ANN ARBOR -- When the No. 5-ranked Wolverines dropped their season opener to the defending I-AA National Champions on Saturday afternoon at the Big House, it left more questions than answers. What went wrong for Michigan as the Wolverines dropped to 0-1 for the first time since 1998? Why was Appalachian State able to move the ball so well against the Michigan defense?
Entering the 2007 year, questions surrounded Michigan on the defensive side of the ball. With the losses of LaMarr Woodley, Alan Branch and Rondell Biggs to the NFL, the Michigan defensive line was thought to be a question mark by some. Despite speculation that replacements in 2007 may have been enough to equal that of the 2006 squad, in the opener against Appalachian State, issues with all aspects of the defense led to problems in the shocking 34-32 upset.
“We had a couple of issues out there on the field. We had too many penalties and mistakes out there,” said Terrance Taylor, one of the few remaining starters from the 2006 defense. “You know, things like that. We had a lot of young guys out there and some people made some mistakes. The best thing we can do now is to just go back and try and correct those so we can come out next Saturday and get a win.”
In the opening half of the contest, Appalachian State, now the only I-AA team to defeat a ranked opponent at the I-A level, carried the ball 25 times for 115 yards. After finishing at the top of the list in run defense in 2006, watching the visiting Mountaineers have success running the ball came as a surprise to many, including Taylor.
“They brought out some new plays that we didn’t see. We also had a few young guys out there and some people made mistakes. I didn’t really see the rushing yardage, but all that matters is that we win and today we didn’t.
Michigan held Appalachian State to just 45 yards on the ground in the second half, but by the time the Wolverines adjustments made it to the field, the damage had been done.
“I thought we learned from our mistakes,” Taylor continued on his way out of Michigan Stadium. “We played a little bit better, but we didn’t finish. We’ll go back to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and we’ll keep working to see if next time we can just get out there and finish.”
“We’ve got to stop the run, it’s what we do,” continued senior defensive tackle Will Johnson, who starts opposite side Terrance Taylor in the middle of the defensive line. “We’ve got to be better with our assignments and have more accountability.”
In four days, the Wolverines get their next chance at accountability. With the Oregon Ducks coming to town next Saturday, another spread offense is poised to invade Michigan Stadium. Denis Dixon, James Stewart and former U-M recruit Jaison Williams will provide a much more significant threat to the Michigan defense.
"We were disappointed but we played hard. We made some mistakes and they are correctable," Johnson continued. "We're getting ready for Oregon and we know the mistakes we made we need to correct and I think we'll be a lot better next week and ready to go."
Kickoff for the Oregon game next Saturday is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. local time.
"I think sometimes it takes awhile to put a team together, but the answer, part of it, certainly will come Saturday from an attitude standpoint, from a confidence standpoint," U-M coach Lloyd Carr said. "Oregon is an outstanding football team and when you're coming off -- we've already discussed that when you come off a difficult disappointment, then obviously there's a challenge there."