ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On paper, Michigan football has the best running back duo in the country. But on Saturday, East Carolina came into The Big House with a good game plan and slowed Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.
Now, this is no reason to panic. Last season, all the Wolverines did was run the ball and everyone was worried if the Wolverines could throw the ball. We saw how that panned out late in the season against Ohio State in Columbus. In the season opener, the running back duo still produced 110 yards on the ground, and Michigan didn’t need the running backs to take over the game.
Instead, Roman Wilson made a statement on Saturday with three touchdowns and 78 yards receiving. Michigan football showed it can have a balanced offense, but did East Carolina show future Michigan opponents a game plan on how to slow Corum and Edwards?
With two starters from last year no longer on the team, Michigan is reloading on the offensive line, and the only locked-down starters are Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter. On one hand, it seemed the front five lacked the chemistry to create holes for the running back or to push the defensive line from the snap of the ball. But the Pirates also loaded the box, desperate to keep the Wolverines from running the ball. They dared McCarthy to beat them through the air.
“To their credit, they were putting 11 guys up there and trying to stop the run,” acting head coach Jesse Minter said after the game. “And so I thought, as the game went on, we did a really good job just sort of taking what was there, taking what they gave us. I think for the most part through three quarters, we really played the game on our terms, on our tempo, we controlled the ball, at times with the passing game, at times with the running game.”
Regardless if other teams adopt this method in the future, given Michigan’s nonconference schedule, it will have the ability to figure out the best five starters on the offensive line. Then, success in the run game will follow, or the Wolverines will be able to pass over top like they did on Saturday. Additionally, while the line works on building chemistry, it will also build depth, which is important to any team that is hoping to compete late in the season.
Another reason not to panic about the offensive line is it was solid in pass protection, keeping J.J. McCarthy upright all game long, and allowing no sacks. Even though neither running back broke 100 yards rushing on Saturday, it felt like they didn’t need to. The Wolverine offense did all of their damage though the air and while the defense was pitching a shutout until East Carolina kicked a field goal as time expired.
Michigan will have two more games to figure out who their starters will be up front and if they are still getting pushed around when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights come to Ann Arbor in Week 4, then that might be a small cause for concern.
But the Wolverines will be just fine and by then, Jim Harbaugh and Sherrone Moore will both be back on the sidelines.