In 2012, Michigan’s defense was very solid, helping to erase memories of the awful Rich Rodriguez era defenses. Heading in to year three of the Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison regime, the defense should be looking to take the next step from very good to dominant.
The primary job of a defense is obviously to prevent the opponent from scoring points and moving the ball. That is the simplest and most important goal for a defense; to stop the opponent and get off the field. Good defenses do that and Michigan was able to stop opponents last season, ranking as the second best defense in the Big Ten in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed.
But to be a great defense, you have to dominate, not just stop the opponent. Michigan last year, while very solid, was not able to take the ball away from the opponent. The Wolverines defense was ranked just ninth in the Big Ten in takeaways and had the fewest interceptions in the conference. No defender on Michigan even had more than two picks, with Thomas Gordon and Ramon Taylor leading the way with just two a piece. Michigan’s secondary just couldn’t make the big plays.
Likely a major reason for the lack of takeaways was the fact that Michigan also struggled to pressure the quarterback. They ranked eighth in the Big Ten in sacks and the Wolverines’ leader in sacking the QB, Jake Ryan, could potentially miss the entire season and the next best pass rusher, Craig Roh, graduated. Even worse was the fact that the only way Mattison’s defense could create pressure was by blitzing, rarely able to do so with just a four man rush. That has to change, as a defense dependent on blitzing for pressure is playing a dangerous game and just waiting to get beat.
This coming season they will depend on guys like Jibreel Black, Frank Clark and Quinton Washington to pressure the QB. All three are seniors who have been solid, but nothing special during their careers and must improve a lot in their final season. But also watch for some highly touted freshmen to make impacts defensively.
Taco Charlton is the most noteworthy freshman d-lineman, as he has shown his commitment by adding over 15 pounds of muscle after enrolling early and is a physical freak. He was a top 10 defensive end in the 2013 class and is the type of athlete that can make big plays off the edge, with his 6’6″ frame. He won’t start right away, but as the season goes on, look for his role to potentially grow.
There is an obvious correlation between pressuring the QB and getting takeaways. Both of those elements are what takes very good defenses and makes them dominant, by making impact plays. If Michigan’s defense is to take that next step, they are going to have to make impact plays.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB.