|Don't get too comfortable with this defense yet,|
lest something like this happen again.
Naturally, disclaimers abound. This is only my estimation of how each position group has done compared to my preseason hopes and fears. While we have some answers, a lot more will become clear the further this team gets into the Big Ten season. (Offense Part I, and Part II found here).
Let's start with the defense.
(One note for those unfamiliar with UFRs, I will rely heavily on this performance based recap of the game done at mgoblog. Any discussion of player performance is incomplete without taking into account Brian's UFR data.)
Half full: (Marginally) better performance than last year.
Half empty: Burning pit of despair.
|Ladies and Gents, your|
#1 CB. Who knew?
Was it any wonder that I set the bar low for this group? My best case scenario was for them to match the bad pass defense from last year, give up a few long touchdowns, and more than likely cause me to break a remote or throw a half full can of beer against a wall.
This young group has done a good job keeping teams out of the end zone
Stronger tests await in the coming two weeks as both Michigan State and Indiana are capable of airing it out with experienced quarterbacks and deep receiving corps. If the Wolverine secondary can keep this kind of pace through the next two games, it will go a long way toward getting this team to 6-0.
For now they get a grade of Half Full. This one is subject to change, but you have to applaud the efforts of the kids so far. They've been alright.
Half Full: The Robinson bump reduces the amount of facepalm errors.
Half Empty: EZEHHHHH!!!!
|Ask Dayne Crist how things work out when you|
overlook Thomas Gordon.
As for the other two linebacker spots (we will be technically inaccurate and keep Roh for the D-line section) things are a little complicated, but they always are with these two beleaguered seniors.
During the first two games it was fair to say that Mouton had in fact made the jump that most of us hoped he would. He was aggressive in run defense, and seemed to diagnose plays better. His zone drops weren't always timely, but he picked up an interception against Notre Dame after initially being drawn in on a flea flicker. Even his pursuit angles were looking correct. It seemed like such a turnaround that legitimate questions began to come up as to whether he was the second best player on the defense. Of course, that all came crashing down against UMass when he reverted to his Linebacker-Fail form of last year. The mistakes weren't even excusable such as losing contain on the outside to a running back. His performance against Bowling Green seemed to return to the positives of the first two weeks, he even got his second INT of the season. The jury is still largely out on this one. From his performance in the first two games it seems Mouton has finally gotten to a place where he can make plays without horrendous mistakes, but I refuse to buy this one without more evidence. My gut says Half Full for Mouton, but my brain is yelling at my gut not to be so naive.
|In his "waiting for the|
The final grade for linebackers is: Incomplete. If the Gordon/Johnson combo continues to play at this level, Mouton forgets UMass happened and gets his act together, and Ezeh only makes me want to slam my head in the door 3 or 4 times a game, this unit will get a Half Full grade. I think it is very possible, but I've been burned before.
Half Full: Mike Martin and Co. kill people.
Half Empty: No, it was Brandon Graham who killed people.
This was unquestionably the strongest position unit for the defense this year. The one unit where there was almost everyone back, adequate depth, upperclassmen starters, and promising backups. The problem was, the player who left just happened to be Brandon Graham. It isn't easy to replace a quality player at any position, but when that player is arguably the greatest of all time in a long line of talented players at his position, the hole he leaves becomes essentially too big to fill. You don't plug in one player and replace Brandon Graham's production, you just hope that everyone steps up there game.
|I'd just get out of the way now. It's easier that way.|
The rest of the line has been varying degrees of Yeh and (respectable) Meh. Ryan Van Bergen was able to shift to the outside, a more natural position for him, with the departure of Graham. However, he hasn't been able to make the kind of impact that most people hoped he would. This might have something to do with the fact that most of us just stare at him, mouths agape stammering, "bu- bu- but, you aren't Graham." Indeed he is not, but his play has been solid so far, with very few negatives. If he continues this pace it is probably fine, mostly because he is playing next to Mike Martin. However, the one place this line has struggled has been getting sacks, which is kind of what we have a guy like Van Bergen in there for. So, you know, no pressure.
The other end position that Brian at mgoblog has affectionately named Bangesse for the two headed beast of Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse has been about as effective as expected. They are there. Defenses must block them. Sometimes defenses don't, and then they make tackles. Asking much more is foolish. They have provided all the push that is needed, and have lived up to the modest expectations put forth. Anything else they can provide is just gravy.
|Hopefully Craig will be giving us something to|
celebrate about for the next three years.
The raw numbers aren't there yet, and the lack of sacks from the defensive line is troubling, but both are probably more a product of rushing three and four players on a regular basis to allow the back seven to play lots of zones. Martin and Roh have provided a good deal of pressure, but it would be nice to see them finish a few of these off with sacks. Still, the Defensive Line gets the grade of: Half Full (big surprise).
For this team to get to 4-0 it was pretty widely held that the defense would have to step up and play at a higher level than last year. This has largely been the case so far, and early returns are promising that we could see continued production at this level. With a competent defense the ceiling for this team is higher than the 7 or 8 games that is conventionally held. Problem is, there is enough youth in the secondary that more than likely at least one game is going to the way of repeated breakdowns. Such is life in the age of Michigan Secondary Apocalypse. For now we should all enjoy the things this defense has done right and not worry about what they will inevitably do wrong in the coming weeks. The real tests are upcoming.
Tomorrow: Offense. Try to guess how that one graded out so far.