STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Michigan’s defense might be the best in the nation, but James Franklin has worked side-by-side with the man who runs it.
The Wolverines’ Don Brown was the defensive coordinator at Maryland from 2009-10, the same time Franklin was the offensive coordinator for the Terrapins.
But just because Franklin is familiar with the way Brown runs his defense doesn’t mean it will be any easier for the second-ranked Nittany Lions on Saturday night when they host No. 19 Michigan.
“I know Don very well,” the fourth-year head coach said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I think he’s one of the better defensive coordinators in the country. You look at his production and success during his time at Boston College [2013-15] and now at Michigan — very talented.”
Franklin also described his former colleague as relentless, aggressive and greedy. But he said the most important thing his defense does is play aggressively.
“You know, Don’s big thing is — and it shows up on tape — they’re going to solve their problems with aggression,” Franklin said. “That’s something that I remember years ago Don talking about, and it still shows up on tape. His answer for the game of football is to be aggressive — be aggressive in the way he calls the game, be aggressive in how the players play.”
And it seems to be working. The Wolverines’ defense is top-ranked in the FBS, allowing an average of 224 yards per game.
Franklin noticed that Michigan’s defense tends to load the box to stop the run and have the corners in press coverage to eliminate short throws. So, his plan? Create space with the Nittany Lions’ routes and make “contested catches.”
“A lot of people would describe it as a high-risk, high-reward defense,” Franklin said, “but when you’ve been the No. 1 defense in the country as many times as he’s been, I would say it’s high-reward.”
Penn State’s defense isn’t too far behind at No. 9, according to NCAA.com. This season, the Nittany Lions have allowed only seven touchdowns, compared to Michigan’s 10, and have not let an opponent score more than 19 points in a game.
In six games this season, Penn State has outscored its opponents 238-54, recording two shutouts in the process.
“I think one of the things that’s going to be great for the fans in our stadium, and I think for people across the country who are watching the game,” Franklin said, “you’re going to be watching two of the best defensive coordinators in college football, which probably doesn’t get any more ‘Big Ten’ than that.”