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'This is nice': UM's defense enjoys show put on by offense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Donovan Peoples-Jones hauled in one of Shea Patterson's three passing touchdowns on Saturday against Western Michigan.

Ann Arbor — It was an appreciated change of pace for Michigan’s defensive players.

They took seats on the sideline benches, gazed up at the scoreboards and watched their teammates on offense score seven touchdowns in a 49-3 victory over Western Michigan Saturday in the home opener at Michigan Stadium.

“It was weird being on the sideline and scoring touchdowns,” fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich said. “I remember Josh Metellus sitting there and looking and he’s like, ‘Man, this is nice.’”

Michigan’s defense rebounded from the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, giving up two quick scores before playing well in the second half. The defense gave Western Michigan fits on third and fourth downs and held them to a 35-yard field goal with 2:34 left in the game.

But the Wolverines’ defensive players, while pleased with their showing, relished the way the offense played under the direction of quarterback Shea Patterson, who has completed 68 percent of his passes through two games and threw three touchdowns against the Broncos. Dylan McCaffrey threw another in the fourth quarter and running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for three rushing scores.

“I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t good watching the offense move the ball and scoring how they were scoring,” defensive end Rashan Gary said. “It makes it more fun for us. We go off the field and do our defensive adjustments and now we get to watch, see good plays made, see good reads happen.

“They score, ‘OK, let’s get another three-and-out to give them back the ball and watch the show.’ It was great watching the offense doing that. The offense is only going to get better because everybody getting into their groove now.”

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It has been only two games, but the offense seems to be clicking with Patterson, who has shown an ability to make tough throws while maintaining a calm and collected approach in the huddle.

The Wolverines last season ranked 115th of 129 teams in third-down conversions, which put considerable pressure on their defense.

Winovich said there was total focus from all players after the loss at Notre Dame.

“Preparation was very serious. We were very locked in,” he said. “We knew we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth. Coach (Jim) Harbaugh brought this up after in the locker room basically saying maybe that’s how we have to move forward every week, kind of keep what’s happened to us in the back of our minds and just keep working.”

Harbaugh stuck with the same starting offensive line from the first week, and the run game produced 308 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Naturally, a run game that’s working opens up the pass. There should be more opportunity for Michigan’s offense next weekend against SMU, which ranks 108th nationally in total defense and has yielded an average 461 yards per game.

“At the end of the day, you put up numbers, it’s a great sign,” Winovich said. “I felt like they were really meshing and really jelling from the starters down to the backups. It gave a display of depth, too.”

Having an offense that can move efficiently, convert those critical third downs and score has a positive effect on the defense because there was no added pressure. When the offense is scoring, defensive coaches have a different approach to how they make defensive play calls.

“That’s another thing further down the road I think it will be more important than anything,” Winovich said. “I don’t think there were as many adjustments that needed to be made otherwise we might lose. It wasn’t that pressing at any point. It definitely does help and will help us down the road.

“Across the board the coaches are calling plays that they think will work not being scared of giving up a touchdown and defensive players are out there just having fun. We’re just playing football. We’re not worried about, ‘What if I do this? What if I mess up?’ It kind of takes that weight you might have and tosses it to the side.”

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Gary said it takes about 40 seconds for defensive coordinators to meet with the starters and make adjustments. Then the players turn their attention to the videoboards.

“Just turn around and watch the show, and that’s it,” Gary said.

The defensive players admire what Patterson has brought to the offense as a player who can extend plays and make big throws.

“I see that from him every day in practice,” Gary said. “I practice against him. He’s a great quarterback, he’s a great competitor, he’s a great leader. You see that in games like this. Everybody wants to play for him.”

Winovich gave Patterson his vote of confidence when asked how he has taken over the offense.

“It’s tough to comment because we’ve had Jake Rudock here, and there are problems that are beyond the scope of the quarterback,” Winovich said. “But in terms of how our offense efficiently played and how Shea look, I’d says it’s as good as any quarterback I’ve seen here personally.”