Wednesday afternoon, Michigan passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton walked into Schembechler Hall for a press conference with a piece of tape tacked to his shirt. On it, the words “Vote Don Brown Asst Coach of the Year” were sprawled across in plain view, highlighting Michigan’s defensive coordinator as a candidate for the Broyles Award.
The defensive compliments didn’t end with the tape, either.
“I think a big reason that our team is in this position is because of the consistency our defense has had over the years, in particular, the past two years,” Hamilton said. “Just looking at Don Brown’s defense and the opportunities that they continue to give us on offense, the field position and more importantly, the possessions.”
That position, of course, is the No. 4 spot in the nation with a 10-game win streak in tow and Big Ten Championship title game on the line headed into Saturday’s matchup against No. 10 Ohio State. It also includes the possibility to play in the College Football Playoff.
With these implications, Hamilton’s defensive praise naturally switched to conversation on the offense. The Wolverines have seen a shift in play this season, a candid result of the integration of junior quarterback Shea Patterson. Having thrown for 18 touchdowns and 2,177 yards this season, Patterson’s capability at the position has been streamlining the progression of Michigan’s offense, all of which has been complimented with the hire of offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
“Ed’s been great,” Hamilton said. “He brings a certain level of expertise in the style of offense that Shea was probably most familiar with prior to coming to Michigan. Ed’s been great and the guys up front, they’re working hard and playing together, and we’ve been able to run the football.”
That ability to run the football has been backed by senior running back Karan Higdon, who leads the team in rushing yards with 1,106 on the season. The total is almost triple that of junior Chris Evans, who comes in at second with 370.
Higdon has scored 10 touchdowns on the season, one less than his career-high 11 from last season in three less games.
“He worked his tail off over the course of the offseason to make sure that we would be in this position to carry the load the way that he has and still be available to help us win a championship down the stretch,” Hamilton said. “We count on Karan, you know, he’s a guy that’s a bell cow for us and we look to him to continue to carry the load.”
On the receiving end, offensive improvement for the Wolverines has been catalyzed by sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has almost doubled his total receiving yards from last year. Defined as having “a great combination of explosion and speed” from Hamilton, Peoples-Jones has increased his touchdown total from none last year to seven this season and leads the receivers with 477 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Nico Collins has also shown improvement this season, notching a career-high 73 receiving yards against Northwestern. Collins comes in third in receiving yards for the Wolverines with 461, trailing just behind senior tight end Zach Gentry with 475.
“You see it in the results and the production,” Hamilton said. “Once again, it’s time on task together, it’s continuity, it’s trust. That’s one of the things that we see now in our passing game, even compared to our first game of the season. Even the timing in which the quarterback is pulling the trigger and getting the ball out of his hands, and then you see guys making plays.”
The offensive progression Michigan has seen, whether that be between Notre Dame and Indiana or last season to this season, has complemented Brown’s defense through its last 10 games. And with all of the implications Saturday’s game holds, the Wolverines will need that balance in order find success against the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011.
“Our guys are ready,” Hamilton said. “They’re gonna be ready to go. We’ve still got a couple days of practice to finalize some things offensively, but they’ll be ready to play.”