UM's Don Brown targets the targeting penalties called this year

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Don Brown

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown isn’t happy about the three targeting penalties against the Wolverines the first four games of the season, and he’s also not thrilled with the direction of how the game is being called.

Brown, the charismatic 63-year-old, appeared Tuesday morning on 97.1 The Ticket’s “Jamie and Stoney” show and spoke about his defensive philosophy, wanting to hold teams to 17 points or fewer, and the relationship he has with his players.

He was asked by hosts Mike Stone and Jamie Samuelsen about the targeting calls, including two on Khaleke Hudson in back-to-back games.

“Something that we’re all dealing with,” Brown said Tuesday. “We’ve gone from no targeting penalties a year ago to all of a sudden it’s a concern for us. You’ve got to take care of your business. We hawk tackle every Tuesday, Wednesday. It’s all, lead with the shoulder, not with the head. Obviously, now it’s not just the head. It’s wherever you make contact you’d better be doing it with the shoulder.”

More: Freshman DL Aidan Hutchinson living up to family name at UM

Stone asked Brown if there’s a “problem” with football these days and the suggestion made by many that the quarterback can barely be touched.

“I’m having a hard time with it. I’m glad I’m at the end of it, to be quite honest with you,” Brown said. “It’s a very difficult, fine line. We had a big debate on this in staff. Things happen like this. You snap your fingers, that play is made one way or the other. Obviously, it’s an adjustment we have to go through, but I don’t think it’s an easy adjustment, I really don’t.”

But Brown will not change the way he coaches his all-out aggressive defense.

“You know how we play the game, now. We’re an in-your-face, guns-a'blazing, we’re gonna play the game in your backfield, that’s the whole mantra, whatever that is,” he said. “It’s certainly is – I think this is an issue. I think it’s an issue moving forward, and I think you’re gonna see across the country be an issue and it already is. Not an easy task, that’s for sure.”

Here are the highlights from Brown’s interview on the “Jamie and Stoney” show:

On the team’s defensive performance in the 56-10 victory over Nebraska: “Our guys really showed up early, stayed late. They were very focused. The thing that was probably most exciting, the first nine drives we went with no penalties. Obviously, that’s been a little bit of an area of concern for us defensively. We kind of took care of business especially when the game was in balance, for sure.”

Linebacker Devin Bush recently told the show he expects to shut out every team. Brown’s take? “That’s the goal. That’s the reality, that’s the goal. I said this Monday in the meeting, we put guys in the game at the end of the game, they’re at Michigan. Your job is to know your assignments, go in there and execute at a high level. We don’t hand out playing time here, so – I’ve got to calm down – that’s the expectation. We’re shooting for it every week. It’s a hard one. It’s a hard one to achieve, but if you’re shooting for that and you land in the vicinity, you know, we have a goal on our goal board, 17 points or less. That’s our goal. If you do that, I think you’re gonna win a lot of football games. Some you won’t, but at the end of the day I think if you’re in that stratosphere of trying to be below that, you’re going to win a lot of football games, period.”

On what makes this group of defensive players, who share how much they love playing for Brown, special: “Probably because most of them I’ve been with them since the inception. Their beginning was my beginning. Probably that piece. We’ve really got a tremendous group of young men to work with. I say that all the time, and I mean it sincerely. Not perfect, but they’re trying to do whatever it takes necessary to prepare properly. Getting to the game on Saturday, it’s really kinda moot point at that point. You kinda know how you’re gonna play, and this group really does their due diligence from Tuesday through Friday. You know what you’re going to get from them. Easy group to coach, that’s for sure.”

On what he says to critics who say Michigan being ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense is because UM has faced lesser opponents. Is that fair criticism? “I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s the reality. Of course when you play good teams you’re going to be challenged, that’s why they’re good teams. Somebody singled out Wisconsin a year ago. Gave up 17 points to Wisconsin a year ago, OK? They’re pretty damn good. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think at times the expectations are so high for our guys, it’s a difficult process to make everybody happy, and to be honest with you, I could care less. We’re just trying to fight for our life every Saturday afternoon, prepare as hard as we can. We have a philosophy we believe in and we live with. Somebody just gave us a stat, complaining about pass defense – we just had our 10th game of giving up less than 100 yards passing since I’ve been here. The last one we did was Western Michigan and then the question becomes, ‘Oh, well, they’re not very good.’ Well, they had 380 yards throwing against Syracuse, and we played them the following week and held them to 80-something, so, you know, whatever. I just think sometimes reality and what’s really occurring is a difficult balance. At least I care, so, it’s a good thing.”

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said spread offense, no RPO, is a sign of communism. Brown’s take: “But you’re right. I’m good. I like the way you said that. I agree. What it does, it forces conflict within your defense – X amount of guys have to cover this, X amount of guys have got to cover that. The good thing for us, when we have to we can play man – here’s the one thing about man coverage. You get into these discussions, and I do all the time with my colleagues, some guys play man coverage because of the RPO thing, but do it on a limited basis. You’re going to stink at it, because if you don’t put the time and effort and the energy into the techniques and fundamentals and getting your guys … see, there’s a period of adjustment where you have to get your guys comfortable playing close to people. If you’re doing that as a part-time job, you’re not going to get comfortable. If it’s your livelihood, then you get comfortable. Part of that is kinda how we go about doing our business. We play a bunch of other coverages, but a lot of them are, even though they’re zone in quality, they’re man based. It still provides that same quality. I have a hard time when I watch tape and I’m 63 now, just had my anniversary Sunday, 40th, but I could make some of these passes, now. I could throw it out in the flat for five yards that turns into 15. I could throw the hitch route, I could throw the out route at 10, maybe not as good as coach (Jim) Harbaugh, but I could do it, OK? We don’t allow that. That’s unacceptable in our way of thinking. It’s just the way it is. That’s what we believe in. We play with more numbers in the box. That’s what we believe in. Like, if you’re going to show up and try to run the ball against us, and you have five linemen and, say, the tight end’s involved, we’re going to have seven. OK, you’re going to bring in the seventh guy, we’re going to have eight. I’m not that smart, but eight’s more than seven, it gives you a better shot to defend the run, but you’ve got to be good at it in terms of the coverage base. And that’s all I’m really talking about is getting your guys comfortable and technique-sound, putting their hands on people and playing close to people.”

Twitter: @chengelis