With strengths in both the run and pass game, Donovan Edwards presents a double threat to defenses and often creates mismatches. Tess Crowley/Daily. Buy this photo.

The last thing a defense wants is a mismatch. 

They’re something almost impossible for defensive coordinators to scheme against — just a player with physical traits that stack up better than the man across from them. At best, they create a constant struggle for defenders. At worst, they result in big plays that tear the game wide open for opposing offenses. It’s enough to cause coaches to toss and turn thinking of a solution — any solution — to slow one down.

So if mismatches keep defensive coordinators up at night, Donovan Edwards is a nightmare.

“He’s a special player, I think we all know that,” running backs coach Mike Hart said Wednesday. “I think that he’s special. So he changes what we can do on offense sometimes when he’s in there.”

But what makes the sophomore running back so special? Just check the tape. He’s a lethal weapon in the pass game, touting track-runner speed, hands like glue and all the physical capability to generate yards after the catch.

That’s on top of Edwards’s initial threat as a potent running back. He can hit the hole, drop a shoulder or blow by defenders. Edwards presents a double threat, and that puts defenses in a tough position.

“I think Donovan could start at slot receiver anywhere in the country,” Hart said. “And so he’s special coming out of the backfield. And he can run the ball, too. So he’s special. Blake (Corum) can do the same things he does, but Donovan does it better.”

That’s high praise, comparing Edwards to Corum. The junior running back is generating Heisman buzz and is viewed as one of the No. 4 Michigan football team’s best players. And Hart asserts that, in the pass game at least, Edwards does it better.

Corum recognizes where Edwards excels and the value he can bring to the offense, especially after Edwards was out with an injury for both the UConn and Maryland games.

“It’s great to have him back,” Corum said Monday. “Dynamic back, he’s elusive, he opens up the pass game. … He’s a great player.”

Just this season, Edwards has six receptions in three games, averaging 9.7 yards per catch with one touchdown through the air and two more on the ground. He’s a threat everywhere.

So how are defenses supposed to match up with him? Well, first they hope they have the personnel to do so. To cover Edwards most effectively, defenses need one or more extremely athletic linebackers. Using one to spy Edwards in the backfield and pick him up, whether he rushes or heads up the field for a pass, can minimize his impact. In zone coverage, having the vision and speed to shade Edwards’s way and cover his route is easier said than done, but necessary to stop him.

But there’s a catch. 

Edwards doesn’t just line up in the backfield. At times, he lines up out wide, forcing a corner to pick him up. This gives Edwards and the Wolverines options. He can run a route with his wide receiver-like talents, or he can block for a run or screen on his side of the field — an unfair task for the cornerback given Edwards’s running back strength. Neither option is easy to scheme around.

And that’s why Edwards is so dynamic for Michigan’s offense.

“First of all, his energy is always on, so I know we all have confidence in him,” senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker said Saturday. “But his catching ability, to be able to be as versatile as he is, just brings another excitement and another weapon to the offense.”

The energy, the pass-game ability, the run skill — all of it together makes Edwards special. And the Wolverines are fortunate to have him back in the lineup.

“It was great (having him back); just the physical player that he is, but also he is a tremendous leader,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday. “He is loud, he is vocal. I could be around the hall around the corner but know exactly who it is. Like the young people say ‘You already know.’ 

“You already know it’s Donovan.”

And when Edwards assumes his position — whether it be in the backfield, out wide, or maybe even under center — there’s a possibility he could break the game open. The only question is if he can create the proper mismatch to do so. The answer?

You already know.