I don't know X's and O's all that well, and this post will not be about Over's and Under's and safety help. The defense on the field that I watch every Saturday is razor thin, and in some places it seems, non existent. Brandon Graham has been disruptive but has yet to take a game over like we know he's capable of doing. The linebacking has been tentative, and the secondary has played about how you'd expect them to play given the lack of pressure. It's pretty clear that the corner's are playing not to get burnt and hoping that Graham and company can pressure the QB into making some bad throws. But for all the failing this defense does to the eyeball test, take a look at this:
|Team||TD||FG||Points Allowed Per Game||Yards Allowed Per Game|
The rankings on that there table is done by scoring defense, which shows Michigan, astonishingly, 5th in the Big Ten, yielding 22.8 points per game. You can see three clear breaks in the scoring defenses around the conference, with the top three holding a clear advantage over the morass of teams stuck in the 22-23 range, and the 25+ types bringing up the rear. For all the consternation about the defense, they're shockingly slightly (and I mean slightly) above average in conference.
So where does the aforementioned consternation come from? Total yardage - which sees Michigan drop to 7th in conference at 385.8 yards per game. Typically you see the opposite from teams - a good yardage defense combined with a bad scoring defense - and this is indicative of a turnover prone offense that puts the defense in bad situations where scoring is extremely likely. This was the case of last year's defense. Instead, we've got a good (loosely termed) scoring defense, and a poor total yardage offense. What gives?
For one, this defense has taken the ever dangerous "bend don't break" philosophy to heart - allowing opponents to kick 7 FG's compared to only allowing 10 TD's (note that Illinois has only played 3 games, which is why their stats look off). If you think of a defensive stat called "Red Zone Efficiency" that takes into account that teams will likely make a FG once they get in the Red Zone and the defense's job becomes "holding them to that FG" rather than "prevent them from scoring," Michigan is only outmatched by Iowa and Penn State - both of whom have top-3 defenses. Settling for field goals doomed Indiana (BTW - IU's defense is for realz - more in a seperate post), and was problematic for Notre Dame. Compare this to the Michigan offense which has so far amassed 20 TD's and made only 3 FG's (a skewed stat in this comparison, as Michigan has scored a lot on long plays, etc. Again - more on this later.). The upshot is this: The defense has been good enough to keep opponents out of the endzone. It's ugly and frustrating at times, but at the end of the day it takes 3 FG's to beat one TD+EP.
So yes, this is spun 3 ways from Saturday, but it's still something of empirical evidence as to how on God's green earth the defense has managed to look so bad but hey, 4-0. Put simply: if you're settling for FG's against this Michigan squad, you're going to lose, and the defense - if it excels at anything - excels at making you settle for FG's.