Michigan O-line having fun again with success of run

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — There is a confidence among the Michigan offensive linemen that has swelled the last three weeks as the rushing numbers have ballooned.

Michigan is 3-1 and ranked No. 22 nationally, and much of its recent offensive success has come from the running game.

And it's the line, which has been bullied the last two years, that finally is getting praise.

Michigan has rushed for 200-plus yards the last three weeks after opening the season with 76 at Utah.

"It's an awesome feeling knowing when you go to the line of scrimmage, looking into a guy's eyes that you know you have him beat already," right guard Kyle Kalis said. "That's something we haven't had, and we have it now in full effect, and it feels good."

Kalis has thrived under Michigan offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Tim Drevno. But it was during the summer Kalis had a moment of self-realization.

"I said to myself, 'I'm going to make this year the year I need to have to go where I want to go,'" he said. "That's personally. I have to do my part for my guys for the team."

Jabrill Peppers lets play do talking for Michigan

Collectively, the group is jelling, he said, and communicating even when there isn't time to do so on the field.

What they've seen when breaking down film isn't all positive, but for the most part, Kalis said, they're seeing a line controlling the line of scrimmage.

"We want to be the guys that you turn on film and you go, 'Whoa, these guys are popping people, these guys are moving people off the ball,' " Kalis said.

Kalis has even had a few "Whoa" moments watching film of himself.

"I have been a little bit, yeah," he said, smiling. "It makes you feel good seeing yourself doing so well. That also makes you want to drive to be better, see how far you can take it."

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Kalis graded out well against BYU.

"Better and better," Harbaugh said of Kalis' play. "He's really on his assignments and he's playing with a better and better pad level."

In the aftermath of the opener, Kalis has played more relaxed. He always has considered himself a bit of a wild spirit, and sometimes that would take over on the field, and he would get out of plays and out of joint.

But he's older now, a junior, and said that while he still has that spirit, he's learned to control it, and, as a result, is playing well and having fun.

"I've been playing more relaxed," Kalis said. "I don't think so much, and that's the key — you've got to learn how to control it and filter it and use it when you need it.

"I've always had fun. I would have quit if I wasn't. Having the success like we are, that's the kind of fun you're supposed to be having."

Perhaps in a small way, having Rick Finotti on the Michigan staff as director of football operations also has helped Kalis. Finotti was his coach at St. Edward in suburban Cleveland and they are close.

"I have my dad, my stepdad and then there's coach Finotti," Kalis said. "Having (Finotti) here is definitely a super cool thing. I never thought in a million years it would happen."

Four games into the season, Kalis said he doesn't want to get too high on the offensive line and where it could go. The players are enjoying their success and watching their backs in consecutive weeks get enormous gains — a 76-yard run by Ty Isaac and a 60-yard run by De'Veon Smith — but next up is the Big Ten season and ranked opponents two of the next three weeks.

"I don't want to blow our heads up that much, but we've been playing well, we've been getting good push," Kalis said. "The coaches have done a really good job of coaching our technique and pad level. Footwork is huge with coach Drev. It's all about your footwork, and it's paying dividends."

Michiganat Maryland

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.

TV/radio: BTN/WWJ

Records: No. 22 Michigan 3-1, Maryland 2-2

Line: Michigan by 12

Series: Michigan leads 3-1