Michigan defense uses second-half adjustments to stymie Northwestern


It?s not often that an athlete will quote Drake in his postgame press conference.

But huddled in the dim concourses under Ryan Field?s south end zone, fifth year senior defensive end Chase Winovich pulled out a lyric from 305 to My City to explain Michigan?s come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Northwestern.

?When you look at the numbers, ? Winovich said, ?the numbers don?t lie to my baby.?

He may have messed up a little bit of the lyric but that?s about all the Wolverines? defense got wrong after the first quarter Saturday.

The Wildcats came out firing, opening the game with 17 points from their first three possessions. All the little things that have troubled Michigan through four weeks compiled in a disastrous opening frame. Its secondary was exposed on big pass plays, its linebackers allowed Clayton Thorson to scramble for yardage, and David Long committed a backbreaking third down pass interference.

From that point on, all one has to do is heed Winovich?s advice and look at the numbers.

Michigan allowed just 87 total yards between Northwestern?s second touchdown and when junior linebacker Josh Uche emphatically slammed Thorson to the ground to thwart a last-second Hail Mary attempt and end the game.

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Photo by Patrick Barron

Its defensive line returned to its suffocating form, sacking Thorson six times. The Wildcats? rushing game the rest of the way tallied three total yards.

?I felt like we were able to better predict and catch onto the stuff that they were attempting to do on us,? Winovich said. ?That, in turn, led into better play-calling and more favorable positions for us and eventually, we were able to kinda take over the game.?

While Michigan didn?t take the lead until just over four minutes remained in the fourth quarter, Winovich felt the tide shift on the Wolverines? first stop of the afternoon. With Northwestern threatening to break into Michigan territory, Qwity Paye blasted through the offensive line to bring down Thorson on 3rd and 7.

On the next drive, the Wolverines got their first three-and-out when Tyree Kinnel shut down the edge on a third down stretch play.

?I knew at that point they don?t have anything on us, this is our game,? Winovich said.

Despite a few stalled out offensive drives and a 10 point deficit, Winovich continued that refrain into halftime.

?I looked each person in the eyes,? Winovich said. ?I said ?this is the part where you gotta double down. All the hard work that we?ve done in preparation, they can?t take this from us.? Even when we were losing, I said that. It was our game, there was nothing they could do.?

Added Harbaugh: ?Talked about it at half time, ?We are being tested, this is the time to find out what we?re made of.? And our guys really responded.?

Immediately after the half, it was clear that confidence worked.

Winovich broke through on Thorson untouched on Northwestern?s first third down of the half. Its next third down was snuffed out by a sack from junior nose tackle Michael Dwumfour. Two drives later, Uche got in on the action, with another third down sack.

?(Defensive coordinator) Dom (Brown) made an adjustment with the coverage and continued to dial the blitzes,? Harbaugh said. ?They did a nice job blocking our twists so we countered that with an adjustment and got home 2 or 3 times.?

By the fourth quarter, all the Wildcats could do successfully was dial up slant routes over the middle the field. For a few fleeting moments, it appeared to be a sound strategy and they were able to pick up a few first downs.

But on a night of adjustments for Harbaugh and Michigan, they weren?t going to let a few slant passes break up the comeback.

So when Northwestern came out with consecutive slant passes on their final meaningful drive, the Wolverines were ready.

?We started getting our hands on some of those balls in the secondary,? Harbaugh said. ?We started applying the pressure and that really helped us.?

Added Winovich: ?I?m so proud of the way we fought and the way we clawed.?

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