Saturday, the Michigan football team’s defensive line could tell that Wisconsin’s quarterback Alex Hornibrook was struggling after getting hit a few times. The redshirt freshman was suffering from a case of “happy feet.”
“Oh yeah, we actually talked about that on the field,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Matt Godin said Monday. “We were like, ‘Oh, he’s starting to flinch a little bit.’ Obviously with (defensive coordinator Don) Brown and all the blitzes we throw at them and all of the great pass rushers we have on the edge, especially with (defensive ends Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton). But yeah, we could definitely feel that he was starting to get happy feet.”
So far this season, the Wolverines’ defense has tallied 20 sacks, two of them coming Saturday in a 14-7 victory over the eighth-ranked Badgers. Hornibrook also completed just nine of 25 passes while the sacks dropped his rushing total to negative-16 yards.
The Wolverines also held Wisconsin to just eight first downs and 71 net yards rushing. It’s hard to attribute this type of domination to anything other than a stout defensive line.
Now, after playing most of the first month without Charlton and defensive tackle Bryan Mone, an already successful unit will get even better as the pair is able to contribute more and more.
“(The defensive line) has been outstanding,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “It’s been a stalwart part of our football team since I’ve been here and before that as well. If a guy goes in and comes back into the lineup — I’m thinking of Mo Hurst, Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton — right down the list, they play extremely well. One guy’s out and another steps up; it’s impressive. I think (defensive line coach) Greg Mattison does an incredible job. Credit to the youngsters, the players themselves, for their effort and their talent.”
When the offense starts to struggle, as it did on Saturday, it’s essential to look to the defense to make plays, and so far, it hasn’t cracked. The Wolverines rank fifth nationally in tackles for loss and fourth nationally in sacks (first in the Big Ten in both). Because of this, Michigan has been able to hold each of its first two conference opponents to fewer than 200 yards.
Despite going up against a powerful Wisconsin offensive line that boasted some big players, the Wolverines were still able to stay composed.
“Yeah, there were some big boys up front,” said senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow Saturday. “I think they were averaging like 6-foot-6, 320 or 315 (pounds). We’re not quite as big up front, but it all comes down to technique and effort on the D-line, and I think we played hard, I think we played fast, and I think we played with great technique. All that credit goes to Coach Mattison.
“When I looked to my left and look to my right, I’d see guys who’re in the program four or five years and who really wanted this game up front, so we accepted the challenge and I think we did a good job.”
Mone rejoined the defensive line over the weekend, and though he only played a few snaps, his presence was felt. Monday, Godin spoke of the energy Mone brings to the unit. Though Mone is just a redshirt sophomore and sat out all last season due to a broken ankle, he’s a well-respected member of the defensive line.
“There’s a lot of leaders on this defense and a lot of playmakers,” Glasgow said. “I think that’s the biggest thing they bring. Taco is an elite pass rusher. Bryan’s one of the strongest kids I’ve ever seen play a double team, do anything on the football field.”
Now that the Wolverines have the option of rotating players in and out of the line with no more injury troubles to fear, they will be better prepared for their first road game of the season.
“We have everyone back now, healthy and ready to go, so it’s great,” Godin said.