Michigan vs. Maryland Strategy File

The absence of Maryland top two pass-catchers might lead some to believe that Michigan will be willing to play much more man to man defense today, but according to Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray... Michigan's strategy probably won't change at all. Look for the zone blitz to be a major part of the arsenal today.

Even without its top two pass-catchers Maryland can present problems for Michigan’s highly rated defense today, but that’s only if Terrapin quarterback C.J. Brown is “on.”  It’s been an up and down season for the dual-threat signal-caller, both performance and health.  Even so, the Wolverines will head into the contest respecting Brown’s ability to hurt them on the ground and through the air.

“They’re QB is the leading rusher with 375 (yards),” Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray said.  “So if Greg Mattison can call coverages… line up and play some man to man… rush four and drop seven and force C.J. Brown to beat you (with his arm).  If you play man to man versus a running quarterback if nothing there, he is going to take off.  And C.J. Brown is a better athlete in space than a Joe Bolden or Jake Ryan, so you don’t want those guys spying.  And if you use a defensive back to spy on him, now you lose a guy in coverage. So if Michigan can just hone in on (Marcus) Leak and (Deon) Long… pay attention to those guys… they don’t really have a tight end threat.  And then keep the quarterback inside and in front. So if those defensive linemen can stay in their pass rush lanes C.J. Brown will throw you the ball… and when he scrambles you’ll at least have more guys in space in zone coverage to rally to the football.”

Michigan played majority of its defensive snaps in man to man versus Northwestern last week, and the Wolverines have been mostly a man to man team this year.  At times that strategy has burned them, and against Maryland that approach could be problematic. But there is a remedy.

“The thing is C.J. Brown is a record-setting quarterback at Maryland,” Ray said.  “He has totaled 53 (touchdowns).  That’s tied for the most in school history, so he can do it by air or he can do it with his legs. As a coordinator it becomes a down and distance ball game.  If you want to dictate what you want Maryland to run on offense, then Greg Mattison needs to send pressure on first down to try to get Maryland behind the sticks. If they’re passing on first down you might get a holding penalty or incomplete pass. Now you’re in 2nd and 10 and you don’t have to blitz. So Greg is going to have to call the game according to down and distance.  Now if he doesn’t blitz on first down and Maryland gets five or six yards… now you put yourself in a position to have to get some pressure to get off the field.  That’s playing into Maryland’s hands.  So I think first down is going to be very key.”

“But as a coordinator if you don’t want to call zone and you don’t want to get caught up in playing man, then that’s when you call a zone blitz.  Zone blitz is basically when you rush a different combination of five guys and you play six in coverage, three deep and three under. So the three under guys match up on let’s say the two backs and the tight end, then the defensive backs play cover three.  That gives you some pressure, and then you’re just vacating one zone.  So now you’re in a zone blitz and not in man. But if Greg is going to go man, I’m expecting it to be in a third and seven type situation where you have to get off the field and you don’t want guys finding holes in your defense right at the sticks.”

For more from Ray on how the defense will adjust to life without Frank Clark, the improvement of the offensive line, Devin Gardner’s legacy, and more press play below.

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