Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh: No plans to shake up O-line vs. Western Michigan

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh watches a replay in the first half of an NCAA football game against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michigan football’s offensive line spent most of the offseason explaining how it was ready to change the narrative.

Tired of being blamed for Michigan’s offensive struggles, the linemen explained how they wanted to prove they were different in 2018.

During the season-opening loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, the Wolverines allowed three sacks, seven tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries. Michigan rushed 33 times for 58 yards.

U-M coach Jim Harbaugh opted to stay positive when asked about pass-protection problems Monday,.

“I thought it was improved. We look at it and there were quite a few boxes that you check and say ‘hey, this is improved,’ “ Harbaugh said. “We’ll continue to get better in that area. It was one of the areas I think we’re improving at.”

Michigan started fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right tackle against Notre Dame, after plenty of speculation throughout fall camp. Bushell-Beatty was the team’s primary right tackle last season but still had to fight to keep his job. To replace the graduated Mason Cole, Michigan went with fourth-year junior Jon Runyan Jr. at left tackle.

Sophomore Cesar Ruiz was the center, and juniors Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu were the guards.

Harbaugh said he doesn’t plan to change personnel along the offensive line before Saturday’s home opener against Western Michigan (noon, FS1).

“I think the way we played (the Notre Dame) game is the way we’ll play the next game (with) the offensive line,” Harbaugh said.

Michigan allowed true freshman Jalen Mayfield and redshirt freshman James Hudson to compete at tackle during fall camp, and both were in the mix for jobs throughout practice before Michigan ultimately awarded starting jobs to Runyan and Bushell-Beatty.

When Ruiz had to briefly leave Saturday’s game after his helmet came off, redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanellis entered to take a snap. Spanellis also was battling Onwenu throughout camp for a spot at right guard.

Bredeson, a team captain, has been a three-year starter for the Wolverines at left guard.

“I feel like we’ve got a good O-line, they work hard, they’ll learn from (Saturday),” Michigan receiver Nico Collins said Monday. “I feel like the criticism they have shouldn’t be talked about. I know how hard they work.

“But it is what it is. Just talk. We know how they are.”

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson finished the game 20 of 30 for 227 yards, an interception and a lost fumble, but most of his completions — save for one 52-yarder to Collins — were underneath routes as the Wolverines worked to get rid of the ball quickly in an attempt to avoid Notre Dame’s pass rush.

Even still, Patterson was under pressure throughout the game — an issue Michigan’s offensive line (and running backs in pass protection) had problems with throughout the 2017 season with former assistants Tim Drevno and Greg Frey in charge of the position room. Last season, Michigan allowed 36 sacks (No. 114 nationally) and 83 tackles for loss (No. 101 nationally).

Notre Dame, for its part, returned several players from a front seven that ranked No. 70 nationally with 24 sacks a year ago.

Michigan rushed 29 times for 100 yards (2.9 per carry) against Notre Dame, excluding yardage from sacks and Will Hart’s bobbled field goal snap. Karan Higdon rushed 21 times for 72 yards. Chris Evans, expected to be Michigan’s co-starter at running back, had just two carries for one yard with two receptions for 37 yards.

“Karan was running well,” Harbaugh said. “Especially in the first half. Just kind of riding him. He was seeing the holes and was very good in pass protection, had a couple really nice blocks.

“We were able to come with Chris in the second half. But they’re both equally as good. We’d equally like to get the ball to them throughout the course of the game. I don’t know if we’ll have a game where they get the exact same amount of touches … but we’re very confident with both our backs.”

Saturday’s game was the team’s first under first-year offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who was promoted from analyst to O-line coach after Drevno resigned in February.

Warinner was at Minnesota last season but had a successful run as Ohio State’s offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator from 2012-16 — including a national title in 2016.

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