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Woodley's no tackling dummy

Michigan defensive end, whose pass-rush moves earned him national honors, has studied USC's loss to UCLA

December 29, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

Of all the new films this holiday season, LaMarr Woodley particularly enjoyed an unexpected hit that came out in early December: game film of UCLA's upset victory over USC.

Thrill to the sight of Bruins defenders storming into the Trojans backfield. Chill to the sight of sacks, hurries and terrifying knockdowns.

Suffice to say that Woodley, who plays defensive end for Michigan, is hoping for a sequel when his team faces the Trojans in the Rose Bowl on Monday.

"Looking at the UCLA game," he said, "I thought we might be able to do some similar things."

Pass rush figures to be key in what appears to be an even matchup, so the spotlight will be on No. 3 Michigan's defensive front four versus No. 8 USC's offensive line.

Woodley could serve as a body double for UCLA defensive end Justin Hickman, who was trouble for the Trojans this month. Both are All-Americans. Both stand 6-foot-2, with Woodley a few ticks heavier at 269 pounds.

Not big, but tough.

"He's a worker," said USC offensive tackle Sam Baker, who expects to see plenty of Woodley during the game. "He plays hard."

The scouting report on Woodley credits him with a good burst off the line, maybe not as fast as Hickman, but he uses his hands well.

Well enough to win the Lombardi and Hendricks awards as the nation's best lineman and defensive end, respectively, this season.

Woodley was a high school All-American out of Saginaw, Mich., who was recruited by USC and almost became a Trojan. He visited Southern California, then had second thoughts.

"Being a young guy, being away from home, I didn't think I could handle it at the time," he said, adding that the Trojans "were definitely my second choice."

In those days, he was a linebacker. But when he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2003, the Wolverines needed a defensive end, so he gained weight and switched positions.

The back-and-forth continued. He played at linebacker as a sophomore and junior, then settled back at end this fall.

Starting every game on the line, he has polished his pass-rush techniques.

"I'm using my hands," he said, "not trying to outmuscle everybody."

It also helps that he has two highly regarded tackles -- Alan Branch and Terrance Taylor -- generating a push up the middle, flushing quarterbacks and runners to the outside.

As a result, Woodley has 33 tackles, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, one of which he returned 54 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

Of more relevance to the Rose Bowl, he finished in the top 10 nationally with 11 sacks, only 1.5 behind Hickman and UCLA's other defensive end, Bruce Davis.

Lane Kiffin, USC's offensive coordinator, said the Trojans hope to slow that up-field push by running at Woodley, whose size raises questions about his ability to stop the rush.

The Trojans have also studied film, maybe their favorite this season, of Michigan's loss to rival Ohio State.

The Buckeyes struck with one big play after another, victimizing a Wolverines defense that had shut down almost everyone else on the schedule.

There are similarities between the Ohio State and USC offenses in terms of talent at wide receiver and capable front lines. But Woodley sees at least one important difference: the Buckeyes' mobile quarterback, Troy Smith.

USC quarterback John David Booty, he said, "is not the same as Troy Smith."

Which means the Michigan line can feel better about teeing off on obvious passing downs.

Booty, who knows that Woodley will be coming after him, said his offense has concentrated on correcting all that went wrong against UCLA.

"At least we've tried to," he said. "I guess we'll find out on game day."

The Rose Bowl will be a familiar setting for Woodley. He played there as a freshman when Michigan lost to USC, 28-14. The next year, he was defensive player of the game with 11 tackles, including four for loss, in a 38-37 loss to Texas.

Pasadena was also the stage for UCLA's victory over the Trojans, which Woodley said he has studied closely.

This month, he ran across Hickman at an awards banquet in Florida and asked him about the game. Hickman did not divulge any tactical secrets, saying only that it was fun.

Woodley is hoping for a similarly enjoyable outcome on New Year's Day.

He knows the role that he must play:

"Get to the quarterback."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Big year

Highlights from LaMarr Woodley's 2006 season:

* Won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman.

* Won the Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end.

* Led Michigan in tackles for loss

with 15.5.

* Led team in sacks with 11.

* Scored his first career touchdown on a 54-yard fumble return at Notre Dame on Sept. 16.

Source: mgoblue.com

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