Johnson Adjusts to the Spread

With Northwestern in the rear-view mirror and a non-conference game against Eastern Michigan on the horizon, Michigan defensive tackle Will Johnson talked about the adaptations the Michigan defense has made to stop the spread offense since dropping a 39-7 decision to Oregon in week two. What do the Wolverines need to do in order to extend their win streak to four games against EMU this weekend?

ANN ARBOR -- Over the opening two weeks of the season, spread offenses from Appalachian State and Oregon dismantled a rebuilt and untested Michigan defense. After being upset by the Mountaineers, in what some experts consider the upset of the century, the Wolverines were embarrassed 39-7, again at home, by the Oregon Ducks.

Since the 0-2 start, however, things have started to turn around in Ann Arbor.

On the brink of the programs first five game losing streak since before Bo Schembechler became the coach of the Wolverines, a dismal Notre Dame offense came to Michigan Stadium and provided the defense with a much needed confidence booster. Against Penn State the following week, the defense maintained form in a season saving 14-9 win over the Nittany Lions to open Big 10 play at 1-0. This past week, in the Wolverines first test against a spread attack since Oregon, a sound second half defensive effort that included four fourth quarter turnovers guided the Wolverines past the Wildcats of Northwestern in a game much more dramatic than was expected going in.

"There wasn't really anything that happened, but I think that there were a lot of young guys getting into the game," Michigan fourth-year junior Will Johnson said on Monday. "They were not used to playing away games. Maybe they were a little bit too loose. We got that corrected and came back in the second half. We knew what we had to do. We needed to come back and win."

Over the final 30 minutes, the Wolverines did just that. After surrendering 16 points in the opening half, adjustments were made and the defense succeeded in shifting the games momentum with an effort responsible for four straight turnovers to end the Wildcats hopes.

"Normally at the end of the game a defense is not, in terms of a pass rush, they're not able to put the pressure on that they are early in the game," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "But our defense forced four turnovers in consecutive drives. So I am very pleased with what they did there."

With Eastern Michigan on the schedule this week, the Wolverines will get another opportunity to test themselves against a spread attack, and, while the Eagles attack may not be as high-octane as that of the Oregon Ducks, Johnson is confident that improvements made over the past three weeks will be enough to shut down the Eastern Michigan attack.

"Just people getting their assignments down. In the Oregon game, there were a lot of blown assignments and we just had to correct that in practice and get those assignments down. And we have come a long ways," Johnson continued.

"It is not too much difference up front. It is harder to get to the quarterback and put pressure on him. But the offensive line is spread out and the gaps are bigger. You have to get in your gap and hold it."

Michigan and Eastern Michigan are scheduled for a noon kickoff on the Big 10 Network.

"I think we have come a long way from Oregon, who has a great spread team. And Northwestern is a great spread team. We learned a lot of things during that game, and it carried over to Northwestern."

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