Wolverine defense stifles Maryland, pitches second straight shutout

Saturday, October 3, 2015 - 6:03pm

Redshirt junior defensive end Willie Henry sacks Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe in the third quarter.

Redshirt junior defensive end Willie Henry sacks Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe in the third quarter. Buy this photo
Allison Farrand/Daily

 

COLLEGE PARK— Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh had to catch himself before he praised his defense too highly.

“A very high level,” Harbaugh said of his defense’s play on Saturday. “I reserve ‘highest.’ I think we can do better. … I think there’s still a higher level.”

For the second week in a row, the Wolverines’ defense was nearly impenetrable in a 28-0 win over Maryland. Michigan allowed just 105 total yards, the same number it did in a 31-0 pounding of then-No. 22 BYU last week.

The Wolverines have now put together back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2000, when Michigan blanked Indiana and Michigan State.

Saturday was a performance worthy of that distinction. Maryland quarterback C.J. Rowe hardly had time to throw, completing just eight of 27 passes on the day. He threw three interceptions before being pulled, bringing his season total to 12 through five games, and he was sacked four times behind an offensive line that was simply no match for the Wolverines.

Redshirt defensive tackle Matt Godin had 1.5 sacks, and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Maurice Hurst added two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack, in an effort that was nothing short of dominant.

On one play near the end of the third quarter, redshirt junior defensive end Willie Henry plowed through his blocker and had a free shot at Rowe’s replacement, Daxx Garman. Henry outstretched his arms and wrapped up Garman, throwing him to the turf with ferocity. And it wasn’t just Henry who crushed his man on the play. Every member of the Terrapins’ offensive line ended up on the ground while Henry devoured their quarterback.

Maryland ended the game with 29 yards rushing, largely in part to the minus-23 yards its quarterbacks accumulated on the ground. But after the game, the Wolverines weren’t ready to pat themselves on the back.

“We had a couple plays where they got first downs,” Hurst said. “We’ve gotta look at that and correct it. They shouldn’t have anything.”

They nearly didn’t. The Terrapins earned just seven first downs the entire game, and they were a dreadful 1-for-18 on third down.

Meanwhile, every facet of the Michigan defense clicked. The pass defense, which entered the game allowing the fifth-fewest yards per game in the country at 121.8, outdid itself again, allowing just 76. Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Clark had his third interception of the season, and junior corner Jourdan Lewis snatched his first.

Even fifth-year senior linebacker Desmond Morgan came away with an interception, adding two pass breakups to a dominant effort.

And while the big plays were impressive, there was still an aspect of the defense Harbaugh was more impressed with.

“The key to the game (was) when the offense made mistakes, our defense did not allow Maryland to capitalize on them,” Harbaugh said. “That was the difference.”

The offense did make mistakes. Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock lost a fumble and threw an interception, and redshirt sophomore running back Ty Isaac also coughed up two fumbles. But each time, the defense picked them up. The Terrapins did not gain a first down after any of the Wolverine turnovers.

Michigan has now allowed just seven points in its last 15 quarters, dating back to its 28-0 win over Oregon State on Sept. 12. With Northwestern’s stout defense coming to Ann Arbor next week, fans could be in for some of the lowest-scoring football in recent memory.

If Harbaugh has anything to say about it, more history could be made.

“Now I want to know what’s three, when’s (the last time a Michigan team pitched three consecutive shutouts?)” Harbaugh wondered after the game. “I’ll have to look that one up.”