Can I ask a question about our defensive philosophy?

Submitted by jbrandimore on November 19th, 2017 at 2:52 PM
And how it relates to what seems to be frequent late game collapses under Don Brown. Please don’t get me wrong, I am glad Don Brown is here, and I much prefer an aggressive defense to our traditional bend and sometimes break under previous regimes. My question is this. Is it possible that playing this hyper aggressive style of defense is impossible to pull off for 60 minutes? Yesterday, I fully expected the Wisconsin defense to wear down in the second half as they were on the field a ton in the first half, and while our running game was not super productive, we were pounding on them in the trenches, and I expected them to soften in the second half. Instead, clearly our defense ran out of gas in the third quarter. I am trying to understand why this might be, which brought me to the question of whether the pace we set in the first halves of games simply isn’t sustainable. In boxing terms, are we punching ourselves out with this defensive style? By the way - this observation isn’t just yesterday. In many games in the Brown era, our defenses have wilted in the 4th quarters of games. I’m not suggesting we play less aggressively, just wondering if maybe more player rotation might help in other positions besides DL or maybe mixing in some zone looks to conserve some energy for 4th quarters. Thanks.



November 19th, 2017 at 2:55 PM ^

I don't think the aggressiveness or philosophy makes it any more tiring than any other style of defense. Lack of offense and being on the field more would make it a LOT more tiring.

Occam's Razor

November 19th, 2017 at 2:58 PM ^

Playing a Kelly-Powell against Taylor on that 3rd & 16 or w/e was uhhh questionable, but I think it's more a product of next man up after Hill was ruled out of the game. 

He did switch to zone eventually, but by then Wisconsin had already burned the defense twice on 3rd & longs. 

Asking anymore of Brown outside of incorporating some zone is tough b/c the guy has not been out-coached for a full game exception being Penn State when Moorhead took him to the woodshed with frippery. 



November 19th, 2017 at 6:42 PM ^

and they had a freshman running back running a vertical against another freshman, and Honibrook threw a back shoulder pass that he dropped on a dime. Now, that was the same formation that PSU ran in getting Barkley free downfield on McCray for a TD.

And I suspect we will see that on Saturday with OSU which will run Dixon, Victor and Campbell deep on the secondary depending on the matchup.  Or they may try to get the running backs matchedup on a safety or linebacker isolation for a deep wheel route.

Kelly-Powell was behind the receiver on that turning point play against Wisconsin,  but it wasn't awful coverage because Honibrook hadn't really shown he could complete anything downfield.


November 19th, 2017 at 8:58 PM ^

Yeah I was going to say that I love DB defense except for blitzing on third and long. We do that a lot and the blitzes never seemed disguised very well. But my point is that on 3rd and 16 I just don't think it's necessary to pressure with 5 guys. Drop 7 or 8 into coverage and keep the ball in front of you. I have no problem with how aggressive our defense is, I just think on 3rd and long that bringing pressure is high risk and low reward. All it takes is for one man not to turn their head around. The throw doesn't even have to be great a lot of times.


November 19th, 2017 at 2:58 PM ^

Offense couldn't stay on the field so the D was more tired, didn't have Lavert, which left JKP in coverage and BWat in coverage too much (Watson made a great play, got hit for a great play). I don't think it's an issue with Brown, I think it's an issue with youth in the secondary and a struggling offense. A good offense aids the defense by letting them rest, putting them in longer fields.


November 20th, 2017 at 7:30 AM ^

Whether the D would actually chart worse after the Peters injury would be interesting to see, but it's hard to question the fact that Peters gives this team some juice and some hope. I know the guys support all of their teammates, but it's pretty clear that Peters is the guy that this team believes in and follows. It's interesting for all the talk of not being a vocal leader, Peters is quite clearly the guy that gives the offense the most giddy up.


November 19th, 2017 at 6:59 PM ^

and Washington is leading by 15 points with under 6 minutes left. And Drew Brees proceeds to not miss a receiver the rest of the game engineering an OT comeback win after tying the game with 1 minute still left on the clock. The question is, did the Washington defense collapse or did they play a different defensive game because of their lead? Their offense ran three plays in the interim of two long Saint TD marches.

They played zone defense and blitzed once and nothing helped once Brees got in rhythm. So a defense that had held the Saints for more than three quarters of the game, got shredded and lost without making a single play. And then after three plays in OT, they gave up 50 yards mostly on two running plays before kicking the game-winning field goal?

What's the moral of the story. The other team can't score if you run out the clock with your offense and need 1 yard with two downs to get it. That was all Washington needed to win with 2 minutes left and the Saints down 8 with no timeouts left. One yard. And when they didn't get it on third down, they punted, instead of trying to get the yardage needed to end the game on fourth down.

What's the better decision for a team that has just given up a TD, getting the yardage you need with all four downs to run out the clock, or relying on the defense that has repeatedly shown it can't stop a rhythmic qb with nothing to lose. Get the yardage. Forget field position. Win the game. Don't leave it up to your defense. Run your best play and get the yardage to run out the clock.



November 19th, 2017 at 7:34 PM ^

Of course the counter-argument to this thinking is: your offense has just proven you can't get the yard needed on the previous play...And the chances of the other team scoring in a single drive starting from, say their 20 are still much, much lower than starting from your 40. Even if everything has been clicking for the opposing offense, the liklihood of them returning to the mean is greater with the greater number of plays they have to make.

The answer to your offense is really always: get the necessary yardage on 2nd and 3rd down!

The Baughz

November 19th, 2017 at 3:05 PM ^

The D is not the problem but is fair to question some of the coverages in key situations. Having JKP in man to man coverage in that situation is equivalent to the offense calling play action on 3rd and long. Just didn’t make sense. But obviously Don B is the man and everyone makes mistakes.


November 19th, 2017 at 5:28 PM ^

Stop playing the blame game. Don Brown doesn't necessarily control 100% of who is matched up on whom. He designs the defensive play. That defensive design is then used as a matchup template based on offensive personnel and formation.

Offenses also use formations, motions, and personnel to gain favorable matchups. Sometimes the offense wins. The only way Brown can get perfect matchups is if he knows the offense's formation and play call before the offense even breaks the huddle. He doesn't. Sometimes you get beat.


November 19th, 2017 at 3:07 PM ^

In last years losses, all three times, the defense was on the field with a chance to get a stop and win the game. All three failed.

In fact after dominating OSU for 3 quarters, the defense didn’t get a stop for three consecutive possessions with the game on the line. I know we whine about that 4th down spot, but that didn’t end the game, it only set up 1sr and 10 from the 15. Which took about 0.02 seconds to turn into a TD.

I can’t help it if you can’t see there is a radical 1st half/2nd half performance differential having not much to do with field position or time of possession.


November 19th, 2017 at 8:05 PM ^

Check last year's M-Iowa game drive chart.
Our last 3 drives were 12, 9 and 3 plays.
Special teams are just as guilty for the Iowa game loss. There was a fumbled kick return to start the second half and horrible punt coverage on our last punt.

Occam's Razor

November 19th, 2017 at 3:26 PM ^

Dude the defense is not to blame for last year's OSU loss or any loss last year really. 

The offense choked that game away with Speight's fumble and interceptions just like how they couldn't get it done when it counted against Iowa. 

The defense was on the field for so god damn long that game that it's only natural for them to tire out by the end of it especially when you have to defend 5 Star athletes at every position on OSU. 


November 19th, 2017 at 4:43 PM ^

You "see a radical 1st half / 2nd half performance differential" -- based on what? Do we give up significantly more yards in the 2nd half? Points?

I'm asking because I honestly don't know the answer, but id doesn't seem like you do either.

You know what would help your argument -- facts. You can't just call everybody out for not seeing something and then provide nothing to see.

The only relevant facts I know is that we are still the #3 defense in the country in YPG and I believe #11 in PPG allowed -- so if we truly are collapsing in the 2nd half, it sure doesn't reflect in those numbers.


November 19th, 2017 at 8:05 PM ^

...than to criticize Michigan's D on this board- it goes too much against the prevailing narrative. Expect quite a few neg votes.

But kind of to your point, even going back a few years- I think it might have been back to the Durkin or  the Mattison (Hoke)- Michigan's otherwise solid defenses gave up a maddening number of lengthy drives at the end of halves.

Now, I doubt this is really a S&C issue. Yeah, a more conservative philosophy (in calls, in coverage) in late-game situations could possibly be part of it, but Brown's calls in those situations don't seem to be all that conservative to me.

Let's also remember, you are talking about late in the game, on the road, against some pretty good coaches and teams (at home) with some skilled, confident highly motivated athletes who have to make a few plays, and sometimes they actually do.


November 19th, 2017 at 10:10 PM ^

You can't ignore all the wins where the defense plays just as good or better in the second half versus the first half.

Obviously our losses all come down to defensive failures because our offense basically never wins a game anymore so it always comes on the defense shoulders to lead us to victory.  When they come through we win, when they don't we lose.  

Anyway, slice your cherry-picked statistics all you want, there really is no debate that our defense is vastly vastly vastly superior to our offense and therefore, not the limiting factor in our ceiling/potential.



November 19th, 2017 at 7:23 PM ^

defebse? As I recall against Iowa, we had a questionable call go against us that set up Iowa with field position inside Michigan territory and then they managed to get less than a first down to set up the game-winning field goal. We lost 14-13.

Against Florida State, a poor special teams play on the kickoff after Evans scored to give Michigan the lead set up the Seminoles to win that game. That wasn't on the defense.

And against Ohio State, the defense couldn't defend two interceptions including a pick six by Speight which set up 14 Buckeye points before some questionable penalties gave OSU new life down the stretch even before OT. The premise of this question doesn't even jive with factual situaitons that occurred last year.

And this year's team has different personnel, so the idea that one team should be held to the same standard is sort of not fair.

In any case, DB's defensive philosophy of blitzing and pressure is to speed up the offense, force imprecision, mismatches and mistakes. The defense is not out to suffocate teams, but get them out of rhythm and force them to keep adjusting. It allows you to put the other team behind the chains and do things they either aren't prepaared for or don't want to do.

Pretty good philosophy if you ask me.


November 19th, 2017 at 3:05 PM ^

What? We pitched shutouts in the 4th quarter of every game until Indiana. We only gave up 3 points in the 4th yesterday. Wisconsin is coached well and they adjusted at halftime. Don Brown then adjusted to their adjustment. You'd have an argument for Penn State, but even then we shutdown Barkley. McSorely had the game of his life.(I guess Brown gets some blame for having McCray cover Saquon on wheel routes)

Our best corner was out. The only senior on our defense is arguably the weakest link. The defense is just fine. In fact, it's exciting at how nasty they are being this young and not very deep.


November 19th, 2017 at 3:03 PM ^

Have to score more than 10 points in today’s football.

Also I’ve seen just as many second half dominations as I have “collapses.”

The D isn’t perfect and is lacking in some areas (I don’t want to call out players though).


November 19th, 2017 at 3:07 PM ^

Its an aggressive D that relies on gap integrity however youthful mistakes have lead to guys leaving their lanes and us getting burned on cutbacks Hudson made a lot of mistakes early in the season on this and has learned from it since and is playing really well its a great D against more pass- pro style offenses but you have to stay home against these read option teams


November 19th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

I think the Don Brown philosophy is:

"I'll take the risk that you can score 14 points on breakdowns when I'm overagressive, so that I can keep you from just marching down the field and scoring 28 points while I sit on my heels and react."

It's a risk-reward defense based on the inability of college-level players to consistently be able to hit 15 plays in a row.

It has generally worked very well.

But what needs to be understood is that it is not all reward, there is risk too.  His defense is going to give up some points.  To just about every team he plays.

It's not a defense that you can count on to pitch a shutout while your offense piddles around and goes into a shell. 

It's not a defense designed to win you old-fashioned 10-7 games from the Bo era.  It's a defense designed to win you 24-17 games in the modern spread era.

Your offense still needs to score points in the 20's.



November 19th, 2017 at 3:21 PM ^

That's been the biggest problem with the D, they either tire late in games because of the number of 3 and outs on our offense or frustration and youthful mistakes but I will also say if you watch the interior line play there is a lot of holding going uncalled while they say there is holding on every play how many holding calls have been called on our opponents this year against one of the best defensive fronts in the country


November 19th, 2017 at 3:35 PM ^

I would say that the defense is more than doing thier job, no matter what. 

Look at the points they have given up this year:

Sat, Sept 2
Sat, Sept 9
Sat, Sept 16
Sat, Sept 23
Sat, Oct 7
Sat, Oct 14
Sat, Oct 21
Sat, Oct 28
Sat, Nov 4
Sat, Nov 11
Sat, Nov 18

Other than PSU, the defense has not given up more than 17 points in regulation all year (Wisc's 24 includes 7 from special teams).

That's phenomenal in today's football climate.  To my point above, that's all you should need (or expect)  in modern football . . . a defense that holds the other team under 20.

Your own offense still needs to score points.  Nobody is regularly winning games 10-7 anymore, nor should it be expected.

Your D gives up 17 points, that should be a W.



November 19th, 2017 at 3:46 PM ^

Excellent points.  This is exactly right.  How often do conference title games, big bowl games, etc., end up 17-10 games in the modern college era?  We have the right defensive coaching to be competitive at the highest college level.  It would be nice to see us make the same leap to modern college strategies on offense.  Even Alabama is willing to go shotgun, no-huddle, use tempo, etc.  We do not have Alabama's surfeit of 5* OL, 5* RBs, etc.  We shouldn't be averse to using modern college strategies on offense.   


November 19th, 2017 at 3:56 PM ^

Yeah, I don't care how he does it - pro I, spread, west coast, whatever - I just want to see the Harbaugh offense be able to score 28 points in any game it plays, agianst anybody.

That to me is the definition of a successful offense, more than the particular style it uses.

If he can get close to that, Don Brown will do the rest for him.



November 19th, 2017 at 11:47 PM ^

I mean, they just had the highest scoring offense in the big ten just last year.
He does not need to change his philosophy, the offense is just very young and has had a bunch of injuries. No matter the offensive scheme it takes time to come together when you have first or second year guys everywhere. If you add excessive injuries to the plate and you are going to have a very down year.
The offense will be back to 2016 level next year.