Michigan football: Running the ball is key to Wolverines' staying afloat rest of the way
For the first time all season, Michigan had a running back rush for back-to-back 100-yard games — but it wasn’t enough for the Wolverines, who suffered another disappointing loss, this time 27-17 at home to previously winless Penn State.
Hassan Haskins, a 6-1, 210-pound junior, busted out a 59-yard run during the 1st quarter, leading to Michigan’s first score of the afternoon. He finished the day with a pair of 2-yard touchdowns and 101 yards … yet, again, it still wasn’t enough as Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines fell to 2-4 on the year.
Quarterback Cade McNamara, who made his first start, was injured for a brief period of time, heading to the locker room for medical attention. The redshirt freshman is Michigan’s “next” QB and certainly a major component of future success. Following McNamara’s injury, redshirt sophomore Joe Milton — who started the first 5 games — entered the mix in an attempt to maintain some sort of control.
That didn’t work.
Michigan’s QB situation may be up in the air, given McNamara’s injury and the fact that Milton remains one play away from regaining the starting job.
Running the ball will be the key to the rest of the way for the Wolverines, who still have Maryland and No. 4 Ohio State remaining on the schedule.
UM must find a way to build upon the production of Haskins’ back-to-back 100-yard games if it wants to take away anything positive from this shortened season. Or, in other terms, if it doesn’t want to have one of the worst seasons in program history.
“Definitely the run game was something that we have improved upon,” said Andrew Stueber, a redshirt junior right guard. “The second half (vs. PSU), we started to get it rolling a little more. But, you know, the first half, I think that you need to understand that the pressure and looks we’re going to get…”
Stueber went on to compliment Haskins, who has emerged as the Wolverines’ featured back through 6 games — and likely the rest of the season.
“Hassan is a great back. He always finds a way to get yards,” Stueber said. “We’ve just got to find a way to block for him, find what works, and just keep running it.”
Sustaining the run game will be critical for the Wolverines, who entered Saturday with the No. 10 rushing offense in the Big Ten.
“It’s one of the keys to victories,” Stueber said. “As an offensive unit, an offensive line, you take huge pride in the run game.”
It took one half for Michigan to get rolling on the ground. Had it started faster, Stueber believes it “would have made a huge difference” in the outcome of Saturday’s 10-point home loss to Penn State.
Haskins wasn’t the only one who got things going — for once — on the ground for Michigan. Chris Evans, a 5th-year senior, had 4 carries for 35 yards — helping to spark an anemic offense. When the Wolverines are humming from the back field, they have a legitimate shot to win games. But when that run game is stagnant, chances decrease tenfold.
Harbaugh realizes that establishing dominance on the ground is of the utmost importance for the Wolverines, who need to do something differently — even if just running the ball well — to save the final pair of games on the conference schedule.
“I think it’s really important and we’re showing a lot of progress running the football,” Harbaugh said. “The offensive line, I feel like they’re coming off the ball. Tight ends are blocking. We’re getting good perimeter blocking too, and that’s going to be very important for us.”
Michigan’s best bet is to rely on the run, given that the quarterback scenario seems to be a little murky. Again, Milton hasn’t been at 100 percent for much of the season, per Harbaugh, and McNamara went out Saturday with what looked to be a shoulder/collarbone injury. Running backs will have to carry the weight for the offense.
Or maybe not, depending on if UM gets everything together. Michigan hasn’t had many losing seasons in its history. In 2014, it went 5-7 under then-coach Brady Hoke. It finished below .500 in 2008 and 2009. Prior to that, it hadn’t been below the even-mark since 1967, when it went 4-6.
Quarterback play seems iffy these days for the Wolverines, so running the ball seems like the best remedy. Ideally, though, Harbaugh feels as it his team can come full-circle and put together the rest of the pieces during the final 2 games of the 2020 season — which still remains to be seen.
“I think we can do both — I really do,” Harbaugh said. “I think we can be effective at both.”