Time and time again, junior running back Blake Corum has shouldered the load on the ground for the No. 3 Michigan football team. He’s racked up at least 25 carries five times this season, including a career high 33 against Michigan State.
But while Corum has proven capable of keeping up with this torrid pace, the Wolverines also have sophomore running back Donovan Edwards to ease Corum’s burden. And in an ideal world, Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart wants it to be a partnership.
“You gotta manage Blake, right?” Hart said Wednesday. “Can’t get Blake 30 carries every game. … (I) don’t want to give Blake 30 to 34 carries a game, and I’d like to be 20 to 15. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Corum is dominating on the ground, currently ranked fifth in the country with 1,178 rushing yards and tied for the lead in touchdowns with 16. With his consistently stellar performances, his name is popping up in Heisman conversations.
His usage reached outrageous levels early in the season when Edwards was sidelined with an injury. But in October, Edwards returned to the field, allowing the Wolverines to deploy more of a timeshare out of the backfield. And with expanded playing time, Edwards has started to showcase his versatility.
Last season, Edwards — as a former five-star recruit — was too talented to keep off the field entirely. But with Corum and Hassan Haskins handling the bulk of the runs, Edwards mostly served as a receiving threat out of the backfield, never attempting more than eight carries in a game.
But this season, Edwards has begun to show his running prowess as well.
“I think that what makes him dangerous this year is that he actually runs the ball as well,” Hart said. “You can’t just say he’s coming in the game, and it’s a pass play. Pass protection-wise, running the ball, he’s developing, and that’s what happens when you become a sophomore. You get better and he’s just doing a great job running downhill.”
Edwards exploded against Penn State, rushing 16 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns. This past weekend he gashed Rutgers, finishing with 112 yards on 15 attempts. Both instances lessened the load for Corum, and those games have also represented Michigan’s two largest victories in Big Ten play.
His development as a runner is a scary sight for defenses, because he’s already a nightmare to guard as a wideout. Edwards was coached up in high school as a slot receiver and he has translated those skills to the college game. He has at least one reception in every game of his collegiate career, and he hit a new season high against the Scarlet Knights with 52 yards through the air including an acrobatic touchdown catch.
For sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy, Edwards is the perfect weapon for his arsenal.
“I mean, that kid, he’s so special,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “Just the way he runs the ball, the way he can catch the ball — just his constant drive is something that stands out to me. He’s always striving for greatness. And being a part of that only makes me want to strive for greatness even more.”
Edwards and McCarthy were part of the same recruiting class and the two are also roommates. When talking about him, McCarthy couldn’t help but gush. Edwards’s ascension wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but the fact he’s managed to look so special in the midst of a historic season for Corum is all the more impressive.
For most teams, any time an opposing Heisman contender is taking a breather on the sidelines, it would be a welcome sight. But not when facing the Wolverines.
And that’s exactly how Hart wants it.