Michigan defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said Big Ten teams are always tough competition. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News


Ann Arbor — The message from Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown to his players at halftime of the Northwestern game, in which the Wolverines had trailed by 17, was simple.

Calm down and settle in.

There were adjustments to be made, of course, and those were in evidence as the Wolverines shut down Northwestern’s offense in the second half, ending five of the Wildcats’ six possessions with sacks while limiting them to 97 yards.

Michigan’s defense now is ranked No. 1 nationally, yielding an average 232.6 yards a game, as the Wolverines prepare for Maryland on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

But when Brown told his defensive players to calm down, that didn’t mean to relax. Not at all. Brown never encourages anything but all-out aggression. He had seen this unfold once already this season when the Wolverines dug a 14-0 hole early in the season opener at Notre Dame. This time, though, Michigan was able to pull out the win, 20-17, to improve to 2-0 in Big Ten play.

What Brown meant was just move on.

“It’s just settling it, like, ‘OK, this has happened,’ and the calming down in the sense of forget about it,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said Monday. “In football, it’s boom, boom, boom. Whatever happened that play, you’ve got to let go of it because if you keep bringing it with you that’s when those big plays start occurring — one big play, one big play.

“Calming down is getting to the sideline, talking to your coaches, what happened, figuring it out and going out there and just doing your job.”

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Kemp said Brown went to the drawing board at halftime and explained which plays were hurting the Wolverines and which they were doing well. Northwestern was coming off a bye, and Kemp said that gave the Wildcats an opportunity to approach a few plays differently.

“But once we figured those out — we got to see them on the board. You get to visualize it and we went out there in the second half and did a good job of stopping those plays,” Kemp said. “They were running so many quick plays, just a lot of those quick passes, quick runs to get outside. Once we made those adjustments, we did a pretty good job of stopping those quick slants, those quick runs outside and really limiting their offense in the second half.”

Michigan didn’t come through at the end of the Notre Dame game, although the Wolverines had the ball with a chance to tie or win before quarterback Shea Patterson’s fumble. This time, Patterson, who said he likes the big-stage moments, overcame and directed a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter at Northwestern.

“We’ve been there before,” senior tailback Karan Higdon, a co-captain, said Monday. “We were there with Notre Dame. We were coming back, so we knew what that feeling was like. This was a game where guys really had to dig deep and look in a mirror and see how badly they really wanted it.”

Higdon ran the ball a career-most 30 times and scored two touchdowns. He and Patterson, along with the three other captains and several of the defensive players, reminded their teammates it’s a four-quarter game.


Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. said the team was not discouraged down 17-0 at Northwestern. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

Left tackle Jon Runyan said no one on the Michigan sideline was worried even trailing by 17 points.

“For me, honestly, it was because coming off two weeks, they had their bye, knowing we were going to get their best shot, having them at home, that, just guys on the bench, no one was down and out about the score, 17-0, because we were in the same scenario against Notre Dame,” Runyan said.

“(Northwestern) came out and executed perfectly. That’s props to them, jumped on us 17-0. We knew the whole time that we weren’t out. I believed we were going to come back and win this game even when we were down 17-0. There was no doubt about that. We were able to keep on them and came out with a W, so that was nice. We were just able to play a little longer than they were.”

Bottom line a win on the road is a win on the road any way it’s dissected, and Michigan, like any team, will take it. Road wins don’t get judged on style points.

“When you play Big Ten teams, they’re always going to be good,” Kemp said. “We’re in Big Ten play. Everybody is good, everybody is going to be physical. And being a successful road team is just win on the road. It doesn’t always have to be pretty. They can be ugly wins. You’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to win ‘em, but if you win on the road, nothing really matters.”

Twitter: @chengelis