The Michigan Wolverines had the No. 3 overall defense according to that same metric. The team was also 35-point favorites, or more depending on where you were looking.
Naturally, the Wolverines gave up 20 points, 319 total yards and 22 first downs, and never got in sync on defense. Time and time again, it was a struggle to get off the field. Don Brown was not a happy camper, as he shouldn’t have been. His unit was challenged and beat more often than not.
A week after looking dominant against Western Michigan, they looked like an average-at-best defense against a non-Power 5 team.
So what gives? Why did the Michigan defense struggle so much against an inferior opponent that it should have easily blown out?
In my opinion, some of that had to do with the flag-happy officials in the game. Albeit, the refs were bad on both sides, but there were some baaaaaad pass interference calls, most notably on Josh Metellus before his pick-six and Lavert Hill later in the game where the ball was un-catchable.
It also did not help that players were dropping like flies. With the heat and humidity in full effect, players were cramping up all game long. Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel are all defensive players I can think of off the top of my head that went down at some point in the game.
Khaleke Hudson was also ejected for targeting in the second half, forcing backup Jordan Glasgow into the game. Having to change the lineup so drastically like that, I’m sure, probably led to some of the lack of synchronization.
But even with all that going against Michigan, the defensive backs were getting beat by one guy consistently all day long — SMU wide receiver James Proche.
Finishing the day with 11 catches, 166 yards and two receiving touchdowns, Proche was the biggest threat imposed all game long. He was someone our own Sam Dodge highlighted in his offseason Tape of the Tape series. He balled out all afternoon long.
The defense also had to go up against something it struggled with since the dawn of time — a mobile quarterback. After starter Ben Hicks got pulled after the first half, freshman William Brown went in there and promptly tossed two touchdowns and went 11-of-17.
The fact remains that the defense should have played better against one of the lowest ranked teams in the country. When adversity strikes (injuries, poor officiating), adjustments must be made. With a coach like Brown leading the way, you think that’d happen easier against a team like SMU.
Think again, I suppose.
But at the end of the day, a win is a win, and the Wolverines will gladly take a W heading into the conference schedule. Unlike Wisconsin. And Nebraska. And Rutgers. And Maryland...okay pretty much every Big Ten team.