COLUMBUS — An hour after the No. 3 Michigan football team finished dominating No. 2 Ohio State, Donovan Edwards sprinted down the tunnel that snaked from the visiting locker room and onto the turf. Raising his “2022 East Division Champions” hat high in the air, the sophomore running back shouted to anyone and everyone, “Damn, this my stadium.”
After rushing for 216 yards and two touchdowns, it was hard to disagree with him.
Edwards entered the day with his status in question, having missed the previous two games with a hand injury. He ended it with two mesmerizing touchdown runs — one 75 yards, the other 85 yards — to put the Buckeyes to bed for good.
“I just had to do what I had to do,” Edwards said postgame. “Every running back has to be relied on. Blake went down, so somebody else had to step up. … That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
As Edwards alluded to, all eyes were fixated on junior Blake Corum in the lead up to The Game. The standout Heisman candidate hurt his left leg in the second quarter of last Saturday’s game against Illinois, an injury that threatened to derail the Wolverines’ season.
Sixty-six minutes before kickoff, Corum emerged from the tunnel in lockstep with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh as the last player to take the field for warmups. But Corum’s triumph would prove short-lived, as he played just three snaps on the opening drive before heading to the sideline for good, evidently still hampered.
Last week, Corum’s absence nearly cost Michigan its undefeated season. Without him, the Wolverines struggled to move the ball, their rushing attack suddenly ineffective.
In a similar scenario against the Buckeyes, Michigan again tried to stay true to its identity.
“If somebody’s down, the whole running back room has to be accountable to get the offense going,” Edwards said.
But early on, Edwards didn’t do much to ignite the offense himself. In the first half, he carried the ball five times for just nine yards, sporting a soft cast on his right hand.
Still, Michigan trusted Edwards, a trust built on past experience. When Edwards first arrived on campus as a freshman, he was in a cast for the entirety of spring practice while he recovered from surgery.
“He was catching everything with a cast,” Harbaugh remembered Saturday, still in awe. “If he can catch everything, I mean certainly everybody without a cast can catch. … So I had little doubt, there was no pain management. Either there was not a lot of pain, or he’s just that tough of a guy because there’s no pain management to it. He’s as tough as it comes.”
Sure enough, as Edwards grew more involved, Michigan’s rushing attack began to thrive, too. After managing just 10 rushing yards in the first half, Michigan ran the ball for 242 yards across the final two quarters — individually, Edwards racked up 207 yards on the ground in the second half alone.
“It’s just like pipes bursting,” sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. “We’re putting the pressure on and then eventually, it’s gonna burst.”
And once they burst?
“It was over,” McCarthy said, smiling.
On Michigan’s opening drive of the half, Edwards picked up a pivotal conversion on fourth and one that paved the way for the Wolverines to take the lead. Notably, Michigan went a different direction on third and one in the first half, handing it off to converted linebacker Kalel Mullings, who was stopped short of the first down marker.
Edwards had his fingerprints all over the most consequential drive of the game, too — the 15-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 7:51 of clock. He tallied 37 all purpose yards, helping Michigan sustain a possession in a way that seemed impossible with Corum sidelined.
Those efforts, of course, set the stage for the highlight reel plays that followed.
With 7:23 left in the fourth quarter, Michigan began its drive with the ball on the 25 yard line, up eight. Before the PA announcer could finish saying “Buckeye nation, we need you to get loud,” Edwards had found a crease and was sprinting down the far sideline, evading a diving Buckeye on his way to the house.
Four minutes later, it was déjà vu as Edwards exploded through a similar hole at the 15 yard line. With Ohio State selling out at the line of scrimmage in hopes of securing a third down stop, Edwards found himself in the clear.
“It’s the offensive line first, they created such a big hole,” Edwards said. “If you watch the film, it’s just real easy to see. And then at that point, you just got to hit it and outrun the third level defenders, the safeties and defensive backs. That’s how I was able to pull away with those long touchdowns.”
It’s easier said than done — in the first half, some of those holes existed, but Michigan’s running backs failed to squeeze through them. Edwards didn’t make the same mistake.
And as he high-stepped his way through the back of the endzone after his second touchdown, he waved his arms toward the stands while a rush of teammates hurried to greet him. The Wolverines led by 22, the disheartened Buckeye faithful streamed toward the exit, leaving a raucous sea of fans clad in maize and blue in their wake.
By the end of it all, it did look a lot like Edwards’ stadium.