Moe Ways smiles when he thinks about it. It’s a pleasant feeling, really.
The sensation comes late in games, after the Michigan football team’s wide receivers have blocked for the better part of 60 minutes. The redshirt freshman wide receiver looks across the field and sees a change in the opposing team’s cornerbacks and safeties.
“They slow down a little bit, they stop filling the hole quite as hard, they start to play off a little bit more,” Ways said.
The tendencies of the Wolverines’ receiving corps could be seen as irksome to opponents, a thorn in their sides. On multiple occasions this season, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has praised the group’s blocking for springing long runs.
Ways sees the frustration in his opponents. They comment on his position group’s blocking during games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound receiver indicated they are frequently needled and engage in a little bit of trash talk as a result.
“They say a little bit,” he said with a laugh.
The trash talk is the price of a job well done. The Wolverines’ rushing attack has become a constant threat, a dramatic change from recent years. Michigan had rushed for at least 200 yards in three straight contests before Saturday’s game against Maryland, when it fell just short with 198.
Though improved offensive line play has been at the forefront of the rejuvenated run game, the team’s wide receivers can be seen crushing bodies downfield on many of the team’s big gains on the ground.
Ways, perhaps more than the rest of Michigan’s wide receivers, has parlayed his blocking success into additional playing time. Harbaugh considers redshirt junior Jehu Chesson to be the best blocker of the team’s wide receivers. Ways and redshirt junior Amara Darboh round out Harbaugh’s top three.
But where Ways differs from Darboh and Chesson is that he has not yet established himself as a consistent pass catcher, at least not during games. Ways has one catch for 21 yards in the team’s first five games. Instead, his blocking has earned him playing time.
“Moe is really asserting himself,” Harbaugh said last week. “I think he’s climbing the depth chart right now. He just … he’s showing up in the play. On the down, he is finding somebody to block.”
Ways does not know exactly how he developed his blocking skills. He considers most of his success to be natural, a desire to be more physical than the guy lining up across from him.
In high school, Ways was more focused on catching passes. He could block a little bit, but when you catch 55 passes during your senior year, there isn’t much time for blocking.
When Ways came to Michigan, though, he felt he needed to uphold a tradition of excellence at running the ball. He did not see the field as a freshman, but felt ready to contribute any way he could this season. Ways was never told blocking was a path to seeing the field, but it worked out all the same. He was asked to block in certain packages and series, and he succeeded. He hasn’t looked back.
“As a group actually, we all want to be great blockers,” Ways said. “We take pride in that. We want to be known as one of the best blocking groups in the country, just help our team out, help the running backs keep getting loose.”
The players primarily charged with setting the running backs loose have noticed, too.
“When we run the ball inside and they come flying in and crack a safety or whatever it might be, it’s a fun thing to watch,” said sophomore offensive lineman Mason Cole. “They’re doing a really good job, and they work really hard at that.”
As Ways progresses in his career, he wants to be known as more than an excellent blocker.
For now, though, as he works on the other aspects of playing the position, he can take solace when he looks at the man guarding him late in games. If his opponent shows the slightest bit of hesitation in any regard, it means he has done his job.