Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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176 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW D on Brown doesn't need anyone fighting his battles for him. After 37 years of coaching in college football, many as a coordinator (including the last three at Michigan), the "dude" in charge of the Wol- verines' defense understands perfectly that criticism comes with the territory. He received much more than his share, though, after his group collapsed in the last two games of the past season. An enraged fan base needed a scapegoat after the Wolver- ines, favored in The Game for the first time in years, wilted in a 62-39 loss at Ohio State. And, yes, it was "inexcus- able." The Buckeyes ran 67 plays for 567 yards, which included 16 plays of 15 or more yards, and scored on nine of 13 possessions. The offense wasn't great either, but it would have had to be close to perfect to keep up with Urban Meyer, quarter- back Dwayne Haskins, et al. "There were some day-one mistakes that were made in that game that I'm still puzzled by — head-scratchers," Brown said weeks after the game, lamenting a "couple easy ones," including a 31-yard touchdown to a wide-open Johnnie Dixon and Paris Camp- bell's 78-yard touchdown run. "We blow the jet sweep; we blow the eagle coverage post down the pipe. "Those are the things that leave a bad taste in your mouth." They were mistakes they hadn't made all year and, frankly, they were simple plays the U-M defenders acknowledged were squarely on them, not their coaches. Brown, though, has been around long enough to know that's not how it works. "You've got to be accountable," he said. "And the buck stops with me." Still, U-M's struggles with the Buckeyes … well, this isn't a Don Brown problem. As ESPN analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit said after the Wolverines' loss in Columbus last year, "Michigan has an Ohio State problem." Put another way, the Buckeyes are in their heads. That's what happens when you've lost 14 of 15 to your rival in different, mad- dening ways. Doubt creeps in, and you start to question whether you're ever destined to win it again. Herbstreit would know well, having been on the other side of it in the early 1990s. He was part of John Cooper's squad during the coach's 2-10-1 stretch in The Game, and one of his worst memories involved getting knocked out of the 1991 contest, a 31-3 blowout in Ann Arbor. Brown's defenses were dominant in stretches of the 2016 and 2017 OSU games, playing well enough to win. They'd have gotten the Wolverines to the promised land in 2016 with a few breaks (or more favorable whistles), maybe a better spot. And bad games happen, folks … to every- one, everywhere. Clemson's Brent Venables was the Broyles Award winner as the na- tion's top defensive coordinator in 2016, the same year his defense gave up 43 points in a loss to Pitt and 35 in a win over Virginia Tech. Brown's not the type to make excuses, but he will defend himself when necessary. "Can I get off the beaten path? Can I just make one comment?" Brown said in the offseason. "We've given up, since I've been here … under 2,000 passing yards a year. The last team to do it was Miami when they had 10 first-round draft picks. "It's not always the con- cept. Sometimes it's, 'Their guys are better than your guys.' And sometimes, it's you've got to do a little bet- ter job." As former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr often said in defending his team from ridiculous criticism, "It's not a game of perfect," noting bad games happen. Ironically, it was also Carr who told Meyer after the Wolverines beat his tal- ented Florida team 40-34 in the Capital One Bowl in the Michigan coach's last game, "Someday you'll have a team that plays as hard for you." That day came on Nov. 24, 2018, when everything went right in the Buckeyes' win over U-M. While Meyer hadn't announced yet he was leaving, trust us — his team knew. Carr's prophecy had come true. Sometimes, emotion takes over and stuff happens. On the good side, we've seen before what happens when Brown is embarrassed (which isn't often). Penn State put up 42 on his defense two years ago, after which Brown took it personally. The Wolverines rebounded with a 42-7 win over the Nittany Lions last year in a dominant performance. Fortunately, Harbaugh isn't as knee-jerk as his fan base. He knows he's got something special in the mustachioed mad scientist of the defense. He said as much during a recent meeting of coaches and boosters in New York City. "Don Brown and Jack Harbaugh are two of the best coaches I've ever been around," he said (paraphrasing). Brown was visibly touched. He felt he'd let his boss down last year, calling it "the most disappointing experience I've ever been through in my entire life." To say the Buckeyes have his attention is an understatement. "Trust me … it's being addressed," he said. "Our guys are totally into it. I'm just excited for the chance to redeem myself." We wouldn't bet against him. ❑ INSIDE MICHIGAN CHRIS BALAS Chris Balas has been with The Wolverine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. Brown, U-M's defensive coordinator, noted that last year's disappointing perfor- mance by his unit in the 62-39 loss at Ohio State left a bad taste in his mouth and that he is eager for the opportunity to redeem himself in 2019. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Don Brown Is Still The Dude

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