Dax Hill's status uncertain for Orange Bowl; safety did not make trip with Wolverines

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Whether Michigan starting safety Dax Hill will play in the Orange Bowl national semifinal final on Friday night against Georgia remains unclear.

The Wolverines (12-1) currently are in south Florida preparing to face the Bulldogs (12-1) on Friday, with the winner advancing to the national championship game.

Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill did not make the trip to Florida with his teammates for the College Football Playoff semifinal.

Rumors on social media and internet message boards have been swirling since Tuesday regarding Hill’s status and whether he traveled with the team. Two sources told The Detroit News that Hill did not make the trip when Michigan flew to south Florida on Dec. 25, but Michigan officials have not commented or confirmed.

Michigan players were left to field questions about Hill on Wednesday during a video conference with media. Last week the College Football Playoff announced adjustments to the bowl week, including making all news conferences virtual. The teams’ two practices this week that were to be open 15 minutes each day to media were closed Monday by Georgia and Michigan.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will not be available to media until Thursday morning.

“It’s not our job to comment on other players, so we’ll let Coach Harbaugh answer that question,” Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said Wednesday morning.

Center Andrew Vastardis also was asked if Hill had traveled with the team.

“Really, that’s a question for Coach Harbaugh, not for us,” Vastardis said.

If Hill is not available, that would be a significant loss for the Wolverines. Hill, a junior voted first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches this season, has played in 32 games and started 22. Hill is second on team in tackles this season with 65 and has 4.5 tackles for loss, assisted on a sack, had a fumble recovery, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Freshman Rod Moore, who emerged late in the season, making his first collegiate start at Penn State on Nov. 13, likely would be expected to take over if Hill isn’t available. The 6-foot, 173-pound Moore has played in 10 games and has 31 tackles and one pass breakup.

“I feel great about the depth of the safeties,” senior safety Brad Hawkins said Wednesday. “Rod Moore is a tremendous player. He’s a leader as a young guy, he listens, he wants to learn, he wants to get better every single day. He works his butt off. For a young guy to be thrown in the fire like that and continue to grow and continue to play well, it’s tremendous for him. He’s gonna continue to grow as a person and a leader on this team. I’m just very happy for him and can’t wait to see his success in the future.”

Readying for Hutchinson, Ojabo

Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer has heard plenty about Michigan pass-rush duo Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

Hutchinson, a Heisman Trophy runner-up, set a program single-season sack record with 14, and Ojabo has 11 sacks this season.

“Two great, very talented players,” said Salyer, who has started nine games at left tackle and also has seen time at right guard. “They present different matchups. Each of them very good at different things, but very talented players, and I'm excited for the matchup.

“Obviously, heard both their names pretty much about a month now, so I'm excited to be able to spot the ball and go play. It's exciting. I'm sure they're excited to play me as I am to play them. We've got great talent, they've got great talent, and we've both played great talent all year, so best on best, we're excited for it.”

Salyer said Wednesday during a news conference that at Georgia, he has played against the best defense every day in practice. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense and have a highly lauded front seven.

“If they say a guy is the best, I want to play against the best,” he said. “That's what you play in the SEC for. At Georgia, you play against the best every single day, (and) every single Saturday in the SEC, and then eventually you get to a point where you get to the end of the year and you play against another team's best from a different conference.

“I'm excited for the competition aspect of it. I know that everybody talks about the money and you can make so much money, but I want (Hutchinson’s) best. I know he wants my best. So I'm excited for the matchup because he's a great player. So is a lot of their defensive players, not just him.”

Worth the wait?

It has been nearly a month since Michigan defeated Iowa in the Big Ten championship and learned it would be the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff national semifinal.

The Wolverines took the next week off before resuming preparations for their game Friday against Georgia in the Orange Bowl, but in some respects, the gap between games has felt like an eternity.

“It definitely feels very, very long,” Michigan senior safety Brad Hawkins said. "I wish we could just maybe take a week off after the Big Ten and then get going again. That's the rules and that's how it goes.

“It's definitely been anxious and ready to get out there, but it's also been great to have some time off, as well, after a long season. Get our bodies right, get our minds back right, watch some extra film. So it's a plus-plus both ways that it goes. That's kind of how we all feel about the situation.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis