Last season’s matchup with Penn State is one that many Wolverines have tried not to forget.
The Nittany Lions embarrassed the Michigan football team, 42-13, and went so far as trying to score late in the game when they could have just run out the clock.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has said he wakes up every morning and thinks about that game. His players have echoed that sentiment.
For sophomore defensive end Kwity Paye, though, the memory is a little bit different. Sure, he wants revenge against Penn State just like any of the other Wolverines. But in last year’s game, when things got out of hand and the starters subbed out, Paye showed his capability. He finished with three tackles — one for a loss — and assisted on a sack, which was the first of his career. That gave a glimpse of what could be expected from him when he rose to the top of the depth chart.
“It was exciting last year, finally getting my first sack,” Paye said on Tuesday. “But this year, you know, trying to get some more sacks, obviously. You know, just trying to get that new page and just keep working.”
With junior defensive end Rashan Gary sidelined the last three games due to injury, Paye has gotten another opportunity, and he has gotten more sacks. Two, to be exact.
More importantly, though, the Michigan defense hasn’t missed a beat with Gary’s absence. Paye has filled in for him seamlessly.
“When I found out I was going to be starting the Maryland game, I was a little nervous. I was a little on the edge,” Paye said. “(Gary) was just like, ‘Don’t be nervous. You’ve been doing this. You’ve been working throughout two camps, and you know what you’re doing, so just go out there and play your game.’ ”
Paye says he finally relieved himself of his nerves after the Wisconsin game. In his words, the Badgers’ offensive line was “big as hell,” and once he and the Wolverines defense hung in against them, he knew he belonged.
“After I played with them, I was like, I can hang,” Paye said. “After that, I just started going out and playing my game.”
That might mean more than just his play.
The Rhode Island native is admittedly quiet, something his teammates corroborate. But against Michigan State last week, Paye came out of his shell. Maybe it was the rivalry and the emotions surrounding that particular game, or maybe it’s the growing self-confidence, but Paye began talking trash on the field, as Michigan held the Spartans to 94 total yards.
“Kwity is a really quiet person until something happens,” said sophomore defensive tackle Carlo Kemp. “Then you look over, like, ‘That was Kwity doing that?’ So, you know, it’s fun getting to see when Kwity brings out his personality. He does that on the field a lot.”
So what exactly does that look like?
“All you see come out of Kwity is his teeth,” Kemp said.
Added Paye: “Usually I don’t like to talk a lot. But that game, we were jawing at each other, us and the offensive linemen, so it was real fun.”
In the end, though, the burgeoning personality is a side piece, and possibly a product of what really matters. If you had told Wolverines fans before the season that they would have to face the Badgers and Michigan State without Gary, there would have been concern.
But Michigan’s defense dominated both offenses. With the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions coming into town, Gary still might not be healthy enough to play. And yet the Wolverines are double-digit favorites.
That is, in part, because Paye has followed through on the potential he showed a year ago in Happy Valley.