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Saturday, September 24, 2011
It was sloppy, but still a win for Michigan

By Michael Rothstein
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ryan Van Bergen alleges he almost -- almost -- caught his quarterback, Denard Robinson, from behind once. So when he saw San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman a few yards past him in the third quarter on Saturday, he figured he might have a shot.

So Van Bergen took off.
Ryan Van Bergen
Ryan Van Bergen is part of a front four that is playing its best as the Big Ten season hits.
And in a game with seven turnovers, two inaccurate quarterbacks and one coach, Brady Hoke, facing his former team, why not? Van Bergen sprinted toward Hillman, running him down after 30 yards, tackling him and forcing him to fumble. Michigan recovered, yet another miscue by the Aztecs during the Wolverines' 28-7 win.

How bad was it? Hillman -- a sophomore who hadn't lost a fumble since his first college carry -- lost two fumbles. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, whose accuracy has been in question all season, threw interceptions on the Wolverines' first two possessions of the second half.

Two Michigan running backs -- Stephen Hopkins and Vincent Smith -- lost fumbles, the first lost fumbles for the Wolverines all season. So too did San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Not much of the game was pretty, if you like offense.

"We can't turn the ball over four times," Hoke said. "That's disappointing, and we ended up minus-1. Defensively we caused three turnovers, and then we turn it over four times; you can't win anything.

"You can't win your Pop Warner league if you turn the ball over."

Yet Michigan did, in part because its defense did something it didn't do much of the past two seasons -- force turnovers themselves.

With the three San Diego State turnovers Saturday, Michigan now has forced 13 turnovers this year in four games. Last year, the Wolverines forced 19 turnovers all season.

So while Michigan's wins might not always be beautiful -- and Saturday was the sloppiest Michigan has played offensively -- the Wolverines still are winning games as much because of defense as offense.

"When the defense gets a turnover, it's fun for the defense," said defensive lineman Craig Roh, who forced a fumble. "When the offense gets a turnover, it sucks a little bit, but it's just a change. We're just going through adversity and coming out of it."

There was a lot of that Saturday.
Larry Parker
Michigan had several dropped passes and two interceptions in its win over San Diego State.
The Michigan defense made Lindley, a likely future NFL Draft pick, look extremely ordinary. He completed 47.9 percent of his passes, and the Michigan defensive line, which had been maligned by Hoke since the season opener for not pressuring the quarterback enough, did just that.

Seniors Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen spent most of Saturday afternoon in the backfield, pushing Lindley from the pocket.

It forced Lindley to scramble and throw off-balance -- often missing receivers. At Michigan, a struggling passing game is a somewhat familiar refrain, as Robinson -- an explosive runner who gained 200 yards and scored three touchdowns -- already has thrown six interceptions this season and often had poorly thrown passes Saturday.

But San Diego State couldn't have expected this level of struggle from its two offensive stars.

"I guess we didn't play very well," said San Diego State coach Rocky Long, who refused to let his players speak after Saturday's game.

San Diego State was held to 376 yards -- 52 yards under its season average. Michigan had 413 yards, but the four turnovers were as many as the Wolverines had in the first three games combined.

"We have to keep pushing past that," offensive lineman Mark Huyge said. "It's been nice, not turning the ball over and trying to sustain consistent drives. But when it happens, it's just an obstacle.

"We have to keep pushing on. That's what we keep telling ourselves and what we try to do."

Michigan did. San Diego State didn't -- not scoring until the second half and never looking totally in sync.

That was due to the Wolverines defense, and it kept them undefeated entering Big Ten play for the third consecutive year.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.