ANN ARBOR No, Michigan s offense did not exactly click in season-opening losses at home to Division I-AA Appalachian State and Oregon, and that was a concern to the team that was ranked No. 5 in the nation in the preseason polls.
But an even greater concern was the porous Wolverine defense that surrendered 34 points to ASU and 39 to an Oregon team which looked like it could have easily hit 50.
So, how is it that this same UM defense flipped the switch and has suddenly denied the opposition a touchdown for nine consecutive quarters?
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who was grasping at straws two weeks earlier, says it all comes down to two mental factors.
They re playing with a level of concentration and focus that it takes to be successful, Carr said. This game is too hard and too fast to be good at, even for the most talented people, if they re not focused on what they re doing.
One of the players sold on the new mental approach is senior strong safety Jamar Adams, who topped UM yesterday with eight tackles and five pass breakups.
The fundamental reason, Adams said of the turnaround, is just execution. Guys are where they re supposed to be. If they re supposed to be deep, they re deep. If they re supposed to be underneath, they re underneath. If they re supposed to be blitzing, they re blitzing.
Truth be told, Michigan s improved defensive play has something to do with style. They were burned by the effective spread offenses of Appalachian State and Oregon before running into the woeful offense of Notre Dame here last week and the much more familiar Penn State offense yesterday.
You don t have too much indecision when you re playing conventional offenses, Adams said. You re able to know what you re doing and go out there and play.
MALLETT HAVING FUN: For the second straight week, freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett started in place of injured four-year starter Chad Henne, who is out with a lower leg injury and still regarded as day-to-day.
And, for the second straight week, Mallett guided UM to a win and looked effective in the process.
One thing with Mallett, he doesn t get rattled, Carr said. I thought what he did, that really made a difference, was that in the fourth quarter he hit some big throws.
As a bonus, Mallett enjoyed himself in the process.
We had a lot of fun out there, Mallett said. We re glad to get that next W. We ve just got to keep going and keep getting better. The defense played outstanding, and the offensive line made great calls.
HART ATTACK: In the absence of Henne, a big chunk of Michigan s offensive scheme has been thrust upon senior tailback Mike Hart.
Yesterday he rushed a career-high 44 times for 153 yards and scored what proved to be the game-winning points on a one-yard TD plunge in the fourth quarter. With his 23rd career 100-yard game, Hart is now No. 1 in that category in UM history.