A historic defense lends Michigan its most realistic shot yet at CFP


By now, everybody who follows Michigan football knows what the Wolverines did to Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke last weekend.

Lewerke, touted as a dark-horse Heisman candidate heading into the season, was repeatedly battered by Michigan?s pass rush despite the absence of junior defensive end Rashan Gary. On the rare occasions that he was given time to throw, Lewerke was flummoxed by the Wolverines? secondary, finding his receivers on just five of 25 passing attempts. Running back LJ Scott totaled just 25 yards on the ground to go with a singular reception.

It was an awe-inspiring exhibition of defensive dominance against a Michigan State team that proved it could beat high-level opposition the previous week against Penn State. In that game, Lewerke passed for 259 yards on 24 completions. The Spartans also gained 123 ground yards despite not having Scott. In fact, going into last week, Lewerke was averaging 264.5 yards per game ? nearly 200 more than he posted against Michigan.

That level of dominance for the Wolverines? defense has not been restricted to one game.

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The previous week, their biggest threat was Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. Lewerke might have been considered a dark-horse Heisman candidate earlier this season but Taylor was a legitimate one. Heading into the Badgers? matchup with Michigan, he was posting nearly 170 yards per game. Like Lewerke, he posted his worst performance of the season against the Wolverines, with a season-low 101 total yards.

The week before, they held Maryland?s 22nd ranked rushing offense to 147 yards. Against Northwestern, quarterback Clayton Thorson?threw?for just 174 yards on a 16-for-27 passing day. Over the next two weeks, he totaled over 800 yards through the air in wins over Michigan State and Nebraska.

Michigan?s defensive dominance hasn?t been limited to recent weeks ? or even Big Ten play. In the Wolverines? first win of the season back in week two against Western Michigan, they limited the Broncos to 208 yards of total offense. Of course, Western?s schedule since then has mostly come against MAC opposition, but they are averaging 463.2 yards of offense per game on the season.

Until Thursday?s defeat to Toledo, they Broncos had won all six of their games since the Wolverines beat them. Even in their other power five matchup, they put up a 621 yard offensive outburst and nearly beat a 5-2 Syracuse team.

Most would consider Michigan?s week three win over SMU to be its worst defensive performance of the season. The Wolverines allowed 20 points and 319 yards to a team that was 0-2 at the time, as Mustangs? wide receiver James Proche caught 11 passes for 166 yards. Just two weeks removed from the season-opening loss to Notre Dame, Michigan?s secondary was heavily criticized after the game. Since then, though, SMU has righted their season?s course, with three wins in four tries. Proche?s outburst against the Wolverines remains his best performance but he?s averaging an impressive 88.4 yards on the season.

After Wisconsin?s loss to Northwestern on Saturday, the old criticisms that Michigan hasn?t beat elite teams may re-surface. But go beyond that. Look at how the Wolverines have dominated quality offenses. And then you will realize why this team is a playoff contender.

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