October 2, 2010 at 1:00 am

Angelique S. Chengelis

Michigan offense might be too fast for any defense, including its own

Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson saw his unit give up 35 first downs and almost 500 yards. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Bloomington, Ind. -- Junior Hemingway is probably right.

Michigan is now 5-0, ranked in the top 20 and has arguably the most exciting player in college football in sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson.

But but ...

"There's a lot of people out there who are still waiting for us to fall off, waiting to see when it's going to break down," Hemingway said after Michigan beat Indiana in a 42-35 shootout in the Big Ten opener on Saturday. "We don't pay no attention. We just drive on. We keep moving on. That's what we do. We don't think about it. We come out every Saturday and play."

No one is questioning Michigan's offense.

How could you? It's a quick-strike, explosive weapon, and Robinson knows exactly how to make it work, and work his magic he does.

Yet as obvious as the Wolverines' offensive prowess is, it is clear their defense still has issues.

Yes, they are there, but they are swept under the carpet while the offense does its thing, occupying the national focus with Robinson's swift feet and accurate arm.

Michigan, however, entered the Indiana game with the worst defense in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 400 yards a game. The Hoosiers gained 568.

Indiana also had 98 plays, 35 first downs and held the ball for nearly 42 minutes. Of course the numbers are slightly skewed, to use Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez's word, because of the Wolverines' quick-strike attack.

It could not be clearer that Michigan doesn't need much time to score.

But what the Wolverines do need is the ability to keep their defense off the field. This defense is young, and it's still learning, and without the Michigan offense, its flaws would be that much more evident.

"Our offense puts us through some good conditioning throughout the week," nose tackle Mike Martin said. "I'm pretty sure we're one of the best-conditioned defenses."

There is no reward for being the best-conditioned defense (although it certainly helps, particularly in the fourth quarter). Rodriguez knows that, but he also knows that there is an abundance of youth on that side of the ball, including freshmen like Jibreel Black and Carvin Johnson. He also pointed out that Indiana wisely attacked Michigan's youthful defenders.

"They're growing up in a hurry," Rodriguez said. "And learning a lot of lessons. We know we have to get better going forward."

Martin, a junior, knows that, too.

With some pretty heady Big Ten competition coming up against three straight ranked opponents -- Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State -- Robinson and the offense can be relied on, but the defense needs to make strides.

"The defense is going to step up," Martin said. "We're going to get better. We're going to step up each week and be ready to play."


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