`O' line gets off to good start

Look for Coach Lloyd Carr to experiment with some new combinations against Western Michigan on Saturday.

In Michigan's victory over Washington last week, the offensive line earned a grade of B+ on my report card.

Too high, you say?

The Wolverines piled up 418 yards total offense against a top-10 team, including 150 on the ground. Chris Perry burst through a big hole for a 57-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. John Navarre had enough time in the pocket to spread the ball around. He completed passes to six different receivers.

And, most important of all, Michigan scored 31 points.

The flip side is the Wolverines' ground game was inconsistent. Yardage was hard to come by against the Huskies, in part because they're a good football team and in part because Michigan's revamped line made some mistakes typical of an opener. Dave Pearson, switched to offensive line from defense in spring drills, had trouble on one center exchange with Navarre. The line allowed the Huskies to sack Navarre five times for losses totaling 12 yards. (Thank goodness, he shed 20 pounds in the offseason and was able to step up in the pocket or those losses could have been much worse.)

The good news is Michigan kept chipping away and the starters up front appeared to be wearing Washington down as the game moved to the later stages. The Wolverines ran the ball more effectively on two big second-half drives. The only glitch came when Navarre's feet tangled with Perry on a crucial third-and-inches.

Navarre inadvertently tripped Perry and, in effect, made the tackle on the play, preventing Michigan from making a first down. Earlier, Navarre took out a pair of Huskies on an end-around. So, at 6-6 and 228 pounds, he showed why he has the size to make an impact in almost all phases of the game. Why not a sneak next time?

Courtney Morgan (left tackle), David Bass (left guard), Pearson (center), Dave Petruziello (right guard), Matt Lentz (right guard) and Tony Pape (right tackle) picked up the lion's share of playing time in the `O' line against Washington. Don't be surprised if Carr tries some new combinations Saturday against Western Michigan (12:10 EDT).

Pape, 6-6, 305, senior/junior, could move back to left tackle, allowing Demeterius Solomon to jump in at right tackle. Adam Stenavich, Joe Denay and Andy Christopfel also could see their first meaningful action. Ditto for Andy Mignery and Tim Massaquoi, the backups at tight end behind Bennie Joppru.

For the Wolverines to have a successful season, they'll need to be able to run the ball more effectively than in recent times. I laugh when people criticize Carr for his "conservative" play-calling. Truth is, Michigan throws the ball more now than ever and plays the same wide-open type offense everybody loves watching on Sundays. Ever hear of the West Coast offense? Michigan calls its version a "multiple formation" set.

To win the Big Ten, the Wolverines need to be multiple, all right. That means running behind the `O' line so Navarre doesn't have to make all the plays in the pass game.

"Matt Lentz is exerting a lot of pressure," Carr said of playing different offensive linemen Saturday against the Broncos. "He's a big, strong, powerful guy and he got an opportunity to play a significant number of snaps in there and he played very well. We've got good competition there and the other guy that we want to play this week is Demeterius Solomon. There is competition there.

"We're hoping to be able to develop some depth. We've got some kids who deserve to play. I'd like to see Andy Mignery in there. He's done some good things as a pooch punter. I want to get him some experience as well."

Pearson started his first game at center against the Huskies. So into was he that he flipped his lid on one play.

"I don't remember it that well," Pearson said. "I just remember that I hit somebody on the defense and my helmet came flying off, and I was just running down to cover the pass and then I had to go retrieve my helmet after that."

Like the rest of his teammates, Person gained confidence as the game wore on, as Perry asserted himself. He rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries, scored three touchdowns and later was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

"I think it definitely helped our confidence because Chris (Perry) did a good job running the ball, and we were just trying to make the holes for him," Pearson said. "Things worked out well because he was able to get some pretty good yardage in there."

Carr commented on the line's play on the two big second-half drives.

"I think there were two tremendous drives there," he said. "They were well-executed. Our offensive line provided good protection and John Navarre made some plays and he hit different people. Terry Malone (offensive coordinator) made some outstanding calls. We had some guys open and that's because the plays were well-designed and they were called at the right time.

"You could feel on that field that we could run the football. We were knocking them out of there. That's why it was so disappointing to give up that long run because we were beginning to take control of the game. We couldn't do it because we gave up two long plays on defense.

"The other thing I was very happy with was our two big plays. Last year our longest run was 30 yards, and so we broke that play and we hit a big pass play (Navarre to Braylon Edwards for a 45-yard TD). We had a couple of others where we just missed big plays that could have been touchdowns.

"What I like is that when you force a team to defend you the length and the width of the football field, it gives you a chance to do some things offensively and score."

Scoring starts up front and hinges on the play of the offensive line.

Thanks for reading. Now I'll go back to my little corner of the world.

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