The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2018 THE WOLVERINE 19 BY JOHN BORTON M aurice Hurst faced big de- cisions over the past year, starting with whether or not to return to Michigan as a fifth-year senior. He answered in the affirmative, and kept his game in high gear ever since. Hurst's choice paid off, both for him and Michigan. He anchored one of the best defenses in the nation, and secured his status as an impending NFL first-round draft choice. The burly defensive tackle out of Westwood, Mass., became a consensus All-American, a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten performer, Michigan's MVP and its Defensive Player of the Year. Hurst also leads The Wolverine's an- nual postseason list of the top 25 per- formers in a winged helmet. Voting by the staff of the magazine determines the annual rundown of top quarter horses, featuring some unprecedented twists following an at times turbulent 2017 season. Some of the head-turners for this year's final top 25 include … • Defensive players making up the top seven on the list, and eight of the top 10. • No quarterbacks among the post- season top 25. • A performer who played in only three games crashing the elite group. There wasn't any surprise at the very top of the list. Michigan defen- sive coordinator Don Brown laughed out loud last summer, when pundits kept bringing up how many defensive starters he'd lost from 2016. Brown's go-to line involved point- ing out how players like Hurst and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary — both of whom wound up in the postseason top five — weren't full- time starters last year. Brown assured he'd take his chances with talent like that, mentioning Hurst as one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the nation. When the smoke cleared, Hurst backed every one of Brown's words. "He's gotten to the point where he's not just one of the best players on our team, or one of the best players in the Big Ten," head coach Jim Harbaugh noted during the season. "He's one of the best players in the country. "He's been an ascending player over the entire course of his career. That's great for our football team. You just have to look and say, 'There's Mo Hurst. Look how he works every day.'" Now they can say, see where he stands — elite among talents at the college level and on the fast track for the NFL. Here's the entire list that Hurst heads, featuring defensive dom- inance at the top: 1. MAURICE HURST Fifth-Year Senior, DT Hurst proved a load as a prep run- ning back in Massachusetts, but these days he is the nightmare of running backs, quarterbacks and whoever lines up across from him. He secured 60 tackles in his final season in a Michigan uniform, a high number for someone drawing con- sistent extra attention in the middle of the defensive line. Those stops in- cluded five sacks among 13.5 tackles for loss, with a forced fumble, three quarterback hurries and a pair of passes broken up. Hurst even threw in a blocked kick for good measure. In short, Hurst consistently pro- vided an interior force that gave op- posing offenses headaches, both literal and figurative. He'll prove tough to replace, and marks a second straight defensive player to top the postseason list, after Jabrill Peppers ascended to that height a year ago. 2. CHASE WINOVICH Redshirt Junior, DE Brown couldn't have received any better news than this fourth-year Wol- verine's decision to — in Hurst-like fashion — stick around for a final year in Ann Arbor. That choice might thrust Winovich into a position very similar to Hurst come this time next year. The first-team All-Big Ten selec- tion (media) earned Michigan's Blue Collar Award, and his orange hair in the bowl game — raising cash for the Chad Tough Foundation — demon- strated his awareness outside of foot- ball. On the field, Winovich terrorized quarterbacks, tying for the team lead with eight sacks, while leading the Big Ten with 18 tackles for loss. He made 77 stops overall, while posting a half- dozen quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. 3. KHALEKE HUDSON Sophomore, LB (Viper) So how in the world do you replace a unanimous All-American and the individual at the apex of last year's top 25 (Jabrill Peppers)? How about with someone boasting slightly better defensive numbers? The third-team All-Big Ten selection (coaches) accom- plished a whole lot while learning on the job in his first season as a starter. Hudson finished third on the team with 82 tackles and second with 17.5 tackles for loss — the latter also ranked second in the Big Ten — while tying for the lead with eight sacks. His eight stops behind the line of scrim- mage against Minnesota set a program record and tied an NCAA mark for a single game. He also tied for the U-M lead with a pair of interceptions, while also breaking up a team-best nine passes, hurrying the quarterback four times and forcing a pair of fumbles. 4. DEVIN BUSH JR. Sophomore, LB Bush provided more than head- turning speed at the linebacker spot. He earned the Roger Zatkoff Award as Michigan's best linebacker, became a Dick Butkus Award finalist for the nation's best at the position and gar- nered first-team All-Big Ten notice (from the coaches). The second-year Wolverine led the team in tackles with an even 100, in- cluding 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He picked off one pass and broke up eight more, while adding a quarterback hurry to his totals. Bush The Final Quarter Maurice Hurst Leads U-M's Top 25 Players From 2017 Hurst earned a 96.8 (out of 100) grade from Pro Football Focus this year, which finished first nationally in college football. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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