Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Meet Me At The Ball

As much as we all love to talk offense, it is the defense that will ultimately decide our fate. I know this, you know this, and while defensive schemes have evolved and changed over the years, the execution of the fundamental principles have not. And, for the first time in a while, we have a man leading the defense that the fanbase can have the utmost confidence in. Rather than going out there and simply hoping for the best, hoping for the players to coach themselves and learn from their own mistakes, we can expect real, definitive direction. For the first time in a few years, we will have an identity. Craig Roh will be asked do something (hopefully rush the passer) and he will be coached to do that thing well. As much as I have expressed some misgivings about the Hoke hire (for which, as I'm sure is true for many "In Rod We Trusted" clan members), the Greg Mattison has helped assuage many of my fears. Greg Mattison, as of right now, is the golden goose for the Michigan football coaching staff. This is old news, of course, as we have finally reached NSD, but the importance of this hiring cannot be overstated. Rich Rodriguez's essential failure has become one of Brady Hoke's first triumphs. Progress.


Defense is animalistic and violent. It is quick and vicious and subtle in its calculated imperative to search and destroy. While I am of the opinion that scheme does not matter (i.e., any scheme can conceivably be executed given good coaching and the appropriate personnel). Defense is the raw manifestation of attitude. As Coach Lloyd Carr spoke to in the above video, defense is simple, yet, at the same time, it has not been so simple in the post-1997 era. We have had above average defenses since then (namely, 2006), but we have not seen a defense with the ability to take, as they say, "take over a game." Even the 2006 unit had its issues, particularly in the secondary, that were exposed in the OSU and USC games that season.

Michigan defense is different than any other brand of defense. It is silent but deadly. It is fundamental but strong. It is something that holds and says to the offense do what you may, we will still be here. We are always here, indomitable and relentless. 

I don't know how good we will be on defense next year. We have a majority of our starters coming back. That in and of itself indicates that we will be better. People often underestimate the youth factor in college football. In the NFL, a mediocre 6th year linebacker will probably be mediocre for the rest of his career. In college this is emphatically not so. Youth becomes experience, often as soon as any given contributor's sophomore year. What we ask for is competence. The offense will be there. Denard will still run around people slower than him (which, naturally, is almost everybody), the receivers will make plays and one of the runningbacks will become "the man," as has been the case many times before. Will the defense be there? 

It is easy to point at statistics and say that a defense is playing well. The question is, what is a good Michigan defense? 

Michigan defense is three winged helmets battering into the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. The reserves on the sideline jump up and down,  each time raising the winged helmet closer to the sky. It is jubilance and an active scoffing at this thing we call "offense." It is workmanlike and spectacular all at once. The 1997 defense was the epitome of this dual identity. We will beat you into submission and then we will dazzle you with what we can do. We will snatch it from the sky if we have to. 

Michigan defense at its finest is an amalgamation of eleven moving parts aiming to destroy whatever is before them. Defense is a celebration of dominance, a macabre yet glorious dance of defiance at the well-laid plans of an opposing team's offensive unit. Your plans mean nothing. In fact, we have no plan other than to destroy your plan by instinctual prowess and the involuntary twitching of our muscle fibers. 


I was eight years old in 1997.  I suppose I have grown up with a sense of entitlement as to what a Michigan defense should look like as result. I remember watching the 1998 Rose Bowl while eating Skittles like popcorn, watching the show that was the Michigan defense. It was so seamless and beautiful that every Michigan defense since then can only dream of reaching the technical and psychological dominance of that unit. It became something that was a given. Then, it wasn't. The rock of Michigan football had been thrown away to sink in the depths of Lake Huron, to sink slowly down each year, descending into the far reaches of our subconscious. We don't even know what defense really is anymore. Is it feasible? Is it possible, even? 

The struggles on the defensive side of the ball in the past 10+ years are rendered more frustrating due to the nature of the flaws of said defense. Tackling. Pre-snap alignment. Appropriate utilization of personnel (e.g., ROH, FOR GOODNESS SAKES). It's time to get back to the basics. To put it simply, meet me at the ball. I'll be there, and if things go as they should, you'll be there too. And they'll all jump.

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