Set to face a rushing attack that shredded it last year,
Michigan’s defense certainly wasn’t lacking in
motivation when it faced Minnesota on Saturday.

Michigan Football
The Michigan defense swarms Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney on Saturday. Minnesota rushed for 165 yards in the first half — 80 of which came on a Maroney touchdown run — but managed just 24 second-half yards on the ground. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

The Wolverines pulled out the comeback win last year, 38-35, but
the defense couldn’t hide the embarrassment it felt.

“The coaches put the Brown Jug and the 424 yards rushing
(Minnesota’s total in last year’s game) in our face the
whole week,” junior defensive tackle Gabe Watson said.
“We just tried to prepare to stop the run and shut it
down.”

At halftime on Saturday, it appeared nothing had changed since
last year. The Gophers rushed for 165 yards on 17 carries in the
first half, including touchdown runs of 80 and 19 yards by Laurence
Maroney and Marion Barber III, respectively.

Michigan’s run defense entered the game ranked first in
the nation, but appeared to have no answer for the duo.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to completely
shut down their running game,” junior linebacker Scott
McClintock said. “They have two great backs. We were
expecting them to hit a play or two, and they obviously did. The
first half we really struggled to stop the run.

“Thankfully, the second half we really came together and
started playing a lot more tougher.”

After halftime, Michigan focused on forcing the Gophers’
runners to take the ball to the outside and using the speed of its
defense to contain them.

“As far as the defensive line, we had to work our way
inside out,” defensive end Pat Massey said. “Stop the
inside first and then worry about the outside.”

Michigan’s adjustments worked wonders in the second half.
On nearly every carry, anytime Barber or Maroney turned a corner
and seemed to have a chance at a gain, multiple defenders would
swarm in.

The Gophers managed just 24 yards on 22 carries in the second
half, and the Wolverines, led by running back Mike Hart, even
managed to outgain Minnesota by the end of the game, 190-189.

At no time was Michigan’s defense more important than on
two possessions in the fourth quarter. The first came when Leon
Hall fumbled a punt to give Minnesota the ball at Michigan’s
nine-yard line. But the defense was able to hold them to a field
goal and stay within a touchdown at 24-17.

“We did a good job answering the sudden changes,”
Massey said. “When you’ve got a team playing on the
road, momentum is huge and sudden change can really get the
momentum going for them.”

Later in the quarter, when the offense punted the ball away with
4:57 remaining in the game, the defense needed to stop Minnesota
and did.

Though it allowed a pass play for a first down, Michigan’s
swarming defense shut down their running game entirely for
negative-10 yards on five carries, setting up the game-winning
drive.

Though Michigan was disappointed it was unable to put together a
dominant defensive effort for four quarters, it was happy with its
resiliency.

“How many running yards did they get — 180?”
Pat Massey said. “That’s still a lot of running yards
right there, so I don’t think that’s something to boast
about.

“But the second half and finishing the game, that’s
something we can be proud about.”

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