The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 42 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 41 I f Michigan is going to take the next step as a program in 2020, it needs a second defensive tackle to step up behind fifth- year senior Carlo Kemp because the Wolver- ines' run defense will not hold up when it is most necessary. This may seem like an odd statement when looking at last year's national rankings. U-M was ninth in yards allowed per carry (3.16) and tied for 11th in run defense grades (91.1) granted by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Much of this success is attributed to senior Kwity Paye and junior Aidan Hutchinson, who are the two best run-stopping defen- sive ends returning in the Big Ten ac- cording to PFF. With Paye, Hutchinson and Kemp, the Wolverines were able to stuff most opponents, holding 10 of 13 below 3.5 yards per carry. T h e p r o b l e m , though, is what hap- pened in the other three games. Wiscon- sin, Ohio State and Alabama ran rough- shod over Michigan's defensive line. The Badgers bulldozed their way to 359 yards on 61 carries (6.3 yards per attempt), the Buckeyes racked up 264 yards on 50 carries (5.3 yards per attempt) and the Crimson Tide rolled to 153 yards on 30 carries (5.1 yards per attempt). Michigan did not have another interior run defender to slow them down, and lost each contest by at least 19 points. They were U-M's worst losses of the season. The Wolverines will not contend for a Big Ten championship if they cannot deploy more beef in the interior. They will not stand up against offensive lines the size and caliber of Wisconsin's or Ohio State's if they rely on three-man defensive lines. Paye and Hutchin- son may fight to a stalemate on the edges, but at 286 pounds, Kemp is no bowling ball in the middle. He is a better pass rusher (80.9 PFF grade) that can knife his way through than run plugger (71.5 PFF grade), and if he is forced to have to take on double teams, he will be blown back off the line too much. To defend the run in its biggest games, Michigan needs to pair someone inside with Kemp. This takes on extra weight because there are not many likely candidates ready to fill that role. Fifth-year senior Michael Dwumfour transferred to Rutgers. Of the 22 Wolverines who played at least 50 snaps last season, junior Donovan Jeter received the lowest defensive grade (43.8) from PFF, and former walk-on sophomore Jess Speight had the third-lowest mark (54.7). Redshirt junior Phillip Paea did not play a single snap last season after switch- ing from offensive line, which is an ominous sign. Redshirt sophomore Julius Welschof and redshirt freshman Michael Morris, both listed at less than 300 pounds, also did not play a snap last season and may still need time to transition from the end to the interior. That leaves two players: sophomore Christopher Hinton and redshirt freshman Mazi Smith. Hinton is the most likely candidate. Al- though he had the second-lowest defensive grade (52.7) from PFF among Wolverines who played at least 50 snaps last season (129), there are several reasons that it should not be as concerning. First, Hinton has the recruiting accolades that would support a second-year surge. He was a five-star prospect and ranked 15th overall in the 2019 class by Sec- ond, defensive tackles need at least a full year in a strength and conditioning program to be ready for Power Five college football, and unlike Welschof and Morris, his 6-4, 303-pound frame is more suited for tackle. Finally, 75 of his 129 snaps came in Michi- gan's final two contests versus Ohio State and Alabama in which, despite expected struggles, he flashed moments of brilliance. If Hinton is not ready, next in line should be Smith, who played only seven snaps in 2019. Like Hinton, Smith was a heralded prospect in the 2019 class. He was a four-star prospect and slotted in the Ri- vals150 at 142nd, and thus Smith is more inclined to have the potential to become an All-Big Ten-caliber player down the road. Additionally, Smith has the body and frame to be able to wall up better against double teams, weigh- ing 20 more pounds than Kemp at 305. The optimal sce- nario would be that Hinton and Smith are both ready to go in 2020. Defensive line is a position where coaches would prefer to rotate their players consistently to keep them fresh. Michigan had its best defensive line in 2016 when Don Brown had the luxury of swapping in and out Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, Chris Worm- ley and Matt Godin. It would go a long way for Michigan if it had a three-man rotation of Kemp, Hinton and Smith at tackle. But at the bare minimum, one of Hinton or Smith must be primed to start alongside Kemp. Otherwise, Michigan will trail Wiscon- sin's and Ohio State's running backs on the field and in the standings again in 2020. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS DREW HALLETT Discovering A Defensive Tackle Duo Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan ath- letics since 2013. Contact him at drew.c.hallett@ and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Hinton, a former five-star prospect, needs to help the Wol- verines improve at defending the run against its best opponents. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Alabama averaged a combined 5.5 yards per rush versus U-M in 2019. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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