The most startling part of a stunning Saturday night in Ann Arbor may not have occurred during Michigan’s 38-13 demolition of Wisconsin but in the bowels of the Crisler Center afterwards, at Karan Higdon’s postgame press conference.
There’s no question that we’ve got the best offensive line in the country.
Like I said, we got the best offensive line in the country and it’s a pleasure running behind them.
Did I mention we got the best o-line in the country?
Yes, those are three separate statements that a Wolverines’ player actually made.
Imagine that six weeks ago when the offensive line was lambasted across the country for its performance in a season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
Of course, no neutral observer would share Higdon’s sentiments. Michigan’s offensive line is not the best in the country — the Wolverines rank 38th in opposing sack percentage and 33rd in rush yards per game.
But the point is that Michigan won a big game — by 25 — and the emphasis afterward was on its offensive line. Contrary to everyone’s favorite narrative, the Wolverines have won big games before under Harbaugh. But it’s always been in spite of their offensive line — never because of it.
“From an offensive line standpoint, we’ve been in those big games,” said junior offensive lineman Ben Bredeson. “I’ve personality 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 this offseason that we were going to finish games.”
In the first half, Michigan’s offense was in its typically inconsistent form, as it got into Wisconsin territory five times but had to settle for one touchdown and four field goal attempts and went into the half with just 13 points.
Three of those field goal attempts came after facing third downs of over 10 yards because it couldn’t run the ball effectively on first or second down. Outside of Shea Patterson’s 81 yard read-option, the Wolverines had just two rushing yards in the first half.
In the second half, Michigan’s dominant side broke through. They outscored Wisconsin 25-7 and outgained them 241-156 — 237-81 on the ground.
“We had some outstanding second half adjustments, credit to coach Herbert and his staff,” Bredeson said. “We felt like we were grinding down the run game in the second half. switching up some zone blocking techniques, some outside zone stuff.
… I felt like as an offensive line, we felt like we did a great job of finishing the game.”
All game long, it did a fantastic job of protecting junior quarterback Shea Patterson, as he repeatedly had time to let plays develop in the pocket. Patterson himself even admitted after the game that he was to blame for the Badgers’ two sacks.
The difference in the second half was its run-blocking. On the Wolverines’ three scoring drives, they faced just one 3rd down of more than five yards because they were able to open up rushing lanes for Higdon and junior running back Chris Evans.
“I knew that with the way they were playing, they had to be over-pursuing,” Higdon said. “So I tried to cut back and I tasted a little blood so I went looking for it and it busted open. I trusted my o-line and I trusted my technique and it came through.”
Added Harbaugh: “We went to as many “C” gap plays as we could. We took our best six and ran them pretty much the whole second half. I can’t think of any missed assignments, penalties, nothing; great job by our guys up front today.”
When a team scores 25 points in a half against a ranked team while passing for four yards, something went incredibly right. Saturday night, that thing was — for once — Michigan’s offensive line.
“Our offensive line, our run game, (people say) we don’t show up to big games,” Higdon said. “I think we laid that to rest today. I think we came out, we made some great adjustments, and got the job done.”