For one Saturday afternoon, the Big House actually seemed like
an amusement park.

Janna Hutz

The cotton candy was delicious. The funnel cakes melted in
mouths. The basketball shooting game ripped everyone off, but no
one seemed to care.

Timmy Bracken, Pierre Rembert, Jerome Jackson and Alijah Bradley
waited in anxious anticipation while Chris Perry and David
Underwood kept riding that sweet new ride. And riding it. And
riding it. And riding it.

The Michigan running backs, along with the Wolverine faithful,
hadn’t seen a ride like this since the fall of 2000. Lil’ Chris and
Dave weren’t about to waste this opportunity, as they spent the
whole afternoon jumping on and off, buying more tickets so they
could experience the feel-good sensation known as the 2003 Michigan
offensive line – I prefer “The Casanova line.”

When Chris and Dave got dizzy from riding so many times, the
younger kids took a break from bobbing for apples and had a field
day. Once Lloyd Carr – equipped with a huge measuring stick on the
sidelines – deemed them tall enough to enjoy the ride safely, they
hopped on 12 times between the four of them for 102 yards and two
scores.

“To put it simply,” said right guard Matt Lentz, “it’s fun.”

To put it simply, it didn’t matter which Wolverine tailback was
riding. A fun time was had by all.

Well, everyone except Houston’s defense, which allowed 392 yards
rushing to Michigan Saturday. The line pounded the Cougars. It
embarrassed them. It made them feel like the kid who isn’t big
enough to get on the ride at all. Go back to the Tilt-o-whirl,
Cougs.

In two games – albeit, against two teams that have no business
trying to stop the ride – Michigan has rushed for 367 yards per
game and nine touchdowns. That’s a big step up from 148.4 per game
and ninth in the Big Ten last season, when the line was still
trying to find its best five-man combination.

It hasn’t mattered at all that John Navarre is hovering around a
50-percent completion rate and has thrown for just 381 yards. Or
that No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards has continued to drop balls, a
problem that plagued him last season.

The line focuses on one thing: Let’s do our job, because that’s
all we can control.

“If we do our job and set the tempo up front, we’re going to
help our team to the national championship,” said David Baas, who
mans the left guard position of the ride. “Because that’s where we
want to be.”

That’s a big statement. But this line appears ready to make
statements and back them up with its performance. They want all the
expectations on their shoulders, because they believe there isn’t a
defensive line out there that can stop them from accomplishing
their goals.

So who are these guys? They’d probably prefer it if I didn’t
say. Their job always leaves them out of the spotlight, but you
don’t make big statements and stay in hibernation.

The ride doesn’t run without the brains of the operation.
According to Baas, that’s center Dave Pearson. He’s the redhead who
you’ll see guarding his buddy Navarre all over campus. Underwood
says that Pearson, a senior, can’t help making fun of the backup
tailback’s thick Texas accent.

Left tackle Adam Stenavich, a redshirt sophomore, is the comical
cog of the machine. He’s not the loudest guy, but when he does
talk, it is something worth listening to. Baas and “Steno,” as they
call him, claim to have good chemistry on the left side of the
line.

It was tough for Baas to give Pearson the title of “the brains.”
But it is obvious that Baas, a preaseason All-America candidate,
has the brawn. If you meet him, the junior will remind you of a
bull with his menacing forehead. He’s the last person any defensive
lineman would want to line up against.

Right tackle Tony Pape calls Lentz, his mate on the right side,
“the goofy kid.” He’s got a “strange” laugh according to Baas.
Lentz is from a small town in Michigan and used to pull his father’s
pick-up truck up a hill to train for football season. The redshirt
sophomore claims the reason he came to Michigan was to run the
football, and run it some more.

And then, there’s Pape. He’s been tabbed “Fat Elvis” because of
his crazy Elvisesque sideburns, painting him as the wildman of the
line. Pape can’t talk without grinning (or giggling), but Baas
thinks Pape has been portrayed incorrectly. He sees the senior as a
team leader and someone that everyone on the line looks up to.

So, that’s the ride: A shy comic, a brawny bull, a red-headed
brain, a goofy country boy and a misunderstood leader with wild
burns.

It’s a ride that could end up in many places, but luckily for
Michigan, its five personalities are streamlined in one direction:
South to New Orleans.

Will the ride look the same when it’s going against four kids
who meet the size requirement Saturday against Notre Dame? It’s the
first big test for this group that could leave a lasting legacy in
Michigan football lore.

From what I’ve seen from the Michigan passing game, still
struggling to find its rhythm without Bennie Joppru and B. J.
Askew, I think it’s time for Michigan to look back to its roots and
run the ball first, pass second.

And this isn’t even Bo Schembechler’s “three yards and a cloud
of dust.” It’s 10 yards and a cloud of crushed tires.

Follow the line to the promised land. For the first time since
2000, the Wolverines have the ride to get them there.

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at
“mailto:bradymcc@umich.edu”>bradymcc@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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