Khaleke Hudson made so many plays in the backfield that stat trackers lost count.
When Michigan’s 33-10 mauling of Minnesota came to a close at 11:39 p.m. ET on Saturday, the box score boasted that Hudson had recorded 6.5 tackles for loss, two of which were sacks. That would have been an incredible performance. 6.5 tackles for loss would have been more than what he had through the first eight games (6.0) and would have crowned him the Big Ten tackle-for-loss leader (12.5). It would have been the second-most tackles for loss by a Wolverine in a single game in Michigan history.
It also would have shorted him.
On Sunday, Michigan officials reviewed the game and, by 7:56 p.m. ET, they had awarded Hudson 7.5 tackles for loss (!!), and by 10:48 a.m. ET on Monday, they had determined that he actually had eight tackles for loss (!!!), three of which were sacks. Hudson had not only broken the Michigan record for most tackles for loss in a game, which had previously been held by Larry Foote (7.0 at Iowa, 2001), but had also set the Big Ten record, which Foote had shared with three others, and tied the NCAA record.
What was already an incredible performance had gradually become historic.
And astonishing. There are more than 150 defenders in the Big Ten, and only fifteen of them have more tackles for loss this season than what Hudson had against Minnesota.
But what wasn’t astonishing was that Hudson’s performance was a product of a Don Brown defense. Brown’s defenses have a reputation for being aggressive, disruptive, and nasty, and the stats certainly bear that out. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly defines “havoc” as “the percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up),” and it is rare to find a defense that wreaks more “havoc” than Michigan’s under Brown. The Wolverines ranked first in this metric in 2016 (23.9%) and are ranked second in 2017 (24.2%).
Generally, a variety of Wolverines wreak this “havoc” for Michigan. A Wolverine doesn’t just own the top spot in the Big Ten for tackles for loss, but each of the top three (!!) spots. Hudson leads the Big Ten with 14 tackles for loss, and Chase Winovich and Maurice Hurst, Jr. are tied for second right behind him with 11 tackles for loss. Add in that Mike McCray (8.5), Devin Bush (8.0), and Rashan Gary (7.5) are all in the top 25 as well, and it’s no surprise that Michigan’s average of 8.67 tackles for loss per game is the best in the Big Ten and tied for second in the nation behind only Miami-FL (8.75).
So it was also no surprise that Michigan accumulated 13 tackles for loss against Minnesota. Michigan has multiple defenders capable of feasting on the one-dimensional offense with a shaky offensive line that Minnesota brought to Ann Arbor.
The surprise was how concentrated these stops were. Minnesota’s recent insertion of mobile quarterback Demry Croft indicated the Gophers were abandoning the passing game to incorporate more read-option into their rushing attack. Michigan was prepared for this and brought Hudson close to the line of scrimmage on the edge. As a result, the majority of the read-options Minnesota called intended to option him off.
The problem for Minnesota, however, was threefold. First, the Gophers snapping the ball directly to their running back was not nearly as deceptive as what Penn State did with Saquon Barkley and thus did not confuse the Wolverines’ assignments. Second, Michigan countered the read-option by sending numerous blitzes and scrape exchanges behind Hudson, so Hudson would not have to worry as much about the option. He could attack the mesh point immediately and know he had support to clean up behind him if he missed. And third, well, Hudson had no regard for human life.
In a position popularized by his predecessor, Jabrill Peppers, Hudson epitomized how destructive the VIPER can be in Brown’s system. The VIPER, though a defensive back, tends to play closer to the line and is utilized more as a run defender and blitzer, and Hudson was unstoppable in that regard against the Gophers. His speed allowed him to blow up a play before it had a chance to develop. His physicality allowed him to stop a play in its tracks before it could churn out extra yards and cross the line of scrimmage. His motor allowed him to make game-changing plays after it seemed like he was out of it. On his strip-sack, Hudson had run past Croft, who had rolled out to his right, but Hudson zig-zagged back to Croft and, in a flash, tomahawk chopped the ball out. He was an unblockable menace because, well, Minnesota often chose not to block him.
As a result, Hudson had a record-breaking game, and one that we likely will not see again soon. It was the combination of being the perfect player in the perfect position in the perfect system against the perfect opponent with the (im)perfect gameplan.
However, if it does happen again, Brown’s defense has the system and players to do it.
And the stat trackers will be ready not to lose count of history next time, too.