The No. 15 Wisconsin football team’s offensive line is good. Like, really good. It allows just 1.6 sacks per game. On the ground, running back and Heisman contender Jonathan Taylor ranks third in the country in rushing with 141.5 yards per game, 6.7 per carry.
Michigan’s defense has rarely met a challenge too tall. But next Saturday, the 12th-ranked Wolverines might be facing a steep climb against its toughest competition yet.
Late in the second quarter Saturday against Maryland, defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour went to the ground after awkwardly planting his right foot attacking a run play. The entire team surrounded the redshirt sophomore on the field offering words of encouragement before he was carted off the field.
Junior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said he believed Dwumfour just rolled his ankle. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh said it’s to be determined and that the team is evaluating the injury.
While Dwumfour’s health status is currently unknown, he reassuringly tweeted after the game: “I’m good thanks for the support.”
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, junior Carlo Kemp also limped off the field with an apparent injury and unknown condition.
“Still evaluating,” Harbaugh said.
With an already-thinned out defense, an adaptive mindset has become requisite.
“There has been a couple bang-ups on the D-line,” said junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson. “But we just trust the backups to come in and do what they gotta do and work hard and get the job done. The linebackers are doing what we’ve gotta do and the safeties counter off of that.”
Added Bush: “It just encourages me to get those guys ready to play at a high level.”
Junior defensive end Rashan Gary also sat out Saturday’s contest as a precaution. The junior had been playing through apparent AC joint pain in his right shoulder this season. According to Harbaugh, he made the decision to give Gary time to rehabilitate ahead of the daunting three-game stretch, noting “it's not a long-term thing.”
And sophomore defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon has been out since the start of the season recovering from knee surgery. But Harbaugh offered a positive assessment of his improvement.
“Aubrey, we’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “He had a good week last week, we’ll see how close he is this week.”
Despite the carousel of injuries, the Wolverines still rank first in the country in total defense, allowing just 230.5 yards and 15.8 points per game. The available playing time has fallen squarely on players like Kwity Paye and Josh Uche. The pair combined for four sacks last week against Nebraska.
Stellar play, of course, doesn’t perfectly replicate what the defensive production could have been fully healthy. But the amenable defensive front has been nothing to balk at.
On the offensive side, junior running back Chris Evans was also benched as a safeguard. Evans is still recovering from an apparent leg injury.
“Yeah, Chris practiced two days this week, and ultimately thought it best not to … play him today,” Harbaugh said. “Hopefully we get some guys back next week.”
Wide receiver Tarik Black, who is yet to play this season after suffering a broken foot for the second consecutive season, also remains out, but has been out of a walking boot for a few weeks. News on Black’s health should be expected soon.
“Yeah, he’s rehabbing well,” Harbaugh said on Oct. 1. “His doctor will be coming into town when the Packers play the Lions on October 7. I think he’s got a scheduled appointment then to look at it. Could have some good news at that point. Things look really good the way it’s progressing.”
It’s all speculation at this point, but Harbaugh’s diagnoses and the severity of recent injuries point to a healthier lineup in the coming weeks. And with three consecutive matchups against ranked conference opponents coming up, Michigan will anxiously await that possibility.