Grades Are In: Defensive Line Powers Michigan To Victory Over Northwestern

Recording six sacks, Michigan's defensive line played superb football in earning our highest grade.

Grading scale is 1-5, 5 being the best.

Defensive Line - 5

While the defense started slowly, ceding 17 points in Northwestern's first three drives, I can't find fault with a line that helped hold the Wildcats to 11 yards rushing on nine first-quarter carries (1.2 yards per attempt), 2.0 yards per carry in the second, 0.28 YPC in the third quarter and minus-2.2 yards per rush in the fourth quarter. With Michigan's linebackers combining for just 15 stops in this game, the defensive line had to do more, and responded with 25 stops (among 50 total for the defense), including a team-best nine from senior end Chase Winovich.

Season Grade: 4.4.

Linebackers - 3

Did we mention just 15 tackles? It was a weird game for the linebackers. Devin Bush was schemed out of the box by Northwestern on passing plays while the Wildcats did a terrific job combo-blocking to the inside linebackers, neutralizing Bush, junior Devin Gil and sophomore Josh Ross (a combined five stops) in the run game. Certainly, the unit gets some credit for aiding in the rush defense numbers but this is a group that is counted on for both big plays and consistently bringing down ball carriers, and it did neither of those things against NW.

Season Grade: 3.8.

Secondary - 3

After a disastrous first three possessions in which Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson completed 9 of 11 passes (81.2 percent) for 103 yards - and the secondary was flagged for pass interference on 2nd-and-10 and 3rd-and-10 (the latter keeping a touchdown-scoring drive alive) -- the unit settled down and held Thorson to 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) for 71 yards the rest of the game. Thorson went from a pass efficiency rating of 160.47 in the first quarter to 81.03 the rest of the game. Missed tackles, penalties, and the 17-0 hole the defensive backfield was largely responsible for all combine to drop this group's grade.

Season Grade: 3.2.

Special Teams - 5

There has not been a better group all season, and special teams proved itself again this past weekend. Junior Will Hart averaged 51.0 yards per punt - that's better than 50.0 yards per punt in four straight games - and U-M had a net punting average of 40.0, better than NW's 35.9. Redshirt sophomore placekicker Quinn Nordin was good on both of his field-goal tries, and has now made five in a row, while freshman Jake Moody did not see one of his five kickoffs returned.

If there was anything to nitpick, it's a kickoff return unit that continues to underwhelm, with a 15.0-yard average on three returns against Northwestern and a 14.8-yard average on nine returns since Ambry Thomas scored on a 99-yarder against Notre Dame.

Season Grade: 4.8.

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