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Michigan's defense banking on 'simple fixes' as cure-all for continuous lapses

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Bloomington, Ind. — Michigan defensive players insist they’re a few “simple fixes” away from playing sound defense.

From the looks of things in the Wolverines’ 38-21 loss to Indiana at Memoria Stadium on Saturday, they have more than a few fixes. Michigan is now 1-2, and Indiana, which had not beaten Michigan since 1987, is 3-0.

With former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan calling plays as Indiana’s offensive coordinator, the Hoosiers shredded the Wolverines by going to the air. Quarterback Michael Penix threw for a career-best 342 yards, completing 30-of-50, and had three touchdowns.

Indiana tight end Peyton Hendershot (86) dives for first-down yardage as he's stopped by Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye (19) and linebacker Michael Barrett (23) during the second half.

“We know the problems we’re having. They’re simple fixes,” linebacker Michael Barrett said. “We know what the problem is. We all have to come together as a team and just fix them. Just keep our head down, keep grinding. Continue to get better. We have a lot of young guys who don’t have that experience. We have to continue to hold ourselves accountable and keep getting better.

“I wouldn’t say it was just things going wrong. Things we’re not doing right. Just small things I can’t put a direct point on it. Small things that could be easily fixed. Things we know to do and not to do, just all the flags, all the penalties that were called. All the little things we know and need to do better.”

Penalties continue to be an issue for Michigan, which entered the game at Indiana ranked 13th in the Big Ten with 17 penalties for 166 yards. The Wolverines had eight for 89 yards, including some glaring calls on third down.

In the second quarter with Indiana facing third-and-12, cornerback Gemon Green was called for holding giving IU a first down. In the third quarter, safety Brad Hawkins was called for pass interference on a first-down incompletion, and on a third-and-9, Vince Gray was called for pass interference.

“As you could see. third down, we didn’t have many opportunities to get off the field, (because of) penalties” safety Dax Hill said. “We’re in great position every time, just need to play that ball better.”

Compounding issues on defense was the loss of starting defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who suffered an apparent right ankle injury the first defensive series of the game. Late in the third quarter, end Kwity Paye also left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Players said they applied new wrinkles to their defensive package after Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi torched them a week earlier for 323 yards and three touchdowns.

“We added some new coverages, some new schemes to fill those gaps we were missing when we played Michigan State,” Barrett said. “I feel like we had a good game plan coming into the game. I just feel like we didn’t produce enough. The productivity wasn’t where it needed to be to make enough plays.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked after the game if he still has confidence in defensive coordinator Don Brown and whether they will be able to fix the secondary.

“Yes, I do. Very much so,” Harbaugh said. “I love all of our coaches, every coach on the staff. We keep forging ahead and stay after it and make that next step. Critical step.”

Hill suggested what Harbaugh also said in his postgame comments — the plays are there in practice, but they’re not converting to games.

“We do well at practice. we’ve got to make it happen in the game,” Hill said. “Have to keep our heads high, keep executing.”

That clearly was the message in the locker room, not just for the defense, but across the team. After all, the run game mustered 13 yards on 18 carries. Still, as glaring as the lack of run production, Michigan’s defense has been a consistent issue.

“We have guys that can make those plays,” Barrett said. “We trust them to make those plays. And everybody makes their mistakes. We tell them to keep their head up, keep pushing, keep it moving. We’ll continue to get better, continue to every day, every practice, continue to work on all the things we know need to be fixed and keep getting better.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis