Big Ten

2010 Michigan Wolverines: All About the Defense

| by The Sports Columnist

Believe it or not, the shoelaces of Denard Robinson won't be the main determining factor when it comes to Michigan's wins and losses columns this season. Yeah, I know -- it's a tough sell. I don't think shoelaces have ever gotten as much attention during a week. In fact, write it in ink — no untied shoelaces have ever gotten more pub. Period.

And Robinson, and his shoelaces, looked pretty phenomenal last Saturday, as he pressed the turbo button and sped past hordes of helpless Connecticut defenders. But why did the Wolverines defeat the Huskies so handily, 30-10? Because of 11-plus young men in winged helmets who tied their shoelaces and pretty much shut down Connecticut.

Yes, the defense.

Last season, remember, the Wolverines were far from bad on offense. They were near the top of the Big Ten in all offensive categories, scored a ton of points and were fun to watch. But a combination of terrible defense and a horrible turnover ratio led to the collapse from a 4-0 start into a 5-7 season, officially making Rich Rodriguez's seat red hot.

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Then the team's top two defenders, Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren, bolted for the NFL, starting cornerback Troy Woolfork busted his leg before the season, and things were looking extremely grim for an inexperienced, no-reason-to-be-confident, undersized defense learning a new 3-3-5 scheme from career unsuccessful coordinator Greg Robinson. Not good at all.

But in the new Big House Saturday, the defense looked OK, which could be enough to win seven or eight games — yes, Wolverines fans, an eight-victory campaign would be very good for this group.

Before you go serenading Michigan a Top 25 team, however (and that talk, really, is ridiculous after just a game), let's see how it handles Notre Dame's offense tomorrow and then, down the road, the Big Ten's top dogs. Let's not go anointing this team special as the national media did last year after a measly two wins, with a Sports Illustrated article and everything.

Lost in all the excitement of the season-opening blowout was the fact that Connecticut played really poorly. The Huskies dropped several balls, fumbled away the pigskin inside the Michigan 10-yard line and generally were out of sorts. The offense was far from sharp. So it's difficult to get a gauge of just how good, or bad, the Wolverines' D is.

The best word to characterize the performance — encouraging. If nothing else, the unit definitely has more confidence going into this weekend, which it will need against the Fighting Irish on the road.

There's no doubt Michigan has talent on the defensive side of the ball. Rodriguez's zealous recruiting hasn't suffered despite his 3- and 5-win seasons to begin his (maybe very short) career in Ann Arbor. There are several players who could quickly make names for themselves this season.

But at this point, be hesitant in giving these Wolverines too much credit. We all know Robinson is a mega talent, not to mention personality, who will probably do more of what he did Saturday the rest of the season (although things will get much more difficult as opposing coaches view film of him and come up with game plans hellbent on confusing him). The offense will be good, possibly very good.

It won't matter, however, unless the D is, well, fine, OK — just not bad.

Its first big test will come at South Bend. Shoelaces tied or not.