Michigan”s rush defense has gone through quite a role-reversal in the last week. Once lauded as the nation”s best, there are now many questions about its strength.
After holding their first seven opponents to just 54.5 yards per game on the ground, the Wolverines were manhandled by T.J. Duckett, who ran for 211 yards.
“Well, T.J. Duckett is definitely a tremendous back,” defensive lineman Grant Bowman said. “He”s a big guy. He”s definitely got tremendous ability and he got rolling early. They were able to do some things against our defense and expose some things that we weren”t covering as well as we should.
“Once he got rolling he was hard to stop and it”s hard for 200-pound safeties to go in there and stop a guy that”s 250 pounds and running at full speed.”
It”s very common for great teams to have bad games. That could have been the Wolverines” problem. Or, it could be a symptom of overconfidence borne from stopping some of the Big Ten”s weaker rushing attacks.
Michigan”s last three opponents Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State are each ranked in the top five in the Big Ten in rushing. The other teams in the top five are Indiana and Northwestern, two teams that Michigan doesn”t face this year.
So in effect, the rush defense that everyone was ready to crown king has not yet faced its toughest competition.
Minnesota ran for more than 300 yards against Michigan State, which had no problem stopping Michigan”s running game. Wisconsin”s Anthony Davis is the top back in the Big Ten. And Ohio State”s Jonathan Wells is running for more than 100 yards per game.
Bowman was certainly confused by Michigan”s defensive statistics against the Spartans which showed a Michigan team that sacked Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker 12 times, but gave up more than 200 yards on the ground.
“If you took all the pass plays of the game,” he said, “you”d probably say that we had our best performance as a defensive line and then you look at the running game and you”d probably say we had one of our worst performances.”
Michigan still leads the nation in rush defense. The 68.8 yards it gives up per game is 53.5 fewer than its closest competition, Purdue.
Only once since 1936 has Michigan put up a season average lower than this year”s. In 1970, Michigan gave up just 789 rushing yards, a total of 65.8 per game. In that same period, there have only been six seasons when the Wolverines have finished a season allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per contest. In contrast, the Wolverines gave up 147.1 rushing yards a game last year.
The Wolverines know all about the challenges that they will face in the next three games, starting this weekend against the Gophers.
Tellis Redmon and Marion Farmer have been running all over opponents this season. About a week and a half ago, that would have been great news for the Wolverines” greedy defense. But now, it draws concern.
“Just watching on film, they ran for 300-some yards against Michigan State and they played with Ohio State,” center Kurt Anderson said.
“They are like a lot of teams that have an outstanding ability to run in the sense they are going to make you put eight or nine guys on the line, and then they throw the ball to (wide receiver Ron) Johnson on the outside. It”s not complicated, but it”s effective,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
It”s also very possible that Michigan looked vulnerable against an outstanding running back, and spent the last week shoring up its holes. Duckett”s performance could be the exception not a late-developing rule.
“They just found some things that worked against us and for the whole year we”ve been a great team against the run, and to give up that many yards is really tough,” Bowman said. “We tried to make some adjustments, but they didn”t work.
“We”re going to be thinking a lot about the things that we can change this week because Minnesota has a similar offense, runs a lot of the same type of plays and has a tremendous running back and a tremendous offensive line.”