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2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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60 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY MICHAEL SPATH P rior to the 1997 showdown with Penn State, Michigan's defensive players studied the scouting report. Quarterback Mike McQueary had been enjoying a solid senior year, leading the Nittany Lions to a 7-0 record and the nation's No. 3 ranking when PSU prepared to entertain the Wolverines. Overall, in 11 contests in 1997, he would complete 56.5 percent of his pass attempts for 2,143 yards and a two-to-one touchdown-to- interception ratio with 17 scores and only eight picks. Those numbers were good for a 133.72 pass efficiency rating. But the Nittany Lions played 12 games that season, and McQueary was awful against the Maize and Blue, completing only 10 of 22 passes (45.5 percent) for 68 yards with an in- terception, earning a pass efficiency rating on that day of 62.33. McQueary's performance was, in the words of former Wolverine Glen Steele, a product of Michigan's defensive front getting in his head, and for good reason — on PSU's first and third snaps of the game, Steele and team- mate Juaquin Feazell brought down the Blue and White signal-caller for losses of 10 and eight yards. Michigan would record five sacks overall in holding the Nittany Lions to 169 yards of total offense and one touchdown in a 34-8 victory in the matchup of unbeaten teams. U-M vaulted from No. 4 to No. 1 after its win en route to a 12-0 record and a national championship. "You'll see it in a quarterback's eyes, you'll see it in his feet and you'll see in his release because the ball comes out a lot faster than the play is designed — you see panic, and at that moment you know as a pass rusher you've done your job when he hears your footsteps even if you're not within a few yards of him," Steele said. Nirvana. Football perfection. That is the life — that is the goal — of the four men along the defensive line, and sometimes linebackers, too: to make every pass an uncomfortable one for rival quarterbacks. Throughout the years, a host of Michigan greats have consistently succeeded in altering game plans and creating chaos. "I coach high school football in Illinois," former U-M defensive end Dan Rumishek said, "and one of the things I say to our defen- sive linemen is: 'Have you ever controlled 11 men before?' And their response is no, and I tell them, 'If you become a great pass rusher, you will control 11 because when you disrupt a quarterback, a play is dead, and there is noth- ing they can do about it.'" The mere thought of it had Rumishek grin- ning from ear to ear. "It's very empowering." It Starts With A Mindset Mark Messner played in a different era than today's college football. When he starred from 1985-88, he stood in at 6-3, 244 pounds as a senior while Michigan's starting five offensive linemen in 1988 measured, on average, 6-4, 288 pounds. Yet he knows he shared a common bond with the elite athletes lining up on the edge presently. "It's all about attitude — playing with reck- less abandon," said Messner, who holds U-M career records in sacks (36) and tackles for loss (70). "You'll never hear a great pass rusher say it was because he was physically supe- rior. They won't say I'm bigger, stronger and faster because usually that's not the case. We're smaller than the blockers we go up against in height, reach and weight. "What you will hear them say is they pos- sess an intangible skill, an intelligence, a mind- set of aggression. Pass rushers are smart guys, they see things, like uneven weight distribution in an offensive lineman's stance. They watch their eyes to see when they look off. "They pay attention to hands and feet, and pick up on tendencies. Almost always, they notice something and that's when they take advantage. That's what you'll hear great pass rushers say." Bigger, smaller, fast and quick, or powerful, some players have more natural physical gifts than others, but all the great ones are strong mentally. "I think it's the attitude, the want-to, and the belief in yourself to do it," said Steele, who racked up 24 sacks from 1994-97. "There is some athleticism involved, but there's no per- fect body type or skill. "You look at a Brandon Graham and La- Marr Woodley and they were both big guys but they were very, very quick. They had loose hips and good flexibility, played with low pad level, and were capable of putting you on your butt, too, because they had greater strength. Those guys can be animals because they have the physical tools. "There are a lot of guys that don't have the physical assets. I don't consider myself as mobile, and I wasn't a sprinter, but I had a burst and I worked out of a power rush and into a swim move. I figured out what made me special, and I worked at it and worked at it." Graham was blessed physically. He was 6-2, 263 pounds as a senior in 2009, and had a tremendous first step. He also played with uncanny force, often overwhelming even the mightiest offensive tackles. Still, he cites his mental determination as his most important attribute. "At Michigan, I was the primary guy they were focusing on and I would get two or three blockers, and I somehow still found a way to beat the guys because I can say that my mo- tor was always going," he said. "People hated blocking me because no matter how much they tried, even if they had me cornered, I was never going to quit. "That's the difference between great pass rushers and just OK pass rushers — there are guys that just stall out if they don't have instant success in the first two or three seconds, and then once you stand up, you've lost, but if you don't stop, you can create something because offensive linemen are not conditioned to keep going and going. "Football is a three- to four-second game, but sometimes it goes longer, and on those plays you need to give it everything you have because the effect is maybe on the next play, the blocker will be tired. "You just have to constantly outwork them because the guy that will keep fighting play after play is the guy that is going to win." There is more to it than simply outworking a foe; pass rushers are adamant they are among the most devoted to film study because they need to figure out what an opponent's strengths and weaknesses are. "What really makes an effective pass rusher is knowing your own capabilities and your op- ponent's," said Will Carr, an All-American de- fensive tackle as a senior in 1996. "You have to CHAOS CREATORS Michigan's Best Pass Rushers Have Enjoyed Making Life Miserable For Opposing Quarterbacks Brandon Graham is the only player in school history to record 8.5 sacks or more in three seasons, notching 8.5 in 2007, 10 in 2008 and 10.5 in 2009. PHOTO BY WOLVERINE PHOTO 60-63.Art Of The Pass Rush.indd 60 6/19/14 12:39 PM

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