Saturday, October 22, 2016

Michigan's defense in peak form as the stretch run begins

                              Photo Credit: U-M Athletics

On a crisp, fall Saturday afternoon at Michigan Stadium, the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten East) picked up right where they left off from last week's 78-point shutout at Rutgers with another dominant performance in 41-8 win route on the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3 Big Ten West).

Michigan's rush defense made it 7-for-7 with holding each of the opponent's running backs to less than 100 yards as Illinois' Kendrick Foster and Ke'Shawn Vaughn were held to 45 and 43 yards, respectively.

With the likes of slowing down running backs such as, Corey Clement (Wisconsin) and Saquon Barkley this season, defensive end Taco Charlton preached defensive coordinator Don Brown's no non-sense mentality within the front seven.

"That's definitely a mentality Coach Brown preached to us to never let a team run through us," Charlton said. "That's the mentality you have to have and is what has rubbed off on us to make them pass the ball to beat us."

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gave credit to the front seven, which  led the Big Ten in rushing defense with 99.2 yards per game (ninth in the FBS) before Saturday's game.

"Got to give credit to the front seven in terms of the run game as our defensive line is playing physical and consistent on the other side of the line of scrimmage," Harbaugh said. 

"Our linebackers [Mike] McCray, [Ben] Gedeon and Jabrill [Peppers] have been outstanding. We are starting to get a really good rotation as Rashan Gary is playing extremely well, Chase Winovich is doing a heck of a job and Mo Hurst brings a lot of juice. There's a lot of good players playing well."

The Wolverines' pass defense gave quarterback Fighting Illini quarterback Jeff George Jr. fits all day long holding the freshman to 4-of-15 from the field for 95 yards and peaked with 2:17 left in the first half on safety Dymonte Thomas' interception, which led to Kenny Allen's 23-yard field goal conversion to give Michigan a 31-0 lead at the half.

"The first thing that went to my mind was about time [it happened]," Thomas said. "My teammates make fun of me everyday saying that I can't catch and have no hands, so after I caught that interception, they all said about time you caught it. It was a pretty exciting feeling and was really pumped."

Despite a 43-yard touchdown pass from George Jr. to Turner and a two-point conversion with 10:22 left in regulation, Michigan's defense has allowed 5.0 points per game in the month of October.

The biggest challenge for Michigan comes on Oct. 29, as it looks to avenge last season's collapse to rival Michigan State in the final seconds.

Thomas spent the bye week after last season's MSU game and thought about the heartbreak from the finish.

"During our whole bye week, that's the only thing I could think about was getting revenge and next Saturday, we have our opportunity, Thomas said. "I am so excited to play with these guys and it will be fun to play next Saturday, especially given it is against our rival."

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