With the Michigan football team’s 2016 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2017. In this edition: defensive line.
Michigan entered the 2016 season with its fair share of question marks. It was unclear who would start at quarterback, how the linebackers would fare and what could be expected from a safety corps losing a mainstay.
But one position group that left no reason for concern was the defensive line. And somehow, the unit outperformed expectations.
Starting three fifth-year seniors and one true senior, the Wolverines’ defensive line was among the nation’s best right from the outset. Michigan finished fourth nationally in sacks (44) and had the second-most sacks per game with 3.67. The Wolverines were also the national leaders in tackles for loss (114) despite playing one fewer game than both of their nearest challengers, Clemson and Penn State.
Senior defensive end Taco Charlton was a breakout star, leading the team with 8.5 sacks and earning considerable NFL Draft hype in the process. Starting alongside him were fifth-year senior defensive tackles Matt Godin and Ryan Glasgow and fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley, the latter two of whom also have bright NFL futures.
And that was just the starters.
Redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich, redshirt junior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and freshman defensive end Rashan Gary all had their moments, too. They helped the Wolverines wear out opposing offensive lines by rotating star after star into the game, constantly fresh in their pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
HIGH POINT: At the time, Michigan’s 49-10 win over Penn State on Sept. 24 just seemed like a good team dominating a bad one. But when the Nittany Lions ripped off nine straight wins en route to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth, it made what the Wolverines did against Penn State all the more impressive.
Playing against a team that finished the season ranked No. 5, Michigan racked up six sacks and 13 tackles for loss in a total decimation of James Franklin’s team. Hurst and Charlton were the stars of the day, totaling three and two sacks, respectively.
Really, there were any number of games that could have gone in this spot. Michigan was so consistently good at this position that picking just one high was difficult. The first three quarters against Ohio State, for example, were arguably the most impressive the unit played all year.
But games have four quarters, so a dominating win over one of the nation’s top teams gets the nod.
LOW POINT: The Wolverines had their fair share of rough games against the run — most notably Central Florida and Iowa — but it’s hard to assign blame between the defensive line and the linebackers.
Even Maryland found success on the ground when it went to the edge, albeit in an effort that saw the Terrapins score all of three points, but it’s not always easy to discern where the flaws were coming from.
So we’ll give this one to the Central Florida game, in which the Knights netted 275 yards on the ground. That is 22.3 more than the number of total yards the Wolverines defense gave up this season, on average.
After the game, Central Florida coach Scott Frost declared his team had outhit Michigan despite a 51-14 loss. Needless to say, no one “outhit” the Wolverines’ D-line the rest of the way.
THE FUTURE: The curse of starting four seniors is that when the season ends, you lose four seniors.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, though, their second string will all return, and that unit should still be among the best in the Big Ten. Hurst, Gary and Winovich are all back and should be in contention for All-Big Ten honors by year’s end. Joining them should be redshirt sophomore Bryan Mone, who has battled injuries throughout his career but has shown flashes of dominance in his time on the field.
And while the second-string spots will be up for grabs, the Wolverines’ starting four should be firmly entrenched for another exceptional season.