The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2016 but Gary — with 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two hurries — is a star in the making. "It's great to have some big guys on the outside, Rashan and Chris out there," Hurst said. "It's always a good thing to have on the edge, that type of strength and speed. They are freak- ish guys out there. It's helped a lot and will continue to help us on the perimeter." LINEBACKERS This group couldn't have been any better in the opener, especially Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Mike McCray. The redshirt junior weakside linebacker was all over the field in the opener — his first career start — notching nine tackles (3.5 for a loss), two sacks and one forced fumble in the Wolverines' 63-3 season-opening win over Hawai'i. McCray, playing in his first game since the 2014 season, said he couldn't sleep the night before the game, but it didn't show on the field. "We talked about going out there and sending a message," McCray said. "We lost three seniors last year at the linebacker position, and we wanted to go out and prove some- thing — that we belong. I think we did a great job today." As a group, McCray, senior Ben Gedeon and redshirt sophomore Ja- brill Peppers — in his first start at the strongside linebacker position — dominated. The three accounted for 24 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for loss, along with a forced fumble. Through three games, the lineback- ers have been the team's top three leading tacklers, Peppers pacing the Wolverines with 28; Gedeon has 25 and McCray 19. The trio has also ac- counted for 18 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and they are the top three in each of those categories, as well. As if that weren't impressive enough, Peppers is tied for the team lead in quarterback hurries (three), while McCray is tops in pass break- ups (three), and both have also forced a fumble. "He was outstanding … our defen- sive MVP of the game and got the most helmet stickers, another indica- tion of really good play," Harbaugh said of McCray's opening-game per- formance. "He's been consistently good all through training camp and spring practice … a top performer on defense for us." Gedeon was a half-step behind, Harbaugh said, but still graded out well, and he's been a Steady Eddie in the middle of the defense, notch- ing four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. "He has always been a very vocal leader," McCray said of the man in the middle. "He's doing a great job so far." Peppers, however, is the guy that makes the entire defense — not just the linebackers — click. Some won- dered how he'd adapt to playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but Michigan's defense was missing key performers in the first three games, but it rose up and played well for the most part. U-M ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense at 15.0 points allowed per game after three weeks — subtracting the de- fensive score by Colorado would have put the Wolverines tied for 12th at 12.7 a contest — and was still working through injuries to senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, senior end Taco Charlton and redshirt sophomore nose tackle Bryan Mone. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers was a big reason for their success, ranking first nationally in tackles for loss per game (3.2) after three weeks. So was the team's third-down defense. Michigan oppo- nents were averaging a meager 10.5 percent on third down through three games — Central Michigan was a distant second in the national standings at 15.6. Here are other statistical highlights through three games: Red-Zone Defense — Michigan opponents had scored on only 33.3 percent of their trips inside the U-M 20, by far the best mark in the nation. Big Ten foe Rutgers was second (42.9 percent), Ohio State tied for fifth (50) and Northwest- ern tied for 14th (66.7). Team Tackles for Loss — The Wolverines were tied for second nationally and tied for first in the Big Ten with Illinois with 10.7 tackles for loss per game (32 overall). Miami (Fla.) led the nation with 40, 13.3 per contest, while conference foe Penn State was tied for 11th at 9.3. Total Defense — Despite the injuries to three starters, U-M still managed to finish 23rd in the non-conference slate with 296.0 yards allowed per game through three contests. Wis- consin led the Big Ten and ranked 13th nationally at 261.0, while Ohio State came in at 18th (278.7). Team Sacks — Michigan had gotten to the quarterback 11 times for 3.67 per game, tied for 11th nationally and second only to Illinois (13, 4.33) in the league. Penn State (10, 3.33) was the only other conference team in the top 25, tied for 17th. Team Passing Efficiency Defense — The Wolverines checked in at No. 24 in the early going with a rating of 102.80. Baylor led the nation at 58.60 — Big Ten brethren Ohio State ranked No. 6 (79.59), Nebraska No. 15 (97.09) and Indiana No. 17 (98.98). Defensive Touchdowns — Michigan tied for fifth with two on a pair of interception returns for scores against Hawai'i in the opener. Ohio State led the country with four, while Indiana had also managed a pair. Individual Solo Tackles — Peppers tied for 11th with 19 total, 6.3 per game. — Chris Balas In Michigan's first three games, the three starting linebackers have combined for 72 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Redshirt junior Mike McCray (above) has accounted for 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Wolverines' Ranks Among Top Performers

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