After Saturday’s 20-17 comeback win over Northwestern — a game in which fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich registered nine tackles, three tackles-for-loss and a sack, and more broadly, was relentless — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said it was one of the best games of Winovich’s career.
“I think Chase had one of his better ballgames,” Harbaugh said after the game. “Just the way he was flying around and hustling all night. I mean, play after play after play after play.”
Winovich played “60-something” snaps by his estimation and received as many double-teams as he can recall in a game. It didn’t seem to matter much.
By any metric or alternative mode of judgment, Winovich is having the best season of his career. Here are just a couple statistics to drive that point home:
- He currently leads the nation with 10.5 tackles-for-loss. If he sustains this pace, he’ll finish with 27 tackles-for-loss on the season, just 1.5 short of the school record set by Shawn Crable in 2007. That would also leave him just four shy of the career school record set by Mark Messner from 1985-1988.
- He’s on pace for an eight-sack season for the second consecutive year. He would be the first to notch that feat since Brandon Graham in 2007-2008. Winovich is just a few years removed from playing tight end.
Some might take a few days to relish in those comments from Harbaugh, or more generally take a step back at what’s on pace to be a historical season and a historical career. That’s just not Chase Winovich.
“I’m definitely playing better, and some of my best football,” Winovich said Tuesday evening. “I still feel like I haven’t played my best football.”
If his game at Northwestern wasn’t what his best looks like, what does?
“The way I see it in my head, if I had to look at it from a numbers standpoint, I would look at it and say ‘multiple sacks,’ just from a grading-out perspective — from a pass-rush point of view — I’d say simply unblockable,” Winovich said. “In my head, that’s what I’m chasing. In my head it could be better.
“I want to be a shark in a game full of guppies.”
His focus stays squarely on the present. He’s not shy about much, including throwing out phrases like “Big Ten Championship” and “the playoffs” in routine answers. Winovich isn’t like most athletes, in a way that’s refreshingly human. He came back to school for those goals. He came back to be a dominant college football player. He came back partially because Shea Patterson came in.
But he also came back to improve his NFL draft stock and he doesn’t hide that either.
“It’s always on my mind,” Winovich said of his draft stock. “It’s just one of those things, in the pecking order of things to do, it’s somewhere in the middle.”
Having already provided an appropriate level of candor, a normal athlete might stop his answer there. Chase Winovich, instead, needs to make an archery analogy to emphasize his point.
“If you’re an archer and you’re trying to hit the target and you’re thinking about the gold prize,” he hypothesizes, “all of a sudden you’re thinking about the gold prize and not the target you’re trying to hit.”
Both CBSSports.com and Bleacher Report released new NFL mock drafts Monday night. Winovich didn’t make the first round of either.
“The trajectory and what I’ve heard and gathered from people is that the trajectory is ascending pretty quickly,” Winovich said. “I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it stays that way.”
The “status quo” doesn’t seem to be in Winovich’s vocabulary these days, or ever. He’d rather hone in on his inner shark, terrorizing everything in his path, leaving no doubt.
“I’m setting myself up for that game that’s like ‘This is Chase Winovich.’ I don’t think I’ve played that game yet,” he said.
Then a warning.
“I think it’s coming.”