Michigan heard Washington say it’d stop the run, made it pay

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There’s a continued notion in college football that it’s unwise to poke the bear. After Michigan ran all over Western Michigan in Week 1, it turned out that Washington hadn’t learned that lesson.

Though the Wolverines had a focus on running the ball entering the 2021 season, the Huskies weren’t just determined to stop it, they told the world that they would stop it in the week leading up to the game.

“We’re going to stop the run,” Washington linebacker Jackson Sirmon said. “They want to run the ball, and we’re going to stop the run. We’re excited to do that, they have some talented guys running the ball. It’s one of those things that one guy, one guy is going to get on the tackle and everyone is going to flock to them. We need to limit yards after contact.”

Bold move, Cotton. How did it pay off for them?

It didn’t. Michigan accumulated 343 yards on 56 carries, scoring all four touchdowns on the ground.

An Instagram story posted by Wolverines director of development Chris Bryant showed many of the offensive linemen gloating — with good cause — at the end of the game as they were walking off the field. Among them was fifth-year right tackle Andrew Stueber who yelled, ‘It’s a long plane ride back to Washington!’ Several players shared Sirmon’s quote on their own Instagram stories after the game, including third-year left guard Trevor Keegan.

So did he and the other linemen hear Sirmon’s proclamation earlier in the week? Turns out, yes — and it was unwise to poke the bear.

“Coach Moore definitely made a huge, huge deal about it,” Stueber said. “I think one of the linebackers said that, that they are gonna run the ball and we are gonna stop it. Coach Moore said that and took it upon us as words of action to take it. We’re in the business of not talking, we’re in the business of actually doing it.”

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It became not just a point of emphasis but such a point of pride for an offense that certainly has carved out a niche, running the ball for more than 300 yards for two consecutive weeks. Despite Sirmon’s insistence, the Husky front wore down, and Steuber and company began to feel their will break as Michigan ran the ball with impunity.

“We went out there, started running the ball every play. I think that drive where we only ran the ball coming out, just producing, getting yards, driving off the ball, they started to give up hope midway through the third, early fourth quarter,” Stueber said. “They just were getting physically beat down. We take huge pride in that. It’s something we practice everyday in the Beat Ohio drills, like I mentioned before. That’s Big Ten football so we’re gonna keep doing that.

“When we get to Big Ten league play, whoever rushes for more yards is usually the victor. That’s something we take huge pride in and we hope to continue doing it.”

“We’re confident in our playbook, we know our schemes,” Keegan said. “We prepared all week and we were pretty confident about it.”

It’s not like Washington didn’t try to stop it, either.

As Jim Harbaugh said after the game, they ran a lot of different defensive looks in order to try and stifle the Wolverines ground attack. But it proved futile. Keegan says that Michigan was prepared for everything that the Husky defense threw at them.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. We loved it. We imposed our will on them,” Keegan said. “They did a lot of things to try to stop the run: try to blitz off the edges, ruin our run lanes. But we had answers for it.”

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