This Michigan defense is special. Not a hyperbolic, pompous take, but the proprietors of the Revenge Tour are the closest thing we will ever see to the Charles Woodson led unit of 1997; except this defense is better.
Last Friday, John U. Bacon wrote a piece for The Detroit News discussing the similarities between the two dominating units:
“Michigan’s defense is so talented, so well-coached, and so hungry, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. The last time I saw that was 21 years ago, in 1997, when Michigan won the national title behind a certain player named Charles Woodson, the only defensive player ever to win the Heisman Trophy.”
Firstly, for those unaware, John U. Bacon is not some card-carrying millennial trying to piss off Gen Xers. Mr. Bacon knows more about Michigan football and the history of the program than anyone alive and has written numerous books to this effect.
Secondly, his comparison is prominent because it does not rely upon skewed statistics, that in a vacuum could make you believe any narrative. Bacon could have said this is the best unit in terms of total defense in seven years, but no, this comparison is reliant solely upon the eye test’s perception of coaching and effort.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown is a wizard and I am on numerous records speaking to the tune of this statement, but this season is exceptional even by his illustrious standards. The 2018 defense is more efficient and effective than ever before at communicating audibles, adjusting coverages, disguising pressures and demonstrating a vast array of elite cerebral savvy.
This savvy can only stem from years of working together, hours that amount to weeks of film study, sacrifices on (statistics) and off (social opportunities) the field and creating an ethos of hard work and achievement throughout the program. Through this dedication, the team has strengthened their comradery and spawned a palpable level of shared love for one another, thus creating a by-product of performance accountability.
No player in 2018 is taking plays off. Last season, numerous writers were heavily (and justly) critical of safety Josh Metellus’ play because of his perceived lack of effort. This season, Metellus’ inexplicably drastic increase in effort does not occur because of schematics or opponent preparation. But rather something deeper, something innate, yet previously dormant that was awoken through the bond with this team.
“The current defense can’t boast the same star power. No one on this team is going to win the Heisman Trophy. Michigan might not have a trophy winner at any position. But top to bottom, this defense might be better, with great players at every position playing in perfect synchronicity with each other. Even from 70 rows up you can tell these guys are dying to get back on the field and do it again. Perhaps that’s why they’re the nation’s top defense.”
The 2016 team featured more star power and even a Heisman Trophy finalist in Jabrill Peppers, so at a glance that unit seems more apt to be compared to ‘97. Now, I do not want to sound blasphemous discussing the 2016 defense because I loved that unit/ team, but that group was missing something unexplainable.
Bacon insinuates throughout his piece what makes 2018 more comparable is the aforementioned comradery manifesting itself into these teens and early 20-somethings simply having fun.
“For the first time in many years, the Wolverines are having a ball out there — at their opponents’ expense — and it’s contagious. When these Wolverines sack the quarterback or score a touchdown, they like to imitate the celebrations their opponents used on them the previous year. Even the public address operators are getting into the act, playing Wisconsin’s trademark ‘Jump Around’ against the Badgers, and Penn State’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ against the Nittany Lions.”
(Petty is the word you are searching for, John, and yes, it is delightful).
The 2018 Michigan defense is kicking ass and taking names at an unprecedented level to put it mildly. I could quote you statistics, make generational comparisons to the ‘97 unit and, at a steeper angle, provide a decent argument for this to be one of the three greatest defenses of all time.
But I will just leave that to the Revenge Tour.