Michigan football: Running game suddenly filled with questions again
Jim Harbaugh is many things and, like the old saying goes, he is very much a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. With that comes a treasure trove of adjectives often used to describe the Michigan football coach.
The word used most often? After savior and legend, there’s this: Stubborn.
If Harbaugh had his way in Ann Arbor, he would line up with two tight ends and a beefy fullback and play old-fashioned 3-yards, cloud-of-dust football like it was 1971. That means having a successful running game that can dominate games.
And that hasn’t always happened.
Through three games this year, there has been some spark in the running game. There’s also been ugly disappointments, like the 58 yards total rushing on 33 carries in the loss to Notre Dame, and the several third-and-1 situations so far where they weren’t able to keep drives alive.
Now, with the Big Ten season starting Saturday against Nebraska, they are also dealing with injuries. Karan Higdon, their top back, tried to give it a go last week against SMU, but couldn’t. Chris Evans, who had a nice day filling in, left the game in the second half.
Secrecy being what it is, we don’t know the severity of the injuries. No one’s talking officially, though Michigan fullback Ben Mason said Tuesday they were both practicing. We won’t know for sure until Saturday, more than likely, and we can’t be sure what they can deliver even if they do take the field.
In any case, it changes the dynamic for this Michigan football team. And it’ll be interesting to see if Jim Harbaugh can change along with them.
It’s time, certainly. For the first time, Harbaugh has a quarterback he can trust. Shea Patterson, the transfer from Ole Miss, has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the past two games and the passing game is starting to click.
It can be trusted now, but will Harbaugh do that?
For Michigan to compete in the Big Ten East, it’s a balanced offensive attack that they need. Despite offensive line issues that seem to get better by the day, that means running the ball and throwing the ball effectively.
Higdon has been good so far. He’s rushed for 228 yards on 34 carries and had a big 67-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan. He has supplanted Evans as the Wolverines’ best back, but they need both of them to play big to have the success they want.
This injury situation adds a new and difficult wrinkle, so it’s going to be interesting to see how healthy they both are come Saturday. It does help that Nebraska has not been good against the pass so far and Patterson should be able to have a big day in the air.
But this Michigan running game needs to be at its best, too. And that, at least for now, remains to be seen.