Michigan rewarded for sticking with starters on offensive line

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh congratulates his players after a first-quarter touchdown against Western Michigan.

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh followed through on what he said after the Notre Dame loss and stuck with his starting five on the offensive line for the second straight week.

The Wolverines rushed for 308 yards and kept quarterback Shea Patterson pretty much untouched in a 49-3 rout of Western Michigan last Saturday.

“Keep improving, that’s our mindset,” Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference.

Harbaugh then focused his comments on the backups who came in the game in the second half. Jalen Mayfield was at left tackle, Chuck Filiaga at left guard, Stephen Spanellis at center, Joel Honigford was at right guard and James Hudson at right tackle.

“It was good to see Jalen Mayfield get in the game,” Harbaugh said. “It was good to see James Hudson get in the game and do well. We’ve got good hopes for both those tackles. It’s a race to see how fast they come up to speed. In James’ case, it was good to see him play good in the game and have that real focus and that intensity. I really truly believe he’ll be a fantastic football player.

“The next step is in practice, as well, having that same kind of mentality in practice. Things you see in young players when they keep that mental focus and not get tired and really grind. Saw it in the game, so you know it’s there. The athleticism is there. Jalen Mayfield, he’s really got everything that you’re looking for. Just needs time on task. Those practices are realy important for him, as well.”

Jon Runyan has started two games at left tackle and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right. Harbaugh was asked how close Mayfield and Hudson are at those spots.

“They’re in the ballpark, yeah,” he said. “That bodes well for us. We want depth there. How fast can they get to where they’re the best player at the position, time will tell.”

Harbaugh said he’s happy with the way the starting five are progressing and singled out three-year starting left guard Ben Bredeson.

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“Very pleased with Jon Runyan and Juwann Bushell-Beatty,” he said. “Mike Onwenu has made a lot of strides in his junior year now (at right guard). Ben Bredeson played the best of all the lineman. Close, close between who was our offensive player of the game between Shea Patterson and Ben Bredeson, but gave the nod to the offensive linemen.

“Three hundred yards of rushing plus the pass protection. Ben was the outstanding member of that group. It was close. Seeing good improvement. (Cesar Ruiz at center) just doing a lot of good things athletically and physically. He’s playing strong, and he’s able to get up on the second level. From an understanding standpoint, it’s coming fast to him. Excited about it.”

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Spanellis on Monday said the line as a whole is coming along under the tutelage of Ed Warinner, in his first season coaching at Michigan. Warinner had great success at Ohio State building standout offensive lines.

“We’re very much still very much a work in progress, but we’re understanding what we’re doing better every day,” Spanellis said. “Obviously, every week is different, but last year it was much, much different every week. This year there’s not maybe straight-up play carry-over, but there’s a lot of assignments that are seen as you don’t have to think as much.”

Spanellis was asked how close the offensive line is to making substantial progress.

“We’re close,” he said. “I’m not an expert. I don’t know exactly when you’re going to be able to tell exactly when. I think we’re going to get there. I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to look like, but I’m sure we will.”

Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey runs the ball in the fourth quarter.

McCaffrey the backup

For the second straight game, redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey was the second quarterback in for the Wolverines. He replaced Shea Patterson when he left the Notre Dame game with leg cramps, and in the blowout of Western Michigan, McCaffrey came in in the second half.

Brandon Peters, who had a lower leg injury heading into Notre Dame, came in for the Wolverines’ final series.

“Felt Dylan did a really good job, except the taking of a sack the same type of play Shea did a week before,” Harbaugh said. “Ball needs to come out and not take a sack. Would have liked to have learned from that. But really good. He did good. The decision (for him to come in second) was based on, as you know, going into the Notre Dame, Brandon had something he was working through but he was good this week. Dylan had a good week of practice and stayed at that No. 2 quarterback this week.”

Beilein looking refreshed

Michigan basketball coach John Beilein and his team that reached the national title game earlier this year, were honored during last Saturday’s game.

Beilein is recovering from double-bypass heart surgery.

“He looks great,” Harbaugh said. “Had a chance to talk to him after the ball game. We were having a recruiting dinner, and he was doing the same thing. It looked like he had a ton of energy. Going to be coaching this year. Very fired up for John.

“Wouldn’t show me his scar, though. Maybe some other time.”