It’s easily understood why Michigan football fans were discouraged by the dismal offensive line performance during Saturday’s (Aug. 17) open practice.
So when it was noted that Michigan ran for a paltry 33 yards in 20 carries Saturday night, you shouldn’t wonder why tickets remain for the made-for-revenge August 30 season opener vs. Appalachian State.
The scrimmage was a grim reminder of the 2013 season, when the U-M rushing attack was often non-existent.
In fact, the Wolverines ran for negative yardage during two successive weeks last season, -48 in the 29-6 loss at Michigan State and -21 in the 17-13 loss at home to Nebraska .
It’s easily understood that the major culprit in last year’s meltdown was the offensive line. While the pass protection for quarterback Devin Gardner was fairly adequate, the run blocking was unacceptable.
Head coach Brady Hoke’s efforts to correct the situation began in the offseason by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges, and hiring Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who followed Hoke from San Diego State, gets another season to make things right.
Don’t, however, expect a huge turnaround overnight. Gone are two-fifths of the unit (Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield) to the NFL.
Sure there’s plenty of potential, but unfortunately it comes with plenty of youth and inexperience.
Across the front, expect a freshman, three redshirt sophomores, and a junior to open the season.
Patience must be the key since many of the nation’s top teams play all seniors.
True freshman Mason Cole looks more and more like Lewan’s replacement at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Ben Braden, who has a paltry two games of reserve duty behind him, will start at right tackle.
Last year’s weakness was at center and guard, but at least all of the returnees have gained some needed experience.
Fourth-year walk-on junior Graham Glasgow is expected to regain his center slot after serving a one-game suspension against Appy State. Glasgow started all 13 games a season ago, nine at center and four at left guard.
Junior Jack Miller, who started the first four games at center in 2013, will start against the Mountaineers, but look for redshirt freshman Patrick Kugler to get some reps.
Kugler’s future promising
Groomed to eventually become a decorated center, Kugler was actually scout.com’s No. 1 offensive guard in the class of 2013. Redshirt sophomore and All-Big Ten freshman team member Kyle Kalis has the inside track to retain his right guard slot, although he’s been slowed by a minor back injury.
Left guard appears healthy with redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson getting the nod, with sophomore Kyle Bosch and redshirt freshman David Dawson in the wings.
Hoke, who is well aware of the offensive line’s continued criticism, tried to play down the recent performance. “The offensive line learned a lot from Saturday’s scrimmage,” the fourth year coach tweeted earlier today (Aug. 20). “(Defensive coordinator) Greg (Mattison) doesn’t make it easy for them.” In Saturday’s scrimmage Mattison dialed up several clever blitzes, showing that the defense is ahead of the offense, at least in Ann Arbor.
* * *
Michigan football notes
With Notre Dame off the schedule for the next several years, give athletic director Dave Brandon credit for improving the Wolverines’ non-conference schedule.
Michigan announced earlier today a home and home series with the University of Washington in 2020 and 2021. U-M, which has a 7-5 advantage in the overall series, travels to Seattle Sept. 5, 2020, while the Huskies return the favor Sept. 18, 2021.
Also on future Michigan schedules are home and home series with Utah (2014, 15), Arkansas (2018, 19) and Virginia Tech (also in 2020, 21). In addition, Michigan will meet Florida in the 2017 season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.