After a standout performance in the first game of the season, Michigan Wolverines fans were waiting for the pass rush to make an encore. Since the start of Big Ten season, they’ve gotten just that — recording three sacks against Maryland, four against Iowa and a whopping seven against Indiana.
The surge in production is something defensive line coach Mike Elston has been intentionally working on, a process he spoke about at his media availability Wednesday.
“There’s been more focus on it,” Elston said. “Trying to get off the football better, get guys in better situations, and not running by the quarterback. I think that we’ve done some things in terms of line movements and stunts but we’ve gotten a lot of one-on-one wins, which is great to see. We are a very talented group up front, as I’ve stated before, with a lot of depth and a lot of guys can go in and create the pressure.
Elston also believes the uptick in pass rush production is a combination of the players beginning to find a rhythm, along with some schematics things the coaching staff have worked on.
While much has been made recently of the more traditional pass rushers in Eyabi Okie and Mike Morris, much of the pressure generated this season has come off the line from a mix of outright and simulated blitzes. Elston highlighted this approach as a major factor of their latest successes.
“A lot of it is based on the opponent,” Elston said. “It’s gonna be what we feel is their weakness, whether it be a personnel or a protection weakness, and then combining that with the strength of our guys, and pressuring the guys who have or can give us production. But you’re always trying to find the weaknesses and find what our strengths are, and mash those two together.
“Everyone wants to get a sack. It’s not just for defensive linemen so when you’re pressuring linebackers that are really good at it and they can finish on the quarterback, that’s adding value to them. But it’s also adding excitement to us. It’s pretty cool for a second- or third-level player to get a sack.”
With how instrumental pressures and sacks have been in the outcomes of the Big Ten games, there’s little doubt on the importance of the pass rush’s continued development.