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January 07, 1998 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-01-07

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 7, 1998 - 3B

m

19

0

Inspired by verse, Wolverines become the nation's No. 1 defense

By Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Daily Sports Editor
PASADENA, Calif. - When
the last team meeting of the
day came to a close Dec. 30,
and the coaches ceased to speak
strategy about last Thursday's Rose
Bowl game against Washington
State, the lights went out in
Michigan's defensive meeting room
.for a solemn ceremony. There, in
the dark, the members of the
Wolverines' No. 1-ranked defense
joined hands with their heads
bowed, reciting - in unison - the
poem that brings them together two
nights before every game.
Each player knows the words by
heart, from freshman walk-ons to
Heisman Trophy-winning corner-
back Charles Woodson. But in the
dark, it doesn't matter who's who
anyway. All are one and the same,
doing the same thing - and that's
the point. The poem is called "The
Law of the Jungle," and it con-
cludes like this: "The strength of
the pack is the wolf, and the
strength of the wolf is the pack."
"If you want to know what we're
all about as a defense, it's all in that
poem," linebacker Ian Gold said.
."There's a sense of a family and a
feeling of great emotions, because
you realize that you're only as
strong as your weakest link. I can't
describe the feeling you feel. We do
it every week, and when we're
done, everybody's like, 'WOOO!'
We're ready to die for each other,
and we kind of know we're going to
come out victorious."
One for No. 1.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr insti-
tuted the tradition in 1987, when he
was defensive coordinator. He had
the words painted on a wall in
Schembechler Hall, so the players
equld think about them during
meetings and then recite them on
Thursday nights during the regular
season. One night that year, he
made his young graduate assistant
coach stand up before the whole
team and dissect the poem line by
line.
That man was Jim Herrmann,
who rose to defensive coordinator
this year.
"Lloyd kind of put me on the
spot, but after I calmed down a bit,
I got into it and really realized what
it meant," said Herrmann, whose
defense allowed 9.3 points per
game - the lowest average since
liburn allowed 7.2 in 1988. "If
we're going to be a good defense,
every kid has to believe in every
other kid. No one can go off and do
his own thing. We have to play as
one. This year, we're doing that,
because the kids are buying into the
system."
-The Wolverines were strong, fast
and hungry prior to the Rose Bowl.
They were allowing just 206.9
yards of total offense per game -
*91.0 rushing and 115.9 passing. No
team was able to score a point in
the fourth quarter against them until
their ninth game of the season,
when Penn State's Curtis Enis
scored a meaningless touchdown in
a'34-8 Michigan victory.
Once the Rose Bowl began, little
changed. Woodson made a critical
interception in the second quarter to
prevent the Cougars from taking a
*14-0 lead. The Wolverines held the
most prolific offense in Pac-10 his-
tory, which was averaging 42.5
points per game, to just 16. Cougars
Dominating defense

The Wolverines led the nation in
nearly all defensive statistical cat-
egories. They held Washington
State, which had the nation's sec-
ond-ranked offense and had aver-
aged 42.5 points per game, to
just 16 points.
Total defense*
L. Michigan ....... ..206.9 YMe
2. North Carolina.... ...209.3
3. Florida State..... .. .241.4
Scoring defense*
;.. Michigan.......... 8.9 PPG
2. Ohio State.............11.6
3. Air Force.............12.4
Pass efficiency defense*
1. Michigan.........7..J.8 points
2. Ohio State ..........79.6
3. North Carolina... .....81.5

Juaquin Feazc
(90) and:hai
Jones (56)
relegated
Michael Blact.
and the
Washington
State offense
to a season-
low 16 points
The Wolverinc.
were ranked
No. 1 In total
defense for
most of the
season.
SA
STILLMAN/DE
Steele, linebacker Sam Sword and
several other top players. But he
doesn't mind. He was with
Woodson in New York City for the
Heisman presentation last month
and jumped up before Woodson
when the envelope was opened.
"We're family," Ray said. "Why
shouldn't I be anything but happy
for him?"
"Hey, Charles is in the shadows
with us when it counts," Steele saic.
"When we do that poem, at that
point in time, no matter what any-
body outside that room thinks, we
all know we're with a group of guy
who will do anything for each
other. Pack of wolves. Eleven men
to the ball. We know if we miss,
someone will be there to help. We
know we can't lose if we play as
one."
One for No. 1.

quarterback Ryan Leaf, a Heisman
finalist, threw just one touchdown
pass.
Former coach Bo Schembechler
has said they may be Michigan's
greatest defense of all time, and
defense always has been a source of
pride for the Wolverines.
When Carr was named head
coach in 1995, Greg Mattison
became defensive coordinator and
made a smooth transition. The
Wolverines allowed 17.2 points and
284.8 yards per game that season
and 15.6 points and 296.4 yards per
game in 1996. But before Michigan
played in the Outback Bowl last
year, Mattison accepted the defen-
sive coordinator position at Notre
Dame.
Herrmann, then a linebackers and
special teams coach, took over.
Mattison "was a great coach, and

people looked at Herrmann) like,
'Who's this guy?"' safety Marcus
Ray said. If no one knew who
Herrmann was, it may have been
because he spent so much time
watching film. He dissected every
down the Wolverines played on
defense in 1996 like he dissected
that poem in 1987. What did every
little thing mean? What were the
lessons?
The answers were small things,
tweaks in the traditional Michigan
scheme that was perfected by
Schembechler's teams from 1969-
89. Woodson lined up over the slot
receiver more often, giving him
more room to roam and make plays.
Defensive end Glen Steele was
allowed to rush the quarterback on
his own. New, varied blitz packages
were added.
But the greatest difference

Herrmann made wasn't a change at
all; it was a new emphasis on things
like "The Law of the Jungle," which
are intended to prevent mental
breakdowns. Last season, the
Wolverines carried a 16-0 lead into
the fourth quarter against
Northwestern early in the Big Ten
season. They blew it. After losing
that game, 17-16, they spiraled
downward to their fourth straight
four-loss season, not because-of a
lack of talent or a weak system,
Herrmann said, but because of a
lack of focus.
So Herrmann went to work. He
hung a huge key in the same room
where the words to "The Law of the
Jungle" are written. The key had 12
notches, one for each position and
one for all those who don't get to
play. Every notch has to work, he
said, for the whole key to work. The

lock was the Rose Bowl. Each play-
er got a key of his own, which
opened a padlocked box that held a
fresh, red rose.
On the Thursday nights when the
lights were off, while their heads
were down and hands were clasped
together, the players often listened
to speeches from seniors before
they recited the poem. Sometimes
they would open the box and pass
the rose around, too.
Linebacker and captain Eric
Mayes, who suffered a career-end-
ing knee injury in the fourth game
of the season, always commanded
attention. So did Ray, Woodson's
best friend, who has blossomed into
what Herrmann calls "the unques-
tioned leader" of the nation's No. l-
rated secondary.
As good as he is, Ray still sits in
the shadows of Woodson, as does

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