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Michigan football: Defense quietly off to excellent start, with one major exception

Starting defense hasn't allowed touchdown without turnover in regulation

Josh Metellus #14 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball against the Army Black Knights during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Lost in the Michigan football team's ugly first two games has been an overall excellent performance by the defense, except in one critical area.

The Wolverines needed overtime to survive an upset bid from Army after showing some inconsistencies against Middle Tennessee State.

READMichigan doesn't look like Big Ten championship contender despite 2-0 start

Defensively, Michigan has allowed 21 points in each of the first two contests, but none of those touchdowns have come on a long field against the starting unit.

Of those six scores, four have come after Michigan's offense fumbled the ball away. Here are the numbers on those four drives:

  • Four plays, 42 yards against MTSU
  • Eight plays, 33 yards against MTSU
  • 10 plays, 60 yards against Army
  • 11 plays, 40 yards against Army

On average, Michigan's opponents only had to go 43.75 yards to score on those four drives. Obviously the offense has put the defense in some bad situations.

But if Don Brown's unit wants to be considered among the elite defenses in the country, it needs to do a better job responding to adversity, especially if Michigan continues to turn it over on offense.

Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. of the Army Black Knights fumbled the ball which was recovered by Michigan during the second overtime to end the game at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Only once has Michigan's defense gotten a stop after a turnover, and it came with the help of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against an Army offense that's not built to overcome 15-yard penalties.

As good as the defense has been, it needs to do a better job in bad situations. That might mean holding opponents to field goals or forcing a three and out. So far, opponents are getting into the end zone at an 80% clip after Michigan's offense turns it over. That can't continue.

MOREHow Ronnie Bell came up clutch time after time vs. Army

Otherwise, Michigan has once again been excellent on the defensive side of the ball.

Middle Tennessee State's only other touchdown came against the backup defense in the waning moments of a blowout. Army's third scoring drive started at the 25-yard line in overtime.

Here's a look at every non-scoring drive for MTSU and Army against Michigan's defense.

MTSU:

  • 5 plays, 11 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, -2 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, -1 yard, punt
  • 5 plays, 36 yards, interception
  • 5 plays, 25 yards, fumble
  • 3 plays, 7 yards, punt
  • 6 plays, 31 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, 5 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, -9 yards, punt
  • 6 plays, 23 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, 0 yards, punt
  • 8 plays, 31 yards, turnover on downs

Army:

  • 3 plays, 6 yards, punt
  • 1 play, -4 yards, fumble
  • 6 plays, 2 yards, punt
  • 10 plays, 60 yards, interception
  • 3 plays, 7 yards, punt
  • 5 plays, 18 yards, punt
  • 10 plays, 25 yards, missed field goal
  • 3 plays, -11 yards, fumble

Michigan only allowed one drive of 40 or more yards when the offense didn't fumble the ball away. That includes stiffening up in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions with the game on the line after consecutive turnovers on downs by the offense.

Army also needed a fourth-down conversion on its first scoring drive and two fourth-down conversions on its second scoring drive. Against most other teams, those situations would have resulted in punts or field goal attempts.

Last season, Kelvin Hopkins Jr., Connor Slomka and Co. averaged nearly 5 yards per rush attempt. Michigan's defense held Army to 3.3 yards per rush.

Kell Walker #5 of the Army Black Knights is tackled by Kwity Paye #19 of the Michigan Wolverines and Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Despite facing two polar opposite offenses in the first two weeks, and juggling preparations for both throughout the spring and summer, Michigan's defense held up, allowing an average of 272 yards.

Brown will focus on minimizing the damage when faced with short fields, but otherwise, it's been a promising start for a unit that had to replace NFL talent on all three levels.

The Wolverines will face much more potent offenses in the coming months, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, future NFL quarterback Nate Stanley, a Maryland team that scored 142 points in its first two games, Notre Dame's Ian Book and a lethal Ohio State unit led by Justin Fields.

Michigan has a lot of improvements to make if it hopes to compete for another double-digit win season, but the defense is at least off to a strong start.


About the Author:

Derick Hutchinson

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications and a focus in journalism. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.