Retooled Michigan defense looks OK without 8 NFL draft picks
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — That defense for 11th-ranked Michigan looks very familiar, even with all those first-time starters.
Yes, those Wolverines that had eight defensive players taken in the NFL draft earlier this year and also lost two other starters.
“Just playing with a chip on our shoulder,” said sophomore linebacker Devin Bush, one of seven defenders who made their first starts for Michigan in a season-opening 33-17 win over No. 17 Florida .
The Gators lost their season opener for the first time since 1989, while being held to 192 total yards, nine first downs and no offensive touchdowns Saturday. They lost three fumbles, one recovered in the end zone for a Michigan touchdown.
“Our defense was amazing,” coach Jim Harbaugh said.
“They physically took it to us, give them their due,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “They beat us every which way they could up front, and we never had an answer.”
Granted, this was a Florida team with a new starting quarterback and missing its top receiver and top rusher. They were among 10 Gators suspended for the opener.
But Florida had only 11 yards rushing on 27 attempts and gave up six sacks behind an offensive line that McElwain had called the true strength of the team after challenging them to be more aggressive, tougher and more physical.
The longest drive for the Gators was to open the game, when they went 46 yards — 34 on one pass — for a field goal that was their only offensive score. The second-longest possession was the last one after Michigan’s starters were pretty much out of the game, with passes of 28 and 20 yards before a sack that ended the game.
“This whole season, we got something to prove,” Bush said. “Young don’t mean nothing. Football is still football, regardless of who is there or not.”
After almost not making it past the third play, Bush finished with team highs of seven tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Bush was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after hitting receiver Grant Perry out of bounds on the Florida sideline on the opening series. There was a lengthy replay review while officials looked to determine if Bush was subject to a targeting call and ejection.
The Wolverines led the nation last season allowing 261.8 total yards per game, and ranked second giving up only 14.1 points per game. Among the eight players drafted off that defense were All-American safety Jabrill Peppers and pass-rushers Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley.
“Togetherness, hungry, fast, physical — that’s how I would describe this defense as compared to last year,” Bush said.
Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight said he doesn’t like to compare years. But he did notice something very familiar when going against the defense during preseason camp.
“I know going against (defensive coordinator) Don Brown and his schemes, and his assistants and the players he puts on the field for 30 straight days, that’s no fun,” Speight said. “It wasn’t fun last year, and it wasn’t fun this August. But thankfully, it’s over and other offenses have to face them now.”
And that next will be Cincinnati for Michigan’s home opener on Saturday.