Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator Jesse Minter wasn’t deeply ingrained in the Michigan-MSU rivalry upon entering the program; the closest connection he had to it before this year was through Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
What Minter does have, however, is hours upon hours of game film. And with the Wolverines on a two-game losing streak to the Spartans, he’s sifted through each and every frame of it with a fine tooth comb.
“Oh yeah,” Minter said with a chuckle about watching 2021’s film. “A few times.”
It’s no secret those within Schembechler Hall are working overtime in their quest to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor. For Minter, that means shoring up the weak spots that have shaped the course of the rivalry in recent years — tempo in 2021 and 50/50 deep balls in 2020.
“You practice (avoiding being caught with tempo), prepare for it, anticipate it,” Minter said. “It’s something we’ve worked a lot on this year. We haven’t been perfect in that regard, but just prepare and practice for it and know they’re gonna attack us that way.
“(The Spartans) have really good receivers, they have a quarterback that trusts his receivers on those deep down-the-sideline throws. It’s something our guys are prepared for, but also it’s a mix and match of coverages — not always giving them the one-on-ones they’re looking for.”
One thing teams have to prepare for in any rivalry game is the possibility of “wrinkles” — a play or script the opponent has kept in their back pocket all season. With both Michigan and MSU coming off bye weeks heading, Minter is keenly aware that MSU head coach Mel Tucker is likely to challenge Michigan in previously unseen ways.
“You prepare for wrinkles all spring, all summer, all fall,” Minter said. “There’s no secret play call to stop a gadget play or a trick play or something new, so it’s really just about having the guys as well prepared as possible in knowing where their eyes are supposed to be and what their responsibilities are. When guys do that and trust each other, I think you have an opportunity to stop it.”
While big picture scheming is a necessity, Minter also recognizes the importance of covering up areas of improvement. For the defense this year, that’s the linebacker corps.
“I think it’s been a work in progress in certain areas in coverage,” Minter confessed. “This particular team runs some plays that will challenge our linebackers and we look forward to showing progress and continuing to get better, and hopefully we can defend those kinds of plays when they run them.”
One thing is abundantly clear in Minter’s comments — despite the underwhelming results for MSU thus far, neither he nor his defense are overlooking the team they’ll play Saturday.