Michigan has hit the bye week with a perfect 8-0 record. The Wolverines have cruised by everyone on their schedule en route to one of the most dominant starts in program history.
Allowing less than a touchdown per game with no opponent scoring over 10 points, Michigan boasts one of the best defenses in the country. Though competition has not been stiff thus far, Michigan has overwhelmed everybody they’ve faced.
Michigan has allowed just five offensive touchdowns so far and scored four of their own with 14 total turnovers. It is simply insane to watch this unit go to work on a weekly basis.
Michigan has gotten so good, that every time a team moves the ball 20+ yards on a drive is feels like a failure. The standard is through the roof, yet somehow Michigan keeps matching it every time.
Here’s how we grade out the defense through this point of the season.
Defensive Line: A
The heart and soul of Michigan’s defensive identity has long been intertwined with the front four. Gary, Hurst, Paye, and, of course, Hutchinson are just some of the great names that have been developed under Jim Harbaugh.
This year’s team looks to be continuing the tradition of dominance in the trenches.
The best part about this squad is the depth. No individual player has stats that jump off the page, but that’s because no individual player averages more than 30 snaps a game. The DL unit has combined for 18.5 sacks, 37.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes deflected, and two interceptions. Those are great numbers through eight games. They are holding offenses to under three yards per attempt and have hit opposing QBs 19 times. Stiffling.
Like in years past, this unit has the ability to take over games. When things get sticky against Penn State, Ohio State, or the expected playoff game, the defense will turn to their front four to create a turnover or put the offense behind the sticks.
This seems like a stingy grade, but there’s really no other way it could shake out. The linebackers have played well, but they simply have not had enough work to do in order to earn an ‘A’ grade.
The defensive line has been spectacular, keeping Colson, Hausmann, and Barrett clean in the run game. In response, the three starting LBs occupy the top three spots on the tackle leaderboard. They have executed their assignment very well, but they have not been pushed to make any special plays.
The unit totals 128 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass deflection. Once again, they have a ‘B’ grade not because they’ve underperformed in any category, but simply because the rest of the team is so good they do not have the opportunity to take over games.
Michigan has allowed just three total passing touchdowns this season. That is a spectacularly low number for a team that has played eight games. What’s even more spectacular is that the cornerback unit alone has scored three touchdowns themselves on returned interceptions.
That pretty much sums up the lockdown coverage the Michigan has had so far this year. Yes, there have been a few chunk plays, but in general it has been tough sledding for opposing pass games.
Another thing that bumps this grade up is the rotation. Like with the defensive line, Michigan has had a number of cornerbacks step in and contribute positively. Obviously, the household name is Will Johnson, but the rooms is deeper than that. Josh Wallace has been a solid starter while Ja’Den McBurrows, Amorion Walker, and D.J. Waller have flashed in limited playing time.
Much like the linebackers, the safeties have played very solid. However, the emergence of Keon Sabb is what bumps them to a B+. Entering the season, Rod Moore and Makari Paige were the known commodoties in the room. They were experienced, talented, and hungry. Unfortunately, an injury to Moore just before the season started held him out a few games and limited him in others. Then stepped in Keon Sabb.
Sabb has been phenomenal. He’s gotten a sack, two interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown), 16 tackles, and three pass breakups. All that for a RS sophomore who is seeing his first extended playing time. The former top-100 recruit looks to be making good on his recruiting hype.
Outside of Sabb, Paige and Moore have been good not great. It’s tough to judge based on the injuries, but there has just been a lot of good play on the back end. The safety spot is far from a weakness, and Sabb’s emergence means that Michigan is able to rotate high-level athletes throughout the game.
This unit is simply one of the best nationally. Allowing just 47 points through all competitions, less than 90 first downs, and scoring four touchdowns is a testament to the elite talent and coaching this unit receives.
So why not an A+? Well, I’m probably being nitpicky, but there has not been a real impressive offense faced yet. If Michigan puts up a similar performance against Penn State and Ohio State, we could be discussing this unit as one of the best in program history. No joke. Until then, I am content with my grade.