So how does the defense stack up

Submitted by bronxblue on September 19th, 2009 at 9:08 PM
So after watching this team for 3 weeks and noticing that the general sentiment on this blog was that the defense is a step or two behind the offense, I figured I would do some quick research to see if the defense this year is demonstrably worse than last year's after 3 games.  As most remember, last year's defense was highly touted but ultimately stumbled down the stretch (as the offense continued to fail). 

Below are some charts - yes, charts - showing how the defense stacks up after three games, both this year and last year.  Please take these charts with a massive grain of salt, but I was still a little surprised by the findings.  Also, I know that the defense last year was statistically one of the worst in UM's history, but I still think that was due more to the offense's inability to stay on the field than a complete implosion by the defense.

Teams Utah Miami (NTM) ND TOTAL
Yards 341 252 260 853
Rushing 36 47 113 196
Passing 305 205 147 657
Offensive Points 25 6 28 59

Yards301 490 285 1076
Rushing38 154 179 371
Passing263 336 106 705
Offensive Points7 34 17 58

So not as bad as I thought.  Points are just about equal (one of ND's 2008 touchdowns was on a fumble return, which I did not attribute to the defense).  The passing yards are essentially the same, with the rushing defense clearly taking a step back.  At least part of that rushing difference, though, can be attributed to the Herculean effort the defense put on Utah, holding them to 0.8 yards per carry on 43(!) attempts in the first game of 2008.  Put their average from last year (157 yds/gm), and you have effectively the same defensive effort.

But what about the offenses faced?  Were the offenses UM faced last year statistically better or worse than the ones they have faced so far?  I wanted to find out, so I go again to my trusty excel chart.*

*Note, the national rankings for the 2009 opponents only includes the first 2 games (since today's games are not complete).  Also, I included both the final and after-3-games totals for the 2008 offenses.

Final Ranking
Total Ranking 35 89 65 63
Rushing 51 101 100 84
Passing 35 57 34 42
Scoring 23 108 56 62
After 3 games
Total Ranking 44 84 107 78
Rushing 47 111 111 90
Passing 43 40 69 51
Scoring 16 93 88 66

2009 - after 2 games
Total Ranking109 17 104 77
Rushing118 54 95 89
Passing27 1093 43
Scoring109 35 95 80

So yeah, the defense is struggling a bit, but certainly not to the extent people first envisioned.  While I will update the 2009 numbers when they are posted, both ND and WMU have/are putting a hurting on their most recent opponents, and EMU showed some competence against both UM and NW.  As you can see, the rush defense might have been helped by the fact that both ND and Miami (NTM) trotted out some of the worst rushing offenses last year, and Utah was the first game of the year against a fresh defensive front.  This year it is clear that the line is a work in progress, and the LBs need to tackle better, but those were trouble spots everyone expected.  Not to harp on the Denny Green meme, but the front 7 are who we thought they were - incredibly shallow with some clear weaknesses.  Still, the rush defense is ranked #43 (last year it finished #50), and my guess is that it will improve somewhat as the season progresses and some of the younger players get their feet under them and GERG's principles become more familiar.

As for the passing defenses, they are remarkably similar statistically.  Sure, Cissoko has struggled mightily this year, but don't forget that last year Stevie was letting bombs soar over his head and receivers scoot by him virtually unmolested.  Angry Secondary Michigan Hating God works in mysterious ways, but apparently the pox can never be eradicated; just moved to a different victim.  It should be noted that they have faced two top-30 passing offenses so far this season, so perhaps we shouldn't read that heavily into the fact that the backfield has been exposed somewhat.  Currently the defense is 87th in passing defense, but that happens when you face top-30 passing attacks.  Last year they finished #79, and I would be amazed if the pass defense didn't finish in the 60's or even the 50's by the end of the season.

So I guess my conclusion is that while the defense has struggled somewhat this year, let's not forget that it wasn't some juggernaut last year.  For all of Cissoko's recent failings and the struggles of the front 7 against the run, the team is not that far away from last year's numbers, and should probably exceed them once the sample size increases.  Yes, PSU and OSU will likely run all over the D, but that should surprise nobody.  Those are top-notch offenses with dynamic playmakers in the backfield.  But I like what I'm seeing so far under GERG - tackling alone seems light-years ahead of last year, the players seem to get the scheme, the young guys, especially Roh, look legit, and Warren and Graham have been revelations.  I'm not saying this defense will approach 1997 or 2006, but I do think it will grade out better than people expect.

I would love to hear what people who know far more about football, especially on the defensive side, think of this defense and how it should look going forward.

EDIT:  I have updated the rankings for this year's offenses after 3 games.  Overall, they match up quite similarly to last year's offenses after 3 games, when the defense was touted as one of the best.  My take is that while the defense certainly has to improve, I think that it will certainly be better than last year's because the offense should protect it via sustained drives and, hopefully, less turnovers resulting in bad field position.

2009 - after 3 games

Total Ranking94 14 109 72
Rushing113 58 76 82
Passing32 10107 50
Scoring79 33 105 72



September 19th, 2009 at 9:46 PM ^

I didn't get to see the second half. I assume our defense made solid adjustments and played better. Or did we just get lucky by not allowing any points? Somebody tell me.


September 20th, 2009 at 12:03 PM ^

Look, I have no intention to take away anything from the team's and Boubacar's accomplishments. I was just pointing out that he is continuing to learn and hopefully he will start to make better reads in the future. And I just think it's funny though when he celebrates, but good for him - even if you do get burnt it still boosts your confidence for the next play


September 20th, 2009 at 8:47 PM ^

to express some concern about Cissoko. We have seen numerous examples in Michigan history how poor play in the secondary has had a key part in us losing games. In my opinion, Cissoko has been the weak spot in that secondary, getting beat on numerous occasions in this short season. Piling on that concern is the celebrating when he was clearly been beat. I don't understand how that can't bug people, but maybe I'm the anal one.


September 21st, 2009 at 12:31 PM ^

It bugged me also that booboo did not recognize that he got burnt and then got very lucky.

All players make mistakes, but the good ones recognize them and learn from it. Maybe it was just a spontaneous reaction that a TD was averted...I am sure the coaching staff will see it your way.

The Biatch

September 19th, 2009 at 10:28 PM ^

From what I can recall, the defense played pretty well in the second half, but there were also moments of head-scratching.

As per

3rd Quarter:
3 plays, 5 yards, punt.
3 plays, 6 yards, punt.
2 plays, 4 yards, interception.
15 plays, 55 yards, turnover on downs inside the UM 5.

4th Quarter:
1 play, -6 yards, fumble.
8 plays, 35 yards, punt.
3 plays, 0 yards, punt.

oriental andrew

September 21st, 2009 at 10:50 AM ^

BUT, to the previous poster's point, there were multiple drops on what were catchable balls. Brian's WR chart would've looked ugly for EMU players, with a lot of drops in the 2 and 3 categories (catchable and dead-on, respectively). It also hurt EMU that their QB, Schmitt (?), flukily hurt his knee and fumbled early in the 4th quarter.


September 19th, 2009 at 10:49 PM ^

For the second week in a row, the team went in at the half really struggling on defense. RRod and Gerg made the necessary adjustments in the locker room and the team played much better in the second half. Not only are they able to make the technical adjustments to their schemes, but the players are so well coached that they are able to implement the changes. That's the part that impresses me the most.


September 19th, 2009 at 10:36 PM ^

After 3 games was probably the high point of last years D...they got worse and worse by the years end and ended up giving something like 28 pts per game...

hopefully that doesnt happen this year...but I dont think it will because the offense is much better and will put less pressure on the D


September 20th, 2009 at 12:02 AM ^

Yes, we played better in the second half. However, after watching Iowa and Sparty, our D has me worried. If the defense plays like it did today against those two, we will lose by a lot. Very little pressure on the QB, tons of missed tackles, especially by DBs.

Let's just hope they improve and continue to make adjustments.


September 20th, 2009 at 12:09 AM ^

can the people who watch it at home tell me what happenned to the EMU QB to make him fumble? I was at the stadium and I think i was watching something else or something, all i know was i looked over and he just kinda fell all by himself...really weird haha


September 20th, 2009 at 12:22 AM ^

It didn't look like much on the TV. He simply took a few steps back, and then crumpled to the ground in such pain that he dropped the football. I guess he must have twisted something when he planted to throw. The reports say he injured his right knee. Very strange watching it all unfold.


September 20th, 2009 at 1:55 AM ^

I saw his ankle slightly buckle and his knee followed the nano second after. It looked like maybe he was taped up so well that he couldn't naturally roll it so the momentum pushed straight up into his knee as he fell back. I am assuming the ankle was the start of whatever injury he has though.


September 20th, 2009 at 1:17 PM ^

In 2007, our D got absolutely scorched the first two games, but then pulled themselves together and had a very good stretch of 7 or 8 games. Same thing happened in 1998, as old timers may remember. The question for this year is just how much better they can get with the people they have on the roster.


September 20th, 2009 at 6:18 PM ^

I think the defensive line will improve as the younger guys get more reps and refs starting protecting Graham a bit (he gets held virtually every passing down - give some holding penalties, and we'll see him really take over). The LBs probably won't improve much, except I do think Stevie will become a bit more comfortable in the defense. The backfield? I'm worried that Cissoko will continue to be picked on, and the safeties are still going to whiff on plays. It will be interesting to see how the team matches up against run-heavy teams like MSU and Iowa - if they can tackle and force those teams to throw, I wouldn't be surprised to see them be 7-0 heading into PSU.


September 20th, 2009 at 6:50 PM ^

I think our offense is going to have to continually produce for us to beat better teams unless we make significant improvements defensively. Our linebacker play was awful against Eastern and often times we couldn't hold containment. Our LBs were fooled almost anytime there was play action and we actually got gashed on a zone read play that the defense has to see every day in practice.
With that said, I think we have a potent offense and all are defense has to do really is keep improving and stay above average for this to be a good season. This season kind of reminds me of the second year of the Belein era.

Ali G Bomaye

September 20th, 2009 at 9:51 PM ^

In addition to the extremely small sample sizes, keep in mind that 1/3 of our opponents' offensive statistics are a result of our defense, which is what we're trying to measure in the first place.


September 20th, 2009 at 11:11 PM ^

I know - that's why I mentioned you should take these defensive statistics with a massive grain of salt. But people have been making observations about this team's defense since day 1, and I thought that it might be interesting to show that the defense is not noticeably worse than last year's, even after 3 games when it was at its zenith. But yes, I recognize small sample size, UM's substantial impact on ratings, etc. I have updated the offensive statistics for this year's opponents with their new rankings after 3 weeks, which match up favorably to the offenses faced last year after 3 games.

I guess the take-away from this little exercise is that the defense is transitioning and will continue to struggle, but it is still putting up similar numbers to last year's defense at this point in the season against similarly-talented offenses. My guess, though, is that the implosion from last year's team will not befall this one, as the offense looks to be light-years ahead and will, presumably, save the defense from the double whammy of increased time on the field as well as poor field position.


September 21st, 2009 at 12:40 AM ^

Is the point here really just that the '09 defense is not worse than the '08 defense? Seeing as the '08 D was pretty much the worst in UM history, I was hoping we could do a little better this year.

Cissoko really needs to stop demonstratively taking credit for other peoples' mistakes, unless perhaps he has been using powers of telekinesis to cause opposing WRs to drop their passes.


September 21st, 2009 at 7:55 AM ^

My point was two-fold in making this post.

1. Show that while the defense has struggled somewhat, it has done so against some decent offenses. For all the doom and gloom, though, it is still statistically not that bad.

2. After 3 games last year, the 2008 defense was still highly regarded, while after 3 games this year people are noticeably worried. Yet, looking at the numbers, you see they are quite similar, and unlike last year's defense, should probably be able to maintain that pace against most of the schedule (save PSU and OSU). My point is that fans are so enamored with the offensive improvement that we immediately bag on the defense because it looks worse by comparison; but honestly GERG has done some good stuff with the defense so far, and I'd be surprised if it didn't improve.


September 21st, 2009 at 4:44 PM ^

Using game totals glosses over one huge difference between last year's defense and this year's.

Last year M defense tended to be pretty good on first and second down, then give up big yardage on 3rd. As I recall, Brian pointed out that a huge percentage of total yardage given up was given up in a small number of big plays. Big plays combined with poor field position due to offensive turnovers equaled defensive misery and led to GERG.

This year's defense, under a new D-Coordinator for the 3rd consecutive year, has cut down on yielding the big plays, but tends to give up long drives due to steady gains of 4-6 yards. I'm hoping to see continued improvement as the players get more familiar with the new system, but my brain tells me to prepare for "whoever scores last wins" shoot-outs like the 2000 Northwestern game, which at the time I thought was a once in a lifetime nightmare.