ANN ARBOR - The names are largely the same, but something is very different about Michigan's defense this year.
Mainly, the Wolverines are giving up more yards and points than in 2007 - a key factor in their woeful 2-6 record.
UM's defense returns eight players who started regularly last year yet is ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (28.8 points per game) and ninth in total defense (377.5 yards per game). Last season, the Wolverines were fourth and third in those categories, respectively.
Following another disappointing outing in UM's 35-21 loss to Michigan State last weekend - its fourth straight defeat - the Wolverines are trying to decipher why they've been rendered defenseless.
"I didn't anticipate maybe as many [growing pains] on defense as we're having," Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez said yesterday.
One tangible difference is the coaching staff. Rodriguez is in his first year as head coach, and he hired Scott Shafer to run the defense. Shafer's schemes are similar to those employed by former defensive coordinator Ron English, but Shafer supposedly places a greater emphasis on attacking and swarming to the ball.
What UM has done instead is miss tackles and fail to make plays on third down.
"With all the excuses set aside, we're not getting it done this year," said sophomore corner Donovan Warren, who started all but one game last season."It's the players, really. The coaches can't do anymore. It's up to us."
Beginning with this weekend's game at Purdue, the Wolverines need to win each of their remaining four contests just to become bowl eligible and possibly keep alive their streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances.
If that goal can't be achieved, UM would at least like to see progress from a young offense it knew would struggle and a veteran defense that has had more problems than anyone expected.
"Everybody did expect the defense to be a lot stronger than what we've shown," linebacker Jonas Mouton said. "But I feel like the defense has put forth good efforts.I mean, obviously not good enough, but good efforts trying to help this team win and be successful."
SNAKE OIL REVISITED: Rodriguez laughs about it and Purdue coach Joe Tiller denies he was speaking about his UM counterpart, but it was Tiller who seemed to call Rodriguez a "guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil" for luring recruit Roy Roundtree away from the Boilermakers last winter.
Tiller's comment was widely interpreted as a swipe at Rodriguez for stealing a recruit who had committed to Purdue.
"I don't know if I've got my snake oil sample with me or not. I can bring it down to West Lafayette this weekend and get Joe," Rodriguez said. "I believe there are probably people calling our commitments now. Probably some Big Ten schools doing that."
NO HUDDLE: Running back Sam McGuffie and safety Mike Williams each suffered mild concussions Saturday and will be re-evaluated today. Rodriguez said Mouton (hamstring), left tackle Perry Dorrestein (knee sprain) and receiver Martavious Odoms (ankle) sustained minor injuries and hinted they all should be available against Purdue.
Rodriguez is considering playing three cornerbacks - Warren, Morgan Trent and freshman Boubacar Cissoko - simultaneously over the final four weeks. Each of the remaining opponents utilizes the spread offense. Expect freshman running back Michael Shaw to play more. He's averaging 6.9 yards per carry, but injuries and UM's deep rotation of backs have limited him to just 11 carries this year.
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