Jon Runyan Jr. was hesitant to watch his team’s season-opening loss at Notre Dame. The redshirt junior left tackle knew it would make him sick to his stomach. But last Friday, for the first time, he chose to anyway.
What Runyan saw was not always pretty. There were plays he, self-admittedly, got caught in the heat of the moment. There were others where his technique evaded him.
“Just looking at it like, ‘Wow, that was probably actually a really bad play I had right there,’ ” Runyan said.
So why did Runyan relive the Wolverines’ lone loss during his only off-weekend of the fall? He wanted a reminder of how far he had come.
Runyan thinks his improvement started in Michigan’s win over Nebraska on Sept. 22. Then he felt another jump two weeks later against Wisconsin.
“Those two games, I thought I played really well,” Runyan said. “We were just having fun out there. Those games were really fun. Especially (Wisconsin) under the lights, on ESPN, 8:30. Those are the games you grow up watching and live for.”
After allowing three sacks against the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines have allowed just ten combined quarterback drops in the seven games since.
The offensive line’s collective growth was most apparent in Michigan’s victory over Michigan State. Against one of the country’s top-ranked run defenses, Michigan ran for 183 yards as its offensive line helped seal the victory down the stretch.
“Watching the Michigan State game as a unit with the offensive linemen, in the locker room, it was just unbelievable,” Runyan said. “I’ve never seen a locker room with that much atmosphere in there. Everybody in the Michigan State game had an overwhelming sense of pride in what we did.”
That’s quite the contrast from the sickness Runyan felt when replaying the Notre Dame game. During his press conference Tuesday, he repeated that his goal for the remainder of the season was to never feel that way again.
A test to that, however, comes this weekend. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that Penn State has the best defensive line the Wolverines have faced this season.
And on paper, even with the likes of Michigan State and Wisconsin in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to understand why Harbaugh thinks so.
The Nittany Lions rank fourth nationally with 28 sacks on the year. Yetur Gross-Matos — the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week — has two sacks in each of Penn State’s past two games. He and defensive end Shareef Miller have combined for 10 tackles and 21 tackles for loss this season.
“Really, the whole group is impressive,” Harbaugh said. “Like I said, I think it's the best that we’ve played so far. Aggressive group that is very strong (on) inside pass-rush, as well as speed and power on the edge.”
That combination of speed and power is one that Runyan struggled with on Sept. 1. His improvement since then has been undeniable, but Gross-Matos and Miller will test just how far Runyan has come.
“We did a good job (against Michigan State),” Runyan said. “… Hopefully we carry that over to Penn State. Cause their team really likes to bring pressure, too.”