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Michigan D sluggish but comes around

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Third game, third win, third slow start for the Michigan defense.

In the battle of Washtenaw County, as the game has come to be known, the Wolverines allowed Eastern Michigan 122 yards of offense in the first quarter alone.

The Eagles, an "unconventional" team, as Michigan coach Brady Hoke put it, played without starting senior running back Dominique Sherrer. So, sophomore Javonti Greene ran for 85 yards on 21 carries.

Eastern Michigan attacked the Wolverines early with a jet series sweep.

"I thought that was really where they hurt us early in the football game," Hoke said. "But after, I think the guys settled down and kind of got used to where they were trying to leverage us. I thought they played pretty well."

The first sign that the defense was still kicking was when the Wolverines were able to keep the Eagles from scoring on a crucial fourth-and-1 in the first quarter. Junior safety Jordan Kovacs recorded the tackle and helped keep the Eagles scoreless.

But in the second quarter, Eastern marched down the field in seven plays before settling for a field goal, taking a 3-0 lead.

It was the third consecutive game the Wolverines have allowed the opposing team to strike first. Hoke joked that if there were an easy fix then Michigan already would've tried it, but it remains a problem that needs some kind of a fix before the Wolverines head into conference play.

"We just have to execute better," Hoke said. "There's not a real answer to it, except we have to keep working on it -- keep playing hard."

The Wolverines' defense seemed to buy into a "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy after having been bent much of the first quarter by Greene.

But it was plays such as Kovacs' stop on the goal line that helped keep the Michigan defense alive before it really began to slow Eastern Michigan's run game -- allowing less than 100 yards total in the final three quarters.

Shortly after the Eagles had taken their 3-0 lead, sophomore safety Thomas Gordon intercepted a pass from Tyler Benz on a double-pass trick play. His interception on the 3-yard line got quarterback Denard Robinson on the field for his first scoring-drive of the game.

"I think today we did a good job of causing turnovers," Kovacs said. "Any time you can cause turnovers, you're likely to win the game. That's a stat we're always trying to win -- the turnover battle."

Junior defensive end Craig Roh was another player who made a big play during a critical time. He recorded his first stats of the season with five tackles, but it was his sack of Eastern Michigan sophomore quarterback Alex Gillett in the third quarter that really made some noise. It was on a first down, but his play resulted in a 6-yard loss, and, eventually, the Eagles' first three-and-out of the game.

In addition to Roh, the rest of the defensive line showed improvement as well, according to Hoke, explaining that he could "feel them a little more."

Opposing teams will need to feel them more if Michigan intends to keep its perfect record any longer.

"We can't be getting behind at the beginning of the game," Kovacs said. "If we want to be a great defense, we've got to stop them in their tracks at the beginning of the game. That's one area we need to improve on, no doubt."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com.