Michigan football: Wolverines might not need their best in order to be their best
Despite the absence of a pair of stars, Michigan was able to flex on Purdue.
Mike Morris, one of the best pass-rushers in the country, didn’t play. The Wolverines’ defense was supposed to suffer a bit in his absence. Blake Corum, arguably the best running back in the nation, didn’t play either. The Wolverines’ offense was supposed to slightly stutter without the Heisman candidate.
However, none of that happened.
The No. 2-ranked Wolverines still cruised to a 43-22 win over the Boilermakers during the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It’s evident that Michigan is built for a run in the College Football Playoff. Despite some bumps and bruises, the Wolverines remain strong at key positions. Colston Loveland, a third-string TE, has become a major weapon for the Wolverines. His 45-yard TD reception vs. Ohio State was a key indicator of future performance, but his jump-ball, 25-yard TD in the front left corner of the end zone Saturday night really sealed the deal. Yes, Michigan has yet another playmaker at tight end who can come up huge in key moments.
No Corum? No problem.
Michigan’s RB-by-committee approach has worked well during the past couple of weeks, evidenced by the level of destruction Donovan Edwards has managed to inflict on opponents. Corum was known for the ability to score from anywhere, but Edwards has that skill too; he showed it off with 25 carries for 185 yards and a TD vs. the Boilers.
“It’s a really good game plan. It’s a really good offensive line, and it’s been — I mean, this guy has 401 yards in the last 2 games. You want to talk about big games? This guy comes alive in the big games,” Jim Harbaugh said during his postgame interview, per SI.com. “And Blake Corum has been a warrior too that same way. But, I mean, those are two supreme backs, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. This guy, when it’s a big game, I mean, his whole career, whether it was high school, college now, I mean, he just hits another gear.
“He takes off to another level. And J.J., I mean, he does the same thing in the running game. I mean, pretty dynamic two guys right there. And credit to a lot of places, you know? But, yeah, that’s what I would say.”
Back in the spring, Kalel Mullings showed promise as a running back. Due to team needs, he was moved to linebacker, only to return to the offense as a key reserve for the Wolverines. He attempted a pass vs. Ohio State — which worked and helped set up a score — and has become somewhat of a Swiss Army Knife for the offense. His 8 carries for 26 yards may not look like much on paper — but don’t forget his pair of touchdowns.
Sure, the Wolverines got contributions from their usual stars, but several game-changing touchdowns were scored by reserves or former reserves. Who would have predicted that, at this stage of the season, Loveland and Mullings would be 2 of UM’s most valuable players?
With Morris out of the mix, and no immediate update available, Michigan was in need of help in run-support and pass-rushing. Linebacker Junior Colson has led the Wolverines in tackles all season, and he came up with one of his best performances with a team-high 15 stops vs. the Boilers.
Defensive backs Rod Moore and Michael Barrett Jr. have also been key cogs in the machine, helping to lessen the sting of Morris’ absence while also preventing the Wolverines from being too dependent on their star — basically, in regular terms, we’ll call that picking up the slack. Moore had 14 tackles vs. the Boilers, while Barrett Jr. chipped in with 10.
Teams with such depth and abilities to adjust on the fly typically have a good shot at winning championships. Michigan already has a couple this season if you count winning The Game as some type of title. Michigan certainly values such a win more than a regular win, that’s for sure.
Now at 13-0 for the first time in program history, UM has its sights set on the ultimate prize: a national title, which will likely require knocking off Georgia in the final round of the 4-team College Football Playoff.
The Wolverines won’t have Corum the rest of the way. But Edwards and Mullings have done sufficient jobs and helped keep production at a high level. Morris’ return isn’t guaranteed, but the defense continues to find ways to retain its top-5 overall status in the nation.
Michigan doesn’t always have to have its best players in order to win; it just needs players to perform their best when they’re called upon — and Saturday night in Indy served as the latest reminder.