STAT WATCH: Michigan's defensive dominance will be put to the test rest of way

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Michigan defensive back Will Johnson (2) intercepts a pass intended for Purdue wide receiver Deion Burks (4) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As dominant as Michigan's defense has been through nine games, where it ranks among the best all-time is far from being determined.

The Wolverines have allowed 6.7 points and 231.4 yards per game, figures comparable to those put up by the celebrated 2011 Alabama defense.

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But Michigan, which beat Purdue 41-13 at home on Saturday, has played only the 84th toughest schedule, according to the NCAA. Its remaining schedule — at Penn State, at Maryland and Ohio State at home — is ranked as the second toughest.

Michigan also leads the nation in pass defense, at 141.3 yards per game. The Wolverines have 12 interceptions and have allowed just four touchdowns through the air.

Other national leaders as the regular season hits the home stretch: scoring, Oregon, 47.4 ppg; rushing, Air Force, 284.2 ypg; passing, Washington, 383.1 ypg; total offense, LSU, 544.6 ypg; rushing defense, James Madison, 59.7 ypg.

Individual leaders: rushing, Ollie Gordon Jr., Oklahoma State, 136.1 ypg; passing, Michael Penix Jr., Washington, 355.7 ypg; receiving, Malik Nabers, LSU, 128 ypg.

THE AIR IN AIR FORCE

Air Force's run-pass breakdown in its 23-3 loss to Army was as close to 50-50 as it's been since 2011.

The Falcons have employed a pound-the-ground triple-option system since the 1980s and typically run on more than eight of every 10 plays.

But they were playing from behind after the first two minutes against Army and were forced to go to the air. Some 40.6% of their plays (26 of 64) ended up being pass attempts or sacks, according to Sportradar. Zac Larrier and Jensen Jones combined to go 10 for 24, and Larrier was sacked twice.

Air Force hadn't called so many passes since doing it on 48.8% of its plays in a 41-27 loss to San Diego State in 2011.

Navy and Air Force are the only teams since 2000 to run on more than 80% of their plays. Since 2018, Air Force has run on 85.4%.

THE 200 CLUB

Washington's Dillon Johnson ran 26 times for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the Huskies' 52-42 win over Southern California.

Johnson's rushing total was Washington's highest since Chris Polk went for 284 yards on 29 carries against Washington State in 2010. Johnson's average of 9.85 yards per carry was highest since at least 2000 by a Washington ball-carrier with more than 25 attempts.

There have been 21 200-yard rushing performances this season.

PUSHING 'EM BACK

Penn State turned in the best rushing defense performance of the season when Maryland netted minus-49 yards in the Nittany Lions' 51-15 win. That includes 47 yards in losses on six sacks.

Three other defenses since 2013 have pushed back opponent rushers as far as Penn State did against the Terrapins. Middle Tennessee State runners combined for minus-66 yards against San Diego State last season, Tulsa had minus-73 against Michigan State in 2019 and Washington State had minus-52 against Arizona State in 2016.

PICKS WORTH POINTS

Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts leads the nation with seven interceptions. Just as impressive, the Irish have followed each one with a score.

Watts intercepted his fifth pass in three games on Clemson's first series of the second half in a 31-23 loss Saturday, and the Irish scored one play later. Notre Dame has five touchdowns and two field goals after Watts' picks.

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