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September 04, 2018 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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Like another road loss to a ranked
team, the sight of a Michigan
quarterback running for dear life
is nothing new. Last year, it led to
injuries for Wilton Speight and
Brandon Peters. It nearly did the
same to Shea Patterson on Saturday,
as the junior quarterback missed
parts of the fourth quarter with
cramps after being pressured all
Officially, Patterson was sacked
three times and hurried on another
six occasions. In reality, though, it
was much worse.
The Wolverines’ offensive tackles
looked almost helpless. Patterson
rarely received a clean pocket to
throw from — pressure from the
edge or Notre Dame stunts came
almost instantaneously. It showed
in Michigan’s offense: quick throws
were its only reliable way of moving
the ball, and the Wolverines had just
three plays of 15 yards or more with
one offensive touchdown.
conferences, coach Jim Harbaugh
said he wasn’t concerned — and
rather encouraged — by his offensive
line’s performance.
“I thought it was improved,”
Harbaugh said. “We look at it and
there was quite a few boxes that
were checked (as) this is improved.
We’ll continue to get better, but it
was one of the areas I think we’re
improving in.”
Michigan started Jon Runyan Jr.

and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at tackle,
along with Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz
and Michael Onwenu — left to right
— on the interior Saturday. Despite
a plethora of glaring mistakes and
the presence of reserves like redshirt
freshman tackle James Hudson
and junior guard Stephen Spanellis,
Harbaugh said he’ll stick with the
same group next week against
Western Michigan.
“I think the way we played this
week is the way we’ll play the next
game with the offensive line,”
Harbaugh said.
Junior tight end Sean McKeon
and sophomore wide receiver Nico
Collins echoed similar positive
sentiments about the group, noting
that fall camp isn’t the same animal
as the Fighting Irish’s elite front
“I thought (the line) looked good,”
McKeon said. “The offensive line,
obviously, they gotta work to build
chemistry maybe even more than
they tried to build in camp. So just
got to build more chemistry up
Added Collins: “(It’s a) great
o-line. I feel like the criticism they
(get) shouldn’t be talked about
because I know how hard they
comments heavily contrast what’s
being said outside Schembechler
frustrated by Michigan’s fourth-
straight loss dating back to last
season, were quick to scapegoat the
offensive line for Saturday’s results.

And while there were other
issues — defensive penalties and
the spectacular play of Notre Dame
— the offensive line was the most
detrimental by far. It cost the
Wolverines the ball or points on four
separate occasions.
In the first quarter, Patterson took
a 17-yard sack that pushed Michigan
out of redshirt sophomore kicker
Quinn Nordin’s range. Later, on
second-and-goal at the two, Notre
Dame got to Patterson again, forcing
the Wolverines to settle for a field
goal. The Fighting Irish’s pressure
was also pivotal to Patterson’s
interception and fumble — though
both were partially avoidable.
Despite those plays, however,
Harbaugh was encouraged by his
quarterback’s performance.
“The thing that stood out the
most was his accuracy, location of
the balls,” Harbaugh said. “He was
accurate all game.

First time in a

I thought he
ran (the offense)
extremely well.”
why Michigan’s offensive
line play is so frustrating for fans.
For all the flashes Patterson showed

Saturday, he won’t realize his
potential if a defensive lineman
is constantly in his facemask
two seconds after the snap. And
it certainly won’t be realized if
Patterson’s hurt.
Harbaugh said his line has
“improved”, and to be fair, that’s a
relative word. He could genuinely
feel like it has taken a step up from
last year.
But it wasn’t good enough
Saturday. Not even close.
Michigan’s offensive
line has a long way to
go. And no amount
and his players
singing kumbaya
changes that.

Saying or Doing?

Michigan has talked about
its positives from Saturday’s
game, but the product on the
field wasn’t so sterling.

» Page 2B

A different kind of pain

After all of the hype for
Michigan’s 2018-19 season,
Saturday’s loss caused a new
level of heartache.w
» Page 4B

Design by Jack Silberman
Evan Aaron / Daily

The Michigan Daily | michigandaily.com | September 4, 2018




Daily Sports Editor

A week ago, sophomore center Cesar

Ruiz stood in front of reporters and made

a proclamation.

“Our offensive line will be the one

strength of our offense this year,” Ruiz

said. When pressed with a follow-up, he

doubled down.

“You’ll see.”

Saturday night, in Michigan’s 24-17

season-opening loss to Notre Dame,

anyone with two eyes and a television

set saw plenty. They saw a quarterback

constantly needing to evade oncoming

rushers. They saw a normally potent

rushing attack held to 58 yards on 33

carries. They saw a group incessantly

blown around like a tin roof in a


For months, anyone who walked


inundated with buzz about a new

offensive line. Simplication from new

offensive line coach Ed Warriner, they

were told, was going to cure all ills from

a group that finished 117th in adjusted

sack rate.

So much for that.

“They brought a lot of blitzes at first,”

reasoned junior running back Karan

Higdon, “brought more guys than we

can block.”



mathematically true — belies the scarred,

fatal flaw plaguing this program. The

Wolverines’ offensive line is a problem

that has no answer.

It will hold back an offense that is

otherwise filled with playmakers. It will

force schematic changes that mask its

weakness. It could get its quarterback

— who showed flashes of brilliance —


With Michigan in opposing territory

at the end of the third quarter, hoping to

close a double-digit gap, Notre Dame got

a free rusher to junior quarterback Shea

Patterson’s blindside. Patterson showed

his elusiveness, evading a crunching hit,

and scrambling for nine yards.

One play later, the Fighting Irish ran a

simple stunt, freeing a defensive lineman

past Ruiz, and barreling through Higdon.

Forced to release the ball early, Patterson

heaved up a prayer as he was hit. Notre

Dame defensive lineman Julian Okwara

was waiting for the easy interception.

As he learned quickly, evade the

swarming rush on one play, it’ll just be

back the next.

“They got us on that one inside blitz

that we didn’t pick up,” said Michigan

coach Jim Harbaugh. “It was a good

impression that their front was bringing

the entire night. Some we blocked, yeah.

Could we be better? Yes. We’ll work to


Added fifth-year senior defensive

lineman Chase Winovich, when asked

about the struggling unit: “I know

they’re working hard. Just like myself

and everybody else on this team, we’ve

got corrections to be made. They’re a

well-coached group of individuals and

they’re going to be sure to leave those

corrections moving forward.”

On this night in South Bend, the

offensive line was far from the only

reason for the loss. The defense over-

pursued on nearly every play in the first

half, and paid dearly for it. Penalties

mounted up — on both sides of the ball —

to derail any semblance of momentum.

At times, the offensive scheme looked

familiarly bland. Notre Dame executed

its game plan to perfection, pushing

around the interior of Michigan’s defense

like rag dolls.

There is reason to believe this team

can mend those issues as the season

progresses. There is no such reason to

believe the offensive line will do the


Redshirt freshman James Hudson

will undoubtedly see time as early as

next week at one of the tackle spots, if for

no other reason than there’s nothing to

lose. Coaches and players have been sure

to commend his talent during spring,

with the competition for a starting spot

coming down to the wire. He has the

frame and athleticism.

Freshman Jalen Mayfield might also

get a shot, under the same whimsical

rationale. He’s drawn rave reviews from

the coaching staff and players.

But Harbaugh, Warriner and the

rest of the coaching staff spent weeks

of spring practice, offseason workouts

and then fall practice, only to conclude

Daily Sports Editor

that these were the five best offensive

linemen to combat a formative Notre

Dame front seven. To expect Hudson,

Mayfield or any replacement to be a

magic elixir would exceed naivety.

Help will come the next couple

weeks in the form of Western Michigan

and SMU. Neither foe will offer

Michigan anything resembling Notre

Dame’s talented front seven. It could

be a time to grow. It will certainly be a

chance to see what the younger options

have to offer.

“It’s the beginning,” Harbaugh said,

when asked about his level of concern

with the offense. “It’s the beginning for

us. We’re not treating it like the end.”

But Saturday was a chance to back

up the talk against a real opponent in a

real environment against a real defense.

Fans waited to see what Ruiz and the

offensive line had in store. Saturday

night, they got their fill. What they saw,

though, was just more of the same.

The offensive line is not a strength,

at least not yet. It is the common

denominator luring an offense back into

the familiar confines of mediocrity.

Far from promised improvement, o-line shows more of the same

Harbaugh, players defend offensive line

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