Editor’s Note: With the Michigan football team’s 2015 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2016. In this edition: linebackers.
The Michigan defensive line suffered injury after injury after injury throughout the season, starting in fall camp all the way to Week 5 and Week 9. As the year wore on, the health issues tested the unit’s depth. And still, the line ended up being one of the best in college football.
Before the season started, the unit looked like it could be one of the country’s elite units. It returned all but two players from a strong 2014 group. Its top players, like redshirt juniors Chris Wormley and Willie Henry, were finally seasoned and ready to step up. The defensive line maintained the only holdover from the 2014 coaching staff, Greg Mattison.
When the Wolverines entered fall camp, they unleashed a bevy of familiar names: Henry, Wormley, senior Mario Ojemudia and junior Taco Charlton on the ends; redshirt junior Ryan Glasgow, sophomore Bryan Mone, redshirt sophomore Maurice Hurst and redshirt junior Matt Godin on the interior.
As it turned out, Michigan needed every one of them. All but Mone — who missed the entire season with an injury — started a game up front.
And the Wolverines lived up to their billing. They made 2.5 sacks and 6.8 tackles for loss per game. They disrupted opposing backfields all season long, playing their best football in a five-game stretch early in the season, in which they gave up 14 total points. And on an elite defense, perhaps the line featured the most playmakers: Wormley (14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks), Henry (10 and 6.5), Charlton (8.5 and 5.5) and Hurst (6.5 and three).
Even when Michigan’s line struggled, those stars were a handful for opponents. Mone’s injury depleted the Wolverines’ depth, but the starting core was still intact. But then Ojemudia tore his Achilles at Maryland on Oct. 3, and senior Royce Jenkins-Stone filled in at the hybrid buck position. Finally, redshirt junior Ryan Glasgow injured his shoulder against Rutgers on Nov. 7. After three season-ending injuries, Michigan had to head into its toughest stretch of the season, playing fatigued at the end of the year with its fewest personnel.
The losses finally showed. After giving up fewer than 100 rushing yards in six of the first nine games and averaging 2.7 sacks in that span, the Wolverines trailed off in November before finishing with another strong performance in the Citrus Bowl victory against Florida.
HIGH POINT: It’s tough to pick out one individual game in the first half of the season because Michigan’s defensive front was so dominant throughout the season. But the line’s best performance may have come Oct. 10 against Northwestern.
Just the week before, Ojemudia was lost for the season, yet Jenkins-Stone filled in seamlessly. The Wolverines tied a season high with four sacks and totaled eight tackles for loss. And while offense wasn’t the Wildcats’ strong suit, Michigan still pulled off its third straight shutout against a ranked opponent in a dominant 38-0 victory at Michigan Stadium. That win helped build the Wolverines’ national hype perhaps more than any other this season.
LOW POINT: While Michigan gave up its most rushing yards of the season Nov. 28 against Ohio State, the more shocking performance came two weeks earlier at Indiana. Playing without Glasgow for the first time, the Wolverines had no answers for the Hoosiers’ spread rushing attack, surrendering 307 yards rushing on 55 carries. Their thin defensive line showed as Indiana ran zone-read plays repeatedly for the duration of the game.
Only when the Wolverines came up with a goal-line stand in double overtime did Michigan secure a victory against the Hoosiers, who finished 6-7.
THE FUTURE: Michigan made do with makeshift lineups up front for most of this season. Next year, with almost everyone returning, and if they can stay healthy, the Wolverines should be even better.
The loss of Henry, who announced Wednesday night on Twitter that he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, will leave a hole. As well, Ojemudia’s eligibility has also been exhausted. But if Michigan learned one thing this season, it’s that it can overcome personnel losses on its defensive line. Wormley, the leader of the group for most of the season, will return. If Mone and Glasgow come back healthy, they can help fill in the losses.
Depending on the scheme new defensive coordinator Don Brown runs, a rough defensive front could start Wormley, Charlton, Hurst and Glasgow. Mone, Godin and redshirt sophomore Lawrence Marshall, and Michigan is still in the mix for five-star recruit Rashan Gary.
And with Mattison returning for another year coaching the line, the unit is in good shape for the future.