Woodley, Wolverines Are Back After Tough 2005

Michael Schlossberg

By Michael SchlossbergThe Daily Nothwestern

Last year, Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley was part of one of the worst teams in Michigan history.

For the first time since 1984, the Wolverines lost five games in a single season.

In response, chaos appeared to break out in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The team and everyone involved with the program faced heavy criticism all off-season.

Many of the Wolverine faithful wondered whether that season marked the end of Michigan’s era of dominance.

Just one year later, however, Woodley has a chance to be part of one of the best teams in Michigan history.

And he’s a big reason why.

As the captain of one of the best defenses in the nation, Woodley has helped the Wolverines respond from the nightmare 2005 season with an undefeated 8-0 start that has them ranked No. 2 in the BCS rankings and in almost complete control of their own destiny.

“There were seniors last year that had to leave on that note,” Woodley said. “This year’s seniors wanted to change that. We have a chance to change our legacy.”

As the anchor of Michigan’s defense, Woodley certainly has done everything he can to make sure he leaves Michigan on a positive note.

Among the many eye-opening stats of Michigan’s defense, it is currently eighth in the nation in points allowed per game at 12.6, fifth in the nation in yards allowed per game with 240.9 and first in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 33.6 yards per game.

It has held opponents to less than 14 points all but two times this season, allowing more than 20 just once.

Against Penn State, Michigan’s defense gave the Nittany Lions’ first-and-second-string quarterbacks concussions.

“This defense ranks with the best that I’ve been around,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “And I think any discussion of our defense needs to start and end with LaMarr Woodley.

“He’s been selected by his teammates as a captain. He’s leading by example and loves to win and compete. Our entire defense has fed off him.”

For the season, Woodley leads the Wolverines with nine sacks, a performance that has landed him as a semifinalist for the prestigious Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation’s top lineman.

His 22 career sacks put him in fifth place among Michigan’s all-time sack leaders, and he is just six away from sharing the record with Mark Messner.

While Woodley has received a lot of attention for his individual numbers and performance, he deflects all questions about himself and prefers to talk about the team instead.

“Being the leader of the defense, I’m just the spokesman,” Woodley said. “Everybody has stepped up this year and been vocal and helped me out. If every guy on the defense does his job, we’ll be good.”

With Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana remaining on the schedule before the highly anticipated showdown against No. 1 Ohio State, the Wolverines have a very good chance of still being undefeated before heading to Columbus, Ohio, for the Nov. 18 showdown with the Buckeyes.

In dealing with this attention, Woodley has been especially valuable to the team as a mentor to the younger players, making sure nobody gets caught up in all of the hype.

“You have to remember where you’re trying to get,” said Woodley, a 6-foot-2, 274-pound senior. “It’s not where you’re ranked now. So far everything’s been good, and it’s always fun when you’re winning, but a lot of teams start off strong.

“It’s all about how you finish.”

However, with Michigan still having a decent chance for a bid to a BCS bowl even with a loss to Ohio State in its coming rivalry game, Ann Arbor is buzzing with anticipation and excitement.

While last year’s near-disastrous 7-5 campaign may seem like ancient history after this season’s success, Woodley has not forgotten.

“We’re still thinking we’re a 7-5 team,” he said. “We remember who we were at the beginning of the season when we were ranked No. 14. We still have a lot to prove.”

Reach Michael Schlossberg at [email protected]