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Handing out midseason game balls for the Michigan Wolverines

With the Wolverines on a bye, let’s reward three players for their contributions from the first half of the season.

Michigan v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are undefeated and ranked in the top 10 halfway through the season. Like a baby in a diaper, there have been blowouts, close calls, but thankfully, no complete accident in their pants performances. The Wolverines have a swagger to them, a confidence that has yet to waver in any situation this season.

While the back half of the schedule will dictate the legacy of Team 142, let’s take a moment to reflect on the first half. Specifically, the players who got Michigan to 6-0.

Firstly, honorable mentions to Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum, Zak Zinter, Andrew Stueber, Brad Hawkins, Dax Hill, Brad Robbins, Josh Ross and David Ojabo. Without their contributions, 6-0 would not have been possible,

At least 10 players are worthy of mid-season game balls, but instead of a 10,000 word superlative piece that most would just “TL;DR,” I narrowed it down to three selections.

Now, let’s talk about it.

Offense - Andrew Vastardis

Just like everyone predicted, Michigan center Andrew Vastardis took the well-documented and expected fifth-to-sixth-year leap in production. Actually, before the season, most expected Zak Zinter to take over at center and Vastardis to provide veteran leadership in a rotational role.

But something changed for Vastardis this offseason. Maybe it was the disappointing 2020 campaign that lit a fire under the super senior, or maybe it was the promotion of Sherrone Moore to offensive line coach.

Whatever it was, Vastardis has become a team captain and one of the best players on the team. He has been critical in communicating blitzes, shifting protections, getting to the second level, pulling on run plays and dominating on the offensive interior.

When experienced players say they have seen it all, it often comes off hyperbolic. But for Vastardis, a player who has seen three presidents in office during his time at Michigan, I believe he has truly seen it all.

Defense - Aidan Hutchinson

I was sitting at a bar in Reagan International Airport, as one does to kill time, the Sunday after Michigan’s dominating victory against Washington. There are two gentlemen next to me sporting Spartan Green attire and I, as a good and loyal soldier, was wearing a blue Michigan sweatshirt and a white Wolverines hat.

At first it felt like a scene from Goodfellas and I was waiting for someone to tell me to go get by shinebox. But civility prevailed and conversation ensued.

We started talking about the season, both teams, and expectations. It was a great conversation with these passionate, yet level-headed graduates of Michigan State. But what struck me during our conversation was their glowing respect and admiration of Aidan Hutchinson. By their tone when discussing Hutch, it was as if they supported the Wolverines instead of the Spartans.

The two men spoke to how his blue collar work ethic earned him the success he is experiencing now, and while they can’t root for him, they respect him as a player (and seemed a little jealous as if discussing the one that got away).

Hutchinson is the embodiment of a Michigan Man and two-time team captain. Now, I could provide stats and explain how he is the highest graded edge defender, according to PFF (93.3). I could provide examples of him embarrassing offensive tackles (poor Jaxson Kirkland) with a bag of pass rushing moves deeper than Santa Claus. Or I could pontificate on how he makes everyone better around him.

But everyone who watches the games knows all three of those are obvious. But to know that Alan and Jake, two Michigan State alumni, and solid dudes, cannot deny the greatness of a generational Wolverine is the icing on the cake of validation.

Special Teams - Jake Moody

When a kicker’s nickname is “Money,” they are doing something right. And in 2021, Jake Moody is doing everything right.

Coupling accuracy and volume (connected on 11-of-12), Moody is the second-best field goal kicker in the country behind Nick Sciba from Wake Forest (12-of-12 and arguably the greatest kicker in the history of college football) and hasn’t missed an extra point in his collegiate career.

A lesser known stat is Moody is currently second in the country in touchbacks (37) and the sixth-leading scorer in college football among Power 5 teams with 61 points.

Moody has become a weapon that has not existed in the Jim Harbaugh era. If he continues at this level, J-Moody will be a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.