UM defensive coordinator Don Brown on the Penn State game last year Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown says what he means and means what he says, so when he said last week that he wakes up every day and thinks about the Wolverines’ 29-point loss at Penn State last season, you better believe him.
The fifth-ranked Wolverines (7-1, 5-0) will face No. 14 Penn State on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, their first game in two weeks. Michigan lost, 42-13, last year against the Nittany Lions and gave up 506 yards of offense. Penn State also tried to tack on an extra score in the final seconds of the game, which has stuck with the Michigan players.
“I said it and I do (wake up thinking about the game),” Brown said Wednesday when asked about his comment. “Some people get driven by positives, some get driven by the 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. 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 I did that, so I own it.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to move on and you learn from it. That’s what happens in 41 years (of coaching). You’re going to win some battles, some you’re not going to win, but at the end of the day you’ve got to get better and keep improving,”
Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 1 nationally, yielding an average 220 yards a game. The Wolverines also are No. 1 in pass defense (122.9), sixth in scoring (14.4) and ninth against the run (97.1). They also lead the Big Ten in third-down percentage defense.
And while those are numbers that impress most, Brown isn’t satisfied. This week, he wants his defense focused on reversing what happened at Penn State last fall. He even showed them a clip last week of the Nittany Lions’ final attempted scoring drive from last year’s game to get them even more motivated.
“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 learn from it. Just wanted them to see it. Wanted them to be reminded of that feeling. And I think the point was made.”
Players have said Brown has been more “amped up” this week as they’ve prepared for Penn State.
“You can tell his energy,” safety Josh Metellus said. “He’s one of those guys, he brings a lot of energy just because it’s him. He’s the defensive coordinator and you know the type of defense he’s running you can tell he’s an aggressive guy. Walking through a hallway you see coach Brown, you see him jumping up. He’s an old man, but he’s still got a little energy in him, and you can just feel it and it gets you amped up to.”
Brown isn’t so focused to avoid joking about Metellus’ “old” comment. He met with media on Wednesday, Halloween, and said he would be dressing as a “young Don Brown” to celebrate the day.
But that’s about as humorous as things get this week. Brown is dead serious about making amends for how the defense played at Penn State last season. And his players have embraced his goal.
UM defensive coordinator Don Brown on the defense's performance against Michigan State. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“Just one of those game we owe them,” Metellus said. “One of those games you try to forget, but you can’t because it’s stuck in the back of your head. Everybody is different in the building. We want to make sure we make a statement this week because last year we didn’t.”
In the last game they played, a 21-7, victory at Michigan State, the Wolverines held Michigan State to 94 yards in the last game they played before the bye and did not allow the Spartans to convert on 12 third-down attempts.
Brown was asked what he thought when he saw the box score.
“Relief for another week,” he said. “Share something with you — that didn’t surprise me. This team, this defensive football team we’re coaching presently, is the best practice team I’ve ever been around. I don’t have to go out there with my hair on fire screaming at guys, ‘You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to run. You’ve got to get to the ball.’ There’s none of that going on. This team practices like you’re supposed to practice. And at the end of the day, you just go, ‘Holy Moly, did these guys fly today.’
“They build days upon days upon days of it, and you don’t even realize it. We practiced full speed every day. It’s impressive, because some teams, you’ve got to chase them to practice and you’re living in their grill. This group you just let ‘em go. They know how important it is to play fast. Here’s what happens late in the year — if you allow your practice habits to wane, and you go, ‘Maybe they don’t have to tackle. Maybe they don’t have to shimmy and bend their knees and tag and get in great posture, so they’re prepared to make the tackle.’ What happens to your tackling? It goes like this (downhill). Now all of a sudden you’re not making plays. It has nothing to do with the scheme. It’s because you’ve let off the gas and haven’t demanded the necessary techniques and fundamentals for the preparation of tackling. It’s not like you have to smash everybody. You won’t have anybody left. But they can run and they can get into great posture to tackle. This group is excellent at that.”