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Friday Focus: The Michigan Wolverines’ Defense

Adam DiBartolomeoWell, Paul Bunyan is back in Ann Arbor after four long years and the 20th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (5-2; 3-0) are in 1st place in the B1G Legends Division. Life is good for Team 133…but it is not about to get any easier.

Just when we think we can all breathe a little easier Brady Hoke’s boys will pack their bags and head to Lincoln where they will face the “Sea of Red” and the 2nd-place Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-2; 2-1) under the lights in a crucial divisional match up. Normally we focus on Denard and the offense in hostile road environments but the Cornhuskers boast a dangerously potent offense, therefore this week’s focus will be on Greg Mattison’s defense.

In the last five games the Wolverine defense has been lights out. Greg Mattison’s troops are following the trend they did last year in which they show tangible improvement as the season progresses. The unit has only allowed 42 points in the last 5 games (8.4 points per game), the defensive line is getting more push and keeping the linebackers clean and free to make plays, Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan have become legitimate animals, and the secondary has been solid despite losing arguably their best corner in Blake Countess. They are the team’s strength and the numbers do not lie:

The UM defense held MSU RB Le’Veon Bell to 68 yards on 26 carries.

  • POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME – 16.43 (16th nationally; 3rd in B1G)
  • PASSING YARDS – 142.3 YPG (3rd nationally; 1st in B1G)
  • RUSHING DEFENSE – 143 YPG (48th nationally; 6th in B1G)

The rushing statistics are a bit inflated considering they have faced an inhuman Alabama team and the nation’s no. 2 rushing attack in Air Force that runs 99.99999999999% of the time in a very tricky triple option offense.

Outside of those two games the Wolverine defense has only allowed 95.8 ypg which would rank them as the nation’s 10th best and the best in the B1G. They held one-time Heisman candidate RB Le’Veon Bell to 68 yards (2.6 ypc) last week against a run-heavy MSU team. They are not too shabby in this department as the raw numbers might suggest.

Also, as stated above, take the Alabama and Air Force games away for the reasons mentioned, and the defense has only been allowing 9.8 points per game which is good for the 3rd best in the country and tops in the B1G. They are legit and getting better each week.

As good as the defense has been, they have not faced a calibre of offense they will see on Saturday since going up against the Crimson Tide. Nebraska’s offense is also a legit unit. Here are their impressive numbers:

  • POINTS PER GAME – 41.57 (12th nationally; 1st in B1G)
  • PASSING YARDS – 233.4 YPG (56th nationally, 3rd in B1G)
  • RUSHING YARDS – 279 YPG (6th nationally; 1st in B1G)

They are good.

Taylor Martinez is very similar to Denard Robinson in that he is a dangerous runner who averages around 12 carries per game at a 4.6 ypc clip. The difference is that this season he has drastically improved his passing by completing 67% of his passes and only four INTs. He is a true dual-threat quarterback who has the speed to break off a big play at any point. He must be contained.

Taylor Martinez is a true dual-threat QB by drastically improving his passing this season.

Their battering ram of a RB, Rex Burkhead (8.6 ypc), has been limited the last few weeks with a knee injury and may not see much, or any, action this Saturday. No matter, their next guy in line is Ameer Abdullah and he is more than capable of filling the void. Has been asked to pick up the slack for the banged up Burkhead and has answered with 15 carries per game in which he has averaged 5.9 ypc. Oh yeah, he also leads the team in rushing TDs with seven. He also is a factor in the return game as well.

If Michigan keys solely on Martinez this guy will gash them. It will be up to Mattison to put together a scheme to keep both players at bay.

The Wolverines’ secondary will also be tested as the Cornhuskers have a legitimate vertical threat at WR in the 6’1″ 185 lbs. Kenny Bell. He has hauled in 26 passes for an average of 20.8 yards per grab and has reached the house five times. He is another big play threat and the back end better be prepared for him. Whether it is Taylor or Floyd who will be lining up over him, they will be tested.

As shown by the statistics above, Greg Mattison will have his hands full this week. Nebraska has multiple weapons in which he will have to account for. To top it off, the game will be played in one of the most rowdy stadiums in the country…at night. It’s going to be a very tough task, but Mattison has the chops and the horses to get the job done if they execute.

It’s one of the nation’s best offenses pinned up against one of the nation’s top defenses for 1st place in the Legends Division. Something’s gotta give. Nebraska is rather pedestrian on defense (OSU put up 63 on them) so the Wolverines should score if they keep with the recent trend of excellent ball security.

The outcome is going to hinge on the defense. Hushing that crazy crowd by slowing down Martinez and Abdullah/Burkhead and Team 133 should walk out with a W and a clear path to Indianapolis. Surrender points early and often and they will be tied for the division lead with Bo Pelini’s group holding the tiebreaker. They truly control their own destiny. We’ll find out how good this defense is on Saturday and just how far this team can go.


You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamdibart.

And also be sure to click on over to Adam’s blog for all things Detroit sports here at - May the Hoke be with you! © January 11th, 2011
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