After the Notre Dame game, Michigan’s offensive line was destroyed by media and fans alike. Fans questioned whether the Wolverines could ever ‘win big games’ without fortifying their front five and every media availability was swarmed with questions about the unit.
So Saturday morning, Michigan came out and did what they could — perform on the field.
“If someone’s out here talking about you,” said Juwann Bushell-Beatty, “you can either curl up and give up or you can prove everyone wrong and this team has chosen to prove everyone wrong.”
When people don’t understand things, they tend to point fingers. … At the end of the day, they can’t do what we do and that’s why they watch us on TV.”
The run blockers opened what Chris Evans called “holes big enough for a car to drive through” to pave the way for 308 rushing yards and the pass protection prevented Western Michigan’s defense from getting through to a single sack on Shea Patterson.
While the opponent certainly played a role in the Wolverines’ increased success, offensive line coach Ed Warinner was pleased with the unit’s development after seeing improved consistency — and more buying in to the coaching staff — in week two.
“I thought our growth was great from week one to week two as a unit,” Warinner said.
The most growth in a football team, in my 34 years of experience is between week one and week two,” Warinner said. “When they finally play someone other than their own team, when they finally have to learn to adjust in a game, when they finally have to go out and play and the coaches aren’t around them anymore, then you learn that all those things coach talks about, they really are important.”
The biggest improvement may have been the unit’s communication. Even amidst widespread criticism in week one, it’s helped hold them to just one pre-snap penalty on the season and no holding calls against Western, a major contrast to some of Michigan’s demoralizing penalties on the defensive side through two weeks.
“You don’t realize how well you need to communicate up front until you actually go in a game and it’s loud,” Warinner said.
Yesterday was the best I’ve ever seen us communicate at practice…because now they totally get why.”
Warinner, though, knows this unit is not done developing. Saturday gave him a first look at some of the young backups that were clamored for after week one, notably freshman tackle Jalen Mayfield and sophomore tackle James Hudson.
“Good to see Jalen Mayfield get in the game, good to see James Hudson get in the game,” said coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday.
Warinner sees both as ahead of schedule for their age and while many preach consistency to the offensive line’s personnel, he doesn’t rule out either slotting into the first unit.
Both practice with the ones about a quarter of the time, building familiarity in case they need to play together on game day.
“If one guy in that chain doesn’t know what’s going on and you don’t communicate effectively, then you have a problem.”
Hudson’s classmate, sophomore center Cesar Ruiz, meanwhile, has started both games at center through two weeks.
He didn’t play a snap at center last year but has now shifted to the unit’s most important position after Mason Cole’s departure to the draft. Warinner attributes some of the line’s week two improvement to Ruiz gaining familiarity at center and is confident in his continued development against Southern Methodist on Saturday.
For his part, Ruiz has done all he can to acquaint himself with his new position. This morning, in an hour break between morning classes, he made a detour to Schembechler Hall to discuss a few finer technique points with Warinner.
And while he acts as the unit’s quarterback on game days, he is also a vocal leader off the field.
“He’s just a funny dude, he’s goofy,” Bushell-Beatty said. “He’s not like a lot of other o-lineman, he’s very outgoing.”
More from Warinner: