Before last Saturday’s game, Michigan senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said he wanted Michigan State to run right at him. The Spartans found an easier way. They ran around the Wolverines’ beefy defensive line.

Michigan State running back Edwin Baker had four runs longer than 20 yards on the day. Each came on carries to the outside.

The Spartans exposed the Wolverines’ secondary by running away from the line. And after spending half the year trying to separate itself from years past, the secondary had an old problem reappear at the most inopportune time.

“I don’t think we tackled worth a darn,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Monday. “I don’t think we played the perimeter of our defense worth a darn. I don’t think we took on blocks and got off blocks and had very good block protection.”

Both safeties, redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon and redshirt junior Jordan Kovacs, were the most obvious culprits on Baker’s long runs.

But the damage could have been worse. In the third quarter, Baker had an open sideline after a Gordon missed tackle but dropped the ball. Michigan recovered the fumble.

“They did a good job with scheming us and knowing what we were going to do and being able to attack certain parts of our defense,” said senior defensive tackle Mike Martin on Monday. “(But) there’s a new day and (Tuesday) is a day we’ve got to take advantage of.”

The scheme has become a recurring theme in the last two weeks. Both of Michigan’s opponents ran the ball to the outside and neutralized the Wolverines’ strong defensive line.

But where Michigan State ran the ball to the edge, Northwestern tried to do it with the speed option and bubble screens. In both cases, success on the outside came from mistakes in the secondary, either overrunning plays or missing tackles.

With Michigan State’s and Northwestern’s successes in the first half, teams are likely to attack the Wolverines’ defense with the blueprint the two teams created. For Hoke, that means using the bye week to improve his team’s now-inconsistent tackling technique and prepare his defense to be more equipped to handle plays to the outside.

“I can assure you we can work on block protection and chop blocks and all those things and make an emphasis,” Hoke said. “At the same time, there were times where it was played decently, but I didn’t feel the flow from our inside.”

But after spending months upon months working on technique and sprinting to the football since, why did everything break down at the worst possible moment? For Martin, it’s simple.

“They were able to make moves on us when (bad technique) happened because we weren’t at the best we could be,” he said. “It’s a focus. I think guys get caught up in what the other team is doing and not (themselves). It’s something that we can fix, and that’s a good thing.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.