Michigan football worked on explosive run plays this offseason. It showed vs. Minnesota

Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

MINNEAPOLIS — Jay Harbaugh spoke all offseason about how he wanted more explosive plays from Michigan football's run game.

The Wolverines' running backs coach got his wish Saturday night.

In a 49-24 blowout of No. 21 Minnesota, Michigan had 31 rushes for 256 yards and five touchdowns. There was a 70-yard touchdown run from Zach Charbonnet to open Michigan's second possession of the game. Then came a 66-yard run from Hassan Haskins later in the second half. At one point, the Wolverines were averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

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Somehow, despite replacing four starters along the offensive line, U-M's rushing attack turned in one of its most impressive performances under Jim Harbaugh.

"The run game was producing a lot of big runs," the head coach said.

After the game, he described Charbonnet's 70-yard touchdown in detail. Minnesota's defense, he said, was misaligned on the play, which led to the backside safety getting blocked by left guard Chuck Filiaga, who pulled on the play. Right tackle Jalen Mayfield and right guard Andrew Stueber, meanwhile, caved in their side of Minnesota's front.

During the offseason, Michigan's running backs worked on making defenders miss at the second level. But All Charbonnet had to do on his touchdown was not get caught from behind.

"You don’t expect that," Harbaugh said, "but great job by Chuck to get up on the backside safety and make that thing go the distance."

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After the Golden Gophers failed to convert a fourth-and-goal from Michigan's 4, the Wolverines handed the ball to Haskins on the first play of their drive. He ran into a mass of bodies near the line of scrimmage — then cut to the right and sprinted down the sideline for 66 yards.

"Backs were great, gotta talk about Hassan Haskins," Harbaugh said. "He just finds creases, he finds lanes, has the ability to finish runs."

Charbonnet and Haskins, the team's two leading rushers a season ago, combined for 10 carries for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Fifth-year senior Chris Evans and freshman Blake Corum, meanwhile, combined to take 10 carries for 43 yards and one touchdown.

"Our backs, all of them played extremely well," Harbaugh said. "I don’t know how many different people scored touchdowns, but it seemed like a lot. I know Chris got in there and Hassan a few times and Zach.

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"Really good backs that were running behind a really good offensive line today.”

U-M's two longest runs Saturday each covered more distance than the Wolverines' biggest run in 2019 (49 yards from Haskins). And quarterback Joe Milton took a designed run 23 yards on a third-and-2 in the second quarter. On the ensuing play, Haskins took a direct snap and scored from 4 yards out.

Michigan's average yards per carry — 8.3 — was the highest figure since a 2018 win win over Western Michigan (8.8).

It was the culmination of an entire offseason of work, both on the part of the offensive line and running backs. After the game, Haskins told reporters that the Wolverines studied last season's film to understand where they could've gained extra yardage.

"We see the holes and stuff," he said. "We definitely come back and watch those, see what we can do different.”

Michigan, Haskins believes, has "a lot of players that can do great things on the field" And he's confident in their ability to continue churning out explosive plays.

“We got a lot of playmakers on the field in every single position group," Haskins said. "Everybody can do it."

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's big plays in run game came from offseason work