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Unit by Unit: Breaking Down Michigan Football's Defense After Its Win Over Indiana

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Time for the second part of our Michigan Indiana Unit by Unit breakdown. Each week we take a hard look at the players and the coaches for each particular unit on the team, and bring them in for a pat on the back or a wag of the finger. After we've looked at each position, we'll give you a final wrap on the team's play on Offense and Defense (Special Teams too!). If you're looking for more detail, game bullets are here, the wrap up is here, the boxscore is here, the general AP recap is here, and the Unit by Unit Breakdown of the Offense is here. If you're looking to peruse the Michigan Official photos from the game, check out this. There are the links, so now let's take a good hard look at....

The Defense


He really could be yelling anything. Photo via John T. Greilick Detroit

When anyone gives up 467 yards to Indiana, they should be concerned. When it's a young Michigan team who really needs its Defense to step up and keep a team below 30 points a game, it could be cause for alarm. However, with six trips inside the red zone, Indiana came away with 4 field goals and just one touchdown. On one hand, two of those field goals came on drives that totaled 34 yards. On the other, Indiana maintained drives of 80, 67, 52, and 70 yards and produced two touchdowns and a pair of field goals. Oh. And the defense gave up an 85 yard touchdown run. It was an odd, odd day. Michigan actually looked truly competent for most of the day, but made some horrible mistakes that cost them yardage at inopportune times. Deficiencies in the Secondary and at Linebacker continue to be exposed while the Defensive Line continues to grow and gain strength and depth. On second glance, the game wasn't nearly as bad as I thought, but it still wasn't good. Hopefully this will help to answer some of your questions and maybe allow you to throw out the brick you've stashed by the TV before you chuck it through the tube this Saturday by offering some reassurance that things might actually be okay in the long run

The Defensive Line


via John T. Greilick Detroit

Hands down the best unit on the defense against Indiana. It wasn't even close. Despite getting just a single sack, I thought the line had one of it's stronger games. I was impressed to see the diversity of names up at the line. Brandon Graham, Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Craig Roh all started, but Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, and Brandon Herron all saw playing time. Where the defensive line depth was a serious cause for concern going into the season, a quarter of the way through, it's turning out to be one of our deepest units. I can't believe I'm typing that either. What Robinson has done with this unit borders on amazing. They're not world beaters yet, but they're not the gaping hole feared we might find. In fact, they're actually pretty good.

Brandon Graham was in Ben Chappell's face all day long. Usually double teamed, Graham would shed one or both of the blockers to either disrupt the play or make the tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage. He planted Chappell a milisecond after the QB released the ball on several occasions and was generally stout in the running game. There were, however, times that Indiana used his over aggressiveness to their advantage, and ran behind him. Even so, it's hard to find fault in his game. Graham racked up 6 tackles on the day and 1.5 of them of loss, a good number for  a safety, let alone a lineman. All of that despite being blatantly held in every game so far. Regardless, he's still getting pressure. When his sacks start to come, they're going to come in bunches.

On the interior, it was a quiet day. Mike Martin, Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse all played well, with Martin leading the way. Martin was stout all day, and managed to shed the double teams for the occasional penetration into the backfield. But for the most part, with Indiana running to the corners or throwing on three step drops, his presence was largely in support. I was surprised to see Banks play as much as he has and be as effective in the middle as he has. Sagesse was only in for a handful of downs and didn't do anything to make me notice him. I point this out because Indiana spent the majority of their day running directly behind their left tackle and guard. They didn't seem afraid to run directly at Graham, though they did double him when they went his direction. The point is they avoided Martin like the plague.

(more after the Jump.......)

Ryan Van Bergen on the other hand, well, he had an interesting day. He was tipping passes, dropping into coverage, stuffing the run, missing a crucial assignment (or so he says), then singlehandedly destroying an Indiana drive. RVB is really a jack of all trades for Greg Robinson and his staff. They dropped him into coverage on the goal line successfully. They send him after the QB and he gets a sack at two PBUs. They tell him to stack the line, he ends up with six tackles. RVB was active most of the game, but seemed to disappear in terms of results for long stretches. Then he got mad. He got us the ball.

Outside, Craig Roh (mostly) and Brandon Herron (some) had an okay day. Roh continues to use his speed to get into the opposing backfield, but sometimes overruns or over pursues a tad. In my notes I only mention Roh and Herron twice, however, I know that Roh dropped off into coverage relatively well, and Herron made some nice stops in run support.

Overall, it was a good day from the line, but I am concerned about some of the cavernous holes that opened up on the right side of the defensive front. Indiana cleared a couple of pretty big holes for their backs to run through, so I'm sure there's work to be done. Of course, those holes are supposed to be filled by linebackers so...

The Linebackers

via David Guralnick Detroit

Yeah. Where do I go with this one? Let's be honest, anyone not named Stevie Brown has been a little bit (sometimes a lot) of a disappointment. Over the last four weeks the play of the linebackers has broken down into a couple of steady themes. Ezeh and Mouton are not good in pass coverage. Brown is still a little too small for the position. Ezeh doesn't attack the ball carrier and lets the action come to him. Mouton has horrible angles in pursuit and attack. Apply these tenants to any game this season. They'll explain the linebacker play perfectly.

If there's a caveat, it's this: Stevie Brown never should've been a safety. He should've been a linebacker from day one. Since the first game of the season I think it's safe to say the Brown has been Michigan's best linebacker. He's excellent in pass coverage (never in a million, billion years did I ever think I'd say that). He's aggressive at the point of attack and drives into the guy he's tackling. He's wrapping up his tackles and driving MFers to the dirt. He's fast sideline to sideline. Finally, he's brought some stability to a unit that otherwise would probably be an unmitigated disaster without him. I'll give Robinson credit, Brown's emergence as our best linebacker is the single most impressive thing he's done with any one player on this defense. I thought Stevie was excellent on Saturday and shed blockers well and got after the QB and running backs as well as any Michigan linebacker since David Harris' departure.

Jonas Mouton's day was a little more difficult to figure out. It seems he alternates great plays with bad ones from time to time, but has stretches of good play that vary as the game goes on. I'm not an authority on schemes and assignments, so I can only comment on what I see from the plays that are made, but more often than not Mouton is in the right place to make a play. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. Mouton's biggest weakness right now seems to be his angles. Rewatching the game, when Mouton is pursuing at an angle or covering in one, he's usually off target. His pass defense also seems shaky. In zone and man, Mouton didn't look good, which is weird to say about a guy who used to be a safety. Both Mouton and Ezeh had an awful time adjusting to simple crossing routes by Indiana's big n' slow receivers and tight ends. On the other hand, Mouton was fairly solid in run support. When he can run straight line at someone, oh baby. Mouton made several good run support tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Looking at his 11 tackles (5 solo, 6 assists), I was surprised he only had .5 tackles for loss. He also looked great applying pressure on the blitz. Still, his angles on the option looks were atrocious and I tagged him for mistakes on both early Indiana touchdowns. Then on one of Indiana's FG drvies in the redzone he makes up for it by reading the play properly and tagging the QB. It was a mixed bag, but this was one of his better games this season. He's not great, or really even good, right not. He's passable with the potential to be good. I'm not going to go so far as to label his season a flop or a regression, or anything like that. I just don't think he was that good last season, and is still playing like a guy that's learning his position. He showed some good things on Saturday. He's getting away from arm tackles and is made some authoritative stops. But he's got to be better in pass coverage and in attack for this defense to get better.

As for Ezeh, he wasn't good against Indiana. The boxscore has him at ten tackles, but I think that's generous. Very generous. As stated above and in previous Unit by Unit wrap ups, Ezeh has a nasty habit of letting contact come to him. As a result, when he makes a solo tackle the RB, QB, TE or WR drags him for another 3 yards. This is not a good thing. Every time I mentioned Ezeh in my notes it was not for a good reason. On one of the redzone touchdowns and the 85 yard run, I noted that Ezeh allowed himself to get sealed off by the linemen without much resistance. In both cases he was late reacting to the play. The place where he's most effective is rushing the passer, something he really wasn't able to do as much because Robinson was sending Jordan Kovacs on safety blitzes most of the day to cover up for his lack of coverage speed. Kind of a no win for Ezeh. As a result of Kovacs at the line, Ezeh was back in pass coverage where he's only moderately effective. It appeared he did have a nice breakup, but I'm crediting Brown with ripping out the ball out of the receivers hands. Ezeh got sucked up on too many play action passes and left the middle of the field open on a couple of occasions. When he needed to make a tackle, he whiffed on an arm tackle or got dragged along. Really, it was a rough day. How he got to 10 tackles is beyond me, and maybe the scorer just gave an assist to him because they saw him on the top of a bunch of gang tackles. But I thought he was the least fundamentally sound of the group.

The Secondary

Donovan Warren = Awesome.

The Rest = Meh

Warren was terrific in coverage and run support all game. His only mistake was one blown tackle. I think he more than made up for that. With regard to the interception, when first saw the play, I was positive they were going to overturn it. When it was upheld, I thought Indiana got hosed. I've since loosened on that conviction. None of the replays are conclusive, and the Big Ten Network explained in detail that possession between receiver and DB isn't a reviewable issue. Also, this photo from made me change my mind on the issue.


Warren's got the ball and possession. Blecher missed it and is reaching back. As an added bonus, there was a referee in centerfield, less than five yards away who saw the whole thing right in front of his eyes. Maybe this couldv'e gone either way, but the ref's location and these photos make me think Warren caught it, and Blecher was trying to rip it out.

Now, other than Warren, it was a shaky day. Boubacar Cissoko got yanked in favor of J.T. Floyd for some horrible coverage and some terrible decisions in goal line defense. Boo Boo inexplicably ran inside on the option TD, freeing up the sideline for Indiana to waltz in. And this was after getting burnt crispy on a "go" route that didn't feature a single move and one that he had a ten yard cushion on at the snap! I think the poor kid's got the "yips" something bad right now after getting torched by Notre Dame and getting a couple of inexplicable flags in the EMU game. He just don't look right out there and it was a good call by the coaching staff to sit him.

In his stead, J.T. Floyd had a rough start but seemed to get better as the game went on. Everyone was yelling about how the ball was uncatchable on his PI call, but face it folks, J.T. had enough jersey in his hands to be a post-game sorority girl. They were calling the obvious hold, which is a hold regardless of where the ball is, whether they called it PI or not. However, after the PI call, I thought he played pretty well. I don't think he's got the wheels to keep up with elite receivers, but after MSU and Regis Benn, there really aren't a lot of top flight receivers on our schedule. He got bowled over on an early tackle, but after that point he just stoned people. The best tackle of the year, so far, was his pile driving of an Indiana receiver short of the first down marker on a third down in the redzone. Floyd should be adequate if Boo Boo continues to struggle and I thought he had a decent game after some early nerves.

At safety, it's clear we need Michael Williams back. Jordan Kovacs was at the line of scrimmage almost the whole day, more to cover up for his lack of speed in coverage than for any other reason. That said, he acquitted himself well in the run game, getting behind the line and making some stops. The one thing he lacks is speed. He's just not that fast and all the Barwis in the world ain't going to change that. He's been great as a walk-on. Honestly, he's been better than our safeties last year. But Michigan's going to have to have speed in the secondary to continue to win and Kovacs doesn't have it.

Frankly, I'm still in shock that Darius Willis outran the entire Michigan secondary for that TD. Yikes. Hopefully it's a bit of a wake up call for the boys in the backfield.

At the other safety position, I thought Troy Woolfolk played fine. He bit on one or two play actions, but otherwise was stout in the passing game. There's not much else I can add to that as he was playing deep the majority of the game to guard against the big play. Something I suspect we'll see from him again this week against Michigan State.

The secondary gave up a lot of yards, but most of them came on underneath routes that the Linebackers have to be better at covering. For the most part, the deep coverage was there and they group forced a number of throw aways by Chappell. It wasn't a great performance by any stretch, but it was enough considering Kovacs was in and Boo Boo seems to be having some problems. Still, the secondary is going to have to play considerably better against MSU for Michigan to have a chance.

The Special Teams

via John T. Greilick Detroit

Surprisingly, the best unit on the field for Michigan was it's kick off return team. Darryl Stonum has been a revelation returning kick-offs and came close to breaking two or three touchdown runs. No matter where he got the ball, he was getting to the 30 or better. Compare that to any point last year. His worst return got to the 26. Two returns went past the 40, six total went to the 30 or better. I mean, damn, son. Give credit where credit is due to the return team. They were excellent.

Punt returns continue to be consistently non-turnoverish. I'll take fair catches any day on bad punts. I'm sure if Mathews thinks he's got something he'll run it back, but right now holding onto the ball and not screwing up are enough for me. It should also be noted that the block team almost got one against Indiana. Michigan's going to get to a punt soon. Mark it.

Speaking of punts, Zoltan Mesko was awesome (per usual). A 48.1 average, two inside the 20 and a 59 yarder? So awesome. His punts were so awesome that only one of seven allowed a return. During the second half his punts pinned IU deep in their own territory and helped shift the field of play in Michigan's favor. All Hail the Space Emperor.

Our coverage teams were fairly good, though Michigan did require a shoestring tackle by Bryan Wright to save a TD on a kickoff. That excluded, everyone was disciplined and played well. Overall a great special teams weekend.