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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

UM's 'D' stats worry Indiana

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Alan Branch, left, 336-pound tackle, and David Harris, inside linebacker, are two reasons why Michigan's defense has only allowed an average of 30.3 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs in 10 games. Alan Branch, left, 336-pound tackle, and David Harris, inside linebacker, are two reasons why Michigan's defense has only allowed an average of 30.3 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs in 10 games.
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ANN ARBOR - The first thing the Michigan defensive line does is overwhelm you with statistics. You see their numbers a full six days before you see them coming after you, live and in color.

Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner, whose team faces Michigan on Saturday, has reviewed the stat chart, and looked at the Michigan defense on film. Hoeppner re-stated the obvious - this defense on the nation's No. 2 ranked team is good.

"They are the No. 1 rush defense," Hoeppner said, referring to Michigan's allowing just 30.3 yards on the ground per game. The Wolverines have held nine of their 10 opponents to fewer than 60 yards rushing, and twice held the opposition to negative rushing yards. Michigan has allowed only three rushing touchdowns in 10 games.

"They are very similar to the Chicago Bears defense," Hoeppner said. "Their front seven are good, big, fast and strong players who play hard. It's a formidable defense. The team is kind of built around them."

Led by that dominant front, the Michigan defense smothered Penn State, and the Nittany Lions finished with negative 14 rushing yards on 25 carries. The Wolverines held Northwestern to minus-13 yards rushing on 17 carries.

On the season, Michigan's opponents have carried the ball 229 times for just 303 yards, an average of 1.3 yards per carry. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr thinks that defensive front might be the best he's seen in maize and blue since he came to Michigan.

"I think they are," Carr said. "My memory is getting shorter and shorter as we go, and I don't know how far back that goes, but it goes back a while. I think if you look at the statistics, that's one thing, but it goes beyond statistics."

Besides those gaudy run defense numbers, the Michigan front also boasts a ferocious pass rush, as evidenced by their Big Ten-leading 35 sacks this season. That defensive line Carr is so proud of has collected 21 of those sacks, and likely been responsible for an assist on the others.

"They've been very, very consistent, and I've always believed that consistency is really the truest measure of performance," Carr said. "Anybody can have a great day, but to do it week in and week out over a long period of time, I think they've met that challenge."

The Michigan defensive front has seniors LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs at the ends, and junior Alan Branch with sophomore Terrance Taylor at the tackles. Junior Will Johnson has played a lot backing up both tackles, while Tim Jamison and Jeremy Van Alstyne have spelled the ends.

"What we've had as well as some extremely talented guys in the starting group, is we've got a lot of guys that we've been able to substitute, and they've gotten better," Carr said, "so I think our depth has been a real factor there."

HOOSIER CONTINGENT: Michigan has three players on its roster from Indiana - junior linebacker Chris Graham from Indianapolis, senior defensive end Van Alstyne from Greenwood, and freshman defensive end Stevie Brown from Columbus.

11-WIN SEASON: A victory at Indiana would give Michigan its second 11-win season under head coach Lloyd Carr. The last time Michigan won 11 games was in the 1997 season when the Wolverines went 12-0 and won a national championship.

TIME ZONE: How has Michigan defeated 10 straight opponents, you ask? Simple. They just don't give them the ball. Michigan leads the nation in time of possession, averaging 34 minutes and five seconds with the ball over its 10 games this season.

BIG RUSH: Michigan enters the Indiana game leading the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 193.2 yards per game. That figure puts Michigan 13th-nationally. With just 68 rushing yards against Indiana on Saturday, Michigan will reach 2,000 rushing yards for the season.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Freshman wide receiver Greg Mathews from Orlando has made the kind of immediate impact many expected when Michigan landed him as a recruit. Mathews has played in all 10 games and has caught seven passes for 68 yards, plus returned punts.

Freshman offensive lineman Justin Boren from Pickerington, Ohio, has started one game and played significant minutes as a backup.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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