Mike Zordich appreciates the media. At least when it works in his favor, as it did during preseason camp. The Michigan defensive backs coach wasn’t happy with the level of progression he was seeing from the cornerbacks.
“I’m not going to tell a story that isn’t true,” Zordich said on Aug. 21. “We’ve got a game to play in 12 days. They’re working hard, they’ve just got to work hard more consistently and do the right things more consistently.”
His message got out and his players heard it.
“You guys did a hell of a job,” said Zordich Wednesday as he took a break from team preparations for the game against Air Force on Saturday.
The apprehension Zordich felt during camp practices has been replaced with a feeling of comfort that the group of sophomores Lavert Hill and David Long, redshirt junior Brandon Watson, and freshman Ambry Thomas understands what he’s asking of them. Other players are coming along and could break into the group for playing time, but through the first two games it’s been those four who have played.
“I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They’ve stepped up and been playing okay,” Zordich said. “It’s the third game of the season. We’ve got a long way to go. They know it, I know it, the whole team knows it. Each week we’ve got to keep getting better. Nobody’s arrived, that’s for sure.
“The competition is wide open. It’s really been those four — ‘Vert, Ambry’s been in the mix and then Brandon Watson and David Long. They’re the four getting all the action but the door is always open. Competition has been open.”
Hill, Long and Watson each have 3 pass breakups to tie for the team lead. Hill had 1 of 2 interception returns for touchdowns last Saturday in a 36-14 win against Cincinnati. The Wolverines lead the nation with 3 defensive touchdowns, equaling their total from last season, and have outscored Florida and Cincinnati’s offenses, 21-17.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) September 10, 2017
For a defensive secondary that lost all four starters from last season, this group is picking up where that one left off. The Wolverines were second nationally in passing efficiency defense last season and the 142.5 yards passing allowed per game was No. 1 in the country. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 43.6 percent of their passes last season.
Michigan has allowed 43.9 percent completions for 313 yards and 1 touchdown through the air in the first two games.
The short rotation has been at safety as well. Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel have taken nearly every snap at safety, with viper Khaleke Hudson floating around as well.
“You get tired sometimes but we prepared in camp a lot of going through a lot of reps. We practiced a couple, three hours a day so we were used to it,” Metellus said. “And, when you get three-and-outs a lot, you don’t get that tired.”
Michigan had five defensive possessions against Florida in which it didn’t allow the Gators a first down. The Wolverines had 10 such possessions against Cincinnati. Last season’s team averaged 5.62 three-and-outs per game, good for fourth in the nation.
Zordich is still looking for players to be better at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. It is that aggressive man-to-man, bump-and-run defense that is the foundation of what the Wolverines do under coordinator Don Brown.
“We’ve got to be more consistent, more controlled, more quiet, more confident, and then at the end of it just be productive,” Zordich said. “From the last time we spoke, they are certainly making strides and steps towards that.”