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5 Questions, 5 Answers: Defense 2018

5 Questions, 5 Answers: Defense 2018 Brian September 1st, 2018 at 10:52 AM

[Bryan Fuller]

Previously: Podcast 10.0A. Podcast 10.0B. Podcast 10.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Tackle. Interior Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. Questions: Offense.

1. Uh, So... Hey

That's not a question.

Do I even have any questions?

That's a question.

What are you, the Question Identifier?

That's also a question.

I guess what I'm saying, Question Identifier, is that even the bolded alter-ego is pretty dang sanguine about this.

But many things could go wrong!

Like what?

Several people in a line for tacos could all get injured at the same time when a dog made of metal runs through their achilles tendons.

That seems a little tenuous.

FINE. Look, just come up with something.

[After THE JUMP: something is come'd up with]

2. Slot fades, I guess?

Yeah, that's a good one. Michigan was and will be a balls-out man press single high defense that asks a lot of slot defenders. As discussed extensively in the safeties post, slot fades were a problem for the majority of the season. Your author thinks that is indeed a vulnerability of the system, that vulnerability is more than acceptable, and that Michigan got the short end of the sfluck last year.

Reports out of practice that Michigan's safeties have greatly improved in man coverage are potentially accurate, but that's about the only way this problem-type-substance gets fixed. The other way is to run a bunch more nickel and put Lavert Hill on the slot. That would make slot fades a bad bet no matter who's running them and the run tradeoffs are probably acceptable, especially because Hill has performed against the run.

It's worth pointing out that Metellus is the second-best slot defender returning to the league this year, per PFF, and it is this blog's opinion that Kinnel suffered some outrageously bad luck last year. It won't take a giant paradigm-shifting improvement from either guy to get the fade issue fixed. They just have to get their head around a little better.

3. And... Opponents Mauling The Middle Of The Line?


[Eric Upchurch]

Okay, okay, yeah, that's possible. Michigan debuts a new starting DT pair in Aubrey Solomon and Mike Dwumfour this fall, and you never really know how that's going to turn out. In this case you have some indicators since Solomon saw a few hundred snaps last year. He was functional. And in Dwumfour's case he's been getting a bunch of hype that is the convincing sort.

But as we saw in the Penn State game, Michigan's approach absolutely demands that DL win one on one blocks. When they don't and someone can climb to a usually-not-too-big linebacker, you can get gashed. This almost never happened to Mo Hurst and then he was able to clean up some other messes by blowing up the play design in the backfield.

The most plausible way that the defense disappoints is if Dwumfour is just a guy. I can't tell you that's not going to happen. It doesn't seem that likely given all the talk and Dwumfour's iron grip on the starting job for the whole offseason.

4. Are you really that sanguine about the defense that you're going to throw away a question on chatting with yourself?

Sir, this is an Arby's.


Okay, yes. Every defense in the country is vulnerable to injuries and Michigan is no different, but saying that is so obvious it's not worth pursuing. And Michigan is pretty well insulated at most spots. CB, lol. Linebacker and safety have a ton of second-year players who are getting the right kind of talk; DT is a spot where those guys have pushed through and are backed up by both veterans and reasonably ready youth. There is virtually zero chance any freshman is pressed into service; the closest is Aidan Hutchinson and that would take hits to both Winovich and Paye before he was even vaguely considered for starter's snaps.

The things that can go wrong with the defense without an avalanche of bad luck in the wrong spots are 1) an injury to one of the starting DEs, 2) same thing with Khaleke Hudson, and 3) Michigan's fairly good safeties don't improve much. Same system, ~8 returning starters, depth out various wazoos.

There's just not that much to debate here. The offense has many concerns and a ton of moving parts. The defense is in year three of Don Brown. Per PFF it returns a quarter of the top 20 players in the league (#4 Winovich, #8 Bush, #10 Hudson, #11 Hill, #19 Gary) on either side of the ball. Four of those guys are true sophomores becoming true juniors with a bunch of upside left to explore. And David Long can't be outside that list by much. They're running the same system and the only coaching change over the offseason was a minor position coach swap. What is there to say except LFG?

5. Well?

LFG. This will be a top five defense. The main thing that prevents me from making bolder proclamations is the existence of Bama and this year's Clemson defensive line, which is unholy. But as the previous bullet makes clear, there is no real weakness on this D.  Michigan does need Solomon and Dwumfour to come through; indications are positive there and unless they bottom out their reasonable range the guys around them can pick up the slack.

So it's a personnel high, one that might be unprecedented. Toss in the Don Brown improvement track and things get even more appealing:

[metrics are yards per play, FEI, and S&P+; national ranks are presented. final column is the average of the three. Bolded years are Brown years.]

2008 Maryland 56 63 75 65
2009 Maryland 87 64 44 65
2010 Maryland 14 20 31 22
2011 Maryland 83 74 102 86
2010 UConn 40 40 63 48
2011 UConn 56 23 34 38
2012 UConn 8 22 38 23
2013 UConn 64 56 72 64
2012 Boston College 63 81 80 75
2013 Boston College 92 98 80 90
2014 Boston College 30 68 36 45
2015 Boston College 1 5 3 3

Brown's defenses take big step forwards in year two, and the one time in recent history he got a year three Boston College was possibly the best defense in the country. It's hard to expect anything different.


  • Don Brown year three > year two
  • Rashan Gary > Not Quite There Gary
  • Sophomore Solomon >> Freshman version and Furbush quasi-DL stuff
  • Junior Metellus > sophomore version
  • Senior Kinnel > junior version
  • Paye, Mone, Kemp, Marshall, Jeter > younger versions of same
  • Ambry Thomas > Not Really Using Ambry Thomas
  • Josh Uche > Not Really Using Josh Uche


  • Chase Winovich == Chase Winovich
  • Devin Bush == Devin Bush
  • Khaleke Hudson == Hudson
  • Winner of three-way WLB duel == Mike McCray
  • Hill, Long, Watson == Hill, Long, Watson


  • Mike Dwumfour

Last Year's Stupid Predictions

Gary and Winovich have 16 sacks between them.

14, close enough. One point.

I've said this several times so I'm putting it on the record: there is minimal dropoff from Peppers to Hudson on D. He matches Peppers's TFLs.

Better PFF grade and more TFLs. One point. One and half, really. Woo!

Turnovers gained shoot up due to nothing more than luck; Michigan was short last year and can expect to get a bunch more with a rampant pass rush.

Please slap me if I ever make a turnover prediction again. Michigan's turnover luck, as measured by S&P+, was –3.5 points per game. They got boned by fate again. Zero points and a reminder not to be a dumb butt.

David Long does win the second corner job and maintains it through the season; he is pretty good with some early hiccups.

This was actually in question at this time last year. Long was 2A to Watson's 2B and was excellent the whole year. Half-point.

Hurst is a first rounder; McCray goes in the 4th.

Incomplete on Hurst after his heart issue scared away various teams. McCray went undrafted and retired very quickly after signing a UDFA deal. No points.

Tyree Kinnel is pleasantly, amazingly, wonderfully boring.

Kinnel was reasonably boring on a Michigan defense that didn't give up many truly long plays but missed a bunch of tackles. Half point.

The defense sticks in the top ten of the S&P+ rankings, clearly a step down from last year but also clearly Michigan's second best D since 2006.

Juuuuust about got there. Michigan finished exactly 10th in S&P+. It was clearly a step down, and it was clearly the second-best D since 2006. One point.

This Year's Stupid Predictions

  • Michigan has the #2 S&P+ defense.
  • Josh Uche has a breakout year with 7 sacks in relatively limited snaps.
  • Gary has his Ndamukong Suh year, but there's a fairly large chance he sees his counting stats stolen away from him by his teammates too much to really shock the world.
  • Hudson is a better player with less statistical impact because he blitzes less and drops into coverage more.
  • Bush, Hill, and Gary are All-Americans of some variety.
  • Solomon is better than Dwumfour; both guys have slightly worse 2017 Gary-ish seasons where they do many productive things and seem poised for a monster 2019.
  • Metellus and Kinnel still come in for a lot of criticism largely because the rest of the defense is hard to critique. Both are noticeably better; Kinnel still doesn't get drafted.
Profile picture for user stephenrjking


September 1st, 2018 at 11:09 AM ^

Assuming no catastrophic injuries:

The floor -- Top 5 defense. That's the floor. Like, I try to envision a scenario in which this defense is disappointing and I can't see it happening.

The ceiling -- the best defense in Michigan history. Yes, better than '97. Nobody can be Woodson, but everything else is there.

The concern: Safeties and the young interior DLs since we haven't seen them yet. One mitigating factor if Dwumfour and Solomon are capable of getting caved: If a team like Wisconsin is taking advantage of that, Michigan has Bryan Mone standing around anxious to eat snaps and double-teams. 

This is going to be soooo much fun. There's a pretty good chance we'll be gathering our grandkids around to tell them stories about this defense someday. 

Profile picture for user lhglrkwg


September 1st, 2018 at 11:34 AM ^

I do worry about how much drop off there is from Hurst to No Hurst. Seems like all the hype is there for Dwumfour so if I see him burrowing into the backfield a number of times tonight I'll breathe a sigh of relief and start dreaming about the #1 defense in the land

I hope Brandon Wimbush is ready to have a baaad night


September 1st, 2018 at 11:44 AM ^

I think a legitimate question would be how the backups on the DL perform.  They get more legit snaps than back ups elsewhere (other than RB).  I'm feeling good about it, but it is an unknown.

The other question/thing I'd like to see is Winovich get a few less snaps, though I can't give you any empirical evidence from last year why I'd want this; it's purely theoretical.  That could occur due to a better offense and/or playing the backups.

Profile picture for user jsquigg


September 1st, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^

What about Winovich?

Profile picture for user EverybodyMurders


September 1st, 2018 at 3:36 PM ^

Lavert Hill is so much like Jourdan Lewis that pff used a pic of Lewis in that Top 20 Big Ten link 


September 1st, 2018 at 4:55 PM ^

Every time Brian writes LFG, especially considering his Tropico experience, I assume he's trying to run Molten Core. 

preview 2018
michael dwumfour
vertical attacking from slot

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5 Questions, 5 Answers: Defense 2018


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