LaMarr Woodley sports a Woody Woodpecker tattoo on his left biceps. Fittingly, the junior rush linebacker played a whole lot like his animated companion during Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan, flying around the field with ease and making big hits in key situations.
Woodley’s performance against the Eagles was nothing short of spectacular. He made six tackles – four solos and two assists – in the first half. The Saginaw native was involved in key plays during every Eastern Michigan drive in the opening 30 minutes before leaving the game at halftime because of Michigan’s 38-point lead. But he continued to solidify his role as Michigan’s primary defensive playmaker. Last year, Woodley led the Wolverines in tackles for loss with 16. He was also second on the team in tackles, with 70, and sacks, with four. At this point, Woodley’s teammates are getting used to his consistently stellar play.
“He’s overall a dominant player,” senior defensive tackle Gabe Watson said. “He’s strong (and) fast. He gets the job done.”
Woodley got started on the third play of Eastern’s first series, when he broke through the Eagles’ offensive linemen to pressure quarterback Matt Bohnet. Even though Bohnet got the pass off, the signal-caller was knocked down and threw an incompletion, bringing up third down.
It wasn’t until Eastern’s next drive that Woodley put his tremendous athleticism on display. On second-and-10, Bohnet decided to keep the ball and run up the middle. Although Woodley was initially engaged by Eagles right tackle Courtney Ford, he managed to spin out of the offensive lineman’s grip, chase down Bohnet and tackle him from behind after a moderate four-yard gain.
“LaMarr’s a great athlete,” redshirt junior defensive end Rondell Biggs said. “He just uses his athletic abilities to make a lot of plays. There were so many (big plays by Woodley).”
The left side of the defensive line is typically Woodley’s territory before the snap, and that was the launching pad for perhaps his most impressive play of the day. After Bohnet managed to slip defensive tackle Alan Branch, Woodley wrapped up his prey with his right arm and tossed the quarterback to the ground. In a literal sense, Woodley made the play single-handedly, bringing up fourth down and pushing the Eagles back 12 yards.
“You have to get him down the best way you can get him,” Woodley said of his approach to tackling. “I reached out, and that’s what I grabbed him with. One arm. So I had to get him down that way.”
Redshirt senior defensive end Jeremy Van Alstyne recalls a different play as Woodley’s most memorable. It came on third-and-two on Eastern’s drive following the sack. After Bohnet took the snap, Woodley stood patiently, shadowing the quarterback in the middle of the field. When Bohnet heaved a shovel pass to wide receiver A.J. Bennett, No. 56 was there to meet the ball carrier. The massive 6-foot-2, 274-pound defender slammed Bennett to the turf and ended another Eagles possession.
“I think that big hit he made on that shovel pass, it was something I knew was going to happen in the game,” Van Alstyne said. “I was just waiting to see it. LaMarr Woodley is an awesome player, and he just takes that out onto the field. He’s got a real sort of leadership, and he came out to play. We don’t expect anything less (from) him.”
Woodley acknowledged that he was anticipating the toss because of preparation and scouting during the week leading up to the game. The Michigan defense was fully aware that the shovel pass was part of Eastern’s playbook.
“You’re so tight in there,” Woodley said of the situation. “The man was right there, so it wasn’t a great collision. But it was all right. We worked on the shovel pass (in practice). We expected that.”
There were other moments, as well. Woodley brought up yet another fourth down on the Eagles’ next drive, fighting Eastern’s right tackle, right guard and center before getting to Bohnet and bringing him down after a three-yard gain. Woodley also closed a five-yard gap between himself and Eagles backup quarterback Tyler Jones to make a leaping assist with help from linebacker Chris Graham in the second quarter. The final two Eastern drives featured Woodley making a hurry-and-knockdown on Bohnet just after he released a pass and contributing another assist in tackling Eagles running back Anthony Sherrell after Woodley spun away from a blocker.
“LaMarr forced a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” linebacker David Harris said. “He disrupted a lot of things they were trying to run, just putting pressure (and) getting back there.”
But Woodley took his success on Saturday in stride, brushing off the notion that he did anything special. His right hand wrapped in ice because of a jammed finger – nothing serious, he claimed – Michigan’s defensive standout explained it was just another day on the football field.
“I was just doing what I was coached to do,” Woodley said, a smile on his face.
His grin bore a striking resemblance to that of the figure inked onto his arm.