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Michigan’s defense still has lessons to learn following start of Big Ten play

After a tepid performance against Maryland, concerns about the Wolverines’ defense arose.

Maryland v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In last year’s Big Ten opener, criticisms of the Wolverines following a tight victory over Rutgers were centered largely on the offensive side of the ball.

This year — perhaps to be expected — the questions have centered on the defense.

Some aspects of Saturday’s performance were expected. Taulia Tagovailoa was as mobile as advertised, the Maryland receiving corps’ speed facilitated minimal pocket times, and to be fair to Michigan, adjustments made at the half seemed to do the trick in slowing the Terrapins down.

However, there were more surprising weak spots in the Wolverines’ game. Tackling and communication were points of contention following the game, both things that seemed to be more shored-up in camp and early on in the season.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh acknowledged both topics after the game, and that there is room for improvement.

“Yeah, getting off blocks, adjusting and tackling their (running) back lower,” Harbaugh said. “He runs high and runs hard, and they were bleeding out some yardage — some of those first downs were going for five or six or seven.

“We need to clean up some of the calls, just being in the right spot, being in the right technique or leverage. That’s probably the biggest thing to clean up. We got ourselves picked a few times, and being in the right leverage — they weren’t calling it, there wasn’t much being called out there today. But to avoid some of that, where we’re relying on the call and lining up right.”

When asked about Harbaugh’s comments, senior defensive back Mike Sainristil echoed the sentiments.

“There was a few times out there where communication wasn’t the best among us DBs,” Sainristil said. “Just getting the calls to each other and getting calls to the linebackers like that two-point conversion play they had, communication was just off there. That’s just little things we need to clean up during practice and just expecting what’s gonna come in certain situations.”

With Maryland being one of the faster offenses they’ll play this season, the Wolverines will have plenty of time to refine those rough edges — especially given the offensive schemes of their next two opponents in Iowa and Indiana, who rank 131st and 74th in total offense, respectively.