2017 Season in Review: Defensive Line

Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst helped lead Michigan's defensive line during a season in which the unit lived up to expectations.

Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst helped lead Michigan's defensive line during a season in which the unit lived up to expectations. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 6:03pm

With the Michigan football team’s 2017 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2018. In this edition: the defensive line.

There weren’t many games this season that Michigan’s defensive line didn’t impress everyone. 

The three main contributors — fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr., redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary — had their way with opponents all year long.

None of them won the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year award, which went to Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, but all three Wolverines had equal or superior stats compared to the trophy winner.

Hurst finished his season with 59 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Winovich has 74 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks. And finally, Gary recorded 62 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks.

What did Bosa have? 28 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.

While the Wolverines’ defensive line may have been snubbed, there’s no denying they were one of Michigan’s best units all season.

Michigan has the Big Ten’s best pass defense, and though the secondary gets a fair share of the credit for that, it was the linemen that pressured quarterbacks into difficult throwing situations.

The Wolverines also led the conference with 39 sacks throughout the course of the season.

Outside of Hurst, Gary and Winovich, the only other regular starter was freshman defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon. Solomon’s first start came against Rutgers, and before that point the Wolverines were typically using just three players on the defensive line. He quickly got in the mix, though, and has started every game since, finishing his debut season with 17 tackles and two tackles for loss.

HIGH POINT: At the start of the year, few knew how much Michigan’s defensive line was capable of.

Florida, Michigan’s first opponent, certainly didn’t think the Wolverines could keep up sideline to sideline. Sure enough, Michigan locked the Gators down and allowed just 11 rushing yards the entire game.

Michigan’s defense accounted for six sacks and five quarterback hurries in the Wolverines’ 33-17 season opener.

Another standout performance came in the first quarter against Ohio State. For the first 15 minutes, the Buckeyes gave up three sacks, three consecutive three-and-out drives and even accumulated negative yards.

Of course, Michigan couldn’t sustain its success the rest of the game, but those 15 minutes were perhaps the most impressive of the season.

LOW POINT: The first time the defensive line really took a whooping came at Penn State. Two weeks after the first loss of the season, the Wolverines went to Happy Valley.

At the time, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was in talks for the Heisman, and he showed why against Michigan. Barkley carved through and around Michigan’s defensive line right from the start.

He burst past them untouched on the second play of the game for a 69-yard touchdown run.

By the end of the game, Michigan had allowed 224 rushing yards to the Nittany Lions.

THE FUTURE: Here’s what we know: Hurst’s eligibility is up after this season, but Gary and Solomon will both be back in 2018.

What we don’t know yet is the status of Chase Winovich. As a redshirt junior, Winovich would be free to leave for the NFL Draft if he wished, but another season of development certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances of going pro.

The 6-foot-3, 253-pound lineman has switched positions before, and didn’t start seeing time as a defensive end until last season. After the Ohio State loss this year, Winovich said he was undecided about his future.

Regardless, Michigan will be in good hands. Gary and Solomon were both top recruits for their respective positions and both proved their elite abilities throughout this season.

Coming up the pipeline are a handful of strong underclassmen as well. Sophomores Carlo Kemp and Michael Dwumfour both made a few appearances this season and have earned praise from defensive line coach Greg Mattison, and defensive end Kwity Paye appeared in eight games as a true freshman this year.

Hurst, an All-Big Ten selection, will surely be missed, but many promising Wolverines are moving up the depth chart, which should position Michigan’s defensive line well to succeed in the years to come.