Dec. 31, 2006
LOS ANGELES (AP) -Michigan's defense showed no weaknesses through its first 11 games.
Opponents couldn't move the ball on the ground and when they tried to pass, athletic linemen and linebackers made it difficult with a relentless rush.
When the Wolverines faced their biggest test, they simply failed.
Ohio State did what it wanted on offense in a 42-39 victory that ended up sending Michigan to the Rose Bowl and raising questions about whether its defense was worthy of the hype.
Against Southern California on New Year's Day, the Wolverines' D will have a chance at redemption against a high-powered offense.
"We have to re-establish ourselves," All-American cornerback Leon Hall said. "We know we can play better than we did in the Ohio State game."
The Buckeyes dominated Michigan by spreading the defense out with four- and five-receiver sets, giving quarterback Troy Smith plenty of options to throw and space for running backs to find holes.
"They gave us a little trouble with that," Hall acknowledged. "I'm sure SC is going to watch that tape and try to do the same thing."
Trojans quarterback John David Booty is not as mobile as Smith, giving Michigan a better chance to pressure him - and USC rarely uses more than three wideouts at a time - but he does a sound job of directing an offense with spectacular receivers and a solid rotation of running backs.
After studying Michigan's defense, Booty is impressed.
"They don't allow a lot of big plays. A lot of that has to do with their corners," he said. "Their front four puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback and their secondary shuts people down.
"I think all of their defensive players are solid guys. I don't see a weak link anywhere."
Steve Smith does.
The speedy receiver, who complements 6-foot-5 All-American Dwayne Jarrett, has said the Trojans feel like they can make plays against cornerback Morgan Trent.
"I heard what he said," Trent said. "We'll talk about it after the game."
It will not be a surprise if the Trojans throw at receivers covered by Trent because most teams have avoided the other side of the field, where Hall usually locks up his opponent.
Hall, a projected top-10 pick in the NFL draft, is the top player in the secondary that gets plenty of help up front.
All-American defensive end LaMarr Woodley along with tackle Alan Branch and middle linebacker David Harris - both second-team All-Americans - stuff the run and generate pressure in passing situations.
USC coach Pete Carroll said that group has made Michigan's defense better than it was three years ago in the Rose Bowl.
"They have great speed on the edges, they're big inside and they have great experience at the linebacker spot," Carroll said. "They've been incredibly effective as a front seven versus the run and rushing the passer.
"I think they had a really good defense before, it was one of the conference's leading defenses when we played them last time, but this one just has more firepower - more star power."
Woodley is the top star, becoming the first Michigan player to win the Lombardi Award, which recognizes the top linemen on either side of the ball, and the Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end.
The Wolverines led the country by giving up just 43 yards rushing a game and allowing teams to convert just 27 percent of first downs. They averaged 3.4 sacks a game, ranking third, thanks in part to Woodley's 11 sacks, one shy of the school record.
But against the Buckeyes, Michigan gave up 187 yards rushing, allowed them to convert more than half of their third downs and made only one sack.
"You're only as good as your last game, so we have to be a lot better," Hall said. "We've been watching a lot of the film to correct our mistakes because we're going to see it again on January 1st."