- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The week heading into the Wolverines' matchup with Purdue was one of the most memorable for offensive coordinator Al Borges.
"We had our three best practices maybe since I've been here, but certainly this season," Borges said. "So much of that tone was set by [the offensive linemen]."
It was the O-line position group that was called out during halftime of the Notre Dame game and told the final two quarters would rest on its shoulders. In that matchup the group missed more than 20 assignments and came into the following two weeks with a renewed focus. And because of that focus, they brought Borges and the rest of the offense the three best practices this season, which led a surprising rout of the Boilermakers.
"I love linemen because they're realists," Borges said. "They know you're only as good as your last performance and they're going to have to work hard."
Keys to improving: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday that he has seen senior defensive end Craig Roh display some of the same qualities that Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and Will Heininger did last season for the Wolverines, such as recognizing sets before the snap and informing his teammates of what might be coming.
"We probably spend more time in film preparation giving our guys the extra hint of what's going to happen than a lot of people do," Mattison said. "That allows a guy who isn't the biggest, strongest guy or maybe isn't the most experienced guy that if he uses tendencies he can play better."
Mattison said guys like Roh are able to take that kind of a step when they become comfortable in a scheme. Roh is the only player on the defensive line who has experienced significant snaps both years under Mattison, so it makes sense that he is the most comfortable right now.
In order to make the same kind of strides as last season's team, according to Mattison, that same kind of growth will need to happen in other players as well.
"They have to [get to that point]," Mattison said. "That's what we, as coaches, must make them do. Otherwise, you aren't going to see the improvement. You aren't going to get any stronger during the year. You're not going to get any faster during the year. And you're not going to gain any weight during the year, so somewhere [else] in there you have to gain."
"Both our freshmen are coming along nicely at a position we were concerned about," Borges said. "It's getting to where we're not quite [worried] as much as we were."
Funchess has played more of a split out role, while Williams is more of a Kevin Koger-like, blocking-heavy player, according to Borges.
And while they've played comparable amounts, most fans see Funchess as the more impressive freshman tight end because he has been called upon to catch more passes. And he has had some pretty impressive receptions, including one under double coverage against Purdue.
"That was an incredible catch," Borges said. "[Receivers coach] Jeff Hecklinski kind of went crazy and said, 'He caught that sucker,' and I said, 'That's why we recruited him.' … But then when I saw [the replay], I would've probably reacted the same way if I had known what a good catch it was."
15hJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren