Michigan Defense/ST Notes: DJ Turner Breaks Out, Edge Defenders Dominate
Michigan football redshirt freshman cornerback DJ Turner shined in his first career start, with his one gaffe coming on a questionable pass interference call when it looked like he was shoved by a Northwestern receiver.
The third-year player made three tackles, including his first career stop behind the line of scrimmage, and allowed one catch on three targets in coverage. And on the first play of the fourth quarter, he notched his first interception since high school, jumping a hitch route and returning it 23 yards to the Northwestern 15-yard line.
"I was one tackle away," Turner said, reflecting on his near touchdown. "I saw the end zone, and I thought I had it, but someone from behind me clipped me."
A smiling Turner kept a close eye on the ball that he took from the Wildcats, not letting it out of his sight and even taking it into his postgame press conference.
"It was great, having my first interception. Just having a good time with my teammates," Turner said.
“I was trying to block for him," noted sophomore safety Daxton Hill, who tied for the team lead with six tackles, including one for loss. "I thought he was going to cut back. It was a good play he made. He made a good break on the back, caught it and took off. It was a great play.”
Turner's interception, which was much appreciated by redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara and the offense, led to a touchdown just four plays later.
"When DJ picked that ball off, any type of turnover or big-time play, that leads to momentum, that usually leads to success as well," McNamara said.
Entering Saturday, Turner had played 113 defensive snaps in six games — never more than 29 in an outing — which was third among cornerbacks. He had rotated in, replacing both redshirt sophomores Gemon Green and Vincent Gray at times, but the 33-7 win over Northwestern was his coming-out party, starting in place of Green, who played sparingly.
"DJ Turner, that was one of the best interceptions I’ve seen all season and in recent memory," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I thought he played great. Coverage was really good. I was really happy for DJ. One of my favorite guys. To see him out there playing well, get that interception, change momentum for the team is huge."
"He’s been battling the whole season — in the season, before the season, spring," Hill said of Turner. "It’s been a long year for him, stepping up and making plays for the team on the defense.”
Michigan Football Edge Defenders Dominate
Michigan's defense allowed just seven points, 233 yards (100 rushing, 133 passing), a 50-percent completion rate, 10 first downs and 4.2 yards per play.
One hundred and four of Northwestern’s 113 first-half yards came on two plays — a 29-yard pass on the first play of the game and a 75-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Evan Hull just before the half — and 130 of the Wildcats' 233 yards for the game came on three plays when adding a 26-yard Hull reception to that mix.
Much of the Wolverines' success can be credited to the defensive line, even when it comes to the stellar play from Turner and the defensive backs.
"It makes it so much easier," Turner said of having high-level pass rushers like junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and redshirt freshman outside linebacker David Ojabo. "The ball has to come out quickly. I know they don’t have all day in the pocket.
"Just like on the pick, it was a hitch, so I just know you can’t sit in the pocket all day, with ‘Jabo, Aidan and those dudes up there. The D-line is a DB’s best friend."
"Making the ball come out quick, that’s even more valuable than sacks a lot of the time," Harbaugh explained. "You can’t just go by sacks, though [Hutchinson] did have a sack, did have a fumble recovery [on a fourth down in the final stanza]. He’s making the ball come out fast. Imagine what that does for the secondary."
Hutchinson and Ojabo were a two-headed force to be reckoned with off the edge. The two combined for the aforementioned second-quarter sack, while Hutchinson generated two quarterback hurries. Ojabo batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage and had one breakup in coverage, and Hutchinson had a batted ball of his own.
"We were out there executing, trusting each other," Ojabo said. "I know he’s going to — and you all know he’s going to — be at the quarterback. It’s complementary football, just executing. It’s a lot of comfort, having Aidan Hutchinson, knowing he’s going to do what Aidan Hutchinson does.”
Hutchinson has six sacks on the year, and Ojabo upped his total to five.
Michigan Blocks First Punt Of Season, Highlighting The Special Teams Performance
Michigan blocked its first punt of the season, with sophomore wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, on the right side of the defensive formation, flowing through untouched to deflect the ball and send it toward the sideline, before redshirt freshman defensive back Caden Kolesar made the recovery.
"That was great," Harbaugh said of the special teams play. "[Special teams coordinator and tight ends coach] Jay Harbaugh did a great job scheming that one up. We felt like we’d only get one shot and take advantage of what they were doing in their punt scheme.
"Also, C.J., that’s the first time he’s been put in that position and you get one shot at it, then he comes through like he did. He just ran a perfect course, perfect amount of steps, great vision on the ball and ball skills to get that punt blocked."
The play marked the first time the Wolverines blocked a punt since Khaleke Hudson deflected one against Michigan State in 2019.
Redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins scored a 13-yard rushing touchdown just three plays later, putting the Wolverines ahead, 24-7, late in the third quarter.
Miscellaneous Michigan Football Notes
• Northwestern's 233 yards are the lowest it has accumulated in a contest this season.
• Michigan has now held three opponents — Northwestern, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin — to less than 250 total yards.
• Seven is the least amount of points an opponent has scored on the Wolverines this season and the lowest total since Maryland posted an identical number of points Nov. 2, 2019.
• Ojabo hadn't notched a pass breakup in his career but finished with three against the Wildcats.
• Freshman linebacker Junior Colson made the first start of his career. He finished with one tackle.
• The Wildcats converted on four of 14 third-down conversion attempts (28.5 percent). For the season, the Wolverines are allowing opponents to move the chains on 46.5 percent of third-down plays (46 of 99).
• Turner's interception was the Maize and Blue's fourth of the season.
• Michigan has recovered one fumble in five different outings.
• The Wolverines' seven pass breakups are tied with the Western Michigan game for the second-most this season, trailing only the eight they posted against Washington.
• Michigan has now forced turnovers in six straight games and has 10 for the year.
• Northwestern went three-and-out on five of its drives.
• Junior kicker Jake Moody made a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter, marking the fourth 40-plus yard made kick of his season. He also nailed a 20-yard field goal Saturday. Moody is 14 of 16 for the season, with a long of 52 yards (against Washington; career long).
• Redshirt junior Brad Robbins punted three times for 143 yards, with a long of 48 yards and an average of 47.7 yards per boot.
• Second-year freshman punt returner A.J. Henning had three returns, two of them going for no yards and one winding up in a 19-yard gain.
• Turner became the eighth different Wolverine defender and 13th player overall to earn a first career start this season.
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