Michigan DC Jesse Minter is already thinking about next year’s Ohio State game

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jesse Minter wasn’t the first choice to replace outgoing defensive coordinator Don Brown following the 2020 season, but he ended up being the right one.

Michigan’s second-year coordinator oversaw another sterling performance against the high-powered Ohio State offense on Saturday, with his unit limiting star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and doing just enough to pull out a 30-24 win.

After the game, Minter was spotted walking across and intensely waiving at the Buckeyes’ sideline, a buildup of emotion that spilled over following six weeks of turbulence within the program.

“When you come to Michigan, it’s for this type of game,” Minter told reporters on Wednesday. “Our season goals really hinged on that game. (It was) all the reason the guys came back; all the reasons that we want to get to that next step as a program and have success in the championship game and the playoffs. It all hinged on that game.”

By the end of it, Ohio State was held under 400 yards of total offense, running back TreVeyon Henderson to 60 yards on 19 carries, Harrison to 118 yards receiving (with 44 coming on one play), and Michigan forced enough turnovers (two) to flip the game and come out on the winning side. It vindicated the Wolverines’ standing as the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.

But it wasn’t always this way. Michigan put together top-five defensive units in the past under Brown, but the success never seemed to translate in big games like these. Head coach Jim Harbaugh recognized that after the ugly 2020 season and opted to another route, plucking Mike Macdonald from the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens to install a diverse scheme that incorporated a bit more of everything.

“It started with Mike and you try and carry it on,” Minter said. “But anytime you go somewhere and you assess: What’s the thing that kept this place from reaching the highest goals that you might have? It was particularly that game.

Minter, 40, recalls an aggressive interview process with Harbaugh that included two primary questions: How are you going to beat Ohio State, and how are you going to beat Michigan State?

The answer was a long, complicated one of course, but the results speak for themselves. Michigan has found ways to limit Ohio State’s star receivers like Harrison, generate enough pressure on the quarterback to make them uncomfortable, and keep the Buckeyes out of the end zone.

After years of the Buckeyes topping 30 points in the game, many times 40 and 50 (and even 62 in 2018), Michigans has held Ryan Day’s team to just 74 points over the last three years.

“It’s something that you work on everyday here. You work on it year-round,” Minter said. “I think of all the drills that we do, all the physicality — I even think our offense has things built in to allow us to be ready for that game. You see it in spring ball, you see it in training camp. It’s a year-round thing and it’s really important.”

Part of limiting Harrison’s impact on the game, Minter said, was giving him varied looks and bracketing the zone coverage his way. For example, Will Johnson’s interception early game on disguised zone coverage, “like a cover-2 look,” Minter said, that allowed Johnson to position himself on the side of Harrison and pick the pass.

“We certainly wanted to try and limit his ability to wreck the game,” Minter said. “While he did some damage on us — there’s a couple plays we’d like to have back — to be able to somewhat keep a roof on him and keep him from being able to wreck the game was certainly a big part of the game plan.”

While bigger things are ahead, like Saturday’s matchup with Iowa for the Big Ten championship (8 p.m., FOX) and likely College Football Playoff berth, Minter took a few minutes Saturday to soak in the victory. As much as the players and coaches talk about each game being meaningful, this one meant more.

Michigan has now won three in a row over the Buckeyes, the last two coming under the watchful eye of Minter — who is already thinking about next year.

“Even after The Game, you’re already thinking about what you’re going to do the next time you play ‘em and the answer for some of the things you showed,” Minter said. “It’s a year-round process, and the guys have really bought into that and allowed us to be successful over the last couple of times we’ve played them.”

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