Michigan football: Wolverines' secondary needs to tighten up right now
Michigan might be 2-0 and look efficient on offense, but its defense has to take care of some loose ends before UM can be taken seriously as a true Big Ten contender this season.
And really, it’s not even the entire defense — it’s primarily the secondary, which continues to allow almost-free air travel for opponents.
“As I said, we were doing a really good job of stopping the run. Our communication really — we got hit on some passes in the game,” Jim Harbaugh said following a 31-10 home win Saturday over Washington. “Really weren’t covered the way we should. We can make an improvement on how we communicate in the back-end and linebackers getting the call. We’ll be working on that. That will be a good area for us to focus on and concentrate on.”
On Saturday, Huskies QB Dylan Morris went 20-for-27 for 297 yards and a touchdown. Some of his throws were reminiscent of how Rocky Lombardi threw all over the field during Michigan State’s win over Michigan. The yardage wasn’t the same — Lombardi threw for 323 — but some of the connections looked similar, with Wolverines DBs looking around to see what happened.
Lombardi really put a hurting on the Wolverines en route to the Spartans’ 27-24 victory last year. Guess what? He’ll see them again this Saturday as Northern Illinois’ starting quarterback.
Michigan has the No. 12-ranked passing defense in the Big Ten, giving up 242 yards per game. Yes, it’s only Week 2. And yes, things can drastically change over the course of the season. But the Wolverines are already starting in the cellar, in terms of pass defense, so it appears things will be an uphill climb for the rest of the year.
Vincent Gray brings maturity and leadership to the secondary. He’s been viewed as an important locker room component for the past 2 years. However, he’s had struggles that need to be corrected before the Wolverines defensive backs evolve into a group that commands some fear and respect.
On Saturday, Gray, a CB, was beaten a few times by Huskies WR Terrell Bynum — most notably an 18-yard reception in the third quarter that helped set up a Washington field goal. Against WMU, Gray had at least 2 passes completed right over his head because he failed to turn around and look for the ball. Both were easily combatable. Broncos QB Kaleb Eleby got lucky on at least 2 deep balls in Gray’s direction, Gray got lucky on a couple over/underthrown balls that he was not prepared to fully defend.
Others have had troubles too. This isn’t an indictment on Gray. However, for some reason, he’s the one who gets mentioned the most during discussions of Michigan’s woes in the secondary.
During that same field-goal drive for Washington in the third quarter, safety Brad Hawkins was on the wrong end of a 19-yard pass from Morris to WR Taj Davis, who landed near midfield and moved the chains prior to a drive-capping field goal.
Those are the types of plays that re-energize teams. They give them hope.
Daxton Hill, a hybrid, provides good run support and is considered one of the Wolverines’ best cover-men. So far, he’s been adequate, but the Wolverines are still getting handled through the air as a whole: WMU averaged 9.6 yards per pass and Washington averaged 14.7.
Those numbers won’t lead to desirable results.
Under Harbaugh, Michigan has had defenses that smothered opponents — a few top-10 ranked — both up front and in the back. Some years, it’s been both. Some years, it’s been one or the other. This year, the secondary is the clear weakness of an otherwise solid defensive unit, a unit that has usually been the anchor for the Wolverines.