FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Between hurdling defenders, pushing piles and running over tacklers, Hassan Haskins is responsible for some of the Michigan football team’s most iconic moments this season.
But when offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was asked to pick a favorite, he couldn’t zero in on one highlight. Rather, he took a moment to reflect on the overall impact of the senior running back’s 1,288 yards and program-record 20 rushing touchdowns.
“Hassan is everything to us,” Gattis said Monday. “We absolutely love him. I don’t know if you can actually list out one specific play because he creates so many wild plays. … He’s a guy that, when you talk about a physical back and how you want to build your backs, he’s the exact prototype of what you want to build your running back room around. He’s done a tremendous job carrying the load for us.”
Running behind an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award, Haskins logged six 100-yard performances and seven multi-touchdown games this season. He recorded a season-best 169 rushing yards and five touchdowns in Michigan’s win over Ohio State before tacking on another two scores against Iowa in the Big Ten title game.
In short-yardage situations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more effective ball carrier in the nation. In the open field, he seeks contact and stays on his feet. Haskins’ individual effort is a major reason why the 12-win Wolverines earned their first-ever College Football Playoff berth — and his teammates are taking notice.
“I feel like you can just look at Hassan’s runs and just be amazed by all of the hurdles and whatnot,” junior receiver Mike Sainristil said. “But what can’t go unnoticed is when he looks stopped in the backfield and he’s still pushing and gets those two, three extra yards that we need for a first down. The good-looking plays are always fun to look at as highlights, but the real eye for football will never let those plays go unnoticed.”
Another aspect that hasn’t gone unnoticed is the sheer workload Haskins has handled this season. Michigan leaned on him to shoulder an even larger share of carries when fellow running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards suffered multi-week injuries.
In doing so, Haskins’ role expanded. He saw at least 20 rushes in each game with Corum unavailable, while Edwards’ absence thrust him into a new passing-game capacity.
“We really put the load on his back and he carried us there for about three games, just being the solo back,” Gattis said. “When you’ve got a guy with his ability, his talent, his vision, his physicality, it makes him pretty complete. I wish we had him around here for another four or five years, but we’re really, really proud of what he’s accomplished and everything he’s done to this point.”
Haskins earned All-America honors for his efforts. More importantly, though, he kept the Wolverines’ running backs room afloat as the team weathered a pair of critical injuries.
Since then, Corum and Edwards have made their way back. They’ve proven their return to full health, too. Corum outraced the Hawkeyes’ defense for a 68-yard touchdown in the conference title game, while Edwards set a program record among running backs with 170 yards on 10 receptions against Maryland last month.
In an era of up-tempo, pass-first spread offenses, Gattis and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh have built a unique offense. By relying on their running game and 20th-century offensive line fundamentals, the Wolverines largely differ from college football’s other elite offenses.
But that doesn’t make their style any less efficient. On film, that’s the first thing that stood out to Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.
“Yeah, Michigan plays football,” Lanning said. “You’ve got to give coach Harbaugh and coach Gattis credit, with the way they have running backs that can run the ball.”
With the Wolverines’ backfield once again at full strength, that brand of football could be Michigan’s ticket to the national championship game.