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ANN ARBOR — Plenty of criticism fell upon the Michigan football team’s offensive line during a particularly rough stretch of the season.
As a unit, it couldn’t protect quarterback Devin Gardner. It couldn’t open holes for running backs. It all but failed the rest of offense.
In Saturday’s 27-19, three-overtime win at Northwestern, the offensive line had a much-overdue breakthrough.
“There was better targeting and getting on guys, and pushing at the line of scrimmage,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan, whose team plays at noon Saturday at Iowa. “Doing the things an offensive line should do.”
The offensive line of Lewan, left guard Kyle Bosch, center Graham Glasgow, right guard Erik Magnuson and right tackle Mike Schofield helped the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) produce positive rushing yardage for the first time in three games playing together as a unit. UM had 137 yards on the ground in 45 attempts.
But, Lewan added, noting that Northwestern sacked Gardner five times, “we can’t have that. We’ve got to be better in pass protection. We’ve got to protect the quarterback.”
So there’s still some work to be done. Yet that moment of maturation last weekend was vital for the offensive line, because it won’t get any easier for the unit in Michigan’s final two games.
“We will be tested this week, because of how Iowa plays at the line of scrimmage and who they have playing it,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “We’ll be tested but they got movement. It was really good to see the combination blocks working together.”
Lewan acknowledged the fact that the Wolverines offensive line — and its position coach, Darrell Funk - has come under scrutiny.
“A lot of heat’s come on him for the offensive line not playing well, but Coach Funk’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had personally,” Lewan said. “He sticks on those guys. He knows how to coach those guys. He knows how to fire those guys up, and when to get on them and not to get on them. We’ve just got to play consistent.”
The effectiveness of the offensive line and the production of the running backs went hand-in-hand. The Wolverines had only 40 rushing yards at halftime, but freshmen Derrick Green (79 yards) and De’Veon Smith (39 yards) combined for more than two-thirds of Michigan’s running game, while Justice Hayes provided a pass-protection presence against Northwestern.
Green and Smith filled in for Fitzgerald Toussaint, who leads the Wolverines with 601 rushing yards but whom Hoke said sat out at Northwestern because of concussion issues.
Hoke said he doesn’t expect Toussaint to miss practice this week, as he did last week.
“He had a little bit of a head, concussion thing but he practiced late in the week,” Hoke said. “We just didn’t think he … practiced enough.”
GIBBONS HONORED: Brendan Gibbons was named the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week.
Gibbons, a senior kicker, was four for four on field goals at Northwestern, including a 44-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter.
GAME TIME: The Ohio State-Michigan game Nov. 30 will kick off at noon at Michigan Stadium.