Michigan football: Grading Jesse Minter's new look - but familiar - Wolverines defense
Raise your hand if you thought Michigan would have one of the country’s best defenses this season.
You were correct.
And let’s get the obvious out of the way: Jesse Minter, the first-year defensive coordinator, has a defense that gets A’s across the board.
Regardless of if it was Greg Mattison or Don Brown, and now Minter, Michigan has always had one of the nation’s top defensive units under coach Jim Harbaugh, who is in the midst of making history in Ann Arbor. If his No. 3-ranked Wolverines win this weekend vs. Nebraska, he’ll become the second UM coach to win 10 or more games 5 times in his first 7 full seasons.
And that streak of 10-win seasons can be directly traced to the performance of the defense, which has routinely finished among the top 10 during the past 8 years. Sometimes, the Wolverines finished among the top 2 or 3.
Following Saturday’s 52-17 win over Rutgers in Piscataway, the Wolverines jumped to No. 2 in the nation in total defense. There are only 2 teams that have given up fewer touchdowns than Michigan’s 13 — Illinois (9) and Georgia (8). The Wolverines allow just 4.08 yards per play.
Against the run, the defense is even stingier, limiting opponents to a nation-leading 72.4 yards per game and 2.6 per carry (No. 3 in the country). That’s right, Michigan has the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the nation, a distinction it held at some point during seasons under Mattison and Brown.
Minter is simply continuing a tradition, adding his own style.
In terms of passing defense, which hasn’t always been ironclad but has been solid, the Wolverines are No. 9 in the nation, allowing 170 yards per game. Their 7 passing TDs allowed are the 4th-fewest in college football, so credit should also go to DB coach/co-DC Steve Clinkscale.
Statistics are the name of the game, and Minter’s defense checks all the boxes.
Following the departure of edge stars Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, some were worried about Michigan’s ability to effectively get at the quarterback. Through 9 games, the Wolverines have 29 sacks — or 3.22 per game — by far the most QB-flattening group in the Big Ten and 10th-best in the country.
Mike Morris, the ringleader of UM’s pass-rush effort, has 7 sacks this season, 1 behind B1G leader Nick Herbig of Wisconsin. Morris has been an animal this season. Michigan relied on 2 players to accumulate most of the sacks in 2021, whereas this year, Morris is simply the top of a pyramid that’s producing sacks at a higher rate than a year ago.
The 2021 Wolverines defense had 34 sacks — just 5 more than this year’s current total, with 3 regular season games to play and possibly a Big Ten title game and, quite likely, at least 1 round in the College Football Playoff.
Morris hasn’t been the only catalyst, but he’s certainly been the most notable.
“I think he’s just a phenomenal human being, who I think over the course of the season has sort of just evolved into the guy that we all thought and hoped he could be,” Minter said during a recent media availability, per WolverinesWire (USA Today). He knows how to use his strengths, and he’s a very unique athlete. …
“And he’s one of those types of guys that he’s good at so many things. I think at some times, it’s like, ‘Oh, we can do this with him, we can do that with him.’ But he’s also like a really good one-on-one rusher. And I think that’s what he’s proven to me.”
Following Michigan’s season-opener, Jim Harbaugh used his trademarked grading system when analyzing Minter, giving the new DC an “A+++” after a 51-7 blowout of Colorado State in Ann Arbor.
Minter’s defense has brought out the best in Morris, while also developing players at other positions. Junior Colson has quickly evolved into a star linebacker, and the Wolverines’ secondary looks good with Makari Paige and Will Johnson, among others. It’s plain to see that Minter has the Michigan defense in familiar territory.
It’s new names and faces. But it’s the same results.
Minter, of course, has earned a solid-A grade. Throw on the extra plusses, like Harbaugh, if you want. But an A is an A. No defense is ever perfect, but Minter’s group has come as close as any defense during the Harbaugh era.