Michigan defensive coordinator Brown takes blame for Ohio State loss

By Ashley Bastock / The Blade
Thu, 21 May 2020 15:54:57 GMT

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ANN ARBOR — When it comes to Michigan football’s loss against Ohio State in 2019, defensive coordinator Don Brown had a clear message Thursday: blame him, not the players. 

"Once again, the Ohio State game was a huge negative for us,” Brown said on a Zoom call with reporters that lasted just under an hour. “But I'm not going to live in that world. And I don't want the players to live in that world. We acknowledge it, we move on from it, and hopefully I do a better job. Because I don't blame players for anything. You blame the old guy right here. And I gotta do a better job of getting our guys ready, and I promise you, I'm going to."

Brown has been the defensive coordinator at Michigan for the last four seasons, and 2019 was the first time during his tenure the Wolverines finished outside of the top four nationally in total defense, ending the year ranked No. 11. Michigan with Brown has lost all four meetings with the Buckeyes, including double-digit defeats in 2017 (31-20), 2018 (62-39), and 2019 (56-27).

In Brown’s four games against OSU, his defenses allowed an average of 44.8 points per game. Against every other team during those four years, Michigan allowed 16.0 points.

Michigan has allowed an average of 456 total yards against the Buckeyes in those four matchups. Against every other team: 264 total yards.

Ohio State has effectively owned the rivalry in recent years, winning 15 of the last 16 contests. Michigan’s lone win in that stretch came in 2011.

On Wednesday, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh appeared on NBC Sports Network’s Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico and addressed the elephant in the room, saying the Wolverines’ “mission” is to beat Ohio State. 

“We got to beat Ohio State,” Harbaugh said during the show. “Nothing makes us angrier than that, or me, but that’s what we’re working toward every day. We’ve beaten everybody else, but we haven’t beaten them. That’s what we have to do, beat them, win a championship, get ourselves in the playoff, win a national championship.”

Brown seconded the head coach’s message Thursday. 

“He's the boss, that's what he said, that's what I'm going to try to do,” Brown said. “He's the boss. So as far as that goes, I'm getting in line right behind him.”

The ends of both the 2019 and 2018 seasons were similar for Michigan. Going into the 2018 Ohio State game, Michigan had the top-ranked defense in the nation. Ohio State not only won as the underdog, but set a record for points in regulation by a Michigan opponent in the 139-season history of the program. That loss, coupled with Michigan’s loss in the Peach Bowl to Florida to close out the 2018 season, Brown termed “the most disappointing experience I’ve ever been through in my entire life.”

In 2019, while Michigan’s total defense wasn’t as highly ranked, the point disparity was slightly worse.

Michigan’s defense struggled to defend the run, giving up 211 yards to Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins who scored four touchdowns and averaged 7 yards per carry.

The onslaught was especially disheartening considering the turnaround Michigan made with its rushing defense in the second half of the season. After giving up 359 yards on the ground in a Week 4, 35-14 loss to Wisconsin, no other opponent in the next eight contests put up more than 129 yards of rushing offense on the Wolverines. They also allowed just five rushing touchdowns in that same span.

Michigan followed the 2019 loss to Ohio State with a 35-16 loss in the Citrus Bowl to Alabama.

Brown cited a handful of key moments in that game Thursday that were difference-makers, including the first play of the game in which Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy caught an 85-yard touchdown pass and a questionable roughing-the-passer call on Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson in the second quarter.

Ultimately, Brown said he thought his team played well for most of the game and said he still has confidence in his group. 

“I thought we played pretty darn well in that game now,” Brown said. “I love it, [people say] 'Hey you gotta double this guy, you gotta double that guy.' You can't double them all. And I also think this: We've got good players. We've got good players, too. And I thought we played toe-to-toe with them.

“Our guys were certainly up to the challenge, and we fell short. I take the positives from it, and then obviously we go into the offseason. ... We took all the pieces of that game that were negative, and I promise you we're going to practice those plays against assorted looks. We took the same thing from the Ohio State game, and we'll be practicing against those plays, too. Because in that scenario again, in college football when you're not successful, it's eight or nine plays, or there's a group of plays that you just want back.”