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On the Defensive: Taking a Look at Michigan's Defense Versus Indiana in the Wolverines' 42-35 Win

[Ed Note - At this point there is no version of Every Snap for the Michigan defense against Indiana available for you to peruse as you read through this. And according to MGoVideo, there won't be. You try splicing 98 plays. My DVR also managed to eat my recording of the game, so I'll be doing this mostly from hazy, rage-filled memory. Again, I'll renew my plea - If anyone knows how to transfer video from my DVR to my computer, please email me. Then also email me how I'm supposed to video edit. These interwebz tubes have always given me trouble.] 

Initial Thoughts

First, A quick note on this week's break down. I'm not going to sugar coat this, Michigan's defense was downright awful against Indiana. Assignments were blown, tackles were missed, confusion generally reigned. MGoBlog and Burgeoning Wolverine Star have already started carving up the turkey that was Saturday's performance. So I'm not going to delve too far into the Indiana game and restate the obvious.

Second, the Bad. Everything. Pass rush. Linebacker play. The Zone. The knowledge that the sun will eventually expand into a Red Giant and consume us all, and that would be a less painful way to die than watching Ben Chappell carve Michigan up like the creepy bad guy in the SAW movie series. This was not good.

Now, the Good. Cameron Gordon gets high praise for his 15 tackle, 1 INT day. Mike Martin also gets some praise, I guess. Michigan did manage to get a pair of sacks on the day, so "Yay." But I'm stretching here. Martin's sack was of the "Oh. My. God." variety where he sacked Chappell and threw him 15 yards back, staunching the Michigan defensive bleeding. If only for a little while. Martin finished the day with a sack, 2 TFL, 7 tackles, and 2 QB Hurries. Easily our best defensive lineman.

But the hero of the day on Defense was Cam Gordon. TWELVE solo tackles. 15 total. 15 % of the plays Indiana ran ended in his arms or on one of his htis. That's impressive for anybody. So... damn. Gordon has definitely improved from his poor showing at Notre Dame and seems to be really cementing his status as one of Michigan's better defenders.

Michigan actually managed to rack up 9.5 tackles for loss on Saturday. I'm a little surprised by that, but a TFL is a TFl, especially when it's the home team that's keeping the scoring. It's a nice stat, but it's a little misleading. Michigan also registered 8 QB Hurries along with two sacks, that might be a little more telling. Michigan managed to get pressure on Chappell, according to the stats, on only 10% of Indiana's plays. I know this is supposed to be the "Good" section, but man....

One last positive to take away is that Jonas Mouton looked pretty good as well. The regression we saw against UMass was indeed a fluke, and his 12 tackle day was a nice positive to find in the numbers. Shortish positional reviews after the jump.


Positional Reviews

The Defensive Line: Ugh. The line wasn't good, but then again they weren't really put in a position to be good. Mike Martin had a good day. Greg Banks got a sack. Ryan Van Bergen was there. So it was basically to norm from our line. You're rushing three guys and not getting a lot of production on your pass rush. On the other hand, the line was fairly stout against a bad rushing attack, so there's that. For me the biggest "Woo!" of the defensive day was watching Jibreel Black absolutely launch himself at the quarterback and tackle. I can't believe how fast this kid is off the line. Surprisingly, the stats reflect the impact he had (to an extent) Black registered 2 QB hurries in very limited playing time. Rodriguez may have found another gem.

Like I said, this was your usual day from the line. They're outnumbered and doing their damnedest to get to the QB. It's just never going to happen with enough frequency for us to be happy as long as they're rushing three guys. Given the number of attempts and what I saw, this was a C.

The Linebackers: Mouton good. Everyone else, bad. Coverage was awful over the middle of the field. I've said my piece about the linebackers. It hasn't changed. Obi Ezeh was routinely off the field when Michigan went to its new coverage package where J.T. Floyd moved to safety. I'm going to harp on this: Craig Roh is not a good linebacker. He is not a good hybrid linebacker. He is a Defensive End. Play him there. He's a total and complete liability in coverage. this may change over the course of the year, but I'm betting it's going to take at least a full off season for this to change. Brandon Herron may not be a great linebacker, but he is better at playing linebacker than Roh is. Please let him be available this week.

On the positive side, the linebackers were somewhat competent in rush support. Indiana ran the ball 34 times for just 88 yards and a 2.6 yards per carry average. But running the ball isn't their strong suit, so I don't know how much we can take away from it. One thing that we can take away is that there were a couple of times where Michigan's backers allowed the guards and H backs to seal them off from the lane, and that happened when there was time for the backers to get to a position to funnel the running back into additional defensive help. I'll give the rush defense by the backers a B and the the pass defense a D-. This is barely a C- performance overall, and I'm being generous because Mouton was pretty damn good.

The Secondary: Awful. I know Michigan's been in a soft zone. I know Michigan is young, inexperienced and small. But they've got to play better. Ben Chappell was 45-64 with three touchdowns and 480 passing yards. That. Is. Insane. That's even more Playstation than Robinson's numbers. 480 yards! Part of the issue is that Michigan isn't changing their coverage looks even in the slightest. Part of the issue is that they can't change their coverage looks because of inexperience. But five games into the season you've got to show some improvement. as the links to MGo and BWS point out, the corners don't seem to be getting it right now. Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott are channeling their inner Ezeh and playing man in a zone scheme, opening up all kinds of holes.

I'm not a fan of Floyd at Safety, but I understand why Rodriguez/Robinson did it against Indiana. Indiana is a pass happy team that passes to set up the pass. They pass to set up the run, which is really just to set up the pass. And they're really good at it. Dropping Floyd into the safety slot in the zone allows the Defense to keep Kovacs near the line of scrimmage and play a tighter zone (presuming the corners remember to do so). I think there's a possibility that this could work really well against another spread option type team in the next year or so. But I also think this type of alignment was put in to deal with Indiana specifically.

As stated above, Cam Gordon was awesome on Saturday. J.T. Floyd wasn't bad either. Otherwise this was total fail. D+. You're taking this course over again, young man.


Not good. But not good against a really good offense. Indiana has one of the most efficient offenses in the Big Ten and they methodically took everything Michigan gave them until they eventually found their way into the endzone. I don't think we're going to see a balls to the wall we're going for it on every fourth down kid of offense like that again until we match up with Purdue. Because that's just how Danny Hope rolls.

Brian said it in his Defensive UFR:

I'm actually more worried about what happened in the UMass game in re: MSU, Iowa, PSU than anything that happened against Indiana.

and I couldn't agree more. The Indiana game is less indicative of what will/can happen against MSU than what happened against UMass.

They ran a pro-set. Guess what? This is the exact type of team Michigan was going to have problems with this season. A power running, veteran team with size.

If you want a better breakdown of how things will likely play out against MSU, look there. I'm not thrilled with what happened on Saturday, but Michigan actually implemented a number of changes to their defensive alignment that many people have been clamoring for: Ezeh off the field; change the coverage; play some pass rushers. Now if Michigan starts rushing the passer with four linemen...... whoa.....

Look, the same issues we've known about all season long reared their ugly heads against a good team. Very little has changed to dispel their effects. This is how the defense will play for the majority of the season and we're just going to have to get used it.