Early in the second quarter of the Washington game on Sept. 11, the Michigan football team was locked in a tight 3-0 game. Its first test of the season had primarily been composed of short run gains and solid defense, until one game-changing handoff to sophomore running back Blake Corum.
A lead block from senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker opened a hole and Corum burst through, turning on the jets for a 67-yard touchdown.
Despite the Wolverines’ identity of a hard-nosed, old-school offense that relies on its physicality, the offense’s explosiveness has been on display since the beginning of the season.
“I feel like the explosiveness comes after the physicality in terms of the O-line creating holes for guys like Blake, Hassan, Donovan,” Schoonmaker said Monday. “Tight ends, as well, a part of the blocking, and then receivers are blocking downfield to help the explosive plays continue, and then that just leads into the pass game.”
All three of Michigan’s running backs — senior Hassan Haskins, freshman Donovan Edwards and Corum — have gone for runs of 50-plus yards. The offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award for the best unit in the nation has also won the majority of trench battles it’s participated in.
But the focus on the running backs and the offensive line also extends the big-play ability to stretch runs and reverses. Sophomore receiver A.J. Henning’s 14-yard run to score the first touchdown against Ohio State is a clear example, but he also took a reverse in the game against Western Michigan 74 yards for a touchdown.
Four more players have carries of 20-plus yards, showing the explosiveness that the strong offensive front enables.
“I feel like however we looked at it, we’ll just find ways through film, find different ways to expose open areas of the field, find ways to create good runs in the run game,” junior receiver Mike Sainristil said.
Added Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning: “They demand some physicality up front, which I know we’re excited to see, and then they have the ability to attack you downfield. I just think they show tremendous balance in the way they prepare, in the way they play the game, and it’s going to be a physical football game, which I know we certainly appreciate.”
In total, Michigan has 17 plays of over 50 yards, the most in the nation and five more than the next highest team in the playoff, No. 1 Alabama.
But that also stems from a passing game that’s developed into a potent weapon throughout the season, with the most electric example being freshman receiver Andrel Anthony’s 93-yard touchdown against Michigan State.
Junior quarterback Cade McNamara has dialed up a number of longer throws, while also playing into the strengths of a receiving corps that’s shown how explosive and talented it is, when given an opportunity.
“When you look at how we’re creating those explosive plays, it’s getting the ball in the hands of explosive players,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Monday. “So when you’ve got guys like A.J. Henning, Blake Corum, Roman Wilson, Donovan Edwards — those guys are going to create explosive plays, and that was an area where we really emphasized increasing our team speed.”
The Wolverines have lined up against some of the best defenses in the nation, most recently against a top-15 team in Iowa. In each of those battles, big plays have keyed the Michigan victory, whether it be a run from Corum or a trick play to scheme open a receiver.
On Friday, against a defense ranked second in total yards, explosiveness will once again play a role. To find success against a defense like Georgia’s, the Wolverines will need to use big plays to their advantage.