Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers was complete fun as the offense exploded on the ground and the defense showed flashes of perfection.
Karan Higdon ran 200 yards and scored twice. Chris Evans also totaled two touchdowns and had 191 yards rushing. Together, they averaged 13.4 yards per carry. Yes, you read that correctly. This performance catapulted Higdon to third all-time in career rushing yards per carry amongst Michigan players (min. 200 carries) – behind only Denard Robinson and Jon Vaughn.
Even Brandon Peters, who was underutilized throughout the game, threw a touchdown pass, made minimal mistakes, and got his first true taste of college hitting. All around, the offense finally looked completely dominant against the Gophers.
But, Michigan’s game was not a one-sided thrashing of the Gophers. The Wolverine defense was stout and hard-hitting from snap one until the final whistle. The defense held the Minnesota offense to under 100 yards in both passing and rushing, culminating in a measly 164 yards for the day. The unit was simply exciting to watch as it showed talent throughout its depth chart and made highlight reel plays continually.
However, throughout a complete team performance on Saturday, one player stood out. Sophomore linebacker Khaleke Hudson had the game of his career against Minnesota and the best individual defensive performance this season. His final stat line: 15 total tackles, 11 solo tackles, 3 sacks, a forced fumble, and 8 tackles for loss – a NCAA record. Hudson also was millimeters away from a blocked punt.
A lot went into Hudson’s accomplishments against the Gophers. So, for this film breakdown, we will re-watch five his most dynamic plays from the game to see how he was so successful throughout all four quarters.
A theme throughout the game was Minnesota’s unwillingness and inability to block Khaleke Hudson. On this play, Michigan is in a 3-4 formation with two linebackers ready to blitz: Noah Furbush and Hudson. The addition of Furbush on Hudson’s inside creates havoc immediately for the offense. His dive to the A-gap takes both the LT and the TE out of the play, as both were blocking downwards, and it closes the hole for the running back.
The wall of defenders now in front of the running back leaves him with only one option: bounce back to the left. To be honest, the original play could have been designed to go to the left B or C gap; the tight end’s immediate step to block downwards hints at that. But, the fact a linebacker was left unblocked in the exact gap the play was supposed to go through makes that hard to believe.
Either way, whether it was poor design or execution, Khaleke Hudson was ready to blow it up. He contains the outside edge well, forcing the quarterback to hand the ball off and the runner to not have a lane to the sideline. This great angle of attack, coupled with his initial contact, would normally suffice for an outstanding play, as Devin Bush and David Long would then be able to help out for a gang tackle for loss. But, Hudson did not end with that. Instead, he makes an amazing one-armed tackle, slamming the RB for a significant loss of yards. At this point, Hudson was just hinting at what was in store for the night.
On this next highlight reel play, the Gophers decide to actually try blocking Khaleke Hudson. This time, Michigan lines up in a 4-3 with Hudson on the line of scrimmage. In Don Brown’s schemes, it is common for the Viper in this formation to drop back into coverage in the flats. Perhaps that is why the tight end did not even look at Hudson and passed the assignment onto the running back. Having Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst lined up on the same side is also a justifiable reason why the tight end would have to give up edge blocking duty to aid linemen on the inside.
Hudson actually took too wide of an angle on this blitz. By doing so, the running back was able to block him outside, and the Gopher quarterback had a lane to escape through as the pocket collapsed. But, Hudson corrected his mistake promptly by staying on his feet and keeping his body towards the ball throughout the block. This allowed Hudson to chase the quarterback without losing a step. Then, he made a textbook tackle to force a fumble into Gopher territory. The Michigan offense scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive, and the game began to reach the level of embarrassment for the Gophers. Hudson’s ability to quickly correct himself, his vision, and his speed all made that possible.
If you are an opposing offense, you know you are in trouble when Don Brown’s front seven is all within three yards of the line of scrimmage, and this play was no different. Khaleke Hudson is right at the line showing blitz. Again, no one blocks him. Whether the ball was handed off or not, Hudson was going to make a huge tackle for loss. The Gopher quarterback made the unfortunate decision to keep the ball for a wildcat run. Boom. Another sack for Hudson.
It is now the end of the third quarter, and the Minnesota Gophers finally have decided that not blocking Hudson, or having a running back pick up his rush, were not going to suffice. So, the offense has a tight end contain Hudson on the edge as the quarterback rolls away from him. Still not enough. Hudson gets around the tight end, breaks free, and finds himself chasing the quarterback in the backfield once more. The quarterback has no idea, and another sack ensues.
This last play by Khaleke Hudson was one of my favorites throughout the day and starkly reminded me of his predecessor at Viper, Jabrill Peppers. Hudson displays the perfect combination of maintaining technicalities and utilizing raw speed and talent. First, while lined up several yards off the line of scrimmage, Hudson makes a great first step to have an angle on the outside edge. But then he recognizes the sweep and starts his move to the ball. This quick burst of speed makes it impossible for the lead-blocking tight end to make a block on Hudson.
From then on, this whole play is simply an exhibition of Hudson’s speed. Safety Jordan Glasgow’s work on the outside makes it impossible for the runner to get to the sideline. His slight hesitation to bounce back inwards made all the difference as Hudson was immediately on his back. Within three seconds, Hudson identified the play, took his angle, and travelled 10 yards to make a huge tackle for loss. That is precisely the game awareness and dynamism needed to thrive at Don Brown’s Viper position.
The worst part about Khlaeke Hudson’s unbelievable performance is the near impossibility he will be able to replicate it. He did tie the NCAA tackles for loss record, after all. But, as we know, that is beside the point since football is a team sport. What is going to change after Hudson’s game is the role he will have in making the Michigan defense even more dynamic. Since day one, opposing offensive coordinators have had to game plan around Mo Hurst and Rashan Gary. Throughout the season, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, and LaVert Hill have all attained the same honor. Now, add Khaleke Hudson to that list.
Hudson showed on Saturday exactly what happens when you leave him un-or-under-blocked and allow him to heat up. Every coordinator will have to take that into consideration going forward and make sure no. 7 is accounted for. When that happens, Don Brown’s defense is only further elevated, as he excels in creating opportunities for other players while offenses overly focus on playmakers. A future double-team on Hudson on the edge will only help create chances for another Wolverine to make a big play. Therefore, while it is fantastic to relish in Hudson’s individual performance against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, it’s even better to know that such a standout performance only makes the whole team better.