Michigan's defense is a strength. Period. Admittedly, Minnesota was awful. And a freshman QB is a deer in the headlights. Having said that, there is no denying the dominance and strength of Michigan's defense. And it isn't done getting better.
- With the score run up, Mattison was able to get lots of backups plenty of playing time and experience, and see what they could do. This builds morale, keeps the starters fresh, and pays big dividends.
- On the DL, we now have seven solid contributors (Martin, VanBergen, Roh, Campbell, Black, Washington, Heininger.) This keeps them fresh, and means less disaster if any one is out. With three and outs, they just stay strong and get stronger.
- In the secondary, we have four solid CB's (Woolfolk, Floyd, Avery, & Countess.) Countess is still making mistakes, but he will be a good one. At safety, Kovacs and Gordon are being freed up to do what they should be doing, and Johnson and Robinson have time to improve. Kovacs continues to do a great job, but doesn't have to bail out everyone else.
- I'd like to see more depth at LB. But so do the coaches, with four 4-star LB recruits already in the fold for next year. This year, Hawthorne, Demens, and Ryan are doing a fine job, with Cam Gordon finally healing up. I'm not as confident in Fitzgerald, Morgan, Beyer, & Herron, but they haven't been exposed . . . yet.
- The whole defense seems to be very opportunistic in causing and recovering fumbles. VanBergen's strip of a RB vs. SDSU was awesome, and seemingly a direct result of coaching. While Avery & Herron were more lucky than good in their scoring TD's, they still seized the opportunity and ran with it.
- Assuming Michigan's defense last year had a failing grade, they have room for huge improvement over the course of this season, up to say, a B+ or A-. If a defense begins the year at B+ or A-, there just isn't as much room (or need, I suppose) to improve.
Special teams is still a work in process, and yet:
- 3 field goals, 7 extra points, one game. That's more points than Vincent Smith scored! Gibbons is heading in the right direction. At the very least, this isn't a liability.
- No fumbled punts or kickoffs this year. And Gallon is going to break some big returns. I would bet on this.
- With Hagerup back, there will be competition at punter, and this will only get better.
- Kickoff coverage is still subpar, but I have to believe after last week, this will be a major point of emphasis in practice. Punt coverage isn't quite as bad, but also a place where there is room for improvement.
The point is, our defense is keeping us in games, and giving the offense the opportunity to shine. I can't quantify it, but I have to believe that there was a heavy psychological weight on the offense last year, knowing that if they didn't score, they were going to lose. (exhibit A: Illinois game.) As we play teams with a staunch defense (MSU, Nebraska, even Ohio,) the offense can play with a different mindset. They can do all they can to gain yards and score, but the game isn't lost if they DON'T score. Really, both defense and offense have the other's back. This balance strengthens both.
I'm going to the game this Saturday, and honestly, I hope Persa plays, and plays well. I still think the defense will shut Northwestern down, but I think our D needs the challenge more than another tomato can, as they prepare for MSU. I want to see what our secondary can do against a real passing threat. And I am salivating about our DL going against Michigan State's OL. Cousins better have on a flak jacket.
At this point, I have lost all reason. I believe, looking at our schedule, that we will go 12 - 0, lose to Wisconsin, and win a decent bowl game (having a month to prepare!) for a final record of 13 - 1. The most challenging games remaining are Nebraska and Illinois, and I still think we win both. I could never have predicted this at the beginning of the season.