Will Michigan Solve Offensive Line Issues in Bowl Prep?

Andrew CoppensContributor IDecember 19, 2013

Nov 9, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines offensive linesman Taylor Lewan (77) leads the team onto the field before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan's offensive line has been a favorite whipping boy for the failures of the Wolverines in 2013. But going into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the unit has a shot to redeem itself and gain some positive momentum heading into 2014.

I mean, you can almost here Eminem playing in the background..."You only get one shot, do not miss your chance..."

OK, so that might be a bit much, but it does underscore the point for Michigan's offensive line heading into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State.

This game is that group's one shot to turn around an otherwise dismal 2013 season. 

Just how dismal was it, though?

Michigan's rushing offense ranked 11th, yes 11th, in the Big Ten this season and finished 100th nationally, averaging 130.8 yards per game.

Nov 30, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines tight end Devin Funchess (87) celebrates with offensive linesman Kyle Kalis (67) after catching a pass in the touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium. Ma
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

That simply isn't Michigan football, at least not the way it's supposed to be played in a pro-style system. 

The offensive line has been under fire all season long, and it felt like a game of musical chairs for most of the season. No fewer than seven different players saw time as a starter along the interior of the Michigan offensive line this season.

All the changes and inconsistency came to a head when Michigan's rush attack was stuffed for negative yards in back-to-back games against Michigan State (understandable) and Nebraska (less understandable). 

The O-line and the rushing game as a whole rebounded nicely, finishing with 100-plus-yard games on the ground in two of the final three regular-season contests and rushing for 152 yards against rival Ohio State in the finale. 

For Michigan, this has been an ongoing problem for a few years though.

Michigan has gone from ranking 13th in the nation in Brady Hoke's first year (221.8 yards per game) to 42nd in 2012 (183.8) and finally to this year's disastrous results.

With a bunch of extra practices and a chance to really take a deep dive into the issues on the offensive line, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl needs to be the catalyst for improvement.

Improvement will be necessary, as Kansas State isn't a slouch against the run, ranking 38th nationally and giving up 145.3 yards per game.

The practices have included looking to the future and trying to figure out answers at the position of greatest need—center.

Two new centers—redshirt freshman Blake Bars and true freshman Pat Kugler—have been seeing time in bowl practice over the past two weeks, according to MLive.com

Blake Bars is playing a little bit of center and that's been a good (thing) for him. I think it was more a (move out of) necessity a little bit. With practice, a little bit, to not give somebody else so many reps. I think it's pretty natural for him.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges also chimed in regarding Kugler. 

"He's got a good future," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said to MLive.com. "He's a coach's son, he understands the game real well.

"He needs some seasoning, needs to get stronger, but he's tough."

Both are unlikely to be the answer for just one game, with only a few weeks of extra practice under their belts. Yet those extra reps could be the catalyst for each to make a further impression come the spring. 

If there aren't answers soon, at center especially, Michigan could be facing the same issues heading into next year—regardless of who's playing around the offensive line.

Showing positive signs of growth against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will go a long way toward helping a much-maligned offensive line become a strength in the future.


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.