The Wolverine

December 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 75

DECEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 25 ing at Camp Randall Stadium. "We're judged as men on how we face adver- sity and how we come back from tough situations. Last year, we did a great job of that. This year, we will too." Defensive Line Grade: D The Wolverines' defensive line looked like the strength of the defense heading into the season. It featured Paye and Hutchinson, and fifth-year senior Carlo Kemp at tackle, paired with a veteran in Jeter, a former five- star recruit in sophomore Chris Hin- ton and other young hopefuls. It's been tough sledding for the men up front, however. The biggest blow so far — outside the losses — involves the departure of Hutchinson, who fractured his leg versus Indiana. Har- baugh confirmed prior to the Wiscon- sin game that Hutchinson would re- quire surgery and be out indefinitely. Michigan hasn't been getting home against quarterbacks even with the stalwart defensive end after a five- sack opener against Minnesota. The Wolverines didn't lay a glove on Lombardi or Penix. It promised to only get tougher with Hutchinson on the sidelines … and then Paye missed the tilt with the Badgers with an undisclosed injury. Against Wisconsin, U-M did record a sack, but couldn't slow the ground game. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Taylor Upshaw sounded a hopeful note prior to that game. Acknowl- edging that nobody wants to see a teammate lost to injury, Upshaw vowed to make the most of his next- man-up status. "It's a huge opportunity for me," Upshaw said. "Now it's a do-or-die situation. I'm happy I get to show- case my skills to the nation. "There's a lot of room for improve- ment. When you have Aidan or Kwity, two guys that we really rely on, go down, it's going to affect the game. But I have confidence in the backups, even the guys behind me. We just have to step up." That do-or-die, Upshaw noted, in- volves the present situation with the Wolverines. "Every week, it's do-or-die in our eyes," he said. "There's pressure building on us. We have to perform the way we're capable of performing." That's means getting to the quar- terback much more consistently, for one. The Wolverines through four games tied for 93rd nationally with just 1.5 sacks per outing. That's a far cry from Michigan's typical quarterback harassment under Brown. The Wolverines also aren't forcing fumbles, tied for last nationally with just one forced in four outings, and are tied for No. 78 in turnover margin (-0.25 per game). They're working on more effec- tively stopping the run, an effort tak- ing a major step back against Wiscon- sin. But most of the time, teams look to stop the run to force opponents to throw the ball. Nobody needs to urge a passing game onto Michigan foes at this point. Upshaw hopes that changes in the days to come, both through increased coverage and pressure by the Wolverines up front. "We have to get back there," Up- shaw said. "It's on us. If we're not producing, we have to improve. We've got to get back there and give our DBs a chance. "I know Coach Brown is going to help us out — that's what we have to do." The Wolverines, front to back, need to step it up on defense. Whether or not they can, given the shakeup to what was once considered a solid, veteran lineup, remains to be seen. ❑ Redshirt sophomore defensive end Taylor Upshaw is among those being called upon after star end Aidan Hutchinson suffered a fractured leg that required surgery, while fellow star end Kwity Paye also missed the Wisconsin game with an undisclosed ailment. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY Jim Harbaugh And Don Brown Face A Repair Job One of defensive coordinator Don Brown's go-to sayings when there are issues with the defense comes across as blunt and determined as he is: "I'll FIX it." Michigan radio sideline reporter Doug Karsch talks to Brown each week for the network radio show and sees firsthand the intensity U-M's defensive boss brings to the table. Karsch insists that given Michigan's opt-out absences and injuries to this point, nobody should be totally shocked at the early struggles. "Now is the time for this coaching staff — and Jim Harbaugh in particu- lar — to show they can take a young core and get better," Karsch said. "Get better over the coming weeks, get better by the end of the year, and show they can continue to improve in a full offseason. "This is a different kind of challenge. Generally, Michigan teams have got- ten off to a relatively quick start and then had problems at the end. … It's up to Jim Harbaugh to prove he's got that kind of gear and for the staff to prove they've got that gear." Karsch noted that nobody wants to hear it, but the fix may be a longer- term one. In other words, the Wolver- ines are doing the best they can this season, but also grooming players for 2021. "The question is, what makes you better in 2021?" he mused. "This team is not going to win the Big Ten cham- pionship, and it probably makes the most sense, for the health of the pro- gram, just to give guys reps that you think could be building blocks. "You also don't want to give guys playing time that don't deserve it, because it sends the wrong message. You've got to earn it — but maybe with a shade toward a young guy that can help. … That's not the ex- pectation. People want them to re- load, rather than rebuild. But that's where they are." — John Borton

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - December 2020