Dynamic running back attack has Michigan back atop the Big Ten
Jim Harbaugh has Michigan in position to win its first Big Ten title in 17 years by taking an old-school offensive approach. So old-school that it might be from a one-room schoolhouse.
Three yards and a cloud of dust football is back in Ann Arbor.
Coming into this season, only one Michigan running back surpassed 1,000 yards in Harbaugh’s first 6 seasons — Karan Higdon in 2018. That stat surely gnawed at a coach raised at the altar of Bo Schembechler, so this year Harbaugh fixed the glitch.
Senior Hassan Haskins and sophomore Blake Corum are the first tandem of Wolverines running backs to surpass 1,000 yards of total offense in the same season since Gordon Bell and Rob Lytle back in 1975.
2 Michigan backs over 1,000 scrimmage yards, same season
- Hassan Haskins, RB … 1,326 total yards (1,232 rushing + 94 receiving)
- Blake Corum, RB … 1,002 total yards (865 rushing + 137 receiving)
- Denard Robinson, QB … 1,176 rushing yards
- Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB … 1,069 total yards (1,041 rushing + 28 receiving)
- Gordon Bell, RB … 1,474 total yards (1,390 rushing + 84 receiving)
- Rob Lytle, RB … 1,052 total yards (1,040 rushing + 12 receiving)
Thunder and Lightning
From a physical perspective, Haskins and Corum are the ideal tandem. Running backs, like comedy duos, always seem to hit the spot when you mix a little guy with a big guy.
In this case, the 5-foot-8 Corum is the little guy, “lightning” to the 6-1, 220-pound Haskins’ thunder. Corum is the one who coined the nickname and foretold how the season would unfold following Michigan’s 47-14 season-opening win over Western Michigan.
“Hassan is a strong dude, so it’s hard to tackle him. He might run through you,” Corum noted. “Me, I am more of a finesse guy. I might make you fall. With the 1-2 punch with both of us that can make people miss at the second level, it is hard to stop that. It is kind of like thunder and lightning.”
Harbaugh was transparent about what he wanted to do with the duo as early as Big Ten media days.
“They’re like No. 1 and No. 1,” he said of their places on the depth chart back in July.
Corum was injured after just 1 carry against Indiana and missed the next 2 games, against Penn State and Maryland. Had that not happened, he would probably be neck-and-neck with Haskins to be the team’s leading rusher.
Run early, run often
We caught a few glimpses of Harbaugh’s dream offense early in his Michigan tenure.
The Wolverines crossed the 300-rushing yard barrier 3 times in 2016, twice in 2017 and twice in 2018. That dwindled to a single occurrence in 2019, a 45-14 win over Notre Dame. It didn’t happen at all in 2020 as Michigan stumbled to 2-4 in the Covid-shortened campaign.
This year, the Wolverines set the tone immediately, breaking 300 yards in each of their first 3 games. They haven’t eclipsed the mark since then, though finishing with 297 rushing yards and an average of 7.2 yards per carry in the first win over Ohio State in 10 years still proved an effective way of hammering home the same message.
So where did this prodigious output come from without changing the head coach or offensive coordinator?
A former Michigan running back may be a significant reason why.
Hart to Hart
Mike Hart spent the past 4 seasons at Indiana, helping the Hoosiers to their first sustained period of respectability since the Bill Mallory era in the early ’90s. He was a nominee for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant in 2018, and Rivals deemed him a Top 25 recruiter in the 2019 signing class.
But when his alma mater came calling in the offseason, Hart had no choice but to return home and serve as Michigan’s running backs coach. It’s working out well, to say the least.
The Wolverines have skyrocketed from 95th in the nation in rushing last year and 77th in 2019 all the way to 9th this season. Michigan has had the same offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, for all of those seasons. But not Hart.
Fittingly, when Haskins scored 5 touchdowns against the Buckeyes, he became the first Michigan running back with at least 3 touchdowns against Ohio State since Hart in 2006.
One Moore wily move
It appears yet another offseason coaching change is paying major dividends for Michigan’s offense.
Last winter Harbaugh parted ways with veteran offensive line coach Ed Warriner, who was held in high regard for his work with Urban Meyer at Ohio State from 2012-16.
Harbaugh decided instead to roll the dice on 35-year-old Sherrone Moore, whom he moved over from tight ends coach to account for the other 5 guys on the line. Moore was also boosted to co-offensive coordinator with Gattis.
It’s proving to be the right move in more ways than one.
On top of paving the path for the aforementioned boost to the running game, Moore’s offensive line is 3rd in the country with just 9 sacks allowed.