TAMPA, Fla. — There’s a lot about Michigan’s defense that pleases Don Brown, save for one thing: the Wolverines’ rush defense.
“The biggest thing for me this year is that we were 20th against the run,” Michigan’s second-year defensive coordinator said.
Then his voice rose to a bark.
“That’s not good enough!” Brown shouted. “If you want my opinion, we needed to be better. The Penn State game, we needed to be better. If I’d have had the same piece I had in for a couple of the later games, we’d have been in much better shape for that game.”
Michigan allowed an average of 126 rushing yards in 12 games, a statistic to which many rush defenses would aspire. But the flaws in Michigan’s rush defense were exposed in the final three games of the regular season, when it gave up an average of 197.3 yards a game.
“Whose fault is that?” Brown asked. “Mine. Not the players. Mine. Right here. Right on my shoulders. I’m a big boy. I’ve got it. In my opinion, we need to be in the top five or six against the run.”
Michigan’s rush defense also slipped from 2016; it was 15th in the nation last season, allowing an average of 119.23 yards per game.
Again, it’s stellar by conventional standards. But not by Michigan standards.
Michigan may get a reprieve when it faces South Carolina, a team that has, at best, an anemic rushing offense. The Gamecocks (8-4) have run for 1,527 yards and 15 touchdowns on 379 carries this season (12th in the Southeastern Conference). Running back A.J. Turner leads South Carolina with 517 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on 92 carries.
Michigan’s defense, however, is taking a simple approach to facing South Carolina’s rushing offense: go back to the basics.
“Just do our assignments,” linebacker Mike McCray said. “We have this game and we’ve prepared for this game and follow our assignments. If we do that, we’ll be perfectly fine.”