They did, of course. Brown’s defense smothered quarterback Trace McSorley and Co., holding them to less than 200 yards and allowing only a late, meaningless (though don’t tell Brown that) touchdown in a 42-7 beatdown. They lost the shutout when Penn State back-up quarterback Tommy Stevens scored on an eight-yard run with 1:59 remaining.
This year’s bad taste, though, only lasted for a few minutes.
“We’ve had a couple of those in the fourth quarter where we’ve played really, really well throughout the game, and it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end of the day,” Brown said on 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit this week. “But about 30 seconds after the game, you put a smile on and realize what your guys accomplished and feel pretty good about it.”
His guys owned Penn State’s offense from the outset and were prepared well. They took this one personally, especially the Pennsylvanians. Junior linebacker Khaleke Hudson said it was tough to deal with the smack talk when he went home a year ago.
“Guys really played well,” Brown said on the Jamie and Stoney show. “They had a really focused practice week. We’re practicing at a very high level right now, so you kind of have an idea what you’re going to get on Saturdays, which is a good feeling.
“I thought we got a max effort out of our guys … very few gross errors. It was just a tremendous effort in terms of getting to the football and playing collectively, for sure.”
Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 1 nationally by a landslide allowing only 216.2 yards a game, is No. 1 in pass defense (122.3), fifth in scoring defense (13.6) and eighth in rushing defense (93.9). They look to actually improve on all of those numbers this week when they travel to Rutgers.
“To some degree you have to look at each one of them and you get a little bit of a head shake,” Brown said. “I’m not surprised by it, and this is the reason why: You go to practice, there’s no drop-off. We play full speed every day. We don’t smash each other every day, but we’re at full speed every day, so you kind of get an idea of how they’re going to perform on Saturday.
“… They understand how to practice, and they understand concepts and they’re playing at a high level. And you keep your fingers crossed because you’re only as good as your last one. I think the one thing you do get, you start to develop a confidence level.”
This new game doesn’t factor into the “revenge tour” given that U-M has plastered Rutgers in each of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s three years, including a 78-0 beating two years ago. That hasn’t changed the focus, however.
“Each week when you’re approaching a new opponent, you have to find something to motivate you throughout the practice week that gives you a little bit of an edge on Saturday afternoon,” Brown said. “Lo and behold, we’ve been able to do that, for sure. Obviously, that [Penn State game] left a bad taste in our mouth.
“We did not play very well. I did not coach very well, and that’s a hard thing to admit to. Personally, I came away from that game and I wanted to punch myself in the nose about 10 times. I’m kind of glad that’s behind me at this point in time, and we’re moving on and getting ready for Rutgers.”
He’s doing it with a group of guys he said he loves to coach, one that’s extremely close and connected.
“That’s probably their strongest point,” Brown said. You can have a lot of talented guys, but when they’re not all pulling from the same rope, boy that can be a real problem. They’re very collective at this point, and nobody really cares who gets the credit. They just kind of go about doing their business.”
• Junior defensive end Rashan Gary returned Saturday, but it will take him a while to get back to being himself, Brown said.
“He’s not there yet. He had been out for a while, but it’s nice to get him back,” Brown said. “He’s a great young man, has a tremendous future.
“The thing I liked about him the most Saturday night, besides his ability on the field, was he was really happy for his teammates when good things would happen. When your so-called stars act that way, it’s certainly a good model for everybody else on the defense.”
Several stepped up in his absence, Brown noted.
“We’ve been able to carve a role for Josh Uche [seven sacks] with his absence. Boy, he’s played really well,” Brown said. “When you take production in terms of time on task, the snaps he has in a particular week and then what he accomplishes in a game, it’s special.
“Having Rashan miss all that time, now you keep your fingers crossed because you think you know what you’re going to get, but Kwity Paye … the arrow is up, now. He’s playing at a very high level. You’ve got another guy that you can put in there that has tremendous versatility. He can basically play three of the four defensive line positions and be an integral pass rusher in some of our specialized packages, as well.”
• Fifth-year senior Brandon Watson notched his second pick six of the year and has been one of the team’s best corners.
“People were ultra-critical of him a year ago, I thought unfairly, but obviously this year, nobody’s been critical because the guy’s played unbelievably well,” Brown said. “He’s put himself in position where I’ve had people approach me and say, ‘Hey, could he play nickel linebacker? You see him as a corner?’ I think he’s somewhere between a corner-safety. He’s certainly a guy that’s on people radar now at the next level.”