Donovan Edwards fine sacrificing personal performance for team success in Week 1

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It happened early and often, East Carolina facing off against Michigan football’s vaunted rushing attack. Yet it was ECU that was winning the battle, much to the surprise of the maize and blue faithful. But why did it work out that way? Did the Wolverines’ star running backs and offensive line regress?

No, the Pirates devoted nearly all of their resources to stopping the run, sometimes committing the entirety of the defense to do so.

The good news for Michigan is that it has quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who took advantage by completing 26-of-30 passes (86.7% — a team record for a passer throwing 30 times in a game) for 280 yards and three touchdowns. The bad news? Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, both of whom became accustomed to having big, highlight reel plays all game, were limited in their production.

Edwards finished the game with 12 carries for 37 yards and four catches for 33 yards on Saturday, and while his numbers weren’t at all similar to his usual, he was happy that his team took advantage of the mismatches it had.

“It felt great. Great being back in The Big House,” Edwards said. “Overall for me in the game, ECU — they had a really great game plan stopping the run — eight, nine, 10 people in the box. I checked on ESPN at halftime how many yards I had. When it said (six yards on five carries) I said, ‘Dang!’ They was stopping the run!

“But it was great being back in The Big House again, all the fantastic fans cheering us on. I’m very happy with how we played overall as a team. They stopped the run, that opened up the pass game. J.J. had a great game — 86% completion, scored a record for us. Roman had a fantastic game, three touchdowns, about 70-80 yards. Correct me if I’m wrong, I know 70-something. But I’m very happy with how we played.

“The defense would have had a shutout had ECU not kicked a field goal in the end. But I feel like ECU that they’re going to have a very successful year, this year, they’re going to do very well in the conference, because of the program that they have around them and how the defense plays.”

Michigan has spent the entirety of the offseason preparing for teams who plan to stop the run with the ‘Beat Georgia’ period, where the idea is the Wolverines will run even when the other team knows they intend on running. It’s another thing entirely when the opposition decides to devote the whole defense to do so, so the maize and blue took advantage of one-on-ones in the receiving corps.

But for Edwards, what was it like running into a stacked box? How hard is it to get positive yards when the line, the linebackers, and even the safeties are all crashing down on nearly every play?

It’s not easy, as was seen, but that’s not a strategy he expects to see all season.

“Oh, it’s difficult, because honestly, you don’t really see that too much in the Big Ten,” Edwards said. “Because every team is dynamic, they could run and pass the ball. But TCU played the same way. There was about eight, nine people in the box every single time. But I’m kind of happy that that happened. Because as a ball carrier, and as a skill player, it’s like, ‘How can I adjust from that?’ Something’s not working, or something’s not there for me, what can I do better for myself? Instead of like, there being small holes, and like you hit or big holes that I can hit, what can I do personally, or other ball carriers that’s carrying the ball as running backs, what can we do better? And that’s why I’m very grateful from the game, to see what can we do when there’s nothing that we can do.

“At the same time, just protect the ball, get as much as you can, get down with the next play, live with second-and-8, third-and-8, whatever it may be.”

Edwards will have another crack at making highlight-reel plays on Saturday when Michigan hosts UNLV in Week 2 at The Big House. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EDT on CBS.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire