Notre Dame to Provide Stiff Test

After Northern Illinois hung over 400 yards on the Wolverine defense last Saturday, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that there would be changes. Whether those changes are successful will have a large say in who comes out victorious in the game with Notre Dame this week...and how the Wolverines will fare this season.

The unrelenting scrutiny the Michigan defense has been under has been magnified in the days since the Maize and Blue came out with a victory over Northern Illinois last Saturday. Despite limiting the Huskies to 17 points, NIU moved the ball with ease both through and around the Wolverine defense for most of the day. Garrett Wolfe, the Huskies top running back, recorded 148 yards on only 17 carries. When time expired, the visitors had compiled 411 yards of total offense, marking the fifth straight time the defense had relinquished at least 400 yards in a game. That re-raised the question to Wolverine fans across the nation…can this defense get it done? After viewing the film, Coach Carr echoed the same concerns. He, however, is in a position where he can try to do something about it, and that's exactly what he is prepared to do as his team prepares for the No. 20-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend.

“There's going to be some changes in the lineup because we're not going to sit and watch that type of effort," Carr said Monday regarding his front seven. "We need to play harder, we need to play tougher. Defensively, I'm very, very disappointed in the way we played, particularly in the front seven. I don't think we played well at all up there. We're just not where we need to be. We need to play harder. We need to play more physical. That is our intent.”

Although Carr would not divulge specific changes, it appears that competition has opened up throughout the middle of the defense. Gabe Watson, a starter for the past 14 games, is now competing with Will Johnson to hold onto his job. In addition Scott McClintock was moved out of the starting lineup and has shifted from the inside linebacker position out to the weakside. Effort and not being in the right place were two key issues in Saturday's game, but Lamarr Woodley insists that will be cleaned up for next week.

"I just think that as far as Saturday's game, we gave up that big play,” Woodley said. “Guys weren't lined up in the right position. Sometimes it's good for that to happen early in the season so that you can correct it and it won't happen later on down the line. We corrected it and it didn't happen again."

Whether or not a tougher, more physical product will be put on the field remains to be seen. That said, if the moves don't have the desired effect, it will be a very long day against an Irish offense that torched the Pittsburgh Panther defense for 35 first half points last weekend.

“They spread the ball," Carr said regarding the Notre Dame offense. "I thought, when you look at the statistics, you'll see great balance in the people that got the football. The tight ends got the ball. (Anthony) Fasano, the wide receivers, and the backs all got the ball in the passing game. They ran the football very effectively. When you rush for 275 yards, that's a good day's work."

It’ll take a good day’s work from Jim Herrmann and his defense to limit the Irish offense this weekend. Luckily they do have a few positives to work with. After winning the turnover battle five-to-one in the opener, the Wolverines defense looks to continue the trend of creating good field position for the offense. The maize-and-blue also seemed to get off the field in third down situations more as the game wore on. The home team must have similar success this week in those areas.
"Our main thing is to try to get off the field early," Woodley said. "You don't want your defense out there for too long. That's our main thing the first time we go out there, just trying to get the ball back for our offense."

How the defense performs in this early season litmus test will tell a great deal about what can be expected the rest of the season.

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