Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan said the offensive line began to gel during the Nebraska game
Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Atlanta — After the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, fingers were pointing directly at the Michigan offensive line. This was nothing new and different, though. After all, the offensive line had pretty much taken most of the verbal, in-print and online abuse directed at the Wolverines the last few years.
The linemen took notice, though, especially when a former player took a few digs at them on Twitter.
In the days following that game, the linemen took it upon themselves to regroup. They met and they discussed being accountable to one another. The line ultimately made enormous strides this season under first-year Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner and in the weeks after the Notre Dame game, it helped the Wolverines to a 10-game winning streak.
Michigan is here preparing for Saturday’s Peach Bowl against Florida. The Wolverines are 10-2 and looking to rebound from a loss at Ohio State in the regular-season finale and earn an 11th win.
One Tweet in particular, from former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, who called out, among others, sophomore Cesar Ruiz, who had made his first career start at center at Notre Dame, got the linemen’s attention.
“After the Notre Dame game, we saw that tweet obviously,” left guard Jon Runyan said Monday. “Coach Harbaugh addressed it. We also saw (an online) feed, ‘Michigan’s offensive line is softer than toilet paper’. It was just a thread of attached tweets of people talking trash about Michigan’s offensive line.
Runyan kept the link on his phone and showed it to a small group of reporters during an interview session at the Hyatt Regency.
“As a unit we talked about we need to meet with each other,” Runyan said, relaying a conversation the group had the day after the Notre Dame game, “and figure out what’s going on. We did that and had a nice little dinner on Monday and talked it over. It is what it is that game.
“That was really something. We saw that Braylon Edwards tweet and shook it up.”
So maybe the delivery of the sentiment wasn’t what they wanted to read or hear, but the linemen knew the criticism wasn’t all wrong.
“We had to hold each other accountable.,” Runyan said. “One guy messes up, we all mess up. We can’t be too down on it all the time. Kinda had to put it behind us and learn from it, and that’s what we did moving forward.”
By the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, the fourth game of the season, the line had gained confidence. Runyan was a new starter at left tackle and he was next to junior Ben Bredeson, who entering the Peach Bowl has made 32 starts. Ruiz was the new starter at center next to right guard Michael Onwenu and right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, taking over at right tackle.
Michigan ran for 285 yards against Nebraska.
“The Nebraska game is where it started to come together,” Runyan said. “Western Michigan (in Week 2) started out slow. Nebraska we started feeling ourselves. We were able to play really good and I think that was really the moment in the season where it started coming together.”
Even the defensive linemen saw a difference in the offensive line after those first few weeks.
“Everybody was calling our offensive line out,” defensive end Kwity Paye said. “You saw Braylon Edwards and the tweets, but I feel they improved from that point. When everybody doubted then — they stepped up big and pushed forward. When I watch them and I watch other O-linemen, I’m like, they’re not far apart. When we saw the Wisconsin team play, they’re supposed to be the best O-linemen, but I felt our O-linemen was a lot better than theirs.”
The line will return almost fully intact next year with the exception of Bushell-Beatty. Andrew Stueber started the Ohio State game at right tackle and seems penciled in there for now.
Quarterback Shea Patterson will return and the deep receiving corps also will be back. But it starts with the offensive line.
“Having that continuity with the four of us up there, especially Cesar coming back, it will be smooth transition to spring ball,” Runyan, first-team All-Big Ten, said. “And Ben’s kind of been a staple of the offensive line and having him next to me is obviously really helpful.
“He’s able to help Cesar and me at the same time doing pass plays. This Florida defense presents a lot of problems. Their speed on the edge — No. 99 (Jachai Polite) and 92 (Jabari Zuniga) are phenomenal players and I’m probably going to need some help going against them in pass.”
As the players have been saying since after the Ohio State loss, the focus is now an 11th win as a springboard into next season.
“This whole team we’re not missing too many people next year,” Runyan said. “We’re trying to create the momentum that we created at the end of the season.”
Michigan vs. Florida
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Records: Michigan 10-2; Florida 9-3
Line: Michigan by 6