Don Brown has heard you, Michigan fan. And he’s tired of you talking about the slants.
Everyone kills Michigan with the slants. Why can?t Michigan stop it? Better yet, why can?t Michigan do it offensively.
— Brian Gansert (@gizzmo_25) September 30, 2018
I bet no team gives up more 10 yard slants than Michigan
— Harbaugh's Khakis (@JHarbaughsPants) September 30, 2018
“They were three-for-five in the first half for 23 yards. They were two-for-four in the second half for 22,” Brown said about slants Northwestern threw on Saturday. “I’m not going to say a whole lot about it.”
And then — he said a whole lot about it.
“For one thing I think Thorson’s really good. He’s going to end up graduating on of the top-25 throwers probably in the history of the Big Ten,” Brown said.
It may come as a surprise, but this kind of checks out.
Thorson right now sits at No. 46 on the Big Ten’s all-time pass completion percentage list at 57.7 for his career. No. 25 is at 60.1 percent. Thorson’s not going to make it there by the time this season ends, but he’ll get close. His completion percentage so far this season? 60.8. If that was his career number, it would put him at number 19, right behind Terrelle Pryor.
Thorson is accurate and can make tight throws — the ones that beat perfect defense.
“We’re not giving up whole house verticals to the number two guy,” Brown said. “Okay? So, that’s priority number one. Some quarters schemes will play off and give you this (motions short pass with arm). We’re not going to do that. Everything has a strength and everything has a weakness. You’ve just got to try and do the best you can and kind of play the cat and mouse game to cover them up the best you can. So they were five-of-nine for 44 yards in the slant game and they had 202 for the day? I’ll call that anytime. I’m a little touchy about that. It’s tough.”
What Brown’s saying here is, ‘Hey, this is how my defense operates, and giving up a few slants for 10 yards a pop is better than the other team taking the top off our D. We’re really good, AND YOU’RE MAKING MY MUSTACHE ANGRY!’
It’s pretty hard to argue against.
At Northwestern, the biggest play the Wolverines gave up all game was a WR screen that was caught at the line of scrimmage and ended up going for 36 yards. After five games, Michigan now leads the country in yards allowed per game, and S&P+, a fancier, opponent-adjusted stat, has them as the number four defense in the country. The Wolverines are giving up the fewest amount of yards per pass attempt in the country.
This defense is playing at a championship level, and there’s not much more you could ask for.
Or is there?
Those include the offense, but it sure feels like most of that’s on the D, especially with the preponderance of targeting calls against Michigan so far this season.
“We’re not perfect,” Brown said about the penalty issue. “I stand up there every week and we talk about it, and we address it, and sometimes you’ve just got to shut up and play. If you want to be critical, that’s the piece to be critical on, and that’s the piece to be critical of me. We were called for three: a defensive holding, a PI in the end zone and the one on Rashan. Unfortunately for us, two of them are in the scoring drive. That’s got to go away. You go nine drives in a row, and there isn’t a penalty to be had from that point forward, that’s a tough deal.”
Targeting is being called more strictly and a little differently this season, but a general emphasis on those flags has been around for several years, plenty of time for the Wolverine D to adjust.
It’s anathema to Brown’s defensive spirit, but by now, Michigan defenders need to be thinking twice before delivering a blow that will cost them 15 yards and possibly a half of eligibility.
No targeting calls on the Wolverines at Northwestern is a good start. Hopefully that continues, and the Michigan works its way up those penalty rankings.
Opposing O-coordinators might be calling slants so often in an attempt to bait Wolverine defenders into getting ejected. As the targeting calls subside, so might those play calls.
Michigan corners are being called for pass interference quite often, but that again is a byproduct of how the defense functions (and an officiating crew that was literally out of its league against SMU), and it functions very well. If the DPI flags increase and they’re happening as a last-resort to save a touchdown because a Wolverine corner got beat, start worrying. Otherwise, it’s not cause for concern.
Looking for something else about this D to complain about?
Brian – as the person who did this analysis initially last December – I'm happy to share data or dig into it more if you have interest. I still have all the data loaded into SAS and Tableau, and just posted this visual to the board. -umich1 pic.twitter.com/5x2d7fsQ8C
— Greg Nicholson (@GreenDotGreg) October 1, 2018
Can’t blame this one on Don Brown.
Nicholson is referring to an insane chart that shows how few holding penalties are called on opposing o-lines when Michigan’s defense is on the field. As your defense gets more sacks, you draw more holds. At least, that’s the way it works for every other defense in the Big Ten from 2014-2017. The Wolverines had the best sack rating to Football Outsiders in that time, but draws about half as many holds as…. Illinois?
“In two Big Ten games we have 10 sacks and 24 TFLs,” Brown said. “But we don’t get help. Take a look and compare that with the other teams in our league. That one’s a little tough.”
Every fan of every team thinks their guys are getting screwed by the refs perpetually.
Rarely is it so provable.
If I’m Don Brown, I’m emailing that chart to Jim Delany every time I see Harbaugh in khakis, so like, all the time.
Something no one is complaining about
You have to be impressed by Brown’s reload ability.
Even when facing multiple injuries (Brown said junior Rashan Gary is day to day, by the way.) and suspensions, the defense hasn’t skipped a beat.
Against Northwestern, it was time for reserve linebacker Josh Uche to impress:
“To end the game with the sack by Uche, and not give him (Thorson) a chance, is a nice feature,” Brown said. “He went right around the tackle and ended it like that. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Uche added another sack in his breakout game and joins Jordan Glasgow, Kwity Paye, Brad Hawkins, Carlo Kemp, Bryan Mone, Lawrence Marshall and Aidan Hutchinson as backup defenders that have performed well when their number was called.
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