Michigan is on the precipice of a national championship because of its unwavering, people-eating offensive line, which has become the heartbeat of the team. Allison Engkvist/Daily. Buy this photo.

Saturday evening, a few hours after the Michigan football team’s 42-27 upset of Ohio State, Jim Harbaugh’s phone buzzed. 

John Madden — the legendary former NFL coach and broadcaster (and namesake of the Madden NFL video game series) — had seen the Wolverines’ dominant 297-yard rushing performance. Needless to say, he was impressed. 

“John Madden said this is as good of an offensive line performance as he’s seen in a football game,” Harbaugh recalled. “I texted that to (offensive line coach Sherrone Moore) and said to keep that in your phone forever.”

Madden wasn’t wrong. Throughout Saturday’s game, Michigan’s offensive line thrashed the Buckeyes’ front seven — a group that, entering the matchup, had ranked ninth nationally, allowing just 103.5 rushing yards per game. Just as relevant, the Wolverines didn’t allow a single tackle for loss.

Senior running back Hassan Haskins — who tallied 169 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries — received significant praise for his performance, and rightfully so: His ability to fight through contact consistently has earned him a spot among the country’s top backs. But his job is made much easier when his offensive line opens gaping holes in the defense as it did on Saturday. 

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Haskins said after the game. “I want to thank every single one of my O-linemen today. They played their hearts out.”

That dominance up front isn’t just a one-game thing, either. It’s an extension of the identity that Michigan’s offense has worked to build all year — often to the consternation of fans.

Early in the season, the Wolverines’ run-first approach was viewed by many not as an asset but as a crutch of the offense. This publication pointed it out in September: Even if that offense could take down the likes of Rutgers and Northern Illinois, it seemed unlikely that Michigan could defeat Ohio State without a more dynamic passing attack. 

Yet that’s exactly what it did.

Everything about Saturday’s win was vintage Harbaugh: power runs, blocking receivers and a line so effective that it didn’t even matter if the Buckeyes knew where the ball was going. Because of the ground game’s success, the offense managed to score 28 points on four second half drives despite passing the ball just four times.

That’s not a dig at the passing game. Junior quarterback Cade McNamara’s growth has been a major asset in the Wolverines’ late-season push, and Michigan completed all four of its second half pass attempts for a total of 77 yards. Although the run game remains the offense’s strength, McNamara is more than capable of winning games with his arm, as he proved against Wisconsin, for example. 

But even that passing game is built in the trenches. This season, the Wolverines have allowed just 0.8 sacks per game, the fourth-fewest in the entire FBS. Part of that stems from McNamara’s pocket presence and his ability to avoid the rush, but it’s also an outcome of his offensive line protecting him from pressure. Against the Buckeyes, he was hurried just twice and never sacked. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, by contrast, was sacked and hurried a combined eight times. It’s a lot easier to throw the ball when there’s nobody else in the pocket.

“Other than the Washington game, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or been part of an offense with such a dominant offensive line performance,” McNamara said. “I think that’s just a testament to the amount of work and the mentality shift in that room and that coach Moore has preached to the rest of those dudes.” 

The offensive line’s dominance is especially shocking given the fact that it was a major question mark entering the year. The loss of offensive line coach Ed Warinner forced Sherrone Moore into the role as an unproven commodity. 

But Moore’s impact has been palpable. At every opportunity, his players have praised the energy he’s brought to the room. Harbaugh has, too. Regardless of his lack of experience prior to the season, he’s elevated the unit to the driving force on an offense that’s playing at a championship level.

“These guys are confident in what they can do,” McNamara said. “And we’re confident as a group that we can follow their lead and that they can drive this offense.”