First-year coordinator has fired up Michigan's defense
Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 1:56PM; Updated: Thursday November 16, 2006 2:39PM
After a mediocre defense contributed to a disappointing 7-5 finish in 2005, Lloyd Carr (left) handed the reins over to Ron English.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Nearly an hour has passed since Michigan finished off its 34-3 victory over Indiana, and the Wolverines' next game -- The Game -- is still a week away. Yet Ron English looks like he's ready to call the next play or bark the next order to one of his players right now.
Donning a blue sport coat and a wireless headset over his right ear, Michigan's acclaimed defensive coordinator emerges from the visitor's locker room with the kind a stern look that says: "I mean business." He then strides over to two reporters who have been waiting patiently in the cold for the chance to ask him the question many around college football have been wondering: "How did you do it?"
How did you, Ron English, a 38-year-old, first-time coordinator, take a talented but previously underachieving group of players and turn them into the most menacing defense in the country?
The numbers don't lie. A year ago, the 7-5 Wolverines ranked 41st nationally in rushing defense (137.3 yards per game), 64th in sacks (26 in 12 games) and blew fourth-quarter leads against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska. Behind seven of the same starters, this year's unit leads the nation in rushing defense (29.9 yards per game), sacks (40) and opponent third-down conversion percentage (25 percent). The Wolverines rank third in total defense (231.4 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (12.1 points per game).
Perhaps most impressively, Michigan has never trailed in a game later than the second quarter.
A year ago, LaMarr Woodley was an honorable mention All-Big Ten linebacker; today, he is arguably the nation's preeminent rush end (11 sacks, four forced fumbles). A year ago, Alan Branch was an up-and-coming sophomore defensive tackle; today, he's a top-10 NFL draft pick whenever he chooses to come out. A year ago, David Harris was a largely anonymous starter in an oft-criticized linebacking corps; today, he's a Butkus semifinalist with 80 tackles, 13 tackles for loss. And a year ago, linebackers Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable seemed to have a permanent seat in head coach Lloyd Carr's doghouse; today, they are among the Wolverines' most productive defenders.
Again, coach English ... how did you do it?
"With the athletes we had here, I felt like if I could get them to play fast and physical, then we'd be pretty good," English said after the Indiana game. "What we did was create a system where they can learn the concepts but also learn to play fast."