The Michigan Wolverines defense ranked 89th in total defense during a 2-4 season in 2020. Defensive coordinator Don Brown was fired, and head coach Jim Harbaugh brought in Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald to be the new DC and inject new life, schematics into that side of the ball.
Brown did have some good years at Michigan as a whole, but didn’t fare well against Ohio State when the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines 62-39 in 2018 and 56-27 in 2019. The Buckeyes were able to run crossing patterns at will, and Brown’s blitz-heavy, man-coverage scheme didn’t fool OSU one bit.
Enter 2021. The Michigan (10-1) defense is ranked 9th in total defense and 7th in scoring defense. Macdonald has brought a variety of coverages and principles into Michigan’s scheme that didn’t exist before.
This is a fact that isn’t lost on Ohio State (10-1) head coach Ryan Day.
“Significantly different,” Day said about Macdonald’s scheme compared to Brown’s. “I think this style of defense is a little bit more NFL oriented in the way they’re structured. I felt like coach Brown was a little bit more college oriented. And they’re very good. They have very good personnel, and they’ve done a very good job this year.”
Day’s analysis rings true to what Macdonald told the media this off-season.
“We’re gonna do everything, baby. We’re gonna pattern match, we’re gonna play zone, we’re gonna play man. Gonna have it all,” Macdonald said in March. “We’re going to be multiple. The best way I can describe our scheme is it’s gonna look like the places I’ve been previously. You watch out Baltimore defense — tell me the times when we look like a 3-4, there’s gonna be a certain percentage there. But there’s a lot of times where we’re going to look like a 4-3, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-1, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-2. Sometimes you’re not gonna know what the heck it looks like.”
Michigan’s defense has gotten a lot better in pass coverage, ranking 8th overall. And they’ll need to do everything they can to stop the highly potent passing attack of QB C.J. Stroud and wideouts Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Garrett Wilson. And it should be a good matchup between Michigan’s 30th ranked rushing defense and OSU’s.
Day mentioned that both teams have played a lot of games at this point and know where they’re at. It’ll boil down to intensity and execution on Saturday when Michigan takes on Ohio State.
“This is a very good defense,” Day said. “I think they’re well coached, and they have really good players — playing with an edge. So, we gotta practice with an edge and bring it as well.”
Michigan’s going to need its d-line, linebackers, secondary, and the pass-rush of Aidan Hutchinson & David Ojabo — they’re going to need all of these pieces to bring it.