Michigan's defense is good and getting better. That's not the big concern for U-M fans, coming down to the final three weeks of the regular season.
The offense, led now through tailback-by-committee, an unevenly performing offensive line, recently revived wide receivers and a quarterback-to-be-named-later, draws the attention here. So do, by extension, the defenses the Wolverines are going to face down the stretch.
First, a brief rundown as to why Greg Mattison's defensive crew ought to hold up well in November. It has allowed more than 13 points in a game just once since the second week of the season, and that's because it spent the entire second half of the loss at Nebraska on the field.
U-M's defenders stand seventh in the nation in total defense (288.7), 13th in scoring defense (16.8) and first in pass defense (145.4). The latter stat goes nicely with Northwestern's standing of No. 109 nationally in pass offense (162.89).
In Big Ten play, the Wolverines lead the conference in scoring defense (11.8), total defense (250.4) and pass defense (138.2). In other words, as tough as it might be to invade Columbus and come away with a win, if the Wolverines can find some offense, a three-game sweep certainly isn't out of the question.
In Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State, Michigan stares down three teams that rank in the top half of the Big Ten in almost no significant statistical categories on defense.
Here's how they stand, nationally and in conference
Rush Defense -- No. 23 (121.33), 4th Big Ten
Pass Efficiency Defense -- No. 48 (125.13), 8th Big Ten
Total Defense -- No. 60 (393.78), 10th Big Ten
Scoring Defense -- No. 35 (22.33), 6th Big Ten
Rush Defense -- No. 50 (148.33), 7th Big Ten
Pass Efficiency Defense -- No. 51 (126.84), 10th Big Ten
Total Defense -- No. 41 (368.11), 8th Big Ten
Scoring Defense -- No. 29 (21.44), 5th Big Ten
Rush Defense -- No. 16 (107.90), 1st Big Ten
Pass Efficiency Defense -- No. 27 (116.33), 6th Big Ten
Total Defense -- No. 39 (367.60), 7th Big Ten
Scoring Defense -- No. 46 (23.90), 7th Big Ten
Obviously, the Buckeyes' run defense sticks out, but they have not exactly faced a murderer's row of offensive squads, particularly when it comes to running the football. Against Nebraska, the Buckeyes surrendered 223 yards on the ground, 119 of them to tailback Rex Burkhead and 40 to mobile QB Taylor Martinez.
Martinez actually gained 75 yards in the game, but suffered 30 yards lost on four sacks and got caught behind the line of scrimmage for five more yards in losses.
One other note of interest, for those Michigan fans trying to find a loss on the Nebraska schedule the rest of the way. While playing in Iowa City is never easy for a visitor, Penn State in Lincoln might represent a bigger threat to the Cornhuskers than their regular-season-ending date with the Hawkeyes.
Iowa's scoring defense is a so-so fifth in the Big Ten, Kirk Ferentz's crew surrendering 21.44 points per game. But the Hawkeyes have been abominable on offense: No. 95 nationally in rushing (129.56), No. 95 in passing (198.44), No. 104 in total offense (328.00) and No. 103 in scoring offense (20.44).
In four of their five losses, they've put six, 14, 17 and 21 points on the board, the latter trio during the past three weeks.
Penn State, meanwhile, has won six of its last seven, with only a 35-24 home defeat at the hands of the undefeated Buckeyes in the Going Nowhere Bowl marring that skein. So the Nittany Lions' trek to Lincoln will be watched by far more than those following the two teams involved.
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