All season, this Michigan team has had an identity: run the ball.
With two players at the center of that ethos, sophomore Blake Corum and senior Hassan Haskins, the ‘thunder and lightning’ running back duo became a bellwether for the offense.
On Saturday, Haskins led the Wolverines’ to a 42-27 victory over Ohio State.
His performance, which totaled 169 yards on 28 attempts for five touchdowns, will go down in the record books — it’s the most rushing touchdowns in The Game’s history, as well as tying Michigan’s all-time single-game record.
But his historic performance went beyond the stat sheet.
Haskins dictated the pace of the game from the very start. He touched the ball on five of nine plays, including three 3rd-and-short downs. In those three downs he ran for 35 yards total, keeping a crucial opening drive alive, a drive that ended with the only Michigan touchdown Haskins wouldn’t take in himself.
His quick cuts found holes and broke through a Buckeye defense that had yet to stack the box, demoralizing a defense that held Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker III to just 28 rushing yards a week ago. Yet when Ohio State adjusted, stacking the box, Haskins still found a way to fall forward.
“They thought they saw a ghost but it was number 25, Hassan Haskins,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He has great determination, great purpose. Creatability.”
On a crucial drive to reestablish itself in the game, down 10-7, Michigan faced a fourth-and-one. Following a timeout, the Wolverines set up in a three tight-end set with Haskins in the backfield. Clearly, there was one place the ball would end up. Yet after a push and a twist, the chains moved and the drive stayed alive.
Four plays later, Haskins dove over a pile to stretch the ball in for his first touchdown of the afternoon. Michigan never trailed again.
“It was a big emphasis to be able to run the ball this week,” fifth-year offensive lineman Andrew Stueber said. “We thought that a lot of teams came out and played a little scared against them, a little timid, and that’s just not Michigan football. That’s not what we like to play as an o-line, as Michigan football, as a run game, as a unit.”
As time wound down in the end of the game, Haskins played an even bigger part. Up eight with just 14 minutes left, the Wolverines needed to accomplish two things: drain clock and score. So they turned to Haskins. A nine-play, four-and-a-half-minute drive featured eight runs, six of them from Haskins.
In one instance, he showed his patience, waiting behind a wall of blockers before finding a hole and darting for six yards. Other times, he showed his innate ability to fall forward, turning a five yard rush into an eight-yard rush and keeping the chains moving.
On its last drive of the game, Michigan needed to move the sticks twice in order to ice out Ohio State. Haskins listed off five rushes for 63 yards through a humiliated Buckeye defense, sealing the game.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed as though the Wolverines’ reliance on its rushing game would be a hindrance against the best teams in the country. Against an explosive Ohio State offense? There was no question, Michigan would fail to keep pace.
Instead, on Saturday, as Haskins walked in for his fifth touchdown, it became clear that this Wolverine running offense is capable of dominating just about everyone.