When Michigan men’s lacrosse coach John Paul decided to install a new offense at the beginning of the season, he knew he was taking a risk.
While the Wolverines’ new scheme may be paying dividends for their attack — the team scores 12 goals per game — a more aggressive midfield leaves the Michigan’s defense vulnerable to opponents’ transition attacks.
Paul knew an up-tempo attack could cause problems for the Wolverines. So when Brown (4-0), the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation, paid a visit to Oosterbaan Fieldhouse on Sunday, Michigan’s defense couldn’t keep up with the speedy Bears in a 22-12 defeat.
“There’s no one in lacrosse playing at the speed (Brown’s) playing at right now,” Paul said.
Brown’s unique offense was problematic for the Wolverines from the start. The Bears’ “run-and-gun” style caught Michigan (3-3) by surprise as the Wolverines wanted to slow the game down, but after his team gave up the first five goals, Paul knew his strategy needed to change.
Michigan’s faceoff man and midfield lines were both changed over the course of the first half, but that couldn’t stop Brown’s constant waves of attack.
“Our initial game plan was to slow everything down, and we didn’t do a good job of that,” Paul said. “Once we got behind it didn’t make sense to do that. After halftime, we just told the boys to go.”
Paul continued to tinker, and he wanted to see his team pick up the pace. The Wolverines outscored Brown in the third quarter, 6-4, as halftime adjustments were beneficial to Michigan as it nearly dug itself out of a seven-goal deficit.
“We were going to come out (in the second half) hard and fast and try to narrow the score a little bit,” said redshirt junior midfielder David Joseph. “We got in our motion offense, and moved the ball well and finished, too.”
The Wolverines quickened the pace, picked up more ground balls and made plays that built confidence and momentum in the young team.
But before Michigan made adjustments in the midfield, which included increased playing time for quick players such as freshman Chase Young and junior Riley Kennedy, the glaring problem of a midfield that struggled to move the ball and stop the Bears from pushing the tempo remained.
The main factor missing from Michigan’s game was urgency, especially in forcing turnovers and keeping possession. Picking up ground balls was especially problematic for the Wolverines in the first half, as Brown outgained them 28-19.
“We were throwing the ball away unforced,” Paul said. “A lot of the turnovers they caused were in the middle of the field, because whenever we picked a ground ball up they’d check it right back out.”
Michigan took chances across the field Sunday and got punished for playing into its opponents’ hands. A conservative approach to transition defense, an issue the Wolverines knew they were going to have, doomed the team from the start.
“We’re close,” Joseph said. “We did make some good plays today, hustled and never gave up. We’ll practice hard, learn from the mistakes today and make up for it in future games.”