Defensive Line Preview: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech
|Defensive end James Gayle was Second Team All-ACC for the Hokies|
Starters: Fifth year senior strongside end Ryan Van Bergen (6’6″, 288 lbs.) is a three-year starter and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention this past season; he finished the year with 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries. Senior nose tackle Mike Martin (6’2″, 304 lbs.) is also a three-year starter and has been Second Team All-Big Ten the past two seasons; he ended the regular season with 54 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. Fifth year senior defensive tackle Will Heininger (6’6″, 295 lbs.) is a former walk-on who started for the first time this season; he has 23 tackles and 1 sack. Junior weakside end Craig Roh (6’5″, 269 lbs.) is a three-year starter; he currently has 29 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
Backups: The key backups are junior defensive tackle William Campbell (6’5″, 322 lbs.), sophomore defensive end Jibreel Black (6’2″, 260 lbs.), and freshman defensive end Frank Clark (6’2″, 228 lbs.). Campbell mostly plays behind Martin and has 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks on the season; there is a good chance Campbell will start due to a lower leg injury to Heininger. Black is Roh’s platoon mate at weakside end and finished the regular season with 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Clark also plays weakside end and plays situationally, but provides a speedy matchup and made 5 tackles on the season. If Campbell does indeed start against Virginia Tech, that will increase playing time for redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Quinton Washington (6’4″, 302 lbs.), who has made just 1 tackle this season.
Starters: Redshirt junior Antoine Hopkins began the year as a starting defensive tackle but tore his ACL halfway through the season. His sophomore brother Derrick (6’0″, 301 lbs.) started every game at DT and finished with 50 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. Freshman defensive tackle Luther Maddy (6’1″, 283 lbs.) picked up for the elder Hopkins, notching 17 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery. Redshirt sophomore defensive end James Gayle (6’4″, 257 lbs.) was named Second Team All-ACC after making 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks. Redshirt sophomore J.R. Collins (6’2″, 240 lbs.) made 50 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 1 interception on the year and earned All-ACC Honorable Mention.
Backups: Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray (6’4″, 264 lbs.) made 14 tackles and 1 tackle for loss on the year. Freshman defensive tackle Corey Marshall (6’1″, 253 lbs.) has made 12 tackles and 2 sacks as a frequently used reserve. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Isaiah Hamlette (6’5″, 291 lbs.) has made 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack on the year.
Michigan definitely has an advantage in the size department, where the average Wolverines starter is about 19 lbs. heavier than his Hokies counterpart. Virginia Tech is small, quick, and relatively young, since all four starters are sophomores or freshmen; conversely, Michigan has three seniors, and the only junior starter has been starting since his true freshman season. Although Campbell is a mammoth backup tackle, none of the backups has been exceptional for either squad. Size is important here, since Michigan’s small-ish offensive line matches up against Virginia Tech’s small-ish defensive line, and the Wolverines’ large-ish defensive line goes up against a large-ish Hokies offensive line.
The Hokies defensive line has helped them to rank #17 against the run (107.8 yards per game) and tie for #11 in sacks (2.92 per game), so despite the lack of size and experience, they are fairly effective. Gayle and Collins make a formidable pass rushing duo from the edges. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are #34 in rushing defense (129.1 yards per game) and #27 in sacks (2.33 per game). The numbers suggest the Hokies are stronger up front defensively, and the potential loss of Heininger will be a blow to a thin defensive line.
Advantage: Virginia Tech