Michigan’s OL vs. ECU’s DL
The Pirates’ defensive line returns a good deal of experience and is certainly their most talented group on the defensive side of the ball. ECU tends to align in a four-man front along the defensive line but will alter the personnel to occasionally include a rush outside linebacker type of body as one of the EDGE rushers there, so largely a 3-3-5 personnel that aligns in a 4-2-5 quite frequently.
Against some of the heavier formations that NC State rolled out against them last year, and similar to what would be expected of Michigan more so than a true 4-wide spread, ECU would usually remain in their base 4-2-5 alignment but occasionally would go with a 4-3 defense that saw one of the linebackers roll down as a rush SAM linebacker, giving it a bit of a 3-4 look with one edge rusher playing with his hand in the dirt, and the other standing up.
The current group of starters for ECU along the DL is as follows:
- DE: Chad Stephens (Jr.) – 6-1, 261 pounds, 8 starts, 3.5 sacks in 2022
- DT: Elijah Morris (Jr.) – 6-1, 267 pounds, 29 starts, 2.5 sacks in 2022
- NT: D’Anta Johnson (Jr.) – 6-2, 292 pounds, 7 starts, 21 run stops in 2022
- “RUSH”: Jeremy Lewis (R. Sr.) – 6-2, 237 pounds, 22 starts, 4.5 sacks in 2022
As mentioned, Lewis, though listed as a linebacker, often plays as a rush outside linebacker, standing up on one edge of the defensive line. He is arguably their most impactful player, due to his experience and pass-rushing prowess. And when ECU goes to their more 3-4 look, they bring in DT Suirad Ware (Jr.), another undersized interior lineman at 6-0, 272 pounds.
While this unit is not particularly flashy as run stoppers, they did produce a very good result in 2022, ranking 21st in the nation in rushing yards allowed, just an average of 118 yards allowed per contest on average. However, some of this is distorted by their offensive success, as teams often threw the ball more on average against ECU, due to their passing defense, which was arguably the worst passing defense in all of college football. They have a few new faces in the secondary, but not nearly enough to suggest this passing defense will be enough improved.
From a schematic perspective, ECU will likely aim to replicate some of TCU’s playbook defensively, using that 3-3-5 to try and disguise blitzes and keep linebackers free at the line of scrimmage. The only issue ECU will likely face is a major drop off in talent between their ends against the run, than what TCU was able to do there. While this group can generate some pressure, as both Stephens, Lewis, and Morris are all quality pass rushers, the bigger question remains if ECU will even be able to get Michigan into clear-cut passing rushing situations.
Simply put, this unit will do quite well once they get back to playing AAC foes, but they simply lack the size and balance needed to slow Michigan’s offense on their own. Now there’s always a chance Michigan comes out sluggish and slow, but otherwise, Michigan will be able to force things open on the ground and should see a heavy dose of easy opportunities in the passing game.