Lost in the shuffle of offensive expectations, U-M defense remains strength

Football

It wasn’t always pretty but Michigan took care of business Saturday night. They defeated Middle Tennessee, 40-21, with Don Brown’s defense leading the way.

The Wolverines ultimately scored 40 points against a Blue Raider team that went 7-1 in Conference USA play last year.

The true bright spot for the Wolverines on Saturday night? Brown’s stout defense.

His squad held the Blue Raiders to 301 yards of total offense, but that number is bloated and misleading. 80 of those yards came on a garbage-time drive against reserves.

The defense had to reload this offseason after losing the likes of Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, and David Long to the NFL.

Saturday night welcomed new faces, and even a former walk-on, to step up and rise to the occasion.

Players Stepping Up

One player who kept jumping plays before they even had a chance to develop was redshirt-freshman cornerback Vincent Gray. The Rochester Adams product finished the game with four tackles, including one for loss. This team lacks depth on the outside, but if Gray can play as he did in this one they will be in a much better position going forward.

Ambry Thomas, who missed much of spring ball due to battling weight-loss and other issues caused by stomach colitis, outperformed expectations. The Detroit King graduate had one interception on top of two tackles, one for loss and a fumble recovery. If Thomas can provide production anywhere near what David Long produced last year, Michigan is in a good spot.

“I was worried about him going into game week. I knew that he’s a great corner, as you can see from his play but he had a lot less preparation than us all on our opponents and with us as a team,” senior safety Jordan Glasgow said of Thomas. “To see him come out and make the plays that he did was great to see. He’s a great player and a great person.”

Aidan Hutchinson, son of former Michigan star Chris Hutchinson, did his best to live up to his father’s legacy. The sophomore will be asked to do much more this year with the aforementioned Gary and Winovich gone. He started off the year with a bang, ending the game with a forced fumble and 5 tackles, including one for loss.

“I think when we got pinned… on our side of the field we need to change our mindset, really just attack it, I think for most of the game we did a good job,” Hutchinson said.

The Glasgow family lore is only improving as Jordan Glasgow, who had been a key special-teamer the past two years, stepped into a key role in the defense. Glasgow led the Wolverines with two tackles-for-loss. He has far exceeded expectations for a walk-on, just like his brothers before him.

“Negative yardage plays, at any time, is a great help for the defense especially on third down,” Glasgow said.

New Impact Lineman

Two guys making their initial impact on the Wolverine defense for the first time were Mike Danna and Ben Mason.

Danna, the grad-transfer defensive end from Central Michigan, has been asked to step into big shoes on the defensive line. He didn’t have an overall stand out game, but it’s not difficult to see why he came with such high regard. The 261-pound end shed blockers on his way to the backfield multiple times, but only came away with 3 stops in his Wolverine debut. A combination of Danna and Josh Uche off the edge should get the Wolverines plenty of sacks this year.

Mason, a former fullback, got his first run at defensive tackle and had an up-and-down time. An avid gym rat, Mason bulked up to 270 pounds this offseason for the switch to defense and is a work-in-progress. He is ferocious and has a non-stop motor, but will need to fine-tune his techniques before he can get in the backfield with consistency.

Consistant Returners

Don Brown’s top returners, Khaleke Hudson and Josh Metellus, provide reassurance on the back end for fans. At the viper position, Hudson led Michigan with eight tackles. Metellus totaled three from the strong safety spot. Metellus, who emerged through the tunnel pre-game with a boxing title belt, also had a pass-breakup.

Areas to Address

The Wolverines were not crisp on Saturday, which can be expected in season-opener but cannot linger. The Wolverines had 8 flags for 55 yards, including a personal foul on Khaleke Hudson for a late push out of bounds. Kwity Paye and Josh Uche bit hard on a few hard counts, giving the opposition free plays.

Daxton Hill

Not much from Daxton Hill, Michigan’s top recruit this past cycle, as he learns the defense and adjusts to college ball. He did play special teams where he was able to show off his speed as a gunner.

Looking Ahead

Next week Michigan will need to be even more stout against the run as the famed triple-option team, Army, marches into Ann Arbor. West Point struggled in its Week 1 matchup, defeating a lowly Rice team 14-7 at home.

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