Yes, Michigan’s defense is good.
The Wolverines rank first in the nation in total defense — allowing just 223.8 yards per game — first in pass efficiency defense, sixth in rushing defense and eighth in points allowed per game — giving up an average of 14.7.
Those are pretty eye-popping numbers. Yet, according to Maurice Hurst, Michigan has yet to reach its full potential.
“I think we’re getting better each week, and I think we’re really starting to create our own identity and really gain (an) understanding of our defense and who we are as a defense,” Hurst said. “We kind of knew who we had last year and this year’s been a little more unknown, but I think we’ve really been able to develop into our own.”
Hurst said that identity meant stopping teams on third down, stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.
The fifth-year senior defensive tackle is certainly a large part of those efforts. After deciding to return for his final season, Hurst has lived up to all of the hype.
On Monday, CBS Sports analyst Matt Miller listed Hurst as his 20th-best overall player for the 2018 NFL Draft, declaring Hurst the second-best defensive lineman and the best run stopper. Pro Football Focus graded Hurst as the second-best player from Week 7 after Michigan’s 27-20 win over Indiana — just one week after Hurst posted the nation’s top performance in a 14-10 loss to Michigan State, according to the scouting service.
He has earned accolades from his own coach, as well. On Monday, Jim Harbaugh named both Hurst and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary as Michigan’s linemen of the week.
“Mo makes a field goal block,” Harbaugh said, “and Mo really played good this week, played really good last week.”
Receiving a similar performance from Hurst this week will be crucial to the Wolverines’ efforts against No. 2 Penn State this weekend. And if past history is any indication, Hurst most certainly will present a challenge to the Nittany Lions’ offensive line.
In Michigan’s 28-16 win over Penn State in 2015, Hurst — then a redshirt sophomore — tied for second on the team in tackles, recording four with 0.5 for loss. Then, Hurst played an even larger role in the Wolverines’ scintillating defensive performance last year, recording six tackles (three for loss) and one sack.
Hurst’s history against the Nittany Lions — coupled with his play this year — makes it all the more likely that he’ll enjoy success in his final game against Penn State on Saturday night. And, if Nittany Lions coach James Franklin’s comments on Tuesday were any indication, Penn State is already well aware that its offensive gameplan will have to account for Michigan’s man in the middle.
“Very disruptive, (I) went back and kind of researched (Hurst) a little bit, in terms of what people are saying about him,” Franklin told reporters Tuesday. “(They’re) saying he’s going to be a first-round pick, probably a top-10 pick, and it looks like that on tape.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him and his game and how he plays and the motor that he has. He’s an impressive guy to watch.”