Friday, January 17, 2014
The good, the bad, the future: Secondary
By Chantel Jennings
The secondary was far from a highlight for the Wolverines this season, allowing big plays and never quite getting to a level of technique that Greg Mattison wanted. That said, the Michigan defensive backs wouldn't have been called on to make as many big stops if the defensive line had gotten more pressure and not allowed quarterbacks such comfort in the pocket. But, position by position, this was one of the groups that struggled most this season.
Blake Countess returned from an ACL tear to post six interceptions in 2013.
THE GOOD:Blake Countess returned from his ACL injury and showed shades of the player he was before. He finished the year with six interceptions, tied with Purdue’s Ricardo Allen for top in the Big Ten (though Allen technically finishes first since he played one fewer game than Countess so his average is better). Raymon Taylor also had a decent year. He led the team in tackles (86) and pass breakups (nine). Though as former captain Jordan Kovacs pointed out after leading the team in solo tackles after the 2010 and 2011 season, it’s rarely a good thing if a team’s leading tackler is in the third level of the defense. And the silver lining of the Wolverines’ struggles in the secondary is that quite a few young players got some quality reps. Players such as freshmen Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis -- while they gave up big plays and made mistakes -- will have their experiences pay off in the upcoming seasons, much like the players who got some limited time on the offensive line this season.
THE BAD: Coverage. Coverage. Coverage. Michigan couldn’t play tight coverage, so instead they played off receivers and as a result, the Wolverines gave up 42 completions of 20 or more yards this season (69th nationally, seventh in the Big Ten). Twenty of those plays came in Michigan’s six losses. In those losses, the Wolverines gave up 99 completions to opposing quarterbacks. On those 20 plays in Michigan’s six losses, opposing QBs gained 625 yards, meaning nearly half of the yardage that opposing signal-callers gained (47 percent of their passing yardage on just 20 percent of their passe). In other terms, in Michigan’s losses one in every five passes went for 20 or more yards. That also means that in the Wolverines’ seven wins they gave up 22 completions of 20-plus yards, however, 12 of those came from the Akron and Indiana games (two of Michigan’s worst defensive performances all year), with six big plays apiece. Another troubling part of this is that the two quarterbacks -- whose teams had wins -- will face the Wolverines again next season, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
THE FUTURE: The Wolverines will expect more from Lewis and Stribling and Coutness returns as well, so he should be a good leader for the secondary. However, the biggest part of the Michigan secondary’s future is Jabrill Peppers. The incoming freshman is going to be an instant impact player for the Wolverines. His size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and athleticism are going to instantly make the Wolverine secondary scarier to throw against. He’s the kind of playmaker that can change a game, the kind of playmaker the Wolverines really didn’t have on the roster this season (or recently).