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2023 Michigan football defense trying to eliminate ‘normal downs’

In 2023, the Wolverines’ defense wants to eliminate ‘normal downs.’



2023 Michigan football defense
Nov 13, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) attempts to recover his fumble during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

A season ago, under first-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, the Wolverines’ defense thrived and helped boost the program to a second-straight Big Ten Championship and more. Despite all of the team’s success, Minter and the 2023 Michigan football defense know that progress will be made this fall. Heading into the new season, the Michigan Wolverines want to eliminate “normal downs” from the equation as they chase a third-consecutive Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance.

2023 Michigan football defense: from great to elite

In 2022, the Wolverines finished top-6 in total defense and scoring defense. Still, against the TCU Horned Frogs with a national title game berth on the line, Michigan football saw a sloppy performance from its defense (and offense) as the Wolverines failed to repel the Frogs’ Big 12 offense. With a clean slate this fall, Jesse Minter says his unit can improve in one key area: eliminating normal downs for the offense.

A “normal down” to Jesse Minter is a play on first or second down where the offense will likely run the football. The Wolverines have been a great team against the run for some time now — especially a season ago — though teams being able to run the ball and get to second or third down and short can become problematic and is something that Minter wants the 2023 Michigan football defense to work on.

“Finding ways to create more negative plays on non-traditional downs,” second-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter told reporters recently. “When we dial up a pressure or dial up something on third down, we were pretty good. But we had very, very few disruptive plays on normal downs.

“We certainly want to get sacks and get pressures, and do it at times without committing extra guys,” Minter said. “That’s been a huge emphasis for us (this spring). While we ended up with a good number last year, there were times where we probably had to send more (players) than we wanted to.”

Setting up a good 3rd down situation is key for the Wolverines

Jesse Minter elaborated on his defensive schematics.

“For example, you go first-and-10 with a 2-yard gain, second-and-8 with a 2-yard gain — it’s third-and-6 and now you’re in a pressure down,” Minter said. “Versus going first-and-10, minus-2, or a second on second-and-7 or 8 and now it’s 13. Now you’re able to do some different things on third down and get off the field.

“It’s really about us setting up advantageous third-down situations, to where we can really dictate the terms of how we want to play,” he said. “To do that, it’s just about becoming even more disruptive in earlier times and being better on those early downs … Block destruction is a huge piece of how we play, it’s stopping the run, but it’s also the ability to convert to being a pass-rusher on those same downs.”

Heading into a season full of massive expectations for Jesse Minter and his 2023 Michigan football defense, look for the Wolverines to get even more aggressive up the middle and force more poor situations for opposing offenses.

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CJ has covered college athletics in paid roles for around five years, including numerous sports and beats. His most recent work revolves largely around Penn State and Michigan football and basketball. Right now, CJ is the publisher of Blue by Ninety, where he also serves as the site's credentialed football reporter. Previously, CJ has made stops with Fansided, The Michigan Daily, and more.