Michigan football: Staying grounded can lead the Wolverines back to the Playoff
Run through Ann Arbor. Run through Indianapolis. Run all the way through the College Football Playoff.
Michigan didn’t answer all of its questions offensively in a 41-17 win over No. 10 Penn State. It did answer one of the biggest, however. The running backs can carry the load if JJ McCarthy sputters when passing.
And yes, “backs” is the keyword here.
Blake Corum firmly planted himself in the Heisman conversation following Saturday’s win, but fans shouldn’t sleep on Donovan Edwards moving forward, either. On most teams, he’d be the leading rusher and seeing the type of workload Corum gets on the regular.
That’s the scary part when talking about Michigan (7-0, 3-0 B1G) moving into the 2nd half of the season. If the duo can run all over a team like Penn State, who can stop them from here on out?
“I say it all the time, with them being able to do what they do, it just opens up so much,” McCarthy said postgame of his running backs. “Two extremely special players, extremely special human beings. I’m just so blessed to have them on my sideline.”
These two were UNSTOPPABLE today ⚡️
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 15, 2022
Special might not be powerful enough to describe what type of impact both Edwards and Corum bring to the table. Penn State entered The Big House with the No. 5 run defense in the country. Opponents averaged fewer than 80 yards a game against James Franklin’s front 7. In 5 games combined, Penn State had allowed just 399 yards and 3 rushing scores.
Michigan sliced and diced the Nittany Lions for 418 rushing yards and 4 TDs. Two scores came from Corum. Two more came from Edwards. Combined, they totaled 339 yards on the ground.
Great players often have defining moments on the biggest of stages. That was Edwards on Saturday in front of 110,000-plus fans at Michigan Stadium. He finished with a career-best 173 yards on 16 carries. Corum inched closer to being a Heisman finalist with his 166-yard outing as well.
Runs came in all forms. The duo broke free for 5 explosive runs of 20-plus yards, including touchdowns from 67 and 61 yards out. As a team, Michigan totaled another 7 runs of 10+ yards as well.
McCarthy, who finished with 145 passing yards and an interception, might not have to worry about being “the guy” anymore offensively. Sure, his quick delivery and precise decision-making give Michigan better odds when it comes to passing, but the run game isn’t broken.
The hype surrounding Corum’s Heisman candidacy is valid. When Derrick Henry won the award back in 2015 at Alabama, he averaged 128.7 yards per outing in his first 7 games. Corum? He’s averaging the same at this point in the season. Henry had 12 touchdowns in his first 7 games. Corum has 13. If not for Edwards splitting the carries, perhaps he’d have more.
There won’t be a defensive line as physical as Penn State’s on the schedule from now until Nov. 19 when the Wolverines take on Illinois. The Illini are holding offenses to 77.8 rushing yards per game and just 2.7 per attempt.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 15, 2022
Then again, many thought that the Nittany Lions’ speedy, swarming defense could contain any running back in the nation. Edwards, UM’s No. 2, finished with more yards and yards per carry (10.8) than Corum on fewer attempts.
And that’s what makes Michigan so dynamic moving ahead. Edwards can win with breakaway runs in the open field. Corum can too, but he also can simply wear down defensive lines with hard runs up the middle. The chains keep moving, the clock keeps ticking.
On paper, Michigan looks 1-dimensional on offense. And sure, running the football an inordinate amount of times would make it seem as if the Wolverines don’t have a passing attack. In reality, Jim Harbaugh is simply playing the hot hand, and the palms are scorching with the ball in the arms of either Edwards or Corum.
If the passing attack improves, Michigan could be viewed as the team to beat entering Nov. 26’s matchup against Ohio State.
An undefeated start to the season might have been expected by fans after Michigan made the College Football Playoff a season ago. A chance to win the B1G was all but perceived in the eyes of the Maize faithful.
But this, a duo that could be better than Hassan Haskins and Corum? Few likely thought that was a reality.