Every time LaMarr Woodley sacks a quarterback this year, Rondell Biggs cringes.
At the end of last season, the two defensive ends, along with position mate Tim Jamison, started a competition to see which player could get the most sacks and make the most tackles in 2006. Two games into the season, Woodley and Biggs have each recorded eight tackles, including five for loss. But Woodley holds the advantage in sacks, leading Biggs four sacks to three.
It’s a gap Woodley plans on widening.
“If Rondell beats me, he’s going to be talking a little trash, and I can’t have that,” Woodley said.
The way Woodley has played in the Wolverines’ first two games, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to listen to Biggs talk smack anytime soon. The Saginaw native’s four sacks rank first in the nation, as do his 55 sack yards. Woodley’s five tackles for loss have cost opposing offenses a whopping 59 yards, by far the highest total in the Big Ten.
In last Saturday’s 41-17 win over Central Michigan alone, Woodley notched two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, in addition to four tackles. But a single play in the first quarter highlighted how dominant Woodley has been.
With the Chippewas deep in Michigan territory, Woodley broke loose and sacked Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour, popping the ball out of the signal caller’s hands as he brought him to the ground.
“We knew where he was, believe me,” Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly said. “If you let him go without blocking him, he is going to kill somebody.”
The senior co-captain credits his fast start to the talent around him. In past years, opponents double-teamed Woodley because he was the only dangerous pass rusher on Michigan’s defensive line. But due to the emergence of players like Biggs, Alan Branch and Terrance Taylor, teams can no longer afford to double Woodley on every snap, which has given him room to wreak havoc in the backfield. In his first three seasons, Woodley never recorded more than five sacks in a given year. After two games, he needs just one sack to match that mark.
But Woodley has his eyes on an even loftier goal – breaking Michigan’s single-season sack record. With 10 games to go, he needs eight sacks to eclipse the current mark of 11, shared by defensive linemen James Hall and Jason Horn and linebacker David Bowens.
“I was just in there looking at it,” Woodley said at Monday’s press conference. “It would be nice to be one of those guys that are remembered in the great tradition of Michigan. It’s definitely a goal for me.”
And likely one that Woodley decided on several months ago. When the rising senior sat down with coach Lloyd Carr before the start of spring practice last April, Woodley listed specific goals he wanted to achieve in the final season of his college career. Carr said those ambitions, along with Woodley’s desire to lead by example, provide a lot of the motivation behind his ferocious play this year.
With the Wolverines traveling to South Bend to take on No. 2 Notre Dame this weekend, Woodley might want to focus on that record a little more than usual. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn is this year’s Heisman frontrunner, and Woodley knows that he and the rest of Michigan’s defense are going to have to chase Quinn out of the pocket if they hope to slow him down.
The chance to sack one of the nation’s top quarterbacks seems like it would be just the thing to get Woodley’s competitive juices flowing, but he said it would be “just another sack” if he brings down Quinn on Saturday.
Another sack closer to history – and another sack Biggs won’t get.