Michigan football: Big plays could be calling card for Wolverines in 2020
Michigan didn’t hold back during its 49-24 season-opening win at Minnesota. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means — being the first game of the shortened season and all — but the Wolverines flexed their muscles with big plays in Minneapolis, quickly showcasing explosive abilities in all 3 phases of the game: Offense, defense and special teams.
During the first half, running back Zach Charbonnet broke out with a 70-yard touchdown run. Michael Barrett had a 66-yard kick return and also helped create points by bulldozing Gophers QB Tanner Morgan, who coughed up the ball before Michigan DL Donovan Jeter scooped it up and ran in for six points.
During the second half, running back Hassan Haskins had a 66-yard scamper, again putting Michigan’s big-play prowess on display.
Don’t forget about LB Josh Ross’ interception in the 4th quarter — that was also a momentum-swinger.
“We’ve got a lot of players who can do great things on the field — a lot of playmakers on the field in every single position group,” said Haskins via postgame Zoom conference call. On top of a career-long 66-yard run, Haskins also scored a pair of 4-yard touchdowns during opening night.
Coming off an 11-win season in 2019, the Gophers are certainly a team to watch in 2020. Coach PJ Fleck has quickly built a power in the B1G West Division. With that said, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh entered Saturday night on full alert — he knew the Gophers wouldn’t go down without a fight in Minneapolis.
And he knew that there would be several key moments that would ultimately decide the outcome.
“We knew that Minnesota was good. We knew that momentum was going to change, probably 9 to 12 times in the game. We really, I think, prepared for that. Just how to recognize it and get (the ball) back as fast as you can and keep it for as long as you can,” Harbaugh said. “So many big momentum-changing plays took place in the game. We had the blocked punt (by Minnesota) and they got the momentum. Then we come back with the 70-yard run and kept it (the momentum) — then kept it with Michael Barrett hit and Donovan Jeter touchdown.”
The bell rang a few times. The Wolverines answered on queue, each and every time.
“Every time that our guys needed to step up and make a play and get that momentum back, they did tonight,” Harbaugh said. “It was really impressive. I’m just really proud of our team. I believe in them. I respect them. And I trust them. I just wanted them to go out there tonight and let it rip — and they did that. It was fun. I was living every play with them. I’m just honored to be their coach. To go out there tonight and take the field with them and fight. … They did really well. I’m really proud of them.”
Michigan’s knock-out power could end up being a key factor to success in 2020. Through Harbaugh’s first 5 seasons, Michigan has sometimes demonstrated the ability to let it fly when it mattered most — but Saturday night, something was different. It felt like big plays could be a calling card for the Wolverines this season.
“It was good. It was big. If you can have more explosive plays than them, you have about a 71% chance of winning the game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s 10-yard runs and 25-yard passing plays. I thought we did a great job there. …”
Stats are stats. Numbers and notes. Sometimes they matter, sometimes they’re just figures on paper.
Saturday, though, wasn’t just a stat-stuffer type of game. Michigan legitimately showed its hand — a powerful hand, at that.
“I feel like our team is just like a ticking time bomb,” Barrett said. “You never know when a big play can happen, either offensively or defensively. We just have a lot of guys that have that ‘it’ factor and can make a play whenever — especially in crunch time. I just feel like, as a team and as a whole, we just have a lot of weapons. And we decided to use them.”
Barrett’s athleticism will be another ace-in-the-hole for Michigan. A former running back, Barrett, now the “Viper” in Don Brown’s defense, was more than pleased with what he saw on TCF Bank Field and elated with his performance.
Because he’s seen it before … in his mind.
“It feels like a dream. It’s something that I’ve been waiting on … something that’s been going through my head for a long time,” he said. “I’ve just been waiting to get this opportunity to go out, and you know, make those plays. Just being able to go out there and being able to do that with my team, it feels … just unexplainable, honestly.”
It wasn’t a dream, though.
Big plays, at least based on what was shown Saturday night, will be a reality for Michigan this season. Defense has always been the hallmark for Michigan, going back to the days of Greg Mattison being the coordinator. However, it’s a new ball game in 2020, and the Wolverines certainly flexed their home-run swing during their season-opener against the Gophers.