Saturday, April 07, 2007

Deadly duos on the defensive line

The 2006 Michigan defense was the catalyst for the Wolverines success last season. The defense finished #1 in the nation in rushing defense. The "D" was led by All-American DE LaMarr Woodley and All-Big Ten DT Alan Branch. In fact, Woodley was awarded both the Lombardi Award (top lineman in the nation) and the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end in the nation) for his standout performance last season. Woodley and Branch made a lethal duo on the line that gave opponents fits all season as the Wolverines rolled to an 11-2 record and a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2006. Woodley and Branch formed an unstoppable tandem on the defensive line the likes of which Wolverine fans had not seen in over twenty years. Which brings me to the 1985 tandem of Mike Hammerstein and Mark Messner.

The 1985 Michigan defense featured All-American DT Mike Hammerstein and All-Big Ten DT Mark Messner (a future two-time All-American). The 1985 team went 10-1-1 and finished the year ranked #2 in the nation largely on the strength of the play of the team's defense which was anchored by the line play of the tandem of Hammerstein and Messner. In 1985, Hammerstein registered 19 tackles for losses (#4 all-time best season at Michigan) for -101 yards (tied for #5). The defense was among the nation's leaders in scoring defense as it yielded only 8.1 pts. per game in 1985. DT Mark Messner was the hero of the Fiesta Bowl game that season as he registered nine tackles, forced a fumble and recovered another in the Wolverines' 27-23 win over Nebraska. He was named the game's MVP for his efforts. Messner (So./Fr.) also led the team in 1985 with 9 sacks (for -88 yards). Hammerstein (Sr.) had another 8 sacks that season for -59 yards. Messner's totals in his redshirt freshman season of 1985 during which he tallied 9 sacks (#6 all-time best season) and minus 105 yards in tackles-for-loss yardage (#3 all-time) ranked him among the Wolverine greats right from the start of his career. By the time he finished in 1988, Messner was Michigan's all-time leader in sacks (28), tackles-for-loss (61), and tackles-for-loss yards (-335 yards).

The numbers of Hammerstein and Messner are obviously very impressive but the play of the four players cannot be measured by merely reviewing statistics. In particular, DT Alan Branch often had a significant impact on games last season in ways that did not show up in the stat line. Standing at 6'6", 330 lbs, teams had to double-team Branch and to devise schemes to block him which freed up the All-American Woodley on the other end of the line to wreak havoc. Woodley set a Michigan record by logging 12 sacks in 2006 and much of Woodley's success is attributable to the teamwork of Branch. Each of these dynamic duos were outstanding and I just hope it is not another twenty years before the Wolverines get another terrific tandem on the defensive line that can rival these pairs' performance. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Alan Branch (80) and LaMarr Woodley (56) from 9-16-06 Notre Dame game by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News
*Note 2: Middle Photo of Mike Hammerstein from Michigan Athletic Dept.
*Note 3: Bottom Photo of Mark Messner from Michigan Athletic Dept.

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