Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell has declared the Broncos’ nonconference slate a tryout for the starting quarterback spot between Jon Drach and Chad Munson.

Paul Wong
Michigan defensive tackle Norman Heuer tackles Western Michigan running back Philip Reed with the help of linebacker Lawrence Reid.

But Saturday, the Michigan defensive line did its best to make sure neither of the signal callers had a chance to make an impression. The front four led a defensive charge that did not surface against Washington, accounting for five of Michigan’s seven sacks and seven of its nine tackles for loss.

The Broncos took a page out of Washington’s playbook, trying to stifle Michigan’s pass rush by predominantly using a three-step drop, but the Wolverines were well-prepared this time around.

“There was once or twice on three-step drops that the guys were in our face,” Darnell said. “Short passes are just pitch-out runs, and when you are getting sacked on those, it disrupts the whole thing. We were depending on a quick, short pass and we were getting sacked. You just don’t plan on getting sacked on short passes.”

Said defensive end Shantee Orr: “It was good preparation from the coaches and better focus from us. We have had trouble with it in the past; we just had to perfect it today.”

Preparation for the defensive line will be much different this week with Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday waiting in South Bend, Ind. Holiday hasn’t shown much, if any, ability to throw the football in coach Tyrone Willingham’s West Coast offense. He threw for just 50 yards on 7-of-22 passing against Purdue Saturday, but he does bring a mobility that has given Michigan problems in the past.

“I’m sure we’ll get one of our fast, little guys that we’ll chase around the field all week and get us really mad,” said defensive tackle Grant Bowman, who did not play Saturday because of an undisclosed injury but will play against Notre Dame.

Against the Broncos, the key to pressuring the short drop was Michigan’s ability to exert all its pressure from the front four so that the linebackers could drop into coverage to take away the quick-hit passing game. Defensive tackles Norman Heuer and Shawn Lazarus pushed the Broncos’ pocket back all day, making it easier for the defensive ends to get to the outside.

“You have to have pressure in two areas,” said Michigan defensive line coach Brady Hoke. “You have to be able to push the pocket from the inside and close it down from the outside. I think they adjusted to what Western was doing.”

Orr, who was held to one tackle and no sacks against Washington, found his comfort zone Saturday. His pressure resulted in a sack, a forced fumble and a deflected pass that ended up in the arms of fellow end Dan Rumishek.

“I got lucky,” Rumishek said. “I threw my man down, and it fell right into my arms.”

It may have been lucky, but the Wolverines accomplished their weekly goal of three turnovers. In the offseason, the main focus of the defense was to create more turnovers, as last season’s group forced just two per game.

“I think we needed (to create turnovers) after last week,” said Heuer, who recorded two sacks in the game. “We didn’t think we had enough turnovers (two), and we didn’t think we got to the ball enough, especially the defensive front, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that against Notre Dame.”

Hoke said that while he was content with his unit’s pass rush, its performance against the Broncos’ rushing attack was below his expectations. Western Michigan running back Philip Reed ran 14 times for 95 yards for an average of almost seven yards per carry. With the Wolverines expecting the Broncos to pass almost every down, Reed was able to weave through the front four and often get to the outside.

The Wolverines’ line was able to flex its biggest muscle: depth. In its first two games, Michigan has been able to rotate eight to 10 players on the line, giving its young guys much-needed experience and its proven performers a chance to rest. Saturday, redshirt freshmen Pat Massey and Alex Ofili logged significant minutes, picking up a sack and a tackle for loss, respectively.

“Those first couple plays are always really nerve-wracking,” Bowman said. “So it was good that we got some guys on the field so that they won’t be playing their first play in a big game.”

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