Rashan Gary said he won't face another offensive lineman who is as good as Mason Cole in Big Ten play this season. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan’s defense has set the tone for the season so far and is ranked in the top 10 nationally in all the major categories.
And yet, sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary says there’s more to come, things no one has seen from this group. Michigan is preparing to open Big Ten play at Purdue on Saturday. The Wolverines are No. 8 and 3-0.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has guided the defense to some pretty impressive numbers, that also include three touchdowns and a safety. Michigan is ranked No. 5 nationally in total defense, yielding an average 208 yards is ninth against the run (82.3 yards) and seventh in pass efficiency defense. The Wolverines are No. 6 in team sacks and tackles for loss.
“We (haven’t) really started to open it up yet,” Gary said Monday. “That’s the scary but the most fun part. We haven’t started opening up our defense yet. You’re going to see. ... That’s the crazy part. A lot of our defense y’all haven’t seen, a lot of guys y’all haven’t seen. It’s going to be great once everything starts clicking how it’s supposed to click.”
Gary has 2.5 tackles for loss, including a sack. He also had a forced fumble. He is a tough critic and picks on the little things in his technique while watching film. Maybe it was hand placement, maybe it was an inside step.
“I feel like from last year three games to this year three games it’s completely different from the player I am (now),” Gary said. “There always going to be something I can get better at. You all are going to see. I’m not going to talk too much, but you all are going to see when I start popping off.”
He kept it vague on purpose, of course.
“There’s a lot more that I still have to show,” Gary said. “It’s going to be great once you start seeing it.”
Much was made in the offseason of Michigan returning only one starter and its lineup being bolstered by younger players. Sophomore linebacker Devin Bush currently leads the team with 25 tackles, including 16 solo and 3.5 sacks.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh after the season opener said it’s the fastest defense that he’s seen since he took over the Wolverines.
“I feel like we’re a young team but we’re hungry,” Gary said. “Our hunger drives us to be the best that we can be. I like having people say that we’re young because we’ve been preparing for this since spring ball. Reps, reps, reps, that’s only going to get you ready for the game. I feel like the more we keep getting reps, the more we start getting confident in what we do, the better we will be.
“Everybody is running to the ball, everybody is flying to the ball, everybody having fun. That’s the key part when you’re outside on the field, just playing against somebody and you’re out there with your brothers having fun and making plays. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Much of that fun stems from playing in Brown’s defense for the second year.
Gary said the players feed off the enthusiasm Brown brings and the game plans.
“I believe in Coach Brown, I believe in the defense,” Gary said. “Three weeks back-to-back we’ve been playing great defensive schemes. It’s just fun to play for it. He puts us in situations to make the play, puts us in situations to pressure.
“(He) knows we like to have fun. It’s always good having that type kind of coach around. He makes jokes, but when it’s time to get to business, it’s time to get to business. Having a coach like that makes me want to play even harder for him.”
Michigan’s offense has struggled in the red zone this season, but Gary said the defensive players haven’t discussed that they need to carry the team until the offense clicks.
“We have faith in our offense,” Gary said. “The only conversation that happens, we just got to get back the ball for the offense. Besides that, we just play ball.”
Michigan at Purdue
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Records: Michigan 3-0, Purdue 2-1
Line: Michigan by 10