It’s fitting that the Michigan football team’s offensive line proved its improvement against No. 15 Wisconsin.
For years, the Badgers have held a reputation for a big, athletic and effective offensive line. It is, undoubtedly, what they are known for.
The 12th-ranked Wolverines (6-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) for at least the past several seasons, have been on the opposite end of the offensive-line spectrum. They have struggled, especially in big games, like they did in Michigan’s season opener against Notre Dame.
But week after week since, when the Wolverines have been asked about the offensive line, they unanimously spoke of improvements.
Saturday’s game with Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1) was supposed to be the test to see if all that talk was real — the next big game with a legit opposing defense against which Michigan could measure itself. With 320 rushing yards and a 38-13 win, it’s fair to say that test was passed.
“This was more of a personal game for us. You know, a lot of people have a lot of questions about who we are as a team, our offensive line our run game, we don’t show up in big games,” said senior running back Karan Higdon. “I think we laid that to rest today.”
To start, it seemed the Wolverines were going to struggle on the ground. They ran for 83 yards in the first half, and 81 of those came on one play, a zone read keeper by junior quarterback Shea Patterson.
Other than that, though, Michigan could get nothing going.
In the second half, that changed entirely. Higdon started to get rolling. Patterson continued to be a threat with his legs. Even redshirt freshman backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey got in on the fun with a 44-yard touchdown scamper.
The Wolverines, in the run game and everywhere else, imposed their will on the Badgers in the second half.
“We had some outstanding second-half adjustments, and then it’s just credit to Coach Herbert and his staff, Coach Warinner changing the culture in the offensive line room,” said junior guard Ben Bredeson. “We really felt like we were just grinding them down throughout the game, and the running game really clicked in the second half.”
That grind is a mark of a good offensive line. The Wolverines aren’t going to dominate every opponent in the trenches, especially one with the talent that the Badgers have in their front seven.
But the war in the interior is sometimes drawn out. Opposing units beat on each other for entire games, sometimes trading plays until one starts to break down. Michigan’s offensive line won that war.
“I think we came out, made some great adjustments and got the job done,” Higdon said. “There’s no further question that we got the best offensive line in the country.”
Okay, that last part still seems like a reach.
However, if Higdon had said the same thing four weeks ago, it would have been hard not to laugh.
Now, when Higdon says it without blinking, it feels like he believes it, even if it isn’t reality. Surely that means something.
It isn’t that the Wolverines’ front has surpassed the Badgers, who ran for 183 yards on Michigan’s defense. But the gap between the two units was so unfathomably large last season, and after the Fighting Irish game, that didn’t look to be changing this year.
But the Wolverines stayed the course. They said they had improved and each week they showed those improvements.
On Saturday, Michigan went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin, a program known for its big men up front. And the Wolverines’ offensive line came out looking better than ever.