All summer, Michigan players and coaches alike have been swarmed with questions about the offensive line.
And all summer, they responded with resounding confidence.
?We definitely know what people think of us,? said junior guard Ben Bredeson. ?But we know what we need to do for the team to win.?
“Our offensive line will be one strength of our offense this year,? added sophomore center Cesar Ruiz. ?You’ll see.?
Highly touted new offensive line coach Ed Warinner has promoted a simple approach to pass protection that those inside the program expected to work wonders. Outside the program, though, in the media and amongst the fanbases, doubts pursued.
Saturday night, those doubts were quickly reinforced. On 2nd and 6 from the Notre Dame 25 on Michigan?s second drive, Shea Patterson was hit while throwing and Sean McKeon had to play safety to prevent an interception.
The next play, the line imploded on Patterson and a sack pushed the Wolverines out of field goal range.
One drive later, Michigan took advantage of good field position to get down to the Irish 2. But just as soon as they got there, the line couldn?t handle a Notre Dame blitz, pushing the Wolverines back to the 10. Patterson eventually got good protection on the next play but it was too little, too late, and Michigan had to settle for three.
The theme persisted in the second half with the Wolverines getting into the red zone on the second play of the half before Patterson found himself under duress on three straight incompletions, forcing a field goal attempt that resulted in a dropped snap.
Two drives later, Patterson was delivered a bone crunching hit as he released a deep pass down the sideline, resulting in his first Michigan interception.
With Patterson injured on the next drive, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey was washed out of the pocket on nearly every play, culminating in a 4th and 7 incompletion as he was chased down by the entire Notre Dame front seven.
Finally, just as Patterson began to show why he has been deemed Michigan football?s newest savior in the game?s final minute, his pocket once again collapsed in on itself. This time, there was no evading to be done, Patterson was stripped, and the Wolverines came away from yet another big game with a lot of missed opportunities and a tally in the loss column.
If that list of pass protection failures read tediously, I fulfilled my intention. It reads tediously because it was tedious to watch, much like it has throughout the Harbaugh era.
There may be nothing in football more frustrating than turning touchdown opportunities into three points or field goal opportunities into zero points but thanks to failures on the offensive line, that is what Michigan did last night. It is also what the Wolverines did against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State a year ago.
Despite his final stat line, Shea Patterson looked just about all he was advertised to be. He completed 20 of 30 passes and exhibited an excellent deep ball on a 52 yard completion to open the second half. He was the composed pocket presence that Michigan desperately needs. But yet, he was repeatedly hit while passing, sacked out of field goal range, and forced to make quick throws to the flat instead of looking downfield because the pass protection simply was not good enough.
It will likely be good enough against Western Michigan next weekend, and even SMU, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Maryland beyond that. The Wolverines may soon sit at 5-1, and once again, creating a mirage that all is fine.
For that mirage to be reality, its pass protection has serious work to do before Wisconsin comes to town on October 13.