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Many have tried, but few have challenged Michigan on either side of the ball

Photo: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Few players have done much of anything against Michigan this season.

Very few.

Through eight games, however, that total could be tallied on one hand. And you wouldn’t even need all five fingers, really. Fresh off a 32-23 rivalry win over Michigan State, the No. 2-ranked Wolverines (8-0, 5-0) have been one of the stingiest and unforgiving teams in all of college football.

Most of the time, their defense has appeared to be invincible. The top-ranked overall unit in the land, barely allowing a touchdown and a field goal per game — barely allowing two yards per rush and, at one time, four-and-some-change per pass.

But even the best get gutted from time to time.

Let’s take a look at who has done what versus Michigan, which is on track for a 12-0 regular season and College Football Playoffs-berth at the end of the year.

With that being said, here’s a quick rundown of the qualifications: A performance that was most/best versus UM thus far; a performance that would have typically led to a win or more competitive game (circumstances will be outlined); plain-old good stats — because, again, few have done much of anything against the No. 1-ranked defense.

And few have done much to counter the No. 1-ranked Big Ten offense (No. 8 overall with 477 YPG) and No. 3-ranked scoring offense (46.6 PPG) in the nation.

L.J. Scott, RB Michigan State

This past Saturday, Spartans sophomore running back L.J. Scott proved why he’s one of the best ball-carriers in the Big Ten by pounding out 22 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown during a 32-23 rivalry home loss to Michigan, which had barely allowed a running back to dent its armor through the first seven games of 2016.

“I think it starts with an attitude, and when — two weeks ago — we weren’t running the ball very good, we decided that we needed to force it on our offense to run the football,” said Spartans offensive coordinator Dave Warner, per MSU media transcript. “Our offensive line took that as a challenge and the last couple weeks they’ve been doing better.

“We found ways to try and get guards and our lines have been blocking well for the most part. Our backs have been running well. When things go right, it’s sort of a team deal, but we screwed up here and screwed up there and I think it’s the whole team.”

True enough, MSU’s offensive line — which has been heavily criticized throughout the season — deserves credit for creating lanes and holes for Scott. But also credit Scott’s 6-foot-1, 230-pound workhorse frame… that helped versus the Wolverines, who, according to coach Jim Harbaugh, were a bit gassed up front during stretches Saturday in East Lansing.

The chances of another running back doing UM in a similar way? Slim to none. Scott had the right energy at the right time. In doing so, he proved that even the juggernaut defenses can be sliced and diced every now and then.

Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State 

Penn State sophomore running back Saquon Barkley gets the common nod as Big Ten’s best running back. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder eased his way to 207 all-purpose yards during a 62-24 win this past Saturday over Purdue — again, he’s one of the league’s elite offensive threats.

Five weeks ago, he rushed 15 times for 59 yards and caught five passes for 77 yards. Penn State lost 49-10, and Barkley’s stats were just stats that day; however, 136 yards of total offense would likely be enough to help the Nittany Lions at least hang with a team — maybe even win.

Sefu Liufau, QB Colorado

If not for an ankle injury early in the third quarter, Colorado senior quarterback Sefo Liufau could have led an incredible comeback victory in Ann Arbor. Prior to being injured, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder gave the Wolverines everything they could handle during a 21-7 run in the first quarter.

Through just a shade more than two quarters, he completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

Michigan Stadium was stunned in silence each time Liufau threw or ran his way to positive real estate… and to think, he almost achieved the impossible. But instead, Michigan — in big-boy fashion — ran away with the show, notching a 45-28 victory during its third game of the season.

Adrian Killins, RB University of Central Florida 

Following this past Saturday’s slight bend against the rush, Michigan’s run defense has now dropped all the way to No. 15 in the nation (sense the sarcasm?). With that said, the Wolverines allow around 111 yards per game — which remains pretty impressive through eight games.

During the second game of the year, UCF true freshman running back Adrian Killins nearly got that in one attempt, shocking Michigan with an 87-yard touchdown during the second quarter of a 51-14 throttling in Ann Arbor. It was one of those moments of pause for the Wolverines.

They’ve had a few. A 20-yarder here. Maybe a 30-yarder, like what UCF’s Dontravious Wilson had done during the third quarter of the blowout — his was a 34-yard touchdown run, actually.

As for defensive players, well, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to cite anyone due to one simple fact: Michigan has yet to be challenged by any defense this season. That’s why it scores 46 points per game.

Let’s scrape the barrel: How about the three guys who picked off Wilton Speight? Hawaii’s Damian Packer, who had no return; Wisconsin’s Derrick Tindal, who returned his 46 yards; and Michigan State’s Darian Hicks, who returned his 42 yards.

OK. Throw in Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough, who had 14 tackles this past Saturday.

Few and far between. Scarce and rare examples.

But a few guys have had their way against Michigan this year.

Their teams, however, have not.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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