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Wolverines 'D' seeking to halt generosity

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Just how good was Michigan's defense early in the season?

Consider this: It built up enough juicy stats, it remains the No. 2 defense in the country, despite back-to-back games in which it got exposed a bit -- a loss to Michigan State, and a near-loss to Minnesota.

Michigan State, that was expected. That's a darn good team, a team with national-championship aspirations.
Minnesota, well, that was bad, even if UM coaches don't want to be rude about it.

"The Michigan State game, you're facing a good quarterback. They made a lot of plays and we made a lot of plays ourselves in that game, but you've got to give credit to the quarterback over there," UM secondary coach Mike Zordich said of Connor Cook. "Last week, I'm not taking anything away from Minnesota, (but) we just laid an egg defensively, especially in the secondary.

"We just played poorly."

Minnesota through eight games — four wins, four losses — is averaging 364.8 yards of offense and 21.1 points, but against Michigan, the Golden Gophers racked up 461 yards of offense, including 317 passing, accounting for 26 points.

Michigan vs. Rutgers: Defense needs rebound

The Golden Gophers scored fewer points against Colorado State and Kent State.

It almost led to a mammoth upset, until Minnesota struggled mightily with the clock down the stretch, costing the Gophers one, possibly two extra plays to punch the winning touchdown in from the half-yard line.

Two weeks before that — UM had a bye between MSU and Minnesota — the Spartans put up 27 points on the Wolverines, who had just posted three consecutive shutouts, including against then-ranked BYU and Northwestern.

"Obviously, we're not proud of it, and there's a lot of disappointment when we watch the film in how things went," linebacker Desmond Morgan said. "But it's provided a lot of motivation.

"We're not worried about it. We're still confident in what we have, what we're capable of. It's one of those things. You learn not every game is going to go exactly perfectly."

Through six games, at which point Michigan was 5-1, the Wolverines had allowed 1,088 yards of offense and 38 points. Total.

In the last two games, Michigan has allowed 847 yards of offense and 53 points.

Against Minnesota, Michigan players and coaches could blame the bye for the flat performance. Morgan, though, isn't buying it.

"People speculate that, not playing for a Saturday," he said. "I've never personally thought that. Once we get, what were we, seven weeks in or six weeks in, at that point, you're pretty sharp."

One big difference: turnovers.

In the first six games, Michigan recovered a fumble and intercepted seven passes. In the last two games, the Wolverines defense hasn't forced a single turnover.

That shouldn't happen, and can't happen moving forward, said Jabrill Peppers, a safety (most of the time) who lamented a ball he should've picked off and returned for a touchdown against Minnesota.

Michigan this weekend faces a Rutgers team that can be explosive on offense (just ask Michigan State), then an Indiana team that can, as well (just ask Michigan State), before it closes the regular season against powerhouse Ohio State.

"Absolutely, we have to make plays, especially as games are more close as the competition level rises," Peppers asid. "We have to make those plays. It's unacceptable if we don't. It's not OK to be good, we want to be a great defense.

"And that's how we feel about ourselves."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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