Sports

Michigan doubles down on run with eye on OSU

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh seems to have his best running game in seven seasons at Michigan, rotating two speedy and powerful backs behind an offensive line that has been opening huge holes.

The Wolverines were so effective at moving the ball on the ground in a 31-10 win over Washington that they had 56 rushing carries for 343 yards and chose to throw just 15 times for 44 yards.

Harbaugh said he heard “a little bit of noise,” about it with fans clamoring for the team to throw more and run less.

“There’s a lot of ways to travel,” he said Monday. “Some people choose to travel on the ground, some people by air. George Patton was able to get his job done on the ground. Neil Armstrong through the air. Last Saturday night, we chose to grind it out on the ground and were also able to get our mission accomplished.”

No. 25 Michigan (2-0) will likely lean on its ground attack at home again against Northern Illinois (1-1) on Saturday.

Even though the Wolverines are off to a strong start and may not be underdogs until they play Oct. 2 at No. 18 Wisconsin, they will be measured by how they fare against No. 9 Ohio State at the end of the regular season.

No one knows that more than Harbaugh, who is winless as a coach against the rival Buckeyes. Reflecting the importance of The Game, he changed the name of the team’s running drill that stacks seven defenders in a small space against an offense without wide receivers.

“Years prior, we’d call it a 9-on-7, which is what the drill is,” offensive guard Trevor Keegan said. “But this year, we changed it to the ‘Beat Ohio’ drill.’ Now we’re blasting music, smelling salts, everything. It’s a pretty physical period. We love it.”

Ohio State has won a school-record eight straight against Michigan, including a 56-27 rout two years ago in the last matchup, and 15 of the last 16 meetings.

Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has a “Team Up North Drill,” and now Harbaugh has been inspired to dub a part of practice that shows how much that game means to him.

“It kind of came along with the whole tradition of, `What are you doing to beat Ohio State every day?'” center Andrew Stueber said. “Kind of taking that rivalry into focus every day.”

The physical, straightforward run drill seems to be paying off so far.

Michigan is averaging 339 yards rushing a game, ranking fourth in the nation, and 6.85 yards per carry to rank fifth. The Wolverines’ offensive line opened massive holes against the Huskies and Western Michigan and a pair of running backs took full advantage.

Blake Corum, the Big Ten offensive player of the week, has run for 282 yards to rank No. 8 in the country and Hassan Haskins is 27th with 225 yards rushing.

Against Washington, they became the first pair of running backs to have 150-plus yards rushing in the same game since Karan Higdon and Chris Evans pulled off the feat against Minnesota in 2017.

“We just kind of feed off each other,” Corum said. “We’re thunder and lightning.”

Without a strong offensive line, though, both backs would be stopped in their tracks.

Harbaugh said he sensed his team would block better this year back in spring practice when he saw how offensive linemen embraced the team’s no-frills running period.

“That has become a drill of emphasis,” Harbaugh said. “Look forward to it. Excitement. They wanted music, so we play music during that drill. That (Washington) game felt like a 9-on-7 drill.

“Both teams were trying to turn it into that type of game and our guys have embraced it and had a lot of practice at it.”

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