On Monday afternoon, Rashan Gary stood in Schembechler Hall with a sly grin on his face.
The sophomore defensive end had just been asked how much of the Michigan defense has been “seen” three weeks into the season. He looked down for a split second, as if to ponder the question, before looking up, breaking into a smile and giving his answer.
“We haven’t even started opening it up yet,” Gary said. “That’s the scary and most fun part. We haven’t really opened up our defense yet. You’ll see.”
He’s certainly right — if this is just the beginning for the defense, opposing Big Ten teams may not quite understand what’s about to hit them.
Through three equally earth-shattering performances, the Wolverines have made the case that they could be as good as — if not better than — last year’s historically good unit. Michigan ranks fifth nationally in total defense, fourth in yards allowed per possession and fifth in yards allowed per play.
Gary’s performance, though, may serve as an apt metaphor for just how good this defense could be.
In each game, he’s been close to registering a bone-rattling sack — or multiple. Yet the stats remain just out of reach. And even then, modest production aside, Gary has been a force in both the run and pass game.
So — what will happen once Gary finally gets his hands on opposing quarterbacks? It’s a similar question to asking what Michigan’s defense could look like once it reaches the heights its players think it is capable of.
“First few weeks (I’ve) been growing every week, been getting better and better, but at the end of the day, I feel like there’s a lot more that I’ve still got to show,” Gary said. “It’s gonna be great once you start seeing it.
“I feel like last year three games (in) to this year three games (in), it’s completely different from the player I am. There’s always going to be something I can get better at. Y’all gonna see. I’m not gonna talk too much but y’all gonna see when I start popping off.”
Take the one major gaffe from Saturday’s 29-13 win over Air Force, for example. On their third pass attempt of the game, the Falcons busted open a 64-yard touchdown, thanks to a breakdown in Michigan’s coverage.
“They brought #1 back inside, they brought him back out into motion, the corner should have hung onto him, the safety should have spun high, we ended up 2-on-1 over there and no post player,” said defensive coordinator Don Brown on Wednesday. “Everything else was pretty much squared away, but that’s on me. I didn’t do a good enough job of presenting that to them during the practice week.”
It was a mistake that, as Brown intimated, can be erased with the right amount of film study. That paints a bigger picture — if a defense that held Air Force to its second-lowest yardage total since 2014 can somehow improve, there’s no telling what ceiling it could have.
And that’s why Brown, when asked what’s left for the defense, gave an answer similar to his star pupil.
“Oh,” he said, “we got a lot left.”