Say What? Defensive Optimism

Submitted by Meeechigan Dan on October 5th, 2010 at 10:34 AM

Our defense...

Is hard to look at.

Our offense…

...however, happens to be so good-looking as to compensate for her ugly friend.

Now, this is not just a bad analogy or an excuse to look at a picture of Melissa Theuriau [Ed: Who needs an excuse?]; this is relevant to football.

In a previous post immediately post-UMass, I said:

3. It can't get any worse. Now, many of you may laugh at the implication that Wisconsin and OSU can't outperform UMass on Offense, but they pretty much can't. UMass dominated TOP - which will be the number one anti-Denard potion going forward...They employed the perfect beat-Michigan formula...

…and this came to pass on Saturday. Those who want to split hairs might argue that our defense against Indiana was worse than it was against UMass, and I am guessing some might argue the other way around. I would suggest we are debating insignificant differences in horribleness.

Where is the optimism in a defense that has twice in the last three weeks performed at or near its worst? They are called victories. Our offense has been sufficient to score more points than our defense at its worst has given up.

Why do I keep suggesting that this defense can’t get any worse? I, myself, was in a state of near gibbering panic at the thought of what Wisconsin and Michigan State might do against our defense. Then I laughed (I swear alcohol had nothing to do with it). This fear is grounded in the nightmarish unreality of a game without a clock.  As of last check, we still have one of these at every game:

Quite simply, UMass and Indiana have both plumbed the depths of the worst case scenario that Wisconsin and MSU can hardly outdo, but may duplicate. They pretty much squeezed in as much offense as the 120th ranked Bend-Don't-Break pass defense is going to allow in a sixty minute game.

Both UMass and Indiana:

  • Dominated TOP as a mechanism to keep Denard and the Michigan Offense off the field (edit: AND limit the number of possesions). This is relevant in that it accentuates the horrid stats that our defense puts up.

      Opponent TOP Michigan TOP
    UMass 36:67 22:22
    Indiana 41:47 18:13
  •  Specialized in long, clock-consuming, play-engorged series at the most damn inopportune time.

    UMass 11 plays 53 yards
      9 plays 67 yards
      9 plays 79 yards
      15 plays 70 yards
    Indiana 11 plays 77 yards
      13 plays 99 yards
      10 plays 72 yards
      12 plays 50 yards
      13 plays 80 yards


  • (I cannot recall as many long drives as Indiana had in all my years of watching college football. They relentlessly attacked the fundamental weakness of the Bend-Don’t-Break philosophy: take what is given. These opponents, as gracious guests, ate from the buffet set out by our caterer, GERG Special Events.)
  • Had superb success in drive scoring percentage. I don’t know what the national average is here, but I am willing to bet that those batting averages are all-star worthy. A little help from the Mathlete here would be nice.

      Score/Poss Scoring %
    UMass 6/11 55%
    Indiana 5/12 42%

So, in order for better teams to do more damage to Michigan than UMass and Indiana, one of the following things must happen:

  • Better drive scoring percentage.
  • Better defense against our offense.
  • Intangible success (turnovers, special teams, injuries, etc.)

…all the while Michigan does not have an appreciable improvement in defensive performance or tactics.

Now, it is possible that a couple teams will score more frequently than did the two teams above, and it is probable that Denard and company will be defended better. And we know that the intangibles, our enemy in past years, will bite us sometime soon. But the prospects are not as grim as you might believe for a couple reasons:

  1. Chappell’s passes were surgical. I was astounded at his gutsy and precise activity over the middle. I would suggest, based upon propensity for interceptions, that NONE of the remaining QBs possess that level of precision. In other words, our zone passing defense that invites 65 attempts will likely extract more errors out of Cousins, Stanzi, Bolden, Tolzien and Pryor.
  2. Last year demonstrated that RR’s offense could be defended effectively without the “Pat White” prototype QB that stresses defenses. I have finally seen, like a child slowly realizing the truth about Santa, the RR offensive philosophy embodied in that magical, wide-open slant after Denard fakes a QB iso. Does any defense so ridiculously abandon their zone responsibilities to cope with Sheridan, Threet or even Tate? Of course not. I don’t think any defense that we will face will more calmly react to Denard than the first five have. Oh, most will do better, but marginally so. That includes Norm Parker and Iowa (I predict we shred them).

In the end, I am not predicting that we will finish 12-0 or even 11-1. What I am suggesting is that there is a point where defensive ineffectiveness reaches a saturation point in a Bend-Don’t Break strategy that debunks a dark fear in all our hearts that teams will score more and more and more. Teams will score, but the scoring will look pretty much like what UMass and Indiana scoring looked like. As long as Denard stays healthy, we will be in every game.

The proof will be coming shortly - I will return to mgoboard to take my beating these next seven weeks if this prediction doesn't come true: no Big Ten offense will score more than 40 points on Michigan (OK, maybe one in a perfect storm game).

And the final consolation I take is in the offensive line. Last year, our OLine was horrifying. This year it is a source of strength. Assuming (a big assumption) that RR knows both sides of the football, I see a parallel in our secondary that should possess real depth next year and show similar improvement.


Marc 71

October 5th, 2010 at 9:16 PM ^

May NOT be the problem you think he is.  I hear that the 3-3-5 (or whatever you want to call it) is RichRod's scheme and he has directed GERG to run it.  GERG is doing the best he can with the limited amount of depth he has to work with. 


October 6th, 2010 at 8:55 AM ^

Granted we do not have the talent at defense that the other top 25 teams do, but to be ranked 120 in pass defense while running a 3-3-5 is simply horrible. It looks like we are in prevent constantly; any QB with a shred of talent will have plenty of time to find an open receiver. It is a poor scheme with bad execution. The buck stops with the coach, not the players.


October 8th, 2010 at 1:14 AM ^

 My biggest problem with the defense is that they have so much potential, yet so much youth. I know they are better than they are showing they are. If we can win just a couple more, they will really bring in their confidence and they will be able to see that they can play with anybody.


You can’t tell me that practicing against our offense will not make them that much stronger. They have it. They just need to do it.


They really made great strides in the Indiana game. They were more punishing than I have seen them since the first game.


October 5th, 2010 at 11:59 PM ^

Bill Lynch was shell shocked in the press conference when he mentioned that time of possession usually is a good barometer for your chances or winning.  He was like "so wait, you're telling me that we just controlled the time of possession and still got housed?"  Afraid so coach.

My feeling is that both Notre Dame and Indiana presented unique challenges for a defense that has so many newbies in the secondary.  If Crist played the entire game we almost certainly lose that game in South Bend.  With the Hoosiers, well their defense is so bad I'm not sure how they ever stopped Michigan.  They left the Wolverines with a little over a minute of game clock  before the game-winning drive and I was honestly concerned after we scored that we left them too much time.  It turns out we were gone (with the W) in less than 60 seconds.

The offense is unlikely to be completely grounded as we've seen this Rich Rod directed movie before (Clemson, Tulane, West Virginia, now Michigan).  If the youngins on defense can improve, coupled with facing teams that in their heart of hearts would prefer to run the ball, we could be in for a very exciting second half of the football season.