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Film Focus: Michigan defense vs Western Michigan

Unlike the offense versus the Bronco defense, the defense had a challenge. 42 points a week ago, two strong running backs, a future NFL lineman and some playmakers stood in the way. The defense still dominated.

Western Michigan v Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Two on the Doak Walker Award watch list. One on the Rimington. 42 points a week ago.

Running backs LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan, as well as a strong line helmed by center John Keenoy, spearheaded a potentially explosive Western Michigan attack heading into Ann Arbor last weekend.

Three points and 208 yards later, and Michigan’s heralded defense continued its return to form after a disastrous first half against Notre Dame.

Again, like with the offense, this Film Focus covers the first half, and some observations about the garbage time in the second half.

DRIVE ONE, WMU 21-YARD LINE (12:19 FIRST QUARTER)

Head coach Tim Lester’s Broncos shocked Michigan with a powerful sweep to LeVante Bellamy for 25 yards on play one.

Western pulls two linemen to create a lane for the speedy Bellamy to spring free. Carlo Kemp and Rashan Gary fail to disengage quickly enough, while Devin Bush and Devin Gil hesitate just long enough for Bellamy to beat them to the edge.

Don’t be fooled: Bellamy is a player. He ran for 102 yards on nine carries against USC in the 2017 opener, including a 48-yard jaunt. He flashes speed against more than just the MAC.

Quarterback Jon Wassink tries to utilize this by throwing to Bellamy in the flat, but Josh Metellus and Bush rally to the ball for a short gain. This starts a pattern of Wassink choosing to throw quickly, rather than giving the Wolverine pass rush time to finish him in the pocket.

This holds true with a fade route on the next play. It’s overthrown, but David Long runs step-for-step with the target.

The next play demonstrates a wrinkle in Don Brown’s pass coverage. Probably due to youth last year, he mostly stuck with press man coverage. On third down here, he drops his corners into Cover Two, placing Lavert Hill in the flat. Hill almost baits a scrambling Wassink into a pick.

Combine this with a blitz, and Brown is starting to implement the schemes that befuddled ACC offenses while he coordinated at Boston College.

Drive: Four plays, 26 yards, punt (Michigan scores, leads 7-0)

DRIVE TWO, WMU 12-YARD LINE (7:05 FIRST QUARTER)

Wassink finds slot receiver Jayden Reed on a quick hitch route for seven yards on first down. Nobody covers the slot, as Tyree Kinnel shifts towards deep zone pre-snap, and WILL linebacker Josh Ross hesitates on a play fake before stepping into his zone. Easy yardage.

The next play, Western thinks a tight end can block Rashan Gary. Gary laughs, and eats the back for a minimal gain.

Don Brown blitzes Bush into the wrong running lane on a third-and-short that Bogan converts.

Josh Metellus provides encouragingly tight coverage on a fade to Reed, forcing an incompletion. A short run and a pressure by Khaleke Hudson forces the punt.

Drive: Six plays, 14 yards, punt (Michigan scores, leads 14-0)

DRIVE THREE, WMU 25-YARD LINE (4:11 FIRST QUARTER)

Carlo Kemp impressed with his dependability and hustle Saturday.

On a first-down run for only two yards, he flies down the line to track down Davon Tucker. The next play, he pushed his way into the backfield to force Tucker into another lane, which ran him right into the thick of the defense.

Wassink fits a pass into the tightest of windows provided by Lavert Hill, as Jayden Reed gains 10 yards for a new set of downs. Kemp pushes two linemen into the backfield to force a 3-yard loss.

An incompletion — after a deflection by Brandon Watson — sets up Noah Furbush for a third-down interception.

Furbush, Hudson and Bush signal to Wassink and the offensive line that they are potential blitzers pre-snap. With the cornerbacks pressing their receivers at the line, Furbush, Hudson and Gil divide the middle of the field into thirds with zone coverage. Bush finds a wide-open lane to Wassink, forcing an off-balance throw across the middle.

At the very end of the Furbush clip, you can see him recognize the Bronco receiver cutting inside on an intermediate dig route. Great awareness, but also a sign of maniacal zone blitzes to come from Brown.

Drive: Six plays, 11 yards, INT (Michigan scores, leads 21-0)

DRIVE FOUR, WMU 25-YARD LINE (0:52 FIRST QUARTER)

Furbush continues his big day, ripping through a stock block from a receiver to limit a Drake Harris (yes, that one) bubble screen to just four yards.

Bellamy gets a first down on the same play as his first run, only flipped. Kinnel blows up a lead blocker, but Josh Ross gets caught peeking inside, inhibiting him from getting to the sideline in time. Also, Mike Dwumfour doesn’t have the foot speed to track Bellamy down.

Everyone understandably gets sucked inside on a Wassink read-option keeper — he’s not known for his speed. Bellamy actually is fleet of foot, and beats Bush to the sideline on a swing pass for a first down.

Ross turns the tide of the drive, slicing past a down-blocking tackle for a thunderous stop of Bogan for 1-yard loss.

In this game, at least, Ross appears more physically-gifted than Gil. He stops runners with his hitting, and is able to make himself small to make blocks harder for linemen. Gil, particularly on the long run to start the game, seems a step slower.

Tight coverage leads to another punt, which Hudson blocks.

Drive: Six plays, 29 yards, blocked punt (Michigan scores, leads 28-0)

DRIVE FIVE, WMU 25-YARD LINE (9:35 SECOND QUARTER)

Behind Gary and Kemp, the line starts to completely take over Keenoy and a supposedly strong front. After no gain on first down, Hill interferes with a receiver to move the chains.

A late shove by Josh Metellus on a Wassink loss creates another first down.

Three plays set up a fourth-and-short. Tim Lester leaves his offense on the field, calling Wassink’s number.

True freshman Aiden Hutchinson — son of Chris — finds himself in between the mesh point of the read-option, waiting to see if Wassink keeps or gives it to Bogan. He keeps, and has a few steps on Hutchinson, only for Hudson to push-pull past a block to smack Wassink a few inches short. Hutchinson cleans up.

While the real play comes from Hudson, Hutchinson shows the intelligence to collect himself while reading the quarterback, and the athleticism to run said quarterback down.

Drive: Six plays, 24 yards, turnover on downs (Michigan scores, leads 35-0)

DRIVE SIX, WMU 25-YARD LINE (6:55 SECOND QUARTER)

The Broncos are running out of wrinkles. Wassink tries to find Bellamy in the flat on a third-down throw, but Hill proves his worth as a perimeter tackler, throwing the back down for a 7-yard loss. Another punt.

Western would get the ball once more, but would run the clock out to end the first half.

Drive: Six plays, 12 yards, punt (Michigan leads 35-0)

GARBAGE TIME OBSERVATIONS

  • Despite botching a deep pass against Notre Dame, safety Brad Hawkins will be a capable safety, particularly in run support. He made three tackles on the afternoon, including one for loss to end a drive.
  • Mike Dwumfour may be a disruptor in the future, but he needs to cede time to Kemp. Kemp and Bryan Mone will hold their ground in the interior, allowing Chase Winovich and Gary to clean up on outside rushes.

Dwumfour tries to work around blockers too much, sometimes finding himself outside running lanes.

  • After an injury and a position switch from high school running back, linebacker Jordan Anthony fell behind his peers at WILL linebacker — Ross is in the same class. He got a chance to show his stuff late in the fourth quarter.

He garnered a sack, bouncing off a block and dragging the quarterback down after some pursuit.

  • Western Michigan gained 621 yards against Syracuse in week one. Michigan held them to almost a third of that total, even including garbage time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Beyond the obvious destruction of a decent offense, Michigan knows who to play at 3-tech for the rest of the year. Kemp proved himself with a powerful and high-energy performance.

With Kemp and Ross at WILL linebacker separating themselves, the entire defense is coming together. While the offense has a few weeks to ease into a harder schedule, up-tempo spreads in Southern Methodist and Scott Frost’s Nebraska will test Brown’s dudes.

Seeing as Rashan Gary is able to take on three blockers, Brown just has to out-scheme the other eight guys.