The Wolverine

2022 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 159 T here is a misconception that Michigan's offense needs to be more explosive in 2022 than it was in 2021 for the Wol- verines to keep their conference crown and repeat as Big Ten champions. This thought has arisen from the fact that Michigan will need to rely more on its offense this season because it will be breaking in a new defense after losing a plethora of talent. The idea, of course, is that Michigan needs points, points, points to stay in the win column. When people think points, points, points, they think big plays, highlight-reel plays and ex- plosiveness. Although it obviously wouldn't hurt to be more explosive offensively, Michigan does not need it. The Wolverines were secretly one of the most explosive offenses last year. It did not seem that way because Michigan did not do it as others did it. With the advance- ment of aerial attacks and how rules have been tailored to favor offenses, there is a connota- tion that an explosive offense must be one that slings the ball around the field with passing spread sets. That isn't the case though. Michigan blended Jim Harbaugh's power running schemes with shotgun and pistol formations and fed the foot- ball to rushers Hassan Haskins and Blake Co- rum (18th nationally in team run percentage after the Big Ten Championship game). And yet, the Wolverines were still ex- tremely explosive. They were tied for seventh nationally in 40-plus-yard plays (23), second in 50-plus-yard plays (17), tied for first in 60-plus-yard plays (10) and also tied for first in 70-plus-yard plays (6). That's a lot of fire- works. The Wolverines set off those explosions be- cause of their offensive system, not in spite of it. Michigan's run-heavy offense drew in de- fenses. Opponents were intensely focused on trying to slow down the hammering Haskins. This opened up holes for the Wolverines to exploit. Corum's extra gear caught defenses off guard, and he routinely swooshed past defend- ers into green grass. In doing so, he accumu- lated 444 of his 952 rushing yards (47 percent, according to Pro Football Focus) on 13 runs that went 15 or more yards. Then, with defenses worrying about Haskins up the middle and Corum on the edges, Michi- gan's downfield passing opened up. The Wolverines would use misdirection with play action or the infallible flea-flicker to suck in the secondary and hit big throws over the top. The Wolverines had 6 completions for at least 60 yards (tied for 6th in the country) and led the nation (tied for first) with 5 passes of 70-plus yards. So, when people say that Michigan needs to be more explosive this season, it is probably code for "Michigan needs to shift its style and make more plays through the air." This is likely based on the fact that the Wolverines are stacked with pass-catching threats all over the gridiron. This could work. The talent is there. How- ever, the last time that Michigan shifted to a pass-heavy approach was because it had wide- outs Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell, it backfired in 2019 when U-M finished tied for 69th in yards per play (5.77) that season. Harbaugh's offenses have been more suc- cessful when grounded in the running game. Given how many offensive starters return and the transfer of Rimington Trophy finalist Olu Oluwatimi, most of the pieces are there for the Wolverines to run it back with a similar offense to last year. The missing piece is Haskins. He didn't take no for an answer as a runner. He always was pushing the pile forward. Look at this: Haskins was hit behind or at the line of scrimmage on 31.1 percent of his runs, yet only 8.5 percent of his runs were stopped for no gain or worse. He fought for every yard and kept U-M ahead of the sticks, which was the key to the offense's explosiveness. There is not another Haskins waiting in the wings necessarily, but the options are closer than one may think. Although Corum does not have Haskins' size to move a pile between the tackles, he has the overlooked lower-body strength and ability to break tackles. Corum actually forced two more missed tackles (18) than Haskins (16) despite having 127 fewer carries last season. (Haskins did break 19 tack- les to Corum's 9, though.) Sophomore Donovan Edwards also could be that option, even if he was used in a much dif- ferent role last season. When Edwards ran the ball, he, like Haskins, was hit behind or at the line of scrimmage 28.6 percent of the time but tackled for a loss or no gain only 11.4 percent of the time. Smaller sample size and garbage time ca- veats apply, but it is a glimmer that Edwards could bring a similar punch to the pile that Haskins did last year. If Corum and Edwards can bring that power together, then Michigan does not need to retool its offense. The Wolverines could use the same system as last season and thrive. And just like last season, Michigan should be one of the most explosive offenses again. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS DREW HALLETT How Michigan Can Be Explosive Again In 2022 Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan ath- letics since 2013. Contact him at drew.c.hallett@ and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Behind a powerful offensive line and a rushing game led by junior Blake Corum, the numbers suggest Michigan doesn't need to change its offensive system to an all-out aerial attack to maintain its explosiveness in 2022. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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