ANN ARBOR — The tail end of a humid August afternoon will test even the most pacific personality.
When Devin Bush, Jr., is the protagonist whose patience is nearing empty, a combustible event is imminent. Wilton Speight found out the hard way.
In fall camp, Bush and fullback Ben Mason got into a scuffle. Don Brown, sensing that the adrenaline was flowing inside Bush’s veins, called a blitz on the very next play. The sophomore linebacker surged through the offensive line and drilled Speight, leaving the quarterback flat on his back.
“The O-line definitely wasn’t happy about that,” sophomore tight end Sean McKeon said. “That’s just Devin. He gets fired up in practice sometimes and goes all out. It’s pretty scary to watch.”
Bush also earned a death stare from coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I’m surprised I didn’t get kicked out of practice, for real,” Bush said. “Nobody said anything. It was quiet.”
Bush, one of the fiercest hitters in college football, leads Michigan with 82 tackles, 21 more than fellow linebacker Mike McCray, who is the team’s second-leading tackler. Bush also has nine tackles for loss, five sacks, and a team-high eight pass breakups. If you isolate on Bush, chances are your eyes will end up near the football.
Bush is a sophomore in name only. He’s the pulse of the Michigan defense, supplying speed and power to the nation’s third-ranked unit.
His mean streak came from his father, Devin Bush, Sr., a safety on Florida State’s 1993 national championship team and the 1999 Super Bowl-champion St. Louis Rams. The elder Bush made his son play youth football against children who were two and three years older than him. (Bush, Sr., is now a defensive analyst on Michigan’s staff.)
“I was 10 playing with 12 and 13-year-olds,” said the younger Bush, a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. “I was never the strongest, never the fastest, never the biggest, so that’s where that chip really came from.”
There were glimpses of Bush’s ferociousness last season. He cannot be defined as a dirty player or headhunter; Bush just plays angry and aggressive. He was ejected at Iowa for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the punter, which was unlucky because the punter stumbled to the ground as Bush came in for a tackle.
In the 2017 season opener versus Florida, Bush had to withstand a targeting review on the game’s first play. He was cleared of any wrongdoing and proceeded to have a breakout performance — Bush finished with seven tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss — that introduced his menacing style to the rest of the country.
“That’s just what I do,” Bush said after the game. “If they want to eject me, eject me.”
When he steps on the field, Bush carries a fearless attitude with a dash of rage. There’s a moment inside the locker room when Bush puts on his headphones that signifies he’s entering the so-called zone that athletes infiltrate. An invisible “do not disturb” sign engulfs Bush.
McCray is familiar with the look in Bush’s eye and knows when to avoid him in the hours before kickoff.
“Off the field, he’s a real calm, cool, funny guy,” McCray said. “On the field, he’s serious, and he doesn’t care who’s in front of him.”
Bush must deal with an immovable object Saturday. Wisconsin true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor leads the Big Ten and is third nationally with 1,525 rushing yards while adding 12 touchdowns. He’s averaging nearly seven yards per carry.
The last time Bush and Co. faced one of the country’s top backs, Saquon Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, and Penn State humbled Michigan 42-13. It appears that the Wolverines, who are ninth in the nation allowing 110.3 rushing yards per game, have identified prior miscalculations.
But the truest way to find out is by slowing a running back who’s been held under 100 yards only three times all season.
“You have to put a body on him and get him on the ground,” Bush said. “Going against an offense like [Wisconsin] gives me another chance to showcase what I can do. It’s going to be similar to what we faced all fall camp in our own offense, so it’s not going to be anything new for us.”
Fall camp, of course, played host to Bush’s takedown of his own quarterback, perhaps the first glimpse of just how maniacal he is when he steps between the sidelines.
“Honestly, I just hate the other team while I’m playing,” Bush said. “I don’t like playing against other opponents. Knowing that someone is looking you in the eye and doing their best to beat you is probably what makes me the most mad. As a defense, we all have that same mindset, and that’s why you see what you see on Saturdays.”
No. 19 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin
Records: Michigan is 8-2, 5-2; Wisconsin is 10-0, 7-0
Radio: 98.3 FM
Series: Michigan leads 50-14-1
Favorite: Wisconsin by 7.5
Notes: Wisconsin ranks first nationally in total defense (247.6 yards per game), No. 1 in run defense (81.5 yards), No. 7 in pass defense (166.1 yards), and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.4 points per game). ...Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook has thrown 12 interceptions this season, including at least one in all seven Big Ten games (11 total). Three of his INTs have been pick-sixes. ...The Badgers' 10-0 record is the best start in program history. ...Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst is one of three Big Ten coaches to win at least 10 games in his first three seasons, joining Fielding Yost and Urban Meyer. Jim Harbaugh will be part of that group if Michigan wins 10 games this season. ...The Badgers have not trailed all season in the fourth quarter. ...Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks fourth nationally with 152.5 yards per game. ...Michigan ranks in the top 10 in 10 defensive categories. ...Michigan RB Karan Higdon needs 146 rushing yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. ...The Wolverines have held six opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. ...Michigan is second nationally in pass defense, allowing 144.5 yards per game. UM's given up only seven touchdown passes. ...Michigan is third in total defense (254.8 yards per game).
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