Preview 2016: Five Questions And Five Answers On Defense

Preview 2016: Five Questions And Five Answers On Defense Comment Count

Brian September 2nd, 2016 at 2:02 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.

1. Is The Don Brown thing really a big deal?

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[Patrick Barron]

Yes. When he was hired a wide selection of ACC folk whooped with joy and Boston College fans put on their NIN, and the proof is in the pudding. At three different stops over the last seven years, Don Brown has turned middling or worse Power 5 defenses into top 20-ish units, with the most recent one at BC a straight up Murder Castle:

[metrics are yards per play, FEI, and S&P+; national ranks are presented. final column is the average of the three. Bolded years are Brown years.]

Year TEAM YPP FEI S&P+ AVG
2008 Maryland 56 63 75 65
2009 Maryland 87 64 44 65
2010 Maryland 14 20 31 22
2011 Maryland 83 74 102 86
           
2010 UConn 40 40 63 48
2011 UConn 56 23 34 38
2012 UConn 8 22 38 23
2013 UConn 64 56 72 64
           
2012 Boston College 63 81 80 75
2013 Boston College 92 98 80 90
2014 Boston College 30 68 36 45
2015 Boston College 1 5 3 3

That is a hell of a track record. Not only does he improve units way beyond previous expectations, his departure also immediately deleterious to the school he's left. That is highly suggestive of a guy who is a cut above as a tactician and playcaller.

And not to dump on DJ Durkin excessively, but he had close to no track record before his hire at Michigan. Being defensive coordinator under Will Muschamp is an assistant (to the) regional manager job. I think Durkin's going to be a good head coach—he's recruiting like gangbusters already—but there is simply no comparison between Durkin and Brown if you're talking about putting a defense together.

This goes double for the Big Bad at the end of the schedule. Michigan's gotten gashed for years by Ohio State, and last year was no different. A lot of this went directly back to Durkin's simplistic and static approach: man free, man free, man free. Steve Sharik pointed this out after the Indiana gashing:

Why Michigan has been really successful on D this year is b/c it can lock up on receivers, put an excellent, smart safety deep, then play with a man advantage in the box b/c the QB was not a run threat. In some sense, it was throwing rock every single time, believing (like Mickey from Seinfeld) that nothing beats rock. They're not alone.

It is widely known among coaching circles that gurus Bill Belichick and Nick Saban believe that (all else being equal) man-free defense is the best in the game: you're strong up the middle, you're protected deep, and you have an extra defender in the box vs. run.

When you're facing option football (which the NFL never sees), this is a fallacy, and Michigan fell victim on defense last Saturday.

Long story short there was zero adaptation against Ohio State and after halftime it was all over but the grinding.

This will not happen to Don Brown, who has been fighting spread offenses with defenses made out of a sock, a paperclip, and some mint gum for years. Never in Don Brown's career has he been able to sit back with minus one in the box and watch his guys whip it up one-on-one. He's got a ton of different ways to deal with the perimeter issues that Michigan endured a year ago, and spent his entire presentation at Michigan's coaching clinic talking about how to defend the inverted veer and its brethren.

I was straight up terrified about all the rumors about NFL guys under consideration. Every single one of those guy would walk into the OSU game as unprepared as Durkin. Don Brown is the best possible hire for Michigan, not just because he is Don Brown, but because he is the best choice for the Game. Even Brown's average defenses over the past five years have been that because of the pass; five straight years Brown has had a top five rush defense. At UConn and BC.

Don Brown is a huge hire. Huge.

[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]

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Unverified Voracity Says Up Periscope

Unverified Voracity Says Up Periscope Comment Count

Brian August 17th, 2016 at 1:02 PM

BTN preview. BTN had their day at Michigan and came back with some video and some nonsense—on the television a person said that Michigan would be running a lot more man coverage, which is a literal impossibility. I'm not doing a recap post this year since specifics were thin; MGoVideo has the show up if you missed it.

The most interesting bit was Howard Griffith and then the rest of the crew advocating for Ben Bredeson to start immediately at left tackle because he is "elite":

Dave Revsine did have a couple of things of interest, including a Rashan Gary-Bredeson battle:

Bredeson got some rep at the UA game as the only guy who could even sort of slow Gary down, and here he sort of slows Gary down. Given the roster tackle reps for Bredeson are an inevitability—he can play it even if it's not an ideal spot and options past the starters are extremely questionable. Sufficient tackle reps to convince onlookers that Bredeson should play now are a bit of a surprise.

A bit more from Revsine:

And yes Gerry DiNardo said some nice things. I can never take them seriously:

"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."

"How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots" was written before the 2013 season and remains the single least correct thing ever put on paper.

Let's infer things from this still shot. Via Chris Evans:

That appears to be ones versus ones. Items:

  • David Dawson is at right guard. Kyle Kalis was spotted in a non-contact jersey earlier in fall camp so that's probably an injury issue rather than Dawson making a move past an established starter; he appears to be the top backup option at guard.
  • Evans is in an H-back spot, not at tailback, His best fit on offense is as an OSU-style H-back in the vein of Jalin Marshall or last year's version Braxton Miller. While Michigan's offense doesn't have a dedicated spot like that, they did end up with a guy more or less in that role: Jabrill Peppers. With Evans impressing and Peppers around the offense figures to use a hybrid RB/WR guy on a lot of snaps, especially because you can do a lot worse than having De'Veon Smith block for you.
  • Michigan is very spread out across the defensive line and features both Wormley and Gary at defensive end. Wormley is likely to split his snaps close to evenly between DT and DE; reports that Gary will start get another bit of weight to them.
  • Pretty sure that's Peppers man up over a tight end I assume is Butt.

This is a good amount of data from a still shot.

It's a competition. All those #1 jerseys handed out? It's a competition like everything else:

“The one is not really given to me. Right now, I don’t really know what I’m wearing,” Crawford explained at Michigan’s Media Day. “I’m just wearing it right now, so we’ll see. There’s a couple players that want it. Whoever gets on the field first is going to get it.”

The hybrid space player breaks out. Excellent Andy Staples article on Jabrill Peppers and his ilk:

Since 2008, when the NCAA adopted the current clock rules and spawned an era of up-tempo offense, defensive coordinators have tried with little success to devise a system that can match up with an opponent who won't allow the defense time to substitute. The answer, it turns out, wasn't a scheme but a person. What those coordinators were seeking was a human Swiss Army knife, a player who can successfully operate on any of the defense's three levels and move effortlessly among them from play to play. With such a player on the field, a 4–3 base can morph into a 4–2–5 nickel without a single substitution or presnap move to tip off the quarterback. That 4–3 could also transform into (what appears to be) a blitzing 3–4 by walking the hybrid player to the line of scrimmage. Of course, the hybrid doesn't always have to blitz when he drops deep into the box (the area that encompasses the width of the offense's down linemen and extends about five yards beyond the line of scrimmage). He might bail and cover a receiver. Or he could come screaming off the edge faster than any defensive end or linebacker an offensive tackle has ever seen.

BC's Matt Milano, FSU's Derwin James, and Duke's Jeremy Cash are also this variety of hyper athletic linebacker/mean-ass safety. Read the whole thing for a picture of what Peppers's role will be this year.

Doctor Blitz. The Ringer's Jack McCluskey on Don Brown:

BC sent so many defenders into the backfield that it produced four players with at least 14.5 tackles for loss (no other team had more than two). Yet the Eagles failed to land a single player in the top 20 in that stat — they didn’t have transcendent talents like Clemson’s Shaq Lawson (25.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks) or Penn State’s Carl Nassib (19.5 TFL, 15.5 sacks) inflating their numbers. Their best pass rusher, Matt Milano, led the team with 17.5 TFLs (tied for no. 21 nationally) and just 6.5 sacks (tied for no. 72 nationally).

And though the Eagles had been vulnerable to giving up big plays on the back end in Brown’s first few seasons in Chestnut Hill, by Year 3 they got the personnel and the scheme to the point where they were solid on both ends. In 2013, Brown’s first year helming the defense, BC gave up 47 passing plays of more than 20 yards (tied for no. 97 nationally); in his last year, it gave up just 29 (tied for no. 10).

Someone is also using CFBStats.com, and well. That stat about 20 yard pass plays is clear evidence that Brown's reputation as an attack guy is warranted, and extends even to situations where his teams are getting burned on the back end as a result. Michigan probably won't have an issue as severe as BC 2013, but the Boring Old Jarrod Wilson days are probably behind us, for good and bad.

Hype hype hype hype. Michigan's gotten a lot of it this summer and there is naturally a tendency to check on this since Michigan hasn't been a truly elite team in a long time. (The Sugar Bowl was fun, sure, but if we're being honest that team was crazy lucky.) Dan Murphy analyzes the situation an article; he also gets a telling quote from Jake Butt:

“We were struggling with toughness our first few years,” Butt said about his underclassmen days under the former coaching staff. “Down the stretch of games when our backs were against the wall we struggled and we lost a lot of games. Coach Harbaugh identified this, and he made the changes necessary and it worked for us last year. I think it will continue to pay off for us going forward.”

Brady Hoke talked a lot about toughness but he wasn't having four-hour practices.

Injuries across the league. Michigan hasn't been hit yet, knock on wood. Others have not been so fortunate:

Thing I don't care about anymore. Harbaugh blazing people on twitter was fun over the summer, but it's more or less football season now. Now we talk about football. I do not care about Harbaugh ending an interview early because Mark Snyder has the social grace of an autistic llama on PCP, or moistly goateed Jim Rome turning that into #content, or Harbaugh spending ten seconds of his life googling "Jim Rome Jim Everett".

It does not matter. Rich Rodriguez was nicer to the media than any Michigan coach ever has been or will be and they stabbed him in the back at every opportunity. The media read Goodnight Gorilla to Brady Hoke every night and Michigan fans still abandoned the stadium in droves rather than watch his offense-type substance. I don't think it's a negative. I don't think Ty Duffy's right when he says it's a positive:

Harbaugh has spent two years playing the pied piper and dropping the occasional crumb on social media. Every media member is talking about him. Every major college football coach is answering questions about him. He’s been forced to reveal nothing. He doesn’t demand media members go along with it. He knows they will.

Everyone is talking about Michigan. Harbaugh has kept everyone’s attention deflected away from Michigan’s quarterback battle, from Jabrill Peppers being poised for a breakout year, and from Rashan Gary arriving on campus as the No. 1 overall recruit.

Harbaugh has been “handling” the media, masterfully, since he arrived in Ann Arbor. The implication is that “the media” are going to turn on Harbaugh and somehow this fact will have some grave karmic implications for him. Spoiler: it won’t.

It's nothing. It is noise made by people who don't really understand what they're watching. Andy Staples doesn't care. He can write a thing about hybrid space players. Mark Snyder has nothing other than press conferences to live on because he's never cared to learn one thing about the sport he covers even after 20-some years.

Here's the thing: a large number of people like open contempt for sports press since so often they're contemptible.

This is not a problem for most fans because given the chance they'd stuff most of the media in a broom closet.

Anyway. This admittedly longish section is the last I'll mention it unless something really amazingly tone deaf happens.

Etc.: They're run/pass optioning safeties now. Also still getting illegally downfield. Gentry as a tight end. Harbaugh hides at Coach and Four. The Hoover Street Rag turns ten. Probably not.

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