The Michigan football team’s offensive identity is based around the run and the duo of sophomore Blake Corum and senior Hassan Haskins. Ranked fifth in rushing yards per game and 10th in rushing attempts per game, it’s easy to say it’s rushing offense dominates, but how does it compare to the Big Ten? And how does it stack up against the rest of the top teams in the country?

To answer these questions, The Daily’s football beat teamed up with the Data team, to put in perspective the uniqueness of this offense.

Sophomore Blake Corum, the team’s most explosive running back, leads Michigan’s top-five rushing offense with 69 carries. Senior Hassan Haskins, the team’s primary power back, has 61 carries.
With 182 total carries, Michigan ranks in the top 10 in rushing attempts among FBS teams. The Wolverines will continue to rely on their dominant run game as they begin Big Ten play. Minnesota averages 47.25 carries per game this season, the highest mark in the conference. Wisconsin has the second most carries per game at 47, followed by Nebraska with 46 and Michigan with 45.5.
Corum and junior receiver Cornelius Johnson are tied for the most receptions on the season with eight. Eleven different players have caught a pass so far for the Wolverines.
As a team, Michigan has 41 total receptions this season. This figure is significantly lower than the Wolverines’ 182 carries, resulting in a stark 4:1 rush-reception ratio. Purdue and Maryland have accumulated the most receptions in the Big Ten this season, with 119 and 116, respectively. The other Big Ten schools have yet to surpass 100 receptions; Michigan has the second fewest receptions in the conference.

Michigan’s emphasis on rushing the football is intentional. Last season, the 2-4 Wolverines ranked 43rd in passing yards per game, but just 96th in rushing yards per game. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis blamed the imbalance on himself and sought to construct a unit that would play “complementary football” in 2021. 

Ironically, through four games, Michigan’s offense is a reverse image from last season. The Wolverines’ success has been predicated on their ability to run the football; the “thunder and lightning” backfield duo of Corum and Haskins has paced Michigan to 290.8 rushing yards per game, the most in the Big Ten by almost 70 yards.

“That warms the cockles of the heart to be able to do that, run the ball that way,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Wolverines gashed Washington for 236 rushing yards in a 31-10 Week 2 blowout. 

On the flipside, the passing unit is averaging just 164 passing yards per game, second-to-last in the conference. The lack of production is in large part due to a lack of opportunities. But, in Saturday’s game against Rutgers, junior quarterback Cade McNamara and company could not beat the Scarlet Knights’ defense through the air, with McNamara throwing for just seven second half passing yards. 

As the season progresses, the Wolverines will surely look to develop the type of “complementary football” that Gattis envisioned in the offseason. For now, here is how Michigan’s run-pass disparity stacks up against the rest of the country. 

Michigan is an outlier in its preference for running the ball among teams in the AP Top 25 and the Big Ten. Nearly 64% of the Wolverines’ yards come through the ground game. Most teams have their rushing yards percentage in the range of 40-50%.
The circle size represents the average number of yards per game.
Both Wisconsin and Michigan place an emphasis on running the ball, with over 50% of their total yards coming from the ground. The Badgers average slightly more passing yards per game, with 197 compared to Michigan’s 164. The Wolverines, however, average nearly 291 yards per game on the ground compared to Wisconsin’s 200 yards. Whichever team can pass more effectively this Saturday could very well have the advantage, as both teams will look to limit the run when on defense.
Of particular interest to Michigan are the two teams that have beaten their Big Ten foes. Notre Dame, who dominated Wisconsin this past week, is the most lopsided team in favor of the pass; 78% of their yards come from passing, and they average just 80 rushing yards per game. Oregon, which toppled Ohio State in Week 2, has the most balanced attack of the top five teams, getting 219 yards per game through the air and 204 yards per game on the ground. When Michigan prepares to face the Buckeyes, they would hope to replicate the success of the Ducks.
The remainder of Michigan’s schedule features teams that are extremely pass-heavy. Penn State, the highest-ranked opponent Michigan will face, obtains over 73% of their yards through the air; the Buckeyes obtain 60% of their yards via the pass. Northwestern is the only team that gets more yardage on the ground than through the air, with 55% of their offensive yards coming from rushing. Michigan State is close to a 50-50 split, with slightly more of their yards coming from passing (52%).

Data Journalist Eric Lau contributed.