Michigan Football: Midseason grades for Wolverines

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Defense: A

With a new defensive coordinator, the defense was probably an even bigger mystery than the offense heading into 2021 for the Wolverines.

But Michigan football owes John Harbaugh a huge thank you, because Mike Macdonald, who he recommended to his brother Jim Harbaugh, has been a dream hire.

The defense hasn’t been perfect. It had a rough stretch against Rutgers but still allowed just 13 points and gave up three consecutive scoring drives against Nebraska Saturday night.

But in both games, it found a way to clinch the game with a stop. Brad Hawkins forced a fumble that led to a game-winning field goal, then Michigan held Nebraska to end the game.

You aren’t going to stop teams all the time. Not in this era of spread offenses. But you have to stop them when it matters and Michigan has done that. It has also started to force turnovers with regularity.

The Wolverines got two in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin (3 total), two against Nebraska, and also one against Rutgers. That’s six in three games.

Aidan Hutchinson and Daxton Hill should both be All-Americans and first-round picks. That’s how good they’ve each been not to mention Josh Ross, Hawkins, David Ojabo, Mazi Smith, and others.

Macdonald has had a huge impact on this defense and it’s as simple as putting players in a position to do what they do best.

The results speak for themselves.

Michigan football ranks ninth in the nation in scoring defense (15.5 allowed) as well as 23rd in total defense and 32nd in third-down defense. That’s getting it done.

The pass rush is starting to get cranked up too and if you add in more turnovers and impact plays, this unit has a chance to be really, really good.

It feels like it could even be a championship-level defense through six games, but the proof will be in the pudding down the stretch with some of the best offenses in the country on tap.