The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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82 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 S even years ago, Greg Mat- tison — then Michigan's defensive coordinator in his first year under Brady Hoke — got a bit emotional after the Wolverines beat Illinois on the road. He'd been waiting all season to see his unit play with the fire and desire he expected, but a group that had struggled mightily under the former re- gime was making baby steps and testing his patience. That changed in a 31-14 vic- tory in Champaign. "These guys played like a Michigan defense," Mattison said, beaming with pride. For years, Michigan fans have been waiting for similar affirmation from a coach about the offensive line. U-M used to be Offensive Line U, after all, and made a living taking over games in the fourth quarter. This year's group got off to an inauspicious beginning in a 24-17 loss at Notre Dame, and it probably should have been expected. Redshirt junior Jon Runyan Jr. was starting his first game at left tackle, sopho- more Cesar Ruiz his first at center, and the Wolverines were playing a solid Irish team on the road. Five weeks later, however, the men up front earned first-year offensive line coach Ed Warinner's respect with their play in a 38-13 blowout of Wisconsin in which they bullied the Badgers in the second half, running for 320 yards against a program that had only relinquished 200 or more twice in the last four years. By no coincidence, the honorary captains for the contest were doz- ens of the Michigan All-American, All-Big Ten and NFL linemen of the past. There was a message in their presence — Michigan was once known as Offensive Line U, and it was past time for it to be again. This year's group of linemen has heard for years now how they couldn't get the job done like Wis- consin's line, and there had even been jokes made at their expense. It was toughest, probably, on junior captain Ben Bredeson, who defected from his home state of Wisconsin to compete for championships at Michigan, only to see the Badgers regularly make the Big Ten title game from a weaker Big Ten West. "It was incredible to see," Brede- son said of the support from the for- mer linemen. "… I got a little time to talk to them. You really see the tra- dition this place has, as a program and especially from an offensive line standpoint. You see the support all the former players have for us. "It's very humbling. As a player, it makes you so much more confident that you have all these greats behind you, watching you every week, root- ing for you. To have them out there for this game, and for the offensive line to have a great day like we did, it's the only way we could say thank you to them." And did they ever. It might not have been a vintage Wisconsin de- fense they pushed around — and there will be tougher tests to come — but they did everything expected and more. They picked up twists and stunts they couldn't last year, and blew Bucky off the ball. They threw the ball all of six times in the second half, doing to the Bad- gers what Wisconsin had done to Michigan back in 2010 in run- ning the same few plays on the ground repeatedly with little resistance. The Wolverines finished with 237 second-half rushing yards in a statement performance, one that elicited a rare tweet from their first-year line coach underneath a picture of the starters' jerseys hanging side by side in the locker room. "These guys were ready last night," Warinner wrote. "Ap- preciate how far they have come and how hard they work. O-line pride. Go Blue." Warinner said in the spring they had the personnel for a solid line. It finally came to- gether with an assist from new strength coach Ben Herbert — ironically, the guy who helped train the Wisconsin group that bullied U-M seven years earlier. "We've been in those big games [in the past], and I've personally seen us not be able to finish them," Bredeson said. "That was a big focus for us this offseason … change the culture in the offensive line room. We were going to finish games." They delivered on the national stage, providing no guarantees but plenty of hope for the rest of the season. "It's a confident group that really trained itself this offseason," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Runyan, Bredeson, Cesar, [junior right guard] Mike Onwenu, [fifth-year senior right tackle] Juwann Bushell-Beatty — they're all playing their best football and playing really well together." For a night, they earned the re- spect of their predecessors, with the expectation that it would continue. The ceiling for this team depends on it, but the future up front — imme- diate and long-term — looks bright under Warinner. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS A Tip Of The Cap One year after tying for 114th nationally with 2.77 sacks allowed per game, new offensive line coach Ed Warinner has helped U-M improve to tied for 43rd (1.57) through seven games. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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