Ben Mason’s objectives each game are simple.
“Just come in, attack people and do the best that I can,” the sophomore fullback said after the Michigan football team’s 56-10 whooping over Nebraska on Saturday.
Mason, commonly referenced as the Wolverines’ “toughest player,” checked off those boxes quickly. And then he added one more to-do.
“About midweek, coach (Jim Harbaugh) told me that they need me to run the ball a little bit,” Mason said. “There’s no problem with that whatsoever. Just go in there and run.”
Mason had six carries for 18 yards and three touchdowns — in the first half. Prior to the game, Mason’s career statline in five previous appearances was six carries, 10 yards and three touchdowns. Rushing isn’t necessarily the fullback’s bread and butter, but he proved it to be another weapon in his arsenal separate from his run-blocking.
“Personally, I think I can do a lot of things as a football player,” Mason said. “Today was really the first time you got to see me as a single back.”
In front of the media on Wednesday, running backs coach Jay Harbaugh characterized Mason’s mindset acerbically — he wants to “smash everything” and “bludgeon people.”
On his first and third scores, that is exactly what Mason did, barrelling up the middle of the offensive line. But for his second touchdown, Mason sauntered to the endzone untouched from four yards out — an unusual situation for the team’s toughest player.
The scoring outburst garnered praise from last year’s fullback and touchdown vulture Khalid Hill, who was crowdsourcing on Twitter to tell Harbaugh to “give the ball to Ben one more time” for a fourth touchdown.
Mason’s emergence came in part because Chris Evans was held off the field — the junior running back suffered an undisclosed injury in last week’s game against SMU. But Mason made his presence known. His punch-ins were what blew the doors off against the Cornhuskers, and kept himself, a massive fullback, in as the impromptu No. 2 running back.
“Inertia was the main factor in the decision,” Jim Harbaugh said. “When he gets going — I think he’s 258 pounds — he gets moving fast. He’s running hard. He’s got a talent and ability.
“Like having Ben Mason in the game. Talk about physical player, he’s known as that on our team already, and we’re taking advantage of his skillset.”
Mason’s touchdowns stole the show, but he continued to excel in what he knows best in run protection. At the Nebraska 44-yard line, Mason sealed off a right-side edge rusher while Karan Higdon — who toted the ball 12 times for 136 yards — charged left through a wide gap for the Wolverines’ only other rushing touchdown.
“Competitiveness, hard work,” Higdon said on what he admires about Mason. “He’s a hard runner. He definitely has that hard-hat mindset, and you can see it when he runs or when he’s blocking. I love running behind him.”
Mason’s blocking and all-around, hard-nosed play was emblematic of Michigan’s most impressive blocking performance this season. Mason was not a spark plug — he was another cog in an unusually cohesive offensive line.
“As an offensive line, they were pushing people off the ball and making enormous holes for the backs to run through,” Mason said. “It was a great thing to see for the offense.
“I think today that was a great statement for the team as far as being a tough physical football team.”
Mason’s performance even captured the attention of SportsCenter, which tweeted a comparison of Mason’s statline to all of Nebraska’s offense — 21 total yards to Mason’s 18 at the time of his third score.
Mason, of course, didn’t chime in on the attention that his performance received online. It wasn’t a part of his typical game regimen.
“As a team, we just did a very good job of doing what was asked of us,” Mason said.
Whether it was his running or blocking, the team’s toughest player can tip his cap to something.