Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown is not what he would call a “Happy Jack” during games, never cracking a smile, even when his top-rated defense is in demolition mode.
But even Brown allowed himself a moment of elation after the Wolverines beat Penn State 42-7 last Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Michigan is No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings at 8-1 overall, 6-0 Big Ten, and plays at Rutgers, winless in the Big Ten, this Saturday.
Brown appeared Wednesday morning on 97.1 The Ticket’s “Jamie and Stoney” show and was asked how much fun it was to be part of a game like that. He had said on multiple occasions leading up to the game that last year’s 42-13 loss at Penn State was something he thought about every morning.
“Guys really played well,” Brown said on the show. “Had a really focused practice week. We’re practicing at a very high level right now, so you kinda have an idea what you’re going to get on Saturdays, which is a good feeling. I thought we got a max effort out of our guys. Very few gross errors. Just a tremendous effort in terms of getting to the football and playing collectively, for sure.”
The Wolverines missed out on the shutout when Penn State’s backup quarterback Tommy Stevens scored on an 8-yard run with 1:59 left in the game.
“We’ve had a couple of those in the fourth quarter where we’ve played really, really well throughout the game and it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end of the day,” he said. “But about 30 seconds after the game, you put a smile on and realize what your guys accomplished and feel pretty good about it.”
Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 1 nationally, allowing an average of 216.2 yards a game, and is No. 1 in pass defense (122.3), fifth in scoring (13.6) and eighth in rushing defense (93.9).
The Wolverines have embraced what defensive end Chase Winovich has called the “Revenge Tour” – their last three wins, against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, have avenged losses from last year. But the Penn State wins seems to have carried more weight because of how the defense played in last year’s game, giving up more than 500 yards.
But while the players have maintained that payback attitude, Brown also stewed for a year on what he considered a poor coaching performance at Penn State.
“Each week when you’re approaching a new opponent, you have to find something to motivate you throughout the practice week that gives you a little bit of an edge on Saturday afternoon,” Brown said. “Lo and behold, we’ve been able to do that, for sure. Obviously, that one left a bad taste in our mouth.
“We did not play very well. I did not coach very well, and that’s a hard thing to admit, too. Personally, I came away from that game and I wanted to punch myself in the nose about 10 times. I’m kinda glad that’s behind me at this point in time, and we’re moving on and getting ready for Rutgers.”
Other highlights of Don Brown’s interview on 97.1 The Ticket’s “Jamie and Stoney” show:
On the defensive players playing well together: “That’s probably their strongest point. You can have a lot of talented guys, but when they’re not all pulling from the same rope, boy that can be a real problem. They’re very collective at this point, and nobody really cares who gets the credit. They just kinda go about doing their business.”
On how good it was getting defensive end Rashan Gary back, although he didn’t look dominant yet: “You hit it on the head. He’s not there yet. He had been out for a while, but nice to get him back. Great young man. Has a tremendous future. The thing I liked about him the most Saturday night, besides his ability on the field, he was really happy for his teammates when good things would happen. When your so-called stars act that way, it’s certainly a good model for everybody else on the defense.”
On how Gary’s absence allowed others to develop: “We’ve been able to carve a role for Josh Uche with his absence. Boy, he’s played really well. When you take production in terms of time on task, the snaps he has in a particular week and then what he accomplishes in a game, it’s special. Having Rashan miss all that time, now you keep your fingers crossed because you think you know what you’re going to get, but Kwity Paye, has just, the arrow is up now. He’s playing at a very high level. You’ve got another guy that you can put in there that has tremendous versatility. He can basically play three of the four defensive line positions and be an integral pass rusher in some of our specialized packages, as well.”
On defensive back Brandon Watson, who had a pick-six against Penn State, his second of the season: “People that were ultra-critical of him a year ago, I thought unfairly, but obviously this year, nobody’s been critical because the guy’s played unbelievably well. He’s put himself in position where I’ve had people approach me and say, ‘Hey, could he play nickel linebacker? You see him as a corner?’ I think he’s somewhere between a corner-safety. He’s certainly a guy that’s on people radar now at the next level.”
On which of Michigan’s defensive stats he finds most impressive -- holding Michigan State under 100 yards, allowing 216.2 yards a game, or holding teams to 3.73 yards per play: “To some degree you have to look at each one of them and you get a little bit of a head shake. Not surprised by it, and this is the reason why: You go to practice, there’s no drop-off. We play full speed every day. We don’t smash each other every day, but we’re at full speed every day, so you kinda get an idea of how they’re going to perform on Saturday. ... They understand how to practice, and they understand concept and they’re playing at a high level. And you keep your fingers crossed because you’re only as good as your last one. I think the one thing you do get, you start to develop a confidence level on how your guys are going to approach things.”
On his one-year baseball coaching career at Yale: “Those guys didn’t want me, I’ll tell you that much. It was a great group of guys. I remember the athletic director at the time, he said, ‘Listen to me. I know this is a lot to ask for you to take the baseball program, but these guys need you more than you need them.’ It was a really talented group. We had four really good starters. We had a lineup that was veteran. A couple of them needed to get their butts kicked a little bit, which, you know, I’m pretty good at doing. We just kind of let them play and get out of the way, and lo and behold, you look up and you’re at Mississippi State and you’re in the NCAA regionals playing Clemson, so it was kind of an interesting deal. I remember they said, ‘You know, if you want to stay in baseball, you can stay,’ and I said, ‘Nah, I’m good. I’ll go back to football.’ But what a fun year. You know what’s really nice is that was 1992 and those guys stay in touch with me on the Facebook and other venues. That’s kind of a nice feeling.”