On Wednesday, Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis referred to the Wolverines’ running back tandem of sophomore Blake Corum and senior Hassan Haskins as “the perfect combination of thunder and lightning.”
Against Washington on Saturday night, the duo certainly lived up to their billing.
In a game where junior quarterback Cade McNamara threw for just 44 yards, Haskins and Corum paced Michigan’s offense, combining for 326 rushing yards, 48 carries and all four Wolverine touchdowns in a 31-10 victory.
“That warms the cockles of the heart to be able to do that, run the ball that way,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “… (Washington was) just having a hard time tackling the backs. When we started breaking the edge pressure, there were some real creases in between the tackles. Our guys hit them.”
In the week leading up to the game, Michigan recognized that Washington’s defense boasted a formidable secondary. As a result, the Wolverines geared their gameplan to the trenches.
Through the first half, the Huskies rotated between an array of defensive looks, none of which proved capable of slowing down Michigan’s relentless ground game.
“We knew coming into this game that we wanted to run the ball and we wanted to run it down their throat,” senior offensive tackle Ryan Hayes said. “With backs like we have, it makes it pretty easy for the o-line. We knew going into this game that we were going to run the ball as much as we could because they couldn’t really stop it.”
In the early going, Haskins helped set the game’s tone, notching three quick carries for 32 yards, highlighted by a 16-yard burst. Shortly afterwards, Corum made his mark with a 68-yard touchdown run along the Washington sideline, utilizing his speed to dust the safety.
The opening drive of the second half stands as a poster boy for the Wolverines’ success running the ball. In four minutes, Michigan marched down the field for an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. Each of the eight plays resulted in a hand-off, with Haskins running for 39 yards and Corum recording 34 yards, along with the touchdown.
“We knew they were getting defeated towards the end of the game and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them,” Hayes said.
In fall camp, as Michigan spoke of a desire to establish an identity as a running-oriented team, questions loomed over how Corum and Haskins would handle a split-workload. Two games in, those apprehensions have certainly been quelled, as neither Western Michigan last week, nor Washington this week, has managed to stop them.
“We just kinda feed off each other,” Corum said. “We don’t go into the game thinking, ‘I’m going to get this many carries, you’re gonna get this many carries.’ We just kinda go with the flow.”
The pair complement each other admirably. Haskins, dependable and bruising, is at his best in between the tackles; Corum, a human highlight reel, is most explosive on the edge.
And, even when one of Corum or Haskins receives the bulk of the carries, the other is still incorporated into the play. It’s indicative of Michigan’s desire to play through both of them on offense, especially in the absence of senior receiver Ronnie Bell, who stood as the Wolverines’ most potent threat on the perimeter.
Against Washington, Corum and Haskins combined for four of McNamara’s seven completions.
“It definitely puts other teams in a (difficult) situation, cause you don’t really know who to stop,” Corum said. “And then sometimes, when we’re in the backfield together, at the same time, that’s probably a little difficult also.”
For the long-haul, this sort of run-dominant approach figures to be unsustainable; at some point, the Wolverines will have to rely on McNamara to air the ball out.
That’s something Michigan surely recognizes. But through two games, Corum and Haskins are wreaking havoc, leaving little need for anything else.
“We’re running backs,” Haskins said. “So if we get to run it a lot, that’s no problem with us.”