As Cesar Ruiz assessed the state of Michigan’s offensive line earlier this week, he was careful not to label any struggles as “growing pains.”
The implication accompanying that term is that the Wolverines’ inconsistency on the offensive line is a result of Josh Gattis’ new offense. The junior center knows that isn’t the case.
“We all understand the offense, we all understand everything,” Ruiz said. “It’s just, once you get in the game, you’ve got to understand everything’s fast-paced and there’s no re-dos.”
But the truth remains inescapable. Two weeks into Michigan’s season, the Wolverines’ offense hasn’t lived up to expectations.
So what gives?
“When you look at it over the past few games, we’ve got seven turnovers, we have 10 penalties, but then we also have seven drops,” Gattis said. “So you go back and look at all those plays in critical situations, they’re killers.”
Turnovers have led to every regulation touchdown given up by the first-team defense and drops have held the offense to nine self-described “explosive” plays so far. But as Michigan’s offensive linemen spoke this week, it became clear that penalties are at the crux of the Wolverines’ bye week focuses.
At first glance, 58 penalty yards doesn’t seem comparable to three turnovers on the list of reasons that Michigan went to overtime in a game it entered as a 23-point favorite. But when four of those penalties came in a seven-point first half on an offensive line returning three starters, it’s cause for alarm.
“We had some penalties that shouldn’t happen,” said senior guard Ben Bredeson. “Procedure penalties that we’re better than that, we know better than that. And obviously just (frustrated) with myself for that one. But it’s just focus time and something that we need to correct going forward.”
So as Ruiz watched his offensive line struggle against a defensive line with no player over 300 pounds, he had a message for the unit.
“My thing was, we can’t lose,” Ruiz said. “We can’t lose to this team. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot. That was my main message. We had a few false start penalties — I had one. … You don’t get too many chances with the football against this team so we’ve got to maximize every opportunity we have.”
Against Wisconsin next Saturday, the Wolverines will be confronted with one of the Big Ten’s premier defensive units, further limiting their margin for error. It’s why Bredeson called the bye week “not the worst (timing) in the world.” Now, the challenge is taking advantage of these two weeks.
While eliminating unfocused penalties will be a point of emphasis during the bye week, Michigan will also be focusing on spotting blitzes and picking up assignments — two things the Wolverines practice every day, according to Ruiz.
Now, the challenge is turning them into live reps.
“Every game’s not going to be perfect,” Ruiz said. “But it’s up to us to minimize every single one of those mistakes. It’s great we have a bye week to focus on a lot of those things and to be extra focused on those.”