2017 Season in Review: Linebackers
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: linebackers
Well, this transition went smoother than many probably expected.
Entering the 2017 season, the Wolverines were tasked with replacing Ben Gedeon in the middle of the field, and Jabrill Peppers’ unique role in the VIPER spot.
Sophomores Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush Jr. quickly put any speculation to rest.
Hudson — who took over at VIPER — finished the season with 72 tackles, two interceptions, seven sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. The latter two marks landed him fourth and third in the Big Ten in each respective category, and earned him third team All-Big Ten honors.
Not to be outdone, Bush finished with 94 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, eight pass break ups and an interception of his own. That production not only garnered first team All-Big Ten honors, but has also landed him among the finalists for the Butkus Award — an honor given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
Michigan found success outside the production of its two star sophomores, too. Redshirt junior Noah Furbush saw an increased role, playing in every game as a key component of defensive coordinator Don Brown’s new 3-3-5 stack formation. Furbush finished with 28 tackles and two fumble recoveries — one of which was a game-sealing touchdown in the season opener against Florida.
Rounding out the group was fifth-year senior Mike McCray — the sole key contributor who returned to the unit. The Wolverines’ defensive captain finished the year with a career-high 13 tackles for loss and 75 total tackles — two shy of also becoming a career high.
HIGH POINT: Like the majority of Michigan’s defensive unit, there was a fair share of dominant performances.
Bush’s coming out party came early, as he dominated the Gators at AT&T Stadium to open the season.
He finished that game with seven tackles — 2.5 for loss — and 1.5 sacks. Bush wasted no time in building off that momentum, as he recorded a season-high 12 tackles just two games later against Air Force.
He wouldn’t be in the running for the Butkus Award if those performances didn’t become the norm, but those two early-season performances were highlights — especially when few knew what to expect out of him this season.
Hudson’s showing against Minnesota was one for the record books — literally. Against the Golden Gophers, he finished with 15 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks for a loss of 34 yards. The eight tackles for loss set program and conference records for a single game.
Last but not least, McCray led the Wolverines with three tackles for loss against the Buckeyes, and finished with 11 total tackles — a mark only matched by Rashan Gary.
LOW POINT: The Wolverines left Happy Valley with a whimper in late October.
Michigan’s linebackers were no exception. Saquon Barkley ran all over the Wolverines, averaging 7.2 yards per carry and scoring two rushing touchdowns.
But Barkley’s 42-yard receiving touchdown with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter really told the tale of the Wolverines’ struggles.
Barkley dusted McCray in coverage just 10 yards into the route, making one move before heading straight down the right hashmarks. Trace McSorley had an easy throw, and he made it.
He found the end zone, and Michigan went down by 22.
Though far less concerning, Bush also went through a three-game stretch against Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State in which he didn’t record a single tackle for loss. Bush admitted he noticed that people adjusted to him, trying to take him out of plays. In turn, Bush adjusted himself, finishing the season in the same way he started.
Calling it a low point would be hyperbole, but after emerging as Michigan’s breakout star early in the season, Bush’s three-game spell was, at the very least, surprising.
THE FUTURE: Bush and Hudson will be back, now equipped with a full year of experience. Furbush has another year of eligibility as well. Don Brown can rest easy in that regard.
McCray, however, has exhausted his eligibility.
The Wolverines will return freshmen Drew Singleton and Jordan Anthony, along with sophomores Josh Uche and Devin Gil.
There has been little indication of who could fill McCray’s shoes, but the matchup against Florida at least gave a hint. After McCray briefly exited the game with an injury, Gil was the one to take McCray’s snaps.