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September 26, 2012In its loss at Notre Dame, Michigan drew on some positives, largely a defensive performance that was significantly better than anything we had seen this season in three prior games.
"We played how we practiced," senior defensive tackle Will Campbell said. "We were playing together more. We didn't play a good enough game but we made strides."
Michigan had given up 369.0 yards per game in its first three contests, ranking 57th nationally and eighth in the Big Ten. Though the Irish did not feature a formidable offense, U-M still held Notre Dame to 150 yards and 17 points below their per-game averages in limiting ND to 239 yards of offense and 13 points.
"We were flying around to the football," redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon said. "Everyone was on the same page and when everyone is on the same page, good things will happen."
Gordon cited chemistry among the defenders to explain why U-M played its best game of the year on that side of the ball, and believes that cohesion is coming at the perfect time.
"You can gel at anytime but better now so we can get the ball rolling with the Big Ten season starting up," he said. "We're coming together as a group."
Michigan's secondary did something last weekend it hadn't done all year - snare an interception, actually two, after going the first three weeks without even a single pass breakup among the defensive backs (linebacker Jake Ryan and defensive end Frank Clark had recorded PBUs).
"It started up front. The defensive line probably played one of their best games of the year. They got great pressure up front and that flustered the quarterback and he threw some errant throws and we made opportunities off those," Gordon said.
The key for the Wolverines as they enter the Big Ten campaign is to maintain and even build on that strong defensive effort against Notre Dame, and they know it.
"No stepping back," said Campbell, who had four stops against the Blue and Gold. "We have to stack on top of each other, that's what Coach Hoke tells us a lot. We have to put together good practices."
"It's all about how you prepare," Gordon added. "We get a head start on Purdue with this bye week, and it's all about preparation. You play how your practice, and that's what Coach Mattison tells us."
Though U-M is 2-2, winning the Big Ten is still an attainable goal. In fact, Michigan lost non-conference two games in 1998 and earned a conference crown while it has lost to Notre Dame seven times only to respond with Big Ten title-winning seasons (1980, 1982, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1998 and 2004).
"We're very optimistic going into the Big Ten season," said Gordon. "It's a fresh start. Even though we're 2-2 we know where we still can go. The team has high spirits and we're working towards our goal of the Big Ten title."