After Penn State allowed a stunning 418 rushing yards in a 41-17 loss to the Michigan football team, a number of defensive standouts admitted that the Nittany Lions needed to be better. That much was evident to anyone who watched Penn State’s fifth-ranked rushing defense — one of its core strengths — morph into a fatal flaw.
Yet, amid the somber scene, linebacker Curtis Jacobs still found a reason to smile.
Jacobs had just been asked about someone he considers one of his “dearest friends” — junior running back Blake Corum.
“I’ve seen the same thing from him since sixth grade,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs and Corum played together on Team Maryland in the FBU eighth grade circuit. They went on to play at competing high schools: Corum at St. Frances Academy and Jacobs for the McDonogh School.
“In our FBU Tournament, I saw some flashes,” Jacobs remembered. “But when I saw him at St. Frances, that’s when I knew he was gonna be one of the best backs in the country. He’s lightning in a bottle.”
Saturday, Corum and sophomore running back Donovan Edwards combined to decimate Jacobs and Penn State’s defense. Corum once again affirmed his presence as one of the nation’s top running backs, tallying 166 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Edwards, meanwhile, ran for a career-best 173 yards and found the endzone twice, too.
There is no more speculation surrounding Corum’s ability to evolve into a power, short-yardage back who can fill the void left by Hassan Haskins. Gone, too, are concerns over Corum’s ability to handle a taxing, demanding workload.
These days, it seems like the only question pertaining to Corum is if the opposing defense will ever be able to stop him.
“Everything that y’all see in games, we see in practice,” senior edge rusher Mike Morris said. “There are some plays where I have to cover (Corum and Edwards) on downs and it’s like, I just look to the coaches like, ‘Why are we calling this play?’ ”
Penn State, on paper, seemed poised to test Michigan’s rushing attack. Entering the day, it had allowed just 79.6 rushing yards per game and a mere 398 rushing yards on the season.
The Wolverines eclipsed that figure with time to spare in the fourth quarter.
Penn State players attributed the performance to a number of reasons. Most of them blamed a lack of execution in their individual assignments. Some stressed a need to be more physical. Others cited schematic issues.
One constant emerged: Heading into the game, each player felt prepared for what was coming.
“We knew what we were getting into,” linebacker Jonathan Sutherland said. “We knew what kind of game it was gonna be.”
Nothing could prepare them for the dominance that would ensue.
In the first half, Michigan racked up 168 rushing yards, marching the ball methodically down the field.
“Of course you’re not gonna feel good about it,” linebacker Kody King said. “But it’s just a next play mentality: next play, next play, next play.”
And yet, so often, each play yielded the same result. In the second half, the Wolverines’ rushing game evolved from dominant to lethal. A sequence of back-to-back runs eventually swung the game in their favor for good.
On a first and 10 from the Michigan 33-yard line, Edwards bounced around the edge, eliciting an initial thunder of cheers. Then, he cut back inside and juked cornerback Ji’Ayir Brown to the turf, taking it 67 yards to the house while the crowd crescendoed.
“Knowing what he can do with the ball in his hands, with his speed, I knew it was gonna be a big gain,” sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. “That’s just the special player he is.”
On the next offensive play, the Wolverines lined up on their own 39-yard line. This time, Corum earned the carry. He burst through the middle and left everyone else behind, sprinting 61 yards for his second score of the day.
Morris remembered being on the sideline, having just taken his helmet off. Before he could even ask for water, Corum was in the clear.
“I’m happy for him but I was like, ‘Gotta let us get a break a little bit’,” Morris laughed.
Corum and Edwards didn’t give either defense a break. Morris may have had to retake the field, but Jacobs had to worry about bringing Corum to the ground. And yes, it’s as difficult as it seems.
“He has a really strong lower base,” Jacobs noted. “He works on that. He really works on balance and being able to run downhill and that’s big. Being a running back in the Big Ten, you have to be able to run downhill.”
Saturday’s game, in a way, highlighted everything that Corum and Edwards have worked on. Corum put on 12 pounds in the offseason with the idea of adding a little more power to his game while also retaining his trademark speed. Edwards, meanwhile, has bided his time since arriving as a five-star recruit, confident a breakout of this sort would happen.
“I feel like I’ve been prone for a game like this for a while now,” Edwards said. “I just had to sit back and wait my turn and show the world what I’m capable of being able to do.”
The duo did just that Saturday. And if the fifth-ranked run defense can’t even slow them down, well, who else stands a chance?