The Secret to Michigan's Success

There are a few good reasons that we're 5-0 so far this season. And while Denard Robinson might come to mind as the primary rationale, you'd be wrong. So terribly, horribly wrong.

The secret to our success this year is not the outstanding play of #16. While his ability has certainly been on display over the last 5 weeks, it should not be overlooked that while Denard is accounting for roughly 68% of our total offensive yardage output, he's doing so behind one of the deepest and most experienced offensive lines Michigan has had in recent memory.

Michigan friends and foes are looking for a sign, any sign, to whether or not our undefeated start to the season is going to have the same result as the undefeated start to last season. I don't blame those who say we're going to suffer that same unimpressive result. We have an opening win against a decent, but not great opponent. A win against a seemingly overrated Notre Dame team. A modest win against an FCS school, a blowout win against a lowly MAC school. And a close win against Indiana.

The script reads eerily similar to last year's. And we all know how that script ended. If you're looking for something to set this season's successful start apart from 2009, look no further than the play of the offensive line.

Before the season began, I took a good look at what makes this O-line unit so potentially good. I think it's safe to say that over the last 5 weeks, our offense, as a whole, has been much more impressive than it was just 1 year ago. Say what you will about skill positions, those have improved steadily as well thanks to added depth, but for any offense to thrive, be it a spread-option or pro-style offense, it all starts up front.

If you compare 2009 and 2010 offensively, its tough to quantify any o-line stat because of the much improved play of our QB, especially his scrambling ability. But if you look at one huge stat that is probably most important to the play of an offensive line, sacks allowed...last year by week 5 we ranked 61st in the nation with a sack average of 1.8 sacks per game. This year, we're ranked #1 in the country with an average of .2 sacks allowed per game.

But of course, Denard is a huge part of that.

Total offense is not even close. 565 yards per game, 2nd nationally and 1st in the conference, is a vast improvement over 2009's modest 388 yards per game, 47th nationally and 6th in the Big Ten.

Another large help has been our line staying healthy.

David Molk, the center, and heart of the line and the offense as a whole, has been the rock this line is built upon. His ability to snap the ball well and make the blocks he makes is an ability that will likely earn him an All-Big Ten honor, if not an All-American honor before his college career is through. He  is one of the best centers Michigan has ever had.

Guards Stephen Schilling and Patrick Omameh have played very solid. Omameh has shown vast improvement, rating very high on weekly UFR on mgoblog. Most long runs, on average, happen on his side of the line.

Lining up next to Omameh on the right side is Perry Dorrestein. He and tackles Mark Huyge and Taylor Lewan, who started at left tackle ahead of Huyge last week, have shown that across the board, our line is as solid as it has even been.

I won't hide that I am really enjoying watching this offense each week. I think we all feel that way. But what's a little unexpected is how much I am really starting to like these players. And is all starts with how committed this line is.

I remember talking with O-line coach Greg Frey at the media day luncheon back in August about how much this unit has come together in the off-season. I think that this group feels they have a lot to prove in terms of controlling a defensive front. It's not just about protecting the QB or opening holes for running backs, it's more about complete domination of the defense.

And they're doing it. Granted, we're not playing outstanding defenses yet, but we weren't by this time last season either, and we're way ahead of where we were at this point last year. Every meaningful offensive statistical category has shown vast improvement. And I'm not just talking about QB stats. Running backs, even with all of the injuries we had, have been far better. Receivers are quietly putting up some great numbers, especially guys like Roy Roundtree.

The overwhelming impression I hear is that Michigan depends solely on Denard Robinson, and if he goes down, which everyone just assumes he will...he'll take the potent Michigan offense with him. I could not disagree more. Denard is a special talent, and I won't ignore that. If he got injured, our offense would probably not produce the same outstanding numbers, but there's more to it than just him.

Our offense will go as far as this line will take it. Most folks won't pay too much attention to how well the line blocks unless something goes wrong. It's one of those things, like a kicking game, that you only really notice once it's not working. So I guess the best compliment you can pay an offensive line is not complaining about it. But I believe this line deserves it's due attention, thus this post.

If you can tear your eyes away from #16 for a play or two, really take a moment to watch how well this line blocks. Watch their speed on option-read plays. Watch their explosiveness on short yardage plays in the red zone. Watch how fast and how effectively we get to the linebackers and block downfield for our backs.

If Michigan is going to take care of Sparty this weekend, it won't be because of just Denard alone. He's going to need his blockers. There's a reason why they say it all starts up front. That's because it's the truth. If we can maintain our health along the line, I have no doubt that this season can end with same sort of successs that is has begun with. And that's the big difference between Michigan in 2009, and Michigan in 2010.

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