East Carolina OC Donnie Kirkpatrick: ‘We have a lot of concerns’ about Michigan football defense

A couple of years ago, it was an anomaly — the Michigan football defense was one of the worst in college football after being, at worst, a top 11 unit across the sport.

Jim Harbaugh switched things up, bringing in Mike Macdonald in 2021, and the Wolverines were on a strong upswing. After he departed for the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator job, Jesse Minter came aboard and continued the trajectory. The expectation is to build off of the last two years in the more NFL-oriented system.

It’s something that East Carolina offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick is wary of.

Though there have been some personnel losses — defensive tackle Mazi Smith, edge rushers Mike Morris, Eyabi Okie, and Taylor Upshaw, as well as cornerback DJ Turner — the Wolverines feel like this has the potential to be a better unit than last year. Kirkpatrick is on high alert for what his offense is set to face on Saturday, noting it’s not just the scheme that gets you, it’s the sheer talent that Michigan football has.

“Their players, they’ve got really good players,” Kirkpatrick said. “Defensively, what did they give up? 16 points a game last year — now, that was last year’s team, I get that. But they got most of them returning, they did lose some players. But you know, programs like that, they just reload.

“They’ve lost, what? Three games in two years or something like that. So they’re used to winning, they’re used to having success. That means that they’re recruiting well. And then they just have outstanding talent. I mean, they don’t, they don’t do anything that’s, ‘OK, wow, what scheme is that?’ They have good schemes. Coach Minter does a great job, he’s got NFL experience, he’s got a lot of NFL stuff in.

“But that’s not what worries you. What worries me is their defensive line can just explode off the ball and just throw the offensive lineman down, and go make the tackle. And then there’s like four other guys there when they make the tackle as well.”

That’s mostly the front, but Kirkpatrick is also well aware that there are players in the secondary who can make big plays.

Though cornerback Will Johnson and safeties Rod Moore and Makari Paige are questionable, and there could be some new faces, given the talent and the way that Jesse Minter and defensive pass game coordinator Steve Clinkscale coach the back-end, there’s a lot to worry about for Kirkpatrick, there, too.

“They do a nice job with interceptions, a lot of tipped balls. I’ll tell you what, you better not tip the ball as a receiver, because they do a great job of breaking on the ball and getting the turnovers and setting the offense up for success.

“So a lot of concerns. We have a lot of concerns, have a lot of respect for them.”

Michigan football will kick off against East Carolina on Saturday at noon EDT from The Big House. The game will be nationally streamed on Peacock.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire