Wolverines are finally playing 'Michigan defense'

BY foxsports • November 13, 2011

In his first season at Michigan, coach Brady Hoke and his coaches have been in search of what they call Michigan defense - the style of swarming, run-stopping defense that was long a staple of football in Ann Arbor.

A year ago, Michigan was forced to outscore an Illinois team it couldn't stop, just hanging on for a 67-65 win.

On Saturday, Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison think they started to see a glimpse of the sort of defense they're looking for. In the Wolverines' 31-14 win at Illinois, the big blue defense was dominant. The win moved Michigan up two spots to No. 20 Sunday in the AP Top 25.

The Illini had 30 yards at halftime and finished with 37 rushing yards. They turned the ball over three times and Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase peeled himself up off the turf after sacks four times.

Defensive end Ryan Van Bergen had 2 1/2 of those sacks, and three of his seven tackles were for losses.

''That was without a doubt a Michigan defense,'' Mattison said. ''They played as hard as they could. They did whatever they had to do.''

The Wolverines (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) now look to a pair of home games to finish out the regular season. But to get to 10 wins, that Michigan defense will be tested against Nebraska and Ohio State.

The Wolverines last year had one of the worst defenses in the country and the worst in the Big Ten. The win over the Illini might have been just the most obvious example, but Michigan gave up 35 points a game.

That number is the reason the Wolverines hired Mattison to restore some defensive order.

''You guys know as well as anybody, it was all he heard about when he took the job here,'' Hoke told reporters.

This season the Wolverines are giving up 15 points a game, and they've forced 23 turnovers, tied for best in the Big Ten.

Saturday's win turned on one of them. Illinois (6-4, 2-4) had just scored to pull within 17-7 and, after its own defensive stop, had the ball again and had momentum. But cornerback J.T. Floyd picked off Scheelhaase and brought the ball back 43 yards, setting up a touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Martavious Odoms that buried the Illini.

''I just read the split and trusted my instincts and went for it,'' Floyd said. ''We are getting close to becoming that Michigan defense that we have talked about.''

Quarterback Denard Robinson's bruised wrist isn't expected to keep him out this week. He took snaps on the sideline after leaving the game in the third quarter but didn't need to come back, according to Hoke.

''He'll be OK,'' the coach said.

While the Wolverines celebrated the return of their defense, the Illini were left to wonder why a team that was 6-0 has now lost four straight. There were boos from a sellout crowd Saturday, and Illinois head coach Ron Zook reportedly walked off the field to shouts of ''FireRonZook.com'' from a few, a reference to the website that called for his ouster at Florida long before it came.

Zook said he was baffled to explain just what's gone wrong, particularly with an offense that hasn't scored a first-half point in four games.

''I thought we had some things fixed and obviously we don't,'' he said. ''We are in a funk and we have to get out of it.''


Follow David Mercer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP

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