Michigan Football: 5 Wolverines Players Who Must Improve Down the Stretch
The Michigan football team has a bit of renewed hope for the final month of the 2015 season, but a few Wolverines need to improve down the stretch.
A few players put together outstanding starts in September but have since trailed off. Michigan needs them to reclaim that early effectiveness.
Meanwhile, some Wolverines must keep working to prepare for a pivotal matchup to end the regular season.
Michigan isn't a perfect team, but improvement from the following five players will help the Wolverines finish strong—maybe even with three straight wins.
De'Veon Smith, Running Back
Early in the 2015 season, De'Veon Smith established himself as Michigan's lead back, eclipsing the 100-yard mark twice.
Since he suffered an ankle injury late against BYU, however, he's left the door open for a rotation. Fullback Sione Houma even lined up deep for some carries against Rutgers.
Smith finished the most recent matchup with 73 yards on 15 carries, but he had managed just 120 yards on 36 attempts in his three previous outings. He's recorded just six first downs since he returned from the ankle injury.
Michigan will continue relying on its running game, and Smith needs to be more productive.
Erik Magnuson, Right Tackle
The offensive line as a whole needs to improve, because it's regularly performed no better than average against tough competition.
But Erik Magnuson must make the biggest jump, simply because of who is coming up on the schedule. The right tackle will be tasked with stopping Ohio State's Joey Bosa.
Although Bosa only has 3.5 sacks, the All-American defensive end has regularly encountered double-teams and still created pressure in the backfield. He's registered 11 quarterback hits.
Magnuson and Michigan host Bosa and Ohio State on Nov. 28.
Chris Wormley, Defensive End
Chris Wormley was among the most dominant defenders during September. He racked up seven tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble.
The senior has managed just three TFLs since then, though Wormley certainly is trending upward. Against Rutgers, he started to show that first-month form and sacked Chris Laviano twice.
Moving inside to defensive tackle shifted his role, and big-time numbers aren't always a necessity from that spot. With that being said, Wormley has shown the ability to create havoc in the backfield from anywhere.
Indiana's pass-happy offense, Penn State's run-dependent philosophy and Ohio State's balanced attack each offers different tests. Michigan needs Wormley to consistently provide an impact, even if that's not in the box score.
Royce Jenkins-Stone, 'Buck' Linebacker
Royce Jenkins-Stone replaced an injured Mario Ojemudia at "Buck" linebacker, and he's played OK. Plus, Lawrence Marshall was sidelined against Rutgers due to what a Michigan spokesman called an "internal matter."
Michigan has since reinstated Marshall, but MLive Media Group's Nick Baumgardner noted head coach Jim Harbaugh said the team would determine his availability this week.
Jenkins-Stone will hold on to his starting job for another game. However, the senior probably isn't a lock to keep it, because he's registered just three tackles during the last two contests.
The Wolverines need more disruption from their edge-setter.
The Third Safety
Jarrod Wilson and Jabrill Peppers are listed as the starters on the depth chart, but Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas spend a fair share of time at safety, too.
Hill has been a regular in the starting lineup, and Thomas has seen extended playing time. No matter who receives the most snaps, though, Michigan needs its final line of defense to be exactly that.
Lately, the duo has faced some problems.
- Michigan State: Tricked Hill on Trevon Pendleton's 74-yard reception.
- Minnesota: Mitch Leidner caught Hill looking into the backfield and raced into the end zone for a 24-yard score. Thomas missed a glorious chance at an interception, instead tipping it to a Gophers receiver.
- Rutgers: Sealed Thomas from making a play on Robert Martin's 54-yard run.
Big plays, as Michigan State and Minnesota proved, can be game-changers. Hill and Thomas are key parts of not letting them happen.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.