Some of the moments that have characterized the Michigan defense the most this season have been when safety Ernest Shazor has flown to the ball. Even though Shazor comes in from the secondary, he always seems to be able to use a linebacker mentality and stop the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage.
But in the Wolverines’ last two games, the aggression of the defense has been as much of a hindrance as asset. Michigan State and Northwestern each have used Michigan’s quick pursuit to the ball to its advantage, taking counters and delayed screens for big plays.
On Saturday, Northwestern running back Noah Herron took a shotgun counter draw and found himself all alone on the near sideline after he ran past Michigan’s pursuit.
The play turned into a 68-yard touchdown scamper. At the end of the day, the Wolverines’ defense, which used to rank No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, had given up 405 total yards.
“We’re definitely disappointed with the amount of yards that we gave up,” Michigan defensive end Pat Massey said.
Northwestern’s significant drives in the first half also included plays that involved either a screen or counter play going for a big gain. The Wildcats’ first field goal was set up by Herron’s 29-yard counter draw on a play similar to his touchdown run. Their 61-yard drive in the second quarter, which eventually resulted in a blocked field goal, included a 30-yard pass on a misdirection play to tight end Taylor Jones.
“Michigan State hit us with it, so we knew that Northwestern was going to do it because they have a similar type of offense,” sophomore free safety Ryan Mundy said. “It’s just a missed assignment. All it takes is one person, and we just got to clean those things up.”
Michigan State first exploited Michigan’s aggressiveness two weeks ago when it used a number of counter draws to gain 368 yards on the ground. DeAndra Cobb ran for two long touchdowns of 72 and 64 yards on counter plays, which helped the Spartans amass a 27-10 lead.
The Wolverines are conscious of what is happening to them, but face a catch-22 when they go to Columbus.
If they are not as aggressive, then they can more easily stop the counters and draws that have been used against them. But if they do, they would also risk hindering what has symbolized the defense as a unit in 2004.
“You can’t take away our aggressiveness,” Mundy said. “Even though we may miss a few tackles here and there, we’ve always got guys flying to the ball. If everyone flies to the ball, and keeps the ball in the framework of the defense, those plays are not going to happen.”
Blocking Machine: Defensive tackle Pat Massey has been tough to handle this season, as his 6-foot-7 frame has blocked two crucial field goals. In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Massey broke through the middle on the line and blocked a field goal attempt with his right hand.
Despite the runaway Michigan victory, Massey’s block had significance at the time. Northwestern would have taken a lead into halftime otherwise.
Massey also blocked the kick without the advantage of a full rush, as Michigan used a “one safe” blocking scheme, which protects against a fake.
Earlier this season, Massey blocked a kick against Purdue as time expired in the first half, preserving a 10-7 Michigan lead. The Brecksville, Ohio, native says that taking three points away from the opposition is simple: Just get a good push on the ball.
“We got a good push upfront, and any time you got a good push upfront, your chances are a whole lot better of blocking the kick,” Massey said. “Once I got some penetration, I put my hands up, and I happened to block the kick.
Injury updates: Senior inside linebacker Scott McClintock didn’t play on Saturday, as Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that he had the flu. Senior Joey Sarantos took his place in Michigan’s 3-4 formation. Carr added that he believed McClintock would be available for Saturday’s game in Columbus.
Junior safety Willis Barringer was carted off in the third quarter after being injured on kickoff coverage. Carr said that Barringer told him that he thinks he will also be fine for next Saturday.
Sophomore free safety Ryan Mundy had a stinger in the second half, but said that he should be in good condition for the trip to Ohio State.
Notes: Michigan finished the season with an average home attendance of 111,025, which is the largest in Michigan history … Mike Hart’s 34-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the longest of his career and Michigan’s longest of the season.