does one normally change in response to success?
2011 defensive improvement
There has been a lot of angst on the board over offensive play calling, whether Borges can adjust to the player personnel on hand, the spread vs. power & manball, protecting Denard, his passing skills and ability in the pocket, whether or not a "go-to" running back will emerge, whether the OL is creating lanes, etc., etc., etc.
I think these are legitimate concerns. But I also am reminded of something Hoke said in the pre-season, in so many words: the offense is only 1/3 of the team. The defense and special teams also make a huge difference.
Even with our defensive liabilities, I see this side of the ball becoming a strength.
- Mattison's ability to make adjustments to other teams and shut them down as the game goes on is huge. Against both ND & EMU, it looked bleak in the first quarter. But the defense adjusted, and gave our offense time to perform.
- I haven't parsed the numbers, but I think our defense is way up over the last few years of Michigan teams in causing turnovers. Even with Denard's miscues, we still are way up on turnovers this year, a huge credit to the defense.
- On the DL, the play of Martin has been great, Roh is finally healthy, VanBergen is solid, BWC shows glimpses of promise.
- The secondary has been great, with Troy, Floyd, Avery, Kovacs, and Gordon bending yet not breaking, and stopping most of the home runs.
- With the emergence of Hawthorne and Jake Ryan, alongside Demens, LB play has been solid. And Cam Gordon should be contributing anytime now.
Admittedly, there isn't enough depth. But if the defense stays healthy, I think they're going to be able to play with most of the teams we will face, and even win us a game or two.
Special Teams has been under the radar, but I am very, very encouraged.
- Wile adds something to the mix, and has been solid, if unspectacular.
- Hagerup will return in one more game, and will give us more range on punts.
- Gibbons hasn't missed a field goal yet this year! Ok, this is overstating things, but at least this doesn't appear to be the huge liability of a year ago. Hoke sure doesn't seem concerned. Hitting a field goal last Saturday was a step in the right direction.
- Gallon has done a great job in returns. It was beautiful seeing him return a punt a long way (only to have it called back by an illegal block to the back.)
With the return of Hagerup, we are going to see our opponents pinned deep more often, with a long field ahead of them. Sustaining a drive of more than 80 yards is not easy. If the defense continues to generate turnovers, this will be a great thing.
With the emergence of Gallon, and the ability of our defense to stop the opponent on 3rd and 4th down, we are going to see a short field for Michigan's offense more often this year.
Having a solid defense and good special teams play will make a huge difference in our overall play and record. Even with our offense stepping down a level, it is more than compensated for by our defense and special teams stepping up. As entertaining as it may have been, I don't want to see a repeat of last year's Illinois game, where our only chance of winning was being the last one to score a TD.