The Wolverine

December 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 67

DECEMBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 23 BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan head coach Jim Harbaugh knew going into the 2018 campaign he needed to make some changes after a disappointing 8-5 season last year. The defense seemed to be in great hands with coordinator Don Brown and his staff, but there was plenty of room for improvement on offense. Most point to junior Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson's arrival as the biggest key to the Wolverines' turnaround this year, and there's no question he's been a huge as- set. When it comes to winning football, though, perhaps no addition has been more critical than of- fensive line coach Ed Warinner. Through 10 games, the Wolverines had only a handful of penalties up front, Harbaugh noted, and only one for holding. "No illegal chop blocks, no high- lows," he marveled days after the Wolverines won their eighth straight game, a 42-7 pasting of Penn State. "We're playing very well in that re- gard." So it's no surprise that Warinner is right up there with Brown as one of the guys Harbaugh most likes to talk football with. He calls him "the old ball coach," and the respect is clear. "I like the way he teaches," Har- baugh said on Detroit radio's 97.1 The Ticket in mid-October. "Like a great teacher, he makes the complicated simple rather than taking the simple and making it sound complicated. "A teacher will do one of the two — go to the blackboard and give a simple concept and make it look like a Calculus equation before it's over …" Or make it understandable. "He breaks it down 'Barney' style, the purple dinosaur," Harbaugh ex- plained. "Barney makes it simple. He teaches life lessons to the kids that they can understand. "That was always the most effec- tive way. Explain it like I'm a fourth grader." Warinner started with those les- sons when he arrived this spring, junior offensive guard and captain Ben Bredeson acknowledged in May. Bredeson was hesitant to compare to the past few years, but he likened past schemes to trying to learn calcu- lus before mastering basic algebra. It just wasn't working. Between Warinner 's tutelage and some serious conditioning work this summer with new strength coach Ben Herbert, the offensive linemen started to get it. There were growing pains at Notre Dame in a 24-17 loss, but they've gotten better just about every week since. "It truly is a self-confident group that seriously trained by itself this offseason," Harbaugh said. "[Left tackle] Jon Runyan, [left guard] Ben Bredeson, [center] Cesar Ruiz, [right guard] Mike Onwenu, [right tackle] Juwann Bushell-Beatty — they are all enjoying their greatest football. "I think we're the only team in the country [this year] who's had a back rush for over 100 yards seven straight games. [Senior] Karan Higdon is run- ning the ball hard and well. He's get- ting hit, too, and not fumbling the ball." But the biggest difference is the way they're being coached. "Ed has done a fantastic job," Harbaugh reiterated. "He's a great teacher." SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE Warinner earned his reputation long before arriving at Michigan. Ohio State writers shared the OSU fan base's concern at the time of the hire, remembering the coach as one of the keys to the Buckeyes' incred- ible improvement up front a few years ago. The 2014 line, for example, was in disarray at the beginning of the season; by the end it was hoisting a national championship trophy. Warinner 's background includes coordinating at OSU and, before that, at Kansas, where his offenses put up huge numbers. He has a say in the offense at Michigan, too, but he was hired to get the offensive line on track first, and he's been everything hoped for and more. "It's just how you present it," Warinner said when asked what sim- plifying meant to him. "There are a lot of things that can happen on every play, and nobody knows before the play starts which of those are go- ing to happen. Realistically, I know six things that could happen. If I give six of those scenarios to a player, then he won't play very fast. "I have to simplify down to what are the two most likely things that can happen on this play and in this situation? It's A or B, and react to one of those two. If he's right 80 per- cent of the time, we win. If the O-line grade says 80 percent, offensively we're going to win the play or win the day." If the player is fo- cusing on five or six and grades out at 50 percent because he's thinking too much, the coach added, the play slows down, the reactions slow down and they "start chasing ghosts, so to speak." "It becomes incumbent on me — what are the two most important things on this play that you need to do?" he said. "It's A, and if it's not A, you're reacting to B. "Anything else that happens, we'll live with the result and play the next play." No more was the improvement ev- ident than in back-to-back dominant wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Badgers beat Michigan's left side with a twist last year that sent quarterback Brandon Peters to the hospital and essentially ended any chance of a Michigan win. The offensive linemen were ready for those line stunts this year, and they picked them up with ease in a 38-13 blowout. Runyan estimated the Spartans blitzed twice as much against the Wolverines as they did against every- one else on the schedule, both against the run and the pass, but it didn't matter. Stunts that led to quarterback Devin Gardner getting hit 28 times in a 2014 loss were ineffective in this year 's 21-7 win in which Michigan rushed for 183 yards against the na- tion's top-ranked run defense. "They knew they weren't going to stop us if they let us stay on our double teams, so they threw every- thing they could at us," Runyan said. Warinner "And the standard is we're trying to win every game and we're trying to be at a championship level, and we're trying to win a Big Ten title. That's how we coach them. It's not about who we're playing against, it's about how they're performing."

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - December 2018