On Monday, sophomore running back Blake Corum arrived at Michigan’s weekly media availability wearing a dark blue mechanic’s shirt.
It wasn’t the first unique fashion statement Corum’s made recently. After the Wolverines’ 33-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday, he went to the postgame press conference donning a rather, um, interesting pair of sunglasses. The mechanic’s shirt, though, carries a meaning. Each season since his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has awarded the shirts to players who travel for away conference games, representing the blue-collar attitude that he wants out of his teams.
Taken in conjunction with the rest of the season, it reflects Corum’s attitude and confidence — in his own abilities, in the offense as a whole and in his counterpart at running back, senior Hassan Haskins.
“They’re both really strong, and they train themselves to be that way,” Harbaugh said Monday. “They both have the natural, God-given ability — the things that running backs crawl out of the crib having — athletic ability, balance, innate ability to see the hole and balance and contort their bodies.”
Early in the season, the combination of Haskins and Corum earned the nickname “thunder and lightning,” intended to reflect the way the two backs complement each other while bringing their own unique abilities to the field.
Even if the nickname has worn off a bit since then, the tandem’s threat to opposing defenses has only grown. Against Northwestern, Corum and Haskins tallied 119 and 110 rushing yards, respectively, along with two touchdowns each. They picked up extra yards practically every time they touched the ball, sometimes by falling forward and other times by physically moving an entire pile of defenders.
“The two of them, they’re both great running backs,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “There’s something about the dynamic of Hassan one play, Blake the next. The difference, they’re both great, but there’s some slight differences that make them both really special — and hard to defend, I would think.”
Part of that success, of course, stems from the offensive line. Even without both starting guards — junior Trevor Keegan and sophomore Zak Zinter missed Saturday’s game with injuries — Michigan’s blockers managed to both carve out holes and slow down the linebackers in the run game. It’s not difficult to pick up yards when there’s nobody around to make the tackle.
“Shout out to the line,” Corum said Saturday. “They did their thing, but I was really just getting warmed up. When you get a running back warmed up like myself, Hassan, we get going. … They blocked great and allowed me to have some 1-on-1 matchups, and you gotta win those.”
But even beyond the line play, both backs excelled individually — each in their own style. Corum continued to exhibit the same shiftiness that’s defined his game all season, while Haskins flexed his physical prowess to run through opponents for extra yards. Those yards after contact are a main reason why Pro Football Focus lists Corum and Haskins as two of their highest-graded halfbacks in the country.
This Saturday against Michigan State, they’ll have to show that again. Last season, the Spartans held Michigan’s running backs to a poor 99 rushing yards. The Wolverines will need to be able to impose their will on the ground to flip that script.
Corum and Haskins have the ability to do that. According to Harbaugh, they’ve had it from the very beginning.