If you had watched Michigan football during 2021 and 2022 seasons, there was one thing that jumped out on the screen: control of the line of scrimmage. The Wolverines have had their fare share of controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but the offensive side has put on a clinic in recent years.
Prior to the 2021 season, amidst a flurry of changes on the coaching staff, Sherrone Moore was moved from coaching the tight ends to the offensive line. As a former offensive lineman himself at Oklahoma, this move made plenty of sense, yet flew under the radar at the time. Little did fans know it would be the start of a string of some of the best offensive line play in college football in recent memory.
For the previous two seasons, Michigan’s offensive line has been the best in all of college football, winning the Joe Moore Award in both 2021 and 2022. The unit featured some great players like Olu Oluwatimi, Ryan Hayes, Andrew Stueber, and members of this year’s team, Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan.
Coming into the season, we knew Michigan’s offensive line would once again be loaded with talent. The aforementioned Zinter and Keegan were returning, while Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones would also be back. Not to mention, Michigan brought in three transfers in Drake Nugent, LaDarius Henderson and Myles Hinton.
There was some debate as to who the starting five would be, as there were more than five quality candidates. For much of the season, Michigan rolled with Henderson, Zinter, Nugent, Keegan and Barnhart, while Jones got reps as an extra tackle in certain packages.
From the jump, though, things seemed somewhat different than it had in year’s past. There was a clear disparity in the unit’s ability to block in the run game, as opposed to its ability to pass protect.
In the early going and into the middle portion of the season, it seemed like the group struggled to consistently open up running lanes for Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. This made it appear Michigan wouldn’t be able to impose its will on the ground like it would want to, however as the season progressed and the line seemed to gel more, Michigan was able to lean on the run to win games.
On the other side of things, we did see quarterback J.J McCarthy have a very good first two-thirds of the season. The offensive line was a big part of that, as the group consistently kept a clean pocket for him and allowed him to make impressive throws. However, we did see the unit struggle more with pass protection once it faced tough defensive fronts like Penn State’s and Iowa’s.
The group did hit a serious bump in the road, though, when Zak Zinter was injured in the win over Ohio State. Fortunately, there was a good succession plan in place — Michigan moved Karsen Barnhart to right guard and shifted Trente Jones to right tackle. The move worked right away (literally on the following play) and helped to set the table for Michigan’s successful playoff run.
Seeing Blake Corum score a touchdown in The Game right after Zak Zinter went out with a serious leg injury:— Swanky Wolverine (@swankywolverine) November 28, 2023
All. The. Feels. pic.twitter.com/bkoZrwmW1I
While it might not have been entirely smooth sailing for the offensive line in 2023, the unit was still able to hold its own and was a key element of the offense’s success as a whole. I think it’s fair to say Michigan fans might be a little spoiled with the recent elite offensive line play, but even a slight departure from that is still really, really good.
This team did win the National Championship after all, and that doesn’t happen (for any team) without a solid foundation up front. The group showed both its talent and depth throughout the season, and while Michigan won’t return a single starter up front in 2024, the future should still be bright with several promising young guys in the fold.