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November 27, 2013

Gedeon, Bolden step up

On many teams across the country, it could have spelled disaster. With the Michigan offense struggling to get in sync, the Wolverines lost the services of their top two tacklers, when junior linebacker Desmond Morgan and sophomore linebacker James Ross III both left the game with undisclosed injuries.

Morgan, who pulls double-duty as the Wolverines' go-to middle linebacker and a substitute weakside outside linebacker in the rotation, left early in the first quarter, at one point going into the locker room with trainers for some quick rehab but never checking back into the game.

Ross, the starting weakside outside linebacker, left in the second half.

"It was a huge loss, but it was an opportunity for young guys to step in," fifth-year senior strongside outside linebacker Cam Gordon said. "Those guys are really leaders in that room, but we were confident in the guys who came in."

The onus was on sophomore MIKE Joe Bolden, who has steadily earned more playing time in the rotation as the season has gone on, and true freshman WILL Ben Gedeon, who had played in just three games and never for a lengthy amount of time.

When Gedeon checked into the game, Gordon tried to pump him up with a quick motivational speech on the field before his first play.

But the rookie didn't need it.

"I was trying to get him energetic, and he kind of just gave me a little smirk," Gordon said. "That was good.

"He kind of just smiled at me. When you think about a freshman playing in that spot, you think he's probably going to wet himself, but he really wasn't like that. He was into the game."

Gedeon added three tackles in the game, and although the Hawkeyes closed out a 24-21 comeback win by getting the ground game going in the second half (finishing with 168 yards on the ground), the Wolverines were impressed with what they got from their young linebackers.

"Ben is really instinctual and natural," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "He has a good knack for getting off blocks. I think you'll see more of him. I thought Ben got in there and did a nice job, and Joe played hard. Both of them tackled pretty well."

Gedeon had played spot duty on defense sparingly and hadn't received more than a handful of repetitions since the Wolverines' season-opening win vs. Central Michigan.

But his lack of experience did not show on the field.

"I was really really impressed with Ben Gedeon," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "We played most of that second half with Joe [Bolden] and Ben, and that's Ben's first real okay-you're-in-there-every-play. He showed up in that game like the guy we know we have here. I think you're going to see some really good things from him.

"Ben Gedeon's a tough kid, now. The stage isn't too big for him. One thing he is, he's a very tough young man that also is tremendously intelligent. And that's what we saw when we recruited him."

Bolden finished the game with four tackles, but his contributions went beyond the box score.

Without Morgan, the most experienced of the bunch, on the field to make calls and get everything set, that responsibility fell to Bolden, a coach's son who has taken leaps and bounds in the mental aspect of the position this year.

"Joe Bolden was forced to play every snap, and that's hard for a young linebacker, but he got us lined up and he did the things a linebacker has to do," Mattison said. "When you lose the two guys that have really carried the bulk of our linebacking crew and those two went in there and did a pretty good job, that spoke a lot about that."

"Everyone is communicating," added redshirt junior SAM Jake Ryan. "Everyone is on the same page. If you're not, you're not going to be out there. All the linebackers were on the same page, including Ben, and he played a good game."

At his Wednesday afternoon press conference, Hoke said both Morgan and Ross practiced Tuesday and are both expected to play in Saturday's regular-season finale vs. Ohio State.

But the Wolverines learned they have plenty to be excited about, with the guys behind them.

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