The Wolverine

September 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE SEPTEMBER 2019 T he winter of Michigan football's discontent turned into the glori- ous summer of Gattis. Josh Gattis, that is. You couldn't hurl a headset in Ann Arbor and surrounding environs without hit- ting a scrum excitedly discussing Michigan's new offensive coordinator. Fans confabulated over his poten- tial schemes, the playmakers at his disposal and the havoc senior quar- terback Shea Patterson might wreak with them. Point-a-minute teams? Forget 'em. Gattis' crew might make Fielding H. Yost blush from beyond. Michigan is talking about new stadium scoreboards in the next couple of years. They might need 'em by midseason, if Gattis' Gatling Gun of- fense short circuits them. Well … the revamped U-M offense might indeed wind up tougher to run down than Denard Robinson in the open field. But here's the thing. If Michigan truly makes a run at a Big Ten cham- pionship (and more) this season, defense will play a major role. When Michigan enjoys a strong season, it always does. Look at Bo Schembechler's title teams of 1970s, to 1985, to 1997, to the heartbreaking near miss in 2006. Defense has, if not won champion- ships, certainly gotten Michigan to the doorstep. Don Brown, the fiery veteran defen- sive coordinator from the East Coast, hasn't lost any ferocity, defiance or resolve. If you think that's a tough sell in the wake of giving up a combined 103 points in the final two games of 2018, Brown doesn't. He addressed Michigan's shortcom- ings directly with his returning play- ers. He then shared publicly, looking like a radiator with steam escaping around the cap. Brown insists the Wolverines weren't very far away in 2018 — at all. His 19-19 pitch — talking about the opening 19 minutes of the regular season, and the closing 19 — obvi- ously bubbled up from deep and somewhat tortured reflection. "The first 19 minutes of the regular season were not very good for the Michigan defense," Brown acknowl- edged, speaking of the 17-0 hole the Wolverines dug in South Bend. "The next 10-game stretch was pretty damned good." No argument there. After Michigan lost at Notre Dame, 24-17 — despite holding the Irish to seven points and 62 yards over the final two and a half quarters — the Wolverines ran off 10 straight wins. In them, Michigan's defense sur- rendered an average of 12.5 points per game. Then Ohio State happened. The particulars, for many, were washed away by the enormity of a 62-39 loss in Columbus. Not for Brown. Not now. Not in three months. Not in 30 years. That's good, in a way. He knows that a beaten-up and injured Michi- gan defense (points he did not men- tion once, by the way) didn't just get run over by the Buckeyes. A lot went into that avalanche. "We've got 19 minutes left in the Ohio State game, and it's an eight- point game," he recalled. "The last 17 minutes weren't very good. "If we were to have just squeezed out the first 19 and the last 19, which is probably the result of things that we can control — five drives — it might have been an historic year. But it wasn't." Michigan did, in fact, trail only 27- 19, inside the five-minute mark of the third quarter. The defense didn't start the snow- ball, either. The Buckeyes returned a blocked punt 33 yards for a touch- down. An interception by OSU returned to the Michigan 22 set up another. An additional pick later on set up the final touchdown, from Michigan's 19. "We've got to find a way to mini- mize that damage and hold them to a field goal," Brown assured. In the bigger picture, Michigan's defense must eliminate the short stretches that chop-blocked a shot at greatness. "Mentally, you've got to be tougher," Brown insisted. "That means from a preparation standpoint, we've got to be better. That means from my standpoint, we have to be better. That's really the challenge." At Notre Dame, that means not committing drive-extending, killer penalties or getting a player tossed in the opening moments for targeting. It means playing the first 19 minutes like the last 41. Or closing the deal against Ohio State. Brown plans to be better — more versatile, having all exits covered, mixing man coverage with zone con- cepts at times. Just not more passive. Never more passive. "Have your beliefs," he said. "Have your convictions. If people don't like that, then somebody else will be doing my job and I'll be back at Cape Cod. "But for three years, we built our reputation here defensively on being aggressive." His Wolverines can be more techni- cally sound, he acknowledged. "But the aggressive nature will never change," Brown reiterated. "And in fact, I'd like it to be more ag- gressive." Gattis owned the summer and might light up the fall. But when the leaves turn brown, Brown's crew could make or break the biggest games of all. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Defense Won't Be An Afterthought During the Wolverines' 10-game win streak in 2018, Brown's defense yielded just 12.5 points per contest. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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