Coming into this season after back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances and Big Ten championships, big things were rightfully expected from the Michigan football program. Many of last years standouts, like Blake Corum and J.J. McCarthy, were expected to be big pieces of the puzzle and expected to repeat their past successes.
While they have had a sizable impact, they’re not the only big contributors. A big reason for Michigan’s success is many who have risen to the occasion and performed above expectations.
Today, we take a look at a few of Michigan’s unsung heroes from 2023.
One of the question marks coming into the season was the secondary after the departure of defensive backs D.J. Turner and Gemon Green. Sainristil had been good last season, but was mostly flying under the radar until his big pass breakup against Cade Stover in the game against Ohio State. This year, though, Sainristil has been one of the defenses best players and a stabilizer in the secondary.
This season, Sainristil has made his presence felt with 30 tackles, while also leading the Wolverines in passes defended (six) and interceptions (five). He’s also made two huge pick-sixes, his most notable on a screen pass against Rutgers that he returned for 71 yards.
Arguably where Sainristil has made his biggest impact though is as a leader for his team. As a fifth-year senior, Sainristil was named a captain for the second consecutive year, showing how highly his teammates and coaches think of him. That leadership will once again be key as the Wolverines face a tall task in the Rose Bowl against Alabama.
Speaking of team captains, Barrett also finds himself on this list for his contributions this season. Much like Sainristil, Barrett might have been something of an afterthought coming into the season. The linebacker position was already labeled as a strength coming into the year, but that was largely attributed to Junior Colson and Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann.
Statistically, Barrett has been excellent. He sits behind only Colson in tackles with 52, but has also registered two sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumbles recovered. He’s been a steady presence in the middle of Michigan’s defense and is a big reason why the unit has the pedigree it does.
Barrett’s experience is also something that makes him highly valuable. As a sixth-year player, he’s logged plenty of reps, making him reliable and knowledgable in-game. Michigan has benefitted from that experience, and it can surely rely on him again against the Crimson Tide.
With the loss of Mazi Smith after last season, it was fair to be a bit skeptical about the defensive line. However, despite plenty of turnover in recent years and departures of star players, Michigan has always seemed to have great players along the defensive line. Grant is the latest example of this.
As a three-star prospect per the 247Sports composite, Grant would’ve been an easy guy to overlook. But he’s shown in 2023 he is a true game-wrecker and athletic freak at 6-foot-3 and 339 pounds. He’s lived in the backfields of Michigan’s opponents and has been a reliable presence while Michigan has dealt with injuries to Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham at different points.
One of Grant’s biggest plays came against Penn State, where he showed his athleticism by chasing down Kaytron Allen from behind to prevent a touchdown. This play saved a probable touchdown and the game could have looked much different had the play not been made. It’s plays like this that should give Michigan fans comfort going into next year with the tandem of Grant and Graham up front.
He’s not a player, but Moore has an argument to be the most impactful member of the Michigan program in 2023. In the face of two Jim Harbaugh suspensions, Moore had the chance to serve as Michigan’s interim head coach in four games, including against Penn State and Ohio State, coaching the team to a 4-0 record.
With so much adversity and negative noise around the team this season, Moore was the steadying presence the team needed, especially against its two toughest opponents. Not only did Moore impress with his leadership in these situations, but he also remained poised and was able to do his own job effectively as an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Moore and the offensive staff will have their work cut out for them facing another tough defense in Alabama, but Moore’s work leading the nation’s No. 14 scoring offense should give Michigan fans some confidence. Additionally, his work serving as the interim head coach, especially through the toughest part of the schedule, should give fans comfort the Wolverines have a strong leader waiting in the wings.