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What Mike Hart said about Michigan football’s running backs before Penn State

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The run game continues to be the strength for the Michigan football offense, but what will happen this week against Penn State?

At the moment, the status of both Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards remains unclear, as the latter was not dressed for the Indiana game while the former returned to the sideline in a walking boot after suffering an injury in an early series.

Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart spoke with the media on Wednesday to discuss the state of the tailbacks, what he’s seen from Hassan Haskins as well as the challenges posed by the Penn State defense. Here is everything he had to say.

List

What Mike Macdonald said about the Michigan football defense before Penn State

What's Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards' status for Penn State?

“Damn, is that gonna be the first question? Dang! It’s that important? What did Penn State say regarding Luketa and Sutherland, what did they say? Anybody know? No? I’m serious! Is 40 playing for them? Just wondering.”

Yes or no?

“I hope to see them play on Saturday.”

What has he seen from Penn State's defense?

“They’re talented. They’re really, really talented. As are both their D-ends, Luketa and No. 17 — I don’t know how to say his last name, so I don’t want to disrespect him — but he shows up, he plays really good. Their linebackers are long, can run, can play, all three of them. The safeties are just long. They’re a pretty looking team that can play. That’s what your defense is supposed to look like. They’re definitely really good, one of the most talented defenses we’ve played all year, without a question.

“They create a lot of issues, they blitz a lot. They bring every blitz in the game. They’re powerful up front, inside. They take advantage of a lot of one-on-one blocking and they just create issues.”

Are Tavierre Dunlap and Leon Franklin ready if Corum and Edwards can't play?

“I think that they’ve been practicing up all year, back-and-forth between scout team, so those are things I said at the beginning of the year, everyone’s gonna be ready to play. They’ll be ready to play if they have to. I’m confident in them and what they can do. Obviously, we have Hassan, who’s a special player. We’ll see how it works out this week and we’ll have a game plan to play everybody.”

What can players do from a mental standpoint to stay ready?

“Whether you play or don’t play or whether you’re up, it’s no different for Tavi all year, right? He has to be ready to play, so mental reps are huge. That’s from training camp on, that’s one of the first things that you preach to these guys, even as a team, as an offense, everyone has to be ready. Whether you get the rep or don’t get the rep in practice, you have to watch the rep and understand the rep. That’s about being a mature athlete and being able to go out there and perform, even if you haven’t gotten that rep. There have been guys that have stepped up all year, put into games — I remember Karsen (Barnhart) at Nebraska, right? He hadn’t played guard, really, all year, and he went in there and performed at guard, practicing tackle all week. I think those guys understand and they know and they’re mature — you can’t be in the back fooling around. You’ve gotta get every mental rep.”

On Haskins' 20-yard catch

“I don’t think it’s issue of whether Hassan can catch or not, Hassan has great hands. I think guys have different strengths and if I can have Blake running routes, split out in space, then Blake’s gonna be the guy to do it. It’s not that Hassan can’t, you saw him in the game — he’s phenomenal in pass protection, he can catch the ball, turns up and makes guys miss. He’s practicing all year, no concerns, he can catch the ball with his hands.”

Is it difficult to reel Haskins back in after having a larger load?

“No, I think the goal is always to be 20 and 20. Obviously, things change depending on who’s available, who’s not available. I think the biggest thing is just managing him, making sure he’s healthy. Nobody’s ever gonna complain about more carries. But he knows the situation, he knows the game — whatever we need to do in the game to win we’re gonna do in the game to win. If he’s gonna carry the ball 50 times — how many carries did Chris Perry have? 51? I hope he doesn’t have to do that. But whatever it takes to win. I think he’s prepared.”

What went through his mind when Corum got hurt?

“You know all week what’s going to happen and you come up with a plan for that. You’re always one play away, right, from somebody getting hurt, so it doesn’t matter. You always have to have a plan. You just watch him and see if he’s good to go or not good to go. Hassan’s a grown man. He can carry the ball 30 times a game if he needs to, I have no concerns with that. But you also have other guys who can play and are capable of playing and you’d like to see what they can do as well.”

What's his approach on playing injured players?

“I tell guys when they get here, whenever the season starts, the first day of training camp, you’re never gonna be 100%, right? You get dinged, you get bruised, it’s just a matter of can the injury get worse? And that’s up to the doctors, that’s not up to me. I don’t think there’s a toughness issue with any of our guys. It’s not like they don’t want to play, it’s just is it safe to play or not play. I think that’s what it comes down to, right? Sometimes it’s not the kid’s choice.

“Hassan’s played banged up. Hassan’s not 100% healthy. No one is after you’ve played Big Ten running back for eight games, right? They just go. They’re banged up, we’re banged up, it’s that time of year, right?”

Are there subtleties about the OL that it does well not obvious to the outside eye?

“I think the major thing is they allow the running back to the line of scrimmage. They do a good job of not allowing penetration at the point of attack. I think that one of the third-and-1s in the game where we got stopped was because there was penetration, right? When there’s penetration, there’s not much the running back can do. As long as they allow us to get to the line, then it’s up to the back to do everything else. So I think they do a great job of sticking together, double-teaming, all that kind of stuff.”

What was his message to Blake Corum about missed opportunities against MSU?

“Still talking about Michigan State, huh? Blake knows. He knows how we’re supposed to do. There’s really nothing to talk about when it comes to that. He’s a good back. He knows.”

His thoughts on Cade McNamara's mental toughness

“Like any quarterback, you’re gonna get hit, you’re gonna get sacked, you’ve gotta get up, right? He’s a tough dude. He took some hits in this past game — he had what, three sacks, I think? That’s the most all year. They’re a physical defense. So a guy who can keep coming back and keep playing, those are guys that builds confidence with your team, right? Sometimes guys look at you, sometimes see if the quarterback doesn’t get touched, doesn’t have to do anything — but when you get hit and you come back, and he’s shown it all year, he’s done that in multiple games — no one can question who Cade is, and his toughness, and what kind of player he is and how much he loves his team.”

How much different is the RPO game with J.J. McCarthy?

“I don’t think it’s any different. Obviously, everybody knows that J.J. is more athletic than Cade, right, and can run faster, from that standpoint. Besides that, it’s the same footwork, no matter what quarterback it is. It’s the same ball-handling. There’s no difference in what we do or how we’ve been doing it from day one in camp to now. But I think people sometimes lose that you have to be detailed in every one, right? Because whether the ball is pressed into the stomach, is the back supposed to take it or it’s not — those are things you have practice all the time. You can’t just take luxury in assuming it’s gonna happen. I think everyone knows. It’s something we practice every week and have to continue to practice and you can’t have mistakes in the game when it comes down to that.”

Is McCarthy more prone to pulling it?

“No, I wouldn’t say that. All the reads are the reads. Sometimes there’s different calls, sometimes that’s different. Sometimes the reads are the reads, right? I think that early in the year Cade’s pulled some balls, too, on the same play calls. A couple times he’s gotten some yards, a couple times he hasn’t. I don’t think that J.J. is gonna pull the ball — you can’t think that way. You can’t automatically assume someone’s gonna pull the ball when they’re in the game. Because it all depends on what the defense presents, what the defense gives you and you react after that. That’s why it’s an RPO.”

Was Corum assuming McCarthy was going to pull the ball vs. MSU?

“No, no, I don’t think that’s what happened. It was just a bad mesh between the both of them.”

How do you go about running the ball in the red zone?

“It comes down to obviously play calls and execution, right? I think when you look at us throughout the year, when you get inside the 25, sometimes it’s execution, sometimes if you have better calls, it is what it is. Sometimes they give us a look that’s not good for the call is what I mean by that, right? You practice something all week and you get a different look, sometimes it’s not a good look from that standpoint. Sometimes it’s just execution. Wrong read, missing a block here, missing a block there. I think the details in the end zone, in the red zone, need to improve from everybody’s standpoint. You don’t want to be third-and-10 from the 10-yard line. That’s one of the hardest places to be in football. So we’ve just gotta do a great job of getting yards and still executing. Everybody knows that we’ve gotta score touchdowns. It’s something that’s an emphasis. I think the offense knows, we know as coaches: touchdowns wins games and we’ve gotta score more touchdowns when we get down there.”

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