- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 30, 2012
The Michigan football team boasts the best passing defense in college football, but the players don’t even care.
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Fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs and sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor, two integral members of the secondary, both shook their heads when they heard the ranking on Tuesday. They hadn’t heard about it.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” Kovacs said.
The numbers might not matter to ‘Team 133,’ but they’re impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines have allowed a nation-leading 145.3 passing yards per game, and they have more interceptions (7) than passing touchdowns allowed (5).
For comparison’s sake, Michigan allowed 190.5 passing yards per game last season, and over 220 passing yards per game for each of the three previous seasons under former coach Rich Rodriguez.
“We take pride in (our pass defense),” Taylor said. “That’s a big thing. That’s good to be number one in any thing, so we take pride in it and appreciate it.”
As Michigan coach Brady Hoke was quick to point out during a weekly teleconference on Tuesday, the secondary’s statistics could be improperly skewed by several factors.
Alabama threw just 21 times in the season opener — “They didn’t have to,” Kovacs said. Air Force and its triple-option attack ran roughshod over Michigan’s front seven, but the Falcons passed just 19 times.
So while Michigan is No. 1 in passing yards allowed through eight weeks, it has also faced the sixth-fewest number of pass attempts (198) in college football.
Kovacs cautioned that it might be too soon to label the secondary as elite. In the Wolverines’ 23-9 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln last Saturday, Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez passed for just 166 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but Kovacs said there were open receivers that, much to the secondary’s delight, Martinez simply didn’t see.
“You can’t let that happen,” Kovacs said.
While the Michigan offense stuttered and stalled in Lincoln, the defense held relatively fast. But Martinez engineered a drive early in the second quarter that gashed the secondary for five consecutive completions and ended in a 32-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kenny Bell.
When the defense took to the film room on Sunday, the players remembered exactly how that drive felt and, more importantly, what went wrong. Nebraska’s hurry-up offense had caught them by surprise — Taylor said they hadn’t been preparing for that tempo — and Martinez picked them apart with ease.
The calls, selected by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and then signaled onto the field, never made it across the field to all 11 defensive players.
“Basically we were out there lost for a couple plays,” Taylor said.
The defense’s biggest goal this week isn’t a surprising one: communication.
“If you don’t communicate, you’re not lined up and you’re not ready to play,” Kovacs said. “There’s guys on the other side of the field that don’t see the signal.
“It’s our responsibility as corners or safeties, whoever’s closest to the sideline, to relay that message and keep relaying it until everybody knows the play.”
The crowd noise from the Sea of Red in Lincoln certainly played a significant factor, but considering that three of the four members of the secondary are upperclassmen, Kovacs called the communication breakdowns “very disappointing.”
Still, the Wolverines held Martinez and the upstart Nebraska offense to its lowest passing yards, rushing yards and point total of the season. To remedy the communication errors for this weekend’s tilt against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium — not quite the ferocious atmosphere that Nebraska has at Memorial Stadium — Kovacs emphasized that there’s no such thing as over-communication.
“Keep echoing the call,” Kovacs said. “Coach Mattison emphasized that today: you’ve got to echo the call and you’ve got to make sure you take care of your buddies.”