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View from the Sidelines: It's time to believe in Michigan's offensive line Comment Count

Ethan Sears October 14th, 2018 at 3:28 AM

By the time Lavert Hill took a one-handed interception into the end zone, ending Wisconsin in every way that didn’t involve a clock hitting zero, every question you had about Michigan coming into a game of this magnitude had already been answered.

 

The run game? Karan Higdon churned through the Badgers in the second half like a hot knife through butter, and that on top of Shea Patterson’s electrifying 81-yard zone read keeper in the second quarter.

 

The defense? Alex Hornibrook went from late in the first quarter through garbage time — well after Hill’s pick-six — without completing a pass.

 

Shea Patterson? Besides some antsy moments in the pocket early, he was just fine.

 

Playing up to the moment, in a big game, under the lights? Not only did Michigan control the game from start to finish in a 38-13 win, but it did so while its opponent imploded, extending an early third-quarter drive that ended in a Patterson touchdown with defensive holding, roughing the snapper and a dropped interception.

 

The offensive line? It looks like a legitimate strength, and if it is, the Wolverines are a legitimate playoff contender.

 

“A lot of people had a lot of questions about who we are as a team,” Higdon said. “Our offensive line, our run game, we don’t show up in big games. I think we laid that to rest today. I think we came out and made some great adjustments and we got the job done.”

 

Then he took things a little bit further.

 

“There’s no further question that we’ve got the best offensive line in the country.”

 

In a press conference that went just over nine minutes, Higdon repeated that sentiment twice more.

 

Now, Michigan does not have the best offensive line in the country. It’s not particularly close to being the best offensive line in the country. But that Higdon can say it is without being laughed out of the room, well, given how things looked in the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, that’s pretty good.

 

Last year, Michigan was so bad at zone-blocking that it abandoned it almost completely, running power and counter with near-exclusivity in a way-too-close win at Indiana. On Saturday, the Wolverines gashed Wisconsin with zone reads.

 

“Coach (Ed) Warinner and the offensive staff put those runs in,” Patterson added. “We trusted in the gameplan all week, but it’s just when it actually happens and there’s nobody in front of you, it was exciting.”

 

This is a team that runs inside zone and Down G more than it runs power and counter — and it looks good doing it.

 

After Higdon struggled in the first half, Michigan decided to attack the C-gap. According to Jim Harbaugh, they took their six best plays from early on and just did those for the rest of the game. It’s hard to argue with the results.

 

As for the pass protection, the pocket was mostly clean on Saturday. The line has given Patterson time to throw in every game saving Notre Dame — the bigger problem has been Patterson breaking the pocket too early. And even that comes with the caveat that he’s largely been impressive outside the pocket.

 

We’ve heard about Warinner simplifying things, and we’ve heard players talk about the line with confidence as a result. But now, we’ve seen it on the field enough to believe it.

 

“We’ve been in those big games,” Ben Bredeson said. “I personally have seen us not be able to finish them. That was a big focus for us this offseason, was changing the culture in the offensive line room, that we were gonna finish games. And when we needed a first down to win or a touchdown to win it, we were gonna be able to deliver.”

 

Michigan delivered Saturday, in a big way, on a big stage.

 

One-third of the way through the toughest part of its schedule, suddenly, it’s pretty easy to see a one-loss Michigan rolling into Columbus. The Wolverines are better than Michigan State on paper — simple as that. Penn State just lost to the Spartans at home and on top of that, Michigan looks to be hitting its stride.

 

“We knew coming into this game that everything was ahead of us and that we control our own destiny,” Patterson said. “... I think it was a statement game. We came out and kinda gave it to ‘em a little bit. We didn’t just win, we kinda dominated them.”

Comments

poppinfresh

October 14th, 2018 at 1:41 PM ^

this weekend will be the test for me.  best defense we've faced since ND game and we face rest of regular season (ranked higher than Bosa-less OSU).

regardless its better than last year and with talent pipeline should continue to improve. 

yossarians tree

October 14th, 2018 at 2:01 PM ^

Cover Felton Davis like a cheap suit, please. On that note, when I saw David Long being looked at by the trainers I opined "Why the fuck is our star cornerback still playing when we are up by 30 with 4 minutes left in the game?"

Seriously this has been a problem all season with defensive starters and even defensive STARS being sent out there in garbage time. These are not guys who need reps. The offense seems to get reserves out there appropriately. I love Don Brown but I hope this is not him trying to pad stats.

getsome

October 14th, 2018 at 2:30 PM ^

yeah im at a loss as to why guys like bush, winovich, long, etc still running around in the 4th quarter of 30 point game.  and weve seen it numerous times before, not like its something new or even just a few starters still out there.  they routinely play many key starters long after most teams pull those type players.  im all for "getting better at football by playing football" but lets be smart

Arb lover

October 14th, 2018 at 5:51 PM ^

The Don seems to prefer additional experience and cohesion through his normal extensive player rotation. It's like a free practice in the 4th quarter sometimes. I can see how that would provide benefits especially later in the season. It's also a good talking point stats wise for new recruits.

When you have the depth like that you can do what you want. 

Rasmus

October 15th, 2018 at 7:19 AM ^

Plus: Wisconsin still had their starting offense in — it’s only garbage time when both teams are doing it — Michigan was doing it on offense, but for some reason Cryst changed his mind after surrender punting.

If WI is going to leave their starting offense in, then you take advantage of that opportunity for more quality reps for the starting unit — the idea that they don’t need those reps is ludicrous — and you also don’t put yourself in a position where you have to suddenly put players back in the game after they thought they were done for the day. That IS a recipe for injury.

GarMoe

October 14th, 2018 at 7:06 PM ^

Gosh, great question Schribee!  If I were you then I guess I’d say, “that G-d damned Don Brown, he knows way less than I do about these things!  He must be drunk or high.   He clearly has zero concern for the health and safety of Michigan players.”   That’s what’s implied by your statements here, but it will be great to hear you actually call Brown out in public.  Can’t wait to hear it.

buddha

October 14th, 2018 at 10:30 PM ^

Yikes. Way to take a pretty reasonable observation and blow it into something entirely unnecessary. It’s okay to question the coaches AND recognize the coaches know way more than I do.

I also wondered why the starters were still playing late in the 4th. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust Don Brown. It means I am curious about his risk calculus.

SMart WolveFan

October 14th, 2018 at 1:57 PM ^

It was impressive.

Especially since Shea and/or the play calling didn't test the Wisconsin DBs much deep, which would have been an obvious weakness to attack.

The fact that the run game and D were able to grind it out .....that's good.

We "out Wisconsined" Wisconsin.

DeepBlueC

October 14th, 2018 at 2:13 PM ^

If our Oline can give our RBs decent room and protect Shea all day, and if they can grind out first downs with a lead in the 4th quarter, then I'll be willing to call them at least good.  So far, we've played only one legit defense, and we didn't get the job done then.  

And how many times have we been better than MSU "on paper" and lost?  A few.  

outsidethebox

October 14th, 2018 at 6:06 PM ^

And here you are again...the king of the chicken littles. The team is playing well and the sky is not falling. You know what-the others guys are very good and are playing hard too. Even Alabama, with their pick of the top players in the nation, gets beat every once in a while...that is simply how it goes. Even the biggest fool guesses "correctly" every once in a while-it doesn't mean you know a damn thing about the game. 

goblue4321

October 14th, 2018 at 2:15 PM ^

This was also a Wisconsin defensive line with its 2 starting defensive ends out and also a DT in the 2 deep out I believe? They started 2 redshirt freshman ends one that was a walk on...? Correct if I’m wrong? 

so yes good win and I thought before this game started that M better blow them out if they want to be considered a threat to osu and a big ten champ 

wolverine1987

October 14th, 2018 at 3:42 PM ^

Nothing wrong with this take, IMO. 1st paragraph is factual. And their d-backs were also a mess from injuries, including a true freshman safety that had never played even a play in college (and played well it looked like). They gave up 300 yards to Adrian Martinez the week before.

So good win-we did what we were supposed to do, and their depleted defense played well the first half. But this was not a team with a good defense statistically or otherwise. Sorry. 

Arb lover

October 14th, 2018 at 5:55 PM ^

So are you guys saying that if we have the pleasure of getting to play Wisconsin in the B1G title game with most of the D healthy, but we get a healthy Black, Gary, Aubry, etc. and a OLine and Patterson with 6 more weeks experience (both seem to be getting much better over the season given newness to the program)... that we won't do nearly as well? 

Both of our programs are a bit worn down currently, but let's not kid ourselves about who was the better team last night and whether or not both teams have more than 1 deep talent. 

Carcajou

October 15th, 2018 at 12:54 AM ^

It's not "the fanbase", just some. It is fair to say that Wisconsin is not at their best right now, especially on defense. Michigan has had relatively fewer, at fewer key positions, and let's hope that fortune will continue. Michigan's offense did a good job of avoiding costly mistakes so it is a game they should have won fairly easily.

Alabama and Ohio State don't look invincible, but Michigan will have to keep improving to have a chance, even without injuries.