Faulting a defense when it gives up just seven points usually means an overcritical eye is nitpicking over minute details that mean absolutely nothing in the long run.
In that case, paint me overcritical and nitpicky.
On the surface, Michigan gave up 368 yards in a home opener that featured one team destined for greatness and the other for a mediocre finish in the Mid-American Conference. And for most who just read the box score, it would be easy to think that most of Central Michigan’s yards came when the Wolverines’ first-team defense was off the field. In reality, the Chippewas exploited some weaknesses in Michigan’s defense and possibly uncovered some new ones.
Before I begin with the bad, though, there were some good surprises seen from the defensive half of my pick to be national champ.
First, the secondary survived without Marlin Jackson. I know it’s true that Central Michigan hardly boasts the best passing offense in the nation, but no big plays were allowed. Coverage was so good that anything over 20 yards was not even attempted. So credit the Marlin-less crew of Jeremy LeSueur, Markus Curry, Jon Shaw, Willis Barringer and Jacob Stewart for stepping up and showing that there is life without the preseason’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
And if that crew with Marlin can keep plays of 20 or more yards from happening, then it will make my first gripe of the defense futile.
Inside position was lost to Central Michigan’s receivers much too easily. And too many short passes were completed on second or third down to keep drives alive (eight times by my count). While there are a number of reasons why this could have happened – possibly zone or soft coverage to prevent any deep balls – it still comes down to the cornerbacks not forcing wideouts to the sidelines. But even with that said, until Jackson comes back, the secondary really can’t be rated. He is the type of defensive back that can change the landscape the same way as Charles Woodson used to in 1997.
Another plus was the return of linebackers Carl Diggs, Zach Kaufman, Roy Manning and Lawrence Reid. All four were injured at one point during the season last year, and combined to make 17 tackles against the Chippewas, including two for a loss thanks to Diggs and Manning.
Even with their return, the front seven had their share of problems keeping Central Michigan’s running game from exploding for 218 yards.
Most notably was Michigan’s inability to plug holes.
Quick question: Who was responsible for Ohio State’s defense being as dominant as it was?
Those who said linebacker Matt Wilhelm or safety Mike Doss are wrong. Neither those two or the rest of the Big Ten’s top defense would have accomplished half of what they did had it not been for the four linemen up front led by Darrion Scott and Will Smith.
While Scott and Smith each had their own share of solid individual stats, the things they do better than most in the nation are all that can only be seen in game film. Ohio State’s defensive linemen plugged gaps and kept opposing offensive linemen from getting to blitzing linebackers and defensive backs.
Michigan didn’t do much of that Saturday, which is why six defensive backs accounted for one-third of Michigan’s tackles (Markus Curry and Jacob Stewart led the team with nine tackles apiece).
“They came out with an offensive scheme that we weren’t prepared for, and they kind of burned us today,” Diggs said. On Central Michigan’s touchdown “we really just didn’t fit it properly like we needed to be. They didn’t catch us off guard, we just didn’t fit the run properly.
“One thing they did: They liked to run an inside zone to the 1-5 bubble, we were over-pursuing and they got a lot of yards off the cutback. During camp we didn’t really see a lot of that (in film). We were expecting more like the zone and (in the film Central Michigan running back Terry Jackson) liked to cut it back, but this time he was bouncing it all the way back and that’s what we weren’t really prepared for.”
It was also noted that the no-huddle offense Michigan was expecting was not the one run. Michigan had practiced all camp with two offenses running at them with no breaks, so it was ready for that. The delay, though, allowed the Chippewas to see what defense was there and allow DeBord to call plays from that.
What does all this mean? Simply put, Michigan has some work to do defensively before it is ready to contend for a spot in the Sugar or Rose Bowl. In the larger sense, the defense should not get comfortable with the big leads that the Wolverines’ offense is likely to build against every Big Ten team this year.
Because while a 38-point win is nice, 45 would have Michigan fans breathing a little bit easier.
-Kyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.