Michigan's defense is good but are we being fooled by the numbers?
What more can you say?
It’s becoming repetitive. Each week, Michigan has more talent than its opponent and has pummeled it into submission. Like they did against fellow conference foes Rutgers and Penn State, the Wolverines defense smothered Illinois, holding the opposing offense under 200 yards for the fourth-straight week – all B1G teams, by the way.
Success against the pass has been predominantly overwhelming. In three of the past four games, Michigan has held teams to fewer than 100 yards through the air. Saturday against the Illini was no different. Jeff George Jr – who entered the season as the third-string quarterback on the depth chart – was the lucky one to begin his college career against the nation’s top pass defense.
That didn’t go well.
George finished the day completing just four-of-15 passes for 95 yards a TD and an interception. He was also brought down for a 13-yard sack in the game.
That’s not been uncharacteristic for most quarterbacks who have faced this Michigan defense. The Wolverines were allowing 113.7 yards per game through the air and were averaging 4 sacks per contest entering the match-up with the Illini.
After Saturday, Michigan’s defensive pass numbers will improve to 111 yards per game.
Since 2008, only one team has hovered around that mark. In 2011, Alabama allowed 111.5 yards per game through the air. You remember, the team that pitched three shutouts and allowed an average 8.2 points per game.
Those numbers are staggering. No other team in the country is even close to closing in to Michigan’s impressive stat-line against the pass. It leads Florida in the category by more than 20 yards per contest. What Jim Harbaugh’s team is doing on that side of the football is nothing short of remarkable.
But are the numbers a good representation of this defense? Can Michigan really be this good defensively?
It’s a harder question to answer than you may think.
While the stats are impressive, you have to keep in mind the level of competition the Wolverines have played. In particular, think about the guys lining up under center who are staring at the winged-helmets across the field.
Penn State brought Trace McSorley, a redshirt sophomore who is in his first season as a starter. Chris Laviano has struggled at Rutgers for two seasons. Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook and Illinois’ George is a freshman. That’s a lot of inexperience there.
When you break it down, maybe Michigan’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive as you might think. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t paint the whole picture. It’s not as if the defense is turning away Heisman-caliber quarterbacks on a weekly basis.
Certainly the Wolverines should be commended for what they’ve done. They’ve taken care of business against the teams on their schedule and have dominated the quarterbacks who have been under center. But let’s not get carried away. Not yet.
Three of the four B1G opponents Michigan has faced ranked in the lower half of the conference in passing offense and total yardage. There’s no question that’s a big factor when you look at some of the ridiculous numbers.
We haven’t seen much resistance yet, but we’re closing in on the toughest stretch of the year.
In the final three weeks of the season, that secondary is going to be tested by C.J. Beathard, Richard Lagow and J.T. Barrett. Some of the conference’s top passers still remain on the schedule and Michigan is going to have its hands full. At least, more so than against a bunch of B1G newbies, still trying to get adjusted to the college game.
The numbers speak volumes, no doubt. But this isn’t completely attributed to Michigan’s defense. Let’s face it, they’ve picked apart some pretty horrid offenses and fairly green quarterbacks.
Harbaugh has coached up an impressive defense, no question. It just hasn’t proven it’s as dominating as the numbers say.