The Irish offensive front battled the blitzing and gambling Cougar defense for four quarters on Saturday night, but were never able to really get a solid drive going for much of the game.
We asked offensive line coach Mike Denbrock what the coaches saw after watching film of the offensive line's performance against BYU last Saturday.
"The number one thing we saw was that we didn't play anywhere near as capable as we can play," Denbrock said. "I guess that was the most disturbing thing for us. Going into the game, I really thought the team prepared well. I thought we were ready to play.
"I didn't see anything that BYU was doing that was significantly different from anything we had practiced or seen going. All indications pointed to us having a very solid football game and obviously that didn't happen.
"It is very disappointing from that standpoint. On a positive note, I thought we played with pretty good effort. I thought the kids had their hearts in it. I thought that our minds weren't always in it, but we tried hard."
At times, the Irish offensive line looked tentative on Saturday night. Denbrock said he felt the BYU defensive scheme can get a player thinking too much and probably why they looked tentative at times.
"I think the BYU scheme in some ways lends itself to that maybe being the case at times but we, during the course of the game, really tried to pick up the tempo of our offense and went to a two-minute situation where we were spreading out and trying to throw the ball more," Denbrock said.
"I think it would be tough to gauge that based on the way the game ended up going. I think early on in the game we were a little bit tentative and back on our heels, but I think we caught our breath there about the middle of the first quarter. Unfortunately, we didn't start as fast as we would have liked to and ended up in a situation where we had to throw the ball a lot more than we wanted to get back in the game."
Denbrock said the 3-3-5 defense the Irish faced last Saturday could actually help them prepare for Michigan on Saturday."I really think if anything, last week it helped us prepare for this week," he said. "If we had played more of a four-man front last week there would be some major adjustments.
"With BYU, even though they blitzed us a lot and played a basic three-man front, I think that is going to help us a little bit with identifying what they are doing and where they are coming from and how they are trying to get it done."
The third-year Irish assistant says he's been very impressed with the talent that Michigan has on defense.
"They have some very, very talented football players in their front seven," Denbrock said of the Michigan defense. "I really like their two outside linebackers. Pierre Woods is a really good football player. Gabe Watson is just a big house of a guy in the middle who's athletic and can move so we've got our hands full with their front seven.
"We know going into this football game that one of the things we've got to be able to do is to be able to run the ball, and to do that we are going to have to do our job way better than we did at any point last Saturday."
The Irish struggled running the football last Saturday, gaining just 11 yards on the ground. We asked Denbrock why he had faith in his unit to have success in running the football against a very talented Wolverine defense.
"I know the kids on this offensive line, I know our backs and I am familiar with how they go about their business," Denbrock said. "I am not saying we can go out and rip it up and down the field on anybody, but I believe in the people we are doing it with, and how we are doing it, and I think that good things are on the way."
Marcus Freeman Earns First Start
Junior tight end Marcus Freeman earned his first career start last Saturday. The 6-2, 248-pound tight end had never caught a pass for the Irish before his first start on Saturday. We asked Denbrock about Freeman's unlikely climb up the depth chart.
"I think it's what he's done in the long haul," said Denbrock when asked how Freeman earned the start. "I think over the course of the spring and fall camp he's one of the guys that I think was beginning to separate himself from the pack a little bit and we felt we needed to get him out there."
"I just think a lot of consistent football play in all areas," Denbrock said when asked what Freeman did to separate himself from a deep group of tight ends to make his first start.
"He was one of our better playmakers in the spring and continued that through fall camp. He continued to improve his blocking and gave us one of the well-rounded guys we wanted to have."
Freeman appeared to be buried on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp behind a logjam of talent and experience at tight end. The St. Paul, Minn. native says he never lost confidence in himself.
"I think it's always difficult when you're not playing," Freeman said. "I guess you always have to be optimistic about playing also. Basically, keep your hopes up and keep an optimistic mind."
Freeman admitted he was overjoyed when he learned he earned his first start of his career.
"It was overwhelming, just working hard, reaching your goal where you always wanted to be, it's icing on the cake,' he said. "A win would've been even more icing, but it was a great feeling."
"I called my parents and talked to them," Freeman said when asked who he told first about his starting position for last Saturday. "They were proud. My Dad had his insight, my Mom had her insight, too, but I definitely called them first—they were very proud."