Even after losing a top-50 recruit, it's all worked out for Michigan at running back
I’ll admit, I had a pit in my stomach for Michigan fans in the early part of this season.
Watching former Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet tear it up for UCLA in the early part of this season, I feared Michigan made a terrible mistake in letting Charbonnet slip away. He ripped off 117 yards and a TD on 11 carries in the upset win over LSU, part of a 4-game stretch to open the season in which he had 3 100-yard games and scored 7 TDs.
How could Michigan have neglected to use the No. 4 running back in the 2019 class so much so that he decided to transfer? A 2-4 team couldn’t find a role for a top-50 recruit? Especially in a rushing attack that ranked 95th nationally last year?
But as it turns out, Michigan knew what it was doing.
Heading into the showdown with No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff, the No. 2 Wolverines still have more running backs than they know what to do with. Former 5-star recruit Donovan Edwards looks like he is going to be a terrific player, but he can barely get on the field. That’s because Michigan has arguably the top running back duo in the country.
Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum are 2 of the 3 highest-ranked running backs in FBS, per PFF, behind only Florida’s Dameon Pierce. Under the guidance of new running backs coach Mike Hart (who is Michigan’s all-time leading rusher), the duo has carried Michigan’s offense all year, emerging as the perfect complements to one another. Running behind the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, Haskins and Corum have helped Michigan create a top-10 rushing offense that averages 223.9 yards per game. Their emergence has been vital to an offense that averaged only 131.55 last season.
It’s hard to believe that Michigan had both of these running backs on the roster last season, but Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis didn’t commit to feeding one running back. Instead, they split carries among Haskins, Corum, Charbonnet and Chris Evans. As a result, none of Michigan’s running backs had more than 8 carries in a game through 4 weeks. It wasn’t until Haskins got 23 carries in the win over Rutgers that it felt like one of these backs finally got into a rhythm.
That it was Haskins — a guy who barely ranked in the top 1,000 of the 2018 recruiting class and had only 1 other Power 5 offer (Purdue) — was surprising. Especially considering Charbonnet looked like a future star after scoring 3 TDs and racking up 33 carries in his second college game back in 2019. But Haskins clearly showed the coaching staff something last year when he ran for 111 yards against Rutgers. He separated himself from the other 3 backs and entered this season as the starter.
Corum’s ascension was a bit more predictable considering he was a 4-star recruit, and he sprinted out of the gate this year with 7 TDs and 8.5 yards per carry through the first 3 games, eclipsing 100 yards in all 3. When he got hurt, Haskins took his game to another level, averaging 26.5 carries over the final 4 games of the regular season, including a 5-TD game for the ages against Ohio State. Corum hasn’t been himself since hurting his ankle against Indiana, but he still manages a home-run play each game, running for a 67-yard TD to open the scoring in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa and springing loose for a 55-yard run to set up a third-quarter TD against Ohio State.
Haskins and Corum have been so good that Edwards, a true freshman ranked No. 42 overall in the 2021 class, hasn’t been needed at all, even though it’s evident just how talented he is. He caught 10 passes for 170 yards against Maryland and threw a 75-yard TD pass against Iowa, but he still has yet to get more than 5 carries against a Power 5 opponent this season. Like JJ McCarthy, his time is coming, but the guys ahead of him have pushed his timeline back a little bit.
Michigan’s running attack has allowed Cade McNamara to slowly develop into a more dynamic passer rather than just a game-manager. Because of McNamara’s development, Michigan will enter the game against Georgia playing its best ball of the season and a far better team than the one that barely beat Rutgers and Nebraska.
The best part is, everything has worked out for all parties. Charbonnet is missing out on this CFP run, but he had a great season of his own, with 7 100-yard rushing games and ranking 10th among FBS running backs in terms of PFF grade. That’s the beauty of the transfer portal.
But given hindsight, Michigan doesn’t regret one bit how this has all played out. With how well Haskins and Corum have played and the promise of Edwards, Michigan’s rushing attack has gone from one of the country’s worst to one of its best, even after losing a former top-50 recruit.