Michgian has had some very good defenses, but most of them seem so long ago; I remember very clearly that the Wolverines had that bend-don't-break defense that helped win a national championship. RichRod didn't give two shits about defense, and still doesn't--do you remember having similar comments to the following here at MnB?:
The one area that Hoke's teams showed promise was in the defense, but what we've seen so far this season with D.J. Durkin's leadership (and, to be honest, still having Greg Mattison) is not only exciting, but encouraging, and even a little frightening. I mean, imagine this unit improving even more yet this season!
A quick perusal of the stats at NCAA.com quantifies what we've seen: Michigan's defense is very, very good on a national level. As of writing this the Wolverines' defensive rankings are...
#2 Total Defense -- allowing 203.8 yards per game.
#4 Scoring Defense -- allowing a mere 9.5 points per game.
#5 Passing Yards Allowed -- 121.8 per game.
#74 Red Zone Defense -- opponents score 83.3% of the time (4 TDs, 1 FG on six attempts), but only 14 points-allowed in the last three games.
Now, Michigan State has had one of the more dominating defenses in recent college football memory, and they're a team Michigan is most-often compared because of the in-state rivalry. So where are the Spartans ranked through four games this season?
#77 Total Defense -- allowing 395.8 yards per game.
#46 Scoring Defense -- allowing 20.8 points per game.
#107 Passing Yards Allowed -- 277 yards per game.
#14 Red Zone Defense -- opponents score 69% of the time (7 TDs, 2 FGs on 13 attempts), and 59 points-allowed in the last three games.
We could get lost in who each team played, where they played, etc., etc., but those comparisons are insipring nonetheless. And let's not forget that last year's horrendous season actually saw Michigan finish at #7 in total defense, so the bump in overall position shouldn't be too surprising. It now becomes a matter of maintaining it.
An efficient, mistake-free offense is a defensive unit's best friend, and Michigan's offense during the BYU game was certainly efficient. That resulted in a defense that wasn't winded for having to be on the field 80% of the time, and as LGHail put it, the defense also "...looks like they are always fresh, and wants to play another 4 quarters after the game is done."
So, is the Michigan defense elite? I'm very hesitant to use that term just yet. They are very good, but I do want to see how the unit performs against other competition; competition that has gotten the better of the Wolverines in recent years. BYU was averaging 30 points per game prior to visiting Ann Arbor, was a tad scary in their own right, and shutting them out in a 31-0 rout did grab everyone's attention. But, perhaps it's because I'm a down-trodden Michigan fan that makes me want to see just a little bit more before officially designating the defense as elite.
Not to look past a Maryland team that has looked like they belong in the Sun Belt (no offense to the Sun Belt, of course) rather than the Big Ten, but this weekend should be an easy road contest. The true test whether Michigan is an elite defense will be the following home games against Northwestern and Michigan State. Win those with impressive defense and perhaps "elite" will become appropriate and accurate.