The identity of the No. 3 Michigan football team is already known.
On defense, it’s inspired by its lineman, touting the No. 1 run defense heading into Saturday’s game and consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks. On offense, though, the identity is one man:
Junior running back Blake Corum.
Leaning on Corum once again, the Wolverines (10-0 overall, 7-0 Big Ten) trounced Nebraska (3-7, 2-5), 34-3 in a gritty, ground-powered game that was all but decided from the opening kickoff.
“Blake, another great game by him,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday. “… There wasn’t a long (run), there wasn’t a 50-yarder today like there has been. Just really, really good, tough running.”
From their first drive, the Wolverines did nothing to hide their hard-nosed identity, and the Cornhuskers did nothing to stop it.
The first play, a pass, went to Corum. Seventy-eight yards and six Corum carries later, Michigan was on Nebraska’s two-yard line. Another touch and the Wolverines were on the board with the ball in Corum’s hands.
For the rest of the game, Michigan’s gameplan remained the same — just as it has all season. Corum, drive after drive, proved why. And Corum wants it that way.
“I always go into each game wanting the ball,” Corum said. “I want it as many times as they’re going to give it to me.”
Every time the Wolverines trusted their Heisman-hopeful back, it paid dividends. Whenever Michigan strayed, a struggling pass game reminded everyone why Corum averages over 22 rushing attempts per game.
On both the Wolverines’ second and third drives, this reality showed. On the first, a five-yard Corum run was negated by a sack on a dropback and an incomplete pass to graduate receiver Ronnie Bell for a three-and-out. The second, Corum blasted through for a 12-yard gain, only for three-straight pass plays to fall incomplete.
Conversely, when Michigan let Corum set the offense up, it prospered. In the second quarter, on a drive where he racked up 29 yards and two first downs on four carries, just the threat of Corum opened up two gaping holes for passes. The final play, a teardrop touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy to Bell, was enabled by a play-action call and the gravitational pull Corum demands.
“That got me really excited because during practice this week we emphasized bending it back,” Corum said. “So the safety came down thinking he had a free shot on J.J., and when I went to fake to the right, I bent it back to the left and surprised ‘em and made him completely stop. And (so) Ronnie was wide open. Oh, it was beautiful.”
While Corum supported the offense, the Wolverine defense held up its end of the bargain. Constantly pressuring Nebraska’s quarterbacks and stymying run after run, Michigan’s defenders set their offensive counterparts up for success.
Both trends carried into the second half, where Corum continued to power forward and the defense appeared to share DNA with a brick wall. And it was nothing but maize and blue for the remainder of the game.
The Wolverines punched in two more touchdowns in the second half, including a McCarthy scramble in which Corum “pancaked” a defender, clearing the way. On the final touchdown, Bell fumbled the ball toward the back of the end zone where sophomore receiver Andrel Anthony fell on it, making the score 31-3.
Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh compared Corum to future Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore, who played four seasons under Harbaugh with the 49ers. That comparison goes beyond Corum’s physical prowess, also including his innate ability to read defenses and make the right decision.
“Two outstanding students of the game, know the game and also have a tremendous feel for the game,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt that Blake will be, in my opinion, right on that same dance floor as Frank Gore in every way, as a player.”
Saturday, Corum looked worthy of that comparison once again, unlocking the offense and being the bellcow he’s proven himself to be. Even after being pulled in the fourth quarter to preserve his health, Corum posted 162 yards and one touchdown on 28 attempts — 33 more yards on his own than the Wolverines had total through the air
Heading into the game, the Cornhuskers knew what the Wolverines wanted to do. Still, Corum imposed his will. In doing so, he gave Michigan an easy path to victory. Despite all the carries, and the continuous burden on his shoulders, Corum just wants to keep rolling.
“I can play a whole ‘nother season,” Corum said. “I’m good. I’m feeling great. I feel that I just continue to get better.”
Whether he keeps getting better or not, the Wolverines will keep relying on his production. And until a team can stop him, there’s no reason not to.