Why Jim Harbaugh is Impressed with Michigan's OL Through Two Weeks

cesar ruiz michigan center offensive line

Why Jim Harbaugh is Impressed with Michigan's OL Through Two Weeks

Football

Why Jim Harbaugh is Impressed with Michigan's OL Through Two Weeks

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The biggest fulcrum for Michigan’s success — or failure — in 2018 is its offensive line.

A good portion of the blame for the Wolverines’ 8-5 record a year ago can be pinned on shoddy pass protection. And, in Michigan’s sole loss through two games at Notre Dame, the offense couldn’t get into a good rhythm or establish a run game — with, again, eyes going towards the O-line.

It’s difficult to say that concern has left the building entirely after Michigan’s 49-3 romp over Western Michigan on Saturday, given the strength (or perceived weakness) of the opponent. Now, WMU is the type of team these Wolverines should beat 49-3, there’s no disputing that. But we’ve seen the story before where Michigan looked mediocre against a perceived strong opponent (usually Notre Dame) before failing to put away a very meh Akron team. If there were struggles up front against Western — and it’s something that did happen last year, even with the weaker opponents — then the cause for concern would be justified. But now, after a strong showing in all phases across the board on Saturday, there’s been something of a collective exhale emanating from Ann Arbor and proximity.

Looking back on how his team played on Saturday, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was complimentary of the offensive line and its performance. Led by team captain Ben Bredeson — a third-year starter at left guard — a lot is riding on both tackle positions, and just as importantly, center Cesar Ruiz, in his second year.

From what he saw on Saturday, the entire unit is emerging, made that much more proof positive when you see that quarterback Shea Patterson completed 70% of his passes and there was 308 yards rushing on the day.

“I thought they played really good,” Harbaugh said. “Tip of the cap anytime the running game goes over 300 yards. Pass protection was really good. Thought they were sound – really making the right calls, getting on the right people. That was a phase that was really good today. Even on some of the longer drop back throws, there was a clean pocket there. From start to finish.”

The OL deserves the praise it’s garnering based of Saturday’s performance. But does it deserve how maligned it’s been in the wake of the Notre Dame game in Week One?

Sure, Patterson completed 67% of his passes — a benchmark only met once in 2017. But the running game was moribund, and there wasn’t much to like about the pass protection in that game, despite Patterson finding some way to accumulate 227 yards.

Still, Harbaugh isn’t as eager to pin the blame on the unit for its struggles up front. And, at this juncture, it’s difficult to disagree, as we don’t know how good the Irish’s front four — especially the two ends, Kareem and Hayes — are until they have more games under their belt.

Looking back, Harbaugh wasn’t as bearish on the line coming out of Week One as many others were.

“I thought they played good last week,” Harbaugh said. “I thought it was an improvement, and I think they took another step this week as well. Just calls, getting on the right guys, not turning anybody loose on protection. Giving the quarterback a chance to step up in the pocket. Feel some space around him where everything isn’t collapsing. Blocked really well in the run game, hat on a hat. Just good sound, fundamental football. Was impressed.

“Was good to see a lot of guys get in the game.”

We’ll see how Michigan fares next week, as the Wolverines take on an SMU team that is near the bottom in total offense, defense and sacks, but weirdly is a top ten team in tackles for loss. The Mustangs and Wolverines will face off at 3:30PM at The Big House on Saturday.

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