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On the Defensive: Taking a Look at Michigan's Defense Versus UMass in the Wovlerines' 42-37 Win

[Ed Note - At this point there is no version of Every Snap for the Michigan defense against UMass available for you to peruse as you read through this. I'll link it up as it becomes available. 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.]


First, the Bad. If there's a better stat or collection of statistics that tell the story of how well the Michigan defense played on Saturday than the drive charts, I can't find it. Or it hasn't been invented yet. The queasy should shield their eyes:

1. UMASS    1st U35  15:00  Kickoff       M12  10:00         *FIELD GOAL    11-53   5:00#
2. UMASS    1st U49  09:12  Interception  M48  06:46      Punt           3-3    2:26
3. UMASS    1st U33  03:35  Kickoff       M00  14:25         *TOUCHDOWN      9-67   4:10#
4. UMASS    2nd U15  12:25  Punt          U42  08:38         Punt           6-27   3:47
5. UMASS    2nd U21  04:45  Missed FG     M00  01:17   *TOUCHDOWN      9-79   3:28#
6. UMASS    2nd U36  01:01  Kickoff       M45  00:45         Fumble         2-19   0:16
7. UMASS    2nd U36  00:16  Kickoff       U34  00:00         End of half    1--2   0:16
8. UMASS    3rd U26  12:29  Kickoff       U50  09:55          Punt           6-24   2:34
9. UMASS    3rd U30  06:18  Kickoff       M00  13:47          *TOUCHDOWN     15-70   7:31#
10a. UMASS    4th U27  11:57  Kickoff       M35  09:49      Interception   5-38   2:08
10b. UMASS    4th M26  09:49  Fumble        M00  05:15  *TOUCHDOWN      8-26   4:34#
11. UMASS    4th M25  03:33  Punt          M00  02:05        *TOUCHDOWN      4-25   1:28#

Eleven possesions, five touchdowns, one field goal, a fumble, and just three punts. Michigan's defense managed to force just one, ONE, three and out. On the day the defense allowed 439 total yards to a FBS school. That's 52 more total yards than Michigan allowed in it's debilitating loss to Appalachian State in 2007. Strangely, it's also only a single point more than they allowed in 2007, so... um... I guess that means something? Right?

There's no polite way to put this so I'll come right out and say it, Michigan's Linebackers almost cost the Wolverines the game on Saturday. I thought the Defensive line was adequate. I thought the Secondary was okay. But the consistent mind boggling failures at Linebacker nearly put Michigan in a hole it couldn't claw its way out of. This isn't to say that Michigan's secondary was very good against UMass. It wasn't. Jordan Kovacs had a Jekyll and Hyde afternoon, alternating outstanding plays with big time errors. J.T. Floyd and James Rogers seemed spotty in zone coverage and shoddy in run support.

Everyone played tentatively, seemingly frozen by things they hadn't seen before. Instead of simply reacting and playing as they were taught, the team seemed to over analyze what was happening and managed to get themselve out of position far too often. The only guys on the defensive side of the ball that didn't seem to have a major screwup on the day were Mike Martin and Cameron Gordon. It was awful. And no one on that team will tell you differently.

Now, the Good. Um. Yeah. About that.... There were some positives to come out of the game, honestly, there were. But it's nothing that's world altering or brazenly optimistic. Michigan didn't give up a quick score on a bomb of massive screwup. Mike Martin is doing exactly what I predicted he'd do before the season began, be our defensive MVP. Despite Michigan's issues stopping the ball, they're doing an excellent job of getting the back back from other means. Kovacs had arguably the play of the game punching the ball out of Jon Griffin's clutches at the end of the first half. Cam Gordon had a pick (which he subsequently handed right back). The defense is making plays it couldn't make a year ago, namely getting turnovers. But after that.... sheesh.... I really hope this game was an outlier.

Positional Reviews

The Defensive Line: As I said above, Mike Martin was the defensive star of the game. He was constantly in the backfield, he was constantly spliting 600 lbs of double teams, and he was the only guy to register a stack despite being blatantly held the entire game. let me say this and get it off my chest, at a certain point the referees have to start calling the holds on Martin. It's epidemic at this point, it's obvious, and it needs to be called. We're not asking for star treatment, we're just asking that when an offensive lineman is litterally pulling his jersey off Martin's shoulder pads that it get's called. That is all.

After that, the line performed above average, but not at a stellar level. Frankly, I think the guys were a little surprised by the athleticism, size and strength of the UMass line. I thought Greg Banks was fairly decent on Saturday and did a good job of stalemating most of the doubles he saw. He wasn't splitting two guys and picking up Martin-esque TFLs but he did a decent job. On the other side of the line I'm starting to get a little worried about Ryan Van Bergen. I can't congratulate Martin and Banks what they did against FCS competition and ding Van Bergen for it, but I think I have to. Van Bergen was a non-factor on Saturday. For a guy with his motor, you expect a lot more out of him and it's just not coming. Maybe it's the constant doubles, but he's overrunning plays and getting pushed back far too often. For the team to move forward he's got to take the next step and start forcing teams to contend with him.

Then there's Craig Roh. He's a hell of a talent but, like Van Bergen, he's over running waaay too many plays and getting blown out of plays. One-on-one he's great. But he's not closing the deal when he gets by his man. Sure I'm happy that he's getting leveage on someone, but if you're getting leverage and not getting to the quarterback or ball carrier, aren't you just running yourself out of the play? Roh needs to either start getting to the QB or being more mindful of his gap responsibility. He's going to be a great one, but he's not there yet. After the starters, I thought Renaldo Sagesse and Adam Patterson were decent in the limited snaps they saw.

Overall, the defensive line was good but not great. Martin's awesomeness brings up the grade, but it has to average out to a "B".

The Linebackers: Fail. Miserable fail. Leach was awful. Ezeh was worse than awful. Mouton was apocalyptical. They were tentative. They were slow. When they were fast they were over running plays. They let running backs get outside of them opening up huge gaps for running backs to scamper through. They were failing to drop into zone coverage at strange times. They were waiting for people to block them rather than attacking the running back. It was horrid.

Sure there were occassional instances of competence, but for the most part the group was absolutely awful. I really can't say anything more about them. Of the group, personally, I thought Mouton was the worst of the group. he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Ezeh was Ezeh. He's never going to be a star, he's always going to struggle to simply be adequate. It is what it is. Leach? Leach is a walk on and is playing like it. He's not a diamond in the rough like Kovacs has turned out to be.

All we can do is pray that this was an aberation. This is a pure, unadulterated "F" performance, trending toward a G. It was that bad.

The Secondary: Despite Michigan giving up 217 passing yards, I'm not as displeased with the secondary's performance as I thought I'd be. Kovacs was generally a solid tackler and found his way to the ball carrier. Thomas Gordon looked pretty good in coverage and attacking the running game. Cameron Gordon got beat once on a slant that everyone gets beat on, other than that, he was pretty good as well. If Kovacs and Mouton don't combine for the worst coverage screwup of the day during UMass' final touchdown pass, then we're probably not as ready to pick up the pitch forks and burn the village to the ground.

Where the secondary looked most vulnerable was in run defense. J.T. Floyd was very, very hesitant to engage UMass' larger backs and often got himself run over, or, as in the case of their first score, out of position allowing the back to access the outside sideline where no help was to be found. James Rogers allowed some passes in front of him, but the guy was in zone 90% of the day. I can't really ding him for playing his position in a zone when the linebackers are out of position and picking their noses. UMass longest passing play was for 19 yards and on a play where J.T. Floyd made a great jump on the ball and the receiver got lucky enough that the deflected pass hit him the facemask and sropped into his hands. After that the longest completion was to the TE, and that is on Mouton/Ezeh/Leach.

The seconday wasn't great. But they weren't bad. 217 passing yards isn't good, but it's not like Michigan was bombed over teh top or failed to wrap up the receivers when they caught the ball. To me, this was a B performance dragged down toward a C+ by the Linebackers' horrifying day.


No one is going to say anything great about last Saturday. Chances are they're going to be irate. But let's look at the facts. UMass was not your standard FCS school. UMass's Line sported a veteran line (including a former All Big East Guard) that averaged 305 pounds and 6-5. They had two all conference running backs. they had a second year starter under center. 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. Sure it's a FCS school, but Jeff Sagarin has them ranked 72 in Division One, ahead of Minnesota, Purdue, Kansas, Bowling Green, Mississippi, UConn and 2-0 Indiana.

Yeah, yeah... I'm trying to put a positive spin on the turd laying in the center of the living room, but let's face it... UMass wasn't a bad team and frankly they'd give most of the lower half of the FBS problems too. The important thing is Michigan managed to win the game.

Craig Roh said after the game that the defense felt a little hesitant during the game because UMass showed thema lot of things they hadn't seen on film. If you're looking for the biggest screw up of the week, well, you just found it. Michigan is going to constantly find opponents changing their sets in an effort to get the Michigan defense back on it's heels and reacting rather than attacking.

Was this an abberation? God I hope so. Mouton looked like a different player for two straight games and I'm praying he just had an off day. Ezeh? No. He's not going to get any better at this point. All we can do is pray that Kenny Demens finally takes the job from him, because it's hard to imagine that he'd do worse. I think Mouton will rebound and thankfully (and I can't believe I'm writing this), Brandon Herron will be back against BGSU to man the death backer position, freeing Roh to play as a down DE (where he's most effective).

On the positive side, the Gordons (Cam and Thomas) were pretty good. The defensive line was adequate. If the linebackers improve even up to a C level, we'll be fine. But they've got a long way to go to get there.