Last year's Jim Herrmann coached defense allowed opponents to score an average of 20.3 pts./game. This was good enough for scoring defense rankings of 4th place in the Big 10 and 24th in the NCAA. These rankings were not great but not horrible considering the caliber of offenses the Wolverines were facing. However, the inability to keep opponents out of the endzone last year at key moments made me wistful for some of the Wolverines' past defensive units that were particularly tough to score upon. Some of my all-time favorite U of M defensive units include, but are not limited to, the teams discussed below.
The defense of the 1971 team was led by All-American defensive back Thom Darden and All-American linebacker Mike Taylor. The Wolverines yielded only 6 pts. to Northwestern in the season opener and then proceeded to play three (3) consecutive shutouts (against Virginia, UCLA and Navy). That means the "D" only allowed the opponents to score six points in the first four (4) games of the season! The dominating defensive play continued throughout the season as the "D" only allowed two of its 11 regular season opponents to score in double-digits as the Wolverines rolled to a perfect 11-0 regular season record.
The defense of the 1973 team was almost as suffocating as that of the unit from two years earlier. This team also featured two All-Americans: defensive tackle Dave Gallagher and defensive back David Brown. The "D" of the 1973 team yielded only 17 points in the season's first two games and then it played three (3) consecutive shutouts (against Navy, Oregon, and Michigan State). This defensive unit only allowed three of their 11 regular season opponents to score in double-digits and a mere 13 points was the most points it yielded in a game. The 1973 team finished the season 10-0-1 mainly on the strength of the performance of the defensive unit.
Bill McCartney was the Defensive Coordinator of the 1980 team which gave Head Coach Bo Schembechler his first Rose Bowl victory. Coach McCartney's defensive troops included an inside linebacker by the name of Jim Herrmann. This "D" stood tough as it did not allow a touchdown during the last 22 quarters (5 1/2 games) of the season including the Rose Bowl. Included in that streak were three consecutive shutouts against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Purdue in weeks 8-10 of the regular season. The Wolverines' "D" carried the team not only to the Big 10 title but also to a Rose Bowl victory for the first time since 1965.
The 1997 National Championship team had the afore-mentioned Jim Herrmann as its Defensive Coordinator. The Herrmann coached defensive unit keyed the team's drive to a perfect 12-0 record and the national title. The defense was led by, of course, Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson and All-American defensive tackle Glen Steele. The '97 "D" always came up big at the big moments. Through the first eight (8) games of the season, the "D" did not allow any second-half touchdowns or any 4th quarter points to be scored by its opponents. In fact, the Wolverines defense finished the regular season ranked #1 in the nation in scoring defense having allowed only an average of 8.9 pts./game. The "D" also finished the regular season ranked #1 in the NCAA both in Total Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense.
The 2005 defense allowed 97 fourth-quarter points and 3 overtime points in 12 games as compared to the 1997 defense which allowed only 24 4th-quarter points in 12 games. Now it might not seem fair to compare last year's 7-5 team to the '97 team which ranks among the best Wolverine teams of all-time. However, the '97 team's performance is the yardstick against which all other results will be measured as it shows how far U of M has to go get back to where it wants to be---in the hunt for the National Championship. Fans will be looking to new defensive coordinator Ron English to have a system in place that will stop teams from scoring at will on the Wolverines late in the game as seemed to happen so often during the past two years. Go Blue!