Michigan defense gets back to basics

Michigan's defense had a rough time playing against just about all of its Big Ten opponents this season.

So what's the best part about five weeks off before a bowl game? No opponent.

The Wolverines could simply worry about themselves.

"Having a month to prepare, you're not practicing for Mississippi State the whole time," Wolverines sophomore defensive end Craig Roh said. "You have like seven practices to practice just technique. That can help a lot of guys. You're always evaluating yourselves, and having that time off just to relax a little bit and really evaluate what we need to improve on does help the defense."

After finishing 102nd nationally in points allowed, 108th in total yards allowed and 111th in pass yards allowed, Michigan needs a much stronger effort from its defense Saturday against Mississippi State in the Progressive Gator Bowl.

Although the Wolverines' lacked noticeable progress on defense throughout the season, the unit was ravaged by injuries, player departures and other factors, particularly in the secondary. Michigan has played 13 true freshmen, including six defensive backs, and had three other defenders make their collegiate debut this fall.

Roh has seen the young players benefit greatly from the long pre-bowl layoff.

"I'm seeing a maturing," Roh said. "They're just starting to really become more confident. I was a freshman last year, and you just need to get some games under your belt and get some time under your belt to get confidence."

Roh has used bowl prep to fine-tune the technical aspects of his game. He played outside linebacker for a chunk of the season before settling in at defensive end, where he's most comfortable.

Michigan needs a strong performance from Roh and the rest of the defensive line against a Mississippi State offense that boasts several rushing weapons, including running backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins and quarterback Chris Relf.

"They're a really well-rounded offense," Roh said. "They don't really have a weakness or a weak guy that you can really pick on. They're all good players, so it's going to be a good challenge for us.

"We really need to get on our techniques. If we execute our game plan, we'll have a great chance of winning."