Michigan's beleaguered offensive line tries to find right mix

  • Michigan-Notre-Dame-Football-40

    Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (2) fumbles the ball against Notre Dame in the second half of an NCAA football game in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday.


  • ANN ARBOR — Shea Patterson was sacked three times at Notre Dame and under constant duress. And Michigan’s running back tandem of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans couldn’t find any room, combining to rush 23 times for 73 yards and one touchdown.

    Don’t expect any changes this week along the offensive line, though. The unit, which has faced persistent questions for three seasons, will have at least one more game to clean things up.

    “It’s going to continue to get better and better,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think it was one of the areas that we’re improving in. The way we played [at Notre Dame] is the way we’ll play the next game.”

    That means Jon Runyan, Jr., at left tackle, Ben Bredeson at left guard, Cesar Ruiz at center, Michael Onwenu at right guard, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right tackle for No. 21 Michigan. Zach Shaw of 247Sports tallied eight quarterback pressures that Runyan allowed, which included all three sacks, one other hit on Patterson, and four hurries.

    Add it all up and that means Runyan’s man reached the quarterback on 20 percent of pass plays, an extraordinarily high number. Inserting Toledo native James Hudson at left tackle, Stephen Spanellis at center, and sliding Ruiz to right guard is the most logical change if and when any are made.

    “They brought a lot of blitzes,” Higdon said. “Brought more guys than we can block.”

    There was no rush to judgment last season for Harbaugh and former offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who didn’t fiddle with the unit until October. A fix was never discovered and musical chairs at quarterback contributed to the malaise.

    The turning-point plays Saturday involving Michigan's offense — including a sack that took UM out of field-goal range and Patterson’s game-ending fumble — all had something to do with the offensive line not blocking. Patterson shoulders some of the blame as well, but he wasn’t put in great situations as Notre Dame defenders came from all angles.

    Offensive line coach Ed Warinner was supposed to correct what ailed the underperforming unit, which ranked near the bottom nationally last season in quarterback sacks. It all flowed down from there, with Michigan’s offense having an abysmal season. Saturday night in South Bend looked like a replay of 2017.

    One player commented that no matter how much the Wolverines try to simulate game reps in practice, they just can’t be replicated.

    “You’ve obviously got to work together to build some chemistry, maybe even more than they tried to build in camp,” tight end Sean McKeon said. “You can’t make mental errors and just got to execute technique.”

    The Wolverines face two overmatched opponents in consecutive weeks — Western Michigan and SMU — allowing for confidence and momentum to build. Western gave up 55 points and 560 total yards to Syracuse in its opener, and the Orange managed 334 yards on the ground. SMU wasn’t much better, yielding 46 points and 461 passing yards to North Texas.

    When Nebraska shows up at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 22, the Notre Dame blues could be a distant memory for Patterson and the Wolverine offense.

    “I thought [the offensive line] was improved,” Harbaugh said. “We look at it and there was quite a few boxes that you check and say, ‘Hey, this is improved.’”

    Contact Kyle Rowland at krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110 or on Twitter @KyleRowland.