IOWA CITY — This hasn’t been the season Taylor Lewan envisioned.
Michigan’s left tackle returned as a fifth-year senior holding hopes of helping the Wolverines play their way to a Big Ten championship that will not happen.
When Michigan arrives at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, the Wolverines will take the field for the 11 a.m. game with a 3-3 record that matches the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten start.
One team has exceeded outside expectations. The other is Michigan.
The Wolverines have struggled throughout the season to rush the ball. Among Big Ten teams, only Purdue has averaged fewer than the 135.7 yards per game Michigan has mustered on the ground.
Protection has been an issue as well. Quarterback Devin Gardner has been sacked 31 times through 10 games, ranking 10th in the conference.
Those numbers hit home for Lewan, a first-team all-American a year ago who is working to hold things together as part of a front five on offense that has seen nine different players start this season.
This week, true freshman Kyle Bosch is listed as the starter at left guard, redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson is expected to open at right guard and former walk-on Graham Glasgow will make his seventh start at center for the Wolverines.
“This hasn’t been the year that we all wanted, especially on the offensive line, but all the experience that guys are getting will do so much for them in the future,’’ Lewan said. “I know I will be excited for them a year down the road, two years down the road, when they are the offensive line they want to be.’’
For now, the focus is on growth.
Coach Brady Hoke believes he saw signs of that last week when for the first time in three games the Wolverines finished with positive rushing yards as a team and had a back total more than 20 yards.
“I thought the three guys inside really established the line of scrimmage (against Northwestern),’’ Hoke said. “The backs were able to get started better and both of those guys found some room to run north and south.’’
Lewan sensed improvement as well.
“We had better targeting and getting on guy, pushing the line of scrimmage and doing things an offensive line should do,’’ Lewan said. “Obviously, Devin got sacked a bunch again, so that’s not good. We’ve got to do a better job at pass protection and protecting our quarterback.’’
Gardner was dropped five times behind the line by the Wildcats and Hoke expects another test this week from the Hawkeyes.
“That will happen because of the way Iowa plays at the line of scrimmage and who they have playing there,’’ he said.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz considers the Hawkeyes’ defensive front the most improved segment on this year’s team.
The Hawkeyes remain relatively young there — there hasn’t been a senior in the lineup among the front four since a back injury sidelined Dominic Alvis three games ago — but experience gained by Louis Trinca-Pasat and Drew Ott a year ago is now paying dividends.
“We’re taking steps, getting better with the work we’ve put into it,’’ Ott said. “We still have room to grow, but I think we’ve worked pretty well together as a group. We’re doing our job and giving the linebackers a chance to make plays. That’s the way it is supposed to work.’’