UM’s ‘dominating’ defense makes statement

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Everyone had talked before the season about Michigan’s defense and how powerful it could be.

The players never shied away from talk about how dominant they believe they will be this season, and they often volunteered that opinion.

In the season opener against Hawaii, there was mostly perfection from the defense in coach Jim Harbaugh’s opinion. After all, it’s hard to find fault in a 63-3 victory.

The Wolverines’ defense provided two touchdowns on interception returns by Delano Hill and Channing Stribling. It was the first time since the 1999 Citrus Bowl that Michigan had two interceptions returned for scores.

“It felt really good,” said linebacker Mike McCray, who had two sacks, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and a team-high nine tackles. “We talked about it all week, just going out there and showing everybody what we’re all about. We had a great defense last year, and we want to be better than we were last year. I felt like we made a good statement.”

Hawaii finished with 232 yards of total offense after entering halftime with just 72 yards, including minus-16 yards rushing.

This was all accomplished while All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis and defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, who were in uniform on the sideline, did not play. Harbaugh said it was his decision not to play the two because they have been working “through something” before adding they’re close to playing. Linebackers Noah Furbush and Wyatt Shallman also did not play.

Michigan: Five things we learned

Peppers, playing what is described as a hybrid linebacker — he said he tells people he’s an “athlete” when asked his position — made his presence evident. He had eight tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack. He also returned two punts.

Harbaugh praised Peppers’ athleticism in making tackles in the backfield.

Despite missing several key defensive players, Harbaugh was pleased with the entire defense.

“The overall effort on that side of the ball was outstanding,” Harbaugh said. “It was dominating at the beginning for sure and throughout the game. (Defensive coordinator) Don Brown has a great saying — I love it — which is ‘solve problems with aggression,’ and our team played that way.”

Harbaugh said the defensive play was near flawless, and that began with the fundamentals.

“I’m watching our defense the first half and even into the third quarter, there wasn’t a mistake made,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t an alignment mistake made, there wasn’t a stance mistake throughout the first half and the first part of the third quarter. It was very impressive. Everybody knew exactly what they were doing. It just showed.”

Twitter: @chengelis