Don Brown Describes 'Formidable Challenge' Posed by Penn State

don brown michigan defensive coordinator

Don Brown Describes 'Formidable Challenge' Posed by Penn State

Football

Don Brown Describes 'Formidable Challenge' Posed by Penn State

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Last year, when Michigan traveled to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, the Wolverines normally dominant defense had an odd lapse, getting gashed for more than 500 yards of offense and giving up 42 points to the Nittany Lions.

As a result, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown — who has fielded a top-three defense in each of his three years in Ann Arbor — can’t help but waking up thinking about how to stop the Penn State offense every single morning. Not just every morning since Penn State became the next game on the schedule: every morning since that debacle in October 2017 happened.

That’s what Brown told Inside Michigan Football radio host Brad Galli last Monday, and he explained why on Wednesday that game has remained such a focal point for him over the course of the past year.

“I said it and I do,” Brown said. “Some people get driven by positives. Some get driven by negatives. The thing that drives me is when I don’t give players the best possible chance, I want to make sure I remind myself of that. Because that’s all you’re trying to do – is you’re trying to make sure you give your players the best chance, and I didn’t feel like I did that, so I own it. But at the same time, you’ve got to move on and learn from it. I think that’s what happens in 41 years. You’re gonna win some battles, there’s some you’re not gonna win. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get better and keep improving.”

Now, Penn State isn’t just a morning musing for Brown & Co. — it’s the prime focus over the past two weeks, as the Wolverines have had that time to prepare, starting with the bye week. And one of the first things that Brown did was remind his team that the Nittany Lions offense ran a play when it absolutely didn’t have to in attempt to score with one second left on the clock in regulation.

His players felt disrespected then, and even more so now. Which is what Brown hoped to see and hear once his team and unit was reminded of that happenstance.

It wasn’t just a motivational ploy used with revenge in mind, but it was a teaching tool used to remind his defense what can happen when things go horribly awry.

“I just wanted them to see it,” Brown said. “It’s not a good feeling. We’re all personally accountable for it. You take the good with the bad, but you’ve got to learn from it. Just wanted them to see it. Wanted them to be reminded of that feeling. I think the point was made.”

Michigan will face multiple challenges defensively on Saturday, but Brown sees one big looming threat: the player wearing No. 9.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has now played the Wolverines twice, and while his first go-round in 2016 was a 49-10 drubbing at the hands of the maize and blue, a year ago, it was McSorley — along with now-departed tailback Saquon Barkley — who returned the favor.

For Brown, McSorley is his biggest challenge, the defense’s biggest threat and has all the tools at his disposal to repeat his performance from a year ago.

“Well, he’s good – he’s a really good player,” Brown said. “James said some really good things about him. I heard it – I don’t know where, maybe it was ESPN? I forget. He’s everything – he means everything to them. I think he’s a highly competitive guy. He has a really solid understanding. They do a lot of freeze cadence, so you’ll see him looking over, changing plays and doing those things. So he has a really good handle of what he’s supposed to do and getting his guys in the right places and making the – taking it into his own hands when it’s important.

“We certainly have a formidable challenge looking us right down the face on Saturday, for sure.”

But the Nittany Lions’ offense doesn’t solely rest on McSorley, even if he’s the engine that drives it.

Brown pointed to several other key players who could do damage if Michigan doesn’t manage to contain the threat.

“I like the receiver, No. 1 (KJ Hamler),” Brown said. “And I think the tailback’s (Miles Sanders) a really good player. With Gesicki leaving, the tight end, I thought they’d have a hard time replacing him, and the youngster: Freiermuth, (from) Massachusetts – funny – has done a good job as a youngster coming in there, and he’s very similar to him.

“Those guys, they’re all solid. 84 (Juwan Johnson), the big, tall receiver – I like him. He seems like he might be a hair-nicked up – he only played 10 snaps last week. But I’m sure he’ll be ready for us. So those are the guys. 24 – Sanders – he’s a really good player. I relate more to numbers than names, but he’s a really good back. He’s got over 800 yards rushing. At this time of the year, that’s a significant amount of rushing yards.”

As of current, the Wolverines are holding opponents to an average of 52% of their usual offensive output. But those numbers are similar to a year ago, and the Michigan defense got gashed the one time all season long. Can the maize and blue have a repeat performance of 2016 defensively against Penn State, will it be more like 2017 or somewhere in the middle?

We’ll find out for sure on Saturday, with kickoff slated for 3:45PM EST at The Big House.

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