The Defense Stinks - Why Are We Surprised?

Submitted by heckdchi on November 1st, 2010 at 12:47 PM

Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan on December 17, 2007. National signing day in 2008 was February 6th.  The first recruiting class and roster/recruit evaluation period that Coach Rodriguez had was all of one game and 2 and a half months. [Ed-M: I put current starters in bold, regular contributors in itals].

Defensive recruits in that first class were:

  • Cissoko - got in lots of trouble, now gone
  • Demens - got in some trouble, now starting and possibly good
  • Fitzgerald - behind Roh on the depth chart, possibly a career backup
  • Floyd - starting but ideally would not be
  • Taylor Hill - transferred immediately
  • Martin - beast
  • Brandon Smith - transferred
  • Marcus Witherspoon - didn't make it to campus, went to Rutgers, washed out

I tend to look at this class as a bit of a lost class due to the coaching transition. Most players committed to Michigan for Carr, stayed despite the change even though they didn't know the new staff much (and that new staff didn't know them well either), and some left for whatever reason.

2009 - First Full Rodriguez Class

  • Isaiah Bell - possible career backup
  • Will Campbell - now on offense
  • Vlad - transferred
  • Cam Gordon - starting safety/spur, redshirt freshman, former wide receiver
  • Thomas Gordon - sometime starter, sometime back up at spur, plays regularly, redshirt freshman
  • Brandin Hawthorne - special teams
  • Mike Jones - backup linebacker, true sophomore, regular backup snaps before season ending injury
  • LaLota - transferred
  • Roh - pre-Beast on the line, a bit lost as pass defending linebacker
  • Justin Turner - transferred
  • Witty - never qualified

Another class of mixed results, some guys playing regularly, even starting, others non-factors thus far, and a couple of guys who are no longer on the team.

2010 Class

  • Ash - redshirting (long-term project)
  • Avery - former high school quarterback playing regularly as a nickelback
  • Black - regular in the defensive end rotation
  • Cullen Christian - regular in the cornerback rotation
  • Dorsey - we know how that ended
  • Josh Furman - redshirting
  • Carvin - starter at spur/safety when healthy
  • Kinard - did not qualify, may be in 2011 class
  • Paskorz - redshirting
  • M-Rob - recently moved to linebacker, saw snaps v. PSU
  • Davion Rogers - left school (academic)
  • Jake Ryan -redshirting
  • Talbott (DB) - in the regular cornerback rotation
  • Talbott (DT) - redshirting
  • Ray Vinopal - played sparingly before starting last week
  • Ken Wilkins - redshirting

Now let's look at the guys who are playing on this year's defense:

Roh - prebeast   Fitzgerald - backup   Van Bergen - solid Big10 player   Watson - career back up   Martin - beast   Patterson/Sagesse/Banks - average guys, probably wouldn't start or even play on good defenses   Washington - switched to defense last week   Black - true freshman   Demens - new starter, doing ok, not much playing experience   Ezeh - average at best starter now backing up   Mouton - talented but inconsistent  

Here's where it gets really bad: Gordons - redshirt freshmen   Avery, M-Rob, Carvin, Cullen, Talbott, Vinopal - all true freshmen    Grit Kovacs - redshirt sophomore former walk on   Rogers - senior career back up at wide out and corner   Floyd - redshirt sophomore, ok, probably not ready to be a starter

What does it mean? Seven true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen play regularly on defense, most of them in the secondary.  The veterans (which I define as guys older than redshirt sophomores) total nine guys, about six of whom wouldn't be playing on a good defense. The defense is bad. This was likely to be the case even if Woolfolk's ankle hadn't blow'd up real good in fall camp. This may have even been the case if Donovan Warren had stayed.

What's the point? The players on the defense that are attributable to Coach Rodriguez and staff are primarily true and redshirt freshmen. I don't have some great metric or link that details the benefit of age and experience on defense but I think we can all agree that relying so heavily on first- and second-year players is a recipe for disaster. It's also one that we would be seeing even if nobody had transferred out or failed to qualify in the Rodriguez era.

Rodriguez Defenses at WVU (database at only goes back to 2004)

2004: 339 ypg, 36th nationally, 20 ppg, 3.6 ypc, 107 opponent passer rating, 20 turnovers forced

2005: 311 ypg, 15th nationally, 17ppg, 2.9 ypc, 116 opponent passer rating, 21 turnovers forced

2006: 336 ypg, 62nd nationally, 17ppg, 3ypc, 125 opponent passer rating, 16 turnovers forced

2007: 302 ypg, 7th nationally, 18ppg, 3 ypc, 114 opponent passer rating, 24 turnovers forced

Michigan D 2010: 440 ypg, 106th nationally, 30ppg, 4 ypc, 141 opponent passer rating, 9 turnovers forced

So what's my point?

1. Expectations before the season were for a below-average defense even with a healthy Woolfolk. Then he got hurt, Jones got hurt, Demens may have missed the first half of the season due to off-field issues, now Martin is dinged and there is a parade of freshmen in the secondary. For those who are in the Penn State was the final straw camp, what changed in those three-ish hours from the previous 2 months of the season?

2. Coach Rodriguez has a resume that suggests he can build good defenses. At this point he has 2 and a half recruiting classes at Michigan. They won't be any good on defense if they have to rely on this many first and second year players. If you want to focus on the talent that was here when Coach Rodriguez took over, check out Misopogon's Decimated Defense series: and [Ed-M: and more recent followups where I said this year would suck, and then said this year does suck because half of the guys who were on the team when I said it would suck have either left, got injured, or just plain suck].

Nobody is happy with these results. Few people want to hear or have the patience to continue to hear, "its early," "they're young," "give him time."  But this is simply the truth of the situation at this time. Look at the offense: mostly made up of guys who have been starting/playing significant snaps for all three years of the Rodriguez Era. They are putting up over 500 yards and over 30 points per game, and that's still with two sophomore quarterbacks. I still believe that Rodriguez will be great here but it will take until next year for the defense to be anyware close to average and 2012 for the defense to be above average, because by then he should be operating with mostly upperclassmen on D.



November 1st, 2010 at 12:53 PM ^

I am not shocked by how bad the defense is. We knew it would be bad before the season and THEN guys left and got injured. What astounds me is just how bad we are against bad offenses. You would think that raw talent alone would make a stop here and there but it hasn't. Also, I don't mean to nit pick but is T. Gordon "prison abs."

Hemlock Philosopher

November 1st, 2010 at 12:53 PM ^

We're surprised because a team named Temple held PSU to 22 points and a team named Kent State held them to 24 and that's when PSU had their first-string QB and most of their o-line.  They only scored 3 against Iowa and Alabama and 13 against Illinois.  Their 41 against us is only 3 less than they scored against Y'Town State and their 435 yards of offense is the most they have gotten all season.

We're surprised because no matter how thin we are on D, we never imagined that it could be this bad. 


November 1st, 2010 at 1:08 PM ^

Kent State - 8th nationally giving up 278 ypg, 27th nationally giving up 20 ppg

Temple - 27th nationally giving up 322 ypg, 19th nationally giving up 18ppg

I agree.  I never imagined it would be this bad either.  However, when I look at the roster and how many freshman are playing and how many guys who have never had an impact in 4 or 5 years are playing it just isn't that surprising.


Marvin Robinson is Prison Abs


November 1st, 2010 at 1:19 PM ^

If RichRod ends up getting tarred and feathered, some people will (justifiably) point to his CB recruiting in '09.  There was JTurner, who many felt seem destined to grow into a safety/LB, and Adrian Witty, who appeared to be Denard-bait.  That's it.  No one else at a position of glaring need.  (He could easily have seen that there were no CBs in the '06 class, for example.)


November 1st, 2010 at 2:27 PM ^

I may be in the minority on this but I see the play of the defensive line as being the biggest problem.  Other than Martin who has barely seen the field in Big 10 play, none of the D-linemen effectively shed blocks, control gaps, or rush the passer.  This is putting too much pressure on linebackers and the secondary. 


November 1st, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

Its a surprise that we did so bad against PSU, but its also a surprise that we stayed in the game against Iowa and got plenty of stops against ND and UConn.  Nothing that happened against PSU should come as a shock.  It was the first game where the D did worse than expected (besides UMass).

In balance, things are as should have been expected.  The people who expected improvement based on logic that amounted to GERG's pixie dust falling on Ezeh and Mouton now realize how foolish that was.  They choose to blame RR instead of themselves for unrealistic expectations.

This defense would be bad for ANY COACH IN THE COUNTRY.  Maybe not THIS bad, but close to it.  Those who want to blame RR for that have a point, but that point was no less valid in August and is no more so now.



November 1st, 2010 at 2:29 PM ^

I certainly didn't expect the defense to be World Class but I did expect them to get an occasional stop.  The offense is certainly capable of winning "shoot out" type of games where the final combined score is in triple digits.  What's especially exasperating is allowing a third down conversion when the opposing offense has more than 10 yards to go.


November 1st, 2010 at 1:35 PM ^

What really surprises me is the similarity of losing Molk last year and losing (for large parts of 3 games) Martin has this year. He needs to be healthy to give the defense a chance.


November 1st, 2010 at 2:34 PM ^

Just stop it already.  We just faced the offensive equivalent of our defense and got rocked.  And that was two-thirds of the way into the season, with two weeks to prepare.  All things considered, I might call that the worst defensive game we've ever played.  It was 2000 NW bad, only we weren't facing a Big Ten champion.  There is no justification for this performance. 


November 2nd, 2010 at 7:27 AM ^

Answer to Q1. What changed in those 3 hours? The D did not improve on the 2 weeks they had to prepare against the depleted PSU offense with a QB making his 1st start. The defensive coaches didn't put in anything to stop the short passing/screen game that was expected. Not disrespecting the players - it's the coaches who I'm not happy about.