Michigan powered by defensive revival but Indiana will be a challenge
Ann Arbor – After Michigan’s victory over Michigan State, linebacker and co-captain Khaleke Hudson had the Paul Bunyan Trophy in his clutches and he searched the field for quarterback Shea Patterson.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gave Patterson the game ball after his 384-yard, four-touchdown performance in the 44-10 victory Saturday at Michigan Stadium, but Hudson wanted to give him Paul.
“Usually it’s the other way around,” Patterson said. “Usually it’s the defense is the one being thanked.”
Patterson has always been big on deflecting praise during his two years at Michigan since transferring from Ole Miss and taking over as starter, and he did so again after the win over MSU.
He broke Tom Brady’s record for passing yards by a Michigan quarterback against MSU by 99 yards. And Patterson had his first 300-plus passing game and four-touchdown game for the Wolverines, as he was nearly flawless directing offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ game plan.
“I’d call that a whale of a game,” Harbaugh said.
Much has been made of Michigan’s offense improving since the second half of the Penn State game. That improvement goes hand-in-hand with the Wolverines not turning over the ball in the last 14 quarters. And all of that should be well noted, of course, especially as they head into their final regular-season games, at Indiana and then Ohio State at Michigan Stadium.
Patterson has been a different player since he’s been fully healthy, and perhaps Gattis has become more fluid with his play calling as a first-year coordinator, while the run game has offered a solid balance behind an offensive line that is playing with a bit more nastiness.
But Patterson was also right – it’s usually the defense getting thanked. Also for good reason.
Since the Wolverines’ 35-14 loss at Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season, the defense has found its way. They gave up 359 rushing yards to the Badgers and a season-high 487 total yards.
“After the Wisconsin game, I feel like that’s when we found our identity,” Hudson said last week. “We found out what we’ve got to do, who we’ve got to be, how we’ve got to play and the things we’ve got to focus on to be a better defensive team.”
What were those things?
“Just trusting the person around you,” Hudson said. “That’s the main thing you’ve got to do, and executing your job. Those are the two main things. The two most important things in our defense – trusting the person next to you and executing your job.”
Really good teams play tough defense on the road, and the defense will be tested at Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers are ranked 31st nationally in total offense, averaging 448 yards a game. The 2014 and 2017 games against Indiana went to overtime, but the Wolverines have not lost to the Hoosiers since 1987, a streak of 23 consecutive victories.
Michigan’s defense has made significant improvement since the loss at Wisconsin. The Wolverines were 47th nationally in total defense (343.7 yards) after the Wisconsin game but are now fifth nationally (261.6).
The Wolverines have shot up from 114th against the run after Wisconsin to 17th as teams have averaged 106.8 yards since the loss to the Badgers. Five of Michigan’s last seven opponents have rushed for 64 yards or fewer, including Michigan State’s 54 yards Saturday.
Harbaugh has several times in recent weeks referred to coordinator Don Brown’s defense as a “masterpiece.”
“I could tell the officials were calling a tight game at the very beginning,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our team played really disciplined, played really well, executed extremely well, did their jobs individually and also had fun. They looked like they were having fun out there playing with a light heart. Wanted to play ball and have fun doing it.”
Where the Michigan defense ranked nationally after the loss to Wisconsin and where it ranks now:
Total defense: 47th (343.7 yards)
Rush defense: 114th (208.7 yards)
Pass defense: 4th (135.0 yards)
AFTER MICHIGAN STATE
Total defense: 5th (261.6 yards)
Rush defense: 17th (106.8 yards)
Pass defense: 4th (154.8 yards)