Defense answers bell again for Michigan


EVANSTON, Ill. — Frank Clark had grown so accustomed to the midweek film work that the Michigan defensive end had to wonder if all that boredom would eventually pay off.

At the most opportune time Saturday, it finally did.

Clark pressured quarterback Trevor Siemian into slipping and falling on Northwestern's fateful two-point try, the biggest defensive play on a day filled with them for the Wolverines, whose offense threatened to let the effort go to waste but nonetheless enter a bye now on their first winning streak since Oct. 5 of last season.

"Great coaching," Clark said of the Wildcats' failed two-point try, down one with three seconds left. "You watch film all week, you get bored of watching. You see the same plays repeatedly, same plays, and we knew that was one of their plays they like to do. They showed it a couple times, they like to do that in the red zone and I executed. I did my job. And that's all the coaches ask us to do. And they've been saying that all week: You do your job, you're going to win the game."

By almost any measure, Michigan's defense dominated in Saturday's 10-9 win. It forced three turnovers. The Wolverines held Northwestern to minus-9 rushing yards. They recorded six sacks.

And yet it almost went for naught, thanks to an offense that gave the ball away three times.

Never was the defense's bailing-out of the offense on better display than after Devin Gardner's second interception, an ill-advised third-quarter deep toss that Ibraheim Campbell returned 79 yards to the Michigan 15-yard line.

Clark blew up Tony Jones on a reverse for a 5-yard loss then pressured Siemian into an intentional grounding flag two plays later.

The drive's final tally? Three plays, minus-28 yards, as Northwestern still lost 5 net yards even after punting.

It was one of three third-quarter drives that Northwestern started in Michigan territory. The Wildcats scored on none of them.

"If it's sudden-change, go out there and play like we know how to play," linebacker Jake Ryan said. "There's nothing crazy about it. We just go out there and do our job."

After gaining just 95 yards from scrimmage through three-plus quarters, Northwestern mounted scoring drives of 95 and 74 yards on its final two possessions. But Michigan made one last stand, calling a timeout when the Wildcats elected to go for two after a touchdown with three seconds left.

"Jarrod Wilson got on the headsets during the timeout there and [safeties] Coach [Curt] Mallory talked him through it and he then relayed it to the rest of the guys in the back end," head coach Brady Hoke said, anticipating the play.

Nerves? Hardly. Clark knew the Wildcats' sprint-out pass was coming, having seen them run something similar a year ago. He pressured Siemian into slipping, clinching the win, enhancing 5-5 Michigan's bowl hopes and capping another strong performance from a defense that has now allowed just 19 total points and 455 total yards while forcing five turnovers over its last two games.

"It's weird, because it really wasn't nerves. It was more like a will," Clark said. "You got the bowl game, you really don't have anything to lose. You just want to make it to the bowl.

"We're not going to the Rose Bowl; we failed at that. We're not going to the Big Ten championship; we failed at that this year. All we can do is finish the season strong. Beat Maryland. Beat Ohio. We finished Northwestern. All we can do is finish the season, and that's it."