Why Michigan's Offensive Braintrust is Enamored With Don Brown

Why Michigan's Offensive Braintrust is Enamored With Don Brown

Football

Why Michigan's Offensive Braintrust is Enamored With Don Brown

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — You may hear it: the SEC bias. Pundits like Paul Finebaum frequently discuss how Alabama or Georgia’s defense could be the best in the nation.

You read the ACC bias, how Clemson has the best defensive front in the country, as well — according to many who pay attention to the college football landscape.

However there’s one undeniable fact: Michigan has the top defense in the country, statistically speaking, through eleven weeks, and right now, it’s not even that close.

The Wolverines currently are allowing 219.8 yards-per-game, with Clemson being the next closest with 253.6. And that’s not even factoring in that Michigan is usually good for letting an opposing offense drive the field on the final drive of the game once the outcome is more than certain.

It’s the fourth-straight year that Michigan has fielded a Top 5 defense, but the last three seasons have been out of sight. And there’s one common denominator:

Don Brown, defensive coordinator.

Brown oversaw the top defense in the country in 2015 at Boston College, and quickly came to Ann Arbor and improved the nation’s No. 4 defense in a real hurry, with a style of aggressiveness unseen since Michigan won a national championship in 1997. Despite losing 10 starters going from 2016 to 2017, Michigan still had the No. 3 defense, and now it’s even better, allowing 50 yards less per game at this juncture.

One of the best teams at stopping the run and the unequivocal top-rated pass defense, “Dr. Blitz” gets after it, on and off the field.

As head coach Jim Harbaugh tells it, it not only has to do with Brown’s fiery personality and willingness to get after the quarterback, but his ability to recognize what opposing offenses are doing on the field in real-time.

You think you found a way to hurt Michigan’s defense? Well, enjoy it, because it’s not going to last long. He will, invariably, fix the glitch, like what happened to Milton not getting fired in Office Space.

“You don’t have to sit in on Don Brown’s meetings to know what’s going on in Don Brown’s meetings,” Harbaugh said. “You just have to be within 50 or 75 feet. He’s great. He brings the enthusiasm, the energy every single day. Paint peels off the walls – have to get it repainted every couple weeks.

“I learn so much from Don. Talk about – Indiana does a great job of making adjustments, having calls and fixing things – Don’s the best I’ve ever seen, of any coach, either side of the ball or special teams, that could be standing on the field, know what happened, how a play hurt our defense or had a gain, and then fix it with a call. Know exactly what has to be fixed and without needing to be in the press box or look at the game film after the game. Just in game, not even having to chalk it on the sideline, having a call all ready to fix an issue.

“We got hit with one against Rutgers – a fine play, they faked a reverse. The way we were handling their motion in the secondary, gave up a gap. Changed Chase’s responsibility, changed the responsibility to the two safeties, and they ran the same play at least once more and the quarterback ended up either with it or the back had to eat it for a no yard gain. He’s the best.”

By now, you’ve heard ad nauseum about how Michigan’s defensive players love playing in his aggressive style — but it’s also something that the offensive players have taken notice of.

Running back Tru Wilson, a former walk-on, has a unique view on the subject, having played directly under Brown for a season at safety. But, before he earned his scholarship, he also played on the scout team, going directly up against that top-rated defense.

Wilson says he takes whatever chance he has to pay attention to what the defense is doing — even now — as it’s something to behold. But, even going up against it on a daily basis, he’s earned a different kind of appreciation for what Brown & Co. bring to the table.

“Oh, I watch them,” Wilson said. “I watch them during practice every day and see what they’re capable of. I was on scout team the last two years. I’ve been able to see everything they’re capable of doing. Say it’s a Monday, and I was on scout team – you can break a little bit. But after Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – there’s no room in that defense to run. You guys see it on Saturdays how good they actually are.

“Actually, my freshman year, I was a scout team wide receiver. I was going against Jourdan Lewis and Strib – there’s no room to pass on those guys. It pays off what they do in practice.”

The success of the entire defensive unit doesn’t just have to do with those 11 players on the field during games, Wilson adds. A big part of it is the accountability that is given to those unsung heroes on the scout unit.

Brown might be on his players to execute his system, but he also is very hands on with the scout offense, making sure they execute as needed to prepare the defense every single day.

“Being on defense for a month and being on scout team the last two years, he demands so much out of his defense, but he also demands a lot out of the scout offense,” Wilson said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the scout offense, having been on it for the last two years. Even seeing them, and having scout running backs in our room, they work their butts off just like we do. And they’re just as important to our team’s development as any other player on the team. Same with scout defense and scout special teams – they all play a role.”

By now, you’ve assuredly seen Brown’s fiery personality on display in the Amazon All or Nothing series, where he was arguably the highlight.

In several clips, he gets his defense fired up, and the viewer by proxy. But those parties aren’t alone. Even members of the offense perk up and take notice when Brown gets going.

Third-year tight end Sean McKeon is one of those players. When he’s getting ready for games, if he knows Brown is about to address his defense, he makes sure he’s at full attention, even if he’s not in the direct vicinity.

As a result: he’s that much more ready to go, himself.

“Sometimes – every game in the locker room, before we take the field, he brings the defense up in the locker room and gives a speech,” McKeon said. “I always make sure to take my headphones off and listen to that. He always pumps me up, even though I’m not playing defense.”



Brown and his defense still have several challenges ahead if the team is to achieve its goals. First, Michigan hosts Indiana and the nation’s 44th-rated pass offense before traveling to Columbus to take on arch rival Ohio State.

The Buckeyes, although struggling in many ways, despite their 9-1 record, will be the toughest challenge for this Wolverines defensive attack, as OSU is rated No. 8 in the country, bolstered strongly by the nation’s No. 3 passing offense.

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