The Michigan defense, particularly its defensive line, has taken hits of a different nature the past few seasons. These hits were verbal, not physical: they were "too small," "not fast enough," and "doesn't get to the quarterback enough."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has always said that he wants a "Michigan defense." One that will find penetration, force pressure on the opposing line, and get to the quarterback without having to blitz constantly, as the Wolverines were necessitated to do in recent years.
A vote of confidence came from an unlikely source on Saturday afternoon. Senior offensive lineman Michael Schofield, who's never played a down of defense in his career at Michigan, saw a marked improvement from junior rush end Frank Clark, sophomore defensive end Mario Ojemudia, and the rest of the defense.
"Those two are very quick and will be really solid pass rushers in the Big Ten," he said. "Frank especially. He's going to have a big season for us. He has one of the quickest first steps I've seen and he can hit you in the mouth, too. It definitely prepares you for the season to go up against a guy like Frank every day."
Kind words from a man who was on the receiving end of Clark's beating. Clark terrorized the offensive line Saturday with the help of starters Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black, knocking back Schofield on numerous occasions and rushing passed him to record a sack. Clark showed a different kind of focus and ferocity than we've seen from him in the past. He blew up the interior line to fight his way to a safety on the second play from scrimmage.
Ojemudia ran with power and purpose on the second-team defensive line. The sophomore showed a newfound quickness on the outside, overwhelming Michigan's young linemen and showing great desire to get to the quarterback.
A tenacity to get sacks was evident from every player on the defense yesterday, but nowhere was it more apparent than from the players on the outside of the line with the most to prove. It's very early, but Ojemudia and Clark will anchor a hungry defense intent on harassing the quarterback on every play. They're poised to be one of the Big Ten's best, with or without junior linebacker Jake Ryan.
"That's our job," said Washington. "Every single play we have to get to the quarterback. That's every little kid's dream - to get the sack or strip the ball."
Transforming the defense into one of elite stature depends upon overall consistency, and when his number is called, Clark plans on being ready.
"That's a personal goal of mine," he said. "I want to be that player who Coach Mattison can rely on. With Jake Ryan going down, I know he was looking for that next player to step in and be that guy for him. That's what I want to be. That guy he can look at and go, 'I know Frank can make a play. I know when I call whatever play on third down, that Frank's going to get to the quarterback and make a play.'"
The intangibles of a pressuring, smash-mouth defense are present. Now, it's up to Clark and his teammates to spearhead a defensive line with enough talent and quickness to earn the title of "Michigan defense."
"We feel we're ready to go. We're going to get the ball every time," Washington said.