Michigan and Washington provided the first marquee individual matchup between top draft prospects on Saturday night -- Wolverines edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson and Huskies left tackle Jaxson Kirkland went toe-to-toe in a heavyweight bout bound to be watched and rewatched many times during the 2022 pre-draft process.
I counted seven legit, one-on-one battles between Hutchinson and Kirkland. I'm talking the ever-important pass plays in which Hutchinson was pinning his ears back -- not just setting the edge -- and Kirkland did not get immediate help via a chip from a back or tight end.
They're all analyzed below.
The first clash of the night -- top left of the offensive line -- foreshadowed most of the rest of the evening. Hutchinson dropped his pad level and bull rushed Kirkland directly into the quarterback. The Washington left tackle attempted to anchor. Didn't happen. Completely put on ice skates. While the ball was out in a hurry, I'm labeling this a quarterback pressure.
(Note: If you click anywhere on a GIF in this article, it'll pause. Another click plays it again. Feel free to click as often as you want to help you see the nuance with which Williams and Ferrell played.)
The "loss" for Kirkland there epitomized the worry with him entering the season. For though he's a gifted technician with accurate hands and light feet, his lack of power at the point of attack and weight in his lower half made it likely he'd be susceptible to legitimate bull rushes. Like the one Hutchinson deployed there.
Win for Hutchinson. 1-0.
Later in the first quarter, Hutchinson got his first sack of the game, but I'm classifying it as a win for Kirkland. What? I can explain. Hutchinson tried an outside rip, was stopped in his tracks, but after a spin back to the inside was negated, he found a lane to the Washington quarterback, who was still holding onto the football.
Now, would I have liked to see Kirkland finish the play and get his hands on Hutchinson after the spin? Absolutely. But stopping an outside rush with a swipe, then sliding back inside on a spin equates to a damn good pass-protection rep.
With the score even at one win apiece, we got our first draw of the night on a quick throw in the other direction in the second quarter. Of course, where the pass is thrown doesn't impact the individual effort from a rusher or blocker, but you'll notice there wasn't a clear winner here.
If anything, it was a better anchoring demonstration from Kirkland than the first rep.
With under three minutes to go in the half, Hutchinson had his most dominant wins of the contest on back-to-back snaps. The first indicated the advancement in Hutchinson as a rusher. He started with a power move, selling that he wanted to go through Kirkland to the quarterback. Once he got the left tackle to commit to an anchoring attempt -- sinking his weight -- Hutchinson clubbed to the outside then finished at the quarterback.
Kirkland was able to withstand the initial speed-to-power conversion from Hutchinson. The club was overwhelming. On the very next play, and after spending most of the first half attacking Kirkland's outside shoulder when he wasn't bull rushing, Hutchinson again went next level.
He faked to the outside and flashed a nasty swipe back to the inside that had Kirkland whiffing at the crisp Ann Arbor air.
Making Kirkland look heavy-footed takes elite athletic traits and power. Those are tantalizing with Hutchinson. But I loved what those consecutive plays demonstrated about the cerebral element of Hutchinson's game.
We went into the half with three wins for Hutchinson, one win for Kirkland and one draw.
The two didn't see each other again until the fourth quarter, when Hutchinson flashed his patented bull rush to outside club move that nearly led to the yet another sack.
Not a brutal rep from Kirkland, but his edge of the pocket did collapse onto the quarterback. Notice how Kirkland "opened the gate" slightly around the outside because he felt the need to lean into Hutchinson in hopes of combating his point of attack power.
Down 4-1 with one draw included, Kirkland did end the night on a relative high note, with a negation of Hutchinson midway through the fourth quarter. He was able to fire off the ball -- Hutchinson's burst is no joke either -- and reset his hands to keep them in the chest of the Michigan star throughout the rep.
Kirkland did get some late help from the left guard. I'm courteously giving him the win.
Hutchinson came out the winner, 4-2-1, and based on expectations for how frequently a great outside pass rusher should get home, it was a dazzling performance from the Wolverine's best defensive player against a blocker who will make plenty of Pac-12 rushers look average and ultimately hear his name called in the 2022 NFL Draft.
What's so compelling about Hutchinson -- he displayed everything you want in an elite edge-rusher prospect in this game. Burst, speed-to-power, diverse pass-rush plans that complement each other, bend, and closing ability. We're two games into the college season, but what I've seen so far from Hutchinson feels like he'll be picked in the top half of the first round.