Wolverines defense shines amid offensive outburst

Football


It?s not often that a defense gives up three points and is barely discussed after the game. But in a fourteen minute postgame press conference, Jim Harbaugh was asked just one question about his defense.


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Minutes earlier, Michigan sent out its quarterback and running back to talk to media. And after Harbaugh left the podium, he was replaced with a wide receiver and yet another running back.

?I thought (the offense) played really good,? Harbaugh said. ?Tip of the cap every time you have over 300 rushing yards.?

Only in the back of the Crisler Center press room, after half the media had already left, were defensive stars Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary brought out to discuss the game. And it makes sense ? the Wolverines? offense was the star of the show, with 49 points on the board.

Forgotten amidst the offensive outburst, though, was an inspiring defensive showing. The week leading up to Saturday was spent commending the defense on its second half bounce-back at Notre Dame but concerned about it uncharacteristically allowing back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game.

For one play, those fears manifested themselves against Western, as running back LeVante Bellamy broke through up the middle for 25 yards on their first play from scrimmage.

From that point on, the Broncos managed just 183 total yards of offense.

?We want to be the best defense in the nation,? Gary said. ?So we gotta separate ourselves from the rest.?

Added Winovich: ?There are so many takeaways that for me to list every positive, I would sit here for hours.?

That effort started at the top, with the Wolverines crop of defensive stars such as Gary and Winovich repeatedly making a nuisance of themselves.

?Khaleke Hudson played extremely well, corners played really well, David (Long) and Brandon (Watson) and Lavert (Hill),? Harbaugh said. ?Also, Devin Bush was flying around again. His speed was evident all game long. Rashan put in a full day?s work.?

But perhaps most noteworthy for Michigan was the effort of its less renowned players, even down to the second string. Its backups came in for the last two drives, and came up with a number of stops, though they did allow Western?s only three points of the game.

Brad Hawkins, meanwhile, manned the secondary more like a seasoned veteran than a recently converted receiver after replacing Josh Metellus midway through the afternoon. Ambry Thomas yet again showed his talent, both at cornerbacks and on a first quarter end around. Brandon Watson continued his hot start, nearly coming up with an interception on a go route late in the first quarter.

?There were so many guys that had great games today across the board,? said Winovich. ? ?Rising tide raises all ships? once again comes out.?

Everybody at least at one point in time came up and did their part to make sure those drives ended.?

To Winovich, seeing Michigan?s youngsters have an impact did not come as a surprise. When asked about freshman defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Winovich ? 6? 3? and 255 pounds himself ? simply responded, ?I mean, have you seen him? He?s a behometh.?

The Wolverines, though, are not getting carried away with Saturday?s performance, knowing tougher opposition lays ahead. Much of the fanbase expected a stiff test for the defense after Western put up 621 yards of offense last week against Syracuse but Winovich ? as confident and flowing with hubris as ever ? was never concerned.

?Our defense is held to such a high standard,? Winovich said. ?Syracuse is a great football team but we don?t hold ourselves to that standard, we hold ourselves to right here,? holding his hand high above his six foot, three inch frame.

As for Western? Winovich was less than impressed.

?I thought they were pretty predictable in the stuff they did,? Winovich said.

I felt like they came in and said ?whatever happens, we?re gonna try to not give up any sacks.? A lot of max protection and chipping on both sides. It?s a way to play football but obviously you see the results. I think they had like 200-something yards of offense.?


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