After stealing the show in the first two games of the season, J.J. McCarthy and the Michigan offense turned in an uncharacteristic sloppy performance, enabling an inferior opponent in Bowling Green to hang around. The Wolverines were eventually able to pull away and secure a 31-6 victory, but it was the defense that set the tone and allowed it to happen.
The defense was a topic of conversation after the win over East Carolina due its failure to register a sack, however some signs of improvement have really shown in the last two games, making many believe that Michigan’s defense can continue to be the force that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years.
From the start of Saturday’s game, the defensive line was living in the backfield of Bowling Green, holding the Falcons to a mere 205 total yards, including only 81 on the ground. Michigan also registered 10 total tackles for a loss and recorded two interceptions.
“Those guys played their tails off,” said interim head coach Sherrone Moore. “The recipe for winning around here has been you’ve gotta play great defense — those guys do an outstanding job.”
One of the biggest moments of the game came at the start of the third quarter after the offense was held to a three-and-out on its first possession. Backed up near its own end zone, Bowling Green gave the ball right back to Michigan in the form of a Kris Jenkins interception on a screen pass. The interception set up a quick two-yard Blake Corum touchdown.
“We’d been practicing that play all week — we knew they would get after us on screens,” Jenkins said. “When the opportunity presented itself and the offensive line got out quick, I backed up, did my read and was fortunately able to get a Madden opportunity, but unfortunately I was too fat to finish the play strong.”
Safety Quinten Johnson was the other member of the defense to record an interception. Johnson, along with Keon Sabb have been getting some valuable playing time in the early going as a result of some injuries to his teammates, such as Rod Moore and Makari Paige.
Despite some struggles from the secondary early in the game, the group was able to rally and limit Bowling Green to a total of 124 passing yards. While it was somewhat discouraging to see the secondary get picked on for part of the game, it is comforting to have several players get meaningful reps early on, enabling the group to develop stronger depth for later in the year.
“The great thing is down the stretch we’re gonna be at full tilt - and it’s gonna be a great opportunity to see everybody get to 100 percent,” said Johnson of the opportunity for the defense to continue to get stronger throughout the year.
In the early going, Michigan’s defense has shown its ability to control games against lesser opponents, much like it did in Saturday’s win. However, the development of depth and the return of key contributors can help ensure that Michigan’s defense can do the same against even tougher opponents. Such a development will be much needed if the offense sputters again.