Senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor thinks Saturday’s game against Wisconsin will define the Michigan football team’s season.
The game will likely be crucial for Taylor, too.
In key statistics for the defensive line, the Wolverines’ national rankings are impressive.
Run defense: 12th (65.3 yards allowed per game).
Tackles for loss: 22nd (seven per game).
Sacks: 10th (three per game).
But Michigan’s defensive line has yet to consistently disrupt opposing offenses and live up to its preseason hype. Taylor, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Will Johnson, fifth-year senior defensive end Tim Jamison and junior Brandon Graham — all returning starters — were supposed to carry an otherwise inexperienced team.
Saturday, the defensive line will get its chance to prove itself when it takes on Wisconsin for what Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez called the position group’s “biggest challenge of the year to date.”
The Wolverines have yet to face the smashmouth brand of football played by the Badger offense. They have run the ball 69 percent of the time this season, more than any other Big Ten team.
“It’s fun for D-linemen to be able to stop the run and go against a running team without having to watch the spread, and he’s faking it here, and he’s throwing it here, and he’s throwing it back here,” Taylor said. “I didn’t come here for all that.
“I came here for double teams and triple teams and chops.”
Taylor should see plenty of all three against Wisconsin’s talented offensive line. The average starter in that group is 6-foot-6, 319 pounds with two full seasons of starting experience.
Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that hasn’t allowed a sack this season. And the offensive line has opened holes for redshirt junior running back P.J. Hill, whose 126.3 rushing yards per game rank third in the conference.
To prepare the defense, freshman Michael Cox and redshirt junior Kevin Grady are simulating the bruising Hill in practice this week. And Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has his first-team offensive line simulating the Badgers’ line.
“I appreciate everything that the coaches say in the preparation, but I do like the challenge that we present from an offensive standpoint,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “They try and knock people off the ball, as well as they’re doing some chop blocks and just trying to keep people off center. So our offensive look is probably hard to simulate.”
Some didn’t think Taylor would have to worry about preparing for the Badgers this year. But after Lloyd Carr’s retirement, Taylor passed on playing professionally to return to college and learn a new system. Taylor said he’s glad to have a year to work with new director of strength and conditioning Mike Barwis before the NFL Combine in February. Taylor lost 27 pounds in the summer and improved his strength by working with Barwis.
Although he has faced plenty of double teams, Taylor already has two sacks, just 1.5 short of last year’s career-high. But his improved physique comes with higher expectations.
“You may not see the sacks and all that because, again, it’s particularly hard when you’re inside there,” Rodriguez said. “But Terrance is in good shape. He’s worked hard, and he’s made a few plays.”
He’s looking forward to making a few more Saturday, and he’ll have his chances against the run-heavy Badger offense. At Wisconsin last year, Taylor had a career-high nine tackles, one more than he has so far this season.
“Some people think, because we went to spread, we’re a little softer around here,” Taylor said. “Nothing changed. It’s still smashmouth. It’s still Michigan football. I’m going to put my helmet in your face. I mean, that’s why I’m so excited about Wisconsin.”