Michigan’s defense forges identity in early going

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Sometimes it takes teams a good portion of the season to develop an identity.

Michigan’s defensive players seemed pretty certain after the Wolverines’ 33-17 victory over Florida at AT&T Stadium last Saturday in the season opener that they have set the tone and created an identity of an aggressive, not-giving-an-inch defense.

The Gators mustered 11 rushing yards, were 2-of-13 on third-down conversions and two touchdowns were scored on interception returns.

“When we execute, we’re lights out,” said sophomore linebacker Devin Bush, who had two sacks and three of Michigan’s 11 tackles for loss. “No matter who knows what we’re running and what they’ve seen on tape, we’re going to be hard to stop.”

One game certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of how a season may unfold, but defensive players like where they’re going, especially since there was so much made of having only one returning starting player and so many younger players in the mix.

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Last week, defensive lineman Chase Winovich, who forced a fumble in the end zone that Noah Furbush recovered for the Wolverines’ final score, said he believed all the youth would give this group a chance to prove this defense is different. While last year’s defensive line was so strong and the defense was top-rated, this group wanted to prove its worth.

“I said I think it was an advantage being so young because it gave us the opportunity to form a brand new identity off the backs and off the shoulders of the people that had come before us and paved the way,” Winovich said. “I think that’s what we did. We had a fast-paced defense, we were flying around to the ball, hitting everything that moved.

‘I tweeted it earlier because they said we’re going to slap the brakes off Michigan and I said, ‘We don’t even use brakes, we’re all gas.’ I think that was evident (Saturday).”

In the second quarter, even after Michigan gave up two scores on interception returns, the defense didn’t panic.

“We were on the bench and were looking around and kind of laughing because we knew their offense, at least we felt it, they really couldn’t do anything against us,” Winovich said. “We went back out there. It doesn’t matter how many touchdowns our offense would have given up, we still have a job to do. We’re like hired, contracted workers just going out there doing our job and having fun.”

The younger players that will shape this defense, as Winovich indicated, are guys like Bush, a sophomore who gained attention last season for his hard-hitting ways, particularly on special teams.

On the first play of the game against Florida, officials reviewed whether his hit was targeting. He was not penalized.

“That’s just what I do,” Bush said. “If they want to eject me, eject me.”

Defensive coordinator Don Brown entered the game with a plan meant to confuse the Gators on many levels.

“We had a brand new defense that they weren’t adjusted for,” Winovich said. “When we unveiled it, I think they were just like, ‘Oh, crap, how do we adjust to this?’ We had so many plays early on first half, coach Brown said we have so many plays we haven’t even done yet and we’re having a lot of success and he said let’s keep pushing.

“We had our SAM play our tackle or nose. It changed and it put a linebacker in the box which gave — Noah (Furbush) was doing that. That allowed us to put a viper on the field, as well and basically, they were kinda guessing sometimes. It allows us to blitz, but at the same time we’re giving off the same look and the responsibilities as our 4-3. They’re off-balance.”

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With the defensive tone set after Game 1, the Wolverines said to expect more of the same, beginning with Saturday’s home opener against Cincinnati.

“Family. Togetherness. Hungry. And fast, physical. That’s what I would describe this defense as compared to last year,” Bush said. “We ain’t going to take nothing from nobody. We always want to apply pressure.”