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Inside the Numbers: Michigan vs mobile QBs under Don Brown

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How has Dr. Blitz handled scrambling quarterbacks during his time at Michigan?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida v Michigan Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines defense has been one of the best in all of college football the last three seasons under defensive coordinator Don Brown. With that said, no defense is perfect, each can have a flaw or two, an element a savvy opposing offense can expose.

For Michigan’s defense, one of the perceived weaknesses has been bottling up mobile quarterbacks. Because Michigan plays a lot of man-coverage, defenders have their backs turned and they’re not looking at the quarterback often. This can lead to a quarterback having clean rushing lanes if the defensive line and defenders blitzing don’t get to the QB in time.

Michigan has won a lot of games since Brown has been DC at Michigan, 28 in all. But today we’re going to focus on the 11 losses and how quarterbacks did rushing the rock against Brown’s defense in those games.

During the Brown era, a team has rushed for over 59 yards with their QB’s in six of Michigan’s eleven losses, and we’ll take a look at those stats first.

2016

30-27 loss in overtime to Ohio State: J.T. Barrett- 30 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD

2017

14-10 loss to Michigan State: Brian Lewerke- 15 carries, 61 yards, 1 TD

42-13 loss to Penn State: Trace McSorley- 11 carries, 76 yards, 3 TD’s

30-20 loss to Ohio State: J.T. Barrett- 15 carries, 67 yards, 1 TD/Dwayne Haskins- 3 carries, 24 yards

2018

24-17 loss to Notre Dame: Brandon Wimbush- 19 carries, 59 yards

41-15 loss to Florida in Peach Bowl: Feleipe Franks- 14 carries, 74 yards , 1 TD

TOTAL: 107 carries 486 yards, 4.54 yards per carry, 7 TD’s

The six losses shown above totaling 486 yards gained present an issue that I’m sure Brown is well aware of. 4.54 yards per carry is good and healthy clip for a running back, and it’s a good chunk of yardage picked up by a quarterback as well.

What’s especially disheartening in some of these instances is the quarterback didn’t have much success throwing the ball

  • J.T. Barrett may have rushed for 125 yards and a score in 125, but he was pourous through the air, completing just 15-of-32 passes for 124 yards and an INT.
  • Brian Lewerke didn’t have a good day passing against U-M in 2017, throwing for only 94 yards. However, Lewerke’s 61 yards rushing, touchdown run, and key third-down conversion late in the game with his legs really hurt Michigan on a rain-soaked night at The Big House.
  • Brandon Wimbush had a couple nice deep passes, but beyond that he was 12-of-22 for 177 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Wimbush’s conversions scrambling on third down to extend drives are what hurt Michigan just as much, or more, than anything he did passing the football.

While Michigan gave up 486 yards rushing to QB’s in those six games, the other five losses since Brown has been at Michigan weren’t due to any major scrambling performances. The stat-line is actually as impressive as it gets and represents how filthy and stout Michigan’s defense can be. The other five losses, Brown’s D gave up only 7 yards and 1 TD on 52 carries to QB’s rushing. Part of that’s because the other quarterbacks, like C.J. Beathard, Dwayne Haskins, Alex Hornibrook, aren’t all that mobile. Still, the stat remains impressive.

Looking ahead

Michigan will be playing a handful of good, scrambling quarterbacks during the 2019 season. Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Notre Dame’s Ian Book, Penn State’s Sean Clifford, Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, and Army’s Kelvin Hopkins. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these players give Michigan fits. Every year under Brown at Michigan, an opposing quarterback’s running prowess has led to a Wolverines defeat, and they’re looking to end that streak in 2019.