To open a chat with reporters Tuesday night, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Maurice Hurst credited his breakout season to his coaches, defensive line coach Greg Mattison and student assistant Will Carr.
Then, Hurst expounded on his praise of Carr, referencing his All-American career as a nose tackle at Michigan in the 1990s:
“He was a bad dude.”
Carr, an All-American in 1996 with 180 tackles, 38 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his career, isn’t the only one in the locker room who could be described that way.
“We try to see ourselves as that,” Hurst said of the Wolverines’ defensive line. “There’s certainly times when we’re like that.”
Michigan’s defensive line has been tenacious this season, accounting for 19.5 sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss. The front is a big reason that the Wolverines rank first in the nation in scoring defense.
Just as jarring, though, have been the individual highlights. On Oct. 31, Hurst crushed Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks for a loss of three on 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line, forcing a field-goal try. In the previous game against Michigan State, redshirt junior Chris Wormley stormed the backfield and sacked Spartans quarterback Connor Cook on third down, forcing a punt.
“Especially when you’re winning games and you have that confidence, that just makes you play a little harder, a little faster, a little tougher, a little more mean,” Wormley said. “You have that arrogance to come in and say, ‘You’re not going to push us around, and we’re going to win this game no matter what it takes.’ ”
Wormley leads the team with 10 tackles for loss, and he and Hurst have both at least doubled their output in that category from last year. Hurst, who made just one such stop in 2014, has already made 5.5 this season.
“Although he plays nose, he’s the fastest guy off the ball,” Wormley said of Hurst. “He’s very quick. He’s very sneaky, and he makes plays, which is what we need on the defensive line.”
Though quiet and unassuming off the field, Hurst has ramped up the intensity at various points this year, providing highlight plays for the Michigan defense that carry over until the next time the unit takes the field.
“I definitely think you have to turn it up on the field,” Wormley said. “You can be the quietest, calmest guy walking down the street, but when it’s Saturday and you turn it up, you have to have that mentality, (different) than you would if you were watching TV with your mom or dad.”
Hurst and Wormley could be critical Saturday if redshirt junior Ryan Glasgow, who injured his shoulder in the first quarter last week against Rutgers, can’t play. In that case, presumably, Hurst would make his first career start.
But the shuffling along the line won’t be anything new for Michigan, which also lost sophomore nose tackle Bryan Mone to a season-ending injury in August. Rotation has been one of the hallmarks of the defensive line, and it will be a key Saturday against Indiana’s up-tempo offense. Hurst noted that while constant changes on the offensive line can bring chemistry issues, the practice is common on defense.
It helps that the Wolverines are also feeling better physically than they were at this time last year. Strength coach Kevin Tolbert, whom head coach Jim Harbaugh brought from the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, has focused more on recovery in weekday workouts, making sure the players are freshest on Saturday.
That ensures that Hurst, Wormley and Co. can wreak havoc in the opposing backfield as they have all season.
“For sure, I think we’re playing a lot more physical,” Hurst said. “Even if you turn on the Michigan State game from last year and you turn it on from this year, I think we’re playing a lot more physical up front. I think that was a big game where you could see that.
“I definitely think that’s something we really improved on. (We) kind of stopped ourselves from getting knocked around, and really trying to be the hammer, not get pushed back and push everyone forward.”