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2013 BWW Bowl - Scouting the Enemy: Michigan Defense

Through the season, Michigan's defense played well enough to be the unit fans were least concerned about. Then Ohio State happened.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

(Bring on the Cats is proud to welcome new contributor wildcat00 to the fold. As your Christmas gift, enjoy her very first front-page article! -- Jon)

Disclaimer: I'm new to this, and you can blame all the waffling and lack of the usual level of analysis on my inexperience.

Aerial view:

At Michigan, Greg Mattison's defensive package is a 4-3 scheme, and the defense tends to keep everything in front, to avoid big plays and/or dare teams to beat them on the outside. In the B1G, this is a general formula for success, and the statistics would back that up.

Michigan's numbers suggest a pretty solid unit. Michigan is ranked 47th (of 125 teams) in Defensive S&P+. (For comparison, K-State is 63rd, and Oklahoma State is 9th).

Close up:

I live in B1G country and watch a lot of B1G ball, but I've only seen Michigan play twice this season, i.e. a blowout win over Minnesota and the crazy season-ending game against Ohio State.

From a defensive standpoint, these two games present a study in contrasts, as evidenced by this side-by-side comparison of defensive stats from the two games:

Team Rush Yards Allowed Passing Yards Allowed
Minnesota 136 145
Ohio State 393 133

The Minnesota game is a pretty good representation of what the Michigan defense is capable of on a good day. Against a one-dimensional offense that was not a threat to move the ball through the air, Michigan's front four played stout against the run and stifled the Gopher ground game, holding Minnesota RB David Cobb to just 22 yards (on seven carries), well below his season average.

So what happened against Ohio State? Well, two things. First, Michigan's secondary play was severely hampered by injury, and backup Josh Furman got burned early in the game on two drives that led to Ohio State scores. Second, Michigan did not tackle well in space, allowing Braxton Miller to rip off a couple of long runs that ultimately led to scores.

The Michigan defense also seemed uncharacteristically confused against Ohio State. Playing conservative to avoid giving up the big play, the Wolverines got gashed by Carlos Hyde, and when they had an answer for Hyde, key players were out of position, and Ohio State exploited the resulting mismatch to predictable results. (To K-State fans, this will all seem horribly familiar).

I'm comfortable with calling the Ohio State game an outlier, and do not expect the Michigan defensive line or secondary to play the same way in the bowl game, although K-State can, at least on paper, present similar matchup problems.

The numbers (from suggest Michigan played well enough on defense to win more than seven games. As a unit, the Wolverines give up about 367.4 total yards/game, but only about 140 rushing yards/game. Michigan's stout play against the run was aided in part from DE Frank Clark, who leads the team in sacks and TFL, and strong side LB Jake Ryan, who only played part of the season as a result of an ACL injury from spring ball. In pass coverage, Michigan's player-to-watch in the secondary is Blake Countess, who has six interceptions on the year, including one he returned for a score. Expect to hear all these names called quite a bit in the bowl game.

In other words, I think the Michigan defense presents some particular matchup disadvantages for the K-State offense, and it will be interesting to see what K-State has to come up with if Michigan is as successful against the run as they've been all season.