But Jim Harbaugh seemed equally impressed with his defense.
"There’s a lot of great things that we saw in practice that showed up in the game," Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly press conference. "Obviously love the two turnovers, plus two in turnovers, our defense creating the havoc plays. We had five or six sacks plus the interception and the touchdown score by the defense — loved that."
Against an offense that finished top-10 in efficiency last season, the Wolverines allowed 326 yards and 24 points. There were times when Michigan seemingly struggled to slow down the Golden Gophers, who put together four drives of 70-plus yards.
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But the "havoc plays" proved to be the difference. The Wolverines tallied five sacks and forced two turnovers: A sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown and an interception.
And according to cornerback Vincent Gray, those big plays were by design.
“It’s been an extreme emphasis," Gray said. "Coach Harbaugh talks about the analytics of the game every day. We know that turnovers can win a game and shift a game in a big way, so we stress that.”
U-M allowed four passes that gained 15-plus yards (for 123 yards) and four runs that gained 10-plus yards (for 66 yards). The defense was also on the field for over 35 minutes.
But other stats painted a more accurate picture.
Minnesota scored just 24 points on five red-zone trips, including seven points on a possession that began on Michigan's 17 after a blocked punt. The Gophers faced an average distance of 8.9 yards on third down and converted just 1-of-6 third-and-longs (9 or more yards). And Minnesota lost 49 yards on sacks or tackles for loss.
Time after time, the Wolverines were able to get off the field in crucial situations thanks to havoc plays — five sacks, eight tackles for loss, four pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble.
Of course, there were some plays U-M would've liked to have back. Minnesota's second touchdown drive was spurred by a 45-yard completion to Chris Autman-Bell during which the cornerback, Gemon Green, couldn't make a play on an under-thrown ball.
“We’re always pretty hard on ourselves as a defense, so we’re definitely able to take away explosives," Gray said. "That’s the main thing we have to do. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim also gashed the defense for several big runs and finished with 26 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
But the defense was OK with giving up yards in the second half — as long as it didn't allow Minnesota back into the game.
“Well when we were up by two or three touchdowns, I think we were expecting them to pass a little bit more," said defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. "They ended up continuing to run the ball. I know Ibrahim had a good amount of yards, but they just weren’t passing too much late in the game, they kinda were running the ball.
"It is what it is — he can have all the yards he wants, but it doesn’t really matter too much about the yards. We got the win, so we’re happy.”
The Gophers' top playmaker, receiver Rashod Bateman, was held in check, with nine catches for 101 yards — and just six catches for 26 yards in the first half. Bateman, who averaged 20 yards per catch and scored 11 times in 2019, averaged just 11 yards per catch (aided by catches for 25 and 38 yards in the second half) and did not score.
He was covered tightly by safety Daxton Hill in the first half, and when Hill left in the second quarter due to an injury, the rest of Michigan's secondary took over in covering Bateman. Minnesota's second-longest drive, which covered 78 yards in nine plays, ended with no points because of tight coverage on Bateman; the Gophers tried throwing a slot fade to him on third-and-goal, only for Green to force an incompletion.
Gray, though, wasn't completely satisfied with his unit's performance. He feels the Wolverines need to capitalize more on turnover opportunities — particularly interceptions.
Perhaps that's why Gray smiled when told that Michigan State — U-M's next opponent — had seven turnovers in a season-opening loss to Rutgers.
“That’s one of the most important aspects of the game for us as a defense — is getting turnovers and getting off the field," Gray said. "If they’re gonna allow us to get those opportunities to make turnovers, we’re sure gonna take them.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's defense has 'an extreme emphasis' on 'havoc plays'