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Michigan Wolverines Football: When You Said Don Brown...You Said It All
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6 Nov 2018 05:33 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Michigan pass rusher Josh Uche always has his eyes on the quarterback. (Image Source: Getty Images)

You can understand why Jim Harbaugh is brought to song by his defensive coordinator Don Brown. There are few things, if any, more exciting in college football than watching Michigan’s attacking front get after opposing quarterbacks.

The pass rush is aggressive. It’s unrelenting. And timely. As well as versatile.

There’s no other like it.

On the first drive, Michigan set the tone for the type of day it was going to be for Trace McSorley (5 of 13, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 83 yards) as senior defensive end Chase Winovich got the sack party started when he got to McSorley on the third play from scrimmage. Pass rush specialist Josh Uche followed it up with a sack on third down to force the first of PSU’s eight punts. With his elite quickness, Uche was able to split the offensive tackle and guard on the way to the quarterback.

Later in the half, with Michigan leading 14-0, Uche broke through for his second sack of the game. Lined up with his hand on the ground wide of the left tackle, Uche stunted inside. By the time the center realized what was happening, the speedy Uche was by him as McSorley went down for the third time.

The converted linebacker turned pass rusher has been a game-changer for Brown’s defense and he now has seven sacks to lead the team (second in the B1G), all coming in the past five games. His athleticism, either coming around the edge or stunting inside, is tough for offensive linemen to handle. It’s that same speed with the fluidity of a linebacker, that allowed Uche to chase down Tommy Stevens (1-yard gain) short of first down to force a punt early in the fourth quarter. By the second half PSU even double teamed Uche with a guard and center. If he continues to draw double teams, it will open things up for other Michigan defenders to break through.  

He’s just one of the several hybrid defenders Brown has at his disposal.

Before the half, with the Wolverines still leading by two touchdowns (felt like it should have been more), PSU moved the ball to the Michigan 39-yard line and for the first time in the game really threatened to put some points on the board before the teams went into the locker room. That threat was thwarted when McSorley was brought down by Jordan Glasgow for a seven-yard loss, after Winovich had flushed him from the pocket with inside pressure.

What I loved most about this sequence was the different looks Brown gave the Penn State offense.

On first down, the Wolverines went with a traditional four-man rush. On second down, they shifted to a three-four alignment with Rashan Gary taking on the three-technique role (335-pound Bryan Mone was on the nose), while ends Uche and Kwity Paye were standup linebackers coming off the edge. On third down, it was again a three-four look, except this time Winovich joined Gary (their starting 4-3 ends) as inside rushers (with the athletic Michael Dwumfour on the nose) and instead of hybrid pass rushers lined up as outside linebackers, Brown had both of his Vipers (Glasgow and Khaleke Hudson) on the edges. So, when McSorley tried to escape there was a hybrid linebacker-safety there to make the tackle.

We saw a similar look in the fourth when a blitzing Hudson ran right around the right tackle on his way to the quarterback for UM’s fifth and final sack of the game. With those five sacks, Michigan now has 29 on the season, which has them tied atop the B1G.

Try as they might, no one has figured out how to block the Wolverines and keep their quarterback upright. Eight different Maize & Blue defenders have recorded multiple sacks this season.

It’s not just that Brown has versatile and talented defenders, he knows exactly how to use them. Defensive ends shift inside to tackle. Other times those same ends, stand up as Buck linebackers. Traditional second-level linebackers play with their hand on the ground along the line of scrimmage. Safety-hybrids sometimes blitz. Sometimes they come off the edge.

That’s a lot for college-level offensive lines to do deal with. Both scheme and personnel wise.

Even for coaches. What do you game plan for? Which alignment do you prepare for?  Where’s the blitz coming from?

When the answers are everything and everywhere you can see why opponents, even those with a senior quarterback and four returning starters along the offensive line, are overwhelmed when going up against the Wolverines.

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