So, what makes Michigan’s defense the No. 9 defense in all of FBS? Well, there are many reasons.
Michigan’s defense starts up front with the defensive line creating pressure on the opposing quarterback. Senior defensive end Frank Clark is one of the leaders on the team and is a threat for opposing offensive tackles because of his explosiveness and agility. A threat for stopping the run is Willie Henry, a sophomore who is greatly improving at a dangerous rate. The big men upfront really benefit the rest of the defense as a whole.
The heart of Michigan’s defense however is its intimidating big linebacker core, which is all upperclassmen starting with middle linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan is not only one of the best middle linebackers in the Big Ten; he is also a tremendous leader. Ryan is all over the field making key tackles or sacks. Next to him are other stud members of this Wolverines’ defense with Desmond Morgan, who has been injured since the home opener vs. Appalachian State. The two linebackers who have currently been starting alongside Ryan are James Ross III and Joe Bolden. This is a fierce core that opposing quarterbacks fear and are well aware of.
Michigan’s secondary is rich in talent, starting with senior cornerback Blake Countess, who was recently granted the infamous Michigan legend jersey of Charles Woodson’s No. 2. On the other side is senior cornerback Raymon Taylor, and at nickel is five-star freshman Jabrill Peppers. At the safety position are junior Jarrod Wilson and sophomore Jeremy Clark.
In my opinion, Countess thrived last season when he had to play zone coverage and bait the quarterback into throwing into his zone where he would make a tackle, bat the ball down or even make an interception. This year, however, defensive coordinator Geg Mattison tweaked his scheme and is making the Michigan cornerbacks play more “in your face” press-coverage. This puts Countess by himself covering a receiver and so far this year he has struggled. Raymon Taylor is a solid cornerback but got injured during the Notre Dame loss and has recently returned. Peppers hasn’t been on the field consistently due to an injury, and rumors have been going around about possibly receiving a medical redshirt. Michigan fans have extremely high expectations for Peppers, knowing how much talent and potential the young athlete has at his finger tips. We are all eagerly awaiting his return.
A name maize and blue fans have recently been hearing often is sophomore cornerback Jourdan Lewis, a speedy athlete from the Detroit area who has received lots of reps during games. He received plenty of playing time in the absence of Taylor during his injury. Lewis is improving greatly and we have all seen it since he was playing in Week 2 against Notre Dame. Lewis can outrun some receivers and he looks to have a bright future wearing the winged helmet.
A main reason as to why Michigan’s defense is currently ranked No. 9 in total defense in FBS is because of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison is an experienced defensive coordinator who has been a coach on Michigan’s staff since 2011. Prior to his coaching career at Michigan, he was coaching in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens as their defensive coordinator and linebacker coach for two years. Coach Mattison has been coaching since the year 1976 at many other well known programs, including Florida, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Navy, Western Michigan, Northwestern, Cornell and Illinois.
A key part to any elite defense in football requires leadership. The Wolverines have many upperclassmen on their defense who lead their team. Players like Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess all contribute as leaders for team 135.