Don Brown has earned his bones as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. He’s earned that reputation by having great players and using great schemes, but there’s one thing that sets him apart from most coordinators.

What Brown does best is get the very best out of every individual on his Michigan defense. He prepares them well, and maximizes their strengths while hiding their weaknesses.

He also knows how to poke the bear.

Last week as Michigan was preparing to play Nebraska in the Big Ten opener at the Big House, Brown reminded everyone about what Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost said two years ago when he brought his Central Florida team to Ann Arbor. Even though Michigan won 51-14, Frost told a few reporters afterward that he thought his UCF team “outhit” Michigan, despite the lopsided score.

Brown made it a point to remind every defender about that this time around. He did it every day, all week long.

Bear poked. And poked hard.

The Wolverines were so wound up to knock heads off Saturday that they completely dominated Nebraska in a 56-10 win that wasn’t even that close. It was men against boys, and Michigan clearly “outhit” Frost’s first Nebraska team this time.

“It’s been all week,” Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich said of the chatter surrounding Frost’s comments. “Every team finds something to cling to, like locker-room banter almost, and for us it was that this week.  We definitely remembered.”

Michigan’s starting defense held Nebraska to just 61 yards — and only three points — through three quarters. Poor Adrian Martinez, Nebraska’s true freshman starting quarterback. He’s surely never seen anything like this is high school. Michigan defenders were in his face all day, roughing him up on practically every series.

It was, very clearly, a statement game for the Michigan defense.

They were lauded as a top-five defense in the country before the season started, but then that reputation took a huge hit in the season opener at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish marched right down the field on their first two possessions, scoring two touchdowns and putting Michigan into a 14-0 that they couldn’t recover from. It was an early dagger for this proud group.

It was easy to blame the Michigan offensive line for its troubles that night in the defeat, but these defensive guys, they knew. That loss was on them.

It’s changed since then, of course, with solid — but not perfect — performances against Western Michigan and SMU. Heck, even the second half of the Notre Dame game was good defensively,

But this was different. This was the start of the Big Ten season, where every game matters, even against teams like Nebraska with great reputations, even though they’re starting over with Frost and have a long way to go. This time, they brought complete and total annihilation. Which has been the plan all along.

“That’s what you want,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “You want your team to be tough. Play physical.”

Michigan is putting all the pieces together now, on both sides of the ball. But it’s this defense that knows it has to continue to control games. They know they will.

We probably know it now, too.

“For our entire team, it’s very noticeable,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a hard-working team. That’s paying off —you can see it in the way they play. And they’re the ones doing it. They’re putting in the work, putting in the effort.”