Michigan defensive coaches take notice of high-flying offenses highlighting college football in 2020

Alabama and Ole Miss made history on Saturday night.

Don Brown et al. wearing military uniforms: Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown looks on during their college football game against Rutgers at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

© Mike Mulholland | Mulholland |
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown looks on during their college football game against Rutgers at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

The two teams combined for 1,370 total yards of offense during Alabama’s 63-48 victory – the most yards in the history of a regulation SEC game.

While Big Ten teams wait to kick off their seasons next week, Michigan defensive coaches are cognizant of what has transpired so far during the college football season: offenses are putting up historic numbers, and defenses have yet to adjust.

Just last week, overs on points totals hit in 13 of the 14 games played in the SEC and ACC. Missouri-LSU and Florida-Texas A&M both combined for more than 78 points, while North Carolina-Virginia Tech totaled 101 in a regulation game.

So far this season, 42 of the 76 teams (55.2%) that have played so far are averaging 30 or more points per game compared to 58 of 130 teams (44.6%) in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic completely altered the preseason for all conferences, and many teams are not at full strength every week, whether because of injuries or positive COVID-19 cases.

But Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua noted Wednesday that offenses and defenses have had the same amount of time to prepare for this season.

“Just the fact that you miss spring ball, you miss fall camp, you miss the summer workouts — I personally think that has been a big reason for defenses struggling, but then you also got to ask, ‘How the heck are the offenses being successful?’” Nua told reporters in a video call. “They missed the same amount of time. Is it easier to catch the snap and throw it or run it than defending it?

“So all of that comes in, but there was another interesting thing that came out — it is harder to build a team thing, and defense is all team. If you don’t have all 11 guys bought in, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to play sound, aggressive defense If you don’t have all 11 guys bought into it. So you may see the physical stuff that they’ve missed from practice, but the camaraderie and the morale of these defenses, where is it at? So you got to make sure you answer that.”

With the Wolverines opening at No. 24 Minnesota on Oct. 24, Nua said he hopes they can buck the current trend taking college football by storm.

It won’t be any easy task for an inexperienced Michigan defense facing a Golden Gophers team that returns a veteran offensive line, standout quarterback Tanner Morgan and star receiver Rashod Bateman from a unite that ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring and yards in 2019.

But with the Big Ten delaying the start of the season, Nua said the added preparation time could benefit defenses.

“We get to see them (other defenses) struggle, and then we got to try to address all those issues — all the way from tackling to defense or team chemistry to all of that stuff,” Nua said. “Whatever it is that we’re trying to find out — why the heck are they struggling? You can’t always blame it on, ‘Oh, because they miss spring ball or fall camp,’ because the offense is doing good. So hopefully we can figure it out and not follow that path.”

With Michigan losing several key pieces on defense from last season, most notably its best pass-rusher in Josh Uche and top two cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Lavert Hill, defensive coordinator Don Brown said last month that the team will likely lean heavily on its defensive line in 2020.

RELATED: Michigan ‘tweaking’ defense to fit strengths, Don Brown says

Nua called Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye the best defensive end duo he has ever coached, while defensive tackle Carlo Kemp brings two years of starting experience to the position.

“We’ve done a good job, I think, of evaluating our strengths and implementing them,” Brown said Sept. 30. “But also tweaking our coverage base, what we’re doing there. But really, tweaking our pressures, our non-pressures, where people are coming from. Obviously, that’s a big deal, and that’s what you got to do on a year-to-year basis. It’s not like, for example, 2016, we’re No. 1 in the country in defense. It’s not like in ’17 we didn’t make changes. But going from ’19 to ’20, our strengths on our defense are in a little bit of different places.

“So you gotta play to your strengths. So I think we’re doing that and I think that’s what’s most important is: play to your own players’ strengths and the guys that you think can make plays for you.”

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