ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At times, Michigan defense has resembled a giant tidal wave, rolling toward the shore.
Only one thing holds that wave back this week: a break in the schedule. This week’s bye is about the only thing that will put Michigan’s defense in its place right now.
The Wolverines don’t have an offense to torment this weekend, so there won’t be any debris left in the wake of their weekend wrath.
You can’t blame the defensive players if they feel a little lost this weekend, going to parties or doing Friday-night college things instead of preparing for another Saturday game in which they expect to dominate.
In Saturday’s 78-0 win, Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten Conference) overmatched and overwhelmed Rutgers (2-4, 0-3), limiting the Scarlet Knights to 39 total yards, including only 5 passing yards.
One element in particular — that stingy pass rush — has helped some deem Michigan’s defensive line the best, the most skilled and the most effective in the country. Some might argue that Michigan’s schedule works to its advantage; only one of its wins came against a team ranked in the AP Top 25 at game time. Of the other five opponents, only Colorado currently sits higher than 42nd in the Sagarin Ratings, which factors strength of schedule.
But in each one of its six wins, Michigan has stuck to a pattern: find a team’s weakness and exploit it. Against Rutgers, that meant emphasizing the pass rush.
A week after Rutgers went 3 for 16 passing for 33 yards in a 58-0 loss Oct. 1 at Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights further regressed Saturday against Michigan, as Chris Laviano and Zach Allen completed 2 of 18 passes and got were sacked 4 times.
“Our front, that’s one of the biggest and best,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “The spine of our team is that defensive front. (Defensive line coach) Greg Mattison does a great job coaching our guys, and they were fast. Our whole team was really fast. They were executing at a really high level. The pressure, it was tough to deal with.”
According to NCAA statistics, the Wolverines lead the nation in total defense (212.8 yards per game) and passing yards allowed (113.7). Michigan is also tied for second in the nation with No. 5 Washington in team sacks (24).
“We set the bar, but now we keep trying to improve,” said defensive end Taco Charlton, who had 2 sacks against Rutgers. We try to go out there and be the best defense in the country, and it can’t just stop with just Rutgers. It’s got to go to next week. I’m in this bye week, And once we get to Illinois (on Oct. 22), we have to keep on improving and show what we’re made of.”
This is around the time of the season when teams begin to wear down, but Michigan’s depth at defensive line has continued to keep the Wolverines effective — something Mattison utilizes by design through his rotations.
In fact, the depth at the position has become one of the most pleasant surprises at Michigan, as freshman Rashan Gary, converted TE/LB Chase Winovich and redshirt junior Maurice Hurst have emerged as contributors, combining for 58 tackles.
They also helped Michigan limit Rutgers to 2 first downs Saturday; both came in the fourth quarter.
“Constant pressure,” Harbaugh said.
That mindset helped Michigan hold nothing back in Saturday’s evisceration at Rutgers.
“That’s what we expect, when you’re in a defense like we are,” Michigan LB Ben Gedeon said. “You want to execute every single play. If we execute, then they shouldn’t score a point.”
Michigan’s pass defense in its first six games
|Penn State||121 yards|
Michigan’s sack totals in its first six games