It’s easy to look at junior running back Donovan Edwards’ rushing stats this season and get concerned. Looking at his week-by-week totals this season — 12 rushes for 37 yards, six for nine, nine for 50 and then six rushes for 13 yards in the Wolverines’ win over Rutgers — there appears to be cause for concern.
“I checked ESPN at halftime — how many yards I had,” Edwards said Sept. 5. “That joint said six for five, I said dang!”
It’s a valid feeling for Edwards and it’s a valid feeling for anyone worried about Michigan, because his rushing statistics have been anything but impressive so far. So go ahead, be concerned about him as a rusher if you want.
But if that’s making you concerned about the Wolverines’ offense as a whole, think again. Because Edwards is not the lead back, so stop expecting that he needs to play like one for them to be successful.
Michigan has Blake Corum. It has its lead back, its bellcow and its goal line back — all in one. The Wolverines have a guy in Corum who can comfortably average over five yards per carry, easily punch it in when Michigan lines up near the goal line and handle a large workload efficiently out of the backfield.
It doesn’t need another guy doing the exact same thing.
Instead, the Wolverines need a complement to Corum who can run the rock to give him breathers. They also need someone who can serve as a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield and a second back the defense needs to respect when Michigan sends both out at the same time.
And the Wolverines are beginning to get that from Edwards.
They’re getting a running back in Edwards who can offer a different look than Corum has and diversify Michigan’s options out of the backfield. He’s effectively been the Wolverines’ fourth wide receiver in terms of catches and receiving yards, and he posted a season-high 41 receiving yards against the Scarlet Knights.
The less Michigan uses Edwards in the same way it uses Corum — and the more it uses him as a dynamic receiving back who runs on occasion — the better for Edwards and the better for Michigan. It’s especially timely as the team is still trying to figure out its offense and what it’s capable of.
“The offense is a work in progress, you know what I’m saying,” Corum said. “We’re always going to critique, because we hold ourselves to a high standard. We’re going to critique ourselves really, really hard.”
So don’t critique Edwards in the context of just a rusher, because the Wolverines have their lead rusher. Instead, think of how Edwards can work in the context of the offense.
In the context of the offense, Michigan certainly benefits from having someone else on the ground that keeps the defense honest and takes some attention off Corum. Take a quick look at the same stat sheet that may have you concerned about Edwards, and it’s clear the Wolverines already have another rushing threat — J.J. McCarthy. Having a quarterback who can scramble like McCarthy means Edwards doesn’t need to be the only running threat backing up Corum’s game. Michigan can do it by committee — and it’s already utilizing it.
“I think our run game is fine,” Corum said. “We have to critique a couple things … (and) just watch the film, see where I can get better, see where the offensive line could get better, just get on the same page a little more. But best believe, we’re fine man, the offense is fine. I think we (had) over 400 yards today. That’s a productive day.”
Sure, you can want more from Edwards. Maybe you can even expect more from Edwards. But expecting more rushing from him, like serving as a second bellcow back that rushes for over 100 yards per game, is not the answer.
Because Edwards’ glaring weakness right now is lack of efficient runs, not lack of efficient plays. He catches passes and runs in open space after. He blocks. He’s physical and he can relieve Corum and provide different looks. If the Wolverines want to improve rushing, they just need Corum playing closer to his ceiling, not a second back to play like a Heisman candidate.
Only one person can rush the ball at a time anyways, so don’t look at Edwards’ rushing numbers with much concern. Don’t expect him to put up Corum’s numbers. And don’t be disappointed when he doesn’t do it.
Because Michigan doesn’t need another Blake Corum — it already has him.
So leave the lead back expectations to him, and let Edwards play his game.