Michigan football: Wolverines' defense, not offense, is biggest asset during CFP title chase
Michigan’s offense put up 40 points per game this season. Led by QB JJ McCarthy and RBs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, the Wolverines’ offense featured a trio of the most exciting players in the Big Ten.
Sure, scoring more points always leads to a win.
But in order to score more points, a team must surrender fewer to its opponent.
That’s where Michigan’s defense enters the picture. Yeah, UM has a great offense, but its defense gives it the best chance to win a College Football Playoff national championship. First on the docket for the No. 2 Wolverines: No. 3 TCU this Saturday during the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
Well, it’ll either be No. 1 Georgia or No. 4 Ohio State.
Before we get into this, let’s make on thing clear: This year’s Michigan defense is much different than the 2021 version. While both were incredible in their own right, it’s ridiculous to conduct a side-by-side comparison. In 2021, Mike Macdonald — like his predecessors — constructed a rock-solid defense in Ann Arbor.
But that was then, and this is now.
First-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has done just as well, and with supposedly less talent. Michigan finished this season with the No. 3-ranked total defense in the FBS, giving up 277.1 yards per game; that total breaks down to 4.45 yards per play. As in years past, opposing teams have found it nearly impossible to score more than 2 touchdowns against the Wolverines. Yes, there have been teams to eclipse that mark, but as a rule, the Wolverines allow 13.4 points per game.
That stat was aided by early season blowouts of weak foes, but the fact remains: Michigan, essentially, dares teams to get in the end zone more than once and forces opponents to kick field goals just to put a dent on the scoreboard.
During the final game of the regular season, the Wolverines trampled Ohio State 45-23. Let’s not forget that the Buckeyes got 20 of their points in the first half and only 3 in the second half (FG in 4th quarter). Considering that Ohio State has the No. 2-ranked scoring offense in the nation (44.5 ppg), that certainly says something about Michigan.
Defense. Defense. Defense.
That’s the ticket for coach Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines.
“Once you pounce on them from the get-go, their spark dwindles,” LB Junior Colson said during media access at the Fiesta Bowl. “They’re not having as much fun; that’s when we start having fun. That’s when we start being happy. We start enjoying it. You’ve got them in the palm of your hands — keep choking them out.”
That type of attitude only provides more basis for the argument of Michigan’s defense being the key to a national championship run. Defense will be the key against the Horned Frogs, and it’ll only grow more important should the Wolverines have the opportunity to face the Bulldogs or Buckeyes.
It’s worth noting that TCU (No. 6), OSU (No. 2) and UGA (No. 11) all feature some of the most impressive offensive firepower in the country.
So yeah, defense will be mandatory for the Wolverines.
Michigan has to put up a wall and dare opponents to run through or pass over it in order to find success.
As long as the Wolverines’ offense puts up a consistent effort, the defense should provide more than enough for 4 quarters. If there is a concern, it’s the following: Michigan’s offense had some trouble during first halves this season, becoming known for supercharged 3rd and 4th quarters; so it can’t put the defense in a rough spot come Saturday (or beyond).
Mike Morris, one of the top Edge players in the nation who is coming off an ankle injury, has gone on record saying that he feels great and couldn’t be more geared-up for the CFP. Men on a mission can be dangerous, and Morris could easily offer one of his top performances Saturday vs. the Horned Frogs. He’s itching to get back into action, so he’s clearly motivated and determined to make an impact.
Michigan’s DBs, particularly Mike Sainristril, have made plays when needed. Take a look at his PBU that tilted the tone of the OSU game. Colson has been beyond steady this year, becoming known as one of the more prolific and technically sound tacklers in the Big Ten. Of course, every player on every team in CFP contention feels the same — right?
But are they still bitter over a beating at the hands of Georgia during the CFP last season?
No, that’s only Michigan’s defense.
Are they as motivated to possibly face OSU for a second time and subsequently toppling their biggest rival for a national title?
No, that can only be Michigan this year.
This defense will be the key to national glory. Minter’s teaching and methods have helped get them this far, but there is another part to the equation.
“I think it’s just the players,” Minter said during media availability at the Fiesta Bowl. “We have a lot of talented players who play really well together. They really enjoy playing together. They’re a very competitive group (that) wants to be perfect.”