The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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82 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2016 A good offense can be a beau- tiful thing to watch. Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia teams, Oregon under Chip Kelly … it's easy to understand why so many were tuning in hoping to see fireworks when spread offenses at these schools really reached their peaks. A few weeks ago, however, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh summed up what many old school fans were thinking when he de- scribed what he was doing on the sidelines during U-M's 45-28 win over Colorado. "I probably should have been pre- paring for our next offensive series," he said. "But I wanted to watch our defense." The Wolverines' defenders helped secure a 45-28 win by shutting down a good Buffaloes team over the last 25 minutes, and it's only gotten bet- ter since. Harbaugh insists Don Brown was his first choice when former defen- sive coordinator D.J. Durkin left to take the head coach job at Maryland. Harbaugh called his defensive coordinator a "legend in my mind" this summer before he'd even seen him coach a game at Michigan. He heaped on more praise after U-M's 78-0 win at Rutgers, a game in which the Scarlet Knights managed two first downs — both coming in the fourth quarter — and went 0 of 17 on third down. "He's a tremendous coach, teacher … his enthusiasm is really high," Harbaugh said. "He's really good in all areas, one of the finest coaches that I've ever known or had an op- portunity to work with. He's excel- lent in all phases, high character … you want to do it like he does it. "He's a great example for other coaches and players, a tremendous leader, high IQ football-wise, sche- matically. He's all the things you want a coach to be." It's translated on the field to the nation's No. 1 defense, which is no surprise Harbaugh noted, "Because everything he's ever been associated with has had success." Last year's Boston College team won only three games and went three-and-out on 40 percent of its offensive series, yet Brown's defense still managed to lead the country in total defense and yards allowed per play (4.07). Pause and think that one through a bit. It might take weeks of research to prove it, but that could be one of the greatest defensive accomplish- ments in modern day college foot- ball history. "To lead college football in total defense and yards per play allowed is difficult enough. To do so while playing opposite an offense that ranked near the bottom in FBS in each of those two categories is next to impossible," wrote in honoring Brown with its Defensive Coordinator of the Year award. The Eagles yielded only 998 rush- ing yards (only Alabama allowed fewer), and 2,054 passing yards — only six teams permitted less — cul- minating in a unit that allowed only 254.3 yards per game, the fewest of any FBS team in two seasons. Many wondered how Brown would do with even better per- sonnel at his disposal. The result through six games: a nation-leading 212.8 yards against per game. There's no reason to believe it won't continue. The 2016 group has traits of the best Michigan defenses of the last 35 years. The 1980 squad didn't allow a touchdown in its last five games and had great leadership under linebacker and captain Andy Cannavino. Fifth-year senior Chris Wormley and senior corner Jourdan Lewis are among the best U-M lead- ers on defense in recent memory. Inside linebackers Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon are reminiscent of the 1985 duo of Mike Mallory and Andy Moeller, albeit a bit more athletic — blue collar, smart, hard- nosed guys Harbaugh would sim- ply call "football players." The '85 unit gave up only 75 points in 11 regular season games (6.8 points per contest), and led the nation in scor- ing defense. The defensive line is even deeper and more potent than a 2006 group that featured future NFL talents Alan Branch and LaMarr Woodley, among others, and the corners rival the pair of 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson and Andre Weathers. If you don't think so, take a look at Lewis' 0.0 quarterback rating on throws his way this year as your proof. There will be games this year in which the Wolverines struggle to score. The offense isn't where it will be in a few more years under Harbaugh, and we say that about a team averaging 50 points per game. But there's no more comforting feeling in football than knowing, as former coach Bo Schembechler used to say, "their offense couldn't move the ball across the street on our defense." It's why U-M has a le- gitimate shot to win every game on the schedule … as UPS would say, "What Brown can do for you." ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter at Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS The Don Brown Effect Brown's defense headed into Michigan's bye week allowing a nation-leading 212.8 yards per game. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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