Pryor is coming along nicely for the Buckeyes.

Michigan's defense — more motivated than ever, I would assume, after being embarrassed — will put together some more dominating performances this season. It won't give up 45 points again ... I don't think.

But at least during Rodriguez's inaugural season, this remains the same Michigan defense. The same group of players who are too slow to stay in front of the spread offense, who still don't know enough about the system to cover it well.

And, it should be mentioned, don't help themselves with missed tackles in the open field.

With time, they should improve. As Rodriguez brings in his players, kids to fill his system, days like Saturday shouldn't occur very often. Quarterbacks like Williams shouldn't be made to look so unstoppable.

The focus of people's frustrations up until Saturday revolved around the offense. And with good reason. I've previously written that it would take time for Threet and company to become adequate within the new, complex system.

What had been overlooked was the old Michigan defense having to make adjustments, as well.

Now, we all know, not everything is bliss on that side of the ball. Both units have issues, both have plenty of learning to do.

At least the special teams units — minus a late fumble — were rock-solid Saturday.

1 comment:

Sportsattitude said...

This has to be particularly painful for U of M fans to go through. Each week is a new rollercoaster ride. Fortunately, being in the Big Ten will help assist in the recovery effort.