Ann Arbor — Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill knows that his success often is based on the pressure the defensive line can apply up front. So with that in mind, he has splurged on dinner for them a couple times this season.
The Wolverines rank sixth nationally in pass defense, allowing an average 159.8 yards a game, and are coming off a strong showing in a 45-14 win over rival Notre Dame last weekend. The Irish threw for 133 yards in the rainy and windy conditions and mustered only 47 yards rushing.
Hill batted down two passes against the Irish. For the season, he’s made 11 tackles to go along with five pass breakups and two interceptions in seven games (he missed the Illinois game with injury). His interceptions came against Iowa and on the goal line against Army.
But Hill knows he can only do so much on his own, and he relies on his defensive linemen teammates to get the kind of pressure that can rattle quarterbacks into shaky throws.
“Them my favorite guys, the D-line, so they make my job easier,” Hill said Tuesday night after practice. “I feed them a couple times here and there when they do good, so seeing them going out there working hard makes me play better, too.”
He has twice taken the linemen out for pizza and wings.
"They help me out, so they don’t eat, I don’t eat,” Hill said, laughing.
The 14th-ranked Wolverines (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) travel to Maryland (3-5, 1-4) for a noon game on Saturday. Quarterback Josh Jackson, who was slowed by a high ankle sprain, has been taking first-team snaps in practice this week for the Terps. Jackson was a standout at Saline High and the son of longtime former Michigan assistant Fred Jackson.
Michigan heads into its final four-game regular-season stretch with a defense that has continued to improve since a 35-14 loss at Wisconsin to open Big Ten play. The Wolverines are now ranked eighth nationally in total defense, yielding an average of 270.4 yards a game.
They travel to Maryland before getting a week off. After that, they face Michigan State at Michigan Stadium, Indiana on the road and archrival Ohio State at home. Hill said the defensive players maintain a “fun” approach to the practices and games and said there’s always another level to reach.
“We just get better every day and go out there and attack each day and just play like it’s our last,” he said.
Hill could have left for the NFL after last season but opted to return for a run at a Big Ten title and, perhaps, a national championship. With two Big Ten losses, those goals are pretty much out of reach, but the players said they still have plenty of goals to accomplish, like sweeping their rivals and winning out.
“I matured pretty good,” Hill said. “Not taking that for granted. I’m glad I came back to the University of Michigan. It’s been a good run so far. We’ve got to keep pushing and play every game like it’s our last and take it one game at time.”
And maybe he’ll get a few more opportunities to buy his defensive linemen some dinner.
Michigan at Maryland
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.
Records: No. 14 Michigan 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten; Maryland 3-5, 1-4
Line: Michigan by 21