The Wolverine

December 2021*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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DECEMBER 2021 THE WOLVERINE 65 T ry to wrap your mind around this: the only defensive player with a realistic chance of becoming just the second defender to win the Heisman Trophy will not be the National Defen- sive Player of the Year. Does that make any sense? No? Okay, good, because it should not. On Nov. 17, the Football Writers Asso- ciation of America (FWAA) announced three finalists for the Bronko Nagur- ski Trophy to be given to the National Defensive Player of the Year. None were Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Yet he is the one defensive player who likely will be named a final- ist for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding college football player. So somebody will have screwed up. Big time. And it won't have been the Heisman voters. Because not only should Hutchinson be a Heisman finalist, he has a case for actually winning it. Despite what the FWAA may think, Hutchinson has been the best and most impactful defender in college foot- ball by constantly terrorizing oppos- ing quarterbacks. He has registered 13 sacks, which are the third-most in the nation this fall and the most by a Wol- verine defender ever in a season. But it goes beyond sacks. Hutchinson does not need to take down the signal- caller to make his presence felt. His 68 pressures are second in the country, and the only player with more (San Di- ego State's Cameron Thomas) needed 81 more pass-rushing snaps (444 to Hutchinson's 363) to tally just five more pressures. Hutchinson has affected passing offenses just by getting near the quarterback repeatedly, whether it is with a speed rush to the outside, or a power move to burst inside or collapse the pocket, regardless of how many players are trying to block or chip him. What makes Hutchinson's pass rush- ing so remarkable, too, is how he is only one of two Wolverine defenders who generate consistent pressure. He and his fellow edge mate, David Ojabo, have combined for 24 sacks. The rest of the Wolverines, though? Just nine, and only one other defender has more than one. As a team, Michigan is only tied for 33rd in sacks per game (2.75) and 38th in sack rate (7.88 percent) despite ridiculous production from Hutchinson and Ojabo. Although the two help each other out because it is difficult for offenses to chip or double two edge rushers on the same play, the responsibility of getting pres- sure mainly falls on them. Although of- fenses know this and know Hutchinson is the danger, they cannot stop him. Hutchinson is no slouch against the run either. In fact, he is excellent at it. His rush-defense grade (87.7) from Pro Football Focus (PFF) is 17th among Power Five players and 28th overall in all of college football. He creates havoc for offenses no matter what play is called. The difference that Hutchinson makes can be discerned easily just by comparing Michigan's defense to last season. Without the star most of last year due to injury, U-M was tied for 54th in yards allowed per play (5.53) and 95th in scoring defense (34.5 points allowed per game). This season with Hutchinson on the field for 673 snaps, the Wolverines' defense has completely rebounded. They are now tied for 12th in yards allowed per play (4.78) and eighth in scoring defense (17.2). Although this defensive turnaround is not solely due to the junior end's pres- ence, since new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald changed the scheme and other defenders have improved, Hutchinson has undoubtedly played the biggest part in it. He is an absolute menace on the edge in all facets of the game, and it is why PFF has him as its highest-graded defensive player (93.8). And Hutchinson's timing cannot be better. He tallied three sacks in a piv- otal game at Penn State Nov. 13. Then in The Game, with 14-15 million viewers watching, he took down then-Heisman frontrunner C.J. Stroud three times, drew one holding penalty (plus oth- ers that were unflagged) and created a PFF-record 15 pressures to contain Ohio State's explosive offense in the Wolver- ines' 42-27 win. It was his Heisman mo- ment, and he absolutely shined. With his Heisman moment on the biggest rivalry stage, voters took notice. Hutchinson suddenly leapt to having the third-best odds to win the Heisman at DraftKings Sportsbook at +1400 be- hind only Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (-200) and Stroud (+400). But Young has to face the nation's best de- fense in Georgia in the SEC Champion- ship Game, while Stroud is sitting at home in Columbus due to Hutchinson's work. If the Bulldogs bully Young, and Hutchinson has another multi-sack performance against an Iowa team that is 104th in offensive sack rate to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten champion- ship and College Football Playoff in- vite, Hutchinson may just pull it off and join Michigan's Charles Woodson as the only defensive Heisman winners. And the FWAA probably wishes it could have a redo. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Hutchinson For Heisman Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at drew.c.hallett@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson — who ranked second nationally in pres- sures (68) and third in sacks (with a single- season school-record 13) — finished the regular season as the highest-graded defen- sive player (93.8) in the country per Pro Football Focus. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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