Story by Sam Webb
For a defense with lofty personal goals, discussing the positives in the aftermath of defeat is like chewing nails. That explains why senior captain Joe Bolden wasn’t keen on lauding his unit’s ability to limit star Utah tailback Devontae Booker to 69 yards on 22 carries Saturday night. When asked what he thought of the job the defense had done on Booker he didn’t mince words.
“Not good enough,” Bolden replied matter-of-factly.
His frustration stemmed from the inability to limit Booker’s contribution through the air. The Utes countered Michigan’s fierceness in the box by getting Booker on the flanks with swing passes and screens. That forced the Wolverines’ linebacking crew to chase Booker sideline to sideline and try to make plays on him in space. By the time the game ended Booker had hauled in seven receptions (to lead the Utes) for 55 yards.
“Oh man… missed tackles,” Bolden said describing his unit’s biggest problem. “The defense as a whole not getting to the football. Way too many missed tackles.”
“We definitely didn’t perform to the extent that we could.”
Chris Wormley echoed that sentiment.
“We had a lot of missed tackles on (Booker)… a lot of arm tackles,” said Wormley. “You’ve got to get the guy down on the ground. You’ve got to get guys to the ball.”
The number of winged helmets to the ball was really good in the game, but it lagged a bit when the Utes increased the tempo for a few drives.
“Our offense all through camp… they’re not a tempo team,” Wormley explained. “We only got into it the last two weeks (with the) scout team. You can’t really prepare for that. It’s game speed. It’s ones versus ones (in a game). When the scout does it, it’s a lot harder to feel that game speed.”
Now they have that feel and Jim Harbaugh believes that his defense will grow from the experience.
“Defensively I thought we had some good (things) and some (things) to get better at,” said Harbaugh. “Specifically, the tempo got us a little bit on two drives. We’ve got to line-up better. We’ve got to play with more pop. But we got that fixed too. I thought and the pass rush pursuit got better. I thought the tackling was good. We made plays. That’s the story. There were lots of things to build on and improve from. There are also some real positives.”
One of those positives was Wormley’s three tackles-for-loss. At the same time, there are aspects of his performance that he says can be improved upon.
“Coach Durkin’s defense I think plays right into what I’m capable of doing,” Wormley said. “I thought I played pretty well in the first half, and in the second half I kind lagged off a little bit.”
Looking back on it, Wormley described the performance of the entire defense that way.
“I think the first half our energy was great. We made big plays... we stopped them. When we came out in the second half we kind of (had) lulls. I think when we look back at the film we’ve got to figure out a way to keep that energy from the first half into the second half, and then into the fourth quarter and the end of the game.”
“You learn from it,” said Bolden. “Obviously you move on. A lot of guys played decent tonight… played well… showed what we can do when we execute. All we have to do is put it together as a whole unit, do our thing, and not let anyone else affect what we’re going out to do and what our objective is.”