Rolling into Columbus last year, senior running back Blake Corum was, for a moment, the Michigan football team’s featured running back.
He had been all year, and as he walked out of the tunnel for warmups, he was featured front in center in everyone’s mind. But it wasn’t just because he was the Wolverines’ primary backfield option throughout the year. The attention surrounded whether he’d continue to be the bell cow after sustaining a knee injury against Illinois the week prior.
About 50 minutes before kickoff in The Shoe, there Corum was, turning the corner and walking out of the tunnel. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh walked up with him on his left, while a bulky brace entrapped Corum’s left knee. As he got to the turf, Corum shifted gears — his tunnel walk quickly became a jog onto the field, and he displayed a solid burst out of the gate. Despite the knee brace, he looked good. He looked ready to be the featured star in The Game for the first time in his career.
But two carries and six yards later, it was clear he couldn’t go on. His injury proved to be too much, and he was taken out for the rest of the game.
Unable to fully go in 2022, after playing behind Hassan Haskins and through an ankle injury in the 2021 win, and not having a chance to play The Game in 2020, Corum’s time is now. He’s been Michigan’s featured back for a while, and he’s finally done waiting to lead the Wolverines in their biggest game of 2023.
“When I woke up in the morning, I’m like, ‘Man, it’s game week.’ Finally, I get to play in the game, healthy,” Corum said Monday. “So I’m super excited, but I try to remain calm. I’m going to make sure I prepare well. … This game means a lot. It’s not only my first time being healthy, but it’s going to be my last time in the Big House.”
It’s the “last time” aspect that perhaps best prepares Corum for his first time taking on such a large role against Ohio State. Sure, he has never been in the position before, but he has been in plenty of high-stakes games. He might not know exactly what Saturday will feel like, but he knows how to get himself ready for it.
Corum is focusing on the little things to keep himself calm this week, the details that center his mind on the preparation instead of the rivalry noise. He’ll keep his music separated, ensuring he isn’t listening to the same music this week that he will be on game day, and he’ll watch film with a “not prepared yet” mindset to remind him to devote time to preparation instead of anticipation.
Whatever he does this week, whatever he’s done all year, whatever he’s been doing since he was a kid playing with his dog Savage back home in Virginia, all of it culminates toward Corum’s biggest stage yet.
“Blake in and of itself is a tremendous athlete, tremendous football player,” junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy said Monday. “But adding that extra motivation to this game, and just who he is, it’s gonna be a different Blake out there. I’m already knowing it, so I’m just excited to see (it) and watch him.”
Being his first big moment in The Game and his last in the Big House, Corum will have to manage plenty more than just the emotions of a Big Ten East title game and the various challenges that the Buckeyes’ elite defense pose. On a game day that will double as his 23rd birthday, Corum will carry the tune of a senior in his swan song in his heart, and probably a good dose of the football in his arms.
Since offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore took over as acting head coach two weeks ago, Michigan has been a run-first team. Not only did the Wolverines run it over 30 times in a row against Penn State, but they weren’t afraid to run early, often and on all three downs while executing a rush-heavy game plan against Maryland.
Whether that continues against Ohio State and whether McCarthy gets rolling again via the air is unknown, but at the very least it’ll be a mix of both. That leaves plenty on Corum’s plate, and plenty of emotions along the way.
“It’ll definitely be emotional, but it’s The Game — who’s not going to be emotional?” Corum asked. “So I’ll definitely be amped up. Going down that tunnel one last time, definitely will have a lot of emotions going on.”
When Corum walks down the tunnel and onto the field at the Big House, all eyes will be on him — just like they were in Columbus — but this time for different reasons. There won’t be a brace around his knee, nor questions about his status. He’ll be the main rusher not just during warmups, but in The Game as well.
And after a week of adhering to his “not prepared yet” mindset and years of almost being the featured back of The Game, Corum hopes to walk onto the field as prepared as ever.