ARLINGTON, Tex. — The final scene of a football game, as the fans stream out of the stadium and the teams congregate in the middle of the field, can tell you everything you need to know.
On Saturday, all one needed to do was watch Devin Bush Jr. as he waded through masses of Michigan and Florida players following his team’s dominating — yet oddly close — 33-17 victory.
Bush, a sophomore linebacker making the first start of his career, was treated like a star. He took several interviews with reporters from ESPN and other outlets.
He met and took pictures with Florida players, with his teammates, all with a giant smile on his face. And then, quite fittingly, he ran off the field in lockstep with defensive coordinator Don Brown, who raised his hand in the air and brought it down to meet Bush’s, as if he was about to signal, ‘This is the champ.’
Yes, Devin Bush Jr. was the champ Saturday. His name may not have been known to the larger world of college football before Saturday afternoon — but just like a movie star becomes famous after their first leading role, Bush will be known to many now.
Yet it was a performance that was nearly derailed before it could even begin.
Bush, who has already been ejected once in his career before, was flagged for a late hit on the first snap of the game. The officials went to review, the players to their huddles, and Bush awaited his fate. It would have been a big blow to the defense, especially considering how definitively Bush won the starting competition at middle linebacker.
But Bush didn’t seem to worry about the outcome too much, considering his comments after the game.
“I don’t remember,” Bush said, laughing. “But if I wanted to say, like, it’s just me. That’s just what I do. If they want to eject me, eject me.”
That mindset — of unbridled aggressiveness and ferocity on every snap, regardless of whether it’s on defense or special teams — fits well with Michigan’s defense and with Brown’s scheme. Bush and his coordinator, it seems, were meant for each other.
That’s not to say the player Bush replaced in the middle — Ben Gedeon — was shabby. Gedeon played well last year and was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, in fact. But Bush is the type of prospect Michigan fans have been longing for, a player who has the requisite speed and agility to play sideline to sideline and disrupt plays in a manner that his predecessors couldn’t quite do.
Bush, to put it simply, looked like a heat-seeking missile, if a heat-seeking missile could play middle linebacker. Time after time, he shot into the backfield on well-timed blitzes, or snuffed out the rare Florida ball carrier that got past his defensive line. He led the team in tackles with seven. He led the team with tackles-for-loss with three. He led the team in sacks with two.
It was the type of performance that might indicate that Michigan’s defense may not have lost much of a step, despite last year’s departures.
And that’s the larger point that Michigan wants to make, the message it’s been trying to tell everyone all offseason: The Wolverines may have lost a lot, but the players stepping in this year can do just as well — if not better.
Just ask Devin Bush Jr.