The Wolverine

April 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2021 BY CHRIS BALAS I n his four years, Don Brown coached Michigan's defenses to some great numbers. His group finished second nationally in to- tal defense in 2016, sixth in 2017, eighth in 2018 and 10th in 2019 with an ag- gressive, in-your-face style geared to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. It worked … for the most part. Like many, Brown's defense had trouble with the better offenses on the sched- ule, particularly Ohio State. The Buckeyes put up 62 and 56 points in back-to-back years, gashed U-M both on the ground and through the air, and were favored by 30 points before the 2020 matchup was canceled. Brown was let go after a season in which the Wolverines gave up 34.5 points per game, ranking 12th in the Big Ten, and an av- erage clip of 434.3 yards (also 12th). Former Baltimore Ravens assistant coach Mike Mac- donald was hired to replace him, and his task is to have Brown-type suc- cess with much of the schedule while finding a way to get over the hump in the big games. He knows the OSU result is ulti- mately how he'll be judged, but his immediate focus is on installing his schemes. "I appreciate the question, but in all honesty, we're just trying to get as good as we can get right now," Mac- donald said when asked about the Buckeyes in March. "It is a, literally, 'what's important now' focus, from meeting to meeting, from rep to rep, from practice to practice. "All the stuff in the season, that's going to take care of itself, and we can't worry about that until we get good at what we're doing right now. … There's no way we can compete with anybody until we get good at what we do. That's how we're plan- ning on handling it." He and his players started with a blank canvas, he added, and while the Ravens were also aggressive, Macdonald's defense will likely look much different than Brown's. There will be more zone packages, multiple fronts and different ways to attack. "The best way I can describe our scheme is it's going to look a lot like the places I've been previously," he said. "But watch our Baltimore defense and tell me the times that we look like a 3-4 [alignment]. There's going to be a certain percentage there, but there are going to be a lot of times we look like a 4-3; sometimes we're going to look like a 6-1, and there are sometimes we're going to look like a 6-2. "Sometimes you're not going to know what the heck it looks like." But do expect there to be new looks at every position. DEFENSIVE LINE Brown liked his linemen agile, and in a lot of cases that translated to 'smaller.' Tackle Carlo Kemp was outstanding at times, but he was sim- ply overpowered on occasion by the bigger, more physical linemen in the Big Ten. Even U-M's heavier tackles, sophomore Chris Hinton (6-4, 305) and redshirt junior Donovan Jeter (6-3, 318), had trouble holding the line of scrimmage against the better teams on the schedule. This is the year they, along with redshirt freshman and former Rivals. com four-star Mazi Smith (6-3, 305), need to come into their own. If not, there will be repeats of games like last year's Wisconsin nightmare in which the Badgers rushed for 341 yards. It was the second year in a row in which the U-W linemen bullied U-M up front, having galloped for 359 yards a season earlier. "They need to get back to having the kinds of teams that can win in the trenches in the third and fourth quarters," Michigan football side- line reporter Doug Karsch said. "You look at Wisconsin … every offensive lineman was a fourth- or fifth-year guy, and what Michigan put on the field offered very little in terms of resistance. "That's one of the first things that needs to change on defense. Guys like Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton have to have that time in the weight room pay off and make the difference in the middle." There were too many times all season, he noted, that the linemen were being pushed downfield. The Wolverines allowed 4.16 yards per carry last season, far too much. But the troubles didn't end there. Other than end Kwity Paye, a projected first-round pick, they didn't have any- one who could get to the quarterback with regularity, either. Whether Brown blitzed or not, offensive lines didn't seem to have much trouble handling what U-M was bringing. Junior Aidan Hutchinson is one player who needs to have a big year in that respect, Karsch continued. Hutchinson notched 15 tackles in parts of three games last year before going down with a broken ankle, but none of those stops were for loss. He registered 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks a year earlier, so he's capable. "There's perhaps no player in Michigan football history where you'd say, 'He has to stay healthy' more that you would Aidan Hutchin- son," Karsch said. "They just can't afford to lose him again. TOTAL REBUILD Michigan's Defense Has Pieces, But There Are Plenty Of Question Marks New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald helped coach the Baltimore Ravens to a top- eight finish in total defense in six of his seven years with the club. PHOTO COURTESY BALTIMORE RAVENS SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

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