After running over Irish, Wolverines sense 'we found our stride'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It wasn’t exactly 303 yards and a cloud of dust. It was more like 303 yards and sprays of rain, but you get the point.

This was speed-in-space as dialed up in the lousy weather conditions — the heavy rain and high winds — and it was incredibly effective for Michigan as the Wolverines moved to 6-2 with a 45-14 victory over rival Notre Dame. It is the last meeting between the teams until 2033, and it was quite a send-off.

Even when Josh Gattis took over as offensive coordinator this season, while the expectation was this high-rolling offense with quarterback Shea Patterson flinging passes to the several noted talented receivers, it was never going to leave the run game in the dust. In fact, it would always be the starting point, the coaches said.

But a humming offense needs a notable offensive line, and in the last two games against top-10 opponents — at least since the second half of the Penn State loss — the linemen have said they’ve found a groove.

In those awful weather conditions against Notre Dame, Michigan’s game plan from the start was to run. And run some more.

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“We said in the locker room we knew what kind of game it was going to be,” said center Cesar Ruiz, who noted after the Penn State loss that was the best the offensive line had played all season. “We knew we were going to be grounding and pounding a lot. It’s the game we’ve been waiting for. We love running the ball. We knew today was going to be the day we were able to showcase it.”

Michigan has gone with a multiple-back approach that has really come down to two backs in recent weeks: Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins, the linebacker-turned-running back.

Haskins made his first career start at running back against the Irish and had 149 yards on 20 carries, while Charbonnet rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Charbonnet leads the team with nine touchdowns this season. Tru Wilson had six carries for 45 yards and had a 27-yard touchdown run.

Quarterback Shea Patterson said the rain and wind made it tough to throw and hang onto the ball. He credited the offensive line for allowing the offense to flow. Michigan had 437 yards of total offense, while Notre Dame mustered 180. Patterson was 6-of-12 passing for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan running back Tru Wilson pushes his way into the end zone for a touchdown during a run in the fourth quarter.

“They set the tone,” Patterson said of the offensive line. “Really, from the first play of the game. Just really proud of them, the way they played all night, opened up the run game, gave these guys the ability to make plays when they needed to.”

The Wolverines said something began to click with the offense in the second half of the Penn State game when they fought back and nearly tied the game. Still, the offensive players seemed to have developed some resolve and belief in themselves.

Trailing 21-7 heading into the third quarter, Michigan relied on the run and had 12 rushing plays for 59 yards. Charbonnet scored at the end of the quarter on a 12-yard run to pull within a touchdown.

There are no moral victories, of course, but the players said what they found in the offense in that second half carried over to the win over Notre Dame.

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“I think the second half of the Penn State game, I think we kinda found our stride,” Patterson said. “I think we realized after that game going into this week from Monday’s practice that we’ve got to come out that way from start to finish. We can’t come out flat and expect to make a heroic comeback at the end. Gotta help out our defense. Our defense played lights out tonight. We executed all night offensively, and the results spoke for themselves.”

Michigan travels to Maryland this weekend. The Terps (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) have lost three straight, including a 52-10 loss to unbeaten Minnesota on Saturday. The Gophers ran all over Maryland with 321 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

Ruiz and the offensive linemen have heard their share of negative commentary the last several years. With the final four regular-season games ahead, they feel like they’ve stepped up their game.

“We were able to show people we can still move people, we can still open holes, we can still pass protect,” Ruiz said. “What everybody is saying, offensive line this, offensive line that, we cancel out a lot of noise. We just work harder and harder every week, and as you can see it’s showing.

“Our past two games have been amazing. We’ve been playing great as an offensive line, especially (Saturday), and I’m just really proud of us and everything we’re doing. We’re not settling for anything. We’ll all come in (Sunday) as an O-line, Monday we’re going to watch film again, and then we’re going to get ready to keep improving and attack it every single week.”

Michigan at Maryland

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.

TV/radio: ABC/950

Records: No. 14 Michigan 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten; Maryland 3-5, 1-4

Line: Michigan by 18½

Twitter: @chengelis