It’s hard to find lapses in the Michigan football team’s defense.
Over the last few weeks, the fourth-ranked Wolverines have dominated on every side of the ball, but especially when the opponent has the ball. They have given up just 34 points in the last four games and have the No. 1 total defense in the country.
So when Michigan traveled to Piscataway to take on Rutgers, the Big Ten’s perennial bottom-feeder, it was expected to be a blowout the whole way, with the Wolverines’ defense smothering the worst offense in the conference.
For the most part, that was what happened. If it weren’t for an 80-yard touchdown run from running back Isiah Pacheco, the Scarlet Knights would have been held scoreless with fewer than 200 yards.
“Well thought-out play,” said defensive coordinator Don Brown on the play. “They lined up three backs in the backfield, they motioned one of them out, we made the adjustment nicely. They brought that guy back and faked the reverse with him and we lost one of our edges and the safety who had him man-to-man was adjusting to him. But we lost the edge to the defense — the back edge — and it got out.”
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the play doesn’t really matter. But it can serve some purpose for a defense that has done nearly all that is asked of it.
For one, Michigan is still chasing its first shutout of the season. In fact, it hasn’t shut a team out in two seasons — the last coming in 2016 against Rutgers.
That was a focus when the Wolverines faced Penn State two weeks ago, as they now-famously wanted revenge for the Nittany Lions’ beatdown over them in 2017. But Michigan couldn’t get it done then thanks to a late, garbage-time touchdown.
And on Saturday against the Scarlet Knights, the Wolverines once again fell just short of the shutout, thanks to Pacheco’s run.
The second way the play serves a purpose is as a bit of a wake-up call.
Before Michigan played Rutgers, the Wolverines played, and beat, three-straight ranked teams. The Scarlet Knights, along with Indiana this week, make this part of the schedule inarguably easier than what Michigan just endured.
Perhaps because of that, Brown said his team needed a wake-up call last Wednesday, so he yelled at them a little bit. Pacheco’s run had a similar effect.
“That was a wake-up call for me,” Brown said.
With a defense this good, that’s about the only call they need.