Encased in a massive glass display box in Schembechler Hall’s Towsley Museum is a source of pride for the No. 2 Michigan football team. Look straight through the glass to the wall in the case, and you’ll see ‘O-Line U’ written prominently above the names of key Wolverines offensive lineman who played in the NFL.
Look down from the ‘O-Line U’ lettering, and you’ll see a trophy sitting front and center. In stature, it’s not a tall trophy, but it’s a long one. It has to be, as it depicts a center reaching down to prepare to snap a football, and two lineman on each side of him scouting the defense as they ready to get into their 3-point stances.
Under that scene are two plaques. Each indicating that this award is the Joe Moore award for best offensive line in the country. One is for 2021 and one is for 2022. But both are for Michigan.
If you looked to the right of that display case and toward the press conference podium a little past noon on Monday, you’d see one of the offensive lineman whom that trophy represents — graduate student Trevor Keegan — not all too concerned with the hardware he helped earn.
“We’re not really worried about the Joe Moore right now,” Keegan said. “We’re just worried about winning games. The last two years we won that, but we didn’t win a national championship.”
Keegan knows any goals the Wolverines have this year fall squarely on how his unit performs at the line of scrimmage — Joe Moore or not. After starting each game at left guard through four weeks, and playing as a starter the past two seasons, he’s seen first hand how much work that unit still needs to make.
Even with the Wolverines supposedly finalizing their o-line starters a couple weeks ago, there’s still personnel movement a full month into the season. Namely, playing time is still in flux between senior Myles Hinton and graduate transfer LaDarius Henderson. The two practically split the workload evenly against Rutgers, with the right-tackle starter in Hinton playing 32 snaps and Henderson playing 30.
No matter how long Hinton and Henderson split snaps, the offensive line as a whole is still working toward peak-season form. Keegan, who was part of both of those Joe Moore-winning lines, knows what that process looks like.
“I feel like we’re playing good ball,” Keegan said. “We’re starting to really mesh well together. There’s still things we got to clean up, but the way we’ve been gelling in practice, the way we’ve been practicing together, it’s gonna click real soon.”
Some of that “good ball” has been evident already, and hints of a clicking offensive line are all over the place. Four lineman are now playing nearly every snap, adding to the unit’s consistency. And while they’ve yet to be as prolific in the run-blocking game as years past so far, they’ve shown flashes of that potential. In the process, they’re starting to show what “clicking” looks like.
An effective pull from Keegan to kick out Bowling Green’s defensive end on junior running back Blake Corum’s 54-yard run that opened Michigan’s offensive game against the Falcons was a play where the line clicked. Graduate lineman Karsen Barnhart being the first on the field to make the touchdown signal with his hands after blasting UNLV’s defensive line backwards to set up a Corum touchdown at the goal line — that’s a physical representation of clicking.
“The line was really good,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “Keegan, (senior Zak) Zinter, they probably graded out the highest. But there was every(one). Myles Hinton, Barnahrt, they had some great plays.”
Now, the group’s looking to do that on a more regular basis. It starts with some intangibles.
“One missing thing is being able to do stuff on the fly,” Keegan said. “Almost like not even being able to have to communicate, where you just know everything’s gonna come right at the snap. … That little thing right there, and then we’re gonna be rolling for sure.”
In Keegan’s eyes, it’s the little things that have the offensive line so close to firing on all cylinders and so close to its full potential. Once it reaches it though, Keegan won’t be thinking much about adding a third Joe Moore trophy to the case.
He’s thinking about adding a different piece of hardware, one that hasn’t been added to Schembechler Hall’s collections since 1997.