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Friday Focus: The Michigan Offensive Line

Adam DiBartolomeoAllow me to introduce myself.

No, this is not a Jay-Z track.  My name is Adam DiBartolomeo and, like most of you, I am a life-long passionate fan of the Michigan Wolverines.  I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of the Hokeamaniac team and share my thoughts with the Wolverine Nation every week.  In fact, for those of you who are Tigers fans and familiar with manager Jim Leyland, I am “tickled.”  So without further adieu…

In the inaugural edition of the “Friday Focus” I will be focusing on not a single player, but the entire offensive line for Brady Hoke’s Winged-Helmet Warriors in their clash against the Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts.  Michigan has the obvious size and experience advantage, the 3-4 defensive scheme UMass uses gives the Wolverines the advantage in numbers, and, most importantly, the group has been called out by their leader Taylor Lewan after both the Alabama and Air Force games.

The latter point is the sole reason I chose the offensive line this week.

Taylor Lewan has described the play of his group as “embarrassing” and “awful.”  Can you blame him? Against Alabama the Wolverine ball-carriers, who were without Toussaint, carried the ball 29 times for a total of 69 yards.  An average of 2.4 yards per carry.  Fitz or no Fitz, that simply isn’t good enough even against arguably the best defense in the land that was stacked against the run.

Against Air Force, things didn’t get much better for anyone not named Denard Robinson who ran up, down, and all around the Falcons’ defenders 20 times for 218 yards and 2 long scores.  The rest of the team had 3 carries for -11 yards…ouch.

The much-talked-about return of Fitzgerald Toussaint was very underwhelming as he toted the rock 8 times for a mere 7 yards.  Was this just a case of Fitz being rusty?

Lewan didn’t seem to think so by the sound of his comments.  Hoke said “we couldn’t get Fitz going.”  The use of the word “WE” implies that he shares Lewan’s sentiment that the big uglies up front need to do a better job.  Look for Taylor’s mates to take his words, and the words of their coach, to heart this week with the intention to take out their frustration on the undersized defensive front of the Minutemen.  Which is a perfect segue to my next area of focus…SIZE!

Michigan’s starters on the offensive line goes as follows:

  • LT – Taylor Lewan: 6’8″ 309 lbs. Jr-R.
  • LG – Ricky Barnum: 6’3″ 296 lbs. 5th-Sr.
  • C – Elliott Mealer: 6’5″ 308 lbs. 5th-Sr.
  • RG – Patrick Omameh: 6’4″ 305 lbs. 5th-Sr.
  • RT – Michael Scholfield: 6’7″ 300 lbs. Jr.-R.

Compare that to UMass’ starters on the defensive line:

  • DT – Brandon Potvin: 6’1″ 262 lbs. So.-R.
  • NT – Charles Thompson: 6’2″ 282 lbs. Jr.-R.
  • DT – James Gilchrist: 6’3″ 250 lbs. Sr.-R

It doesn’t take Lee Corso to quickly recognize the obvious size advantage the Wolverines have in this game.  The average weight for the UM OL: 303.6 lbs.  The average weight for the UMass DL: 264.6 lbs.  Michigan’s tallest lineman is Lewan at 6’8″ compared to 6’3″ for UMass. Not to mention Michigan trots three 5th-year seniors and two juniors onto the field where the Minutemen have a mixed bag with a senior, junior, and sophomore.

Michigan SHOULD be able to push these guys around all afternoon and wear them down.  The Wolverines SHOULD be able to impose their will on these smaller bodies and open up running lanes for the backs.  Air Force was undersized as well last week but only “Shoelace” and his freakish speed had success.  Will this week be a different story?

You will also notice that there is only 3 players listed as starters on the UMass depth chart.  That is because UMass uses a 3-4 defensive scheme as their base, meaning they will only have 3 defensive linemen to go up against the 5 offensive linemen for Michigan.  This style of defense is susceptible to giving up large chunks of yards to the inside running game.

This is the perfect recipe to get Toussaint and the rest of the backs some confidence by feeding them the rock over and over again up and down the field…all afternoon.  Yes, UMass will be bringing up additional linebackers and defensive backs closer to the line of the scrimmage, but that is more about bringing speed to stop the outside runs and to try to slow down Denard.

Lewan and Co. should be salivating at the thought of going against a 3-4 scheme to pave the way for Toussaint, Smith, and Rawls to bulldoze their way to the end zone all day.  Again, this is great in theory and on paper.  They must make it happen on the field Saturday afternoon.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges stated the the offensive line is a “work in progress” and needs time to “gel” as it did last season.

Going against a heavily mismatched defensive line this Saturday in the Big House is the perfect opportunity for the hogs to put in some serious work and come together as a confidence-builder for themselves and the backs before heading into a critical road test next week against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Look for the Lewan-led offensive line of the Wolverines to come out angry and with something to prove and to take out their frustrations on the mismatched defensive line of UMass.  If they can come in and impose their will then Toussaint, Smith, etc. will rack up huge numbers on the ground.

If the line struggles once again, then maybe this position should be the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday focus for Brady Hoke and his coaching staff going into week #4.


You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamdibart.

And also be sure to click on over to Adam’s blog for all things Detroit sports here at - May the Hoke be with you! © January 11th, 2011
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