In No. 11 Michigan’s first game of the 2013 season, the offensive line bullied, badgered and bugged Central Michigan’s defensive line in a 59-9 rout. The game was lopsided, as it should've been -- especially in the trenches.
But on one of the first drives of the Wolverines’ game against No. 21 Notre Dame, with a defensive line that featured two future high NFL draft picks in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis had a big realization.
“There was a point where I said, ‘OK, I’m playing big boy football. I’ve got to anchor in, ’ ” Kalis said. “And I did.”
The game against the Irish acted -- as many of these rivalry games have -- as a measuring stick for the Michigan football team. And on the offensive line, the Wolverines came out looking all right. Not perfect, but all right.
There was that sack and interception in the end zone in which three different players got to quarterback Devin Gardner, and there were a few other times guys got through. But for the most part, and while featuring an interior group that was facing their second career starts, the O-line look more than serviceable.
“Our inexperience showed up,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “We had some linebackers run through some zone plays, where that shouldn't have happened. We messed up a couple of blitz pickups because we'd take our eyes off a guy and he's slip through us -- but everything is very fixable.
“Not major issues where it looks like a guy was just lost -- that part of it was good.”
The key to the Wolverines’ success this season will be correcting those fixable mistakes. Michigan is relying on the front line to create holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, while protecting Gardner from defensive lines as well as blitzes and linebackers -- areas the Michigan O-line struggled with against Notre Dame.
In Michigan’s next two matchups with Akron and UConn, the Wolverines won’t be tested in the same way that Nix or Tuitt tested them but it will give them a chance to build more chemistry and continuity.
“I think the consistency of how they play is going to be huge,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “When you feel an offensive line kind of take the game over your running game, when people want to try five- or six-man blitzes, how they pick those things up and how much time Devin has."
The Wolverines will face tough defensive lines in Penn State, Michigan State, No. 23 Nebraska, No. 17 Northwestern and No. 4 Ohio State. Michigan will need to pick up those six-man blitzes and give Toussaint a bigger hole to hit if they want to find success in the Big Ten season.
And with these two games over the next two weeks (as well as a bye week) the Wolverines have a bit of an opportunity to prepare for the future.
“We're putting some wrinkles in -- both offensively and defensively -- for what you want to do,” Hoke said. “And what you want to try and work on for the future.”