The Michigan defense has been completely overwhelming to start the 2016 season. No team has been as intimidating or imposing, and aside from a strange 15 minutes against Colorado, the Wolverines have shown very few weaknesses. Michigan currently ranks first in the nation with just 212.8 yards allowed per game and first in the nation with only 10.3 points allowed per game. They also sit atop the S&P+ rankings thanks to their first-overall defensive rating.
Modest turnover numbers
But despite this total dominance, Michigan has been only average in one key defensive area: causing turnovers. While the Wolverines clearly have done just fine without forcing many fumbles or interceptions, one would expect some higher turnover numbers considering the number of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. With four fumbles and six interceptions on the year, Michigan ranks tied for 52nd with 1.67 turnovers per game.
The Michigan offense has managed to keep the turnover margin competitive. The Wolverines have lost just two fumbles and have thrown only two interceptions this season, keeping the turnover margin at +6. Despite a low output from the defense, this still falls in the top-10 in the country, as Michigan is averaging a +1 turnover difference per game.
Aggression displayed elsewhere
Michigan’s aggression on defense has not quite shown up in the turnover game, but it definitely stands out in other types of big plays. Michigan is averaging 9.8 tackles for loss per game, which is the second-highest mark in the nation. These TFLs add up to 39.8 yards per game, which is the third-best total in the country.
The defense also has been racking up the sacks, and currently sits tied for first in the category. At 4.0 sacks per game, the Wolverines have been causing havoc in the backfield all season long. Perhaps one reason for their low interception total is that opposing quarterbacks rarely get the opportunity to throw. Michigan has seen the sixth-fewest passing attempt so far this season.
Down the stretch
Though Michigan’s turnover total does not jump off the page, it actually is a decent improvement from last season. In 2015, Michigan averaged less than one turnover per game (ranking 118th in the country) and had a turnover margin of -4. Both the defense and the offense have been better in this category this season while making even bigger strides elsewhere.
Still, it would be nice to see the defense cause a few more turnovers in the second half of 2016. While Michigan has shown they can be the top defense without too many takeaways, turnovers can be the difference when playing other top teams. Michigan did a great job against Wisconsin, recording three interceptions while throwing just one, showing how turnovers can be a big factor in tight games.
Michigan’s schedule has afforded them some leeway thus far, but every little thing counts when the stakes are higher. The other teams in the top four of the rankings -- Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson -- are all forcing at least two turnovers per game and are not too far behind Michigan in other defensive categories. Extra possessions could go a long way if and when the Wolverines find themselves against this type of team. Michigan’s defense is already elite, but it has room to become even better if it can start taking the ball away more often.